Original image: The Knowles Gallery
The Too-Perfect Alibi
Starring: Danny Kaye
Originally aired: 13 January 1949
Plot synopsis: A man besotted with his friend's fiancée plans the 'perfect' murder to dispose of his rival.
Favourite line: 'It is the guilty who suffer.'
Review: To my mind, this story is as good as any of the more famous Suspense episodes. It is a very well constructed and executed piece, with a great twist in the tale. Danny Kaye is best known for his roles in light comedy films, but here he plays completely against type. The episode is a twisted reworking of the Prince Charming fairy tale, with Kaye as a very dark Prince who will stop at nothing, including murder, to win his Princess. However, the reason he does not achieve his heart's desire is not the one commonly relied upon in thrillers - the justice that is usually meted out to killers - but a much harsher, darker one. This makes for a very memorable story, in which the scenario is worked through with remorseless logic to its bleak conclusion. (For those who enjoyed this story, I would recommend another very good Suspense episode that similarly features a comedian in a role very different to the ones for which he was best known, the Bob Hope-starring Death Has a Shadow.)
Rating: * * * * *
The Track of the Cat
Starring: Richard Widmark
Originally aired: 18 February 1952
Plot synopsis: A pair of brothers embarks on a hunt for a large black panther that has been attacking the cattle on their ranch. Based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, first published in 1949.
Favourite line: 'You're not hunting that cat anymore - that cat's hunting you.'
Review: This story is a gripping adventure yarn, which is more sophisticated than a brief summary of the plot might suggest. Like all the best hunting stories, such as Herman Melville's Moby Dick or William Faulkner's 'The Bear', it is not really about the animal being hunted, but about the hunters. In this case, it is about a family riven by in-fighting, which is largely down to the machinations of a jealous, scheming brother. As the hunt for the panther takes its toll, it becomes the symbol of a guilty conscience, and the story turns into a tale of psychological disintegration. This descent into confusion and madness is ably portrayed by Richard Widmark in the lead role. The story isn't in the same league as Melville's or Faulkner's, but even so, it is a satisfying, rewarding one. (For listeners interested in hunting-based episodes, another worth trying is Game Hunt.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - The Track of the Cat (1954)]
Trent's Last Case
Starring: Ronald Colman
Originally aired: 7 December 1953
Plot synopsis: Amateur detective Philip Trent embarks on his final case, the murder of an American millionaire at his British country estate. Based on a novel of the same name by E. C. Bentley, first published in 1913.
Favourite line: 'I found myself at the cliff again and each crashing wave was like a hammer blow on my heart.'
Review: Based on a classic novel, which occupies a notable place in the pantheon of British crime fiction, this is a fine episode, even if the story does feel dated in certain respects. Set in the early years of the twentieth century, it may initially seem unexceptional, thanks to the various clichés of the genre it contains, including an amateur detective, a country house and a suspicious butler. Yet there is much more to the story than first appears. The original novel was written as a reaction against the overly serious nature of the Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as the infallibility of the famous sleuth. Thus, in contrast to Conan Doyle's hero, the protagonist of this story seems to do everything wrong. For starters - SPOILER ALERT! - he falls in love with the wife of the man whose murder he is investigating, even though she is a prime suspect. Yet even more significant is that many of his deductions turn out to be mistaken, meaning that he doesn't actually solve the case correctly! His repeated declarations that this is to be his last assignment (even though the novel upon which the episode was based was, in fact, the first to feature the detective) also add a certain world-weary appeal to the character. Overall, then, a very interesting story, especially when understood as an attempt to present a more realistic, flawed hero than was the norm for the time it was written. (Another episode featuring an 'anti-Holmesian' detective who is far from infallible is A Passage to Benares.)
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - Trent's Last Case (1920), Trent's Last Case (1929), Trent's Last Case (1952)]
Starring: Michael O'Shea
Originally aired: 11 September 1947
Plot synopsis: When a radio comedy writer starts to worry that his partner's impending marriage will break up their partnership, he becomes willing to resort to murder to prevent this from happening.
Favourite line: 'We've always done what we wanted to, loafed all day, worked all night, ate and slept at any crazy hour - now, no dame is gonna stand for that.'
Review: Although this story centres on a pair of comedy writers, it doesn't contain many jokes. It is, though, a very enjoyable episode, with some good banter between the two main characters, and an inventive plot. It offers an interesting insight into the working life of a writing partnership, in which even though both parties may hate each other, they nonetheless need each other for the sake of their careers. As the title indicates, there is a twist at the end, and it's a decent one, clever and not too predictable. Not so sure about that title, though - 'The Twist' could have been used for virtually any Suspense episode! (Listeners may also like to know that there are two other episodes in which a scriptwriter becomes involved in murder, both of which are similarly very good, A Murderous Revision and Script by Mark Brady.)
Rating: * * * *