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Case Number 12418

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Suspense: The Lost Episodes, Collection 2

Infinity Entertainment // 1949 // 854 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 19th, 2007

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants to see 24 done as a real real-time drama—just like in the Golden Age of Television.

The Charge

"Another thrilling mystery calculated to keep you in…Suspense."

Opening Statement

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:

Disc One
• "Suspicion"
George's indigestion was nothing to worry about—until he finds the arsenic under the sink and hears that a poisoner might have taken a job as a cook.

• "The Doors on the Thirteenth Floor"
Open windows on a stormy night, doors that won't open, and a dead phone signal danger for Sally Turner.

• "Collector's Item"
A record-store clerk wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead body, with police on the way. What's it got to do with a 78-rpm disc?

• "A Cask of Amantillado"
Edgar Allan Poe's tale, now set in World War II Italy, finds Bela Lugosi (The Wolf Man) playing a general who likes wine, perhaps too much.

• "The Third One"
The third kid who got bitten by a rabid dog didn't tell her folks. It's all over the radio and the papers, but the family's getting away from it all on vacation.

• "The Man Who Talked in His Sleep"
His stepson Jerry says he heard him talking in his sleep. It's "just a gag" to Jerry, but his stepfather's reaction isn't so funny.

• "Murder at the Mardi Gras"
Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple) plays a gunman whose death could be inconvenient for an actor. George Reeves (The Adventures of Superman) plays a reporter.

• "Dark Shadows"
"What if someone were after a blind man?" It's not academic for this blind man, who once testified against a gangster.

Disc Two
• "The Tip"
A housewife is taken hostage in her apartment by an "evil-looking man" who says he wants to kill her husband.

• "Tough Cop"
It's a tragedy in the making when Officer Eddie Stone turns into a "beat 'em up first cop" after his fiancee dumps him for another guy.

• "Telephone Call"
Everett's New Year's Eve surprise for his invalid wife—a dose of "deadly poison"—is ruined by a prank call and drunken neighbors who won't go away. Remember 1965's I Saw What You Did?

• "The Three of Silence"
It's good news for the cops when "the country's Number One Racketeer" drops dead at their feet, but not so good for the gambler who gets framed.

• "The Juiceman"
Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein) is miscast as a Chinese woman whose father is killed to stop his testimony against a gambling operator.

• "Murderers' Meeting"
Jackie Cooper (Treasure Island) plays the man sought by police who wanders into a meeting of mystery writers and gives a speech off the cuff, Holly Martins style. Wally Cox and Mildred Natwick are among the writers.

• "Frisco Payoff"
Undercover postal inspector Winters calls for backup at a gang's bond drop, but gets conked on the head instead—and must recover the bonds for the gang.

• "The Far-Off House"
It's a dark and stormy night when Mrs. Collins returns to her isolated house from a trip to find that someone's been there.

Disc Three
• "Betrayal in Vienna"
In 1913, an intelligence officer flees after it's learned he gave up a key agent's name. Auto-Lite's ad features the new Chrysler engine.

• "The Purloined Letter"
Edgar Allan Poe's story finds a wealthy Parisian woman trying to recover a letter that could end her husband's political career.

"The Corsage"
Lawman Jim (Brian Keith, as Robert Keith Jr.) isn't so sure he's found the "secret admirer" who sent a corsage and lured a girl to her death after a second corsage turns up.

• "House of Masks"
Anna's fond of the new gardener—even after a detective tells her and her sister that two of the man's previous employers have been found dead.

• "For the Love of Randi"
After a love triangle comes between two friends, a poisoned box of candy only makes things worse. Darren McGavin (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) stars.

• "The Beach of Falesa"
A rival of Polynesian trader Wiltshire (John Forsythe, Dynasty) is eager to introduce him to the lovely Anna. Since she's "taboo," she could get Wiltshire voted off the island—permanently.

• "All Hallow's Eve"
Thief Markheim kills an antique store proprietor, and then is visited in the store by a devilish admirer in a Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

• "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.

Disc Four
• "Monsieur Vidocq"
"What better policeman is there than a man who has been a criminal?" the former detective asks. Could the reverse be true as well?

• "Mr. Matches"
The hunt for arsonist Mr. Matches becomes personal when the messenger son of the task force chief is killed in a blast the criminal set.

• "Career"
Will Natalie, an Englishwoman spying in pre-World War II Germany, leave espionage for the man she loves? Will she get the chance?

• "The Quarry"
A widower sees two men following him. Is it his imagination or is he in danger?

• "The Black Prophet"
In 1916 Russia, Rasputin (Boris Karloff, The Mummy) says the Romanoffs will fall within a year if he dies. Can you see where this is headed? Leslie Nielsen (Forbidden Planet) co-stars.

• "Portrait of Constance"
When a private eye and his wife take a cottage, they find a sculpture of his missing former fiancee.

The Evidence

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.

Closing Statement

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 Verdict

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

Video: 75
Audio: 72
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 82
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 854 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Classic
• Drama
• Suspense
• Television
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• None








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