"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 77
Has anyone else thought, like ABS in 1964, CBS in 1974 and Shredded Cheddar in 2013, about whether radio dramas could be successfully revived? It's probably too late now, partly because listeners who'd be nostalgic for the original series are no longer a big enough demographic . . . but mostly because someone discovering them anew today could spend his life going through all the archived material and feel as if he may never run out. Ironically, ABS's and CBS's joint contribution of over 1,500 "new" shows to the pot was probably the last nail in the coffin. Listen to two a day, and it will still take you about two years. Even if you start right now, with this one . . .
Possessed by the Devil may have got several positive comments on its page at the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre Web site, but I confess that I wasn't too impressed with it. And when I was done listening, I spent more time wondering why it didn't seem to deliver than dealing with a fresh set of heebie-jeebies.
My first theory was that it was "wrong" for the main character and the protagonist to be different people--something we don't really figure out until the very end. The former is the young man who is dabbling in satanism; the latter, the hospital's cleaning lady. Now, inasmuch as she witnesses the demon pass into him at the beginning, it makes sense that she would be the one to vanquish him at the end. But since she is missing from all the acts in between, not even trying to warn Mike's family that something is up, it feels a little off. At least it does to me.
A second theory came last Sunday, after I listened to the latest Cracked.com podcast, Why Every Movie Plot Follows Weirdly Specific Rules, in which Jason Pargin (a.k.a. David Wong . . . a.k.a. the writer who inspired me TO CLOSE in 2013) explained that if you time every modern Hollywood blockbuster, you will notice that something big always happens at the sixty-minute mark. And that about fifteen minutes before that, something devastating would have hit the characters. It's a formula we're so used to that a director who messes with it risks having audiences complain that an otherwise good story told well "dragged a bit." There's a sense in which we can say this about Possessed by the Devil, which does not have the plot twist in the last five minutes which the Golden Age plays would have trained us to expect.
But perhaps it's just that we are informed immediately that demonic forces are involved and told exactly why Mike has summoned a demon. There's no real mystery any longer, and that numbs the play.
Of course, there's still a bit to like about Possessed by the Devil. For instance, I thought the actors portraying the doctors and the hospital cleaning lady were great. So good, in fact, that I now wish that the entire play had been a "hospital drama," in which science thinks it is discouraging superstition when it is actually being dogma shouting down truth. (In contrast, the Christian minister's failure to see that his own son has become a satanist is a twist which has no teeth.) I also really liked the one scene with Professor Aszerak (sp?): his recounting of Mike's brush with a demon is quite vivid . . . and for me, the scariest part of the entire story.
What are your thoughts on Possessed by the Devil?
1) Would you believe someone who claims to have witnessed something fantastic, if you also smelled alcohol on his or her breath?
2) Should Trudy have told her fiance and father-in-law about Mike's attempt at seduction?
3) The alcoholic patient, Mrs. Gideon's sneaking of "sacramental wine," Mike's use of champagne "to anaesthetise" his target . . . Why make alcohol significant in a story about demonic possession?
4) Is it fair to judge this play by the form popularised by its predecessors?
For the next meeting, we'll be time traveling back to the 1940s. (Why mess with the formula any longer, aye? LOL!) One series we haven't listened to yet is The Whistler. Lacking a proper episode guide, reviews and recommendations, I've had to pick an episode at random. Let's hope that "Death Comes at Midnight" is a worthy Mystery Box item! Download it from the Internet Archive (where it's Track #12) or Podbay.fm, or listen to it at My Old Radio, Vimeo, or as always, YouTube.