Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Visitor"

We've reached my 8th-favourite episode of Suspense!

Eddie Bracken returns in this May 11, 1944 episode of Suspense entitled "The Visitor." Bracken portrays a young man who is recruited to pose as a couple's long-lost son. Of course, as the son was presumably murdered, he's making himself a new target for the killer! You may download the episode from archive.org here.

This episode has a fantastic surprise ending which really holds together. It sets up the audience to believe the story is headed in one direction - then pulls off a great twist in the episode's concluding scene. There's another version of this story which stars Donald O'Connor, but I quite prefer Bracken's performance. He made only three appearances on Suspense - more's the pity.

Tomorrow: "Something - something starts down in my chest... spreads up to my throat... spills out of my mouth..."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Track of the Cat"

Today I'm featuring my 9th-favourite episode of Suspense!

Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel The Track of the Cat proved to be a gripping episode of Suspense when the series adapted it on February 18, 1952. Richard Widmark stars as the boldest of three brothers who toil together on the family ranch. However, when he sets out into the snow to hunt a mountain lion, his courage is gradually sapped away. You may download the episode from archive.org here.

"The Track of the Cat" was also adapted into a 1954 feature film starring Robert Mitchum (from whence the above image originates), but it is by no means suspenseful or thrilling. Rather than getting inside the mind of a brave man who crumbles, the film assumed audiences would be more interested in the petty family squabbles back at the ranch. And you wonder why classic Hollywood was brought down by television! Good as Mitchum was, his "leading" role is actually kind of minor - nowhere near the exposure Widmark received in the vastly more entertaining Suspense episode.

Tomorrow: "But before I got into bed I-I locked the door - just in case."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "Kaleidoscope"

With 10 days of October remaining, I'm now counting down my top ten favourite episodes of Suspense! Let's visit #10!

Ray Bradbury was still a young author when he began writing for Suspense; the series not only adapted several of his popular stories for radio, but some of his stories appeared on Suspense before turning up in print (ie "Riabouchinska" & "The Screaming Woman")! Although Bradbury was adept at penning mysteries and thrillers, he's best remembered as a science fiction author. My tenth-favourite episode of Suspense is the July 12, 1955 adaptation of Bradbury's "Kaleidoscope," the story of a smashed-up rocket and its crew who are now drifting in space with almost no hope for survival. William Conrad is the show's featured player. You may download the episode from archive.org here.

Although Bradbury had a pretty good relationship with the producers of Suspense (especially with William Spier), "Kaleidoscope" was first heard on the radio on September 15, 1951 as an episode of Dimension X. If you like, you can hear their adaptation from archive.org here.

Tomorrow: "You're not hunting that cat anymore. That cat's hunting you."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Death of Me"

It's easy to forget about the many working parts which come together and make a radio program work, especially the light, subtle touches. The musicians of Suspense - usually led by conductor Lud Gluskin - certainly earned their kudos over many seasons. Veering from whimsical sounds to heighten comedic moments to the quiet atmospheric music which cues audiences to pay more attention to every sound, up to the intense, fast-paced music to compliment stories where the characters are in imminent peril. Suspense had some of the best music in the industry.

Today's featured episode is "The Death of Me," a personal favourite of mine which first aired May 26, 1952. It concerns George Murphy as a man trying to overcome his PTSD by becoming a lumberjack. Unfortunately, this lumber camp includes someone determined to carve up a little homicide! You may download the episode from archive.org here.

Tomorrow: "I wanted to make something of my life. To be liked, to do good for people, make them happy. Now it's all gone."

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "Hitch-Hike Poker"

I've written before on the subject of how danger would be found along the highways of Suspense; today's feature hits upon hitchhiking and an unusual way to pass one's time.

"Hitch-Hike Poker" originally aired September 16, 1948 with Gregory Peck as the leading man. Peck plays a war veteran out hitchhiking; a motorist who picks him up introduces him to a way to play games of poker by using the license plates of passing cars. It's innocent enough until the motorist tries to murder his passenger! You may download the episode from archive.org here.

What makes "Hitch-Hike Poker" stick in my memory is the titular game itself; I come from a family which would spend a lot of time on the highways and my siblings and I would have to either concoct our own amusements or stare vacantly out of the windows. We did play games with license plates, although being the upright kids we were, we never thought to turn it into a game of poker. Lucky thing too, or it would have been an easy step for me to start gambling matchsticks. What then, bottlecaps?

Suspense repeated this script on January 25, 1959 as "Four of a Kind" with Elliott Reid in Peck's role. Although this other version truncates the story a little, it's also very good - in fact, I like some of Reid's line readings much more than Peck's. You can try it out from archive.org here.

Tomorrow: "There was something about him, like I was watching myself. Then I realized there was something - someone in the darkness behind him!"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "On a Country Road"

Today I'm returning to an episode of Suspense featuring Cary Grant as the star. Grant appeared a few times on Suspense - only only in the previously-featured "The Black Curtain," but also in "The Black Path of Fear" and today's entry, the November 16, 1950 program "On a Country Road," which you can download from archive.org here.

Grant is remembered as being the most suave of all classic Hollywood actors and an interesting range of his performances are still renowned today - everything from His Girl Friday to Charade. Grant never busted out his comedic talents for Suspense, but these dramatic roles do bring back memories his appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion & Notorious. Here, Grant played the latest of Suspense's unlucky motorists as he drives himself and his wife down a deserted road, then runs out of gas. However, this isn't the start of a make-out session - not with a crazed mental patient on the loose!

Like many popular episodes, "On a Country Road" would be repeated, ultimately rebroadcasted on December 4, 1954 & May 10, 1959.

Tomorrow: "King? I had to laugh. Beldon was the king, I was just the joker."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "Short Order"

I enjoy old-time radio horror shows such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries and the Mysterious Traveler, but I think I've always sensed they were not made of the same caliber as Suspense. For one thing, those programs were too eager to pile on atmosphere and deliver "shocking" developments every 5 minutes. By comparison, Suspense would occasionally take a slow-burn approach to tension and demonstrated how to get it done without relying on flying bullets or falling corpses.

Such a program is "Short Order" from August 16, 1945. It features Joseph Kearns as the owner of a diner who must contend with a disfigured customer whose presence is depressing his business. This is all that's required for the bulk of the program - the tension between the owner and the customer as the former tries to save his business from ruin. Then, just as the twist ending seems to have been revealed... it explodes into a terrifying climax. You may download it from archive.org here.

Joseph Kearns' voice was frequently heard on Suspense in supporting roles, narrative roles or to shill products for the sponsors. In my opinion, he gave his finest performance in this outing. In all, he was a talented radio performer in both drama & comedy.

Tomorrow: "Such a desolate place to run out of gas..."