More on radio-film adaptations – and a bit of Libel

Just when I thought I had a nice round figure — 50 radio adaptations of Hollywood films about journalists — I discovered that two movies I had already written about weren’t on the master list, which includes quite a few I haven’t gotten around to describing in detail. And I found that one was on the original list in error.

So, for now, the list has 51 titles — usually with journalists as heroes, villains or major characters.

courtroom scene with wife, barrister, and husband

Olivia de Haviland, bewigged Robert Morley and Dirk Bogarde in the eventual 1959 film of  LIbel

This one, a courtroom-drama titled “Libel,” is a special case in several ways. The journalist implied in the story’s name doesn’t even appear — but a Gazette newspaper slam inspired by a blackmailer-turned-whistle-blower is at the root of the libel case. Some 16 years after World War I, a British nobleman sues over a story calling him an imposter — a Canadian who killed the Englishman and stole his identity when they escaped from a German prison camp together.

If there’s a journalism lesson here, it’s “be careful of your sources.” And the scandal-mongering Gazette may remind you of some contemporary British tabloids currently appearing in court over playing checkbook journalism and breaking other rules to get its stories. At least there were no cell phones to tap in the 1930s.

This story itself is full of suspense — as circumstantial evidence stacks up against the shell-shocked “Sir Mark Loddon, Bart. M.P.” The radio series Lux Presents Hollywood liked the plot enough to bring star Ronald Colman back to present it again in just two years. (The 1943 script may show some improvements, but I haven’t compared them line by line.)

As a radio adaptation, another remarkable thing about “Libel” is that it went from Broadway to television in the 1930s — but didn’t make it to the movie screen until 1959! More on that, an unlikely Frankenstein connection, and a link to the 1943 version, below.

Back to my adaptation list update: I also discovered that one “movie” I’d listed apparently was an original radio play: An episode of Stars Over Hollywood titled “The Love Tree,” now moved to the Soap Operas and Romances page. It’s not a great drama, but the plot would have made a decent B-movie. It has a spunky woman photojournalist, a city editor with a sentimental streak behind a gruff exterior (think “Lou Grant”), a star reporter who can be a dope about love, and a surprise appearance by an autographed copy of one-time journalist Walt Whitman‘s classic volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass!

(If I’m wrong and there was a film version, earlier or later, please let me know!)

I guess when I put that one on the “adaptations” page I was just assuming from its name that “Stars Over Hollywood” was an anthology of movie plots.

It also dawned on me that the adaptations page should mention radio series that inspired movie adaptations, rather than the more common cases where movies came first. So you’ll find a quick mention of a few newspaper-related radio dramas that led to films and TV series — SupermanThe Green HornetThe Big Story and Big Town, which already have their own JHeroes sections.

I’ve also added a note that some items listed are slight variations on the theme — the radio version may not have been adapted from a film, but had a common ancestor in a play or novel that also inspired a film or television program.

Perhaps unique in that regard is “Libel,” a powerful drama produced twice by Lux Radio Theater — in 1941 and 1943, both times with Ronald Colman. It was a 1936 Broadway hit by  Edward Wooll, adapted for television for BBC TV in 1938 before it made it to the big screen! If my research is correct, it wasn’t made into a feature film until 1959, when Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Haviland starred.

I haven’t seen the film, but it’s too bad that the radio plays don’t give us a scandalmonger British tabloid journalist as a villain. Instead, the hero’s main antagonists are the blackmail-minded fellow prisoner and the newspaper’s defense attorney — played in both adaptations by Otto Kruger, who also appeared in a number of newspaper movies, including Scandal Sheet (1939) and Power of the Press (1943).

On Broadway, “Libel” was staged by Otto Ludwig Preminger and starred Colin Clive, perhaps best known as Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 “Frankenstein” and 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein” — one of seven films he made that year before the December opening of “Libel” on Broadway, where it ran for 159 performances, according to IBDB.

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 1940s, adaptations, Europe, television. Bookmark the permalink.

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