“Storm in a Teacup” crossed Atlantic

The full-length 1937 film “Storm in a Teacup” is available from the Internet Archive, with Rex Harrison as a crusading young journalist and Vivien Leigh as the beautiful daughter of the smalltown dictator he crusades against.

The 1948 Ford Theater radio adaptation shifts the scene from Scotland to the U.S. and trims the story to fit the hour-long format, but still tells it entertainingly.

Can the right newspaperman get a seemingly heartless politician to change his ways? Along with the upstart journalist’s speaking truth to power, it helps that the official has a beloved daughter to help him find his heart.

The 1937 film audience may have left the theater chuckling at the comedy’s happy ending and wishing Hitler had such a daughter — along with more opposition from a free press. In fact, as the Ford Theater host tells us, the story began as a play in pre-Hitler Germany. Its British adaptation — play and film — took a decidedly “United Kingdom” theme, minus only a Welsh component: The story is set in Scotland, amid bagpipes and kilts, with a gentlemanly English journalist coming to the aid of an outspoken Irish street peddler.

The Irishwoman maintains her brogue, blarney and bluster in the 1948 American radio version, and — appropriately enough — operates a newsstand. The postwar U.S. radio audience may have had a new perspective on the references to tyranny, but the “power of the press” theme is still strong.

As in the original, the ambitious and authoritarian municipal executive has a beautiful daughter, who becomes the dashing reporter’s romantic interest. (In the 1937 film she is just back from finishing school; in the radio play, she is just back from helping with European war relief.)

The radioplay by Ford Theater maintains the journalist’s crusading speeches and his dedication to telling the true story about the arrogant politician, although it will surely cost him his job.

Pre “Gone with the Wind” Vivian Leigh and pre “My Fair Lady” Rex Harrison are a hard act to follow, and the movie set in Scotland is full of lovely accents and scenes, but the radio adaptation also has its charms, including its portrayal of a smalltown pol trying to manipulate the media in smalltown ways, from attempting to literally dictate a story to a reporter to a more direct modification of his image:

“Do something about that picture. Tell the printer or whoever it is put a little more hair on my head.” — Mayor Gow

Journalists will note the newspaper offices in both versions are small, quaint places where a new member of the staff can slip a controversial story onto the front page while the boss is out of town. In both versions, the reporter stands by his story — half editorial though it may be — despite the threat to his continued employment at any paper.

As the title suggests, the story is hardly man-bites-dog news, but it does provide a good example of both a politician and a reporter getting stubborn about a matter of principle.

In a spirit of opinionated, progressive journalism, the reporter also edges into a rabble-rousing advocacy campaign, but he also sees through the “helpfulness” of an interest group that come to his aid in order to publicize its own cause. Both topics could make for a good discussion in a classroom full of student journalists and bloggers.

Finally, both versions maintain a 20th century optimism about both journalism and politics: Yes, an idealistic reporter can make a difference. And he might even get the girl.

The star of the radio adaptation was one of the best-known voices in radio, hall of fame member Les Tremayne, who also played Nick Charles on “The Thin Man” and another gentleman detective known as “The Falcon.” Tremayne crossed over into the real-news world as an announcer for Drew Pearson’s news program, and as a cast member for the hybrid news/soap-opera, “Wendy Warren and the News.” Elsewhere in the cast, radio fans and watchers of 1950s television may recognize the voices of Jackson Beck, announcer of the Superman radio series, and Honeymooner Art Carney. A cast list is given at the end of the program, without identifying all of the parts they played. See also David Goldin’s Ford Theater Page at RadioGoldinDex.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adaptations, comedy, international, journalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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