Before heading out to see a touring production of that crowd-pleasing Emlyn Williams potboiler Night Must Fall, I am going to keep us all up to speed on the latest happenings involving “The Thing That Cries in the Night.” For those stopping by here unawares: I am currently tuned in to a fifteen-chapter adventure story by novelist-radio playwright Carlton E. Morse. For three weeks, I am recreating the experience of listening to an old-time radio serial as such melodramas-on-installment-plan were enjoyed by millions of Americans in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s—one chapter at a time.
Morse’s I Love a Mystery, of which “The Thing” is a particularly memorable storyline, was first heard in the US in 1939; the series developed a large following over the course of its run and was later referenced by authors as diverse as Stephen King, Philip Roth, and Anne Sexton. After a five-year hiatus, during which I Love a Mystery was turned into a short-lived series of motion pictures and an episodic radio thriller titled I Love Adventure, the serial was revived in the fall of 1949. So, let’s pick up today’s piece of the puzzle, as it was broadcast over the Mutual radio network in the US on this day, 7 November, in 1949.
“Unhealthy ideas grow in darkness,” adventurer Jack Packard cautions during another talk with Mrs. Randolph Martin, the old woman who called upon him (and his two comrades, Doc Long and Reggie York) to solve or cover up the strange and dangerous goings-on in her posh L.A. mansion not far from Tinseltown. It’s a great line that almost serves as an advertisement for the sex, violence, and neogothic thrills only the theater of the mind could mass-produce with quite this immediacy. The Martin’s chauffeur has been found dead in the hallway.
As we learn today, he was hoodlum whose racket was blackmail. Apparently, he had been in a shootout at a sleazy nightclub. Much to the vexation of haughty Grandma Martin, one of her troublesome offspring was on his arm when it happened. Her name is Hope, and all she ever hopes for, it seems, is to get undressed and have a good time with anyone—even with a guy who is “putting the screws” on her own family.
Hope seems to have a killer instinct when it comes to picking Mr. Right-for-now. The dead man is still clutching one of her “slip-on, slip-off” numbers, covered in blood. There’s a gun on the floor—and it might be her brother’s.
What is going on in this house? Mrs. Martin is not telling. She seems to have hired Jack, Doc, and Reggie for the sole purpose to protect her offspring—not from mischief or murder, mind you, but from the blight of a bad reputation. The Martins have had fair warning—or make that unfair warning. They have a peculiar alarm system installed in their house: whenever something awful is about to happen (such as a murder, or an attempted one), a baby begins to cry. Thing is, there ain’t no baby in the house—it’s the “Thing,” the mysterious “they” Mrs. Martin’s granddaughter Charity (or Cherry) keeps muttering about in a hushed, trembling voice.
The formidable matriarch of the Martin household dismisses the thought of an oracle in diapers as “a lot of romantic nonsense.” “Twice slashed and thrown downstairs,” Jack scoffs (referring to Charity’s recent experiences), “and you call that romantic nonsense?” Hoodlums and hooey—the clash between hard-boiled thrills and gothic terror continues in this chapter, which ends in another sounding of the Martin’s Delphic alarm.
On this bumpy night, someone has tried to bump off nymphomaniac Hope by taking her breath away with a generous dose of chloroform. “Murder sure is on the loose in this man’s house,” Doc exclaims, putting an end to this installment of Morse’s serial.
Whether just careless in his writing, attempting to spice up the script, or eager to clear up something suggested previously, Morse has Mrs. Martin’s grandson Job recall a dream about a dame in a swimsuit; in an earlier chapter, however, we were told that Job—a lovable loser who reminds me of James Dean—”hates girls.” Are we to assume that he was having nightmares?
As if to make up for an unexceptional entry in his serial, Morse himself steps in front the microphone for a curtain call. In an appeal to the listener, he (pictured above), along with actors Russell Thorson and Tony Randall, requests donations to a charity called Foster Parents Plan for War Children. More than four years after the end of World War II, millions of children in Europe were starving or suffering from malnutrition (my rubble-rebel of a black-markets haunting father, then aged 8, being one of them).
“Remember,” Morse concludes, “that you too can be a Santa Claus for all god’s children.” Hoping for a few thrills this season (or, for that matter, tomorrow), Mr. Morse!