Stacy Keach stars in this shocking tale of a Polk Street dentist and his wife in 1899 San Francisco. Frank Norris’ powerful insights into the depths of the human soul make this a story of compelling narrative force. This seminal novel about murder, obsession and the destructive effects of greed features an all-star cast including Stacy Keach, Edward Asner, Ed Begley Jr., Bud Cort, Hector Elizondo, Teri Garr, Katherine Helmond, Helen Hunt, Amy Irving, Carol Kane, Marsha Mason, Richard Masur, Judge Reinhold, Joe Spano, Jobeth Williams, and many more.
The refined nature of the story at the start of this production is a far cry from the tale of greed and revenge it becomes at the end. This LATW audio presentation is over fifteen years old and shows its age with the constant restating of the title in the oddest places, along with the use of too many harsh musical chords. However, the story of a dentist and his wife in 1899 San Francisco remains compelling. Stacy Keach, Carol Kane, and Joe Spano head the all-star cast that includes Edward Asner, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Helmond, Helen Hunt, Rue McClanahan, and Michael York - among others. The characterizations are solid, and the accents convincing. As with any good melodrama, once you begin listening, you won't be able to stop.
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Melodrama from old San Francisco
I liked the melodramatic flourishes of McTeague and his fellow rogues. The naturalism of Frank Norris comes off very strong here, and the narrative feels very dated. That is its strength, as it captures the down and outs of S.F. well, but it's repetitious and heavy-handed.
It's probably more entertaining to hear the novel dramatized by an enthusiastic cast. But you need patience, for at eleven-plus hours the plot goes on and on, wearing out its welcome.
I liked the L.A. Theater Works' "Babbitt," done in similar form by a cast of (as of the late 1980s) respected actors. Sinclair Lewis' was a bit more skilled at narrative than Frank Norris, but the social message type of novel both men favored is suitable for such radio ensembles.
It was fun, as I chose it for a drive across the California desert. Let's just say it remains in The City for most of its running time, as I cannot give away any plot spoilers. It's a period piece I always meant to read, and hearing it kept me entertained despite repetitious prose.
Perhaps this was published as a serial? The novel keeps repeating the same phrases for certain characters, and passages verbatim or near it come again to remind readers of the action or the characters. Still, for all its moustache-twirling menace, it's a reminder of the harsher conditions endured by ordinary men and women in urban California, no romance!
- John L Murphy
Hard to imagine a more compelling, engaging, immersive experience of this novel then the one presented here.
- Mr. Steven Scott