Sunday, December 21, 2014

Jan Valjean in memoriam

Towards Christmastime, all the old radio plays had episodes keyed to the theme.  This worked well for comedies;  not so well for thrillers.   So this evening  I mostly gave “The Big Broadcast” a miss;  save that, doing dishes, I lent an ear to what happened to be on at the time -- Dragnet.  The crime:  The infant Jesus had been stolen from the crèche of a church.  When had the theft occurred?  The priest did not know; it could have been at any time during the preceding night.

Sgt Friday, incredulous:  “You leave the church unlocked all night, where any thief could walk in?”
The priest:  Especially thieves, Sergeant.”

Laus deo.


Hooked, I stayed for the dénouement.
And sure enough -- the crime was not so much solved, let alone avenged, as sublated.  For lo, in walked a little Mexican boy, “no bigger than a pint of milk”, pulling the figurine of the infant in a brand-new little-red-wagon.  Questioned by the priest (in Spanish), the boy explained that he had prayed for that wagon as a Christmas present, promising that baby Jesus would get the first ride.

(The episode ended in soaring sacred music;  but then reverted to the standard crisp signoff, “The story you have just heard is true;  the names have been changed …”   Somehow one wonders.  Ma se non è vero, è ben trovato.)


Right after that, “Gunsmoke” ran a version of the Christmas Eve story -- a poor couple on a cold dark night, finding no shelter, finally winding up in some outlying make-do.  The dramatic strategy with these instantiations of the universal theme,  is not to tie it in with its historical antecedent in any obvious way, until it dawns on the viewer -- no “Biblical” trappings.  Thus, one effective re-imagining from a few years ago  had the wind-blown pair (or rather : trio, as it turns out) holding up in a dingy motel.  And then we learn, the woman is with child.   And all blooms forth, and the heart stops beating  in wonder and mute praise.
Even when you know what’s coming, it’s very powerful.

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