Home / Movie Review: Radioland Murders (1994)

Movie Review: Radioland Murders (1994)

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The year 1939 was a hectic year for radio especially if you were working at WBN. At the time, WBN, a small, fictional station set in Chicago, Illinois was to become the fourth national radio network in the United States. Everyone was ready for the big night. The investors were relaxing in the lounge awaiting a good show. The writers were rewriting their scripts and the actors were poised and ready.

WBN was going to make a huge splash as the number four station in the nation! Well that is, if anyone was alive by the end of the night. There seemed to be a small problem at WBN during the national premiere. The problem was murder. There were numerous problems. Murder really was not the only one.

This farcical comedy has all the elements to make you laugh, shock you, and leave you satisfied if you’re looking at it from a non-traditional view.

Multiple plots weave throughout Radioland Murders that all revolve around the WBN national broadcast. The story begins with a soon-to-be divorced husband (Roger) and wife (Penny), played by Mary Stuart Masterson (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame) and Brian Benben (from Dream On).

It seems that Roger Henderson had a roving eye, which landed him flat on his back. The real problem, though, was that his loving wife Penny caught him with the Va-Va-Voom girl, Claudette Katsenback (Anita Morris). While Penny tried to keep WBN organized as the station manager’s secretary, Roger ignored his writing duties in an attempt to get his wife back.

Soon we are introduced to the director, Walt Whalen Jr. (played by Jeffrey Tambor). Walt Whalen Jr. is only the director because Walt Whalen Sr. (Ned Beatty) is the owner of the WBN network. Junior isn’t a very good director.

If you’re in the film industry you can’t help but laugh at his inept ability to direct or even make simple decisions for himself. Many times Whalen looks on with his trademark blank stare as he adjusts his toupee, whimpering over the need to decide whether to cue music or the announcer. Usually it is up to Penny to chime in with the proper direction.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. One of the band members dies on stage. The scripts are horrible and late arriving after having to be re-written at the last minute and everyone is in an emotional rush. To make matters worse, a strange voice keeps coming over the intercom and no one knows where it is coming from. All they do know is that someone gets popped every time they hear the voice and no one knows who is going to be next.

They also know that every time someone is murdered, the person attached to the scene of the crime is Roger Henderson. Sure, Roger is bumbling, clumsy, and maybe even untrustworthy (just ask his wife), but a murderer?

Radioland Murders
takes you through the performance on the scene as they try to determine who is murdering the staff of WBN and who is going to be next.

It clocks in at close to two hours. If you are a fan of farcical comedies, it will feel like the movie is just the right length. You don’t feel rushed and the multiple plots are entertaining as you watch them unfold. Whether you are trying to guess who did it during this whodunit or not, the character development will amuse you.

Celebrities fill the lineup in this movie from well known names like Masterson, George Burns (this was his last movie) and Rosemary Clooney to many names you won’t recognize that are attached to people with faces that will look all too familiar.

If you’re a fan of vintage ideas and radio shows you will find this movie to be a treat. This type of movie is rare, as is its fan base, so this movie will not appeal to everyone. If you are a fan of the movie Noises Off, then Radioland Murders should be right up your alley.

The critics were not fond of this movie when it came out and many wondered what George Lucas was thinking when he came up with the idea. However, you cannot always believe the hype of critics and if you are one that this type of movie appeals to. you will be in theatrical heaven.

I went in not sure what to expect. I was expecting more of a drama because of the movie’s title. By nature I am a much bigger fan of dramas than comedies. This one hit me by surprise though. I began laughing almost immediately and continued to do so most of the way through. It was not the typical movie by any stretch, but that is what made it worth watching.

I recommend you check it out as a rental before you buy it. If you like it, buy it. It is one of those movies, which you will want to watch more than once. This is especially true if you get the meaning, the context, and the slapstick enjoyment from the melodrama of the radio celebrities in Radioland Murders.

I give it four stars.

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  • I watched this some years ago and thought it was embarrassingly bad. You are probably correct about its illustrating the hectic pace on set, but I don’t think Mel Smith is really much of a director (I never thought he was much of a comedian either).