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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Adventures of Sam Spade -- "The Mad Scientist Caper"

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The Adventures of Sam Spade (1946-1951) aired "The Mad Scientist Caper" on July 25, 1948 as its 209th episode of approximately 243, only 74 of which are still in circulation (this includes 12 AFRS repeats and 2 rehearsal shows). We have previously aired but two episodes of this show, the first in 2014 and the last over a year ago in July of 2018. For newcomers, and as a refresher for long time listeners, we reprise the historical notes about the origins of Sam Spade as presented for background to that initial episode.

Sam Spade was the private detective and creation of Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961, photo at right). Based on Hammett's time as a Pinkerton detective from people he knew or had heard about, Spade first appeared in the third of Hammett's five novels, The Maltese Falcon, in 1930. Only three other stories, all short works, would feature Spade in magazines and all appeared in 1932. One final Spade story was published in 2013, over 50 years after his death in 1961. The Maltese Falcon was brought to film three times: 1931, 1936, and the now film noir classic of 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.

For all but its final radio season Howard Duff (1913-1990, photo at right) would star as Sam Spade. Duff would go on in later years to play various roles in quite a few films, and later with the advent of television would enjoy a lengthy career in many shows as star or character actor (drama and detective primarily) and was an easily recognizable presence on both the silver and small screens. Like Spade's creator in the late 1940s (pre-HUAC, but Hammett failing to answer a Congressional Committee's questions under oath stemming from his overt communist dealings), but years later and owing to a different set of circumstances, Duff found himself in the crosshairs of the early 1950s McCarthy-era House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and was labeled a communist subversive. It was at this point that this soft "blackballing" dovetailed with his burgeoning tv and film career that made it advantageous for him to leave the radio series, at which point Stephen Dunne would take over as the voice of Sam spade for the series's final 1950-51 season. According to the writeup by Radio Spirits on their 2014 calendar, on which Duff has the November slot: "A lot of talent came out of the Armed Forces Radio Service at the conclusion of the Second World War. One of the most outstanding examples was an energetic young sergeant named Howard Duff, born on November 24, 1913. A staff announcer for many AFRS features during the war, he was ready for the big time as soon as he doffed the uniform. It didn't take long for him to land the role of a lifetime, bringing Dashiell Hammett's legendary private eye Sam Spade to the microphone. In his four years in the role, Duff did the impossible--he replaced Humphrey Bogart's film version as the definitive embodiment of the Hammett character:  tough, yet vulnerable; hardboiled, yet with a sense of humor about his weekly predicaments. Among the legions of postwar radio detectives, Duff's Spade stood out as one of the few truly originals."

Duff would marry one of the most respected and groundbreaking women actors and directors in film history in 1951, Ida Lupino (1918-1995, Lupino & Duff photo at right). The two would star together in several films throughout the 1950s. As to Duff's film and television appearances, they are too numerous to mention all of them here, though a sampling may recall him to many a fan of the films and TV shows in which he appeared: Films--The Naked City (1948), While the City Sleeps (1956, with Ida Lupino), and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979); Television--The Rockford Files, The Golden Girls, Knots Landing, Dallas, as "Capt." Thomas Magnum, II--grandfather of Thomas Magnum starring Tom Selleck on Magnum, P.I. His genre credits include an episode of The Twilight Zone and Batman ("The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra" with Ida Lupino).

"The Mad Scientist Caper" is the convoluted case of people pretending to be who they are not and people who actually believe they are something they are not. If this sounds confusing, then no one is more confused than Sam Spade, who ends up being mistaken for a mentally unstable patient escaped from an establishment for the mentally deranged and physically imprisoned there himself. And this is only half of the story and but a few of the twists and turns (not to mention a stolen secret formula) comprising this crazy quilt of a tale, guaranteed to keep you listening every step of the way to "The Mad Scientist Caper."

Play Time: 28:40

    {Despite enjoying this episode of Sam Spade, the neighborhood gang was still stoked on their visit to the corner newsstand in the middle of their summer vacation, and grabbing new issues of their favorite SF pulps. Astounding SF (1930-present, now Analog), always a favorite was swiftly snatched before it sold out. It was a monthly in 1948. fantastic Adventures (1939-53) never failed to titillate the imaginations of young readers with tis colorful covers and stories and this issue was certainly no exception. It too was a monthly in 1948. Weird Tales (1923-54) didn't come to be known as "the unique magazine" for no reason. It featured some of the most respected and talented purveyors of dark fantasy, horror, and the just plain weird of any other magazine during its decades long run. Issues of this magazine are eagerly sought by pulp collectors to this day. The issue below cover-featured stories by no less than Edmond Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, and some fellow with the last name of Grendon. Stephen Grendon was a pseudonym for none other than August Derleth, rounding out a highly popular triumvirate of some of the field's most favored genre authors in general, but especially so in WT, which was a bi-monthly in 1948. This issue also featured a story by none other than the incomparable Manly Wade Wellman, for those keeping score at home.]

[Left: Astounding SF, July 1948 - Center: fantastic Adventures, July 1948 - Right: Weird Tales, July 1948]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.