Thursday, February 26, 2004

“The House of Squibb presents…”

With the Oscars telecast approaching, I decided last night to listen to a pair of episodes from Academy Award®, a dramatic anthology that had a brief run on CBS from March 30-December 18, 1946. It’s pretty much in the Lux Radio Theatre-Screen Guild Players mold, though it did attempt to set itself apart from its siblings by limiting its radio adaptations to films that had either won or been nominated for an Oscar.

Academy Award® also used as many of the original film’s performers whenever possible, though in the first show I listened to—“Foreign Correspondent” (7/24/46)—it is explained that the male lead, Joel McCrea, had to be replaced by stalwart fill-in Joseph Cotten due to a scheduling conflict. The show is, of course, based on the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, and though the production and actors are first-rate I didn’t enjoy the listening experience all that much because, as I have stated previously, I’m no more than five or ten minutes into the thing before I’m saying to myself: “Why don’t I just watch the doggone movie?” (Foreign Correspondent is one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films, and it’s a crying shame that it’s not available on DVD yet.) The second program is also based on a Hitchcock classic, “Shadow of a Doubt” (9/11/46), and though Cotten is back, it fits this time (he starred in the 1943 film). He’s joined by actress June Vincent (replacing the movie’s original actress, Teresa Wright) and although this broadcast is a little better, adaptation-wise, it’s still no substitute for the film (which is on DVD). The half-hour allotted for this adaptation is also insufficient, I think—for a really good radio version of Shadow of a Doubt, you should check out the November 9, 1950 broadcast of Screen Directors’ Playhouse, which features Cary Grant and Betsy Drake in the Cotten and Wright roles.

Academy Award® cost a pretty penny to produce every week—the Squibb people found themselves footing a bill that included $4,000 for the weekly star talent, plus a $1,600 kickback to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for use of the title. After 39 episodes (all of which are extant today), the series threw in the towel when the tariff proved too hefty—so if you’re not turned off by radio adaptations of feature films, I think you’ll be entertained and impressed by the talent and quality involved.

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