Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Black Curtain"

Suspense's stories were an interesting mixture of original scripts and adaptations; some of the adapted material came from time-tested classic material, but many of the adapted works originated with contemporary authors. One of the most prolific contemporary authors featured on Suspense - especially in in the program's early years - was Cornell Woolrich, whose stories can be heard in 28 broadcasts!

Woolrich's story "the Black Curtain" first appeared on December 2, 1943 and was popular enough to repeat twice: November 2, 1944 & January 3, 1948. The first two versions featured Cary Grant and you may download the original version from archive.org here.

"The Black Curtain" concerns a man who awakens from a concussion to find years have passed since his last memory; evidently in the intervening years he lived another life under another name - and for some reason, his other self is wanted by the police!

Woolrich's stories frequently delved into unreliable narrators - men who are (conveniently) unable to recall whether they are a murderer (as you can hear in Suspense episodes such as "the Singing Walls" and "Nightmare"). Although elements of paranoia run rampant in Woolrich's tales (such as another broadcast with Cary Grant, "the Black Path of Fear"), his memory-challenged protagonists definitely drew the shortest possible straw - they can't trust anyone, not even themselves.

Woolrich comes to the verge of cheating his audiences, which - as I've said before - is a problem I have with some radio shows, including a few episodes of Suspense. And yet, Woolrich keeps up such a frantic pace and places the listener so firmly in his protagonist's shoes that the ride is entertaining. It also helps that the lack of memory is a feature of his stories - not a surprise revelation in the climax, but a plot point resolutely entrenched from the outset.

Tomorrow: "You see Joe, I happen to be one of those lawyers who knows his law."

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