Reporter stands back in recycled story

This “Europe Confidential” story is a less-satisfying adaptation of a “Lives of Harry Lime” script than the espionage episode mentioned last time, but this one illustrates a very different way journalism can become part of dramatic storytelling.

In the previous episode, the Harry Lime spy story “The Third Woman” was adapted by transforming the lead character into reporter Mike Connoy, who got to reminisce about being on temporary spy duty during World War II, a not implausible framing of the story. Turning Orson Welles’ anti-hero Harry Lime into Lionel Murton’s hero-journalist, Connoy, took some creative rewriting. But clever insertion of the memes and themes of fictional adventurer-journalists did the job.

This time, there is no attempt to write foreign correspondent Connoy into the plot — a gambling-swindle “caper” story. Connoy simply becomes the narrator, telling the story from the outside, supposedly after having it told to him by one of the principal characters.

“Reporting” is a natural way to involve a reporter in a story, but putting the Connoy character in that position — after having both an unnamed announcer and “host” Basil Rathbone introduce the story — makes the episode seem framed and reframed. Ironically, Rathbone’s introduction to the episode talks about a breaking news story being enough to send Connoy “speeding to the scene,” but in the episode the reporter never leaves his armchair.

The original tale was about a Cuban boxing match and an attempted gambling swindle by the shady anti-hero character Harry Lime, plus a female accomplice. Their complicated sting took on a naive insurance executive from Cleveland. Lime, played by Orson Welles as the character was in “The Third Man” movie, narrates his own story with self-deprecating good humor and worldly chuckles — the radio equivalent of a raised eyebrow.

In the recasting of the story, Connoy simply has less to say, including these sentences of introduction:

“Writing this column of mine, Europe Confidential, you come across all the stories in time. The sad ones, the solemn ones, and the amusing, the bizarre, right alongside them. This one, it might go under the title of high comedy with a kick, or, should I say, a knockout?
“I first saw Judy Diamond go to work on the American tourist in the small intimate nightclub called Casa Pepito…”

The focus is so much on the female swindler that radio collector Jim McCuaig, who rescued and digitized old transcription disks of “Europe Confidential,” titled this episode “The Judy Diamond Affair.” (The transcriptions were untitled. The Harry Lime original was titled “It’s a Knockout,” and is part of the Internet Archive’s “Lives of Harry Lime” collection.)

Judy’s boss, the chief swindler, is too thinly drawn to be a sympathetic anti-hero character in this version. At times, his accent has a hint of W.C. Fields, but not enough to make him the confidence man a comic rascal. In contrast, Lime, as the title character of the original series and voiced by the unmistakable Welles, came to each episode with plenty of charisma and useful baggage.

Could the script writer have made done more to get Connoy into the story? Perhaps he could have been on assignment to cover the boxing world, uncovered the swindle bit by bit, maybe wrestled with his conscience about covering the unlicensed match or blowing the whistle. But that would be a bigger writing job, and presumably the reason for turning “Harry Lime” scripts into “Europe Confidential” stories was to economize on both time and money.

Neither broadcast included credits to the writers or actors, other than the series’ stars. Both programs were produced by Harry Alan Towers, about six years apart. The Lime series was widely syndicated; “Europe Confidential” apparently less so, arriving on the scene in 1957 and 1958, when Television had become serious competition for radio drama.

Towers, in fact, partnered with American radio syndicator Frederick Ziv on several television-series projects. Maybe a television historian will discover that one has an intriguing plot about a boxing swindle…

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 1950s, adaptations, Drama, foreign correspondents, Orson Welles. Bookmark the permalink.

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