Saturday, February 1, 2014

Danger on the Air (#95)

 coverPlot: After an on-air interview at WBPT is interrupted by an explosion, Frank and Joe stick around to find who is terrorizing the station.

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe head for Mr. Pizza and the mall after Joe saves a man from death; the mall and an unnamed pizza shop show up in The Blackwing Puzzle (#82). Mr. Pizza, which is managed by chum Tony Prito, shows up frequently in the Casefiles — the Hardy Boys Wiki lists three of the books it appears in — and I’m betting it shows up in other, later digests. Unfortunately, all I can find in my notes is an appearance in Prime-Time Crime (#109), another TV-related mystery.

In Danger on the Air, Frank and Joe spend a lot of time at WBPT — serving the Bayport area since 1953 — but it never showed up in the canon. However, WBPT is an important part of Prime-Time Crime and is mentioned in Beyond the Law (Casefiles #55).

Frank and Joe (and Chet) are referred to as football players; Joe’s football experience is mentioned in Daredevils (#159). Joe also plays college football as a field goal kicker in Foul Play (Undercover Brothers, #19).

Frank jumped on the football train later than Joe and Chet. Joe first played in The Sinister Sign Post (#15), with Chet serving as an eligible receiver, but the text specifically says Frank wasn’t a member of the team. By 1953’s The Crisscross Shadow, Frank’s a three-way player who is the punter, quarterback, and captain; Chet was a two-way player, lining up as a center on offense and wearing #34. The Yellow Feather Mystery (#33) mentions Frank has been on the team for three years, meaning he either joined as a sophomore or skipped a year somewhere along the line. He’s a star in The Mystery of the Whale Tattoo (#47), a member of the offensive backfield in The Shattered Helmet (#52), and a participant in The Clue in the Embers (#34), The Mysterious Caravan (#54), The Vanishing Thieves (#66), and The Blackwing Puzzle (#82). Chet also was listed as a center in The Wailing Siren Mystery (#30) and The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior (#43), a lineman in The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48), and as a player in The Secret Agent on Flight 101 (#46), Danger on Vampire Trail (#50), The Mysterious Caravan, and The Blackwing Puzzle.

The Hardys almost get thrown off Barmet Cliffs, near the Westview Apartments; Barmet Cliffs are said to be honeycombed with caves and full of abandoned mine shafts in What Happened at Midnight (#10). Bayport’s Grommet Park is mentioned as part of a blown ransom handoff; few of Bayport’s parks have been mentioned in the canon, although Seaview Park is also part of a ransom payoff in Mystery of the Samurai Sword (#60), and Bayport Memorial Park and its “Alfresco Disco” are part of The Apeman’s Secret (#62). Although it’s not a park, Shorewood Nature Center, a nature preserve, appears in A Will to Survive.

After saving a man’s life on local TV, Joe is besieged by autograph seekers at the mall. He is overwhelmed by the attention, but I’m not sure why. Frank and Joe have received a great deal of publicity over the years, and they are even referred to as “local celebrities” by a TV producer early in Danger. In The Sting of the Scorpion (#58), we learn Frank and Joe have fans, and the brothers give an interview to a reporter from the New York Daily Star. Their travel plans are on TV in The Arctic Patrol Mystery, and they’ve been told their exploits have been read about by people in upstate New York (The Night of the Werewolf, #59) and California (The Four-Headed Dragon, #69). Joe made the front page of the Bailey Herald for saving his father’s papers from a fire in The Secret Warning (#17). Their picture has been in the paper “quite often,” according to The Crimson Flame (#77), and they’ve been interviewed for TV “half a dozen times” (The Blackwing Puzzle).

In Danger Frank and Joe mention a few previous crimes they’ve solved, although I don’t think they are referring to any published adventures. Frank mentions a bank robbery in which blurry videotape of the robber was their only evidence for a while. (The Hardy boys fought bank robbers in the The Missing Chums [#4] and The Secret Panel [#25], but both mysteries are so old videotape would probably not have been used for identification or deterring robbers.) The High Rise Bandit robbed apartments in the Westview Apartments “a few months ago,” but neither Frank nor Joe mention capturing him or her. When an interviewer asks the boys what was their “most exciting” mystery was, Frank responded, “I guess it was that time we discovered this ring of smugglers —” That could refer to a previous book, although there’s nothing to narrow it down; for that matter, “ring of smugglers” could refer to almost any previous book.

Where Is Bayport?: It takes two hours for the boys to get from Bayport to Manhattan by train. On Amtrak’s Northeast Regional schedule, two hours from New York to the east is somewhere around or east of New Haven, Conn. (Despite New Haven’s declining population, it is and always has been too large to be Bayport.) It takes about two hours to get to Philadelphia, so if Bayport is in New Jersey, it would be the near southern end, although no Amtrak routes seem to run directly from southern New Jersey to NYC. On the New Jersey Coast Line run by New Jersey Transit, two hours from New York gets the rider to about Asbury Park, N.J., although at certain times, trains can reach the line’s southern terminus, Bay Head, in a little more than two hours.

At one point, the time of sunset is mentioned: 8:40 p.m. (actually, 15 minutes before 8:55 p.m., but I did the math). You might think that could narrow the possibilities, but unfortunately it doesn’t add up; even on the longest day of the year, none of the candidate cities has a sunset that late. You have to move to the north or west to get a sunset after about 8:30, and unfortunately, that isn’t conducive to selecting cities along the Atlantic seaboard, where all the cities are either south or east of New York (latest sunset: 8:31 p.m., EDT).

Priorities, man: After meeting movie star Wayne Clintock, Frank and Joe can’t wait to relay their brush with fame to the people they know. Frank thinks of Callie, his girlfriend, first; Joe counters with Chet, their best friend. In Joe’s position, I probably would have thought of my girlfriend next, if for no other reason than through the power of suggestion, but Chet has been referred to as the brothers’ best friend, so I guess I understand. But the next person Frank thinks of is Aunt Gertrude.

Gertrude. Why …? But … The purpose of telling people about celebrities you’ve met is to impress them or to share something with them because you’re so close. I’m not sure how Gertrude rises to the top of either list for Frank, but it happened.

I’d buy a ticket to that: Because Clintock is a movie star, Frank and Joe bleat about the films he has starred in. Drop Zone: Danger sounds like a rejected Hardy Boys title, while Hogan’s Law, War in the Streets, and The Last Blast are unremarkable titles. (There’s something of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 feel about all of them.) Clintock’s most recent film, Badge of Honor, shares a name with the fictional TV series in the movie L.A. Confidential, although Danger came out before the book or movie.

Beat the Hangman, however, is a movie I’m intrigued by, and one I’d actually stop to watch a few minutes of if I came across it on cable. Clintock plays a “mysterious gunman” in the movie, which, along with the name, suggests it’s a Western. The name echoes the title of the 1953 film Beat the Devil, although that John Huston / Humphrey Bogart film was a parody of film noir, so there’s probably not a connection.

Those were the days: A cameraman mentions WBPT was originally supposed to be the flagship station of a fourth television network: the McParton Network, named after its founder. In the discussion, the boys and cameraman mention ABC, CBS, and NBC, but evidently this Dixon or the publisher had no confidence in Fox, which became the fourth network when it began primetime broadcasts in 1987. When Danger on the Air came out in 1989, Fox had network programming for two hours on both Saturday and Sunday nights. In fall 1989, it expanded into Mondays, and it had expanded into all nights by 1993.

Although skepticism that a fourth network could be sustained was abundant when Fox started, other networks outside the big three of ABC, CBS, and NBC existed in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The DuMont Television Network was the most successful, running from 1946-55, debuting two years before ABC’s and CBS’s television offerings. (Like McParton’s fictional network, most the video of DuMont’s shows were destroyed.) Paramount started in 1948 as well but went off the air in 1956. DuMont was done in by a variety of factors: getting the short end of AT&T’s limited broadcast technology, lack of a radio network to solidify finances and recruit talent, competition from its corporate partner, Paramount, and ABC, NBC, and CBS monopolizing the three VHF stations in most markets, forcing DuMont to expand into UHF channels, which many TVs of the era could not receive.

Privilege rejected: In New York, Frank tries to get an appointment with the head of Mediatronics, an electronics company. The company’s busy president, however, rejects Frank’s idea of a meeting out of hand — as almost any corporate leader would, no matter what previous books tried to tell us.

Questionable grasp of “hottest”: The villain plans to sell the original recordings of Mrs. Brody’s Boardinghouse, long thought lost, to a television station for a half million dollars. “Some people,” he says, “… believe that the revival of ‘Mrs. Brody’s Boardinghouse’ is going to be the hottest thing on television in years.” I will point out it’s not the villain who thinks this but whomever he’s going to sell the tapes to. However, I highly doubt the 35-year-old reruns of a black-and-white series would be “hot,” even if they hadn't been seen since they originally aired.

The child doesn’t drop far from the family eaves: After catching Frank and Joe eavesdropping, Ettinger, the head of Mediatronics, angrily asks the boys whether their parents taught them any manners. He fails to take into consideration that Fenton, as a private detective, probably taught the boys to eavesdrop.

Enhance!: The Masked Marauder, the criminal who opposes the Hardys in Danger, is caught on video tape. Of course the image is from a distance and blurry; of course a video technician is on hand to gradually improve the image through successive iterations until the suspect is clearly seen. No one yells, “Enhance!” but they might as well have.

Maybe the Hardys should be in charge of the police: When a producer at WBPT goes missing, Frank and Joe try to interest the Bayport Police Department in the case. As the Masked Marauder has already been caught, the police decline to investigate; Con Riley shrugs and says, “We’ll do our best to find her, but … If you guys hear from her again, get in touch with us right away.”

The interesting question here is whether Frank and Joe are justified for taking over crimefighting in Bayport because of police incompetence, or has Frank and Joe’s hypercompetence taught the police to not even try? I lean toward the latter, but that explanation requires a bit too much metaknowledge from the characters.

Opinions: A lot of Danger that is not focused on the mystery is devoted to fame. Should we want it? What are its pitfalls? What are its privileges? Joe is sure he wants to be a movie star, but he freezes up during an interview on live TV, and he’s overwhelmed by a crowd of autograph seekers after people watch him save a man’s life on TV. Joe seems to be fine with the kind of fame that makes him recognizable or gives him access to secrets, but he’s terrified of fame’s other aspects.

Frank and Wayne Clintock deal with other aspects of fame. Frank is unable to secure an interview with Ettinger, despite being a renowned teen sleuth and the son of Fenton Hardy, and he’s actually unrecognizable enough to sneak into the Mediatronics offices. Clintock has to deal with the ignominy of people seeing his awkward teenage years in Mrs. Brody’s Boardinghouse after he’s spent decades building his reputation as a tough action hero; when you’re famous, nothing is forgotten. And because everyone thinks they know him and his motivations, he becomes the prime suspect for the attacks on WBPT. Everything works out in the end, but fame certainly complicates his life.

That being said, the author stops looking at the fame aspect once the investigation kicks into gear, with no one really noticing or contacting Joe a day after his on-air lifesaving; it would have been interesting seeing how friends and family dealt with Joe’s fame other than Chet kidding him about it. This aspect of the story gives way to a better-than-average mystery, with someone using technology to cover his tracks, and Frank and Joe learn about the differences between appearance and reality on TV. They won’t remember the difference, but that’s OK.

Grade: B. Enhance!


  1. Thanks! Good to be back.

    There should be posts every two weeks for a while. Don't know how long that will last, but I've already written three posts.