Tuesday, January 6, 2004

”One of us, then…is to furnish a repast for the hounds…the other will sleep in this very excellent bed…on guard, Rainsford!"

Day 5 of “Twenty Days Well Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Patrick O’Donnell (Keenan Wynn), a newspaper columnist who goes by the nom de plume “Darcy,” receives a visit from his old friend Father Walsh, the parish priest of the parochial school the columnist attended as a youth. Walsh tells O’Donnell that he’s received a visit from a peculiar stranger who demanded that the priest hand over “The Bibles” and gives Walsh three days to find “The Walls of Jericho.” Puzzled by the man’s request, the priest asks “Darcy” to meet him at the church later that evening, but upon the columnist’s arrival, he discovers that Walsh has been murdered—and sets out to find his killer by putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Based on the novel by Jo Eisinger and adapted by Bob Tallman, “The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is a good—if not overly great—entry from the Suspense series, with the usual fine work by John McIntire, Hans Conried, Wendell Holmes, Herb Butterfield and Jane Morgan. Keenan Wynn is, of course, the episode’s guest and I have to admit that I’m not used to hearing him sounding so young (since I always associate him with character roles, like Colonel “Bat” Guano in Dr. Strangelove). What disappoints me about this episode is that mid-way through the show, it sort of introduces one of those convenient plot points that seems to come out of the blue and serves no other purpose than to move the story along.

“The Walls Came Tumbling Down” later resurfaced as a feature film in 1946; I’ve not seen it but I certainly would like to—it’s got an interesting cast and I’ll wager that nagging plot point probably gets smoothed out as a result of the extra time allotted to the novel’s movie treatment. Eisinger later went on to write stories and screenplays for several movies, including Gilda (1946; the adaptation) and one of my all-time favorite noirs, Night and the City (1950). Eisinger and Tallman also joined forces to write for many of the early episodes of William Spier’s The Adventures of Sam Spade; in fact, “Walls” was rewritten as the series’ audition show, “Sam and the Walls of Jericho.”

The Most Dangerous Game

When a yacht on which famed hunter Sanger Rainsford (Joseph Cotten) is enjoying a pleasure cruise smashes into a reef and kills both his friend Whitney and the crew, Rainsford is fortunate to be thrown clear from the boat and manages to swim to safety, landing on “Ship Trap Island.” There he is rescued by a deaf-mute manservant named Ivan (Joseph Kearns) and enjoys the hospitality of General Zaroff (J. Carrol Naish), who is thrilled to meet Rainsford as he, too, is a hunter. But Zaroff has become bored with the thrill of the hunt, and has taken up a new hobby in which he hunts “the most dangerous game”: man. His guest Rainsford soon becomes his quarry, and the hunter must elude the maniacal Zaroff in a hunt for the next three days in order to emerge victorious.

I first read Richard Connell’s classic short story (adapted for Suspense by Jack Fink) during the halcyon days of high school (I’m willing to bet that every high school English textbook includes this story); it’s a rip-snorting adventure tale that gets a fine workout here. Naish’s Zaroff is simply superb—I’m beginning to understand why he was always introduced on his series Life With Luigi as “that celebrated actor.” However, I must confess that “The Most Dangerous Game” received a far superior treatment when performed on Escape October 1, 1947 (with Paul Frees and William Conrad), so my enjoyment of this Suspense was tarnished just a tad. (Suspense had previously presented this story on September 23, 1943 with Orson Welles and Keenan Wynn.)

At the end of this broadcast, Joseph Kearns (better known in early seasons of Suspense as “The Man in Black”) thanks RKO Pictures for their cooperation with this episode; the motion picture studio was at that time filming a version of the story that would be released in 1945 as A Game of Death. Personally, I prefer the one made in 1932; I remember the first time I watched and commenting that the jungle looked awfully familiar—I didn’t find out until sometime afterward that the movie was filmed on the same sets (and almost at the same time) as King Kong (1933). (I’ve also seen the 1956 version, Run For the Sun, with Richard Widmark—and it’s pretty good, although my opinion might be clouded by the fact that I’ll watch almost anything with Widmark, one of my favorite actors.)

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