Wednesday, January 14, 2004

”This is not a pretty story…”

Day 13 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”

The Treasure Chest of Dan Jose

Don Jose Gasparillas (J. Carrol Naish) is the great-great-grandson of his namesake, better known as the “King of the Pirates”—whose booty of precious gold doubloons has never been found. When a hurricane inadvertently reveals the location of the missing treasure chest, Gasparillas goes off in search of it. But this legendary treasure carries with it an equally legendary curse—one that allegedly resulted in the deaths of both his father and grandfather. Don Jose’s discovery of a dead body amidst the chest of doubloons suggests that there just might be something to that curse after all…

“The Treasure Chest of Don Jose,” originally broadcast on February 4, 1952, was written for Suspense by Christopher Anthony, and features Life With Luigi star J. Carrol Naish in the title role. It’s a very good entry in the series, one that has faint overtones of the 1948 film classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Although Naish is terrific in a wonderfully sympathetic performance, I was personally more impressed by Joseph Kearns’ turn as the police chief; he nicely captures the dry, Titus Moody-like demeanor of a native New Englander. Kearns would later team up with actor Edgar Barrier in an encore performance of this tale, broadcast June 26, 1956.

The Wreck of the Old 97

On a cold frosty morning/In the month of September/When the clouds were hangin’ low/Ninety-seven pulled out/Of the Washington station/Like an arrow shot from a bow

“The Wreck of the Old 97,” an interesting dramatic experiment from Suspense’s director-producer Elliott Lewis, was broadcast to a tremendous audience response on March 17, 1952, becoming the most well-received program of the 1951-52 season. It tells in story and song of the historical September 27, 1903 tragic train wreck detailed in the folk ballad “The Ship That Never Returned,” by Henry C. Work. Although Suspense curiously never returned to the story for an encore appearance, guest star Frank Lovejoy (who played the role of the train’s engineer) did stop by the following week’s broadcast (“A Murder of Necessity,” with Robert Young) to thank the listeners for their enthusiastic support.

Lewis, however, did manage to do several other episodes based on folk ballads in the wake of this broadcast’s success, including “Frankie and Johnny” (5/5/52, with Dinah Shore), “The Death of Barbara Allen” (10/20/52, with Anne Baxter), and “My True Love’s Hair (10/19/53, with Jeff Chandler). The balladeer who sings “The Wreck of the Old 97,” Harry Stanton, returned the following year to Suspense to sing “Tom Dooley,” in an episode starring Joseph Cotten (3/30/53) and based on the 1866 folk song.

During Lewis’ stint as producer-director, many of Suspense’s scripts were often based on real-life historical events in addition to the series’ more traditional fiction-based entries. “The Wreck of the Old 97” is an excellent example of how this experimentation worked extremely well; from the top-notch script (from writers Mindred Lord and Christopher Anthony) to the equally fine performances from the episode’s cast (Lovejoy, Junius Matthews, Roy Glenn, Joseph Kearns, Jack Kruschen, Clayton Post, Eddie Firestone, and Herb Butterfield), this show is a true winner in every respect.

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