Add a reporter, shift hemispheres; seeking the truth in rewrite

I dropped a few of the Internet Archive’s “The Lives of Harry Lime” episodes onto my MP3 player to listen to on drives or walks in the park… and stumbled on another case of script-recycling, presumably by Harry Alan Towers, again replacing Orson Welles’ “Harry Lime” character with the “Europe Confidential” Paris correspondent Mike Connoy (actor Lionel Murton).

This time the rewrite was literally hemispheric in scope — as well as food for thought on the role of the newspaper reporter character as a narrative storytelling device. At the same time, the adaptation preserves plot twists and more mystery than many half-hour radio dramas.

The “Lives of Harry Lime” episode is titled “The Mexican Hat Trick, and finds Welles “Third Man” conman character looking for a source of income in Mexico. He chances on a dying murderer’s written confession, which would clear a convicted man of the crime if someone can track down documents the real murderer hid somewhere in a small town called Leon.

Lime offers to do the sleuthing — for a price, possibly intending to simply swindle a widow and orphans, but winds up accompanied on the quest by the wrongly convicted man’s beautiful young daughter. She doesn’t entirely trust him, until… but that would be telling.

The “Europe Confidential” adaptation, as you might guess, moves the setting to France, still in a small town called Leon. The series’ original digital collector, Jim McCuaig, titled the episode “The Henri Dubois Affair,” for the wrongly convicted man.

The rewritten script uses the shift to a reporter as leading-man to both journalistic and ethical advantage: Mike Connoy is not out to make money off the grief of the innocent man’s family by having them pay his expenses. He’s just in search of a good story to tell in his column. Maybe he’ll even get a book deal out of it.

As a bonus, he too is accompanied by the beautiful daughter of the (presumed dead) man whose family’s reputation he is out to clear. Connoy, although less the roguish ladies’ man than Lime, still runs into issues of romance and personal — as well as journalistic — ethics.

While very close in plot, the two stories have subtly different endings, which I won’t give away here.

In Harry Lime’s case, the leading character’s personality arrives pre-defined by Graham Greene’s creation as played by Welles in the movie “The Third Man,” to which the radio series was a prequel. Often the plots turn on providing some ironic twist to Lime’s cynical self-interest. This anti-hero sometimes becomes a hero in spite of himself.

We have no Lime-like backstory or mood-evoking “Third Man” zither music to establish the character of Mike Connoy, other than the general description that he is a columnist based in Paris, writing for a famous American newspaper. Regular “Europe Confidential” listeners may have carried threads of his character from episode to episode, but that is made difficult by the series making him an outside narrator in some episodes, an observer in others, and an active protagonist in stories like this one.

Perhaps we can best assume that Connoy was defined by whatever listeners in the 1950s were expected to assume about Americans, or about journalists, from the popular culture in general — a mixed bag: Hero? Detective? Truth-seeker? Storyteller? Newshound? Sensationalist? Corruptible scandal-monger? The series was broadcast in Europe, Canada and Australia, but may not have had many listeners in the U.S.A. itself. The addition of introductions by Basil Rathbone portrayed Connoy as more of a hero-adventurer than many of the recycled scripts themselves.

While Connoy is always the good guy, in this episode he does face some difficult decisions in Paris and Leon. The plot complications and character-development issues in both the Lime and Connoy versions of the story are such that they left me wishing for a longer version than the typical radio half-hour.

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, detectives, foreign correspondents. Bookmark the permalink.

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