Two's Views Film Review
by: Mary Baker & J. C. Adamson

RadioLand Murders


Director: Mel Smith
Cast: Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Ned Beatty, George Burns, Scott Masterson, Scott Michael Campbell 
This is a ninety-five minute radio show from the 40s which includes the search for the murderer of six of the radio network staff. Lots of slapstick. 

J. C.


Mary: RadioLand is very stylized. The director, (Mel Smith) along with writer and producer George Lucas really got into the radio era. The detail put into this film was incredible! The hairdo's, the language, the clothes, music etc., were all on target. Beyond the detail and the brief shots of people like George Burns, it seemed to be overwhelmed with the slapstick. Some of it was funny, but not enough for me to say it was a good film. It was okay.

JC: I'd have liked RadioLand Murders better if I knew less about it. The filmmakers have bragged about making this flashy looking picture for ten million dollars, which is indeed miserly today. They pulled it off by creating a lot of the visuals with computers. They saved money by keeping many cast members on set only a few days, and later combined their work with other actor's performances via computer.

This chicanery of optical effects is accomplished almost flawlessly. You won't know by looking that the sets never existed, or that some of the actors never met. But I think you'll know something is missing. All through the picture, I was wondering about the building in which it was shot. What did it look like in the thirties or forties; what does it look like today without the set decoration? Well, it looks like a computer disk.

Mary: It certainly takes away some of the awe of film making. But this is the 90s and technology will move on even in the film industry. There is after all, a certain amount of wonder about what computers can do, too.

I really liked some of the characters, but I wish they had been more developed. Mary Stuart Masterson, (Fried Green Tomatoes, Bad Girls) played Penny. A sign of the times, Penny is the unofficial director of the radio shows and literally runs the network. Penny gets no credit for all her hard work until the end, when there is no one else to handle the chaos.

JC: This flick does have its funny moments, and some nice performances. I'm really beginning to appreciate Christopher Lloyd, who is Zoltan, the overworked sound effects master of WBN Radio.

I have another problem with RadioLand Murders, though. It attempts to take us to the magic days of radio, but virtually ignores most of what made radio such a huge part of our culture. There is nothing in the movie that acknowledges the nation of listeners. I remember network radio, before TV took over in the fifties. We didn't know what the actors, singers and bands looked like. We sat in our living rooms and watched our radios. What we saw was all in our minds. And it was magic. This movie forsakes all that, and makes the golden age of radio look more like the silent movie era.

Mary: I an extent. RadioLand is about how a radio show was made, not about the radio audience. The in-house studio audience was privy to all the workings of the show and boy, were they confused. I learned more about radio and how shows were put together than I ever knew. It helped us see what might have been behind our imaginings—if, and this is a big if—if we're old enough to have any experience about how important radio was in our lives.

This film may only appeal to the over 40 crowd who remember sitting and watching the radio. Now a lot of people romanticize radio because our imaginations are involved. We might not want to know what goes on behind the scenes. If technology keeps going we might be able to SEE a book while we are reading it. Now that's a scary thought.

JC: The catch is that all these filmmakers, except for Lucas, are TV people. Director Smith, and producer Rick McCallum have worked mostly in British TV, and they've peopled this cast with U.S. TV actors. Television folks trying to use computers to tell us about the radio days—It doesn't work for me.


© 1996, J. C. Adamson & Mary Baker

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