Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of Sam Spade: “The Missing Newshawk Caper” 7/18/48

Sam’s hired by the publisher of a newspaper to find a missing reporter who’d been working on an expose of organized crime. Sam’s worried the reporter has been killed by the mobsters he was writing about, but it soon turns out the guy has his own reasons for not wanting to be found. Before long, a couple of people turn up dead. Spade’s missing person case quickly evolves (as his cases nearly always do) into a murder investigation.

As is typical of this top-notch show, the plot is a solid mystery in the hard-boiled tradition, while Howard Duff’s portrayal of Sam Spade perfectly treads the line between treating the story seriously while also parodying the genre. Duff spouts out rapid fire narration and truly funny one-liners without missing a beat.

Well, actually, he might have missed a beat, but I’m not sure. One of the many pleasures of the show is always Spade’s banter with his secretary Effie at the beginning and end of each episode. At the end of this one, Spade is explaining who had killed whom and why, but it having a hard time getting Effie to understand it all. Partway through this scene, he mispronounces the name of one of the people involved. I THINK Duff blew the line during the original live broadcast, but Lurene Tuttle (playing Effie) simply goes with it, tossing in remarks about the guy using an alias and allowing this to add to Effie’s confusion. Duff, in turn, plays along with this.

I suppose this might have been scripted, but if not, then it’s an example of just how skilled and professional Duff and Tuttle were, improvising their way past a mistake and staying in character the whole time. Whether they stayed on script or improvised, the two actors meshed perfectly together. The Adventures of Sam Spade was great radio for its writing, direction and production values as well, but none of it would have clicked as well as it did without Howard Duff and Lurene Tuttle to bring it all to life.

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