Radioland Murders (1994)

Discussion in 'Lucasfilm Ltd. In-Depth Discussion' started by Darth_Nub, Aug 3, 2013.

  1. Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2009
    star 5
    (Originally posted on the temp boards in June 2012)

    Finally got through the rest of this extremely flawed film today - it's not the complete disaster it's often made out to be, but it doesn't really work, and it's not surprising that it disappeared into obscurity.

    Radioland Murders is a comic take on a murder mystery, set in a 1930s radio station. It dates back to a storyline George Lucas began developing while working on American Graffiti, but remained in development hell until the early 1990s. He originally described it as 'Ten Little Indians set in a radio station'.

    Despite having a very strong cast, some great writing, and solid directing, it's a mess. The broad comedy is way too over the top and never really lets up - there are a few quieter scenes where the characters begin to become interesting, & the story itself becomes engaging, but these moments tend to be quickly interrupted with yet another noisy act of slapstick or stupidity. Simple fact of the matter is that these sort of comedy films stopped being genuinely funny in the 1940s, although some filmmakers have been successful in updating them for modern audiences (Airplane, The Naked Gun, etc).
    The sad thing is that with a gentler touch, Radioland Murders could have worked quite well. David Lynch's short-lived, and extremely similar, TV series On The Air failed in almost exactly the same way - comedy delivered to the audience via a sledgehammer and a hail of housebricks.

    Anyone else seen this forgotten child of Lucasfilm?
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  2. Blur Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 11, 1999
    star 4
    Saw RM for the first time about 5-6 years ago. Great little movie, and one that went completely under my radar when it was first released in the early '90's. IMHO, this takes at least several viewings to appreciate. I see it as a homage to the radio shows that Lucas listened to as a kid, before TV became prevalent. Also, it's worth noting that two American Graffiti alumni are in the film (Bo Hopkins & Candy Clark), playing the main character's parents.

    Note that a good companion to this film is Woody Allen's underrated 1987 movie Radio Days, which takes place during roughly the same era. I may be biased re: this film, however, since I'm a huge WA fan (though that's another thread)....
    Last edited by Blur, Aug 3, 2013
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  3. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    Added on Netflix...I'll give it a watch this weekend and tell you what I think. I tend to appreciate barnyard comedy, so I'll probably like it :p
  4. Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2009
    star 5
    Don't expect too much - it's not dreadful, it's just not all that good. I find it somewhat interesting because there's always been talk about these 'other' films GL wanted to make that had nothing to do with Star Wars - this was one that dates back to the earliest days of LFL, and actually made it to the screen.
  5. The-Eternal-Hero Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Nov 3, 2012
    star 4
    This is a really cool movie for several reasons.

    #1. It is a virtuoso editing performance from Lucas. Just amazing.

    #2. It preserves some things that you can't see anywhere else now, from a bygone era, like Bill Barty's (High Aldwyn, Willow) music hall act (Black Magic) and other gems.

    #3. It's a "prequel" to American Graffiti, Curt's parents are in it, his mother played by Candy Clarke from American Graffiti.

    #4. It was the testing ground for the digital production methods that made the SE and the PT possible; without these envelope pushing, groundbreaking efforts there would be no Lord of the Rings movies etc.

    It's not a great comedy but it's an enjoyable GL movie with a lot of great bits and an amazing soundtrack.
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  6. Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2009
    star 5
    It's also worthwhile for simply being a film made in the 1990s with a 1970s (and much earlier) sensibility. Radioland Murders is a very old-fashioned film, a homage to comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s. It's not unlike Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973) in terms of its respect for the original era (Radioland Murders is all slapstick and broad comedy, Paper Moon is more screwball, dialogue-based comedy).

    A mainstream studio in 1994 simply wouldn't have made the film, but LFL just went ahead and did it anyway. Worth a shot. The Coen Brothers had more success with such an approach to their films dripping with 'homage' a few years later. LFL was a touch too early, with not quite enough irony to make a significant impact.
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  7. The-Eternal-Hero Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Nov 3, 2012
    star 4
    It makes a great double feature with Woody Allen's "Radio Days".
  8. Darth Maul Apprentice Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jan 27, 2014
    star 4
    I've still not seen this. If it's still on Netflix I'll check it out.
  9. inotropic Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 4, 2009
    Some of the info here is inaccurate. In Radioland Murders:
    Roger Henderson is played by Brian Benben.
    Penny Henderson is played by Mary Stuart Masterson.

    In American Grafitti:
    Curt Henderson is played by Richard Dreyfuss.
    Laurie Henderson is played by Cindy Williams.

    In More American Grafitti:
    Andy Henderson is played by Will Seltzer.
  10. EternalHero Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2014
    star 3

    Good catch! Candy Clark plays the mother of Billy, the page-boy.
    Love the regardless GL Sig!
  11. inotropic Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 4, 2009
    You mean this beardless guy?

    [IMG]
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  12. EternalHero Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2014
    star 3
    Oops, spell-correct strikes again!!
  13. Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2009
    star 5
    [face_laugh]

    Spell-check does provide a few gems. I sent a text during a football game to a friend about the dreadful performance of one player - John Aloisi - it came up as AFool. Completely appropriate, too.
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  14. AndyLGR Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 1, 2014
    star 4
    I haven't seen Radioland Murders for a long time. I enjoyed it when I first saw it, but what drew me to it is that I'm a fan of old style haunted house style murder movies like Cat and the Canary, Murder by Death, And then there were None, What a Carve Up, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death and some of those have that comedy element thats present in Radioland Murders. I need to watch it again, maybe I'll have a different opinion on it now I'm older (and more miserable).
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  15. ATMachine Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Feb 27, 2007
    star 4
    I don't think it's common knowledge, but Will Seltzer was Lucas's second choice for the part of Luke Skywalker. If Seltzer had been cast we would have seen Christopher Walken as Han Solo, and probably also Terri Nunn (now lead singer of the band Berlin) as Princess Leia. When Richard Dreyfuss dropped out of the American Graffiti sequel, Lucas decided to replace him with Seltzer, whose audition for Luke had put him in mind of Dreyfuss in his earlier film. It was probably also an apology of sorts for not casting Seltzer in the mega-hit blockbuster that made Mark Hamill a household name.
  16. Darth Zannah Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2014
    star 3
    I've been trying to watch this movie for years!
  17. GunganSlayer Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2013
    star 3
    Here's a cool little nugget regarding Radioland Murders:

    Courtesy of AICN, the following is a poster for Radioland Murders from a 1974 Universal Studios promotional catalog. The catalog was sent out to exhibitors to drum up interest for Universal's upcoming slate for 1974, as well as beyond.

    A few curious observations:
    • Obviously, this version of the film never materialized, and the project wasn't realized until 1994, 20 years later!
    • Notice that Lucas is listed as director. This would have been his next project after his hit American Graffiti, also for Universal.
    • Frequent Lucasfilm collaborators, Williard Huyck and Gloria Katz, would retain their screenplay credit for the film when it was eventually released, although Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn were also added.
    • I love this poster. At this stage of pre-production, no actors had been cast yet, but the poster tells a story of its own, without the need of having it plastered with the names of stars. In my mind, a much superior poster to what eventually became the theatrical poster for the released film.
    • Would Star Wars ever have materialized if Lucas has focused all energies on this project?
    • Universal would eventually release the film in 1994.
    There's a lot of other cool poster artwork for released (and unreleased) films in this catalog. If interested, check out it at: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/76981

    [IMG]
  18. Nehru_Amidala SWC Senate Chancellor

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2016
    star 5
    That is neat! Why wasn't this released earlier?
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  19. GunganSlayer Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2013
    star 3
    Changing priorities, I suppose, although I don't know the exact reason. After the huge success of American Graffiti, Lucas signed a distribution deal with Universal. In the mid-70s, Lucas was working on getting Star Wars off the ground, and it was a project that did not interest Universal (as well as most other studios in town). In addition to working on Star Wars during this time period, Lucas also spent time working on Apocalypse Now. So that's at least three projects---Star Wars, Radioland Murders, Apocalypse Now---that we know Lucas was working on during this time; I'm sure there were many others.

    I suppose once Lucas was able to find a studio to distribute Star Wars, he had to focus all of his energies on it, and left Radioland Murders to the wayside.

    While the basic original concept for this film remained in the final version, by the time it was finally released, I would say Lucas' interest in the project was more on the technical side, rather than the narrative. Much like the Young Indiana Jones series, Radioland Murders provided ILM an opportunity to experiment and try out a variety of different technologies.

    Radioland Murders in some ways is similar to Red Tails, in that Lucas commenced work on the project, but the final film wasn't released until over 20 years later. Coincidentally, Red Tails was the first Lucasfilm production released since Radioland Murders that was not a Star Wars or Indiana Jones property.
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  20. ATMachine Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Feb 27, 2007
    star 4
    Yeah, the 70s was when Lucas dreamed up most of the ideas that it took him decades to make into films: SW, Indiana Jones, Red Tails, Radioland Murders, Apocalypse Now. Even the seeds of Willow were probably planted in the 70s, during casting sessions on SW, when he spent the long hours daydreaming about a Lord of the Rings-type film starring little people as the main characters.
  21. Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 26, 2009
    star 5
    Wow! Never knew that it got to that stage - although I suspect that you could probably find a few unmade gems in old studio promos, either in print or on video. I've seen an in-house Paramount Pictures promo reel for "what's coming up in 1985", which included The Two Jakes (the sequel to Chinatown). While The Two Jakes was eventually released in 1990, the 1985 production was a bitter catastrophe for all concerned, and not a frame of film was shot:
    http://j-j-gittes.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/the-two-jakes-take-1.html
    (The video clip from the 1985 promo reel is about halfway down)

    I also think there's a good few SW toy catalogues, both trade and public, which include toys that were never released - not to mention the notorious rocket-firing Boba Fett action figure mail-away offer.

    Interesting that the Radioland Murders poster includes that immortal line from The Shadow: "Who knows what evil lurks..." (within the heart of men? The Shadow knows). While being a timeless reference to the era, it smacks of the Universal marketing department coming up with the poster from skimming a half-page synopsis for the movie.
    Last edited by Darth_Nub, Jan 11, 2017
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  22. Gobi-1 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2002
    star 5
    That's fantastic. I love how just the year before Universal took American Graffiti's from it's brilliant creative team and cut out four minutes and wanted to dump it on TV. What a difference a hit film makes.

    According to The Cinema of George Lucas (p. 79) Steve Martin was approached to star in Radioland Murders after the success of Star Wars in 1979.
    Last edited by Gobi-1, Jan 29, 2017