Original image: The Knowles Gallery
The Queen's Ring
Starring: James Mason
Originally aired: 28 December 1953
Plot synopsis: In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the ambitious Earl of Essex plots to take over the throne.
Favourite line: 'It's how the dice fell, Roger. I flung them against the heavens, and I lost.'
Review: Based in fact, this romantic historical drama is a reasonably enjoyable and diverting episode, but not one that is likely to be anybody's favourite. The relationship between Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex has been the subject of numerous plays, books and films (including, for example, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn), so it does not break much in the way of new ground. James Mason is good value as the scheming Essex, as is Jeanette Nolan as the Queen, and a fairly decent job is made of condensing the story into a thirty-minute episode. However, it also suffers from the problems common to historical dramas set in this period, including some overly portentous sub-Shakespearean dialogue, which - given the setting of sixteenth-century England - the listener can't help comparing (unfavourably) with the Bard's. Moreover, for this kind of story to work - which is, after all, about a potentially momentous chapter in English history - it probably requires a grander sense of scale than this episode manages.
Rating: * *
Starring: Walter Abel
Originally aired: 7 August 1947
Plot synopsis: A bank employee frustrated at his lack of success in life sees an opportunity to remedy this situation when he overhears a plan to smuggle a large amount of restricted negotiables into the country from Britain, and devises a scheme to intercept them.
Favourite line: 'It was during my lunch hour one day - funny, I can't even remember the name of the book. Anyway, the sentence was, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."'
Review: The book, of course, is Henry David Thoreau's Walden, and as a starting point for a crime thriller, Thoreau's notion that many people spend their lives privately dissatisfied with the lots fate has dealt them is a good one. It provides a clear motive for committing crime and, as in this case, for matters to escalate beyond what was initially planned. In the lead role, Abel gives a decent performance, though he stumbles over some of his lines, and overall, this is a solid, entertaining episode. However, there is also a major weakness to the story, which is that the 'twist' can be seen coming a mile away. It isn't giving too much away to note that this is especially so for listeners who have seen the film Charade (which this episode predates), but even for those who haven't, anyone paying attention should be able to work it out much more quickly than the rather slow main character.
Rating: * * *
Starring: Stacy Harris
Originally aired: 6 March 1956
Plot synopsis: Three convicts on a Florida road gang seize the opportunity when it presents itself to make their escape through the Everglades.
Favourite line: 'For a moment, it was a real quiet night. Only for a moment.'
Review: Prison chain gangs have formed the subject matter of a number of gritty film dramas - including I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Cool Hand Luke - and this episode is a good radio addition to the genre. Its major strength lies in its efforts at fleshing out its array of characters, providing them with convincing back stories and motivations - as well as the trio of convicts, this includes the sheriff, his wife, the sheriff's deputy and the woman with whom the latter is having an affair. There is also a reasonably strong ending, touching on themes of guilt, regret and the possibility of redemption. At the same time, not all of the characters' plot arcs have clear resolutions, and overall, the story lacks the excitement or tension one would normally expect from this sort of tale. So, definitely worth a listen, but you may be left wanting a little more from the episode than it ultimately delivers.
Rating: * * *