Here are two radio plays – “The 39 Steps” and “Sherlock Holmes” – based on the writings of John Buchan and Arthur Conan Doyle, respectively, with the leading role in each play performed/spoken by Orson Welles in the CBS studios in New York in 1938.
Orson Welles’ and the Mercury Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps” emphasize the closed-in, claustrophobic and almost Kafkaesque nature of the novel’s plot: a solitary individual caught up in a German spying ring that he must learn to deal with along the way in order to expose it.
While the plot of the radio play version of “Sherlock Holmes” is original, it is loosely built on the plots of several of Doyle’s well-known short stories and is based on the actor William Gillette’s stage version of Doyle’s famous writings.
Orson Welles obviously enjoyed being the voice of Richard Hannay in “The 39 Steps” – the invention of Scottish author John Buchan – a character with masculine ideals from a feudal, romantic world of bygone days where men were men, and also the prototype of another famous Scotsman – James Bond.
As Orson Welles points out in his introduction of “Sherlock Holmes”, the radio performance relies more on atmosphere than excitement. We’re in foggy London Town with Big Ben’s tower thrusting towards the clouds while its famous bells toll the hour throughout the British Empire, all making for a very forceful, gripping tale.
Orson Welles is one of the great masters of the spoken word – the proof is on this CD.