Escape: The Red Mark (CBS, 1950)
Future audiences becoming accustomed to stolid, lonely, but dutiful Matt Dillon; portly, brainy Cannon; and, sage, kindly Grandpa Walton, may get a jolting casting against type with this installment of an old-time radio series that walks the dubious line between being perhaps the best of the medium’s high adventure series and a show its network seems unable to believe can develop a faithful audience, since CBS will switch its time slot eighteen times during a seven-year life.
I couldn’t tell you whether that is any kind of record, perverse thought it may be. But I can tell you that Radio Life thinks Escape has one of the most deceptive titles in old-time radio annals. “These stories,” the magazine has said, quite accurately, “all possess many times the reality that most radio writing conveys.” If this is beginning to sound as though Escape is something of a sister series to the much-honoured Suspense, your ears and eyes are not playing tricks with you.
Suspense was everything Escape was not: it had sponsors, fame, tradition, and time slots that were consistent, at least for seasons at a time. But week in and week out, Escape held its own, the main difference being the emphasis. Suspense concentrated largely on mystery and crime; on Escape, if mystery was used, it was often an exclamation point to the life-or-death situation that accompanied it. Escape used more stories of the supernatural, of man against the jungle, of war and the Old West. Never on radio was the action formula more effectively utilised.
—John Dunning, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)
Tonight: The prison island of New Caledonia hosts a grisly clash between an inmate (William Conrad) and the island’s grotesque official executioner (Will Geer). You can have fun just trying to decide which casting against type is both more preposterous—and, more effective. And you might go mad when you realise it’s an impossible decision to make when the performance and the writing is this smooth.
Bijoe: Harry Bartel. Commandant: Paul Frees. Vambis: Julius Mathews. Vellie: Barbara Whiting. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Del Castillo. Director: William N. Robeson. Adaptation (from a story by John Russell): Les Crutchfield, Manny Crotchfield.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Green Hornet: Charity Takes It on the Chin (Blue Network, 1942)—The city welfare board receives an extra million dollars for its separate charity, administered by a treasurer whose trusting habits finally provokes his suspicion of the charity’s top aide, a suspicion he passes to his friend Reid (Al Hodge)—before the very aide he suspects reports his disappearance to the police. Tightly written—which you’d expect from one of radio’s better juvenile crime dramas (which wasn’t always for juveniles alone)—even if it plays with one too many cliches. Lowry: Jack Petruzzi. Lenore Case: Leonore Allman. Kato: Tokutaro Hayashi (a.k.a. Raymond Toyo). Newsboy: Rollon Parker. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Bob Hyde. Director: James Jewell. Writer: Fran Striker.
The Chase & Sanborn Show with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy: Desert Heat (NBC, 1943)—The 21st Ferrying Group of the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command in Palm Springs gets some additional live heat from Carmen Miranda in the middle of the usual wisenheimer mayhem that includes Charlie’s close-to-futile big to wangle a few extra dollars out of Ray (Noble) and Edgar (Bergen). Additional cast: Don Ameche (announcer), Bill Forman, Joan Merrill, Mortimer Snerd. Music: Ray Noble, Joan Merrill. Director: Earl Ebi. Writers: Possibly Joe Bigelow, Joe Connelly, Dick Mack, Bob Mosher.
Maxwell House Coffee Time with George Burns & Gracie Allen: George’s Job in Washington (NBC, 1946)— George (Burns) and Gracie (Allen) think a letter saying there’s a big job for him in Washington and signed “Harry” is from the president—except that it’s from Harry Morton (possibly Hal March) and has nothing to do with the nation’s capital. Postman: Mel Blanc. Himself: Bill Forman (announcer). Music: Meredith Willson. Writers: Paul Henning, possibly Aaron J. Ruben and Keith Fowler, George Burns.
mr. ace and JANE: You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (CBS, 1948)—“First,” drawls (Goodman) Ace, “I want to say I’d like to dedicate this story to all the husbands who will some day marry Jane.” What a surprise, after her usual complications set in, between Jane (Ace)’s brother-instigated indignation over Ace forgetting their fifteenth-and-a-half wedding anniversary (if you don’t ask, we won’t tell) . . . and, over his new advertising client, a comely candy manufacturer (Gertrude Warner). Maybe the semi-sitcom revamp did few favours to the Easy Aces legacy, but I never said it wasn’t arch, above-average fun (was Mr. Ace ever below average?) for the most part. Paul: Leon Janney. Norris: Eric Dressler. Sally: Florence Robinson. Delivery Boy: Michael Abbott. Himself: Ken Roberts (announcer). Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Gunsmoke: Meshougah (CBS, 1953)—A long, loping ride to Pearceville—where Dillon (William Conrad) is due to deliver federal papers to the local postmaster (Lawrence Dobkin)—surprises Dillon and Chester (Parley Baer) when they discover the postmaster’s safe uncharacteristically left open and abandoned, in a town a little too eerily quiet for comfort, and no wonder: three killers, one of whom (Vic Perrin) knocked the postmaster cold, are holding the town hostage until they determine who killed the brother of one of them—even if they have to live up to their promise to kill Dillon in his or their stead. One of the best written episodes in a series that was rarely if ever written badly. Additional cast: Bob Sweeney, John Dehner, Lou Krugman, Michael Ann Barrett, Ted Bliss. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Rex Khoury. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writer: Antony Ellis.