Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Starring: Everett Sloane
Originally aired: 7 July 1957
Plot synopsis: A man hires a killer to murder his business partner, but his attempt to establish an alibi for the time of the killing soon causes matters to spiral out of control.
Favourite line: 'The big chill is a thousand bucks, in advance.'
Review: This is an enjoyable episode which lives up to Suspense's title very well: it genuinely is suspenseful (which isn't always the case with the series, unfortunately). One of the potential benefits of having only thirty minutes to work with in telling a story is that it forces writers to waste no time with unnecessary set-up or superfluous background, and in this case, the episode cuts to the chase right from the start. We are immediately plunged into the middle of a murky plot featuring embezzlement, deceit and murder, as the protagonist seeks to employ the services of a hitman to eliminate his business partner. In this introduction, there is some well-crafted, and performed, dialogue between the pair, which reveals very clearly the dubious characters of the two men planning to commit murder. Yet it is the scenes that follow that truly make the episode, as the main character becomes increasingly desperate and frantic as his attempts to manufacture an alibi are repeatedly thwarted, with real suspense created over whether or not he will succeed. The ending, too, is satisfying. Do the characters get their just deserts? Listen to find out!
Rating: * * * *
Always Room at the Top
Starring: Anne Baxter
Originally aired: 20 February 1947
Plot synopsis: After the art director of an advertising agency falls to her death from her office window, a highly ambitious woman persuades the company's boss to give her the vacant job - but is there more going on at the agency than she initially realizes?
Favourite line: 'Decency? What's decency got to do with it? Do you need an art director, or a Sunday school teacher?'
Review: Crazy, crazy, crazy. Really, this story's plot is totally mad and completely unbelievable. However, even though the episode is utterly absurd, it is also immensely entertaining. In the story's opening scenes, the main character demonstrates herself to be so jaw-droppingly pushy and hard-headed that she blusters her way into a dead woman's job while the latter's body is still warm, laying splattered on the street below following a fatal plunge from her office window. Consequently, it is clear from the outset that the protagonist is anything but a shining paragon of virtue. Yet before long, she comes to seem like the most sympathetic character in the story, as the advertising agency where she obtains her new position is revealed to be a hive of intrigue and corruption. Matters come to a head when the plot culminates in a completely over-the-top conclusion, in which revelation follows revelation, and further deaths follow the one with which the episode began. Yet what makes the story so compelling, despite all its ludicrous elements, is that it presents not one, but four strong female characters, and absolutely revels in pitting them against each other; a less charitable reviewer might describe listening to this episode as like listening to a thirty-minute catfight. Interesting, too, is that its star, Anne Baxter, would appear three years later in one of the all-time classic films about female rivalry, All About Eve (1950), so there's a fascinating thematic connection between this episode and one of Baxter's most famous films. Finally, for even more madness, it's worth listening to the exchange between Baxter and Ken Niles, the commercial spokesman for Suspense's sponsor at the time, Roma wines, after the episode has concluded. Baxter proves her abilities as an actress by asking, seemingly straight-faced, what is the best wine to drink with - baked beans! I think if you are drinking wine with baked beans, it doesn't really matter what's inside the bottle ...
Rating: * * * *
Starring: Jackie Cooper
Originally aired: 3 May 1959
Plot synopsis: A man returning home witnesses a hit-and-run killing, before later discovering the bloody license plate of the car responsible outside his front door, and afterwards he is persuaded by a friend to try to blackmail the car's owner for its return.
Favourite line: 'I don't mind saying now, I was scared out of my Sunday pants.'
Review: This is an enjoyable episode, though not one that leaves listeners with much to think about after it has finished. The characters are all stereotypes, and talk almost entirely in clichéd vernacular; and while the script is proficient, it never really sparkles. Yet it's a fun story, with some neat twists and turns. Plus, there's a good jazz score, which complements the breezy tone.
Rating: * * *
At the Point of a Needle
Starring: Betty Garde and Walter Kinsella
Originally aired: 23 September 1962
Plot synopsis: A man is slowly worn down by his overbearing wife, whose incessant nagging drives him to breaking point.
Favourite line: 'I want to drive 'til the engine falls apart, like I'm falling apart. You're driving my brains up and down like the pistons! Your words are exploding in my weary mind like the gas in the cylinder head! And I can't stand much more of it! I can't stand much more of it, Myra!'
Review: Walter Kinsella plays the ultimate henpecked husband in this episode about a domineering wife and the lengths to which her spouse will go to escape her nagging. This may suggest that the story is quite an old-fashioned one, and in terms of its depiction of married life in many respects it is. However, what makes this a much better episode than it seems initially it is going to be are two aspects. First, there is the performance by Betty Garde as the wife, who clearly revels in portraying a woman who is an absolute monster. She has great fun delivering delicious lines of withering dialogue, which slowly erode her poor husband's patience and sanity. Second, the ending comes as quite a surprise - listeners will no doubt be expecting some sort of dramatic, possibly violent, ending, but I for one did not guess the one we are given. Overall, not too bad for what was Suspense's penultimate episode.
Rating: * * *
Starring: Ronald Colman
Originally aired: 31 May 1945
[Another version of this story, starring Berry Kroeger, aired as part of a double bill with Wet Saturday, 20 March 1948]
Plot synopsis: On a stiflingly hot summer's day, an artist experiences a strange series of events that appears to portend a decidedly dark fate lies in store for him. Based on a short story by W. F. Harvey, first published in his short-story collection Midnight House and Other Tales, in 1910.
Favourite line: 'This heat. This heat's bad. A man's not responsible for what he does in this heat.'
Review: This is a supernatural tale in the same tradition as those of writers like M. R. James and Walter de la Mare, and is one of W. F. Harvey's most famous. The power of the story lies in its carefully crafted atmosphere, the creeping sense of menace and dread that it creates. The heat of the title is like a blanket, covering the world in a shroud of evil. Little is explained or made explicit; instead, the episode is all about signs and forebodings. Everything in the story - from the picture the main character sketches of a criminal in the dock, to the tombstone being carved by the stonemason, to the passage from The Prophet he is asked to read - points to his ultimate destiny. The reason this is such a chilling episode is that there appears to be no possibility of escape for the artist from the future he is moving inexorably towards, no hope that resistance is anything but futile. What makes it also a subtle, sophisticated tale is that the climax is left open-ended, forcing listeners to imagine for themselves what its conclusion will turn out to be. One of Suspense's most memorable episodes.
Rating: * * * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Sleep No More (1956); TV - Danger (1950), The Gulf Playhouse (1953), On Camera (1955), Great Ghost Tales (1961)]