Thursday, January 15, 2004

”It was a small item…I doubt if many people read it…”

Day 14 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

The Moonstone

Franklin Blake (Peter Lawford) returns to England to execute the will of his deceased uncle, Colonel John Hancastle, long considered the “black sheep” of the family. While in India, the Colonel made off with a sacred jewel—nicknamed “The Moonstone”—from an idol of an Indian moon god. Though there are many who believe it to be cursed, he has bequeathed the precious stone to his niece Rachel (Ellen Morgan), daughter of his sister Lady Julia Verinder (Norma Varden), on her first birthday after his death. Blake presents his cousin with the gem the night of her party—but in the morning, the diamond is discovered stolen. There are no shortage of suspects: a group of Indian jugglers, a maid named Rosanna (Betty Hartford)—even Rachel herself. The mystery continues on for a year until new information on the diamond’s theft develops as a result of one suspect’s untimely death.

Richard Chandlee adapted this two-part Suspense play (broadcast November 16 and 23, 1953) from the classic 1868 novel by Wilkie Collins—considered by many, particularly his friend T.S. Eliot, to be “the first, the longest, and the best of the modern English detective novels.” Collins, also a close friend and collaborator of author Charles Dickens, introduced in the novel one of the earliest fictional detectives, Sergeant Cuff (played on this program by talented radio character actor Ben Wright). The novel’s plot—the search for a missing gem—could also have very well inspired later works of detective fiction, like Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

“The Moonstone” was the last of four two-part productions to be presented during Suspense’s twenty year run during the Golden Age of Radio. In addition to this and the previously reviewed “Donovan’s Brain,” the program also presented the Dickens’ novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (January 5 and 12, 1953) and William Shakespeare’s “Othello” (May 4 and 11, 1953) in two-part adaptations. While I enjoyed “The Moonstone,” a remarkably understated yet intriguing mystery, I might have gone with “Othello” as a better choice for the CD box set due to its novelty and more daring production, showcasing an amazing cast that includes Elliott & Cathy Lewis, Richard Widmark, William Conrad, Joseph Kearns and Irene Tedrow. Still, I heartily recommend you give “The Moonstone” a listen; in addition to those previous mentioned the cast includes such great talents as William Johnstone, Herb Butterfield, Alistair Duncan, Dick Beals, and Eric Snowden. Listen closely enough, and you’ll also hear Patricia Hitchcock (daughter of Sir Alfred) in a small role as the daughter of Bettridge (Snowden), Lady Verinder’s faithful steward.

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