Original image: The Knowles Gallery
The Wages of Sin
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck
Originally aired: 19 October 1950
Plot synopsis: A woman makes a deal with a criminal to allow him to use her apartment to commit a murder, but then gambles with her very life by blackmailing him with the threat of revealing his identity to the police.
Favourite line: 'Say, what's the idea with all these cops? You holding crime school in my apartment or something?'
Review: This is a deliciously, gloriously pulpy tale that absolutely revels in the seedy, disreputable world it depicts of low-life opportunists, criminals and crooked lawyers. I liked it a lot. Barbara Stanwyck, in her only performance for Suspense, is excellent as the main character, a woman who unashamedly does whatever it takes to fund her extravagant, debauched lifestyle, heedless of the cost to anyone else or even, seemingly, herself (though at the same time, there's a very moral streak to the episode, as the title indicates). In any case, what makes the episode especially enjoyable is the script, which buzzes with smart, snappy dialogue, that should raise at least a smile or two among most listeners. A very entertaining listen.
Rating: * * * *
Starring: Maria Palmer
Originally aired: 7 September 1958
Plot synopsis: A captured rebel awaits her fate at the hands of government soldiers.
Favourite line: 'So I could blaspheme your godhood, and extirpate your manhood!'
Review: For an episode that is no more than twenty minutes long, this offers a remarkably taut and compelling story. It is set in an unnamed country in which rebel forces are fighting what is apparently an oppressive government, though we never learn the full truth about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. The plot focuses on a single prisoner, a female 'freedom fighter', who is caught by government forces and sentenced to be executed. Much of the tension and suspense arises from the wait for this sentence to be carried out - will she really be killed, or somehow escape? Yet the introduction of the leader of the rebel group of which she is a member adds an extra dimension to the tale, allowing the themes of loyalty and betrayal also to be explored. The story is a pretty tough one, too - don't expect any simple resolution or Hollywood-style happy ending. All in all, an absorbing, thought-provoking episode.
Rating: * * * *
The Walls Came Tumbling Down
Starring: Keenan Wynn
Originally aired: 29 June 1944
Plot synopsis: A newspaper gossip columnist is drawn in to a mystery involving an old priest, a beautiful woman and a pair of Bibles. Based on a novel of the same name by Jo Eisinger, first published in 1943.
Favourite line: 'My dear Captain Griffin, on a date which I am sure we shall always remember not quite without pain, I was sitting in my office at the Morning Post composing, with my customary wit and brilliance, my daily column of café society chatter.'
Review: This is an efficient thriller, with a good degree of mystery and suspense, but in truth, not one I liked very much. Partly, this is down to the protagonist, who comes across as pretty smug and arrogant; matters are not helped by the fact that, right at the start, he dismisses his poor personal assistant as 'mentally retarded'. I also tired after a while of the intrusive, overly dramatic music, of which there is far too much. Finally, although the plot has some fair twists, and reasonably clever elements, I wasn't very convinced by it. In particular - SPOILER ALERT! - the whole business of the Bibles and the hidden code they contain just seems preposterous. If this were a spy story, it might be possible to suspend disbelief to buy the contrivance, but to have gone to such lengths simply for the sake of concealing a work of art? Perhaps I am being a little unfair, as this is not a bad episode, but it's not one I will be in any hurry to listen to again.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Film - The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1946)]
Starring: William Conrad
Originally aired: 1 May 1956
[Another version of this story, starring Claude Rains, aired 20 March 1947; and a further one, starring Herbert Marshall, aired 1 March 1959]
Plot synopsis: In order to sell a newspaper article about his experience, a freelance journalist spends a night in the murderers' gallery of a waxwork museum. Based on a short story by A. M. Burrage (writing as Ex-Private X), first published in his short-story collection Someone in the Room, in 1931.
Favourite line: 'You, sir, you have such a skinny neck. If you will overlook a personal remark, I should never have selected you from choice. I like men with thick necks ... thick red necks ...'
Review: Unusually for Suspense, this episode is essentially a dramatized reading, rather than a full radio play. As such, there is only a single actor playing all the parts, as well as acting as the narrator, in each of the three adaptations Suspense produced. Unfortunately, the first of these, starring Claude Rains, is - at the time of writing (2013) - one of Suspense's lost episodes. However, William Conrad is excellent in the second version broadcast, and the dramatized-reading format works extremely well. The strength of this approach is that it allows the episode to remain very faithful to the source story, and much of the narration and dialogue stays close to that of the original. As a result, this is a great episode - tense and frightening, but also intelligent and thought-provoking. What makes it so intriguing is that it isn't a straight horror or supernatural tale, as it may initially appear, but fundamentally, a psychological thriller. It's not a spoiler to reveal that the plot centres on a waxwork of a French serial killer apparently coming to life, but how much is real, and how much is simply taking place in the main character's head? Is the protagonist merely projecting his own fears onto a lifeless effigy? At least one clue is to be found in the way in which the former becomes frozen, entirely unable to move - supposedly as a result of the mass murderer’s ability to mesmerize his victims - just as the latter comes to life. In other words, the hero seems to become the waxwork, perhaps suggesting that his paralysis is simply a reflection of his own inner terror and mental distress. I won't give away the final outcome, but suffice to say, this is an extremely creepy and effective episode.
Rating: * * * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Sleep No More (1957), Beyond Midnight, as 'A Night in the Waxworks' (1969), The Price of Fear (1973), The Late Alfred Hitchcock Presents (2010); TV - Lights Out (1950), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1959)]
Weekend at Gleebes
Starring: Raymond Johnson
Originally aired: 29 July 1962
Plot synopsis: An American woman arrives in England to visit her son at boarding school, but is surprised to discover that he has gone to stay with an aristocratic couple, and that both the wife and the boy himself claim that he is in fact their child.
Favourite line: None.
Review: Although at the start of this episode it seems as if it is going to be a mystery-based story - is the woman we meet at the beginning the mother of the boy she has come to find or not? - any doubt about the protagonist's relationship to the child is in fact resolved fairly early on. So what is the story about? In essence, it is a psychological drama, which uses its two female characters to explore the nature of motherhood and responsibility - unfortunately, though, it isn't a terribly good one. In particular, there is a very long and very boring conversation in the middle of the episode which explains the story's plot and themes, but which also reveals that there simply isn't anything of great interest or significance going on here. Moreover, it's hard to care about any of the flat, not very well-drawn characters. A small point, too, and perhaps a little unfair to note, but the child playing the son is not a strong actor.
Rating: * *
The Well-Dressed Corpse
Starring: Eve Arden
Originally aired: 18 January 1951
[Another version of this story, starring Margaret Whiting, aired 13 October 1957]
Plot synopsis: A fashion-conscious society woman exacts a deadly revenge on the man who rejects her.
Favourite line: 'I'm somebody! I'm somebody!'
Review: This is one of those episodes that, scene by scene, is quite entertaining, but when one stops to consider the whole, doesn't really add up. Arden gives a strong performance in the lead role, there's some snappy dialogue along the way, and we are also treated to a few pointed comments about fashion and celebrity. Yet the plot itself simply doesn't convince. The motive behind the murder that is committed just doesn't feel very credible, and nor does the deception that triggers it. The ending, too, feels a little overwrought. All in all, a story that fails to live up to its evocative title.
Rating: * *
Starring: Charles Laughton
Originally aired: 16 December 1943
[Another version of this story, starring Clarence Derwent, aired 24 June 1942; a further one, starring Boris Karloff, aired 19 December 1947; and a final one, starring Berry Kroeger and Dennis Huey, aired as part of a double bill with August Heat, 20 March 1948]
Plot synopsis: A family gathers to discuss how best to dispose of the body of a curate murdered in a fit of rage by the daughter for failing to reciprocate her affections. Based on a short story by John Collier, first published in The New Yorker magazine, on 16 July 1938; and later in his short-story collection The Touch of Nutmeg, and More Unlikely Stories, in 1943.
Favourite line: 'I have no wish, as you will comprehend, that she should be proved either a lunatic or a murderess. I could hardly go on living here after that, could I?'
Review: Many Suspense stories were produced more than once, but it's not necessarily the case that those presented the most times are the best. However, this story – produced four times in total – is a good one. Of the different adaptations, I favour the one starring Charles Laughton, because he gives the best performance in the main role, though the script remains virtually unchanged from version to version. Whichever one is preferred, listeners may be reminded of the Alfred Hitchcock film The Trouble with Harry, since this is similarly concerned with the question of how to dispose of a corpse without alerting the authorities. However, the difference with this story is that the characters are all thoroughly unlikeable, with few redeeming features: each is extremely self-centred, motivated almost solely by the desire to save his or her own skin, and cares little for anyone else. It may be thought that this must make it hard to care about the characters' dilemma – after all, why should we be concerned about the fates of any of these unpleasant people? – but the enjoyment comes when it is realized that the story is a blackly comic one, and what makes it so entertaining is the lack of morality of all concerned. In its way, then, quite a daring episode.
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: TV - Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956), Tales of the Unexpected (1984)]