Monday, January 12, 2004

”Loo-see…you got some ‘splainin’ to do…”

Day 11 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

The Red-Headed Woman

Linda (Lucille Ball) is having one of those days—no sooner does her fiancé Frank (Elliott Reid) call her to say that he’s fallen for another woman than she decides to start a new life for herself by embezzling $21,000 from her employer (Paul Frees). As she makes tracks for the border, she hears a news bulletin on her car radio about an elusive bank robber—a man who matches the description of Jose (Desi Arnaz), a stranded motorist she runs into…

Written for Suspense by Nancy J. Cleveland and originally broadcast November 17, 1949, “The Red-Headed Woman” marked Lucille Ball’s fifth appearance on “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills.” On this occasion, she is joined by her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz—the two of them were just two years away from their stupendously successful television sitcom I Love Lucy, a modified version of the radio comedy series My Favorite Husband that Lucy was appearing in on CBS at the time (alongside Richard Denning).

To be honest, I’m not certain why “The Red-Headed Woman” was included in this CD box set. It’s not a bad episode, it’s just that apart from the novelty of Lucy and Desi appearing together (they would return to the Suspense microphones on April 21, 1951 with “Early to Death”) it’s really not that much to write home about. It starts out well enough, and then takes a slight detour from believability in order to tack on a “happy” ending.

Had I a say in the matter, I would have instead recommended two superior outings by husband-and-wife comedic teams: “Too Little to Live On” (12/26/47) with Ozzie & Harriet Nelson, or “Death on My Hands” (5/10/51) featuring Phil Harris & Alice Faye. I suspect the inclusion of this episode was probably a ruse to get Lucy fans to buy the set, but fortunately, there’s no real harm done as there are still plenty of great episodes to choose from.

Mission Completed

World War II veteran Tom Warner (James Stewart) has spent the past four years in a veterans’ hospital in a completely paralyzed state—able to communicate only by blinking. But all that is about to change; when his nurse takes him for a stroll in his wheelchair, he spies a man working in a florist’s shop that is a dead ringer for “Suki,” the Japanese official who tortured Warner while he was interned in a P.O.W. camp. Warner now finds the strength to nurse himself back to health in order to exact revenge.

John R. Forrest’s “Mission Completed” is another solid gold Suspense classic; a gripping, sweat-inducing drama that benefits from an outstanding performance from Stewart and equally great support from Lurene Tuttle, John Dehner, Elliott Lewis and Herbert Butterfield. The show, broadcast December 1, 1949, aired to commemorate the event of the bombing of Pearl Harbor eight years previous.

During the program’s curtain call, Suspense gets a surprise visit from Gracie Allen, who wants to know if her husband—George “Sugar Throat” Burns—can appear on the program to sing, an idea not enthusiastically received by either announcer Harlow Wilcox or guest Stewart. (Stewart jokingly tells Gracie that the lineup of guests for Suspense is pretty much booked for the next 4,000 weeks.) George and Gracie had moved their program back to CBS at the beginning of the 1949-50 season (this season would also be their swan song), and apparently were doing a publicity stunt identical to the “missing brother” gag that they instituted on their show during the 1930s. Gracie had previously appeared a few days earlier on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (“The Birds on the Wing,” 11/26/49) to make a similar request.

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