Commie Doubletalk

I've got 74 Perry Masons.

Plus 83 Dragnets, 128 Johnny Dollars, 22 Green Hornets, 30 Box Thirteens, 20 Sam Spades and 24 Fu Manchus. Yes, a few hundred recordings of radio drama serials from the 50s, a combination of the amazingly good, the astonishingly bad, and the stinkingly cheesy. All waiting for my ears.

Currently I'm listening through...I was a Communist for the FBI - downloadable here. The premise is quite simple.

One paranoid semi-secret organisation (the FBI) is infiltrating another paranoid semi-secret organisation (the communist "7th International"), and vice versa. The communists are trying to bring down imperialism to free the people of America, and the FBI are trying to stop them to keep the people of America free.

Our hero, Matt Svetic (played by Dana Andrews), has to lie to everyone that he's a communist to protect his cover, while lying to his comrades as they lie to him trying to trip him into blowing his cover. Because all the communists constantly suspect all the other communists are FBI spies. Though some of them are Kremlin spies sent to test for weakness in the fight against infiltration.

The FBI are grimly professional, impersonal and blindly loyal to Washington, quite happy to let our hero get shot in the back in service to the cause. The communists by contrast are grimly professional, impersonal and blindly loyal to Moscow, quite happy to shoot each other in the back in service to the cause.

Of course, the writers at the time missed the parallels, but the McCarthyite hysteria they were employed to whip up has ironies they couldn't see.

It's one of the oddities of drama that the bad guys are usually much more interesting than the good guys. The bad guys have an agenda, psychological motivations, internecine conflict and intrigue, and mostly the best dialogue. While the good guys have...a mission to fulfil, and not much else.

Heroes are dull, and while you may not root for the villains, the bad guys are the reason you listen. Probably the reason why the deranged rightwing fantasy of Jack Bauer is rapidly fading from memory, while this deranged rightwing fantasy from 1952 is still pretty cool.

Does that make me a bad socialist?


  1. For a second there, I thought, Good Lord, 74 Perry Masons! How long is the line to the bathroom in the morning?

    I agree with you that the most memorable movies are often ones with the best villains--i.e. Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, HAL, Jaws, etc.

    I haven't seen nor heard about this series. I have a long list of movies and series I'd like to see--unfortunately, so little time to see it all.

  2. I now have an image of 74 Raymond Burr clones waiting for the bathroom.

    There was a movie and a book, but this is the radio series, from 1952-53. I like radio drama, 'cos I can "watch" it with my eyes closed (maybe lying in bed) or do something else (like reading blogs) while hearing it. TV rather demands your whole attention.

    I reckon drama in the western world changed radically after WW2. Before that, heroes were superhumans with no inner life and villains were...pretty much the same but on the other side.

    After about 1945, we started getting anti-heroes, sympathetic villains, and loads of inner life.

    There's probably a thesis waiting to be written on that.