Friday, January 9, 2004

”Number 2256…just an ordinary, undistinguished little house…”

Day 8 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

The House in Cypress Canyon

A couple of months ago, I was engaged in an #oldradio IRC chat session and the topic of horror-themed OTR shows cropped up in the discussion. Several of the chat participants tossed out their personal favorites, like “Evening Primrose” from Escape and “State Executioner” from Lights Out. I recall saying at the time that I felt “The House in Cypress Canyon” from Suspense was one of the most overrated “scary” shows of all time.

Well, I would now like to retract that statement. It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. (It also takes a worried man to sing a worried song, but that’s neither here nor there.) I listened to it last night, and I don’t know what changed my mind—it could have been the fact that it was raining or that I listened to it in the dark (“Lights out…EVERYBODY!!!”) but I definitely counted a few goose pimples by the episode’s conclusion.

A real estate agent (Hans Conried) tells a close friend that someone on a housing construction crew has located a strongbox in one of the dwellings—the box contains documents composed by one Jim Woods (Robert Taylor), who relates in flashback an eerie tale about the house he and wife Ellen have rented as a result of their relocation to the L.A./Hollywood area. The couple feel that they’ve lucked out into getting what they believe is a bargain—until mysterious events like howling wolves and a locked closet that bleeds begin to take place around the old homestead.

“The House in Cypress Canyon” is an atypical supernatural thriller that has long been a huge favorite among Suspense fans, and it deservedly should be considered one the show’s best. This broadcast was, in fact, among my first old-time radio show purchases, having been released on an album issued by Nostalgia Lane in the 1970s. (I still have it here at the house, by the way.) It boasts one of the most impressive supporting casts of any Suspense episode; in addition to Conried and Lewis, we hear from Joe Kearns, Paul Frees, Wally Maher, and Jim Backus. I’ll even throw a few kudos in the direction of guest star Robert Taylor, which for me is saying a lot, since he’s one of my least favorite actors.

But I think my favorite part of “The House in Cypress Canyon” is an appearance by Howard Duff, who essays the role of the friend to which the realtor tells the story; this friend is a detective whose first name happens to be “Sam.” (For the uninitiated, this was a clever in-joke promotion for Suspense producer-director William Spier’s other CBS success, The Adventures of Sam Spade.) Duff would later return for an encore in his Sam Spade persona on the hour-long 1948 version of Suspense in an entry entitled “The Kandy Tooth,” which also featured his Spade co-star Lurene Tuttle (as Sam’s devoted secretary Effie). The script for this entertaining production—a sequel to the events described in “The Maltese Falcon”—was originally performed as a Sam Spade two-parter broadcast over CBS November 24 and December 1, 1946.

The Thing in the Window

Veteran Suspense contributor Lucille Fletcher penned this interesting entry that tells the story of unemployed actor Martin Ames (Joseph Cotten), who is quite panicked over seeing what appears to be a corpse propped up in a chair in the apartment across the street from his. He’s also flummoxed by the fact that he can get neither the police nor the apartment’s two tenants (Cathy Lewis, Jeanette Nolan) convinced of what he sees. The story is strangely reminiscent of Rear Window—up until the episode’s final twist.

Joseph Cotten is warmly welcomed to this December 19, 1946 broadcast by announcer Ken Niles, who pronounces Cotten a “perennial Suspense favorite,” having appeared on the program seven times in a three-year time span. (Cotten would later rack up an impressive 18 appearances on “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills,” more than any other performer—prompting the actor to crack there’s “no Cotten shortage on Suspense.”) I had never heard “The Thing in the Window” before, but I was a little let down by the twist ending since I’m convinced it’s more cheating than clever; also, the sound in the last half of the show is extremely poor, as a result of a good deal of transcription surface noise. All in all, it’s not a bad show—with great performances from Cotton, Lewis, Nolan, Jerry Hausner and the ever reliable Hans Conried.

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