Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

NBC University Theater: "For Whom the Bell Tolls"--11/20/49

This show and Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air both did pretty much the same thing--one hour-long adaptations of classic novels.

Both were excellent series, which is an amazing accomplishment when you consider the challenge of jamming a novel-length story into an hour time slot. Sometimes, this would lead the writers to rush through a story a little too quickly for it to be completely satistfying. But sometimes, the episode would work because it draws on one aspect or plot-line from the original novel and concentrates almost exclusively on that.

That's what the creative staff of NBC University Theater did when they turned to Ernest Hemingway's classic story set during the Spanish Civil War. The main character is an American named Robert Jordan, who is fighting for the Republicans. Traveling behind enemy lines to blow up an important bridge, he hooks up with a band of guerilla fighters led by a man named Pablo.

And it is this dynamic--the clash of wills between Jordan and Pablo (and the uncomfortable possibility that Jordan might have to assassinate Pablo)--that the radio adaptation concentrates on. And it does a great job, especially a sequence in which Pilar, Pablo's woman, recounts the story of how Pablo once led an attack on a particular town and had all the captured facist leaders executed afterwards.

Of course, this leaves out a lot of cool stuff. Jordan's romance with Maria is absent (Maria is there, just not as an important character). The last stand of El Sordo and his band is gone. Jordan's internal thoughts about the morality of war are gone. Anyone familar with the book will miss all this, but the show does such a good job with what it does keep that there's really no reason to complain. It's an excellent hour of drama, demonstrating just how good a storytelling medium radio can be.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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