Radio Days (1986)
Radio Days is a movie without a plot, but suffers not a jot for it's meandering
structure. Narrated in winsome terms by Allen, the movie is simply an affectionate
collection of loosely connected stories revolving around the life of a typical
Jewish family and the way radio was woven into their daily lives.
The "hero" of the movie is Joe (Seth Green), the youngest member of the family
and a habitual radio listener whose life revolves around the crime busting exploits
of The Masked Adventurer. His passion for the show is such that to purchase a
"Masked Adventurer Secret Compartment Ring" he steals money from a synagogue
collection for the foundation of the Jewish State, but though his exposure as
thief puts him off a life of crime, it does nothing to dampen his abiding interest in radio.
One suspects the film is semi autobiographical, though the provenance of many of
the stories is just as likely the fertile imagination of Allen. However, he
captures the mood of the times perfectly and oblique references to real radio
programmes such as the Charlie McCarthy Show and the first wartime outside
broadcasts create a perfect air of realism. Most interestingly to readers of
this web site, the film features a short story focusing on the events of the
War of the Worlds broadcast, though Allen was born in 1935, and therefore
could not possibly remember the events of that night.
This particular story focuses on Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), whose dream is to
get married and in fruitless pursuit of that ambition goes through a succession
of hopeless dates. On this particular night she is on cloud nine because after
waiting impatiently for a long time, she has at last been asked out by the very
eligible Mr Manulis, but little does she suspect that the date is heading for
disaster. Driving home through thick fog, the car "runs out of petrol", but
the assignation comes to an abrupt end when the radio announces that a Martian
invasion is under way. With Martians landing at Wilson's Glenn (note the name
change from Grover's Mill), the formally self-assured Mr Manulis flees into
the night, abandoning Aunt Bea to walk home alone.
Radio Days evokes the magic of the airwaves with effortless ease, helped no
end by a stellar cast who bring real depth to their characters. Though there
is no ending in the strict sense of the word, it does conclude on a melancholy
note of gloom that the era has passed and the voices grow dimmer with each
passing year, but this is one of those films you can watch again and again,
and Allen is to be congratulated on helping so effectively to keep the voices
alive for posterity.
See also in:
Film & TV
The Night America Trembled. An extraordinary live production from the renowned Studio One televsion series that re-enacts the infamous Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938.
The Night that Panicked America. This is the second dramatised version of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, with a stand-out performance from Paul Shenar as Orson Welles.
H G Wells and The War of the Worlds. In the wake of the Spielberg movie comes one of several new documentaries on Wells and The War of the Worlds.