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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1920 – A Cinematic Year Of Darkness And Light

classic-movie-history-project-mary-pickford-bannerThis is my contribution to the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon. The CMHP Blogathon will be running over the next three days, and the idea behind it is that each participant will take a year in classic movie history and post something in relation to that year. The blogathon is being co-hosted by Movies Silently, Silver Screenings, and Once Upon a Screen. For more information on the blogathon, links to all of the articles, and lots of great reading be sure to click on the links above (or the image on the right) and check out all of the great posts.

The year 1920 was definitely a significant one, not only for Hollywood, but for the entire world of film. It was the year that many people who would go on to become highly influential and significant throughout the world of cinema both in front of and behind the camera were born. People such as Federico Fellini, Eric Rohmer, Toshiro Mifune, Mickey Rooney, Montgomery Clift, Gene Tierney, and Viveca Lindfors. It was the year in which “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford was accused of and prosecuted for bigamy because of her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, It was the year Charlie Chaplin got divorced from his wife and gained full possession of the rights to his great film The Kid. It was the year D.W. Griffith lost Lillian Gish as a contract player. It was the year of director Maurice Tourneur’s return to America.

And it was the year of the release of three very special silent films.

caligari1920 was a year when Expressionism was taking hold in Germany, and nowhere is this more evident that in Robert Wiene’s film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, or, to use its English title, The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari.

Caligari is a very strange tale, told in a very strange way. If you’re not familiar with the German Expressionist style, it can, at first, be very off-putting, as it has a strong emphasis on shadows, light, and odd angles. It is a style, however, that is very appropriate to the often nightmare-like tone that Wiene was trying to achieve here, and if given a chance is not only evocative and appropriate, but really makes the film a standout amongst its contemporaries.

Also, in an odd development, (Slight Spoiler Alert) because of reported studio interference and insistence, it may very well be the first film with a twist ending about which I will say nothing more except that it is one whose echoes can be felt in much more modern and well-known films such as Psycho and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

At the same time that Caligari was scaring European audiences, a very different horror film was making waves in the U.S., as John Barrymore was bringing to life Robert Louis Stevenson’s two most famous characters, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There have, of course, been many other film and television adaptations of this story, but Barrymore’s portrayal is truly one of the most iconic.

jekyllThe story of the good-natured doctor and his villainous alter-ego is well known, so I won’t go into it in much detail here, but I will say that the transformation scenes, especially considering the fact that so many of these effects were still being worked out are incredibly powerful. Not only do they take advantage of specialized makeup and prosthetics, along with the sort of superimposition and cutaways that would later transform Lon Chaney Jr. into the Wolf-man, there is also simply the superb acting of Barrymore himself who not only begins the changes with spectacular body and facial contortions, but also allows the character of Hyde, once the transformation is complete, to completely overcome him and turn his Hyde into a truly unique, menacing, and, yes, evil creature.

Also, as in Caligari, we see in Jekyll and Hyde a very effective use of light and shadow, of darkness hiding and yet at the same time illuminating the difference between the two aspects of the central character. And again, this is something that I think is lost in a lot of ways once films converted not only to sound, but to color, because there was a special language that these films had worked out (or were still, at this point, working out) that once again added to the air of menace and even to the inevitability of the film’s denoument, and this is something that later film makers will definitely take advantage of once we get to the era of films noir.

Of course, not everything was dark and scary in 1920, and that is reflected in the third film I’ve chosen to focus on from this year, the Douglas Fairbanks adventure film The Mark of Zorro.

mark_of_zorroZorro is much more in the vein of a light-hearted romp of the type Fairbanks would become known for throughout his career, and which would eventually reach it’s peak, at least as far as classic films go in my opinion, with the 1938 Technicolor showcase The Adventures of Robin Hood.

One of the things which makes Zorro interesting, however in relation to both Caligari and Jekyll and Hyde, is that it is also a story which features darkness and light good and evil, and most especially masks and the question of identity. But it does it in its own swashbuckling fun style that really makes it a fun view, and in a way that has its echoes all the way down to contemporary favorites such as The Princess Bride.

As you can see, Ive embedded full-length versions of all three of these films above. I’ll also note that thanks to the fact that all three are in the public domain, they are all available on DVD from various distributors and in varying quality, so if you do want to purchase them for your collection, be aware of what you are buying. Definitely of note, however is news that coincidentally was released this week that Kino Classics will be releasing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a newly restored Blu-ray edition that looks like it will be a beauty.

Finally for today, I thought I would leave you with a few posters showcasing other films that came out in 1920. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at a very special year in cinema history as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting these films and writing about them.

Until next time, as always, Happy Viewing!

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #003: The Mercury Theater On The Air (1938)

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.

So last week we looked at The Lone Ranger, one of the longest-running series to air during what is known as The Golden Age of Radio, and this week we move to a series that had a considerably shorter life span, but has had perhaps at least as much cultural impact – or at least one of its episodes did.

orson_welles-radioThe Mercury Theater On The Air actually began its life as First Person Singular. The series was created as a showcase for Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater troupe, and featured adaptations of classic works of literature. Welles, of course, played the lead in each show, and often also portrayed other characters as well. This was often the case with a radio show like this, where one actor would portray more than one character, since, as long as the voice was different, the listening audience would readily accept the illusion, if they were even aware of it.

The show is what was known as a “sustained” series, meaning it was carried and payed for by the network, in this case CBS, without a sponsor and without commercials. This was often done in early radio, when the network would want to go ahead and give a show a tryout, in hopes that they could attract a lucrative sponsor. In the case of the Mercury Theater, the show was given an initial 13 episode run. The first show was broadcast on July 11, 1938, and starred Welles in the title role of “Dracula”.

Other early shows included adaptations of “Treasure Island“, “A Tale of Two Cities“, “The Count of Monte Cristo“, and” Julius Caesar“.

Of course, it’s not those shows, good as they are, that made the series so famous that it is even today the stuff of radio legend. No, that can be pinned down to one episode in particular, the show that “panicked a nation”. The night was October 30, 1938, the night before Halloween, and as a nation tuned in to CBS, they heard…

Much has been written about that broadcast, and many theories have been presented as to the actual reasons for the “panic” and just how great it was. That’s all information that can easily be found elsewhere, and it was even dramatized on a 1957 episode of Westinghouse Playhouse One which is notable in itself for appearances by Alexander Scourby, Ed Asner , Warren Oates., John Astin. and James Coburn (making his television debut).

Two things, however, can’t be denied. The “War of the Worlds” episode made a star of the young Welles, and it got the program a sponsor. The week after the initial 13 episode run concluded (with an adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”), it returned as The Campbell Playhouse, sponsored by Campbell Soups, and would run under that title for another three years.

That, however, is another show for another day. For now, I’ll just leave you with some of the other adaptations that were done under the Mercury Theater banner. Enjoy!

First up, John Buchan’s “The 39 Steps” (yes, this is the same story that Alfred Hitchcock had turned into a film in 1935.)

Next, here’s “The Count of Monte Cristo”:

“The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton

And finally, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” in which Welles plays both the adult Jim Hawkins and the famous pirate Long John Silver.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and will come back next week when a famous Hollywood Duo will strike out on a very Bold Venture.