Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Madman of Manhattan
Starring: Myron McCormick
Originally aired: 8 March 1959
[Another version of this story, starring William Powell, aired 19 January 1950 - under the title The Escape of Lacey Abbott]
This story was produced previously by Suspense as the episode The Escape of Lacey Abbott - see this entry for my full review.
Rating: * *
Make Mad the Guilty
Starring: Hume Cronyn
Originally aired: 5 June 1947
Plot synopsis: A jobless Shakespearean actor proposes to fake his own death in order to allow his wife to marry another man, in exchange for the $20,000 payout from his own life insurance policy.
Favourite line: 'Oh, that you had forty thousand lives! One is too poor, too weak for my revenge.'
Review: 'Make mad the guilty, and appal the free' is a line from Hamlet, and this episode is filled with quotations from Shakespeare. The unfortunate problem with this is that it shows up how pedestrian the rest of the script is, with little in the way of sparkling or memorable dialogue. The other main problem with the story is that, thanks in part to his endless Shakespeare quoting, the main character comes across as insufferably pretentious, and not especially likeable. The plot isn't bad, but nothing strikingly original, making this a decidedly mediocre episode.
Rating: * *
Starring: Paul Douglas
Originally aired: 24 November 1952
Plot synopsis: A newspaper columnist, who writes a gossip column under the heading 'Man Overboard', finds himself involved in the hunt for a Soviet spy.
Favourite line: 'Half an hour later, shivering and shaking in my wet clothes, and keeping my mouth clamped tight so my teeth wouldn't sound like a dice game ...'
Review: An efficient Cold War thriller, this episode is nonetheless somewhat dated - and even worse, somewhat dull. It's by no means impossible for Cold War-set stories still to be enjoyable today, but in this case, any enjoyment to be had is meagre. It is isn't a terrible episode and there's at least one reasonably clever scene, in which the main character perpetrates a deception in the fog using a pair of cigarettes. Yet overall, the story simply isn't very thrilling, the characters are thinly drawn, and the hunt for the Soviet spy lacks much in the way of excitement.
Rating: * *
The Man in the Fog
Starring: Robert Dryden
Originally aired: 24 September 1961
Plot synopsis: A woman believes she knows how to identify a killer operating in the London fog, but is greatly surprised when she works out who it is.
Favourite line: 'There's a soul out there begging to be released from the claws of the flesh, so as it can soar up to heaven.'
Review: Another below-average British-set story (see also, for example, The Cellar and One-Way Street), this episode is a disappointment because it contains the germ of a decent idea. It starts out weakly, seeming to be a standard serial-killer story, but then - SPOILER ALERT! - there's a reasonably surprising twist when the murderer's identity is revealed early on, suggesting that it may be much more than just a whodunnit. In truth, it is not hard to guess that the husband is the one responsible for the spate of killings, but what is intriguing is how the episode will fill the remaining running time: will the wife protect her husband's dark secret or turn him in to the police? Unfortunately, though, the script simply isn't strong enough to deliver on any potential promise, and ultimately the story largely just fizzles out. The ending especially is very poor.
Rating: * *
A Man in the House
Starring: Joan Lorring
Originally aired: 2 August 1945
Plot synopsis: An intruder breaks into the house of a young woman living alone with her invalid mother and takes the pair hostage.
Favourite line: 'When I was seventeen, they called me "that pretty little Barrett girl." I never imagined then that five years later I'd be working in the public library day after day and two evenings a week, one of the mousy, tight-mouthed librarians who frown and rap a pencil when the adolescents' scuffling and giggling becomes a little too unruly.'
Review: Until the final act, there was much about this episode that I liked, especially the initial set-up: it's quite a bleak one, presenting a young woman who was once viewed by everyone as bright and attractive, but who, since the death of her father, has been reduced to the status of a lonely spinster and sole carer for her infirm mother. Her neighbours believe that what the woman needs is 'a man in the house', yet when this becomes a reality it is not thanks to any romantic engagement, but because a crazed criminal has broken into her home and taken her and her mother captive. So far, so intriguing, and for the first half of the story it seems to be promising to be a superior Suspense tale. Yet, unfortunately, it starts to go downhill when we discover that the woman is pretty incapable on her own and that - SPOILER ALERT! - she does need a man in her life to rescue her (literally and figuratively). Apart from anything else, this is disappointing in dramatic terms because it means that the central character is essentially passive in the shaping of her own destiny, having to rely on someone else - even if it were another woman this might be problematic - to solve her problems. So, a strong beginning, but an unsatisfying conclusion. (Of possible interest is the fact this episode was also adapted for the television version of Suspense, though some significant changes were made to the plot.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: TV - Suspense (1949)]
The Man in the Room
Starring: John Lund
Originally aired: 11 May 1950
Plot synopsis: A writer begins to wonder what is behind the apparent disappearance of the woman he has paid to type up a manuscript.
Favourite line: None.
Review: I will begin this review with a SPOILER ALERT! as it will reveal a key plot point at the very beginning. This episode's ending riffs on a scene in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Pit and the Pendulum', in which the main character is trapped in a room in which the walls are closing in, apparently about to crush him to death. In this case, the protagonist is trapped in an elevator shaft, seemingly facing a gruesome demise as the elevator descends, and reference is made to Poe's story to ensure that listeners see the parallel. Unfortunately, this episode is inferior in every respect to Poe's famous tale. It is always dangerous for a story to invite comparisons with a recognized classic and it does the episode no favours to remind its audience of a much better one. The hero is a not-very-interesting author of not-very-interesting sounding fiction, who gets mixed up in an odd - but largely dull - affair involving an elevator operator, a pair of identical twins and a murder. In fairness, it isn't wholly bad, just very mundane; listeners would do better simply to read (or re-read) Poe's original story.
Rating: * *
The Man Who Thought He Was Edward G. Robinson
Starring: Edward G. Robinson
Originally aired: 17 October 1946
[Another version of this story aired 30 September 1948 - under the title 'The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson']
Plot synopsis: A timid, henpecked husband dreams of being more like Edward G. Robinson, an actor famous for playing tough-guy gangsters, and when the movie star comes to town, he seeks his idol out to help him deal with his domineering wife.
Favourite line: 'Now, I got a gat at home that's perfect for this job, get me? I've knocked off Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, Jimmy Cagney – oh, I don't know how many guys with it.'
Review: A postmodern story from before anyone had ever heard of postmodernism, this episode features Edward G. Robinson playing not only himself, but also another character - who wants to be just like Edward G. Robinson! This conceit makes the episode feel very contemporary, as we tend to associate such a blurring of the line between fiction and reality with much later, more knowing eras. For example, a couple of films from the 1990s spring to mind that similarly have actors portraying both themselves and fictional characters - Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Nightmare with Robert Englund - and were seen as quite novel for doing so. It's a great surprise, therefore, to find this being done in the 1940s, and makes this episode a very entertaining and unusual one. In truth, the plot is nothing special - if it weren't for the dual roles being played by the same actor, the episode wouldn’t be very memorable - but especially for fans of Robinson and the gangster movie genre, there is a lot here to enjoy. [The episode was remade a couple of years later as 'The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson', using a virtually identical script. Though both episodes are thus very similar, the slightly altered title used for the second version makes more sense - the main character in the story does not believe that he is Edward G. Robinson, he merely wants to be more like him (even if not actually wanting to be him).]
Rating: * * * *
The Man Who Wanted to Be Edward G. Robinson
Starring: Edward G. Robinson
Originally aired: 30 September 1948
[Another version of this story aired 17 October 1946 - under the title 'The Man Who Thought He Was Edward G. Robinson']
This story was produced previously by Suspense as the episode 'The Man Who Thought He Was Edward G. Robinson' - see the entry above for my full review.
Rating: * * * *
Marry for Murder
Starring: Lillian Gish
Originally aired: 9 September 1943
Plot synopsis: Murder rears its head after a husband and wife each make out a will leaving everything to the other - but who will be the victim?
Favourite line: 'The chief difference between fact and fiction is that the author of a novel wants you to see the pattern and the author of a murder tries to hide it.'
Review: Like many early Suspense episodes, this one is a little creaky - and even the presence of Lillian Gish, one of the great stars of early cinema, in the cast cannot elevate it to superior status. Even so, it does present an entertaining story that has more to offer than it appears at first to do. In particular, and without spoiling the ending, it subverts at least some of the clichés of the thriller genre that were common at the time - such as the character of the helpless, neurotic woman who seems forever in need of smelling salts to calm her nerves, as well as the well-worn trope of arsenic hidden in food as a means of poisoning. There is an all-too-convenient confession scene at the end, but otherwise, this is a solid, even if not great, episode.
Rating: * * *