After yesterday’s intriguing ghost story on Suspense, I went in search for a few more seasonal treats from the same series. Unfortunately, listening to the sentimental offerings that aired on this day, 21 December, in 1950 and 1953, respectively, is about as thrilling as finding yet another pair of socks under the tree.
In 1953, when most stars had already abandoned US radio, along with a television and Cinemascope crazy public, Ms. Greer Garson stepped up to the microphone for “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” No doubt, she had been pushed behind it by the producers of her upcoming picture, which was duly plugged. Never mind that the Academy Award-winning actress never appeared in the announced film, Knights of the Round Table.
Considering that “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written by Morton Fine and David Friedkin, experts in radio thrillers, and that it featured a stellar cast including radio stalwarts Howard McNear, Herb Butterfield, Irene Tedrow, Joseph Kearns, and Harry Bartell, the episode bears less resemblance to old-fashioned blood-and-thunder worthy of Suspense than to the melodramatic stardust sprinkled onto the airwaves by light-drama anthologies like The First Nighter or Grand Central Station.
“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” tells the story of a little girl (Anne Whitfield) who is faced with the possibility that her mother and father might not come home for the holidays—that they might never come home again. Her nanny (Garson) receives news that the child’s parents might have died in a plane crash. Only the most naïve listener—or those with faith enough to believe that a Christmas thriller might end unhappily—would assume for one moment that the parents are truly dead. And, sure enough, after much crying and praying, the two return home.
The only highlight of this murky mess of failed heartstrings manipulation is Ms. Garson’s passionate reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” the poem by Clement Clarke Moore from whose famous first line the play borrows its title. The reading, designed to console the child, is cut short by the arrival of her parents, just when Santa’s slay is ready to “dash away.” After a perfunctory reunion, the nanny is urged to continue her reading. What a pity Garson ever got interrupted, only to carry on with this dreadful piece of sentimental pulp.
Only slightly better is “A Christmas for Carol,” starring crooner-comedian Dennis Day. Day plays the husband of the eponymous Carol, who is about to give birth—but not without complications. Being a lowly bank clerk and unable to pay for a nurse, the desperate man decides to resort to crime.
After stealing the life savings of an elderly man, he becomes remorseful and quite incapable of escaping with the loot. His struggles are closely followed by one Mr. . . . wait for it . . . Wiseman, a police officer who, having stood by and observed the young man being put to the test of his own conscience, finds his faith in the anxious father-to-be entirely justfied. Virtue is duly rewarded; a twist of fate relieves the impecunious family from hardship and harm, as mother and child are well enough not to require any expensive care after all.
Now, I don’t think any of this is worse than the appalling “Wizard of Oz” pantomime I just glimpsed at (for as long as I could stand it) on ITV 1’s Paul O’Grady Show. Still, the allegedly “outstanding theater of thrills” (as Suspense was announced each week) certainly tossed audiences some awfully stale fruitcakes for the 1950 and 1953 holidays. Say, what is your favorite Yuletide yarn?