Radioland Murders is a 1994 comedy mystery film directed by Mel Smith and co-written and produced by George Lucas. Radioland Murders is set in the 1939 atmosphere of old-time radio and pays homage to the screwball comedy films of the 1930s. The film tells the story of writer Roger Henderson trying to settle relationship issues with his wife while dealing with a whodunit murder mystery in a radio station. The film stars an ensemble cast, including Brian Benben, Mary Stuart Masterson, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael Lerner and Ned Beatty. Radioland Murders also features numerous small roles and cameo appearances, including Michael McKean, Bobcat Goldthwait, Jeffrey Tambor, Christopher Lloyd, George Burns (in his final film appearance), Billy Barty and Rosemary Clooney.
George Lucas began development for the film in the 1970s, originally attached as director for Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's script. Universal Pictures commenced pre-production and both Steve Martin and Cindy Williams had already been approached for the two leads before Radioland Murders languished in development hell for over 20 years. In 1993, Lucas told Universal that advances in computer-generated imagery from Industrial Light & Magic (owned by Lucasfilm), particularly in digital mattes, would help bring Radioland Murders in for a relatively low budget of about $10 million, which eventually rose to $15 million. Mel Smith was hired to direct and filming lasted from October to December 1993. Radioland Murders was released on October 21, 1994, to negative reviews from critics and bombed at the box office, only grossing $1.37 million in US totals.
In 1939, a new radio network based at station WBN in Chicago, Illinois begins its inaugural night. The station's owner, General Walt Whalen, depends on his employees to impress main sponsor Bernie King. This includes writer Roger Henderson, assistant director Penny Henderson (Roger's wife, seeking divorce), page boy Billy Budget, engineer Max Applewhite, conductor Rick Rochester, announcer Dexter Morris, director Walt Whalen, Jr. and stage manager Herman Katzenback. After King commissions rewrites on the radio scripts, the WBN writers get angry, adding to the fact that they have not been paid in weeks. When Ruffles Reedy, a trumpet player, falls dead from rat poisoning, a series of events ensue. Director Walt Jr. is hanged (the mysterious killer makes it look like a suicide), and his father, the General, has the Chicago Police Department (CPD) get involved to solve the murder mysteries as the nightly radio performance continues. Herman Katzenback is then killed after attempting to fix the main stage when the machinery malfunctions. Penny is appointed both stage manager and director due to Walt Jr. and Katzenback's deaths. Writer Roger Henderson tries to solve the killings, much to the annoyance of the police, led by Lieutenant Cross.
Because Roger unfortunately appears at every scene of crime just as the murders take place, he is ruled as the prime suspect. Roger and Billy Budget then theorize that announcer Dexter Morris is the next to die. Dexter ignores their warning and is killed by electrocution. By going through private documents in WBN's file room, Roger finds that the victims all previously worked together at a radio station in Peoria, Illinois, which he then correlates into a secretive FCC scandal. King (laughing gas) and General Whalen (falls down an elevator shaft) are the next to die after Roger's warning, causing even more suspicion from the police.
After escaping from custody, Roger uses Billy to communicate and send scripts to Penny. When rewriting one of the programs, Gork: Son of Fire, Roger attempts to write the script with self-referential events, proving to everyone that the mysterious killer is actually sound engineer Max Applewhite. Max explains that his killings were a revenge scheme that dealt with stock holders and patents, specifically detailing his invention of television, which other scientists have copied. Roger and Penny are taken by Max atop the radio tower at gunpoint. Max is eventually killed when a biplane shows up and guns him down. Impressed by the nightly performance, the sponsors decide to fund WBN. Roger and Penny reconcile their complex relationship and decide not to divorce.