Original image: The Knowles Gallery
A Good and Faithful Servant
Starring: Jack Benny
Originally aired: 2 June 1952
Plot synopsis: An accountant in a department store, who is nearing retirement, carries out an ingenious plan to steal $50,000 - yet all does not go as smoothly as he had hoped.
Favourite line: 'It's a nasty trick, but we're nasty people.'
Review: The title of this episode, referencing the Bible story of 'The Parable of the Talents', is clearly intended to be ironic: the eponymous servant is neither good nor faithful. At the same time, though, he is far from 'evil'. Instead, he is just an ordinary man, who when he sees the opportunity to make a great deal of money - albeit illegally - seizes it. The scheme he employs is a clever one, though as is almost always the way with such plans in fiction, it eventually goes awry. Adding to the episode's appeal is the fine performance of Jack Benny in the main role, who is well suited to what is fundamentally a light, amiable tale. (Another episode about a meek employee who plans, after years of service, to steal - interestingly enough, also $50,000 - from his employer is Account Payable.)
Rating: * * *
Starring: David Niven
Originally aired: 5 April 1954
Plot synopsis: An insurance appraiser, who uses his position to steal valuables from his clients, hatches a scheme to defraud an insurance company by faking a theft of jewellery from his lover's elderly grandmother.
Favourite line: 'Of course, it's interesting work, and if one is resourceful and competent and ambitious when no one is looking, one might turn out to be wealthy.'
Review: Despite the presence of David Niven in the lead role, this story isn't up to very much, with a script that poorly serves Niven's talents. Based in fact, the episode goes to show that true stories are not always stranger or more interesting than fiction. There is nothing particularly clever or intriguing about the basic idea; it is a simple case of insurance fraud, nothing more. Moreover, there are no exciting plot developments to make the drama more compelling - it is not just that there are no murders or high speed car chases, but that no real tension is built up when Niven's character falls under suspicion, and no clever battle of wits ensues with the investigator who detects his scam. Niven makes the best of the script that he can, but without his presence this episode would probably merit no stars at all.
The Great Horrell
Starring: Joan Lorring
Originally aired: 22 August 1946
Plot synopsis: The wife of a stage mind-reader becomes convinced that her domineering husband truly does possess psychic powers, and fears that she will never escape his control unless she takes drastic action.
Favourite line: 'For the first time in five long years my mind is my own, released at last from that constant, crushing, insidious influence of his.'
Review: A solid psychological thriller, this episode has much in it to enjoy, especially its depiction of the main character's gradual mental disintegration. In part, the story is a familiar one, since at its heart is a love triangle, involving the female protagonist, her husband and her lover. Yet what lifts it into more interesting territory is the question of whether the husband - the eponymous 'Great Horrell' - may or may not genuinely be capable of reading minds. It's a little disappointing, then, that more about his supposed abilities is not explored, such as how his stage act actually works. Some may also feel it gets quite silly towards the end, with a number of unlikely and contrived plot developments following in quick succession. The episode remains an enjoyable one, though, right up until its faintly preposterous conclusion. (It's worth comparing this story to another Suspense episode about a stage mind-reading act, A Vision of Death, since this also raises the question of whether or not powers of mentalism may be real, though the latter has a very different plot.)
Rating: * * *
The Green Lorelei
Starring: Robert Readick
Originally aired: 6 November 1960
Plot synopsis: A struggling writer becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of a woman he has never seen, living in the apartment above, whose captivating singing has left him entranced.
Favourite line: 'The beer tasted disappointingly warm, as the night, and sour and bitter as the day.'
Review: By the early 1960s, when this episode was first broadcast, Suspense - and OTR in general - was in terminal decline (thanks in large part, of course, to the rise of television). Consequently, with shrinking budgets and the fact that radio could no longer attract the talent it once did, the quality of the American radio drama that remained deteriorated markedly. However, even in its dying years, Suspense still managed occasionally to produce strong, effective episodes. This is one. It is well written and produced, and boosted immensely by the fine performance of Robert Readick in the main role. Yet it is the plot that is most memorable. For most of its running time, the episode plays out like a classic, noir-tinged thriller, and then in the final act ... well, to reveal any more would give too much away. Suffice to say, the audacious finale is somewhat off-the-wall, but it is nonetheless both fun and satisfying. One of the few 1960s Suspense episodes that recalls how great the series could be.
Rating: * * * *
The Groom of the Ladder
Starring: Hans Conreid
Originally aired: 13 March 1956
[Another version of this story, starring Charles Laughton, aired 22 September 1952 - under the title Jack Ketch]
This story was produced previously by Suspense as the episode Jack Ketch - see this entry for my full review.
A Guy Gets Lonely
Starring: Dane Clark
Originally aired: 5 April 1945
Plot synopsis: A lonely man is introduced to a beautiful woman by a stranger, but soon discovers that the introduction may not have been as innocent as it initially appeared.
Favourite line: 'Have you ever been lonely? Desperately lonely? ... You do silly things when you're lonely. Maybe that explains what happened to me. Maybe.'
Review: Although there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this episode, at the same time, there's not a great deal to recommend about it either. The elements of a solid mystery are here - a plan to extort money, an apparent suicide, characters who are not what they seem - but they don't come together in a particularly satisfying way. The theme of loneliness introduced at the beginning serves as an interesting starting point, but there's nothing especially original or clever in the plotting, and the characters are not very engaging. The ending, too, is weak; it feels very perfunctory, and doesn't offer any novel or unexpected twists.
Rating: * *