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The War of the Worlds is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the 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 The War of the Worlds (1898). 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 had believed the events described in the program were real. The program's news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast. Despite these complaints, or perhaps in part because of them--the episode secured Welles' fame as a dramatist.

The War of the Worlds (1953) Collector Edition  (85 Minutes)

Based on H.G. Wells' classic novel, George Pal's The War Of The Worlds is a classic in its own right. The movie transfers the story from England and the turn of the century to California and the 1950's. Some people see the paranoia of the '50s in the movie but the novel also had a strong theme of fear of things beyond our ken. Pal often included a religious theme in his movies and this film would have been better without it, but it does not detract from the movie enough to keep it from being a classic. The story is that of an invasion of Earth by coldly intelligent Martians. Told in clear, bold strokes with exceptional special effects (for the time) and fine performances by the two leads, Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, The War Of The Worlds should be in every collection of science fiction movies. The DVD transfer is excellent. The picture is sharp and clear. The color is strong and rich, as Technicolor should be. The picture resolution is so good that you can easily see the wires supporting the Martian war machines. The sound does not measure up to the standard of the video. This is a brand new regular retail edition, fantastic quality.

"Studio One" The Night America Trembled (9 September 1957) (60 Minutes)

Like the later 1975 telefilm The Night That Panicked America, this is a dramatisation of the events of October 30th 1938, when Orson Welles scared a nation witless with his adaptation of The War of the Worlds. However, this is a virtually unknown gem of a production dating back to 1957. Made for the renowned weekly anthology series "Studio One", it is a really extraordinary 50 minutes of live television, featuring an incredible cast of soon to be major movie and television stars and a very accurate re-enactment of the broadcast.

The program starts with a filmed introduction (the Studio One broadcasts generally went out live except for these pre-recorded interludes) of a car careering through the night while the radio reports poisonous gas attacks. The car fails to take a tight turn and comes to an abrupt halt against a wall. As the wheels spin on the wreck, we move to the studio setting and an introduction from Edward R Murrow.

Edward R Rurrow.In what must have surely been a deliberate fine touch, Murrow is the absolutely perfect choice to host this production, since during the second world war, he had become famous for his pioneering on the spot news reports from Austria and Czechoslovakia. In was in this tense atmosphere that Welles made his broadcast, and it is fair to say that this underlying fear of the Nazi menace contributed greatly to the intensity of the panic. Murrow (click here to hear him) touches on this very point in his introduction.

The Night America Trembled begins.We move next to the CBS radio studio (in a curious co-incidence the original broadcast also came from a "studio one") where the Mercury Theatre players are rehearsing The War Of The Worlds. Here we meet the cast and crew, though most interestingly, this re-enactment is missing one key element in the person of Orson Welles. His name is completely and glaringly absent. He appears neither in the cast of characters in the studio, nor is he mentioned by name by Murrow. He is just "the director" or "the host". It is a curious omission, but considering Welles tempestuous nature, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he himself had himself expunged from the dramatisation. It should however be noted that no one in the cast is explicitly named and so this theory is offered without firm evidence.

It is however quite fun to try and work out from the cast list, and the delivery of lines, just who is who. This is made more difficult by the fact there seem to be some composite roles. Robert Blackburn takes on the roll of "the director", in that his character is very much the driving force in the studio, but the famous closing speech of the original broadcast, in which Welles reassured the nation that whole thing had been a Halloween spoof, his read out by "the host", played by Alexander Scourby. Just to confuse things even more, and going by his other dialogue, Scourby is also essentially taking the role of Frank Readick, who played the reporter Carl Phillips. Scourby is another great piece of casting, since he has a very commanding voice, such that he went on to become synonymous with an epic reading of the Bible. The perfect voice then to commentate on the end of the world.

The Night America Trembled.Confusing or not, the actual script is extremely faithful to the original broadcast, right down to the use of the original orchestral arrangements. You get the impression that someone on this production had some first hand experience either of the actual War of the Worlds broadcast, or at the very least, of this period in broadcasting history. It's a great piece of work, and captures the infectious air of mischief that is said to have permeated the studio that night. Alas, we do only get the first half of the broadcast re-enacted, and much of the material that would have been read by Welles is missing or only hinted at, but this does not really detract from the performances and the authentic feeling of realism.

Between the scenes in the studio and further interludes of explanation from Murrow, we are treated to a number of short stories in the outside world. In one, students at a card game become gradually enthralled and then terrified by the broadcast. Look out here for a very young looking Warren Beatty. In another, a babysitter becomes hysterical at the horror she is hearing, such that the concerned parents rush home to find out what is happening. One of the concerned parents is none other than James, or in this case "Jim" Coburn, again looking unfeasibly youthful. Other scenes are set in a bar, a newspaper office and a police station. Interestingly, during those scenes in the police station, which is realistically getting bombarded with frantic calls, the harassed and exasperated policeman insists several times that there is no such place as Grover's Mill. Of course as students of the broadcast will know, there most certainly was and is, a real Grover's Mill. Look out also in the cast for Warren Oates, Edward Asner and John Astin.

There is little available information about the director Tom Donovan, other than that he directed a number of other anthology shows of the time such as Playhouse 90 and The Dupont Show of the Month, but working from a great script, he certainly does a polished job in combining all the elements together, capturing the growing sense of panic and confusion that was spreading throughout America. Written by Nelson Bond, this was either another example of serendipity, or again the unknown hand of a genius at bringing together exactly the right people for the job in hand. Bond was a prolific writer for radio in the 1940's. He wrote an incredible 46 half hour crime dramas for the ABC series Hot Copy during the 1943-44 season and any number of other episodes for shows such as the Ford Theatre, Mystery On The Air and Dimension X. His script for The Night America Trembled brought Studio One the highest ratings in its history. Quality is not the best, but acceptable.

The Night That Panicked America (31 October 1975)  TV Show (96 Minutes)

The Night That Panicked America is an American made-for-television movie that was originally broadcast on the ABC network on October 31, 1975. The movie dramatizes events surrounding Orson Welles' famous - and infamous - War of the Worlds radio broadcast (based on the novel of the same name by English author H.G. Wells) of October 30, 1938, which had led some Americans to believe that an invasion of Martians was occurring in New Jersey.
The Night That Panicked America tells the story of the 1938 broadcast from the point of view of Welles and his associates as they create the broadcast live, as well as from the points of view of a number of different fictional American families, in a variety of locations and from a variety of social classes, who listened to the broadcast and believed the imaginary Martian invasion was actually occurring, with some people even committing suicide.
The movie starred, among others, Michael Constantine, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Tom Bosley, Eileen Brennan, Vic Morrow, Will Geer, and John Ritter. Paul Shenar played Orson Welles.
Some local stations in various areas of the United States have annually rebroadcast this made-for-TV movie on October 30, the anniversary of the original radio broadcast or on October 31, which is Halloween. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction praised the film's recreation of events in the radio studio, but was unimpressed by its depiction of the resulting panic, calling it "a routine disaster movie with hackneyed characters reacting in predictable ways."
The film has never been issued on home video in any format.
The Welles broadcast and the reaction to it had earlier been dramatized in The Night America Trembled, a live presentation that aired on Studio One (September 9, 1957). The cast of this top-rated TV recreation of Welles' radio broadcast included Alexander Scourby, Ed Asner and Warren Oates. James Coburn made his television debut, and John Astin appeared uncredited as a reporter. In one of his earliest acting roles, Warren Beatty appeared in the bit part of a card-playing college student. Quality is not the best, but acceptable.


The Aftermath. The day after interviews.

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