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DVD Review: Suspense: Ultimate Collection

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Before television became the norm, families used to sit around ginormous vacuum-tubed radios in their living rooms and listen to a variety of programming. As hard as it may be to believe, radio once consisted of more than just the same fifty current “popular” songs put into an endless rotation, a slew of annoying disc jockeys, and an even bigger slew of irritating talk show hosts. Once upon a time, radio was innocent. Every genre of entertainment was represented on the radio: there were dramas, comedies, musical and variety shows (even the odd science fiction piece showed up occasionally), as well as game shows, too. As the more “late night” programming came around, audiences would prepare to be spooked from the latest installment of the popular mystery/horror show. One such popular show was an anthology series entitled Suspense.

Suspense broadcast a jaw-dropping 945 episodes over twenty years (1942 to 1962 — the show continued to air well after television came into play in most American homes), bringing with it an assortment of thrills and chills with stories that ranged from murder mysteries to science fiction tales to horrifying examples of the supernatural — all of which were guaranteed to keep you in Suspense! (with a little help from Bernard Herrmann’s organ theme). In 1949, Suspense made the jump from radio to television on the CBS network. Lasting for six seasons, Suspense was aired on television live. Not today’s example of live — which means “film it live and then re-edit it before you broadcast it” — but LIVE live. If someone flubbed a line or knocked something over, they just rolled with it (which is way all radio and many television broadcasts were at the time). But, seeing as how many of the lead actors that starred in Suspense at one time of another were well accustomed to radio or the stage, few of them had any problems with it — after all, these were professionals.

After their original airings, Suspense seemed to disappear from television altogether (there was a short revival series featuring Sebastian Cabot emerged in the '60s, but it didn’t last long). For years, everyone thought they were lost. It was only recently that some original kinescope masters of the show were found, and thanks to the diligent efforts of Infinity Entertainment, the Falcon Picture Group, and CBS Enterprises, these 90 (of 260) “lost” episodes are available on DVD under Infinity’s label.

This 12-disc box set is a regrouping of Infinity Entertainment’s previously released four-disc sets with a lower price tag: Collections one through three were released on DVD between July 2007 and March 2009 (so if you’ve already picked all three of those sets up, there’s nothing new here for you to purchase other than a different box). For fans of vintage television, horror, mystery, and sci-fi, this set comes highly recommended. Many of the show’s actors featured in these episodes include Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi (two staples of classic horror and suspense), Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, Anne Francis, Eva Marie Saint, Hume Cronyn, Kim Hunter, E.G. Marshall, Rod Steiger, Leslie Nielsen (who gets to co-star with Karloff once), Darren McGavin, Jack Klugman, Walter Matthau (what, both Oscar Madisons?), George Reeves, Cloris Leachman, Jackie Cooper, Lloyd Bridges, Joan Blondell, Jack Palance, James Whitmore, Otto Kruger, Royal Dano, Keenan Wynn, Barry Nelson, Brian Keith, Pat Hingle, Eva Gabor, Vic Morrow, and Peter Mark Richman.

Most of the stories for these shows were adapted from the works of Robert Louis Stevenson (“Black Passage,” “The Suicide Club”), Edgar Allan Poe (“A Cask Of Amontillado”) among others, with one script in particular being an original work from The Twilight Zone’s own Rod Serling (“Nightmare At Ground Zero”). The episodes are shown uncut with the original sponsor bits hosted by Rex Marshall are included (which are a blast on their own).

The artwork claims that these episodes have been digitally restored. Frankly, it’s hard to tell between the age of these classics and the whole kinescope photography: quite often, you’ll notice a black “aura” surrounding people as they move around (which was common and in no way reflects the DVD transfer process). The mono audio comes through sounding slightly muddled sometimes (again, this can be attributed to the vintage live kinescope factor) but is satisfactory nonetheless. There are no bonus materials… of course, the dated quality and lack of any special materials here is hardly worth complaining about — being able to see these rarities at long last is special in itself.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.