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History in Objects: Radioland Murders 1974 Advertisement

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A serial-inspired caper that took 20 years to unfold

“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.

“Who Knows What Evil Lurks…”, a line borrowed from the 1937 radio serial The Shadow, accompanied a 1974 trade ad from Universal for Lucasfilm’s upcoming production, Radioland Murders. Although Radioland wouldn’t actually see release until a full two decades later, the fact that George Lucas was thinking about radio and movie serials at this early date seems somewhat prescient. Three years later, he would release Star Wars: A New Hope, which famously opened with a prologue crawl directly inspired by those seen in 1930s Flash Gordon movie serials. And, of course, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark would give a conspicuous hat-tip to the serial genre, proudly touting the influences of early adventure shorts in its marketing campaign.

But Radioland Murders, which was chronically delayed by other film and television projects Lucas was involved in, remained a constant passion project for the filmmaker, with starts and stops occurring regularly throughout its 20-year march to release. The general premise of the suspense-comedy, which involved a series of murders taking place at a radio station during its 1938 on-air debut, was inspired by a theme Lucas had explored in 1973’s American Graffiti.

“In American Graffiti, the kids became best friends with a disc jockey they heard every day,” explained Lucas in 1994. “Radioland Murders is a further exploration of that phenomenon. I wanted to show how radio was infused with fantasy because people had to use their imaginations.”

Initially, Lucas had planned to assemble the same team which delivered the resoundingly successful American Graffiti to develop Radioland Murders – screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, along with producer Gary Kurtz, had all worked on Graffiti, and Lucas himself was set to direct. But with Star Wars soon to demand Lucas’ full attention, and the seismic phenomenon it subsequently unleashed, Radioland was shelved for a later date. While there were occasional hints that it may re-emerge throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, it wasn’t until the ‘90s that the film finally found its footing and stood to be counted among Lucasfilm’s spirited serial-inspired legacy.

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