Friday, February 11, 2011

Richard Diamond, Private Detective.....Best OTR Private Eye?

Is there a consensus on the best old time radio private eye shows? How many have you sampled? I've listened to a ton. Some are good. Some are terrible. One of the best, I think, is Richard Diamond, Private Detective, which starred Dick Powell. How do I claim it's one of the best in competition that includes Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, and The Adventures of Sam Spade? Simple, really. Richard Diamond mixes hard-boiled action with comedy, offers a large group of characters you can enjoy, and has a number of recurring gags that never fail to entertain.

Johnny Dollar is at his best near the end of the series in the five-part, 15-minute episodes which star Bob Bailey. Marlowe is way too serious. Spade never makes a lick of sense--the shows are completely incoherent. But Richard Diamond has good stories and makes you laugh. You can't beat it.

Of course, nothing is perfect. Diamond suffers from the same flaw that other private eye dramas of the time share, in that the private eye is always smarter than the cops in such an unrealistic way that it's insulting. Then there is how they describe the discovery of a dead body:

"We found him in the alley. He's been shot, stabbed, clubbed over the head, and poisoned. He's dead."

Cue the dramatic music.

At the end of each episode, Diamond visits his girlfriend. They chat a bit and then he sings a song. I guess Powell was known for his singing at the time, but during his adventures he gets shot at, kicked, and knocked unconscious. Are we really expected to believe that after all of that punishment, he can sing like nothing happened?

Oh, well. It's good clean fun.

I don't dislike the other shows I mentioned, but they lack the community that Diamond has. Richard Diamond feels real because he has friends. Marlowe? Isolated. Lives in a bubble. Spade and Dollar? They mostly mix with clients and thugs and we never see their personal lives. Diamond has the right balance of everything.

Give him a listen if you haven't had the opportunity. Dick Powell is perfect in the role; he even played Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet, which is one of the great post-war noir films. And if you want another Dick Powell detective show that's just as good as Richard Diamond, check out Rogue's Gallery. But that's a subject for another time.


  1. It is a damn good show. I prefer the Howard Duff episodes of Sam Spade, but only by the nose of a bullet.

  2. Duff was terrific as Spade, no question about that. Did you hear his guest appearance on the Burns & Allen show? I think the title was "Gracie Lands Sam Spade in Jail". Anyway Gracie listens to the show and thinks Sam got the wrong guy so she tries to solve the case herself, despite being told numerous times it was all fiction, and the upshot is Sam and George end up in the slammer because of Gracie and it's a very funny episode.

  3. "Richard Diamond" is obviously a play on "Sam Spade" (playing cards -- get it?) You probably know this, but Powell was a musical comedy star, Busby Berkley movies particularly, with a high tenor and light comic approach. MURDER, MY SWEET was his big changeover to non-singing, serious roles. The title was changed from FAREWELL, MY LOVELY to keep it from sounding like just another Powell musical. Also, Blake Edwards was involved in the Diamond show, which (when it made the TV transition) dumped the song idea. You probably know all this....

  4. Max,
    Only some of it! Thanks for filling in some of the gaps. I had been listening to the Diamond show long before I saw Powell in MURDER, MY SWEET so it was very strange to hear Richard Diamond say his name was Philip Marlowe.

  5. Richard Diamond, a great show. Its a perfect show mixed of suspense and comedy. Great mix.I always loves shows based on Private Detectives.

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