Lime with a twist: Violets, Violence and Recycled Radio

Here’s a special case of radio recycling, another Orson Welles’ script from “The Lives of Harry Lime,” turned into a “Europe Confidential” journalist-hero script a few years later, part of a pattern I began writing about some months ago. This one stays closer to the original, raising a question in the process: Journalist or con-man, what’s the difference?

These radio stories were first broadcast in 1951-52 with Orson Welles playing the confidence man character he created for the film “The Third Man.” The lesser-known series “World’s Greatest Mysteries: Europe Confidential” was syndicated by the same production company a half-dozen years later, with no mention of Lime or Welles or the earlier program, but with stories adapted from its scripts.

Not all of the “Europe Confidential” tales came from “The Lives of Harry Lime,” but having been tipped off to a couple of similarities, I’ve been working my way through the Internet Archive collections of both programs to see what I can find.

In this episode, as usual, the main change is the addition of the Paris-based American newspaper-reporter character, Mike Connoy, played by Canadian-English actor Lionel Murton. The trick to the adaptations was to work around the character flaws in Welles’ scoundrel of an anti-hero, Harry Lime — who had been reincarnated in the radio series of prequels to “The Third Man,” the film that established — and killed-off — the character.

What do confidence-man Harry Lime and upstanding American foreign correspondent Connoy have in common this time? The unnamed adapters of the scripts used a variety of “rewrite” approaches to create the new stories, from scrubbing the ethics of the double-dealing Lime character to making the whole plot an as-told-to anecdote with the reporter-storyteller as a simple frame for the adventures of a rascal something like Harry Lime.

This “Violets, Sweet Violets” adaptation is more direct: The reporter goes under cover, pretending to be a character who is a lot like Harry Lime. Once that impersonation is explained, the second program can pick up whole blocks of dialogue from the original, starting with the violet-seller conversation about five minutes into the “Europe Confidential” recording. It is fascinating to hear the same lines delivered by different actors. I wonder if Murton and Welles ever met, or even knew about the script recycling.

As always, Lime’s motivation is to somehow make himself wealthy, while Connoy — true American journalist — is simply after a story (and, presumably, whatever fame and fortune it might bring). In this case, he has to pretend he’s only in it for the money.

On another level, the con-man and the reporter do have a few things in common. Both have to be quick-witted and charming, good at persuading people to talk — literally getting their confidence. Connoy is after facts and solutions to mysteries, such as finding the smuggler. Lime wants the same information, but his goal is to steal a good part of the smuggling business.

I’ll have to take a full inventory of “Europe Confidential” episodes to see how often the radio series producer’s rewrite crew used this trick of having the reporter impersonate a Lime-like character.

Meanwhile, as part of the revision other characters’ names and portrayals are changed drastically, including a cliche-ridden Chinese character with a bad accent in “The Lives of Harry Lime,” who becomes a Scotsman with a bad accent instead. The biggest cliche is neither journalist nor ethnic minority, though; it’s the chief smuggler — who gets a hook, a parrot, buckets of grog and an accent like Long John Silver from “Treasure Island.” Arrr.

The original Lime episode from 1952 is titled “Violets, Sweet Violets” in the Internet Archive collection of “The Lives of Harry Lime” MP3s.

Like his predecessor, Lime, Connoy makes his contacts with the gang of smugglers through an innocent old street-seller of flowers, the violets of the title. He plies her with liquor, as does Lime — but the reporter treats her more sympathetically at the end — and you can picture him using her and a bunch of violets as a frame for his newspaper story.

The Archive collection of Europe Confidential has the revised “Violets” broadcast under its collector’s title, “The Spaniard Affair.” (Jim McCuaig, the collector who made the MP3 files from original transcription discs, tells me he had no scripts or other information to establish original titles or authorship, just episode numbers.)

As the story nears its climax and police ultimately nab Connoy (as they did Lime), the reporter has one alibi Lime didn’t try in the same situation: admitting to be a reporter who wasn’t really trying to take over the smuggling racket.

With World War II farther in the past, the adaptation adjusted the time period of the story with major political and dramatic ramifictions. Welles’ story is a flashback to the early years of World War II in German-occupied Marseilles, which adds a Nazi villain to the story, along with the pirate-like smuggler and a police officer, and the smuggled goods include war-time contraband. For Connoy’s story set in the 1950s, we have the same location, but in post-war years, so we leave Nazis behind and settle for the pirate and a more mundane corrupt official as Connoy’s foes.

In another departure for both characters, these two men of words — Lime the silver-tongued con-man and Connoy the equally well-scripted reporter — have to use their fists in this story. They both appear to be equally skilled — taking on a dangerous character — the one with a hook.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1950s, adaptations, Drama, ethics, Europe, foreign correspondents, Orson Welles. Bookmark the permalink.

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