Tuesday, March 10, 2020


For someone who started out as a band singer, then progressed into light comedies and musicals, and then reinvented himself as a hard-boiled (but still witty) detective actor, and then reinvented himself as a producer-director-studio head, DICK POWELL was an amazing talent…and he did it all equally well.

After his success in 1944 as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET, Powell found a new career in crime films and film noir on the screen, and on radio as Richard Rogue in ROGUE’S GALLERY, which ran in 1945-46. In 1949, he became RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE on radio, a show which ran through 1953. Written by Blake Edwards (who went on to take some of the same qualities and use them in the PETER GUNN television series), the show used all of Powell’s strengths. An ex-cop turned detective, Diamond was tough, but tossing off one-liners and sarcastic remarks and even whistling during the show’s theme music. In fact, the theme music captures the contrast of the show—it starts off sounding like comedy music, but then morphs into hard-boiled crime music.

Diamond himself narrates the shows, making it a very character-oriented and character-driven show. The plots introduce a number of interesting elements and are sometimes surprisingly violent or grisly, but a few minutes later things are lightened with humor. You couldn’t get away with this kind of a tonal shift on TV as well as you can on radio, especially when you’ve got an actor like Powell who is associated with both tough guy roles and charming, witty comedies front and center in every scene of every show.

This collection contains 20 shows from 1949-51, 10 hours of Richard Diamond, the early shows sponsored by Rexall Pharmacies, the later shows sponsored by Camel cigarettes, and as a former Camel smoker myself, I can say that the ads make the product sound VERY attractive….and hey, Camels are recommended by doctors (in 1951, at least).

The shows manage to work in a lot of action, both depicted and referred to, and the supporting characters are colorful….the people who hire Diamond, the cops (both helpful ones and bumbling ones), the women (both seductive and deadly), the crooks, the informants, the minor characters like short-order cooks in diners, newsstand boys, garage attendants, etc. The sound effects are quite evocative, making you think you are on a boat off Key West or in a warehouse at night in New York’s Garment District or in the local police precinct office. Tonight, I am listening to a show recorded 70 years ago, and it’s as fresh and alive and engaging as if it were broadcast today. I love the way that at the end of each show, as Powell whistles the theme, the announcer tells you what movie Powell is presently starring in, playing at your local theater! It’s easy from Richard Diamond to see why audiences could not get enough of Dick Powell. I had the privilege of seeing a theatrical screening, from a 35mm print, of his superb 1951 film noir CRY DANGER (see poster), about five years ago in Houston. It’s an RKO film, so keep an eye out for it on TCM. As with most old radio shows, Richard Diamond episodes can be found easily online, although this CD set is attractive, has great sound quality, and can be found inexpensively.

In the late 50’s, Dick Powell produced a TV version of Diamond, starring the pre-Fugitive David Janssen. That’s also highly recommended, though the tone is a bit different, as Powell wisely tailored the show to Janssen’s strengths and didn’t just do a clone of the radio show.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep 'em comin', Bill! Cheers! Alvin Bishop