Last year, I reviewed several classic and not-so-classic holiday films as part of my “Countdown to Christmas”. Well, a shorter holiday season and a busier schedule this year has put me behind on my movie watching. That said, the Countdown is on, if not a little shorter. First up, I want to do something a little different and offer up some suggestions on old time radio programs perfect for the Christmas season.
I first discovered old time radio in the late 1970s when my dad bought me a Radio Reruns cassette tape of The Abbott and Costello Show, which featured the classic “Who’s on First” routine. It wasn’t long before I was listening to a wide assortment of programs. And, as any OTR fan will tell you, some of the very best are the Christmas episodes. Every year, I choose from a long list of classic comedies like The Jack Benny Show and Fibber McGee and Molly. However, comedy isn’t the only genre that got into the season. There are plenty of mysteries and crime dramas that also got into the spirit. So here are a few suggestions that will help you relive the days of yesteryear or, if you are lucky, introduce you to a whole new world from the past.
Suspense ran for some 20 years, which gave it plenty of time to present some great Christmas tales. Here are some of the best:
- “Christmas for Carole” (12-21-50) starring Dennis Day (of Jack Benny fame) as a man desperate to help his dying wife, even if it means becoming a criminal
- “Out for Christmas” (12-21-58) starring Raymond Burr as a man released from prison with nothing but revenge on his mind
- “A Korean Christmas Carol” (12-20-59) is an odd tale about a doomed patrol in Korea (available on iTunes on the Boxcars711 podcast)
- “Twas The Night Before Christmas” (12-21-53) starring Greer Garson as a housekeeper trying to hide the news from a child that her parents are missing on Christmas Eve
The crime drama Dragnet, starring Jack Webb, presented two tales that I always enjoy. One really hits home just as much today as it did then.
- “22 Rifle for Christmas” (12-22-49) is a tale about two missing boys and a rifle, not only was this done for radio but for television as well
- “The Big Little Jesus” (12-22-53) is about a stolen infant Jesus statue, not quite as grim but just as enjoyable, also available in radio and television versions
Escape is another anthology show that couldn’t let the holidays go by without some murder.
- “Back for Christmas” (12-24-57) is about a college professor who has had enough of his nagging wife
- “The Stockings Were Hung” (12-24-39) is a tale about a missing father and a miserly old man
- “Joey’s Christmas Story” (12-22-40) is about a boy who tries to stir up a mystery and ends up in the middle of turmoil
And what Christmas season is complete without listening to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Lionel Barrymore played Scrooge on the radio for years but his 1939 appearance on Campbell Playhouse alongside Orson Welles was his best. I first discovered this in 1989 while living in Paris, Texas. A local radio station played it on Christmas Eve as part of a sponsorship from the local Campbells factory. It is amazing and highly recommended.
I’ll be back tomorrow as we turn off the radio and fire up the DVD player for The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t.