1980 CBS Radio Mystery Theater (US)
Running time: 5 hours (5 hour-long installments)
Original Broadcast Dates: January 11 - 15, 1982
Valjean: Alexander Scourby — Javert: Bernard Grant — Fantine: unknown (!)
Special Guest Stars: Amanda Plummer as Cosette
Directed by Hyman Brown
A CBS Mystery Theater Production
M. Gillenormand: no
Both Mlle. Baptistine and Mme. Magloire: only Mlle. Baptistine
Thénardiers, after the inn: only Thenardier, briefly (see below)
Sister Simplice: no
Gavroche's brothers: no
Fauchelevant: named "Marcel"
Mme. Victurnien: no
Petit Gervais: no
M. Mabeuf: no
Hugo's original preface used
Valjean is in prison at the beginning
Bishop Myriel remains asleep during the robbery (I assume so, it happens off-mike)
Fantine and Félix Tholomyès
Fantine sells her teeth
Fantine becomes a prostitute
Valjean buries his money
Fight at Fantine's Deathbed (well, Valjean socks Javert once, then goes quietly)
The ship Orion
Valjean meets Cosette at the well
The first incident at Gorbeau House
Javert chases Valjean and Cosette (frequently! oh, you mean the Gorbeau thing. No, not really...)
* Through Paris
* On foot
* Car(riage) chase
The second incident at Gorbeau House (well, not really, but... um... see below)
Valjean and Cosette see the chain gang
Lamarque's funeral is shown or mentioned
Chase through sewers
Story continues after Javert's suicide
Marius, after learning Valjean's history, treats him badly
Correct number (no number mentioned)
Works in the galleys
The factory makes glass beads
The doll, Catherine
The garden at Rue Plumet (mentioned)
Correct address (no... 7 Rue de l'Homme Armée is mentioned though, just not Rue Plumet)
The Luxembourg Garden (mentioned)
The town's name is Montreuil-sur-mer (no, here it's Moulin)
The man Valjean saves in Arras is named Champmathieu (can't remember his own name!)
Valjean's name becomes Fauchelevant
Eponine/Gavroche as Thénardier's child
P R O D U C T I O N N O T E S
(NOTE: Here I am in 2010 and I cannot believe I did not label this "CBS Radio Mystery Science Theater 3000." Must have been post traumatic stress disorder.)
Oh dear god. Again.
Just when I think I've heard the worst version of Les Misérables, along comes the absolute worst version of Les Misérables!
Don't get me wrong, I loved the CBS Radio Mystery Theater when I was growing up. KCBS in San Francisco used to play it every week, along with classic old shows. The creepy door hinge opening, the creepy E.G. Marshall introduction, the heavy violin music... this show used to scare me to death.
But honestly? If I had heard this production I doubt very much I would be writing Pont-au-Change. I would have thought Hugo was another overrated classic writer and I'd probably still be hip deep in Sherlock Holmes fandom.
I can't even begin to explain what's wrong with it. Normally in that instance one tries to find the things that were "right" with it, and work from there. But frankly I can't think of a single thing right with this production. Not one. Nada. All I can do is describe the plot, or what passes for one, of this production. Cover your eyes if you're squeamish:
As for the other details of the plot:
It starts out promisingly enough in Episode 1, "The Thief and the Bishop." We meet Jean Valjean on his way out of prison, and sure enough there's Javert waiting with his money and his golden ticket. I mean yellow passport. Anyway, Valjean runs into the usual problems with finding work, food, etc. Then he reaches the Bishop's house. Bishop Myriel is introduced while writing his sermon, lifting it whole from I Corinthians (the same "Faith, Hope, Love" passage I have quoted in Pont-au-Change). His sister comes in to tell him that someone needs him, and he tells her to shut up till he's done writing his sermon. Not in so many words, but that's what it amounts to. Anyway, Valjean shows up, is given food, talked to by the Bishop, Valjean goes a little nuts, ends up bawling like a baby. Later of course he's gone, the silver's gone, he gets brought back, and so on. Oh, did I mention that Javert has been trailing him since Toulon? That's right! Apparently he's some kind of "roving Inspector of Police" (although later on he's described as having been an "assistant jailer at Toulon." )
Episode 2, "The Lawless and the Law": no better than the first. Twelve years later, Javert is now in Moulin (aka Montreuil-sur-Mer) and very very suspicious of the Mayor! The Mayor saves some schmuck named Marcel from the cart, Marcel becomes the gardener at the convent of St. Antoine (whatever). Meanwhile Fantine (who still has Cosette with her) gets a job at the factory under the eye of a slimy foreman, who gets her fired when she won't play nice with him (but she thinks the Mayor had her fired.) When she runs into the foreman in the street she beats the crap out of him and is arrested. Javert feels he has a chance to get Valjean, so he (I am not making this up!) coerces Fantine into denouncing the Mayor! That's right, he tells her that if she says she knew the Mayor, if you know what I mean, he'll go easy on her (he even offers to give her some milk to take home to Cosette! I swear I am not making this up!) and if she doesn't cooperate, it's six months in jail. Naturally here comes the good Samaritain Mayor who, even when Fantine lies about him to his face, orders her freed. Shortly after this Javert informs the Mayor about this guy Valjean who got arrested in Arras, and so Valjean goes to Arras after having a heart-to-heart talk with his candlesticks and, with Javert in court, denounces himself. Valjean goes back to Moulin to see to Cosette but she's gone! Someone's taken her! But he can't tell Fantine that so he lies to her that Cosette is nearby, and here comes Javert to arrest Valjean and scares Fantine to death, etc. and so on.
Episode 3, "No Escape": Things get murky from here. Valjean spends another twelve years in prison (I am not making this up!! I swear!) and then escapes, supposedly drowned in the Seine (not that the Seine flows through Toulon, but what's a little geographical fluke at this point in the show?), but at the same time, an 18-year-old girl is "kidnapped" from a convent. Javert puts two and two together and starts looking for Valjean. The day after Valjean gets Cosette to leave the convent he returns to the convent to a) pick up her clothes (oh yeah, brilliant move there) and b) pick up an ivory crucifix that had belonged to her mother that she didn't think to take with her when she left the first time. This time, as luck would have it, Javert and the cops are on the way, but a nun happened to die during the night so there's this spare coffin around that Marcel (remember him?) can help Valjean escape in. This exciting episode is mentioned in a two line narrative. Yes, that's right, twenty pages of boring expositional dialog and the most riveting part of the whole convent episode is passed right over! Oh, and in this episode Valjean explains that he was the one that had put her in the convent to hide her in the first place! Does this make sense? Does any of it? Meanwhile, they go live in this house, upstairs from a guy named Marius. That's right, both Gorbeau house incidents are combined in one goofy premise. Marius has no clue that they live in the same house he does, he sees her in the Luxembourg Gardens (aha! One moment of correctness! How'd that get in there?) as Marius is a complete idiot. Oh, and the landlord of Gorbeau house (not named that, but we might as well call it that just to keep some anchor on reality) is named.... Courfeyrac! Yup, Courfeyrac's this old guy that keeps hitting up Marius for rent money. So who does Marius hang out with, you ask? Who's his buddy, his pal, his confidant? A fellow student (and budding revolutionary) named... Paul! Anyway, Javert sees Marius trailing Valjean and Cosette, and asks the prefect for a few days off so he can get Valjean. On his own time, no less! He stations himself in Gorbeau house to trap him but Valjean knew it and didn't say a word (remember a similar scene from the first Gorbeau House incident) and when Javert went to arrest him anyway, Valjean and Cosette had left, ostensibly to go to England. Believe it or not, under Valjean's mattress they find the torn-up bits of his yellow passport.
Episode 4, "Fear, Love & Death": Still with me? Okay, Paul manages to rope Marius into the whole Revolution thing. The rebels are lead by (Enjolras? Ha!) one Henri Dubois. He acts as mousy and milquetoast as his name, except when he offs Le Cabuc. Why, yes, something from the original book actually happened! Amazing! Anyway, turns out Valjean and Cosette couldn't get out of Paris because the station was closed (of course it was, there wouldn't be a train station in Paris for another decade or so!!) and Valjean and Cosette end up caught behind the barricades. He gets Cosette back home and goes to the barricade, makes friends with Henri Dubois, meets up with Marius, sees Javert tied up on the table and spends several minutes telling Javert basically "neener neener neener." He is about to leave Javert there to his fate when Dubois comes in with a pistol, saying he's going to leave it there and will the last one out of the barricade please put out Javert's lights? Valjean volunteers. Javert secretly plans to escape when Valjean makes the obligatory critical error in prisoner transport, which of course Valjean doesn't do... and then Valjean for no explicable reason lets him go. Valjean goes back to the barricade. Meanwhile he had told Marius where to find Cosette (Marius didn't even know what her name was till then! What a goof!) and he goes to Cosette, spends some time with her, then comes back to the barricade and gets his fool self shot. Or a building falls on him. Or something. Anyway, the troops are closing in, there's only one way out, that's through the sewer. So into the muck go all three of them, Valjean, Marius... and Paul!
Episode 5, "The Final Chapter" (oh thank God): If you've gotten this far, you're a stronger person than you thought and you deserve a medal. Valjean and Paul carry Marius through the sewers. Paul whines the whole way (when the cops start following them, he suggests that they dump Marius and run! What a pal!) and then while escaping a roving sewer patrol, a shot is fired, Paul disappears into the darkness, and Valjean has to carry Marius all by himself out of the sewer. Except the grate is closed. Suddenly this freaky guy shows up with a key and demanding half of whatever Marius has got on him. This, by default, is Thénardier, showing up for his first (and last) scene. Valjean lifts Marius out of the sewer and there they are, in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. And guess who's there waiting for him. Or rather guess who happens to be there. Javert spends ten minutes moaning "Why did it have to be you? Why are you following me?" and other really odd things all things considered, and they take Marius to Valjean's where he puts Marius on Cosette's bed and snaps at her when she doesn't clean the blood off Marius's face gently enough, and after a few more such comments (Cosette says "look, he's waking up," and Valjean replies, "Well if a pretty girl were leaning over me I'd open my eyes too") and Valjean goes to ask Javert if he can stick around till the doctor shows up and Javert is gone.
Here's the clincher. Several days later Valjean meets Javert, on a bridge over the Seine. And they talk... apparently Valjean went looking for Javert at the police station but he wasn't there! Valjean tells Javert he won't find peace of mind, Javert talks about how Valjean has messed up his head, and he can't go on, Valjean tells him how the Bishop had saved him, and how it's not too late for Javert... (editorial comment: does this sound familiar? In any way? Really now, think where you might have heard this scene before, a couple of guys on a bridge... I have to go take a shower now.)
Well, thank God the following morning Javert washes up on the shore of the Seine. Lucky bastard.
Meanwhile Paul shows up alive, just like a bad sou, and tells Marius that he and Valjean carried him out of the sewer just in time for Marius to feel like a total clot and beg Valjean's forgiveness. Valjean does a voice-over after he dies, praying for the souls of the unfortunate, and claiming to have died a happy man. Then a truck runs over everyone else, the end.
Okay, maybe I made up that last part. But I sure was praying for it!
C A S T N O T E S
With the exception of E.G. Marshall (the narrator) and Amanda Plummer (Cosette), none of the names on the cast are familiar to me. Valjean sounds roughly American, a voice obviously trying to sound like Orson Welles (!) Javert sounds a lot like Charles Laughton would have sounded if Charles Laughton had been an American faking a poncy English accent. Marius and Paul have American accents. Amanda Plummer starts out enunciating everything, sounding like Georgette from the old Mary Tyler Moore show... she improves a bit by the last episode, but Amanda Plummer reads badly, mechanically. Everyone else in the cast, bit players on down, has outrageous French accents not entirely unlike those of the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
note: since the above was written I have been informed that the guy playing Valjean, Alexander Scourby, was in fact not a bad actor. See the letters in the Blotter for more information.
T H E B E S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
Nothing! There's not one single dadblamed thing about this production that is commendable, remarkable, or admirable! It's awful!!
But I have to write something, so here goes: in between the episodes, where there are or would be commercial breaks, the narrator throws out little tidbits about Hugo, his life, the book, and so on. These aren't bad. In and of themselves. It's when he tries to tie any of them to what's going on in the radio play that it becomes head-shakingly bad....
T H E W O R S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
Here's a few of the absolute crème de la scum:
T H E S I L V E R C A N D L E S T I C K A W A R D S ( " STICKIES® " )
And the awards go to....
W H E R E T O F I N D T H I S V E R S I O N
NOTE: here in the future year of 2010 this is no longer true. If you really want to find this thing, go right ahead, but don't say I didn't warn you.