Radioland Murders Sept 2, 2019 15:36:51 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 2, 2019 15:36:51 GMT -5
Radioland Murders (1994)
Directed by: Mel Smith
Directed by: Mel Smith
You have to be in an alert mindset to watch and appreciate Mel Smith's Radioland Murders. This is a film that moves at breakneck speeds, guided by the zeal of two typically frantic genres: farce and mystery. Confined in a visual setting, which only adds to the activity, it has all the makings of a genre staple but falls short due to its efforts to exhaust its farcical possibilities while not adequately utilizing those directly involved with the mayhem.
Set in 1939, as WBN Radio in Chicago makes its debut, the film follows the eclectic staff as they try to assure the inaugural night goes off without a hitch just as a series of murders are committed in the station. A lion's share of the focus is on Roger Henderson (Brian Benben), a writer at the station, who is trying to work things out with his wife, Penny (Mary Stuart Masterson), WBN's assistant director, as she has recently asked for a divorce. Penny believes she saw Roger having an affair with a popular singer (Anita Morris), although Roger swears he was at the mercy of an innocuous prank. At Roger's throat, as well, is the station's owner (Ned Beatty), as he's running everyone ragged in the middle of their debut, as well as a police officer (Michael Lerner) who has serious animosity towards him. Things get especially hairy when a trumpet player in the large orchestra dies from rat poisoning, setting into motion a stressful night made more hellish thanks to a murderer walking among the staff. Suspects include everyone from the sound engineer (Stephen Tobolowsky) to the poor page boy (Scott Michael Campbell), who is thanklessly tasked with relaying messages back and forth between Roger and Penny.
There are no shortage of noteworthy cameos throughout Radioland Murders. Corbin Bernsen makes an appearance as the show's chainsmoking announcer, comedian/writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait shows up as a writer, Jeffrey Tambor is the show director, and various singers such as Rosemary Clooney and country singer Tracy Byrd pop up as talent brought in to commemorate WBN's launch on the airwaves.
Mel Smith (who worked on the British sketch comedy show Not the Nine O'Clock News and would go on to direct Rowan Atkinson in Bean three years later) and cinematographer David Tattersall clearly put a lot of thought into recreating the late thirties backdrop, where live radio was more than a microphone and a library of music. They exhaust the details of an in-studio orchestra and the massive amount of moving parts pragmatically required to make sure an undertaking of that size went off swimmingly. That's a good part of what keeps Radioland Murders likable; its immersive setting that's a peak into a world left largely unseen. People take radio for granted, and don't think to consider what's on the other side. I speak from experience in saying some days, it's almost as zany as what's portrayed in the film.
Radioland Murders is a far-cry from Woody Allen's fuzzier, more nostalgia-driven Radio Days because the quartet of writers (Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Jeff Reno, and Ron Osborn, working off of a story by the George Lucas) do tend to put too much weight on the situations than the characters themselves. The action gets off to such a strong start that it leaves the characters no time to become more than an interchangeable assortment of pawns moving on a minefield. There's little in the way of human interest; I'd be lying if I said that Roger and Penny don't bleed into the background far too often.
Radioland Murders tries to sustain itself on concept alone, and consequently, only gets so far. There's plenty to look at visually, and there's enough of a fixation with yesteryear and nostalgia to keep anyone remotely interested in the golden age of media interested on that basis alone. However, when it comes to both the farce and the mystery genre, they're both very little without the help of compelling characters, and sadly, that's what Radioland Murders amounts to: very little in the end.
Starring: Brian Benben, Mary Stuart Masterson, Ned Beatty, Michael Lerner, Stephen Tobolowsky, Scott Michael Campbell, Anita Morris, Corbin Bernsen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Christopher Lloyd, Robert Klein, Rosemary Clooney, and Tracy Byrd. Directed by: Mel Smith.