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I just had a chance to view this analytical presentation of the events surrounding that Halloween radio performance by the great Orson Welles, Welles was bewildered by the results though he loved every minute of it. What we need to realize is that it was announced at the beginning that this was fictional. Of course, the problem was that Germany was on the march and was being observed by the populace. People were glued to their radios and if they missed the beginning, the performance was so good by the players, that it isn't hard to see how they could fall for it. One thing I never thought about before was the fact that events happened so fast that any thoughtful person should have realized it couldn't have happened in just a few minutes. The events of the first twelve minutes involved events that should have taken a couple days (for instance, how did the military get there so fast?) Suffice it to say, this is a nicely crafted presentation. So many of these things have been done in the past. I believe this is the best of them all.
Exactly 75 years and a day ago, Orson Welles managed to cause a public panic over the radio airwaves when he presented his version of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" as a series of interrupting news bulletins for most of an hour without commercial interruption or a disclaimer informing the fictional nature of the program except at the beginning or near the end. Much of the listeners may have come in late since it was opposite the very popular program, "The Chase and Sanborn Hour" starring Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. But when Nelson Eddy started singing, many switched dials and heard about invading Martians. It was during this period in time that much of those listeners were used to news about Hitler possibly invading the U.S. based on his doing so to other countries. Also, the previous year, there was the Hindenburg disaster that was harrowingly reported live as it happened. This "American Experience" program discussed those details and also had actors play actual citizens who commented on what happened to them as the program went on the air. Many were not amused though some were relieved when learning it was just a play. I especially liked the woman who laughed while getting drunk when the bartender told her it wasn't true. Seeing Welles in the press conference expressing regret was fascinating to watch especially as his daughter reveals he seemed to enjoy the attention that resulted afterwards. Quite fascinating, the way the thing was put together with what I just mentioned as well as scenes from a later live TV special called "The Night America Trembled" about the events surrounding that infamous program and which I reviewed several years ago on this site. So on that note, I highly recommend "The American Experience: The War of the Worlds".
Most episodes of "The American Experience" are about giant events, such
as wars, presidencies and the like. However, this one is much more pop
culture-oriented and is lighter in spirit in some ways. It's all about
Orson Welles and his very controversial "War of the Worlds" broadcast
of 1938. While I've seen documentaries that talked about this before,
this one is difference because it puts the event into the context of th
evens of the day--including the Munich Crisis which just preceded the
The story is told though interviews, photos, video and recreations of various folks who were scared by the broadcast as they talked about their fears. All in all, a fascinating show...especially when it rightfully points out that this stunt really did nothing but benefit Welles and his career! Well worth seeing.
The subject of this "documentary" (which seems more like a
MOCKumentary) is my favorite real-life Halloween story of all-time. And
I always thought that "American Experience" was a reputable series on
PBS, but this episode has change that perception. I may never see this
series the same way again. I don't think I saw any disclaimers or
anything but it appears to me that they present fake interviews with
horribly unskilled actors reciting words written by various real people
from the late 1930's from various sources...as real as if making their
own brilliant statement on Welles' original take on the media. Nice try
...for an amateur documentary ...crushing failure for an iconic series
like American Experience.
It also drags on and on and on and the narrator's voice or manner is not conducive to holding an audience's attention.
The American Experience: War of the Worlds (2013)
**** (out of 4)
October 30, 1938 turned out to be the date for the most famous radio broadcast in history. This was the date that panic took over America as Orson Welles did a radio show of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds but the only problem is that many listeners thought it was a real alien attack. I've seen quite a few articles and documentaries on this subject but there's no question that this here is the very best. This documentary works on so many levels but best of all is that it gives the viewer a very detailed look at the events of this day and everything that led up to the fear that overtook people in the country. It's interesting to hear certain things like how the Hindenburg disaster from the previous year played a part in how one actor of the play decided to add some extra fear. There's also the fact that many heard "alien attack" on the radio and feared that it was actually Germany coming onto our shores and attacking us. The documentary also covers the week events of the script being written and the various changes that had to be made before it hit the air. Peter Bogdanovich as well as Welles own daughter are among the people interviewed and it seems pretty clear that the great filmmaker was quite happy with the chaos that he caused even though clips of the press conference the following day tries to show him concerned over what had happened. Fans of the story, the radio broadcast or just the history behind it should really enjoy this episode as it pretty much contains everything you'd want to hear about it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's about time someone profiled this footnote in American history, and
a fine job it is. This episode takes us back to that fateful night 75
years ago, when Orson Welles brilliantly reworked H.G. Wells' classic
"War of the Worlds" as a breaking news broadcast. And that radio
melodrama gripped an unsuspecting American public, causing panic among
6 million radio listeners. It was a ballsy broadcast, proving Welles an
innovative provocateur, and a truly gifted performer.
Using archival footage of panicky testimonials, and Oliver Platt's capable narration, the episode succeeds in detailing the fall-out of this radio drama as millions fall victim to Welles' on-air mischief. It's a window into the anxieties felt by so many during the Great Depression and Hitler's European expansion, and this remains one of my favorite stories in American History.
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