Writing a Driving Story: Adventures by Morse (Stories for the Ear #5)

Alright, we’re finally back to looking at some old-time radio. For all you radio buffs out there, I know there are the big shows like “Suspense”, “The Shadow”, “Mercury Theater”, and shows like those, but I’m more interested in the obscure shows that are just as good if not better than the few radio shows that are still somewhat well-known today. I  mean, everyone knows about “Sherlock Holmes” and “Superman”, which were fine old-time radio shows, but there are other great ones out there totally worth looking at. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do, so let’s talk a bit about “Adventures by Morse”.

“Adventures by Morse” was a series of 52 half-hour episodes produced sometime between 1944 and 1948, all written by a guy named Carlton E. Morse. The reason why the name is seemingly so uncreative is because Morse had been writing a much bigger show called “I Love a Mystery”, but it suddenly got cancelled, and being a smart guy who wanted to keep making money and living, had “Adventures by Morse” up and running the same year that “I Love a Mystery” was kicked off the air. “Adventures” follows Captain Friday, a private investigator who solves very complex mysteries, usually of a supernatural nature.

The reason I like this show so much is because it has a really driving story. It’s comprised of four story arcs, and each story arc is divided between a ten-part mystery and a three-part mystery. So Captain Friday would take ten episodes to solve a mystery, and that would lead him into a related mystery that would take three episodes. The next ten-part mystery would be brand new. Usually, the mysteries would have a reasonable explanation for something seemingly supernatural. Sound familiar? Well, as mentioned before, Morse wrote “I Love a Mystery”, which was a major influence on “Scooby Doo”, believe it or not.

In each episode of “Adventures by Morse”, Captain Friday and the other characters would discover things and ask pertinent questions that left the listener on edge, sometimes taking several episodes to finally reach an explanation. The placing of the questions and answers regarding each mystery was very well-timed. Another good idea was that after each ten-part mystery, there would be a simple and related three-parter, so the listener didn’t have to keep track of as much, but after the simpler story, the listener was ready for another complex ten-parter again. It was really quite a brilliant system. I kind of wish the show had gone on, but after it ended, Morse wrote a sequel series to “I Love a Mystery” called “I Love Adventure” in 1948, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes, for good reason. I’ve heard it. You shouldn’t.

“Adventures by Morse” is a great example of a compelling mystery series adapted for the great medium of radio. It really is the ideal radio mystery, in my opinion. Listen to it yourself! All of the episodes have survived, and are available on archive.org and (surprise, surprise) YouTube. If you happen to give it a listen, let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Happy listening!

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