Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Let There Be Light
Starring: Ivor Francis
Originally aired: 8 April 1962
Plot synopsis: A blind man living alone in a cabin finds himself in mortal danger when a pair of criminals unexpectedly shows up at his door and starts to question him about a crashed airplane.
Favourite line: 'Strange, isn't it? All my life I was afraid of the dark. Now - now I welcome it!'
Review: This is an effective, unpretentious thriller, that works well in sketching out its four characters, and in successfully building tension and suspense. What is most notable about the story is the final act, and here I will offer a SPOILER ALERT! as any further discussion cannot help but reveal details of the ending. There are two points about it worth commenting on. First, it is very similar to the conclusion of a short story by Ernest Bramah, 'The Game Played in the Dark' (first published in 1913), in which its blind detective hero is held captive by criminals, but turns the tables on them by putting out the lights to give himself the upper hand. Almost the same idea is played out in this episode, even though here it's not the hero himself who comes up with the plan. Second, regardless of how original the plot is, what seems quite odd in this case is that although the blind protagonist gains a crucial advantage by the room being plunged into darkness, he nonetheless keeps talking throughout, which would surely allow the pair of criminals aiming to kill him to identify where he is. At one point, he even gives away that his female companion is hiding behind a table! Most implausible is that one of the criminals who is holding a gun must be very stupid indeed, as he fires every single round wildly into the dark, rather than waiting to shoot when the blind man speaks. Despite this, a fun episode, with much in it to enjoy. (It may also be of interest to note that a number of other Suspense episodes feature blind protagonists, Footfalls, Out of Control, See How He Runs and A World of Darkness.)
Rating: * * *
Like Man, Somebody Dig Me
Starring: Elliott Reid
Originally aired: 25 May 1958
[Another version of this story, starring Dennis Day, aired 16 August 1959]
Plot synopsis: A beatnik drifter is accused of being a killer.
Favourite line: 'Man, I dig everything. I dig Zen and underarm deodorant. I dig Elvis Presley and Sputniks. I even dig people who drive right on by when I'm hitch-hiking.'
Review: Hey, daddio, can you dig? You squares are in for a really swinging story! Like, far out, man! This episode is very funny, even if mainly unintentionally so. Its portrayal of a 1950s beatnik presents just about every stereotypical trait imaginable, from the way he speaks solely in contemporary hipster argot to his heavily laid-back (drug-induced?) demeanor. There are hints in the story of the way in which such figures were viewed by many at the time as threatening to the values of mainstream Middle America - especially when the protagonist falls into the hands of a lynch-mob - but listening to the episode today, the movement the character represents seems quite innocent, even charming. There isn't a great deal to the plot, but it would be difficult to listen to this episode now without at least smiling, and it is played nicely by the cast. Groovy, hepcats!
Rating: * * *
A Little Piece of Rope
Starring: Lucille Ball
Originally aired: 14 October 1948
Plot synopsis: A young woman who makes money by enticing older men to drive to a secluded spot so that she can club them over the head and then steal from them one day picks the wrong target: a serial strangler.
Favourite line: 'With their falsely youthful faces, dressed as innocent school girls, these vicious females haunt the vicinity of select young ladies' seminaries and with their airs of artless girlhood they entice and trap unwary gentlemen, some from the best of families.'
Review: Sometimes, one can be surprised - even shocked - by how much the social and moral climate has changed since the days of Old Time Radio. This episode is a case in point. The set-up involves a 'baby-faced' woman whose youthful appearance allows her to pass herself off as a school girl - which she does, in order to lure men attracted to young girls and then rob them. In other words, she entraps paedophiles for financial gain. Now, it's clear we are supposed to see both the men and the young woman as morally disreputable, but it is still astonishing how matter-of-factly the episode treats this scenario. Today, by contrast, I'm sure it would include much stronger condemnation of the sexual predators preying on under-age girls (even if the main character isn't actually one). Regardless, the morally questionable nature of the protagonist, as well as the perversity of the serial killer with whom she unwittingly crosses paths, make this an unusual and ethically ambiguous episode that is refreshingly different to many of the more standard crime stories Suspense presented. A further major plus point is the fact that the main role is played by Lucille Ball - who is, as always, great (for my money, Ball was one of the best actresses Suspense employed throughout its twenty-year run; see also, for example, Dime a Dance). The ending is also strong (if not entirely original or unpredictable), making this a memorable and compelling listen.
Rating: * * * *
The Long Shot
Starring: George Coulouris
Originally aired: 31 January 1946
[Another version of this story, starring Herbert Marshall, aired 9 February 1958]
Plot synopsis: A gambler down on his luck agrees to accompany a fellow countryman from England on a cross-country trip to San Francisco, and on the way works out a scheme to obtain his companion's fortune.
Favourite line: 'When you get right down to it, killing a man's a pretty tough job.'
Review: Some stories are all about the twist in the tale, and this is one of them. We know from the outset that the protagonist has been arrested for murder, but few of the details. As these start to be revealed, an interesting narrative is gradually recounted. If this were a film, it would be a road movie, though it still works well as a radio play, despite the lack of visuals. British listeners in particular may enjoy the conversations the two main characters have while they are driving, since they are largely about London, even if the story's lead finds them unbearably dull. When the twist comes, it is unexpected and effective, making this a solidly enjoyable - even if not outstanding - thriller. (I don't believe this really constitutes a spoiler, but I'll offer a SPOILER ALERT nonetheless, to highlight that the twist at the end is quite similar to the one found in the episode The Imposters, though the two episodes' plots are quite different.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: TV - Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955)]
The Lord of the Witch Doctors
Starring: Nicholas Joy
Originally aired: 27 October 1942
Plot synopsis: In British-controlled Zanzibar, the colonial rivalry between Britain and Germany threatens to erupt into violence, while at the same time a newly arrived witch doctor appears to be stirring up the natives. Based on an original script by John Dickson Carr.
Favourite line: 'Young lady, be good enough not to speak until you're spoken to!'
Review: Dated does not even begin to describe this episode. A tale of the power struggle between two major powers, Britain and Germany, for control of Zanzibar, it is difficult for a modern audience to sympathize with any of the main characters (British or German), as they are all unrepentant colonialists. The episode was made during World War II, so we are obviously supposed to side with the honourable British against the dastardly Germans, but I'm not sure many would these days, given the unquestioned assumptions of racial superiority displayed by all parties. The treatment of the natives in this story - backwards and superstitious, and prone to spouting lines such as 'me go with witch doctor' and 'I no like! I no like! - is almost beyond parody. Indeed, throughout I kept thinking of the Michael Palin and Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) series, Ripping Yarns, with its satirical take on the sort of derring-do adventure stories for boys that were popular in the 19th to mid-20th centuries. In the case of this episode, though, we are supposed to take its ripe, silly (and let's not mince words here, racist) plot seriously, which is just impossible, especially in terms of the appalling 'witch doctor' character. For extra measure, it isn't exactly enlightened in its treatment of women, either - see the line I quote above, which is spoken by a father to his daughter for having the temerity to voice an opinion of her own. Truly, one to avoid.
[Other adaptations: Radio - BBC Radio (1941)]
The Lost Ship
Starring: Matt Cooper
Originally aired: 26 August 1962
Plot synopsis: A husband and wife on the run from the police encounter an old man who tells them a tale of a gold-filled Spanish galleon lost in the desert nearby, leading the husband to seek out the ship to claim the treasure.
Favourite line: 'There's fifty thousand arguments in this little bag to prove we're not crazy.'
Review: The set-up for this story is promising. The characters of the husband and wife fleeing the police and attempting to make it over the Mexican border after having stolen $50,000 are sketched neatly and efficiently at the start, and the story told by the old prospector about the lost ship of the desert is evocative and intriguing. However, the episode ultimately disappoints because of its weak resolution, turning the story into a fairly commonplace parable about the consequences of greed.
Rating: * *
The Lunatic Hour
Starring: George Matthews
Originally aired: 17 June 1962
Plot synopsis: A stationmaster is haunted by the apparitions of a couple who died as a result of a train accident - for which he feels responsible - ten years before.
Favourite line: 'I needed a saner mind than mine to take me in hand, to show me what was real and what was imagined.'
Review: There are some episodes that it is difficult to write anything positive about, and this is one of them. It is a ghost story that is not scary, and neither the script nor characters hold much interest. Worst of all, the episode has an ending straight out of Scooby Doo - hint: are the apparitions really ghosts? For a far superior railway-based ghost story, try the episode The Signalman, adapted from a short story by Charles Dickens.