Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Vidocq's Final Case
Starring: Charles Boyer
Originally aired: 29 September 1952
Plot synopsis: A former police commissioner in the French Sûreté returns to investigate a series of high-profile robberies.
Favourite line: 'Cafés like this are the unwashed linen Paris hides from her guests.'
Review: Most Suspense crime stories are based in either America or Britain, so this episode at least offers something a little different in terms of its French setting and characters. However, beyond this, there's not much positive to say about it. The biggest problem is that the main character is insufferably arrogant, so it's hard to care about the fact that he may have been unfairly forced out of his job in the police force, or about his efforts to prove himself again as a detective. Nor is the plot all that interesting, as we don't learn much about the robberies he investigates. There is a twist at the end, which is reasonable enough, but not really sufficient to raise the episode above the mediocre.
Rating: * *
A Vision of Death
Starring: Ronald Colman
Originally aired: 8 March 1951
[Another version of this story, starring Ronald Colman, aired 1 June 1953]
Plot synopsis: The husband of a couple that performs a nightclub mind-reading act is astonished when his wife appears to begin reading minds for real.
Favourite line: 'They'd concocted a bad dream between them and it had come true.'
Review: One of the great pleasures of listening to OTR - and Suspense in particular - is discovering superior episodes which one knew nothing about before hearing for the first time. For me at least, this is such a story. It may not be among the very best Suspense episodes, but both script and performances are solid and accomplished. One of the story's most interesting aspects is the way that it reveals the 'gimmicks' used by stage mind readers to deceive audiences. The episode becomes even more intriguing when it seems that the wife may indeed be telepathic - is this, the listener wonders, going to be a science fiction or horror tale? I won't divulge the truth behind the wife's apparent possession of telepathic powers, but I can reveal that the ending is well thought out and satisfying. (Another Suspense episode about a stage mind-reader, The Great Horrell, also explores the question of whether such performers may possess genuine mentalist powers, though this one has a very different plot.)
Rating: * * * *
Starring: Eddie Bracken
Originally aired: 11 May 1944
[Another version of this story, starring Donald O'Connor, aired 18 September 1947]
Plot synopsis: A young man believed to have been murdered three years previously, but whose body was never found, seemingly reappears - but is it really him, or an impostor? Based on a novel of the same name by Carl Randau and Leane Zugsmith, first published in 1944.
Favourite line: 'I know I tried to remember we were friends when the whole town was sure I'd killed you. I'd tried to remember when the draft board listed me as undesirable because they thought I was guilty. I even tried to remember we were friends when for three years people crossed the street so they wouldn't have to speak to me.'
Review: For modern listeners, this story may seem reminiscent of the French film The Return of Martin Guerre (or the American remake, Sommersby), since this is similarly about whether a man claiming to be someone long presumed dead is really who he says he is. The plot of this episode plays out somewhat differently, though, and the last act offers a good, unexpected twist. Yet one problem with the story is that an absence of three years doesn't really seem sufficient to raise serious doubts about the main character's identity - yes, he has aged from fourteen to seventeen over this period, but would friends and family really not be able to tell who he is, either way? However, the biggest issue with the episode is that it is never adequately explained why the protagonist - if he is indeed who he claims to be - stays away for those three years. If the events surrounding his disappearance played out as it is revealed they did, it's difficult to understand why the survivor of a murder attempt would have simply fled. In the Martin Guerre story - which is based on a true-life case - it is war that is supposed to have kept the missing man from returning home, but here there is no such clear reason. Still, the strength of the mystery at the episode's heart keeps the interest throughout, and it is a solid story. (N. B. The second produced version of the story is virtually identical to the first, though the final lines are completely different, presumably because the first's work best in the context of the Second World War that was raging when it was broadcast, and this had concluded by the time of the later production.)
Rating: * * *
The Voice of Company A
Starring: Everett Sloane
Originally aired: 3 August 1958
Plot synopsis: With the world on the brink of catastrophic war, a scientist is persuaded by the ghostly voice of a fallen comrade from his old army unit to place a recorded message aboard a satellite about to be launched into orbit, which when transmitted around the globe will hopefully avert the impending conflict.
Favourite line: 'I looked at the powerful sending set knowing that soon we'd toss it into space, to scream crazily, year after year, at a crazy world.'
Review: In 1958, when this episode was broadcast and the threat of World War III perhaps seemed very real, the story it presents may have been relatively compelling. Yet listening to the episode decades later, it's hard to feel the same. The story is an anti-war one, but with a rather odd quasi-religious/supernatural dimension, as the protagonist is plagued by the voice of a dead comrade from his days in the army. This is silly enough, but the fundamental problem with the episode is that the idea it puts forward for averting global war - a message of peace beamed around the world - is just too laughably simplistic to be taken seriously. Indeed, it is almost adolescent in its naivety. When one considers that the Cold War produced thoughtful and sophisticated anti-war satires like Dr. Strangelove, this episode seems woefully poor by comparison. The story also suffers from being preceded by a very peculiar, and quite pompous, introduction in which the announcer (William N. Robson) declares with great solemnity that Suspense is 'unequivocally … against murder'. Okay, but what made the programme's makers think that anyone ever imagined otherwise?
Voyage Through Darkness
Starring: Olivia de Havilland and Reginald Gardner
Originally aired: 7 September 1944
Plot synopsis: A woman travelling on a cruise ship discovers that there is a stowaway aboard who may be the notorious 'Blackout Killer'.
Favourite line: 'It's my fault, darling. I overestimated you. Is it all clear to you now?'
Review: One of the great strengths of many early Suspense episodes is that listening to them can feel almost like watching a classic Hollywood movie. The style of acting, music and incidental effects employed during this era of Suspense all help to create such an impression, and I very much felt that with this story, at least at the start. Unfortunately, the quality of the plotting does not always match that of the production, and in this case, matters are fairly disappointing. It's a standard issue hunt-for-a-serial-killer story - despite the slightly unusual setting of a cruise ship - with a twist at the end concerning the identity of the heroine's companion which is eminently predictable. Another issue with the episode is that we never encounter the killer actually at work, meaning that there is little in the way of real tension. However, the biggest problem is the fact that the male protagonist, played by Reginald Gardner, is massively patronizing towards Olivia de Havilland's character - talking down to her with lines such as the one I quote above - which undermines any interest the audience might have in their relationship. Still, both Gardner and de Havilland are fine actors, so there is some value to be found in the episode in terms of their performances.
Rating: * *