Radioland Murders

Radioland Murders. Lucasfilm 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I have high expectations for this movie, but I’m surprised considering its source. It was recommended to me by a friend on Facebook (I’m not sure who. He made a general recommendation through a status update) and it sounds like it has the potential to be hilarious.

On the other hand, it’s from George Lucas in the years between his old glory and much-maligned revival. The story is his, but fortunately he didn’t write the screenplay. Also, the last time I saw a movie about the radio with musical numbers, it was A Prarie Home Companion, and that was dull mixed with depressing.

After watching the movie:

Station WBN in Chicago is running their big debut of a breakthrough fourth radio network. Penny Henderson is the station manager’s secretary and acting station manager while her boss schmoozes with the affiliates, and while everything is going wrong, she has to fend off the grovelling of her staff writer husband Roger, whom she caught with one of the singers. A series of murders happen all over the station, all preceded by riddles mysteriously cut into the feed, and Roger is unfortunate enough to be at the scene of each one of them, forcing him to stay on the run from the police as he tries to find the connection between them.

This was just as zany as I expected, although all of the summaries I’ve seen appear to have only watched the first half, before the narrative suddenly shifts from Penny to Roger. I suppose “everything goes wrong and she’s trying to get a divorce” can only sustain the story for so long. The series of humiliating disguises is a little tired as a source of comedy, though. Also there are a few incredibly predictable gags in the last twenty minutes.

The chaos in the station is enhanced by the cameo performers. Notably, Milton Berle does a standup act on the broadcast that the story keeps cutting back to, and Christopher Lloyd steals the show as Zoltar the kooky sound effects man.

Overall, it was hilarious in a way I didn’t expect. The writing was clean-cut and fast paced. I wish Lucas would let real writers handle his ideas more often. And actually, I’d love to be in the position to hand off my concepts to people who actually know what they’re doing. He should appreciate it more, because it pays off superbly here.

Watch this movie: with the right protagonist in mind.

Don’t watch this movie: to BELIEVE a PENGUIN can BLUFF!

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