1 9 4 9 – 1 9 5 4 (USA)
1 9 6 4 (USA)
262 x 30 minute episodes
“And now, a tale well calculated to keep you in … Suspense!”
The first American TV programme to extensively feature late-night horror was Suspense which began life as a weekly radio series in 1942 and transferred to CBS TV in 1949, where it remained a feature until 1954 (and was resurrected briefly in 1964 with Sebastian Cabot as host).
The series was broadcast live on Tuesday evenings at 9.30 pm from New York and consequently drew on leading Broadway actors as well as movie favourites such as Nina Foch, Barry Sullivan, John Carradine, Henry Hull and Boris Karloff.
The first broadcast, titled “Revenge,” was given a very negative review by New York Times columnist Jack Gould, who candidly stated that the show had more “corn than chill” and that the drab story about a man who stabs his wife while she is posing for a photograph gave actors “little opportunity for anything more than the most stereotyped
He also complained about the excessive verbal explanation and overly simplified dialogue.
Suspense featured several memorable episodes, including “The Waxworks” starring William Prince, “The Tortured Hand” with Peter Lorre and a version of “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, made in 1950 with Ralph Bell and then repeated a year later with Basil Rathbone.
The play titled “F.O.B. Vienna” of April 1953, was fairly typical. It starred Walter Matthau and Jayne Meadows in the story of an American businessman who has accompanied a shipment of lathes to Austria and is trying to keep them out of the hands of Communists. The shipment ends up in Hamburg, and Matthau tracks it there with the help of Meadows, who plays a newspaper reporter.
At the last minute, he is able to destroy the shipment as the police arrive to round up the Communists. The ordinary script was not, in fact, very suspenseful, and much of it cried for action impossible to depict within the confines of the studio.
A more successful broadcast was “All Hallows Eve” (28 October 1952). Based on the story Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson, this was the account of a man who murders his pawnbroker and is then visited by the devil, who urges him to kill the man’s housekeeper in order to cover up his crime. In an attempt to atone for his utterly delinquent life, the man draws back at the last moment and tells the housekeeper to call the police because he has just murdered her master. Thwarted in his efforts to gain another soul, the devil disappears.
On 26 May 1953, Suspense broadcast its only Sherlock Holmes story – “The Adventure of the Black Baronet”. The television adaptation was by Michael Dyne and starred Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Martyn Green as Dr Watson.
Jack Gould gave the program an unfavourable review, saying that much subtlety and brilliance of the Holmes character had been sacrificed by the compression of the story into 30 minutes. He added that Rathbone seemed unhappy with his part and that Martyn Greene was not as effective as Nigel Bruce, who had played Dr Watson to Rathbone’s Holmes on the radio.
The production was only one of many instances in which the television version of Suspense paled compared to its radio counterpart.
Among the horror story writers whose work was featured on Suspense were Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft and Cornell Woolrich, who, like the other members of this trio, was a tortured, alcoholic, reclusive man.