Les Miserables by Victor Hugo starring Orson Welles
Produced, directed, scripted by Orson Welles
This seven-episode series was written, produced, and directed by Orson Welles for the Mutual Network in 1937. While not an official Mercury Theatre production, it featured many of the Mercury Players, including Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, and Everett Sloane.
Episode 1: The Bishop (July 23, 1937)
Episode 2: Javert (July 30, 1937)
Episode 3: The Trial (August 6, 1937)
Episode 4: Cosette (August 13, 1937)
Episode 5: The Grave (August 20, 1937)
Episode 6: The Barricade (August 27, 1937)
Episode 7: Conclusion (September 3, 1937)
Transforming the epic story of Jean Valjean into a radio script presented considerable challenges. Les Miserables is an extremely long work. Even a seven part series did not provide enough time to contain it entirely. In order to condense the work while still retaining its essential elements, Welles formulated a technique that would serve him well in later years. He wrote the script as a combination of dramatic scenes and literary passages. He narrated parts that covered long periods of time in the story and saved the dramatic scenes for crucial parts of character and story development.
In doing so, he came upon a new form of storytelling. It was neither drama nor narrative in the tradition sense. It was a new form for a new day and a new medium. It was radio drama.
And just as the form of the work was of its time, so was the theme. New York City of the mid 1930's, with its desperate poverty and sense of economic injustice, bore a resemblance to nineteenth century Paris. In fact, Welles began each episode of Les Miserables with this admonishment from the novel, which spoke to radio listeners of the 1930's as well as it did to readers of the century before:
"So long as these problems are not solved, so long as ignorance and poverty remain on earth, these words cannot be useless."
Les Misérables is a novel by French author Victor Hugo, and among the best-known novels of the 19th century. It follows the lives and interactions of several French characters over a twenty year period in the early 19th century that includes the Napoleonic wars and subsequent decades. Principally focusing on the struggles of the protagonistex-convict Jean Valjeanwho seeks to redeem himself, the novel also examines the impact of Valjean's actions for the sake of social commentary. It examines the nature of good, evil, and the law, in a sweeping story that expounds upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moraL philosophy, law, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Hugo was inspired by the real-life criminal/policeman François Eugène Vidocq, and split his personalities into the two main characters in his novel. Les Misérables is known to many through its numerous stage and screen adaptations, of which the most famous is the stage musical of the same name, commonly known as "Les Mis" or "Les Miz"
Approximate play time of 3 1/2 hours
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