If this is your first time visiting The WallBreakers, I should let you know that I am an old-time radio junkie. Old-time radio refers to the period in history (specifically between the 1930s-1950s), before television, when people would gather around the radio to listen to their favorite shows as a form of entertainment. American radio drama virtually came to an end on September 30, 1962 when the last remaining dramas on the air shut down production on CBS. One of the most famous old-time radio shows (and one of the last to go off the air) was Suspense. First broadcast as an audition program directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, Suspense enjoyed a twenty year run between 1942 and 1962 as radio’s “outstanding theater of thrills.”
There was no movie star too big to appear on Suspense. Imagine Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie lending their voices to a weekly half-hour radio drama. There are very few shows today (outside of ones like Saturday Night Live) that have the kind of clout to bring in weekly guest stars with such a high profile. Week after week (during their sponsored years) Suspense brought in top notch stars and top notch radio actors to contribute to their broadcasts.
“The House in Cypress Canyon” is an episode of Suspense written by Robert L. Richards and both produced and directed by William Spier. In my opinion this episode is one of the most terrifying programs ever broadcast. It was originally broadcast on December 5, 1946. The radio play is a Christmas broadcast of sorts, but it will bring you no Christmas cheer. In the story it’s a few days before Christmas, and James (Robert Taylor) and Ellen (Cathy Lewis), married seven years and recently relocated to California for the husband’s engineering job, move into a hastily-finished rental house in a development that was started before the war. Dusty furniture and creaky hinges seem to be the only problems with the place at first glance, but the very night they move in the two hear inhuman cries in the night and find blood oozing out from under a closet door they can’t open. The drama only escalates from there. With an incredibly effective use of sound effects and score, this program builds to a blood-curdling Christmas Eve climax.
I first heard “The House in Cypress Canyon” as a teenager. I’ve listened to it over and over again. Everything about this play, including the fantastic Roma Wines (“That’s R O M A Roma”) sponsor commercials in between acts, is incredibly well done. The audio quality of the original recording is also top notch. It’s chilling, to say the least. During the play, there’s even a little wink that old-time radio fans will pick up on. The story is told in narrative form, as the house’s real estate broker finds a manuscript inside a shoebox in the house with the story written in it. He tells the story to his friend, a detective named Sam from San Francisco. The detective was voiced by Howard Duff, who also played Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett‘s famous detective from San Francisco, in a separate radio drama.
If ever there was a must-listen it’s this. Make sure you’re alone when you do listen… if you dare.