Saturday, January 3, 2004

”…presented by Roma Wines…made in California for enjoyment throughout the world…”

Day 2 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

Back for Christmas

In this December 23, 1943 broadcast, character actor Peter Lorre plays botany professor Hubert Schumacher—who murders his domineering shrew of a wife and buries her in his basement under his “Devil’s Garden” (an area in which he plans to grow a new kind of wild orchid). He then departs on a planned trip to America with the new Mrs. Schumacher—only to discover to his horror that his first wife plans to keep her promise (she had insisted that the two of them would be “back for Christmas”) and return for the holidays.

“Back for Christmas” was adapted from the short story by John Collier, and made three different appearances on Suspense (the other two were on December 23, 1948 and December 23, 1956), with Herbert Marshall in the role of the professor in the second and third shows. I think Lorre’s performance is far superior, though; he pulls off the henpecked husband part with great aplomb yet still manages to be sinister at the same time—which is something Marshall isn’t quite capable of pulling off. (Think about it, who could possibly dominate Marshall? He’s the Man Called X!)

Collier’s other contribution to Suspense was his classic tale “Wet Saturday,” a particular favorite episode of mine that for some reason didn’t make the cut for this best-of collection. I really enjoy Collier’s flair for the macabre; his “Evening Primrose,” as performed on Suspense’s “sister” series Escape remains my all-time favorite OTR horror show. “Back for Christmas” later achieved the distinction of being one of the few Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes (telecast March 4, 1956) actually directed by the Master of Suspense himself.

Dime a Dance

Author Cornel Woolrich is the record holder for the most stories adapted for Suspense—a total of thirty-one in all. His 1938 short story, “Dime a Dance” is a nail-biting suspenser about a dance-hall girl named Ginger Allen whose friend gets murdered by a mad killer. Detective Nick Ballister (Patrick McGeehan) is assigned to protect Ginger—but there’s something not quite kosher about him.

Lucille Ball plays the part of Ginger, and if you’re familiar only with the wacky redhead’s television antics you owe it to yourself to give “Dime a Dance” a listen; Lucy reveals some impressive acting chops, and soon after made several appearances on Suspense, including “The Ten Grand” (6/22/44) and one of my favorites, “A Little Piece of Rope” (10/14/48). The story goes that when Lucy read producer William Spier’s adaptation of Woolrich’s story she contributed a few suggestions that she felt would make the climax more exciting. Spier became so wrapped up in the revisions that he missed hearing the first half of the show, and only managed to get the final script rewrites to Ball a minute-and-a-half before she read them on the air. “Dime a Dance” is truly a genuine heart-pounder, and like all great Suspense broadcasts, benefits from a terrific supporting cast that includes Hans Conried, Jeanette Nolan (one of my personal faves), and Cathy Lewis.

The character of Ginger Allen probably hit pretty close to home for Ball, since she started out in show business as a Ziegfeld Follies dancer and was also one of the Goldwyn Girls during the early stages of her film career (Roman Scandals, Kid Millions). In fact, she turns in one of her finest screen performances as a burlesque dancer named Bubbles in the 1940 cult classic Dance, Girl, Dance.

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