Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Posts tagged “Orson Welles

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series ‘Mercury Theatre on Air’. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel of the same name. 

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins”, which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a “sustaining show” (it ran without commercial breaks), adding to the program’s realism. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated.

In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage and panic by certain listeners who believed the events described in the program were real. The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast. The episode secured Welles’s fame.

An mp3 version of the broadcast can be downloaded free from the Mercury Theatre on the Air website. Check it out here They also have excellent mp3 versions of Dracula, Rebecca and the 39 Steps for download.


Buster Keaton

Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”.

Keaton was recognized as the seventh-greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Keaton the 21st-greatest male star of all time. Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton’s “extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.” Orson Welles stated that Keaton’s ‘The General’ is the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made. A 2002 worldwide poll by Sight & Sound ranked Keaton’s The General as the 15th best film of all time. Three other Keaton films received votes in the magazine’s survey: ‘Our Hospitality’, ‘Sherlock Jr., and ‘The Navigator’.

His father Joe Keaton owned a traveling show with Harry Houdini, the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, which performed on stage and sold patent medicine on the side. At the age of three, Keaton began performing with his parents in The Three Keatons. The young Keaton would goad his father by disobeying him, and the elder Keaton would respond by throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, or even into the audience.  He was eventually billed as “The Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged,” with the overall act being advertised as “‘The Roughest Act That Was Ever in the History of the Stage.” Keaton claimed he was having so much fun that he would sometimes begin laughing as his father threw him across the stage. Noticing that this drew fewer laughs from the audience, he adopted his famous deadpan expression whenever he was working.

In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag man, making his first appearance in ‘The Butcher Boy’.

In 1920, ‘The Saphead’ was released, in which Keaton had his first starring role in a full-length feature. After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Comedies. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including ‘One Week’ (1920), ‘The Playhouse’ (1921), ‘Cops’ (1922), and ‘The Electric House’ (1922). Based on the success of these shorts, Keaton moved to full-length features. Keaton used various writers, but the most ingenious gags were often conceived by Keaton himself. Comedy director Leo McCarey, recalling the freewheeling days of making slapstick comedies, said, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” The more adventurous ideas called for dangerous stunts, also performed by Keaton at great physical risk. During the railroad water-tank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck when he fell against a railroad track, but did not realize it until years afterward. A scene from ‘Steamboat Bill Jr.’ required Keaton to run into the shot and stand still on a particular spot. Then, the facade of a two-story building toppled forward on top of Keaton. Keaton’s character emerged unscathed, thanks to a single open window which passed directly over him. The stunt required precision, because the prop house weighed two tons, and the window only offered a few inches of space around Keaton’s body. The sequence became one of the iconic images of Keaton’s career.

Aside from Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), Keaton’s most enduring feature-length films include ‘Our Hospitality’ (1923), ‘The Navigator’ (1924), ‘Sherlock Jr.’ (1924), ‘Seven Chances’ (1925), ‘The Cameraman’ (1928), and most famously, ‘The General’ (1927). The General, set during the American Civil War, combined physical comedy with Keaton’s love of trains, including an epic locomotive chase. Though it would come to be regarded as Keaton’s proudest achievement, the film received mixed reviews at the time. It was too dramatic for some filmgoers expecting a lightweight comedy, and reviewers questioned Keaton’s judgment in making a comedic film about the Civil War, even while noting it had a “few laughs”. The fact that the heroes of the story were from the Confederate side may have also contributed to the film’s unpopularity.

It was an expensive misfire, and Keaton was never entrusted with total control over his films again. His distributor, United Artists, insisted on a production manager who monitored expenses and interfered with certain story elements. Keaton endured this treatment for two more feature films, and then exchanged his independent setup for employment at Hollywood’s biggest studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films (although he was interested in making the transition) and mounting personal problems, and his career in the early sound era was hurt as a result.