Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Review of "Secret Window, Secret Garden" (1999 BBC Radio 4 adaptation)

Happy New Year, fellow King-philes!  I hope you got some quality Christmas presents, or Hanukkah presents, or __________ presents.  Bottom line: I hope you got presents.

I got a few.  Gave myself a few, too, including a sealed-in-the-package Sony Walkman cassette player, which I purchased for the express purpose of listening to this:

This BBC Radio 4 adaptation was never released on cassette -- nor, as far as I can tell, any other medium -- here in the States.  However, I found a reasonably-priced copy of the cassettes on Amazon and bought them, and figured the thing to do was buy an old-school Walkman to listen to them on.  I'm a nerd like that.

Now, to tell the truth, I could have avoided all of this.  I had the adaptation on mp3 already, thanks to a file I found floating around the Internet a few years ago.  I'd never gotten around to listening to it, but knew I'd want to eventually.  So in theory, I could have just dug those mp3s out of the digital storage locker and given them a spin on my other Walkman (the mp3 player).

Given the option to listen to the real thing, though, I'd prefer to do that.  And so I did.  And now, here I am, telling you about it.  What a world, eh?

Anyways, this won't be a lengthy review, because I don't have a massive amount to say about the adaptation.  Don't take that as a dismissal; it's a very good adaptation, especially if you like the original novella, and double-especially if you also like radio dramas.  No, the quality isn't at issue; this is more a case of me not being able to say much about it because . . . well, because the odds are that very few of you have heard it.

I can't necessarily help you with that.  Heck, even YouTube seems to be lacking in this regard; and you can find almost anything on there!  But the Internet often can help those who help themselves, especially those who are prone to wear eyepatches and have parrots on their shoulders.  Like this guy:

In case you are wondering, this is Captain Walker D. Plank, from the James Bond Jr episode "Plunder Down Under."  Nope.  I am not making up ANY of that, believe it or not.

So with most people presumably being unable to hear this, I don't think it makes much sense for me to spend much time on it.

A few random notes, though:

  • The radio script was written by Gregory Evans, who had previously performed similar dramatisations of King's novels 'Salem's Lot and Pet Sematary for the BBC (in 1994 and 1997, respectively).  Evans, here, sticks very closely to King's original novella, making only the occasional deviation.  One such mild example can be found at the very beginning of the first of the three episodes.  As the play begins, Mort Rainey is asleep at his home on Tashmore Lake, dreaming about his angry confrontation with Amy and Ted upon finding them in bed together.  The door buzzer awakes him.  In the novel, Mort has "just gotten up from a nap" and "was still feeling only halfway into the real world," but there is no mention of the dream; this is an addition by dramatist Gregory Evans, and a good one.  It helps set the stage in terms of Mort's background with Amy and Ted, and also provides some insight into his emotional condition.
  • Via asides, which are recognizable by being processed with an echoey effect that works extremely well, we are given many of the types of thoughts that can be difficult to squeeze into a movie.  The radio-drama format is well-suited to deliver that type of interior information.  Example: when Mort asks Shooter what year he wrote his story, and Shooter gives an answer that is several years after Mort wrote his, we hear Mort think "Bingo!"  At no point does this become confusing; it's expertly done throughout.  Movies can accomplish this with editing or with background music, or even by having voice-over narration, but there is something about the language of cinema that renders it clunkier.  Every medium is bound to have something that it is well-suited to do whereas others are not, and for the radio play, this is one of them.
  • There are occasional mentions of various things that ground the story in then-current 1999, as opposed to the timeframe of the novella (which came out in 1990).  A reference to Saddam Hussein, for example; a call to Greg Carstairs placed via cell phone rather than the pay phone at the gas station.  The Ellery Queen issue has been aged up from 1980 to 1990.  The issue of the cell phone doesn't work particularly well, because it serves to make Mort seem a bit less cut off from the rest of the world.  But it's barely used, so it's almost a nonissue.  So much so that I wonder why the Beeb even bothered moving the story up a decade.
  • Mort's agent, Herb Creekmore, is used as a narrator, and this device doesn't work especially well.  I get the need for a narrator, but having Herb serve that function places him in a position of knowing more than he would actually know.  In part three, there is a weird section where Mort confesses his plagiarism to Herb; not, seemingly, to the real Herb, but to the narrator aspect of Herb.  This may or may not be a dream; it may or may not be a delusion.  The narrator aspect of Herb, in fact, may or may not be a delusion invented by Mort's troubled mind, much the same way John Shooter himself is.  It's an odd sequence, and it doesn't really work.  It doesn't hurt the overall adaptation much, though; I'm just nitpicking.

The acting is good, uniformly.  Radio-drama performances can sometimes seem stilted and weird, and there are very brief moments of that here; but overall, it's very well-suited to the material.  The lead actor, Henry Goodman, is seemingly a Brit doing a Yank accent, and he does it almost flawlessly.  Other cast members, including William Roberts (Shooter) and Barbara Barnes (Amy), seem to be Americans born and bred.  Does that matter?  Not at all.

Check it out: credits!

The only other thing worth noting is that side four of the cassettes contains a half-hour radio interview King did with Mark Lawson which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4's program Front Row on August 31, 1998.  It is, unsurprisingly, a great interview.  King talks about how skepticism of Freudian interpretations of his work and career, about crazy fans, and about the enormous payday he received for Bag of Bones (which he was promoting at the time of the interview).

That interview alone was worth the price of my having purchased these cassettes.

Well, I guess that's all I've got to say tonight.  Next up: a look back at the movie adaptation of the novella, David Koepp's Secret Window.


  1. I've got to track that interview down. All of the radio dramas, actually - they're all on the proverbial list.

    Sounds pretty fun. (And Captain Walker D. Plank... words fail me.)

  2. I had no idea this even existed. I love BBC so I bet this is good!

  3. Cool, more audio versions the better, thanks for posting. I'd love to hear the interview as well.
    This story falls into the middle or forgetful stories for me.

    So Bryant, do you get the ending of Locke and Key? I didn't.


    1. I'm waaaaaaay behind on my comics column, so I've been unable to address that final issue of Locke & Key. I was disappointed. Can't say why without divulging the fate of one specific character, the mechanics of whose fate did indeed thoroughly confuse me. Apart from that, I thought it was pretty good; but that bit didn't work for me at all.

      Maybe there was something in the preceding issues that will clear it up?

  4. I'm actually in the process of listening to an mp3 of the same broadcast.

    So far. I'm liking it (though my guess is John Turrtoro is always going to be Shooter for me).

    What I like about the beginning of the piece is how, depending on how you look at it, the opening dream sequence is really sort of the "creation" story of John Shooter (if that makes any sense, and sorry if spoiled anything, folks).

    Also I like the idea of the agent narrator as it adds one more layer of surrealism to the work.


    1. It does indeed slap another layer of artifice onto the proceedings. It doesn't bother me; I'm not sure I understand why it would be there, realistically-speaking.

  5. I just bought this even though I don't have a tape deck. Love to hear it one day.
    Thought it was funny you buy the records wo the player and I buy the tapes wo a player. Crazy kids!