Radioland Murders

1994 Directed by Mel Smith. Starring Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Ned Beatty, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael Lerner, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Corbin Bernsen, Christopher Lloyd.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Oct. 28, 1994

Those who grew up on it say radio was magic. The first medium to bring adventure, comedy, and romance into your home, it let you cozy up to Don Ameche, Kate Smith, and Jack Benny in your own den and seek danger in exotic locales with Captain Midnight, the Green Hornet, or Sergeant Preston without leaving your chair. And it did it with sound, sound that sparked images in your head, as grand as you could imagine. The enchantment radio spun inspires loving tributes -- such as Woody Allen's Radio Days -- and it seems George Lucas tried something like it with Radioland Murders. Lucas wrote the story, in which a station makes its 1939 broadcast debut. Set at air time, the story offers a parade of shows based on real radio acts: Buck Rogers, the Shadow, Spike Jones, etc. But on top of this Lucas also attempts a comic mystery in the vein of the screwball whodunits of Hollywood's heyday. As WBN goes live, its personnel turn up dead, leaving writer Roger (Benben) to nab the killer while wife Penny (Masterson) keeps the broadcast flying. The film has a feel for radio's golden age but moves so choppily that it's neither a satisfying paean to radio nor an entertaining mystery. Writers Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck, Jeff Reno, and Ron Osborn, and director Smith (The Tall Guy) take a frenzied, jumpy approach. We go from broadcast to mystery and back, leaping from booth to stage to roof, etc., frantically, without getting any clear sense of connection. We rarely know how we got where we are or where we're going. It appears they want to evoke a mood of opening night chaos, but the effect is more confusing than comic, and it only succeeds in defusing laughs. The mock shows display real spark, and the filmmakers drafted genuine giants of the wireless George Burns and Rosemary Clooney to play fictitious radio stars, but they cheat us out of seeing even them for more than an instant. The Thirties lingo is jake, the design dreamy -- how Hollywood excels in doing Deco! -- and the actors work hard, but they can't make it funnier by being more manic. I'm reminded of Clue, another try at a funny whodunit that for all its style and capable cast couldn't capture the ease of the madcap mysteries of old. Those who grew up on them say they don't make screwball mysteries like they used to. Sadly, they're still right.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Mary Stuart Masterson Films
Some Kind of Wonderful
Masterson plays a tomboy who discovers deeper feelings for her best pal (Stoltz) when he begins to date the most beautiful girl in school.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 6, 2001

Benny & Joon
Naïf meets waif in this touching yet whimsically unrealistic tale of love amongst society's write-offs.

Marjorie Baumgarten, April 16, 1993

More by Robert Faires
Artist Ender Martos Celebrates His Past, Present, and Future in
Artist Ender Martos Celebrates His Past, Present, and Future in "Veintiuno"
The virtual exhibition marks the 21st of the 21st in the 21st ...

March 5, 2021

Trust the Process in Gesel Mason's <i>burst!</i>
Trust the Process in Gesel Mason's burst!
In this Texas Theatre & Dance project, students learn to undo

Feb. 25, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Radioland Murders, Mel Smith, Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Ned Beatty, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael Lerner, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Corbin Bernsen, Christopher Lloyd

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle