Classic Movies · Movies · Stuff You Should Know

“Alas, why must I be plagued by yammering magpies on the eve of battle?”


If you’re as big a fan of the cult classic His Kind of Woman (1951) as I am, you’ll no doubt recognize the title of this post as a line of dialogue spoken by ham actor Mark Cardigan, an over-the-top screen thesp who comes to the aid of Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) when Milner is snatched by goons in the employ of mobster Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr).  Ferraro plans to kill Milner and adopt his identity in order to sneak back into the United States (he was kicked out as a result of his naughty ol’ criminal activities) and even if Cardigan is often mostly bluff than action he does manage to help out Dan in his hour of desperation with the assistance of some reluctant guests vacationing on the same island as the two men.

Cardigan is played by Vincent Price, and though I’m a slavish devotee of many of the man’s film roles (LauraChampagne for CaesarPit and the PendulumThe Masque of the Red DeathWitchfinder General…this list could go on for days) I think Woman is my all-time favorite.  Price’s performance in the movie is both endearing and falling-down funny—I love how he reacts to the people who are reacting to his onscreen swashbuckling antics while being held captive watching one of his movies; the unbridled joy on his face makes him resemble a kid at Christmas.  I unspooled the movie the other night in preparation for an essay that you can read at Edward Copeland on Film…and More commemorating the actor’s centennial birthday—an occasion held in such high esteem by Price’s city of birth, St. Louis, MO, that they’ve been hosting a ten-day film festival (May 19-28) deliciously dubbed the “Vincentennial.”

Vincent Price

One of the facets of Price’s amazing career that I judiciously left out of the Copeland piece (otherwise, I’d have nothing to talk about here) is that at the same time he was establishing himself as a force in films he also was a frequent fixture on radio.  His silver screen status landed him guest star spots on comedy-variety shows like The Jack Benny ProgramThe Sealtest Village Store, and Duffy’s Tavern while he exercised his thespic chops on dramatic anthologies such as The Lux Radio TheatreThe Philip Morris Playhouse, and The CBS Radio Workshop.  He also had memorable showcases on Suspense (“Fugue in C Minor,” “Hunting Trip”) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (“The Price of Fame Matter”) but some of his best work was done on radio’s Escape—a show not known for being as guest-star heavy as its sister series Suspense, but nevertheless producing such classic broadcasts as “Three Skeleton Key,” “Blood Bath,” and “Present Tense” (all three of which were later re-dramatized on Suspense).  Even after radio drama was no longer the force it once was Price continued to actively perform in the medium, headlining such programs as The Sears Radio Theatre/Mutual Radio Theatre (he was the Wednesday night “mystery” host) and the BBC’s The Price of Fear.

Price’s most regular radio gig was playing Leslie Charteris’ famous sleuth Simon Templar on The Adventures of the Saint, which he joined as star in the summer of 1947 on CBS until the “stars’ address” cancelled the program in June 1948.  The show resurfaced on Mutual in July 1949 and then moved to NBC in June 1950; the show’s final broadcast was heard on October 21, 1951 but by that time Tom Conway had taken over as star—Price had bailed on the series in May of that year (with Barry Sullivan filling on occasion as well).

20132The story of surviving copies of radio broadcasts being lost to neglect and the ravages of time is a familiar one but in the case of The Saint there was a happy ending: because Price, like so many celebrities headlining radio series, wanted the broadcasts recorded as a keepsake he had saved a goodly number of transcription discs from the show…and was about to chuck them out one day when he fortuitously called someone from the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy (SPERDVAC) and asked if they would be interested in taking them off his hands.  The SPERDVAC rep broke all land speed records rushing over to Price’s house to collect the discs…and the broadcasts that survive today do so because of this phone call.  So happy 100th natal anniversary to you, Mr. Price!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s