Original image: Patrick Hoesly
The Endless Road
Original radio play: Henry E. Fritsch
Originally aired: 17 March 1957
Plot synopsis: A new road connects an isolated valley community to the outside world, but this has many consequences that its inhabitants had not foreseen.
Favourite line: 'Hold on to your hat, honey. Here comes civilization!'
Review: With some episodes, one can take a dislike to them because of their underlying messages. This, for me, was the case here. Essentially, the story is a finger-wagging one about the 'evils' of civilization and a celebration of the simple life. It takes place in a small community in an unnamed Latin American country that is building what appears to be a 'road to nowhere', until a US businessman persuades them to connect it to the outside. This then leads to a flood of traders and consumer goods corrupting their previously happy and harmonious existence. So, the moral is: be content with what you have, as attempting to expand your horizons will lead only to dissatisfaction and misery. This more than a little annoyed me, as it is a deeply conservative, not to say reactionary, message. It is all very well to rail against the superficiality of mindless consumerism, as the episode does, but what about the many economic and social benefits that might come from connecting to the rest of the world - like better health care and greater educational opportunities? What is also often neglected is that economic and technological progress frequently go hand-in-hand with social progress. In this regard, the episode is particularly telling in its treatment of women. The women of the community are depicted as incredibly shallow, desperate to obtain all the marvellous trinkets that modern capitalism has to offer, but then like children, are quickly disillusioned when they turn out not to be as wondrous as expected. Yet it is at the end - SPOILER ALERT! - that the episode reveals the full implications of the anti-progress philosophy it espouses. When the connecting road to the outside world is blown up, life goes back to how it was before - which, as one of the episode's cheery bursts of song explains, includes 'women back where they belong'. In other words, back leading lives of domestic drudgery, with no hope of betterment or escape. A good thing their connection to the outside world wasn't the internet or they might really have started to get ideas above their stations ...
Rating: * *
The Enormous Radio
Author: John Cheever
Originally aired: 11 May 1956
Plot synopsis: A couple purchases a new radio, but after discovering that it is picking up conversations from nearby apartments, the wife finds it impossible to resist listening in on their neighbours' lives. Based on a short story first published in The New Yorker magazine, on 17 May 1947; and later in John Cheever's short-story collection The Enormous Radio and Other Stories, in 1953.
Favourite line: 'Jim and Irene Westcott were the kind of people who seemed to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability that is reached by the statistical reports in college alumni bulletins.'
Review: I wanted to like this episode more than I did. There are some excellent ideas here and the short story upon which it is based is a minor classic. Its strong points include its depiction of the way in which it is possible to become addicted to an illicit 'pleasure' - in this case, voyeuristically listening in on others' private conversations - which has all sorts of resonances in the modern internet age. However, it's let down by the facts that the script doesn't exactly sparkle and the main characters are not very engaging - he's a dull office worker and she's a dull housewife. Still, there is a nicely bleak ending, which doesn't rely on cheap Hollywood scares to leave the listener chilled, and even disturbed, about what the future holds for the couple and their enormous radio.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - City Plays (1991); TV - Tales from the Darkside (1987)]
The Eternal Joan
Original script: Henry E. Fritsch
Originally aired: 29 June 1956
Plot synopsis: A portrait of Joan of Arc, based on an array of sources written since the time of her death, including dramatized scenes from her life.
Favourite line: 'You promised me life; but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead. It is not the bread and water I fear. Bread has no sorrow for me, and water no affliction.'
Review: As a biography of 'The Maid of Orléans', this episode offers little that isn't familiar: there are no startling revelations and no new perspective on her character. Moreover, the acting is, at best, mediocre. However, what is of interest is the way the episode uses extracts from plays and commentaries, including by such diverse authors as Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and Friedrich Schiller, to illuminate how Joan of Arc has been perceived down the years. Some of these passages are genuinely fascinating, even despite the sometimes bland delivery of the performers. As such, although anyone with even a very basic knowledge of Joan of Arc's life story won't learn very much from the version presented here, there is still value in the episode in terms of how it highlights the ways in which she has captivated the imaginations of so many notable writers for so many centuries.
Rating: * * *
Author: Auguste C. Spectorsky
Originally aired: 30 March 1956
Plot synopsis: A dramatized exploration of the difficulties faced by those who move out of the city beyond the suburbs to rediscover the pleasures of country living, but who must then endure the grind of the daily commute to work. Based on a book of the same name first published in 1955.
Favourite line: 'The escape to exurbia, then, is their attempt to realize a secret dream: that once they are away from the rat race, at nightfall they will ride the superhighway to happiness.'
Review: This episode offers a wry, amusing look at the phenomenon of people seeking to enjoy the benefits of living in the country while still keeping their jobs in the city, living in the former while commuting into the latter for work. Specifically, it is about those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of New York city, and focuses in particular on those working in the advertising and 'creative' industries (a seemingly common fascination in the 1950s, when many of these were relatively new - see also, for example, the episodes The Billion Dollar Failure of Figger Fallup and The Space Merchants). It is surprising in many ways how little the episode has dated, with the struggle to balance financial, career and quality-of-living concerns remaining as much an issue today as when the episode was broadcast - and anyone who has to suffer the drudgery of a long, tedious commute into work will find much in the main character's daily travails with which to sympathize. One area where the episode has dated, though, is in its depiction of gender roles, with the unspoken assumption being that it is only men who go out to work, while women are left at home to be dutiful housewives; historically accurate, no doubt, but there's no questioning here of this accepted division of labour. Nonetheless, a funny, entertaining and still-relevant episode.
Rating: * * *