26 November 2010

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (8) The Woman Who Wanted to Live

Episode 1322:  The Woman Who Wanted to Live
First aired:  14 June 1982
Author:  Bryce Walton
Dude, it's on!
I should do you a favor?  Walk to my place of execution? -- Liza to Ray Bardon
Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving.  Here's a hint for the future:  Achiote and cilantro turn out to be excellent ingredients for your turkey-basting sauce.  It sounds crazy, but the meat is delicious.

The CBS Radio Mystery Theater had almost a year's notice of its cancellation.  CBS permitted the 1982 season to proceed, but declined to extend it into 1983.  Perhaps not surprisingly, producer Himan Brown opened RMT to all sorts of experimental scripts.  With Tammy Grimes assuming Marshall's host duties, the 1982 season featured some of the series' worst episodes, some of its best, and a few that reached just beyond their grasp.

"The Woman Who Wanted to Live," which aired in June, might be the best of the 1982 lot, so it was disappointing to learn that it was originally an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Two decades after penning the original screenplay for the half-hour AHP, Bryce Walton expanded it into the hour-long radio episode.

It's literally a dark and stormy night on the Gulf Coast.  Convicted murderer Ray Bardon (Larry Haines) has escaped from prison, but at serious cost.  The gunshot wound he's just suffered doesn't require immediate attention, but it has left him too weak to keep running on his own.  If he is to avoid recapture, someone else will have to drive him to another state.

His first chance to bum a ride comes at an isolated gas station, whose hapless attendant informs him that the vehicle parked outside is actually disabled.  A disbelieving Bardon kills him; but before he can hide the body or move on, the titular woman (Roberta Maxwell) pulls into the station.  By now, word of Bardon's escape has spread, and young Liza makes the mistake of identifying him out loud.  Bardon is ready to kill her on the spot, too, but Liza stays calm.  She convinces him that killing her would be a mistake; that would still leave him stranded.  Instead, he carjacks her.

To buy time, and maybe a way out of her situation, Liza agrees to help Bardon -- but she doesn't submit.  As she drives him past this flooded-out road and that police checkpoint, she's engaged him in a serious battle of wits, and he knows it.  But does he really understand the severity of this battle -- or the lengths to which she will go to survive the encounter?

The joy of the story isn't in its outcome, but in the path Liza takes.  She may start out as a damsel in distress, but that image fades quickly.  She quickly gains advantage and initiative, but we have to wait until the end to discover whether she can use either.  It's Liza's trip that makes "The Woman Who Wanted to Live" one of RMT's best episodes.

Rating:  98/100.

  1. The 1962 television version featured Charles Bronson as Bardon.
  2. Act I is one of only two in the entire series -- 4197 acts -- that consists of a single, continuous scene.  The other is Act I of "A Ring of Roses" (Episode 13).  [Perhaps not coincidentally, "Ring" is also one my favorites.]  Furthermore, these are two of only 22 RMT episodes in which all three acts share the same musical curtain.  [To be fair, as a sign of the series' declining fortunes, 16 of those aired in its last 18 months.]
  3. Bryce Walton was probably best known as a frequent contributor to the science-fiction pulps of the 1940s and '50s, though he also wrote mystery stories in the '60s.  "Woman" is one of four RMT episodes he wrote, and one of six from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  [But it's the only one to appear in both series.]

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