Suspense began life as a very successful radio show on the CBS Radio Network. It premiered in 1942 and lasted just over 20 years on the nation’s airwaves. When television began to make its own waves on the air in the late 1940’s, naturally many of those first shows would be programs that had already shown strong appeal to the radio audiences. Shows like Gunsmoke had been staples on the radio for years and would be a nice way to entice the first television crowds to the new medium. Suspense was one of those shows. It first broadcast in 1949 and was broadcast live from a studio playhouse in New York City. The anthology series presented stories that featured some kind of a horror or thriller theme. Public domain stories were great fodder for the series, and it certainly brought together some of the big names of that genre to the broadcasts. Names like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Nina Foch, and John Carradine would give the show instant credibility. But, the episodes were not limited to the horror field. Crime dramas that involved murders under mysterious circumstances were another favorite staple of the series. Because it was aired live there were no taped copies to be used as reruns, so that each episode was intended as a single broadcast event. For reference purposes a kinescope recording was made, but not very well preserved. These were the days when the networks were just starting, and they didn’t reach a majority of the nation yet. These simple recordings were intended so that the episodes could air in the towns and cities where the networks had not yet penetrated, a whopping 67% of the nation in 1949. It would go on to become one of television’s first hit shows and lasted 15 years. Surprisingly, the radio version would continue for almost another decade after the television series left the airwaves.
These kinescope recordings were uncovered in 2007. Since then they have been released in various sets and collections. 90 episodes in all have been found and somewhat restored. This collection 3 offers the last 30 of those 90 episodes. They feature the likes of Boris Karloff, Eddie Albert, Walter Matthau, Pat Hingle, Lloyd Bridges, Arlene Francis, Jack Warden, Jackie Cooper, James Whitmore, Vic Morrow, George Reeves, and Richard Coogan. The episodes span the entire run from 1949 – 1954, although one episode lists an airdate of 1958. I could find no record of that episode airing at all.
Each episode of Suspense is presented in its original broadcast full frame aspect ratio. This is old stuff preserved barely with a kinescope recording. That means it looks absolutely horrible. You’ll find zero contrast as everything appears quite brightly washed away. The prints show incredible wear and tear. There are moments when you can barely see any image at all. Unfortunately, there isn’t any chance they could have been better. Anyone familiar with this process knows that the deteriation is inevitable and, alas, irreversible. You either take them as they are, or you don’t.
The Dolby Digital mono is in as bad shape as the video. Surface noise and overwhelming hiss make these things almost unbearable. No amount of eq or calibration adjustments will help. You have to content yourself with the fact that dialog will be a struggle and music will suffer extreme distortion at times. Again, there isn’t anything anyone could have done, short of dropping untold millions on a project that has such limited appeal.
All in all this collection is for the diehard collector only. If you’re simply wanting to check out some “new to you” thrillers, you might not really like what you see. Collectors, like myself, have long had to deal with almost unwatchable prints of long lost or, at least forgotten, films. In my years working with the classic horror genre personalities, I have amassed quite an impressive collection of out of print titles. In most cases the quality isn’t something you can boast about. But some of us are thrilled enough to have a copy at all that we learn to accept these obvious shortcomings, happy to see something few will ever see again. If you are a member of that club, then you will pick this collection up prepared for the worst, but no less enthusiastic to see these lost treasures. For you, and you only: “And now, suspense”.