Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Night Must Fall
Starring: Robert Montgomery
Originally aired: 27 March 1948
Plot synopsis: A charming young man inveigles his way into the home of a rich elderly woman, but when a dead body turns up in the woods nearby, the woman's niece starts to suspect that he might be a murderer. Based on a play by Emlyn Williams, first performed in 1935.
Favourite line: 'I have a theory - it's the criminals who look you in the eyes, and the honest people who blush and look away.'
Review: This episode dates from the brief period when Suspense experimented with hour-long stories, but like many of these, this one might have been stronger if it had been thirty minutes instead. Indeed, although the episode is based on a play, and thus condenses a longer work into its sixty minutes running time, it nonetheless feels overlong. In particular, it takes a while for the plot really to get going, when it would have been preferable to cut to the chase much earlier. However, the story is worth sticking with, even if the episode isn't an absolute classic. The original play, as well as the 1937 film that was later adapted from it, are generally viewed favourably by critics, and though elements of the story may be dated, the core, psychological drama remains strong. What doesn't really work is the mystery aspect - most listeners will doubtless guess the identity of the killer as soon as the murdered woman's body is discovered. Yet what is more successful is the characterization of the protagonist, a charismatic but decidedly suspect figure, together with the ambiguous relationship he forms with the niece of the woman whose home he has infiltrated. Robert Montgomery, who plays the lead, and Dame May Whitty, who takes the role of the rich old lady, had already appeared in the earlier film version and both acquit themselves well - though it's interesting that, as in the film, Montgomery plays his character with an Irish accent, even though in the play he is Welsh. Also notable about this version is that it is very coy about the fact that Montgomery's character is responsible for causing the maid to have become pregnant, something which is hinted at, but not mentioned explicitly. The plot may remind listeners of that of the Alfred Hitchcock film Suspicion (though the original play predates the Hitchcock film) which is similarly about a handsome, roguish man who may or may not be a murderer, though I won't reveal whether it has a similar denouement. In any case, a sold episode overall.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Molle Mystery Theater (1946), Best Plays (1952), Screen Guild Theater (1952); TV - BBC short (1937), The Ford Theatre Hour (1948), Broadway Television Theatre (1952), Matinee Theatre (1956), Hour of Mystery (1957); Film - Night Must Fall (1937), Night Must Fall (1964)]
Night on Red Mountain
Starring: Richard Crenna
Originally aired: 15 September 1957
[Another version of this story, starring Tom McKee, aired 8 March 1955 - under the title 'Nobody Ever Quits'; two further ones were broadcast under the title 'Night on Red Mountain' - the second, also starring Richard Crenna, aired 11 January 1959; and the third, starring Mandell Kramer, aired 20 November 1960]
This story was produced previously by Suspense as the episode 'Nobody Ever Quits' - see the entry below for my full review.
Rating: * * *
The Night Reveals
Starring: Fredric March
Originally aired: 26 May 1949
[Another version of this story, also starring Fredric March, aired 2 March 1943; a further one, starring Robert Young, aired 9 December 1943; and a final one, starring Keenan Wynn, aired 18 April 1946]
Plot synopsis: A fire insurance investigator begins to suspect his wife of being a pyromaniac. Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), first published in Story magazine, in April 1936; and later in his short-story collection After-Dinner Story, in 1944.
Favourite line: 'Fires are beautiful to watch. So bright and clean, they burn up all the filth and dirt. They're magnificent to watch, especially the big ones, the way the flames roar and crackle, lighting up everything around you. The beautiful fire, the beautiful fire!'
Review: The Cornell Woolrich story upon which this episode is based is generally well regarded among Woolrich aficionados, yet though this radio adaptation is by no means bad, nor is it outstanding. The basic conceit - a man whose job is to investigate fire insurance claims find himself having to investigate his own wife - is certainly interesting. Furthermore, the twist at the end is good, even for those who may have guessed it before it arrives. However, in this version at least, the story doesn't entirely work. The problem - SPOILER ALERT! - is that it simply isn't at all clear how and why the protagonist can be oblivious to the fact that it is he, rather than his wife, who is the pyromaniac. I was reminded a little of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly, in which the undercover police detective hero - SECOND SPOILER ALERT! - is unaware that he is in reality investigating himself. In the latter story, though, the protagonist's extensive drug use explains why he has become disassociated from his own actions, whereas in this Suspense episode, there is no such explanation. Consequently, though the twist makes for a clever ending, it comes too much out of nowhere for it to be truly satisfying. (For those wanting to hear more episodes dealing with the themes of arson and pyromania, two other Suspense stories may be of interest, The Flame and A Ring for Marya.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Tonight's Best Story (1940), Starring Boris Karloff (1949); TV - Starring Boris Karloff (1949)]
Nobody Ever Quits
Starring: Tom Mckee
Originally aired: 8 March 1955
[Other versions of this story were broadcast under the title 'Night on Red Mountain' - the first, starring Richard Crenna, aired 15 September 1957; the second, also starring Richard Crenna, aired 11 January 1959; and the third, starring Mandell Kramer, aired 20 November 1960]
Plot synopsis: The past catches up with a former criminal who is trying to go straight - having become the proprietor of a small, out-of-the-way café - when the boss of his old gang discovers his whereabouts.
Favourite line: 'They're both as dead as last week's hamburgers.'
Review: Possibly the most interesting fact about this episode is that it provided inspiration for the 1997 graphic novel A History of Violence (later adapted as the 2005 film of the same name). Also notable is that Suspense used the script four times - the subsequent three under the title 'Night on Red Mountain' - which indicates that the show's producers must similarly have seen great merit in the story (there are very few differences between the four versions, so listeners may as well stick with this first one). At any rate, both Suspense's producers and the writer of A History of Violence rightly recognized that the basic set-up is a winner: the idea of a criminal trying to give up a life of crime, but finding that this life may not want to give up on him, is undoubtedly a good one. The problem, though, is that the early promise simply isn't fulfilled. After a strong start, the second half is decidedly weak, including a very disappointing ending; I won't give away any details, but it involves a far too convenient deus ex machina. A pity - try A History of Violence for a much stronger conclusion to a similar tale.
Rating: * * *
Nothing Up My Sleeve
Starring: Elissa Landi and George Coulouris
Originally aired: 5 January 1943
Plot synopsis: A woman tries to prove that her fiancé is innocent of any involvement in a robbery at the bank where he works, but to do so she must discover where the mastermind behind the theft has hidden the stolen money. Based on an original script by John Dickson Carr.
Favourite line: '… everything gets its wrong name. Honest men are called thieves, and thieves are called honest men.'
Review: The writer of this episode, John Dickson Carr, was famous for locked room mysteries, of which this is an example - unfortunately, though, it is a fairly weak one. Major deficiencies include some very creaky dialogue, contrived plotting and an air of artificiality and unbelievability about the whole affair. Furthermore, the heroine of the piece is not very engaging and comes across as rather dry. However, the main problem with the episode arises from the fact that the best puzzle-based crime stories are ones that either provide enough clues to make it possible for readers/listeners to work out the ending for themselves, or have a solution that is sufficiently novel and ingenious that one doesn't mind having failed to second-guess it. Yet here, neither is the case: the solution is based on information that listeners are not given, and when it is revealed, it turns out to be neither very clever nor very interesting.
Rating: * *