Original image: The Knowles Gallery
If the Dead Could Talk
Starring: Dana Andrews
Originally aired: 20 January 1949
Plot synopsis: A trapeze artist in a circus plans the murder of a friend and fellow performer after the latter gets engaged to the woman he loves. Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), first published in Black Mask magazine, in February 1943; and later in his short-story collection Dead Man Blues, in 1948.
Favourite line: 'They'll never know how it happened. No one will ever know. I knew I was going to have to kill him almost from the first. That's how I am. That's what my blood is. I couldn't change it even if I tried.'
Review: The biggest asset of this episode is Dana Andrews in the lead role, who gives an intense, committed performance. It's also well written and the circus setting certainly helps make it a little different to the norm. Even so, more could have been made of the circus background. Not many details about the circus life are offered, and the characters don't especially seem like circus folk - sure, it's good to avoid the obvious stereotypes, but there's not much in the characters' descriptions or behaviour that make them distinctively 'circus', leaving the impression that the setting is being used purely to facilitate the plot. There is, though, a tense, exciting final act, and on the whole this is an entertaining episode. (Another episode centred on a circus, which also focuses on the rivalry created by a love triangle, is Gallardo.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - French-language Obsession (1954)]
I Had an Alibi
Starring: Keenan Wynn
Originally aired: 4 January 1945
Plot synopsis: A newspaper reporter and aspiring writer marries a young woman with a terminal heart condition in order to inherit her fortune, but once they are wed, he becomes impatient when she does not die as quickly as he had hoped.
Favourite line: '… we've got to have money. Lots of money. We're that kind of people.'
Review: This is a very pulpy noir thriller, but also very enjoyable. It is cleverly plotted, with various twists and turns that make for a very entertaining listen. In particular, the mechanics of the plot include quite a few neat touches, such as the way the protagonist gets the wife he intends to murder to write her own suicide note, as well as the means by which he gets his fingerprints onto the doorknobs of a hotel room he never visits. The performances, too, are good, and the script - if not dazzling - is certainly proficient. Still, it's the ending that lingers most in the memory, as this contains a couple of major surprises. To discuss these, I need to offer a SPOILER ALERT! as I'm going to give away how the episode concludes. What I found most interesting about the story's ending is the issue of whether or not the protagonist's fate can be considered 'just', since he is given the death penalty for a murder he didn't commit. There are other Suspense episodes in which characters are punished for murders they did not carry out, yet in most of these they are nonetheless guilty of different killings, so there is a sort of karmic justice at work. However, in this case, the main character didn't actually kill anyone - even if he had intended to - which makes the right or wrong of the conclusion somewhat ambiguous. Yes, the protagonist is pretty repellant, morally speaking, but does he deserve to be executed when he isn't in fact a murderer? Also, what about the real killer, who presumably gets away scot-free? The episode leaves the listener with a number of unanswered questions such as these, which provide food for thought even after it has ended.
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - The Glass Alibi (1946)]
Starring: Reynold Osborne and Cherita Bauer
Originally aired: 12 November 1961
Plot synopsis: The two servants of a wealthy, reclusive couple plot their employers' murder, so that they can take over the latters' identities.
Favourite line: 'What can we do with this, Victor? What can we buy? I wanna spend and spend and spend!'
Review: This episode reminded me a little of the short-lived TV series The Riches, since this was similarly about a pair of criminals adopting the identities of a deceased rich couple in order to enjoy their well-to-do lifestyles (though in the case of the TV series, the main characters did not murder the people they were pretending to be). However, this story adds an extra twist to the idea, and opinions of the episode are likely to be divided between those who find it clever and ingenious, and those who think it ridiculous and contrived. I'm in the former camp, as I found the story to be both quite exciting and surprisingly effective. The twist is fairly preposterous, but sometimes this can be forgiven, if it's a good one. It's a pity, though, that by the time this episode was made (the early 1960s) Suspense was no longer able to attract major Hollywood stars, as the script would've worked well in the hands of more accomplished talents. As it is, the cast give fair performances, and the episode is definitely an entertaining one. (This isn't really a spoiler, but I'll offer a SPOILER ALERT nonetheless, to point out that the twist at the end is similar to the one used in the episode The Long Shot, though their plots are quite different.)
Rating: * * *
In a Lonely Place
Originally aired: 6 March 1948
Plot synopsis: A serial strangler of young women uses his friendship with a detective in the LAPD to try to keep ahead of the investigation into his crimes. Based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, first published in 1947.
Favourite line: 'Their imaginations were poor, blunted little things, reaching only as far as the obvious. "He's insane, of course." So that was to be the chorus. What could they know of the world of imagination and beauty, in which a sane man, as sane as any, could kill, and kill again?'
Review: Listeners may be familiar with the story that serves as the basis for this episode from the Humphrey Bogart-starring film noir classic of the same title. However, the film version differs significantly from the source novel - especially regarding the issue of the main character's guilt or innocence - whereas this radio adaptation is much more faithful. This is also one of the strongest of Suspense's one-hour episodes, some of which can feel overlong, perhaps because it is based on a novel, and thus there was plenty of material to fill the running time. It is also very striking in being presented from the perspective of the murderer, rather than that of the detective trying to capture him. Consequently, this isn't a traditional whodunit, as we know from early on who the killer is; instead, it is a psychological thriller, more concerned with getting inside the murderer's head than with the conventional mechanics of most crime stories. At any rate, this is a very well-written, well-performed episode, which makes good use of its sixty minutes to build slowly to a satisfying climax.
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - The Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway (1952); Film - In a Lonely Place (1950)]
I Never Met the Dead Man
Starring: Danny Kaye
Originally aired: 5 January 1950
Plot synopsis: A man who witnesses a murder on the street quickly becomes the prime suspect.
Favourite line: 'That's how it started. Just walking along humming. All of a sudden, Bang! Bang! and half hour later the cops have me in the "yes" room at headquarters.'
Review: Despite the best efforts of Danny Kaye in the lead role, this isn't much of a story. The characters and plot are fine, but it's all so workmanlike that very little is truly engaging or exciting. The problem, perhaps, is that there are so many 'innocent man wrongly accused of murder' stories that to stand out a tale needs to offer something really different and distinctive. While there is a twist at the end of the episode, it's a so-so one, leaving this as just another adequate, but fairly forgettable, crime thriller. (For a much better Danny Kaye-starring story, try the episode The Too-Perfect Alibi.)
Rating: * *
Starring: Mandel Kramer
Originally aired: 16 October 1960
Plot synopsis: After stopping to eat lunch while driving through the desert on the way to California, a couple is waylaid by a pair of miners who tries to trap them in their car so that they will die in the stifling heat, leaving their vehicle free to be robbed.
Favourite line: 'Just thinking about them folks gives me a powerful thirst.'
Review: The central conceit of this episode is quite a good one - attempting to commit murder not with a gun or a knife but by allowing the intended victims to die of thirst beneath the burning desert sun. There is also a reasonable degree of tension as we wonder how, or whether, the couple trapped in their car will escape their potential murderers. So, overall, an enjoyable thriller, which is certainly much better than many late-period Suspense stories. At the same time, there are deficiencies that detract. For one, the dialogue is functional rather than memorable and sometimes even clunky - a number of times characters explain things to each other which both must already know, purely as a means of delivering information to the audience. Another definite problem is that, although Mandel Kramer in the role of the husband clearly conveys the sweltering heat and desperation of the couple's situation, Ellen McRae's performance as his wife is, frankly, much weaker, as she communicates almost no sense of fear or panic; instead, she sounds like she is simply reading lines from a script in a radio studio. I was also disappointed by the denouement - I won't reveal how the story concludes, but it would have had much more impact if the final scene had been cut and the episode had instead finished with the preceding one featuring the two miners, as this would have left it more open-ended and intriguing.
Rating: * * *
Starring: Santos Ortega
Originally aired: 11 October 1959
Plot synopsis: A young boy who suffers from asthma dies in suspicious circumstances at home, leading the police to suspect that he may have been murdered by his father. Based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky.
Favourite line: None.
Review: An episode about the killing of a child would have been quite shocking in 1959 - and still is today. It's hard to know what to make of this story, which is no more subtle than its title would suggest, as it seems to have no other aim than to shock its audience with the details of the crime committed. It is clear from very early on who is responsible, so there is little in the way of suspense, and the bulk of the episode is simply taken up with the father's police interview, in which the how and why of his son's murder are brought to light. In this, it is both unpleasant and dull in equal measure. There's not much else worth commenting on about this story, as there is nothing in it of any real merit. One of those late-period Suspense episodes that shows, unfortunately, how far the series had declined since its heyday.