Old Time Radio Thursdays – #032: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

350px-Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit2Television series – at least here in the U.S. – generally come in two flavors: the continuing series (those that simply go on and on for years with no real end in sight until either flagging ratings or the personnel involved decide it’s time to shut down shop) or miniseries that tend to last for a relatively short duration – usually at most 13 episodes – and have a single story to tell. Of course, the former is more popular that the latter, at least as far as network television goes, because, after all, if they can come up with a popular property, why not flog that beast until it just can’t run any more.

What we don’t tend to see much of is something that kind of falls in the middle.

Back when I was growing up, there were usually two television seasons each year. Generally speaking, you would have the fall season, which is when the networks would begin airing their new shows for the year, and they would generally run for somewhere between 22 to 26 episodes (the shorter episode count would often be used so that the networks could air pre-planned holiday specials and that kind of thing) and then what we called “rerun season” where the networks would basically do exactly that: air re-runs of the series that had just aired so that those who missed them the first time around could catch up on what they had missed. This was, of course, before the advent of home recording devices and all of the rest of the innovations that changed the way Americans watched TV and led to the programming mish-mash that we have today where you never really know when the next new episode of your favorite show might air.

392px-Jekyll_and_Hyde_TitleSo what were the “seasons” like during the era of old-time radio? Actually, they, too, tended to be fairly consistent. Many shows, especially during the “live” era of radio would actually produce 52 shows per year, one each week, because the radio stations and/or networks wanted people to know that at a certain time – say 7pm on a Sunday evening – they could tune in and The Jack Benny Program would be on the air. Of course, this also meant that they ran the risk of “burning out” their performers if they never could get time away from producing the shows. The solution to this often led to what was known as the summer replacement series, which would generally run for 13 episodes (basically three months) in order to give those performers (and all the behind the scenes people such as writers and directors) a chance for an extended break. Those summer shows might be ideas that the networks wanted to try out – perhaps a different comedian would be given Jack’s slot in order to see how well they could carry a show of their own – or they might be what we would today consider extended mini-series that would tell a single story over that 13 week period.

Anyway, that’s how it tended to be during the era when most radio shows aired live. However, later came what became known as transcription series. These were series that would be pre-recorded and then could be sent to the various radio stations. Usually, these were still produced on a weekly basis, but sometimes a producer would go ahead and record, say, an entire 13 episode series and just ship then to the stations all at one time. This, of course, was incredibly convenient for the producers, because it meant that they didn’t have to re-assemble their entire cast each week, but could instead record a number of episodes in a few days, and it was good for the stations because they didn’t have to worry about whether the recorded programs would arrive on time, nor were they dependent upon the at times sketchy transmission systems which would deliver the programs to them.

Rsl1Okay, I’m kind of digressing here, but there is a point to all of this. As you might suspect, much like television today, most of the shows that aired year-round new episodes were just that – episodic. In other words, it really didn’t matter whether you had tuned in for last week’s show or not, because there wasn’t a continuing story-line to be followed. And those shows that did have an over-arching plot would be the ones that would only run for thirteen or so episodes.

What was much more rare, just as it is today, was the series that would stretch that format – that would take one story with a complete beginning, middle, and end – and stretch it out for listeners to need to follow for an extended period of time. The best comparison I can think of at the moment would be something like “24”.

So imagine what it would be like to take a finite story, oh, say, something like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and turn it into a year-long series with a total of 52 episodes. Well, that’s exactly what Australian radio producer George Edwards did.

Edwards, an Australian radio producer and actor, undertook the project in 1932. Since he was, at that point, able to transcribe his series, he was also able to produce a year’s-worth of programming in just a few weeks, and then sell it to radio stations who were eager to have a known, consistent product that they could broadcast for an entire year in the same time slot. At the same time, since each episode was only 15 minutes long, if the radio station could get one or two (usually local) sponsors to commit to advertize on the show for the  entire run, it was a very low-risk proposition for them.

Jekyll-mansfieldAnother plus for the show is that Jekyll was a very hot property at the time, as there were a number of film and stage adaptations that were taking advantage of newly developed special effects to explore the possibilities inherent in the story of a man who transforms into an evil version of himself. Of course, this transformation was even easier on the radio, because instead of having to change his entire look, the actor merely had to change his voice.

And for Edwards, a man commonly known as “The man of 1000 voices”, this would prove easy (and at the same time very effective) indeed.

Obviously, with a running time over 11 hours total, this adaptation is, at times a bit stretched, and it does bring in characters and episodes that were not part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel or were only hinted at or talked about in the printed version. Nonetheless, it does work very well as a series, and proves to be quite entertaining

Thanks to YouTuber “TonightOnTheRadio”, I’ve been able to compile a series of four playlists which will allow you to listen to the entire run of the show, except for episode 15, which appears to perhaps be a missing episode.

UPDATE 3/4/14: Unfortunately, it appears that the original videos from which I had made those playlists have either been taken down or moved. I am currently searching for replacements so that you can listen to the entire thing. In the meantime, however, thanks to a different uploader, “MrJsc1996”, I have been able to compile one playlist containing the first 13 episodes of the series. If, for some reason, you find that this (or any of the other episodes in any of my other OTR Thursday posting) do not work for you, please let me know in the comments, and I will do my best to find replacements for them. Thanks, and again, happy listening!

Here, by the way, is the cast list for these episodes.

Warren Barry … Hugh Hanyon
Bruce Beeby … John Farley
Lloyd Berrell … Mr Jekyll
Dunrich Brenda … Thirza Cox
George Edwards … Hyde, Jekyll, Poole, Franz
Hazel Hollander … Margaret Utterson
Richard Parry … Mr Trelawny
Bebe Scott … Sam
Nell Sterling … Hetty Wilson, Nurse Poole
Vernon Lou Vernon … Mr Litterton

Next time: Inspired by Tuesday’s post on the film Casablanca, we’ll take a look at a show hosted by and featuring one of that film’s stars. But it’s probably not one you’d expect.

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Watch Nelson Carvajal’s New Video Essay TV Takeover And Tremble

netPaddy Chayefsky was a prophet.

When he wrote the screenplay for Network, there was no way he could have known the things that were to come. And yet…

Now Nelson Carvajal has taken Chayefsky’s words, and used them as the centerpiece for an incredible new video essay that shows the power of those word from a perspective of almost 40 years later and how they may be even more relevant today.

But don’t just watch it. Think about it.

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Take A Harrowing Ride On Bus 44 (2001)

bus-poster-thumb2Bus 44 is a Chinese Short film that was written, produced, and directed by Dayyan Eng. It stars Gong Beibi and Wu Chao.

Released to the festival circuit back in 2001, this unfortunately little-seen short does everything a film needs to do in under twelve minutes. It sets up its characters and situation well, it puts them into a very intense and harrowing situation, and it provides a satisfying (if perhaps a bit predictable) conclusion. It also won a number of awards back in its day, including a Special Jury Award at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, a Jury Honorable Mention at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Award at the 2002 Florida Film Festival.The director of the film, Dayan Eng has said about it

I have always been interested in social psychology and wanted to do a film about how people react under certain stressful circumstances. The story attracts me not only because it has an interesting plot with a twist, but mostly because the underlying theme is even more haunting than the events that take place. I intentionally made this film with a certain ambiguity of time and place — this story could have taken place anywhere in the world. Making films about people and human nature attracts me because I feel that people around the world have much more in common than they do differences. “Bus 44” carries a universal theme that travels across all boundaries and societies, trespassing the dark side and bright side of human behavior.

Fair warning: the film is not easy viewing (as I mentioned above, it is quite harrowing and intense) and is definitely NSFW, however, for those of you willing to give it a try, I do think you’ll find it well worth the time invested.

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That’s One Big Frakkin Lizard! – Here’s The Brand New Trailer For Godzilla (2014)

Interestingly, some of the dialogue and shots in this trailer seem to be indicating that this version of Godzilla should be considered a sequel to the 1954 original – or at least that this isn’t mankind’s first encounter with the big lizard. Whatever the case, May 16 can’t get here soon enough.

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Top 250 Tuesday #085 – Casablanca (1942)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #085 on the list, Michael Curtizs Casablanca. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

cas1It seems like quite a few of the films that I have written about lately in this count-around (it’s not really a count down, since I’m not taking them in any particular order) have fit into the category of films that are extremely familiar, and indeed part of our shared cultural lexicon, and yet that there are a lot of people (myself often included) that have not actually seen the movie.

Casablanca, it appears, is just such a movie.

Recently I had a chance to watch a gorgeous 4K restoration of the film, thanks to our local independent movie house, the wonderful Belcourt Theatre. When I went, I was accompanied by my 13-year old daughter and a couple of older (than me) friends, and while we were there, we met up with a couple of friends who are younger than I am. Not exactly a completely random grouping, but probably a fairly indicative sampling of the crowd that was there.

It turns out that of the six of us only two (myself and one of my younger friends, who is even more film-knowledgeable than I am) had actually watched the movie all the way through before. If you expand that out, you could make the guess that fully two-thirds of the people in that crowd had never seen the entire movie (and yes, I know, I’m being completely unscientific about this, and using completely anecdotal evidence, but I honestly do suspect that, if anything, the actual number might even be a little higher).

humphrey bogart & dooley wilson - casablanca 1943Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. I’m not casting aspersions on anyone. There are lots of movies that I’ve never seen, and a lot of them are ones that cause friends of mine to look at me askance as if to ask “Really?! How can that be?”. But, at the same time, we’re talking about Casablanca here, one of the most quoted, most referenced, most well-known films of all-time, a film that is truly part of the cultural zeitgeist.

Or at least it was. During the 20th century. Now? Hmmm… I wonder.

Part of the problem with Casablanca today was somewhat epitomized, I think, in the discussion that my daughter and I had after the screening. Now you have to understand that though she is only 13, she has embraced the concept of going to a lot of these older movies with me, and quite often will either ask to see something that surprises me, or, say, if we see a trailer for something that’s upcoming will surprise me with her choices, so it’s not like she doesn’t have a background with older black and white movies. And yet, when it came to Casablanca, it seems it left her less enthralled than the rest of us, and she actually said that it felt “slow” to her.

cas4As we talked about it further, and as I reflected on her response to the film a couple of thoughts occurred to me. Now again I want to note that I haven’t really had a chance to discuss these thoughts with her, so I may be off base, but there are two things that occur to me.

First, Casablanca is a very “adult” film. I don’t mean that in the way that it is most often used, in the way that, say Goodfellas or some other R-rated (or even unrated) movies are considered “adult”, but in its basic themes of loss and sacrifice, especially where love is concerned. That is to say, even though on the surface there is always the simmering tension between Rick and Ilsa and Lazlo, and even though at many moments the screenplay does veer very close to the edge of the melodramatic will they or won’t they, in the end, it’s the overarching theme of inevitable loss that really sets the movie’s tone. Yes, there is a “happy” ending, but it is an ending that come with a price for nearly everyone involved, and I wonder if that sense of loss, and an ability to relate to that, isn’t something that only comes with… well, if not with age, at least with a certain bit of experience, with having dealt with that kind of loss that younger people who have not yet been through those circumstances, who have not felt that pain and lived with it simply cannot really relate to yet.

Image: FILE PHOTO: 70 Years Since The Casablanca World Premiere CasablancaPerhaps that is why, as the “The End” card came up, and my daughter caught the sadness on my face, her response was not agreement, but surprise that the end of the movie had affected me as much as it had. Because for her it was much more about the plot, which, it’s true, the end twist is telegraphed so far ahead that it seemed really to only be played out, for her, in an overly drawn-out fashion, as opposed to what I was reacting to, which was the atmosphere and the performances and the dialogue that make that ending so much more than just “who’s getting on the plane?”

Secondly, there is the setting itself. Not so much the city of Casablanca, that is set up very well, but rather the fact that, as we are now well over a decade into the 21st century, World War II is not only history, but it is ancient history. By that I mean that while even for me the war was over almost twenty years before I was born, for almost anyone younger, especially those born after, say, the years of Vietnam, the War, and the restrictions and deprivations that it brought about, the atrocities and the fear are almost entirely unrelatable, and the film might as well be set in ancient Greece. It is certainly not as immediate as it would have been for viewers back in its own time, nor is it something that is still even a part of the collective, shared conciousness that it would have been for those of my generation who grew up knowing those who had actually been a part of it.

ricks-cafe-americainEven the mere concept of the need for letters of transit, or the tension between the Germans and the French resistance, which make up the central focus of the film really become more and more something that has to be explained outside of the context of the film or absorbed and expounded upon within it and are not something that any audience today is likely to have any innate knowledge of. So I wonder where that puts lines like “We’ll always have Paris”, which of course, has its own textual meaning, but loses much of its subtext when there isn’t that emotional resonance that accompanies the knowledge that come with the fact that the train that Rick is getting on really is the last train out of the city before the German invasion, and that there is no chance that Ilsa could simply catch up to him later due to the invasion of the city by the Germans.

So where, then, does that leave a movie like Casablanca, I wonder? Because it is a film that, although it is often spoken of as timeless, and in a way it certainly is, is also very much a product of, and inured in, it’s time. In the years to come, will it continue to be one of those movies that “everyone” has seen or at least “knows” even if they haven’t seen the entire film, or will it eventually become another one of those movies that was once considered essential viewing for anyone and everyone, but is now simply a cultural artifact, lost to the sands of time, seen only by those who like to dig to find those films that they have heard of or people who, like I have with so many of the films on this particular list, run across it in a certain context and decide to “give it a try”?

I suppose that’s a question we’ll only be able to answer as time goes by.

(Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

So what are your thoughts on Casablanca? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.

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What Is Visual Literacy? Martin Scorsese Has The Answer

scor1The concept of “visual literacy” is one that may be new to a lot of people, but it’s one that, as more and more information nowadays is being transmitted visually, especially to the younger generations, is becoming much more important.

So what exactly is visual literacy? At its most basic, it comes down to an understanding of the techniques of the film maker’s trade. I’m not necessarily talking about the truly technical side of it, the use of different types of lenses and that kind of thing, although that certainly can be a part of it, but more about the choice of shot that a film maker uses, the way they present that shot, and the effect that those decisions have upon the viewer.

Of course, I’m using the term film maker above, because this is primarily a film blog, but really this is something that applies to any kind of visual artistry: the color choices and textures used by painters, the lighting and angles and focus choices made by a talented photographer, and on and on.

Nor should we ignore the “artistry” that is regularly used to manipulate viewers in more commercial settings such as… well, such as television commercials.

scor2Anyway, back to the concept of visual literacy as it applies to film, and one recent concrete example: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

On it’s face, Wolf is a movie that I really should not have enjoyed as much as I did. It’s a movie that is full of despicable characters doing despicable things. It is a movie that is completely over the top in terms of explicit language, drug use, nudity, sex, and violence. It’s a movie full of shots that cannot help but call attention to themselves and at times even brought me, as a viewer completely out of the film thinking “that is gorgeous, but why is it here now?”

It’s also a movie that had me completely enthralled from beginning to end, is high atop my “best of the year” list, and that I think completely deserves its Best Picture nomination for this year’s Academy Awards. And it’s a movie that has me wanting to go back to see it again, simply because I want to view it in the context of understanding just what it is that Scorsese  is doing, in the context of using every bit of his understanding of visual literacy, to bring out these seemingly contradictory feelings.

All of which brings me to the clip below in which Scorsese himself talks about the concept of visual literacy, gives it some meaning and context, and talks about its importance in all of our lives. Because if anyone has proven himself worthy of being a part of this discussion, of talking about this subject, it is the man who has proven himself a master of the art.

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763 New Jokes And An R Rating And Still No Reason For Existing – Here’s The Trailer For The Expanded Anchorman 2

Personally, I live in a world where we didn’t really need an Anchorman 2 to begin with. If, however, you’re one of those who love the Will Farrell comedy, or who were disappointed that it was toned down to get a PG13 rating, then I suppose next week is your week, as, according to this trailer, the film will be returning to theaters in an expanded, R rated version with a purported 763 new jokes. (Actually, if I had to guess, these are largely alternate takes that were originally left on the cutting-room floor, but who knows? And hey, if there are 763 new jokes, it may prove that as many as 6 of them are actually funny, so it may not be a complete waste of your time and money.)

Yay?

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