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Film / The Radioland Murders

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At WBN, "dead air" is about to take on a whole new meaning...

Radioland Murders is a 1994 comedy-mystery produced by George Lucas and directed by Mel Smith. The script was written by Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn.

Chicago, 1939: It's the inaugural night for radio station WBN, and things absolutely must go as planned. The largest investor is threatening to pull his support, and a lot of others are threatening to follow suit. And what's worse, he wants half the scripts changed, even though the writers have gone on strike since they haven't been paid in weeks.

Enter Roger Henderson (Brian Benben), the lead writer, and his wife Penny (Mary Stuart Masterson), who is seeking to divorce him. Both are just trying to make sure everything goes well, but darn it, someone keeps killing people. And wouldn't you know it, Roger always manages to be the first on the scene of the crime.


So while Penny tries to keep things from falling apart backstage, Roger has to clear his name, while running from the cops and single-handedly re-writing all of the scripts.

The Radioland Murders was Gloria Katz's final film as a screenwriter before she died of ovarian cancer in 2018.

This movie provides examples of:

  • All Part of the Show: The broadcast interrupts with cryptic clues, sabotaged equipment, lack of script to work with, murders happening and the noise of them occurring making it to the air, a murderer confessing his crime... The Show Must Go On, and improv happens.
  • Black Humor: The nitrous oxide death, which is horrifying, yet no one can stop laughing, making it darkly funny. The victim is asphyxiating while laughing his ass off, and when Roger and the detectives get into the room, they all start laughing as well.
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  • The Cameo: Bobcat Goldthwait as one of the writers on strike, drunk off his ass and providing Going Postal ideas for every script. Also George Burns as an In-Universe comedian.
  • Canon Welding: Roger and Penny are/were intended to be the parents of Curt and Laurie Henderson of American Graffiti.
  • Clear My Name: Roger, during the third act.
  • Costume Porn: Plenty of the performers wear fancy outfits (for the benefit of the studio audience, even though the main audience couldn't see them).
  • Criminal Mind Games: The killer interrupts the broadcast to deliver cryptic messages related to who he's going to kill next. A couple of times the interruption forces the people on the air at the moment to improvise a way to "put it in" their show.
  • Crashing Through the Harem: Page boy Billy Bennett accidentally runs into the women's dressing room, with lots of topless women. He is thrown out bodily.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Some of the Pimped Out Dresses have white feather trimming.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Mr. Katzenback boasts this as he fixes the gears on his rotating stage. They become his last words.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Lt. Cross. And he's just as angry as his name makes him sound.
  • Hello Again, Officer: Roger keeps on running into (and pissing off) Cross. Part of the reason Cross goes all Inspector Javert on Roger is because every single time they do, there is a dead body right there with them (and so Cross ends up coming to suspect that Roger is pulling the cops' chain with his insinuations of innocence).
  • Indy Ploy: Given its writer, this comes naturally into play as Roger is able to somehow escape after being framed for the murders by the cops. However, it's subverted as Roger does this through sheer luck, though the cops believe he actually had planned it in advance.
  • Inspector Javert: Cross, regarding Roger. Roger being the first guy to arrive at (if not being right on) the murder scene (and a couple of occasions the sole witness to the murder) doesn't help his case.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Penny ends up Alone with the Psycho once Roger's doctored script announces the killer's name and she's able to hit a microphone feed switch unnoticed, broadcasting his Motive Rant to everybody in the radio station and Chicago.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Roger runs into one of the dead bodies early on, and while he runs to get the cops, the murderer manages to take the body away. The cadaver is discovered later, and obviously Cross believes Roger did it.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In-Universe, television (and color, at that). It is everybody else scoffing at the idea after all the effort and even having a working camera model during The Great Depression that drives the murderer to... well, murder.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Roger, leading him to try to clear his name (and being chased all over the building by the police, and still try to deliver his scripts on time). Being first on the scene (willingly or unwillingly) of every murder makes the cops suspect him.
  • Old, Dark House: It fits the bill surprisingly well, despite taking place in a (mostly) well-light public skyscraper in downtown Chicago.
  • Police Are Useless: Most of the cops can fall under this, including Cross' partner who by himself could have killed himself at times due to his dumbassness.
  • Really Gets Around: Claudette Katzenback has all but forced herself on pretty much every man who works at the radio station at one time or another. Roger seems to be the only one to have refused her advances.
  • Show Within a Show: This being about a radio station in the '30s, there are many, and most of them parallel what's going on with Roger surprisingly well.
  • The Show Must Go On: And it does, even with the many on-air deaths and other random insanity going on.
  • Throw It In: In-Universe: The cryptic interruptions are worked around in a couple of shows, and Roger (in order to prove his innocence) writes his assumptions of who is the murderer (which turn out to be right) into the script of one of the shows so everybody (especially said murderer) will listen.