Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mystery in the Air

Regular listeners to the Abbot and Costello Show must have been a bit shocked when they heard the summer replacement for their weekly comedy. Mystery In The Air first aired in 1945, and for two summers, it was a crime series about Detective Stonewall Scott. In 1947, it became a horror series of psychological/ supernatural tales starring Peter Lorre. Titles include "The Lodger," "The Horla," "Beyond Good And Evil," "The Black Cat," and "The Mask of Medusa."

The announcer was Harry Morgan of Dragnet and later, M*A*S*H fame. Lorre was the weekly narrator and raging psychopath. In the Medusa tale, Lorre plays a criminal frozen alive by a wax curator who uses the actual death mask of Medusa to create life-like exhibits. The clever curator is quite successful, until a young girl is influenced by the frozen mob to start a fire and release the murderers from their timeless prison. The climax is chilling, thanks in no small part to the death march music by Paul Baron. Lorre would get so carried away with his live radio performances, that he would end the half hour sweat-drenched and exhausted. Co-star Peggy Webber claimed that once, in the heat of a live performance, Lorre threw his script into the air and watched helplessly as the pages rained down in different directions all around the stage. Some ad-libbing by the cast managed to carry the show through to the break, when the script was hastily reassembled (Dunning, 477). Only eight different shows from this interesting series are known to have survived.

Announcer (Harry Morgan): "Mystery in the Air starring Peter Lorre presented by Camel Cigarettes."

(SFX: Music swells, then drops.)

(SFX: A tour guide enters with a small crowd and drones on about the Chamber of Horrors wax exhibit. The tour guide's voice fades into the background as the narrator begins to speak.)

Lorre: "Yes, yes, there he goes, there he goes again, telling people all the bad things we did. Oh it's terrible, being nothing but figures in a wax museum. People staring at us all day long and not one of them, not one, ever suspects that we are still alive!"

(Music theme.)

Announcer (Harry Morgan): "Each week at this time, Camel Cigarettes brings you Peter Lorre and the excitement of the great stories of the strange and unusual. Of dark and compelling masterpieces culled from the four corners of world literature. Tonight, 'The Mask of Medusa' by Nelson Bond."

(SFX: Music sting.)

Lorre: "Well, well, well. Here we are, back again, yes, all of us. The finest criminal minds in the world. Oh, it's the elite, the cream of crime. Now we are just wax figures in a sideshow. Yes, but now, now there are 48 of us. Heh-heh. Oh, I suppose we should feel honored to have with us the great Aristead Schwige. This way he looks quite natural, yes, standing over there between Synder and Poe. And at least he doesn't bore me any more with his silly stupid lectures. No. Now he doesn't talk at all. Someone called 'Albert' is running the exhibit now. Oh, poor Albert. He's an imbecile. Albert doesn't know there was a mask of Medusa. Oh, we are much more intelligent than poor Albert. He doesn't even know that we are still alive!"

(Music theme.)

Announcer (Harry Morgan): "Next week, Mystery In The Air starring Mr. Peter Lorre, brings you an exciting story of gambling and sudden death, the immortal 'Queen Of Spades' by Alexander Pushkin. With a special musical score composed and conducted by Paul Baron."

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