Category Archives: Television

Love a good comedy panel show!

They may have blossomed on American television in the 1950s, but panel shows go back to the days of radio. According to Wikipedia (where I have gotten much of my information for this post), the first known panel show was called Information Please, on which a panel of celebrities would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. If the panel was stumped, the listener would win a cash prize.

Not having been alive in those days, from what I can gather that particular panel show was pretty straight forward. Maybe there would be a chuckle or two, but it wasn’t played for laughs. Then, in 1942, came It Pays To Be Ignorant.


It Pays To Be Ignorant in the days of radio. L to R: Host Tom Howard and panelists George Shelton, Lulu McConnell, and Harry McNaughton.

It Pays To Be Ignorant may not have been the first panel show meant to be a comedy, but it certainly was early on and demonstrated that comedy panel shows could be very popular. The premise of the show was to have the group of regular panelists give nothing but wrong, and often funny, answers to obvious questions such as: What color is the red barn?

The show’s popularity helped move it to television for one season in 1949 and another season in 1951. The show was revived in 1973, but only lasted one year. It must have played better on radio.

In the 1950s, the panel show came into its own as American TV audiences tuned into such shows as To Tell The Truth, I’ve Got A Secret, and What’s Mine Line? (my favorite of these three). Again, I’m not so old that I got to watch What’s My Line? when it originally aired, but through the magic of oldies TV channels I’ve been able to watch it and I can see it’s appeal.

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The panelists would don blindfolds for the mystery celebrity guests.

I especially like its host John Daly. He was quite the happy host. He cracked up throughout and genuinely appeared to enjoy hosting the show. The man could get absolutely giddy as the panelists attempted to determine the occupation or particular distinction of the guests. I think he was a great host.


The giddy John Daly with mystery celebrity guest Julie Andrews.

The 1970s had popular panel shows that were intended to provide laughs. There was The Gong Show, Hollywood Squares, and Match Game. The Gong Show was more of a watching car accidents kind of show, while Hollywood Squares and Match Game were just as funny if less edgy entertainment. Those shows would be especially funny when the celebrity panelists would get more “lubricated” as the day of taping went on.


Match Game. Dig those fashions!

In America, the panel shows began to lose their appeal after the ’70s. There were a few that had success, the revival of Hollywood Squares comes to mind, but it seemed the day of the panel show was done.

The UK, however, beginning in the 1990s saw a great leap in the popularity of the comedy panel show. Again, according to Wikipedia, there had been panel shows on British TV for as long as there were on American TV, but in 1990 came the panel show Have I Got News For You. It was extremely successful in gathering an audience and is thought to have been the spark that set off an explosion of British comedy panel shows. Soon there were QI, Mock Of The Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You?, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

I haven’t seen much of most of them, but I have watched a good deal of QI and Would I Lie To You? through YouTube. And they are hilarious. I love them! I wish America could produce such shows. Well, maybe it does and I just haven’t seen them.

QI stands for “quite interesting” and it is a show that explores little know facts of history, science, nature, literature, entertainment, and everyday life. The shows features four celebrities who attempt to answer questions put to them by the host. Right answers are good, but interesting answers are treasured. Points are awarded to the guests in some weird, mysterious, arbitrary fashion. But who cares about points? The show is very funny and totally fascinating.


The awesome Stephen Fry.

It went on the air in 2003, with the great Stephen Fry as the schoolmaster-like host. He’s wonderful. I really like Fry. He has a level of intelligence, wit, and sophistication that is marvelous and, yet, he seems incredibly warm and welcoming. He strikes me as the kind of mentor everyone longs for. His interplay with the guests is terrifically entertaining and funny. Just watch this clip of the classic “They say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…” moment and you’ll see what I mean.


The very funny Sandi Toksvig.

In 2016, Sandi Toksvig took over as the host of QI. She had been a regular guest for years and she has filled Fry’s vacated seat nicely. She brings her own acerbic and keen wit to the show. Her approach differs from Fry, but still feels right.

There used to be full episodes of QI on YouTube. It’s a shame that nearly all have been taken down now, but there are loads and loads of clips of the show posted on QI’s YouTube channel.

And then there’s Would I Lie To You? Oh, how I’ve been YouTube binging this show.


L to R: David Mitchell, Rob Brydon, Lee Weeks.

The premise of this panel show is to figure out whether or not someone is lying. Each week four celebrities guests are brought on the show, two of each join show regulars, David Mitchell and Lee Mack, to form two teams of three. Then the team members are to read out cards revealing something interesting about themselves. Some statements are lies, some are true. The tricky part for the person telling the story is that they don’t know what’s on the card until they read it. So, their improv skills had better be sharp if they need to tell a lie.

When the show first aired in 2007 it was hosted by Angus Deayton. He’s funny, but I prefer the current host Rob Brydon, who took over in 2009.

These are the two British shows of which I am familiar, but I will probably start binging the other ones soon.

I am aware there has been a revival of Match Game, which is hosted by Alec Baldwin, but I haven’t seen any of it. (Have you watched it? Is it any good?) It just seems the Brits currently have the edge on us Americans when it comes to the comedy panel show. So, if you’re looking for a funny panel show you can look to America’s classic TV show channels or you can look over there.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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An Old (And Pretty Much Solved) Complaint

Going way back to the early days of the cinema there has been what is known as the widescreen format: A film with its image being wider than it is tall. This format is also called landscape, because it’s the best format for capturing the horizon in nature. And in those early days, there was also a more square format for movies. Both formats were fairly common until Hollywood (and the rest of the world) was plunged into the Great Depression and in the early 1930s movies went to the more square image. It was a move to help limit costs.

Then, in the early 1950s with the American economy booming, televisions became more and more common and Hollywood began to worry it would lose its movie-going audience. Theaters installed air conditioning and some movies experimented with 3D in hopes of pulling people away from their TV sets.


Another way Hollywood tried to entice movie-goers was to return to the widescreen format with VistaVision and CinemaScope. Using that wider screen, filmmakers made epics even more epic; filling the screens with luscious colors, vast landscapes, and thrilling action. And it worked. People went to see those magnificent spectacles.


Then a new problem arose. Audiences wanted to see those movies on TV and the networks wanted to show them, but how? Ben-Hur (1959) was certainly not going to fit on a more square-like screen. What could they do?

The solution was to have someone crop the image and move that crop from side to side to shift the focus. The process was called pan and scan. Most people wouldn’t notice, but filmmakers and movie lovers did.

Pan and scan made the images and characters feel too close to the camera. Many films felt claustrophobic. Action scenes became confusing and far less impactful. The use of pan and scan essentially was a re-directing or re-interpretation of the film. The technician doing the cropping had to decide which part of the image to show and which part to leave out. The process changed the films. And absolutely ruined them.

Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a kid. But even then I would notice that, when one of those epic films would start on TV, the opening with the title and the actors’ names would have black bars across the top and bottom of the image. Once the opening credits were complete the image would then fill the TV screen. Eventually, I understood why. They needed those bars to change the aspect ratio of the screen in order to not have the title and the actors’ names cut off at the sides.

When home video became a thing, most movies, maybe even all, were released in the pan and scan or full screen format. Eventually, filmmakers and movie lovers began to demand widescreen or letterboxed videos and DVDs. They wanted the entire picture, which would give the full and intended vision of the filmmaker. That meant the black bars would stay for the entire movie.

Well, a couple weeks ago I watched the mess of a movie Mackenna’s Gold (1969) on DVD. It came into Nostalgia Zone and I borrowed this favorite from when I was a kid. It is a mess. The producers realized the movie was so confusing they had to rely heavily on a narrator to keep the audiences clued in on what the hell was going on.

It was also in full screen. Ugh.

I was able to grab an image from the internet that shows how this particular shot was supposed to look. I then cropped the image to look the way it appeared in the pan and scan.


This is how it was supposed to look.


This is pan and scan.

In a movie as lousy as Mackenna’s Gold it probably isn’t vitally important to see Telly Savalas in the same shot. But, let’s look at a shot from Tombstone (1993). A sometimes silly (I mean just how many bullets does Holliday have in his two six-shooters during the big OK Corral gunfight? 40?), but very rousing and entertaining Western telling the tale of the Earp Brothers’ and Doc Holliday’s battle with the lawless gang known as The Cowboys. The shot (sorry about the poor quality of the image) is from the scene in which Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) meet for the first time.

As you can see in the widescreen shot, the two gunman are intended to be on screen at the same time. This adds to the tension of the scene. We are supposed to see the two interact with each other and we are also meant to see the reactions of the surrounding characters – all at the same time.

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All the actors interacting in this scene is what makes this such a great shot.

A full screen version of this scene would be laughable. In the wide shot, it would have to pan back and forth between Ringo and Holliday. It would be distracting and would kill the impact of the scene.

Tombstone pan & scan Doc

Pan and scan would force the scene to…


Tombstone pan & scan Ringo

…cut back and forth between the two characters.






















I think you get the idea.

As the headline of this blog suggests, I realize that we live in great times for film lovers, because our TVs have all gone widescreen. This also means that full screen videos and DVDs are old hat. No one does the pan and scan anymore, so why am I complaining?

Eh. It’s what I do.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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TV Guide: Some Bought It For The Pictures

My hiatus continues as guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a tribute to TV Guide and how it had more than one use.

TV Guide S&H

Why?! Why won’t I see those documentaries?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was head to the grocery store with my mother, especially in the middle of the week. Wednesdays and Thursdays were prime days for those treks. Because that was the time of the week the new TV Guide hit the newsstands.

You see … I collected them. With one in my anxious little hands, I scoured from cover to cover for pictures and listings of upcoming horror, monster, and science fiction programs. And, if I was lucky, those listings would be accompanied by a picture or photo of the upcoming program.

The most prized were those of the giant monsters (known as “kaiju”): Godzilla, Rodan, Gamera, King Ghidorah and the like. The thrill of finding new images was electric and it didn’t happen very often. But when it did, I used to carefully cut out the pictures and laminate them and take them to school to share with friends.


This little exercise was huge among the lot of us. You see, not only did I provide a service to some of the kids who didn’t get TV Guide – those few whose parents didn’t believe in purchasing a program listing just to have it tossed out with the following week’s trash, poor souls – but we used to gawk and swoon and comment over the latest, glorious black and white quarter-page shot of Godzilla looming over a soon-to-be-destroyed Tokyo.

And let me tell you, it was a massive competition among us acquiring those pictures and showing them off. Week in and week out, the first kid to display his TV Guide treasures was pretty much the cock of the walk at school going into the weekend. You jutted out your chest and strutted the playground with an exaggerated confidence on a Friday knowing you were the only one with a Baragon or Ebirah tucked away in your pocket.


The masked Mr. Sardonicus.

Of course, the Universal monsters and other horror nightmares were prized acquisitions as well. In fact I think TV Guide was the first place I saw an image of the hideous Mr. Sardonicus and his ghoulish mask offering that bedtime’s nightmares. (Note: My first glimpse of Mr. Sardonicus sans mask was in Famous Monsters Of Filmland years later. And I could see why that particular image wasn’t showcased in the Guide. Middle of the night horror visions, indeed!)



You can well imagine as the years went by the group of us collected fine examples of creatures and horrors galore, each one carefully guarded and displayed during recess and weekend sleep overs. I still have my assortment safe in a box somewhere with my glow in the dark Aurora model parts, Odd Rod bubble gum cards and other treasures.

The 1970s were good times with some pretty fond memories …

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at

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Great Album Retro Review: The Partridge Family Album By The Partridge Family (And A Few Other Musicians)


Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind, right? How could I possibly think the ’70s sit-com musical family’s first album is great?

Well, it’s not great the way the previous great albums (The Who’s Quadrophenia, Genesis’ Abacab, Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water) that I’ve reviewed were great. But, as an example of pure, pleasurable, playful ’70s pop it’s hard to deny this album’s appeal.

I suppose there’s a good deal of nostalgia for my youthful innocence of that time period, from which this album and sit-com arose, that influences my opinion, but when you compare this first album, The Partridge Family Album, to later releases, there’s just something special about it. The Partridge Family, or rather members of the group of studio musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew and the pop vocal group The Love Connection, were firing on all cylinders on this album.

It was discovered that David Cassidy, who played the oldest Partridge son, could sing, so he provides lead vocals for most of the songs. And Shirley Jones, who played the mother of the talented brood, was also a fine singer and she provides some backing vocals. The rest of the cast were required to lip-sync… for the show, not the album.

I think the album is great. The sit-com? Well… No.

The Tracks:

Brand New Me – The lush, string-filled opening song starts off with a nice warm guitar riff. There are horns and soaring backing vocals and Cassidy demonstrates he has quite the range to his voice.

Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque – The lushness of their sound continues as Cassidy sings of a young, female hitchhiker trying get home. The song builds and descends again and again in its just under four minutes. Nice piano throughout and the “cha! cha! cha!” vocal bursts at the end are a nice touch.

Bandela – Cow bell! Lots and lots of cow bell! The Wrecking Crew cook on this one, my favorite track.

I Really Want To Know You – This one is a bit sappy, but the vocals are very sweet and sincere and completely David Cassidy-less. It’s kinda fun trying to determine which of the male voices is supposed to belong to Danny Partridge.

Only A Moment Ago – Where did all the happy people go? Did the Partridges just become the Omega Family? Or is David lamenting a lost love and how the world changed after losing her. I prefer to think it’s a post apocalyptic tale. But then I’m a bit fatalistic.

I Can Hear Your Heartbeat – Time for a rocker! A song of new found love and heartbeats and being a man of your word. Nice guitar riffs and excellent building to a quick cut to end the song.

I’m On The Road – Another song without David’s vocals. (Again which one is Danny?) It’s a fun travel the countryside song. They needed a travel song. The family got around in an old school bus, after all.

To Be Lovers – Mostly without David’s vocals, he does sing a little lead in the middle bit, this song is a little creepy. Creepy if you consider the story on the TV show had this song being co-written by Danny, who was – what? – ten at the time. A song about lovers who aren’t in love? Jeez! The kid’s been around.

Someone Wants To Love You – Well, it was the 1970s and the hippies’ message of love and peace had been co-opted by TV executives, so, of course, there had to be a song hinting at free love, right?

I Think I Love You – This was their big hit. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a pretty rockin’ tune about a fellow who woke up from a good dream realizing he might just be in love.

Singing My Song – Another song touching on Hollywood’s notion of hippie culture and their love of singing. It’s a nice quick rollicking singalong end to a good collection of ’70s pop. The “bah-dah-dee-dum” chorus is irresistible.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host


“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.


Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Elementary, My Dear Jeremy Brett!


Basil Rathbone. Benedict Cumberbatch. Christopher Plummer. Nicol Williamson. Robert Downey Jr. Dozens of actors have played the role of literature’s greatest detective – Sherlock Holmes. Or, as he would call the profession of which he was its sole practitioner, consulting detective. Whatever he’s called, Holmes has been a favorite literary character since his first story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. He was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, although the stories made him famous and wealthy, thought these mysteries were not part of his important work.


“By Jove, I’d better kill off Holmes, so I can concentrate on more important work, such as promoting the paranormal.”

So, he was a snob about his own creation. So what? Holmes fans couldn’t care less.

In 1984, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes debuted on American television as part of the PBS series Mystery! Part of what is great about this PBS program is that the host takes the time to give a little history about the mysteries they show. In 1984, the host was Vincent Price and he was perfect. Watch his introduction of one of Holmes’ greatest mysteries here to see what I mean.

It was the British television company Granada TV (now ITV Granada) that produced The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as well as three other Holmes series: The Return of… (1986), The Case-Book of… (1991), The Memoirs of… (1994); and two TV movies: The Sign of Four (1987) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988). In all, 41 of Conan Doyle’s  Holmes mysteries were produced.

The actor who took on and, in my opinion, mastered the role of the legendary sleuth for Granada TV was Jeremy Brett. Admittedly, I haven’t seen every portrayal of the detective, but when I read the original stories it’s Brett that I picture. Much of this has do to his talent and skill as an actor, but much is also due to the production’s intent to accurately depict the settings, language, attire, and culture of England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And each episode carefully follows the source material as closely as possible.


Jeremy Brett

Jeremy Brett portrays all the qualities of Holmes brilliantly. The intellect, the bravado, the confidence, the annoyance of those whose intellect he finds wanting. He’s both rude and sensitive, civil and rough. He gets bored when the criminal element goes quiet or lacks imagination. More than once he laments that the days of the great cases are over, only to have a great case present itself.

The actor also gives Holmes a graceful quickness to his physical actions. He’ll drop to the floor or ground to search for clues without any care to his appearance or propriety. In that first series, Brett is incredibly spry. In the episode of The Red-Headed League, he hops on and leaps over the back of the couch in the sitting room at 221B Baker Street to prevent his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, from leaving the room. It’s astonishing.

Sadly, as each new series or movie premiered, the actor’s health could be seen to deteriorate. Brett’s skin became paler, he had put on weight, and his breathing became more and more labored. There was wheezing in his otherwise magnificent voice. No longer would he drop to the ground or leap over a couch. As the series progressed he would be seen sitting most of the time. Gradually, the gracefully quick physical actions were limited to hand movements and the flourishing of his ever-present walking stick.

older brett

Of those later episodes, his co-star Edward Hardwicke said that, though the great actor’s health was poor, he was always prepared and never complained. When the cameras weren’t rolling, he would rest and appear quite tired, but when action was called he came to life. He was Sherlock Holmes once again. However, Brett’s health became so bad that in the final series, there were a few episodes that needed to be adapted so that Dr. Watson handled the lion’s share of the investigating, with Holmes appearing briefly throughout the show to advise and then, at the end, to provide the solution.

Another wonderful aspect of these shows was in its handling of the character of Dr. John Watson. Watson was Conan Doyle’s way of explaining to his readers the incredible abilities of Holmes. Watson was an every man. He was us. But he wasn’t dimwitted as he was portrayed in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce adaptions. Bruce’s Watson was much too clueless and bumbling for my liking. Those productions used his character for comic relief. Given Holmes’ reluctance to suffer fools, I find it difficult to accept he would associate, let alone be friends with, such a man.

In Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson was also the record-keeper of the mysteries that his good friend solved. He wrote and published the accounts for a fascinated public. (Pretty meta, wouldn’t you say?) Although Holmes did not approve of the lurid, romanticism of the doctor’s stories, he did highly value his steady and loyal friendship. This dynamic was well-preserved in the Granada TV series.


“I say, Holmes, could you maybe not stand so close to me?”

Watson was played by two actors: David Burke and the aforementioned Hardwicke, son of actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who is best know for his portrayal of Pharaoh Sehti in the ridiculous but awesome The Ten Commandments (1956). Burke handled Watson in the 13 episodes of the first series, Hardwicke took over after that.

brett hardwicke

“Some detective you are, Holmes! You haven’t even noticed I’m a different actor.”

Of the two I prefer Hardwicke. David Burke is a fine actor and his portrayal of the doctor is very good, if a little too much on the wide-eyed naivete side for my tastes. Edward Hardwicke’s Watson has a more experienced wisdom. Although Watson may not possess his friend’s talents for observation and deduction, Hardwicke gives the doctor an intelligent confidence that fits better with Jeremy Brett’s Holmes. Both Watsons were also allowed to have a greater appreciation for the social graces and they could properly take Holmes to task whenever his rudeness surfaced.


David Burke (left) and Edward Hardwicke. These images hint at the differing portrayals of Dr. Watson.

There have been plenty of actors who played the great consulting detective, but Jeremy Brett is the best. There are several episodes available on YouTube. You really ought to check ’em out!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.


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That’s Not How That Works


There is a very real effect out there known as the CSI Effect. It’s what happens to lay people when it comes to their expectations of forensic science due to what they’ve seen on any of the numerous CSI TV series. For the purposes of artistic and dramatic license Hollywood has been exaggerating what forensic science can do for decades. And I just saw another example.

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Call Northside 777, a film noir classic based on a true story. It stars James Stewart as the cynical newspaper reporter J.P. McNeal, who has been assigned to do a story on an ad offering $5000 (that’s more than $50,000 in today’s money) to anyone who can provide evidence that will free an innocent man from prison.

OK, stop right here and know that there are big spoilers ahead.

The innocent man is Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and it’s his mother (Kasia Orzazewski) who has worked as a janitor for eleven years to raise the money. Wiecek was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for killing a cop in 1932, the height of the Prohibition Era. He was essentially convicted by the testimony of one eyewitness.


James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb

McNeal thinks the story is a waste of time, but his editor (Lee J. Cobb) presses him to dig deeper. The initial story “Mac” wrote was getting good response, so the digging continued. Without me going through everything, the cynical reporter comes to believe Wiecek to be innocent. Despite the evidence uncovered by Mac being compelling, the newspaper’s lawyer speaks the hard truth that it isn’t the kind of evidence that will convince the coroner’s inquest to overturn the verdict.


“Sorry, boys. But the evidence isn’t good enough.”

McNeal needs to get the witness to recant her testimony or find new evidence. Or drop the story.

The witness refuses, even though it’s learned that she didn’t recognize Wiecek as the killer at first. It seemed the police worked with her a little bit, because it’s also learned that she and the accused had been together with the police the day before she finally picked him out of a line up. However, the court transcripts showed testimony that she hadn’t seen the accused the day before she identified him.

If Mac could only prove the accused and the witness had seen each other the day before, that would discredit her testimony and taint her identification of the accused. He just needed to find the evidence.

With time running out before the newspaper’s lawyer was to apologize to the coroner’s inquest and drop the case, MacNeal found an old photograph showing Wiecek and the witness together being escorted into police headquarters. The indications were that the photo was taken the day before the line up, but could Mac prove the timing?


“Enlarge that newsie!”

Up to this point, the film was pretty good. Not the best film noir I’ve seen, but I was enjoying it. And then it happened. This pedant has been bugged by this dramatic device for years. Lots of old cop shows have done it, I can remember a specific episode of Columbo that did it, and Blade Runner (1982) does its variation of blowing up a photograph to get details that just aren’t there. It’s just not possible.

With Blade Runner, I’m a little more forgiving, because it’s set in the future (2019!) and there’s technology far advanced to what we have now. (Next year is going to be interesting. Replicants, flying cars, cool computer devices that can turn corners in photographs.) But, in 1943, when this picture is set? No way!

Here’s what happens. Mac has part of that photograph enlarged first to 100x, then to 140x, and finally “as big as possible.” The part he’s interested in shows a newsie way off in the background, across the street, holding a stack of newspapers. What the intrepid reporter is attempting to do is zero in on where the date would be on the newspaper the boy is holding.






Oh, please!

And there it is! The date! Proving the photograph was taken the day before the eyewitness identified Wiecek in that line up. Proving that the witness was mistaken or lying about not seeing the accused since the crime until that line up. Proving that she may have been influenced by the police to identify Wiecek in that line up.

Wiecek was set free.

(Uh, it’s a good thing no one suggested the newsboy could have been holding a stack of newspapers from the day before the photograph was taken. Cough! Cough!)

So, for me, the movie ended with an, “Oh, that’s impossible!”

By the way, I said the film was based on a true story. It is, but, according to Wikipedia:

“In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.”

Not quite as sexy, I guess.

Packing Peanuts!

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