Radio Archives often comes up with unique offerings that separate it from other old time radio sellers. Such is the case with its two-volume release of the Australian serial adaptation of Les Miserables by Australian actor/producer George Edwards.
Transcription disks of the fifty-two episode 1949 serial are not in general circulation, so this has been a treat that has not been heard in decades.
The sound quality is immaculate and I expect nothing less from this company. Radio Archives has consistently shown a talent for bringing these golden age treasures to listeners in sound quality that exceeds what most original listeners heard over the radio.
The classic story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and for subsequent escape attempts. On his release, Valjean is forced to carry a yellow passport that causes would-be employers and landlords to repel him, but his life is changed forever by the kindness of a bishop.
Les Miserables is a massive work with a giant cast of characters and no adaptation can capture everything. Still, the story seemed to get most of the essential and best-known elements of the novel and makes it fit into the serial format. Episodes five and six are missing from the collection, but I didn’t really feel I missed much by their absence. Episode four ends just after Valjean’s encounter with the Bishop and episode seven starts just after Valjean has become mayor of a small town under an assumed name. Even basic familiarity with the story kind of allows you to fill in the blanks and Valjean himself summarizes important details.
The story does take a few twists noticeably different from the book, and ends in a very different way, which may offend literary purists, but is nevertheless is still a reasonably satisfying ending to the story.
There were a couple moments I questioned in this. Given the limited time for the adaptation, it was odd that the story includes both Valjean as a prisoner showing a feat of strength and Inspect Javert having a flashback to that exact same scene a few episodes later. A little bit of exposition or a shorter flashback would have provided economy and more time to expand the story. Or they could not have shown the scene at all the first time, since we were going to have Javert remember.
The sound design and music on the production is, for the most part, standard and competent in a way that you’d expect from a production of the era. It uses similar themes and musical bridges over and over again. But there are also some high points in the series that really are brought home by some really outstanding musical arrangements.
The unnamed cast is solid. There’s not a weak performance in the entire company. The actor who plays Inspector Javert delivers the best performance. He brings out Javert’s manic madness in a way that’s captivating. He makes every ridiculous, mad step Javert takes in the story completely believable. In another context, the performance might be over the top, but this actor nailed the performance and captured the character of Javert in a way that really elevates the entire production.
Radio Archives released the set in two volumes. The first collected episodes one through four and seven through twenty-seven. The second volume collected volumes twenty-eight through fifty-two.
If you’ve listened to and enjoyed other George Edwards serials such as The Adventures of Marco Polo or if you’d just like to hear a fresh serialized take on Les Miserables, this is a collection worth listening to.
Radio: 4.5 out of 5