Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Starring: J. Carroll Naish
Originally aired: 12 July 1945
Plot synopsis: A blind cobbler bides his time to prove the truth about his son's role in a murder, even as many years pass by. Based on a short story by Wilbur Daniel Steele, first published in Pictorial Review, in July 1920; and later in his short-story collection Tower of Sand and Other Stories, in 1929.
Favourite line: 'To questions I gave no answer, to threats I gave no heed. I scarcely heard them, for my ears were deaf to all sounds save one. The sound of footfalls. The footsteps of a murderer.'
Review: I have not read the story upon which this episode is based, but radio proves to be a very good medium for it because sound plays such a crucial role in the plot, specifically, the sound of the footfalls of the title. This is also an episode that I liked more the more I thought about it after I had finished listening, as the themes it explores resonate even after the plot has been resolved - in particular, the deep faith of a father in his son, regardless of what others may think of him. As a thriller, this may not be the best Suspense ever produced, but as a character study, of a father determined to find justice for his son, it is very effective. (It may also be of interest to note that a number of other Suspense episodes feature blind protagonists, Let There Be Light, Out of Control, See How He Runs and A World of Darkness.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - Footfalls (1921)]
Four Hours to Kill
Starring: Robert Taylor
Originally aired: 12 January 1950
Plot synopsis: A man has only four hours to track down and kill the woman he believes overheard him, on the other end of an off-the-hook telephone, murder his own brother.
Favourite line: 'You mean, you do this every night? ... Call up strange women, tell 'em you've fallen in love with their voices.'
Review: There's much about this episode that is enjoyable and entertaining. The main pleasure derives from following the protagonist's desperate search to find the one person who can identify him as a murderer, and the resourceful way in which he deduces her whereabouts. However, the story also raises a lot of questions, especially about the supposed 'hero'. If he is not exactly a psychopath, he nonetheless seems far from well-balanced - for example, at the beginning, he brutally attacks his own brother, and not in self-defence. He might have seemed more justified in this if the story had explained why he had such an antagonistic relationship with his sibling, but all we really learn about the brother is that he is somewhat arrogant and refuses the lead character a loan. Furthermore, our hero jumps very easily to the idea of committing a second murder, in order to save himself from being caught, simply dismissing the alternative of instead fleeing. There is, indeed, something quite disturbing about his quest to hunt down the woman who can identify him, flirting with her on the telephone while all the while planning to end her life. Moreover, although this woman starts out as quite sparky and self-confident, she far too quickly changes her mind about the man who has basically been stalking her, becoming by the end like a love-struck teenager. Finally, a major downside to this story is that the 'twist' that resolves it is a real cop out, which undermines the drama of the initial set-up; it's a pity the episode didn't stick to its guns about what happens at the start, as this would have made it much more intriguing to discover how it might finally play out.
Rating: * * *
Fragile: Contents Death
Starring: Vic Perrin
Originally aired: 22 May 1956
[Another version of this story, starring Paul Douglas, aired 1 February 1951]
Plot synopsis: When a postmaster receives a telephone call informing him that a package has been sent through the mail containing a bomb, he and his fellow postal workers have only five hours to find it before it explodes.
Favourite line: 'They say every soldier figures the next bullet isn't going to get him. That's the way I'm figuring myself on this deal.'
Review: It can sometimes be very interesting to compare episodes that use the same script, as different actors' performances can change the feel of a story quite dramatically. This is the case here; and of the two versions Suspense produced, the second is definitely superior. The problem with the first is that Paul Douglas in the main role injects very little sense of urgency into proceedings, which feels puzzling given that the story concerns the possibility of a bomb going off in a few hours' time. By contrast, Vic Perrin in the second version does a much better job of conveying the seriousness of the situation. As for the plot, it's an intriguing one, centred on a race against time as the characters try to work out which of the thousands of packages they are responsible for handling the bomb is in. At the same time, for anyone paying attention, it's not very difficult to work out which package it is, which lessens the tension somewhat, and makes a lot of what happens essentially a series of wild goose chases. Still, this is an entertaining thriller overall, and the story deserves credit for not being just another standard murder mystery.
Rating: * * *
Freedom This Way
Starring: Hans Conreid
Originally aired: 27 January 1957
Plot synopsis: To escape Soviet oppression, a Hungarian dissident - with a wife and child in tow - flees to the United States, where he must convince the immigration services that they deserve to be allowed to remain.
Favourite line: '… the first modest step in the process that would end with my voluntary confession to a dozen crimes that I had never committed, implicating a hundred persons I had never met.'
Review: It's an interesting question as to whether a story that depends very strongly for its impact on the historical context in which it was produced can still have anything to offer once this background no longer exists. This question has been raised very clearly in modern times by the ending of the Cold War, which immediately left much of the fiction relating to this conflict seeming outdated. Yet there are also many works that still stand up extremely well - thinking purely in terms of film, for example, there is Dr. Strangelove, Seven Days in May and The Bedford Incident, to name just a few. Cold War stories that continue to possess a resonance are those that aren't just about the East/West conflict, but which address more universal themes, such as militarism, paranoia and ideology, or the meaning of ideals like democracy and freedom. This is all a roundabout way of explaining that this episode, which is very centrally a Cold War story, falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: much about it does feel dated, but at the same time, it remains an intriguing listen. The plot is nothing special, but it offers some genuine moments of tension, and there is some good work by the cast, especially Hans Conreid. For those interested in Cold War history, it is also quite fascinating to consider the specific context in which the episode was made, since the Hungarian Revolution that forms the backdrop to the tale had occurred only a matter of months prior to its broadcast; this was a highly significant event since it offered some of the first concrete evidence to the outside world of mass internal dissent within the Soviet bloc. The episode's final scene does, though, edge into the realm of explicit propaganda, with its references to Uncle Sam and its invocation of the American Dream - though the unsubtle way it does this has its own sort of naive charm.
Rating: * * *
The Frightened City
Starring: Frank Lovejoy
Originally aired: 10 November 1952
[Another version of this story, starring Harry Bartell, aired 27 September 1955]
Plot synopsis: A soldier returns home from active duty only to discover that the town where he lives has fallen under the control of ruthless criminals, and when he finds out that they have murdered his brother-in-law, he sets out for revenge.
Favourite line: 'I want you to look at me, and I want you to say to yourself, "Here's a man who's angry." And you say to yourself, "Here's a man who might reach across the desk and kill me. He hasn't made up his mind yet."'
Review: The initial set-up for this episode is quite promising: one man, in a town of terrified people, single-handedly takes on the forces of organized crime. If this were a film, there might be the basis here for an entertaining movie - probably with lots of gunfights, car chases and explosions - but as a radio play, it simply doesn't work. There's a lot of talk, but not a great deal of action, and much of the dialogue feels overwrought, as it strains too hard to be taut and gritty. Moreover, the means by which the protagonist attempts to bring down the criminals' boss isn't very satisfying. If the hero had taken a more straightforward, all-guns-blazing approach to cleaning up his hometown this may not have made the episode a very sophisticated one, but it might have been more fun.
Rating: * *