Stephen A. Bellinger Productions, 1978
This is a real find from the archives. On the fortieth anniversary
of Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast, Stephan A. Bellinger remade it for American public radio - at
a time when funds were available for this purpose - and recorded on reel-to-reel tape. The action was transposed to contemporary
Chicago, but the plot remained largely the same: the Martians invaded the world, causing chaos and in their wake, but themselves
fell victim to the common cold virus.
Bellinger's production intelligently contrasted the easy familiarity of the radio
show presenter Jack Woods (Dave Whiskeyman), with the dulcet tones of the expert Dr. Shaw (Lee Webb), who tried to make sense
of the invasion for the listeners' benefit. As the production unfolded, however, it was evident that the Martians eluded rational
analysis; they were something that no one had ever previously encountered. Contemporary Chicago was transformed into an un-reasonable
world - one where the Martians' invasion was described through a series of eye-witness reports, most of which were abruptly
curtailed, as the communication connections were destroyed. On several occasions Bellinger's production was interrupted by
brief periods of silence: the reporters had been killed or maimed, and the anchor did not quite know how to keep the
communication flow going. Such silences had a powerful effect on listeners, making us understand the consequences of
what was happening.
As with most American productions, The War of the Martians was broken up
into segments - allowing for commercial breaks - each introduced by an (uncredited) announcer, with the sound of Rachmaninov's
"Variations on a Theme of Paganini" in the background. Such interruptions helped reinforce the idea that the flow of communication
kept being suspended, as the various reporters tried desperately to inform listeners what was happening, using any
device they could lay their hands on - the radio microphone, the walkie-talkie, even the telephone.
In the end the narrative was taken over by Richard Pearson (Jim Keith), who recounted
the end of the tale in tones strongly reminsicent of the wartime reporter Quentin Reynolds. He was a trustworthy
person - someone we could rely upon to inform us how the invasion ended and what happened to the Martians. We were left with
a final question: did anyone actually learn anything from the experience, or was it true that "the worst is yet to come?"
Director Bellinger refused to provide us with the answer.
War of the Martians was a well-mounted production with a fast-moving narrative
and a clutch of excellent performances. Although nearly thirty-five years old, it has certainly stood the test of time.