Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants to see 24 done as a real real-time drama—just like in the Golden Age of Television.
"Another thrilling mystery calculated to keep you in…Suspense."
If you're a fan of old-time radio, chances are the name Suspense has a sad ring to it, since the anthology series—and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar—shared the bill on CBS' last night of radio drama in 1962.
Suspense was a part of early television as well. Starting in 1949, the anthology had six seasons of live episodes. Episodes were preserved on kinescopes, films made for stations that wanted to run them out of time slot. With filmed dramas becoming the norm, CBS lost track of the Suspense kinescopes—until now. Ninety segments of the classic show have been found and are being released on DVD.
Alert readers spotted two words you don't see often when talking about TV drama nowadays—"live" and "anthology." The Museum of Broadcast Communications notes that the last live anthology series, Kraft Television Theatre, died in 1958.
You won't see "Requiem for a Heavyweight" or "Twelve Angry Men" here, but you will get a glimpse of what television looked like in its early days.
Facts of the Case
Suspense: The Lost Episodes—Collection 2 contains 30 half-hour mysteries, most with original commercials, that present a picture of the show's six-season run:
• "The Doors on the Thirteenth Floor"
• "Collector's Item"
• "A Cask of Amantillado"
• "The Third One"
• "The Man Who Talked in His Sleep"
• "Murder at the Mardi Gras"
• "Dark Shadows"
• "Tough Cop"
• "Telephone Call"
• "The Three of Silence"
• "The Juiceman"
• "Murderers' Meeting"
• "Frisco Payoff"
• "The Far-Off House"
• "The Purloined Letter"
• "House of Masks"
• "For the Love of Randi"
• "The Beach of Falesa"
• "All Hallow's Eve"
• "The Moving Target" A Hungarian marksman's father is held hostage while he competes in the Olympics, but his father's death clears the way for his defection. A true story, to raise funds for Radio Free Europe.
• "Mr. Matches"
• "The Quarry"
• "The Black Prophet"
• "Portrait of Constance"
The acting has a theatrical style that's overdone at times. It's not the fault of the actors, just the nature of the beast since television was relatively new at the time. Since it's live, you'll see mistakes—and not just flubbed lines. It's obvious to a modern viewer that the actress who was pinning a note to a cat's collar was covering for the fact that she just couldn't get the note attached (I'm not sure whether they noticed that in 1949). A camera might pop into the scene. And was that muffled noise in one segment someone shouting stage directions at an actress?
By now, some of the scenarios on Suspense—fear of poisoning, carting a dead body through the streets and pretending he's drunk, the hostage in the apartment trying to notify someone—have become cliché—that is, if they weren't back then as well.
With half-hour episodes, the stories can seem rushed. I'm sure a lot was chopped from a Dorothy Salisbury Davis novel for "House of Masks," for example.
You might also be distracted by the camera's long takes on objects, like champagne glasses or a record turntable, that allow the actors time to get into place for their next scenes.
The black-and-white picture has a lot of specks and lines, and scenes that are too dark or too light; in short, it's what you'd expect from kinescopes made not just before DVD, but before syndication was the norm. The sound's not always good; lines get lost here and there, especially with sound effects like booming thunder.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you aren't interested in TV history, you might wonder why they couldn't figure out how to film the show when Auto-Lite has commercials with stop-motion and traditional animation. They could film it—Fireside Theatre did—but they couldn't see the market for it.
Several episodes seem to be missing Auto-Lite spots, although the stories seem to be complete. Perhaps these kinescopes were cut for armed forces airings, but it's hard to tell. Usually it's no problem, but classic car buffs might miss the salute to the Packard in "Career." There's also one episode with end credits missing.
The DVD box features Bela Lugosi and other stars prominently in cover art, but most of the actors you'll see are now forgotten.
Live TV drama is having a small renaissance in England, with live restagings of two classics—The Quatermass Experiment and A For Andromeda.
Nothing like that's happening here—although it might be a fun alternative if the writers' strike keeps going—but you can see the kinescopes of the originals.
The stories aren't perfect, but it amazes me that they pulled them off as well as they did. The score doesn't do them justice with these extenuating circumstances. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Infinity Entertainment
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