Monday, October 12, 2009

OTR Review: X Minus One "Universe"

Series Name: X Minus One
Episode Title: Universe
Original Air Date: 5/15/55
Available On: Relic Radio Thrillers Podcast October 5, 2009
Sound Quality: Good

I was very excited when Jim from Relic Radio announced that he was going to play this episode as it was one of my all-time favorite radio stories back in the 90s when I was listening to a cubic ton of OTR. "Universe" is based on a science fiction novel by the Grandmaster Robert Heinlein.

This story takes place in an enormous space ship that has been drifting in space for ages untold. The people have forgotten that there is any world outside of the ship itself. Their God is Jordan who created the ship and all it's people. When you die your soul takes "the trip" where your soul joins with Centaurus where there is enough food and constant joy.

"Universe" opens with two scientists, Hugh and Alan, traveling 24 decks up to meet with John the Witness, an aged sage from whom the story of Jordan has been passed through the generations. Hugh is at the crossroads of life where he is doubting the spiritual dogma he has been fed and he is hoping that the old man will help quell his crisis of faith. John the Witness' words offer no comfort to Hugh. Rather he gets more and more riled up that the old sage has no story to offer beyond the same basic story that's been told to school children for centuries. Hugh ends up in a scuffle with John the Witness and accidentally kills the man. Alarms are sounded and the Hugh and Alan make their escape to the upper levels, where no sane man would go as these upper levels are the haven to the mutants.

From there the story continues to get more and more interesting. The hideous mutants and their leader Gregory are fantastic characters and the journey that Hugh takes, his spiritual awakening, is a fantastic tale. The story is surprisingly downbeat and holds a dim view of organized religion but throughout that view it also offers a kernel of hope. I gather from reading a wikipedia brief that the actual story by Heinlein differs quite a bit and has a completely different ending. I'm surprised to hear this as the ending is so darned fitting it's hard to imagine it going any other way.

The writing is terrific, the pacing is constant and it feels that far more than thirty minutes of material is fit in here without ever coming across as rushed. There is plenty of action but the action never gets in the way of the philosophical underpinnings. Just as it should be in the best of science fiction.

In addition to the fantastic writing, we are treated to a fantastic cast and wonderful direction. The actor who plays Gregory is of particular note as he captures the mutant's intelligence and nobility perfectly. Truly this story can be held up as a perfect piece of radio science fiction drama and it is one that I recommend everyone listen to!

Obviously 5/5 Golden Masks, this is probably the most 5/5 of any of them so far. Please download this one if you haven't already!

Here's the cover to the magazine where Universe first appeared. Apparently in the future swimming trunks are the outfit of choice for all men, even the two-headed ones!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

OTR Review: Inner Sanctum "A Study For Murder"

Series Name: Inner Sanctum Mysteries
Episode Title: A Study For Murder
Original Air Date: 5/3/42
Available On: Relic Radio Thrillers Podcast October 2, 2009
Sound Quality: Fair

Over the course of October Relic Radio is going to be posting numerous Halloween/Horror themed radio shows. Over 30 Halloween themed shows for the discerning OTR lover. Please check out their special site for details:

Every episode of Relic Radio Thrillers in October is going to feature a play starring the ghoulish great, Boris Karloff. We start out with this little gem from Inner Sanctum.

The play opens with Karloff, in the role of Herbert Large, interviewing Sam Edwards, a man moments away from a date with the electric chair. Edwards, in a fit of rage, murdered his wife. Large is a psychiatrist is doing the interview to get material for his new book but it becomes obvious very quickly that Large's obsession goes beyond mere research and that the man is in the thrall of a perverse fascination with murder. He wonders what it is that allows anyone, even the most apparently law-abiding man to murder another human.

Edwards' interview reveals a deep-rooted hatred for all humanity and Edwards is dragged to the electric chair in a fit of sobs. The prison warden has no time for the cold-blooded psychiatrist and turns down his appeal to watch Edwards burn in the electric chair.

Upon arriving home to his wife Margaret we discover the depths of which Large's obsession with murder has taken him. Large has assembled his own "tribe" of underworld associates, and with his gang he hopes to bring himself closer to understanding the essence of murder. His wife pleads with him to give up his research but there's no going back for Herbert.

The story continues to follow the spiraling fate of Herbert Large as he gets himself deeper and deeper inside his obsession. The cast is uniformly excellent here and the script is genuinely creepy in a way that many of these old stories are not. There is a real feeling of perversity in Karloff's morbid performance and it shines especially in comparison to the more empathetic side characters, his wife, the warden and even Whitey his criminal accomplice whose reactions to murder are more human than the draconian psychiatrist.

This is definite 5/5 Golden Masks to me. One of my favorite OTR shows in recent memory, I've listened to it three times so far and still love it.

Our man, the ghoulish Boris Karloff gives a delightfully evil performance as Herbert Large