Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Does a Train Vanish into Thin Air in England in Broad Daylight?"

MEDIA ADAPTATIONS OF WRITTEN FICTION (i.e., radio, television, and motion pictures) are problematic at the best of times: You've probably experienced disappointment when a favor-ite story gets so mauled on TV or up on the silver screen as to be nearly unrecognizable because of major changes the producers have made to it; of course, usually these alterations can be justified due to the different presentation requirements resulting from the transition from the printed page to the dramatic environment—but, in our opinion, not always. To be fair, though, we must acknowledge that a few, a very few, stories which have been adapted to other media actually underwent improvement in the process.

We suggest that you first read (or re-read) Doyle's "The Lost Special" before listening to the two radio versions below, after which you can decide whether or not the adapters did justice to it.

"The Lost Special."
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, August 1898.
Collected in Round the Fire Stories (1908), Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922), and The Black Doctor and Other Tales of Terror and Mystery (1925).
Adapted in 1932 as a Western movie serial; see (HERE) and (HERE).
Adapted for radio in 1943 and 1949 (see below).
Short story (11 pages).
Online just about everywhere, including (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
". . . one of the most inexplicable crimes of the century—an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country."
When "the powerful engine called Rochdale (No. 247 on the The London and West Coast Railway Company's register) attached to two carriages" and carrying five people seems to disappear off the surface of the earth, consternation and incredulity naturally ensue; but while everybody (including "an amateur reasoner" whom you might recognize) has a theory of what happened, it will be a long time before the truth (assuming it is the truth) emerges.

Characters of note:
~ Mr. James Bland:
   "The thing is preposterous. An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings—and all lost on a straight line of railway!"
~ "An amateur reasoner of some celebrity at that date, attempted to deal with the matter in a critical and semi-scientific manner":
   "I should certainly advise the company to direct all their energies towards the observation of those three [railway] lines, and of the workmen at the end of them. A careful supervision of the pawnbrokers' shops of the district might possibly bring some suggestive facts to light."
~ Monsieur Louis Caratal and his companion Eduardo Gomez:
   ". . . they had both been struck silent by what they saw. And yet they could not withdraw their heads. The sight seemed to have paralysed them."
~ Mr. Horace Moore:
   ". . . a gentlemanly man of military appearance, who alleged that the sudden serious illness of his wife in London made it absolutely imperative that he should not lose an instant in starting upon the journey."
~ James McPherson:
   "The guard of the special train was James McPherson, who had been some years in the service of the company."
~ William Smith:
   "The stoker, William Smith, was a new hand."
~ John Slater:
   "Regret to report that the dead body of John Slater, driver of the special train, has just been found among the gorse bushes at a point two and a quarter miles from the Junction. Had fallen from his engine, pitched down the embankment, and rolled among the bushes. Injuries to his head, from the fall, appear to be cause of death. Ground has now been carefully exam-ined, and there is no trace of the missing train."
~ Herbert de Lernac:
   "They looked round for an agent who was capable of wielding this gigantic power. The man chosen must be inventive, resolute, adaptive—a man in a million. They chose Herbert de Lernac, and I admit that they were right."
- In her review of Doyle's Round the Fire Stories (1908) on Mystery*File (HERE), Mary Reed pinpoints this story's weakness as a mystery that doesn't play fair when she writes:
"Louis Caratal and his companion, newly arrived in Liverpool from central America, must get to Paris without delay. Caratal charters a train to London but 'The Lost Special' disappears between St. Helens and Manchester, the only trace of its passage being the dead body of its driver, found at the foot of an embank-ment. The truth comes out some time later, and even then it’s as the result of a confession rather than an investigation."

~ ~ ~
"The Lost Special."
An episode of the Suspense radio program.
Based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
Original air date: September 30, 1943.
Online (HERE) and (HERE).
Run time: Approximately 30 minutes.
(Note: Sound quality is poor.)

Cast and crew:
   Announcer: Howard Duff
   Orson Welles: Herbert de Lernac (and others)
   Writer: Jack Finke
   Musical conductor: Bernard Herrmann
   . . . plus other unidentified cast members.

It's remarkable how Orson Welles has modified Doyle's original story, adding plot complex-ities that, had Doyle included them, would have resulted in a novel-length story; in this version, not surprisingly, Welles's over-the-top characterization of Lernac preponderates.

- We recently encountered Conan Doyle and Orson Welles colluding with one another (HERE).

~ ~ ~
"The Lost Special."
An episode of the Suspense radio program.
Based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
Original airdate: February 12, 1949.
Online (HERE).
Run time: 29 minutes 10 seconds.

Cast and crew:
   Ben Wright (as Inspector Collins)
   Parley Baer
   Edgar Barrier
   John Dehner
   Lawrence Dobkin
   Paul Frees
   Music: Ivan Ditmars
   Adaptation: Les Crutchfield
   Editorial supervisor: John Dunkel
   Producer/director: Norman MacDonnell.

In contrast to Orson Welles's convoluted version, this is a different adaptation of the story; there have been important changes in the plot, and Inspector Collins, a minor character in both Doyle's and Welles's accounts, becomes the narrative focus here, behaving remarkably like Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother.

The bottom line: "Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine; to them, alas! we return."
E. M. Forster

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