Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Hitch-Hiker"

Happy Halloween!

Today I'm very pleased to wind down "31 Days of Suspense" by presenting my personal favourite episode of the series: Lucille Fletcher's masterful program "The Hitchhiker" with star Orson Welles which you may download from archive.org here!

This episode is so lauded that it's easy to forget it came extremely early in the series' history - only the 10th episode aired! Of course, with a fine writer like Fletcher, an able producer such as William Spier and radio's own boy genius Orson Welles commanding the episode, how could it fail?

I love the ambiguity of this episode's climax. It explains so much, yet tells so little - as a great ghost story should. This episode began Fletcher & Welles' associations with Suspense (and was only Spier's second episode), something both they and the show profited immensely from.

I suppose I'm mandated to mention this script was also adapted to television as an episode of the Twilight Zone, but much as I enjoy Serling's program, I have to say I'm a purist - I prefer the radio play.

This brings 31 Days of Suspense to a close; thank you for indulging me! If you're a fellow Suspense fanatic, I'd like to see your own lists of favourites! And if you weren't a Suspense fan before... perhaps you are now?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "August Heat"

Today: my second-favourite episode of Suspense!

Coming from May 31, 1945 we have "August Heat," adapting a short story from W.F. Harvey with star Ronald Colman headlining a very small cast. Colman plays a painter whose most recent picture seems to predict the future, but he can't quite interpret its meaning. Perhaps the local headstone carver could help? You may download it from archive.org here.\

Part of what I find so striking about this episode is how "visual" it is. Radio drama has often been called the "Theatre of the Mind" and this episode makes a compelling case for that title. Here, the creative forces seem in complete control of the audio experience, carving faces, images and heatwaves as ably as a stone-cutter with his chisel.

Knowing that W.F. Harvey had also authored "The Beast With Five Fingers" I was excited to delve into his short stories, but ultimately I found his prose uneven - he didn't actually write many truly supernatural stories. Still, the print version of "August Heat" is quite good too.

Tomorrow: "After that I knew I had to do something. I didn't know who this man was or what he wanted of me, I only knew that from now on I mustn't let myself alone on the road for one minute."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The House in Cypress Canyon"

My third-favourite episode of Suspense has become a Halloween tradition for many and widely considered to be among the best radio horror shows ever produced. Who am I to object?

Robert Taylor is again our star in the December 5, 1946 broadcast "The House in Cypress Canyon." In an amusing crossover between William Spier's two radio shows, Sam Spade himself cameos in the bookends of this otherwise-grim tale. A couple move into a newly-built home and everything seems perfect... except for that howling which seems to come from within the house at night... or the pool of blood which collects under the building's sole locked door. You may download it from archive.org here.

As I've noted before, when Suspense delved into the supernatural they didn't like to kid around. Sure, there are contemporary programs which supernatural tales (such as Dark Fantasy) but the first-rate talent which produced this show's stories, actors, musicians and sound effects men grant Suspense's supernatural stories a ring of believability amidst the unbelievable. By way of comparison, Dark Fantasy's "W is for Werewolf" is a decent pulp tale; "The House in Cypress Canyon" is up to the standards of M.R. James or Algernon Blackwood.

Hmm... if "The House in Cypress Canyon" is my third-favourite episode, what could possibly rank higher? Come back soon...

Tomorrow: "He spoke of the improbable with an intense seriousness that would have been laughable six hours before. But I did not laugh."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Whole Town's Sleeping"

For my fourth-favourite episode of Suspense I'm very pleased to revisit my personal favourite author: Ray Bradbury!

Bradbury was a bit of an odd duck; the contrast between his stories which expressed his deep love of nature, small towns and children and those stories which explored the horrors of nature, small towns and children leave an interesting edge to his work. One can discuss the concept of "Bradburyesque" stories, but the first time you hear one of his tales you might not foresee quite where the story is going to end up.

Suspense adapted Bradbury's story "The Whole Town's Sleeping" on two occasions, but I prefer the second from August 31, 1958, appearing during William N. Robson's tenure as producer-director. The so-called "First Lady of Suspense" Agnes Moorehead (so named largely on the strength of her performance in "Sorry, Wrong Number") stars as a spinster who goes for a nice long walk one evening... through a dark ravine... while a killer is on the loose. Check it out by downloading the episode from archive.org here.

In the world of bleak endings, this story wears a heavy crown. In fact, I've noticed online that some people are truly offended by this story mainly because of what their imagination tells them, rather than the text itself. If you'd prefer Bradbury to hold your hand and tell you everything turns out okay, then go read the altered version of this story in his book Dandelion Wine. If you'd rather let him scare your wig off, then stick with the original.

Tomorrow: "No, Ellen, you-you didn't even wake up..."

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "Fugue in C Minor"

We're now into my top 5 favourite episodes of Suspense and it's high time to revisit one of the series' top scribes, Lucille Fletcher!

Before the mustache, he was... a man. I bring you Vincent Price in the June 1, 1944 broadcast of "Fugue in C Minor," a script by Suspense's top playwright Lucille Fletcher. Here, Price actually plays second-fiddle to Ida Lupino. Price plays a widower and pipe organ enthusiast who romances Lupino. Lupino likes him quite a bit, but his children are a couple of creeps off the ol' block, believing their deceased mother to be communicating with them. It ain't just another Bluebeard story, lemme tell ya! Listen and download from archive.org here.

It's those children who make this more than your typical Bluebeardy outing. Those of us who know Price as a horror film star will be suspicious from the start - but this before he'd been typecast. It's those kids you've gotta keep an eye on!

Tomorrow: "And now he's at the first step coming up to your room, and now he's at the second step, and now he's at the third, fourth and fifth step..."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "The Ten Years"

For my 6th-favourite episode of Suspense we have a creepy look at sibling relationships!

Joan Crawford stars in "The Ten Years," first heard on June 2, 1949. In the story, Crawford's sister (played by Lurene Tuttle) is a waifish, clingy creature who feels spurned when her sister is married. After ten years of no contact, Crawford is reunited with her in the worst way possible - her son has gone missing in her sister's home. Features murder, child endangerment and madness. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you may download it from archive.org here.

It's easy to confuse this episode with another Suspense production, "The Sisters." The show's producers seemed to consider the latter a prestige outing, one which deserved first-class female stars. However, when you boil it down, "The Sisters" is simply a tale of one sister trying to murder another with an ironic comeuppance at the climax. "The Ten Years" is about sisterly love - and how easily it becomes hatred. The climax of this episode is one of Suspense's most grim; it's not that some things are not fixed and some people are not saved but that nothing can be fixed and no one can be saved. Happy listening!

"The Ten Years" was a reuse of an earlier script from February 8, 1945. Then, the episode was titled "A Tale of Two Sisters" and starred Claire Trevor with Nancy Kelly. It's very good, but not Crawford/Tuttle good. Still, check it out at archive.org here if you're inclined.

Tomorrow: "Have you ever tried to match your voice, Miss Peabody, against the thunderous voice of Bach? It's most effective."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Suspense: "Too Hot to Live"

Today: my 7th-favourite episode of Suspense!

Richard Widmark is again the featured player for this episode: October 26, 1950's "Too Hot to Live." Widmark plays a wandering ex-G.I. who strolls into a quiet town on a hot, sweaty day. Before too long he's implicated in a murder - and considering how delirious the heat is making him, the accusations might be true! You may download the episode from archive.org here.

This is a tough story which really packs a punch, due mainly to Widmark's frantic performance. It's certainly the only old-time radio play I've heard which includes narration about throwing up! Because we in the audience cannot feel the heat - nor, through film, see the effects of the heat - Widmark and the others have to sell the sticky, sweltering environment with words - and I think they do so admirably. There's a murder-mystery angle to this episode, but the play is focused primarily on atmosphere and tension, which makes this an unforgettable production.

Tomorrow: "Always and forever. I promise."