Wednesday, November 12, 2003

When the Round, Round Robin Goes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along...

“Ladies and gentlemen…we take you now behind the scenes of a police headquarters in a great American city…where under the cold, glaring lights will pass before us the innocent…the vagrant…the thief…the murderer…this is…The Lineup!”

Continuing with my listening to the Round Robin sets, I was pleased to find that this program—The Lineup—made for damn good OTR. It premiered over CBS Radio on July 6, 1950 and ran for three years; then transplanted to television in 1954, where it began a six year run on CBS—the last season (1959-60) expanding to a full hour. The half-hour TV episodes were later syndicated as San Francisco Beat (which kind of clears up the mystery of where that “great American city” was located).

The stars of the radio Lineup were William Johnstone as Lt. Ben Guthrie (Johnstone, no stranger to radio, is perhaps best known by OTR fans as his stint as The Shadow on the program of the same name from 1938-43) and Wally Maher as Sgt. Matt Grubb (Maher wrested the role away from actor Joseph Kearns around 1951). The character of Sgt. Peter Carter, played at various times by John McIntire, then Jack Moyles, completed the show’s cop-triumvirate. The Lineup was also fortunate to have a repertory company of top-notch radio veterans like Ed Begley, Raymond Burr, Sam Edwards, Howard McNear, Jeanette Nolan and Virginia Gregg.

There was also a theatrical version of The Lineup, released in 1958, which has acquired a bit of a fan following due to the film being helmed by cult director Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry). I’ve never seen the TV series but I do remember watching the film version a long time ago when TV stations actually ran old movies. (Get your parents to tell you about it, kids, it's a gas.) It’s a nifty little underrated noir, culiminating with a memorable car-chase climax. The radio version, for those of you who can’t write down this trivia fast enough, was created by Blake Edwards of the Pink Panther movies fame. (Edwards also created another OTR detective series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, for his good friend Dick Powell.)

The Lineup was part of a “reality police drama” trend on radio that some say kick-started with the classic Dragnet series, although Jim Cox (author of Radio Crime Fighters) rightfully points out that Broadway is My Beat (1949-54) premiered before Jack Webb’s seminal cop drama. The only difference between these shows is that Dragnet (natch) dramatized true stories in which the names were changed to protect the innocent, and Broadway, Lineup, and Twenty-First Precinct (1953-56) were for the most part fictionalized (although the TV Lineup presented actual cases cribbed from the files of the San Francisco Police Department). Cox notes:

While earlier audio detectives appeared to demonstrate integrity and respect in their quest to right civil wrongs, the sleuths of the neo-realistic era flaunted a kind of halting crudeness themselves. Persistently drawn into conflict, they functioned in a vacuum created by social failure and criminal behavior. In doing so they clearly performed their tasks in mechanical, often repetitious fashion.

I consider Dragnet to be the yardstick by which shows of this type are measured, so I figured as long as I didn’t do any comparisons The Lineup would stand out on its own, and I wasn't disappointed. The shows I listened to were back-to-back broadcasts from September 26 and October 4, 1951. The first, “The Lorraine Oberhauser Story,” centers on the hunt for a man who shot and killed a woman in cold blood and the latter, “Irene Oldin and John,” is an investigation of a woman who hooks up with various men to pull off a series of jewelry store robberies. The program showcases gritty radio drama while at the same time, isolated moments of humor. A great, underrated series that I can highly recommend.

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