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Series / Kraft Suspense Theatre

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"Fast-moving dramas designed to freeze you to the edge of your chair!"
— from a 1963 ad in TV Guide

Kraft Suspense Theatre was a Genre Anthology series that aired on NBC for two seasons from October 1963 to July 1965. Sponsored by Kraft Foods, the series offered viewers "tales of murder, intrigue and mystery". Some episodes were straightforward thrillers, while others were character-based dramas with the protagonist having to make a difficult moral choice, or living with the consequences of a choice that he/she had already made.

KST also had a distinctive Animated Credits Opening; with its threatening, shilhouetted figures and ominous Instrumental Theme Tunes (one for each season, both provided by a young John Williams), it seems like a prototype for the Title Sequence of Batman: The Animated Series.

The show was fairly popular in its day, and like many anthologies, features both actors who were well-known at the time (including Roddy McDowall, Mickey Rooney, Gloria Swanson, and Ronald Reagan in one of his last roles) and up-and-comers who would soon become famous (such as Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall and Leonard Nimoy, among others). Still, it's not nearly as well-remembered today as competing shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone (1959), or radio's Suspense. One possible reason for this is confusion over the name; the series obviously couldn't retain the title Kraft Suspense Theatre in reruns, but it somehow got two Syndication Titles, Suspense Theatre and Crisis (no relation to various other works with the same name).

Digital station Antenna TV ran the series for a while, but it left their schedule in 2013.

KST has a fan blog with episode reviews, although it hasn't been updated since 2013. Also, director Ralph Senensky has posted about the three episodes he worked on ("A Hero for Our Times", "The Jack Is High" and "The Easter Breach"; beware of Spoilers).

Kraft Suspense Tropes:

  • Adam Westing: In "Twixt the Cup and the Lip", Ethel Merman seems to be making fun of her own reputation as a Large Ham.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • "The Wine-Dark Sea", which takes place in Los Angeles' skid row, has a neighborhood full of them.
    • In "A Hero for Our Times", an drunken, elderly janitor is falsely accused of murder.
    • Conrad Easter pretends to be a drunk in "That Time in Havana".
  • All for Nothing:
    • The Twist Ending of the episode "Four Into Zero". Four men scheme to counterfeit a South American dictatorship's new currency — on the very train that's transporting the plates. They succeed against all odds, only to learn that the dictator (whose portrait is on the currency) has just been assassinated, rendering their funny money worthless.
    • "The Long Ravine" plays with this trope. At first, it seems that the protagonists have lost everything when the episode's villain uses a technicality to take over the gold claim they discovered. However, it turns out that while the vein has about $20,000 worth of gold in it, it'll cost $100,000 to extract it all. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain.
  • Alliterative Name: Tom Threepersons from "Threepersons", though nobody ever calls him by both names.
  • Animated Credits Opening
  • Armed Blag: Happens in "The Jack Is High".
  • Attempted Rape: In "Portrait of an Unknown Man", it's heavily implied that Harvey Farnsworth tried to do this to Ellen Ramsey when they were both teenagers. Ellen's father knows this, but he still wants his daughter to marry Harvey so she'll stay in their little mountain town. Talk about Abusive Parents...
  • Ax-Crazy: Candido Gomez from "Threepersons", who kills a defenseless sympathetic character while doing an Evil Laugh.
  • Badass Pacifist: Dr. Bert Andrews from "The Gun", a mild-mannered dentist who calms down a mentally disturbed woman who's waving a loaded shotgun around.
  • Bald of Evil: The beret-wearing French Resistance agent played by Telly Savalas in "The Action of the Tiger" when it turns out that he's actually a Gestapo agent.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Averted in "One Step Down". When sleazy No-Tell Motel owner Homer Fargis tries to get money out of wealthy Janet Cord for almost cheating on her husband, she replies "That's blackmail!" — and he responds with a Blunt "Yes".
  • Book Ends: "A Cruel and Unusual Night" begins with Judge Howard R. Stimming (Ronald Reagan's character) finding a man guilty of murder and declaring that he'll pass sentence later. At the end, Stimming sentences the man to death, despite having almost been killed by someone else he condemned in the interim.
  • Boxed Crook: The titular safecracker from "The Rise and Fall of Eddie Carew". When he's recruited to rescue a VIP from a locked bank vault, he initially doesn't want to do it, despite the pleadings of both the warden and his own girlfriend, because he's trying to go straight and he's afraid that doing the job will revive all the criminal instincts he's trying to get rid of. Eddie only commits to the job when the warden threatens to revoke his privileges.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: In "The Kamchatka Incident", one of the plane passengers is a Japanese boy who frequently "shoots" the people around him with his electronic toy gun.
  • The Caper: Episodes such as "The Jack Is High", "Four Into Zero" and "Twixt the Cup and the Lip" focus on amateur criminals who have joined forces to pull off a daring heist.
  • Cold War: A plot point in at least three episodes:
    • "The Kamchatka Incident" (an American military air transport plane with engine trouble and a Russian defector on board strays into Soviet airspace)
    • "That Time in Havana" (American adventurers searching for a million dollar stash in Cuba)
    • "The Easter Breach" (a young couple attempts to sneak over the Berlin Wall)
  • Compilation Movie: The series did three two-part episodes, all of which were re-edited into feature films. "The Case Against Paul Ryker" became Sgt. Ryker, "Once Upon a Savage Night" became Nightmare in Chicago, and "In Darkness, Waiting" became Strategy of Terror.
  • Consummate Liar: In "Who Is Jennifer?", the teenage vagrant with a Multiple-Choice Past admits that she lies "at the drop of a hat".
  • Cowardly Lion: Private LeRoy Brubaker from "Operation Greif". He's a sarcastic Lovable Rogue who can't stay out of trouble, avoids work and fighting whenever possible, and makes it clear that all he wants is to survive World War II in one piece. However, when he discovers that a murderous Nazi infiltrator is on his way to commit sabotage, he goes after the spy alone and kills him just in time to stop him.
  • Death Seeker: In "Their Own Executioners", Martin Rosetti insists that he planned to murder his wife because he feels he deserves the electric chair. Martin's lawyer, the terminally ill and clinically depressed Joe Monti, thinks that the killing was not premeditated, and spends most of the episode trying to get Martin to admit it. Eventually, Joe's quest renews both men's will to live.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?:
    • "Are There Any More Out There Like You?" is set at Christmas time to ironically drive home that the protagonist's family is falling apart.
    • "Once Upon a Savage Night" also apparently takes place around Christmas, with holiday lights and decorations visible in the downtown Chicago locations, but it doesn't really factor into the story.
  • Dirty Cop: Nick Stacy from "Twixt the Cup and the Lip" is an example that's Played for Laughs.
  • Does Not Like Guns: In "Threepersons", Tom Threepersons saw (and did) more than his share of killing during World War I ("All I've got is memories of dead men... some that I didn't even know"), so he wants to give up violence. However, circumstances force him to join Harly Clay's Prohibition task force despite his misgivings.
  • Dramatic Hour Long
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Robert Benson, the protagonist of "The Wine-Dark Sea", is a former math professor who becomes a skid row drunk after accidentally killing his family.
    • He's Back!: Benson investigates the mysterious death of his friend, whom he thinks was framed for murder by a Corrupt Corporate Executive. (He's right.) In the process, he overcomes his alcoholism and creates a new life for himself.
  • Drowning Pit: A gasoline tanker becomes one for two unfortunate crooks in "The Jack Is High".
  • Easy Amnesia: In "Doesn't Anyone Know Who I Am?", an executive loses his memory after getting conked on the head during a mugging. He regains his memory when the sight of another businessman's hat and briefcase remind him who he is.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Wolfe Hastings from "The Trains of Silence" seems to be this at first. The truth is much darker: he's mentally ill, and his aide-de-camp has become The Starscream and is keeping him isolated.
  • Episode on a Plane: Most of "The Kamchatka Incident".
  • Everybody Smokes: What with the show being made in the 60's.
  • Evil Old Folks: In this series, elderly general store owners in small rural towns tend to be Jerkasses with sexual issues. Two examples:
    • Hugh Ramsey from "Portait of an Unknown Man". He's a Gender Flipped version of My Beloved Smother, determined to keep his daughter with him in their little mountain town, even if it means marrying her off to a man whom he knows tried to rape her when they were both teenagers. He even slaps her just for saying nice things about the handsome Gentle Giant who recently moved into the area.
    • Walter "Pop" Tullett from "The Long Ravine". Not only does he take the gold claim the protagonists discovered (but see All for Nothing above), he makes creepy advances toward the pretty young wife of one of the men.
  • Extreme Doormat:
    • Avis Tyler from "A Cruel and Unusual Night". She opposes her husband's plan to kidnap and execute the judge who sentenced him to death, but reluctantly goes along with it due to a combination of love, devotion and a weak-willed nature.
    • In "Twixt the Cup and the Lip", Lester Pennell's fiancee accuses him of being one, which motivates him to steal a valuable scepter that's on display at the museum he works for to prove her wrong.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Averted Trope in "The Kamchatka Incident" and "Streetcar, Do You Read Me?". Various characters show their family photos, but Everybody Lives.
  • Fool for Love: Both the titular character and his girlfriend Sally McClure in "The Rise and Fall of Eddie Carew". Eddie frees a VIP who's trapped inside a bank vault, but he and his partner Pinky Ferguson then flee with all the money. Sally, who's trying to get Eddie to go straight, responds by locking herself inside the vault so that Eddie will have to come back to rescue her. Which he does, leaving Pinky behind.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision:
    • In "A Hero for Our Times", High-powered executive Mason Etheridge witnesses a murder while at his mistress' apartment. An innocent man (the apartment's janitor, an elderly alcoholic) is arrested for the crime, and only Mason can set him free (especially after the real murderer dies while trying to run him off the road). Not only is Mason's marriage at risk, but so is his job: he's just been promoted, and when he confides in his boss, he's told not to throw everything away over a worthless bum like the janitor. What should Mason do? He eventually decides to do the right thing and testify. Not only does his boss gain new-found respect for him, but his wife (who thought he'd sold out a long time ago) forgives him.
    • In "Leviathan Five", four scientists and a guard are trapped in an underground lab. There's only enough oxygen for four people, so one of them has to die to save the others. What now? When attempts to randomly choose the victim fail, one of the scientists kills the guard. After all four scientists are convicted of murder, the killer confesses to spare his colleagues.
  • Gentle Giant: David Wolfe from "Portrait of an Unknown Man".
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The title character in "Threepersons" has a facial scar that's never explained, although he might have gotten it during his World War I service.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "The Action of the Tiger", "Beret" sees that Ben Hollister is with La Résistance in occupied France during World War II, so he gives the American helpful hints on how to evade the Nazis. This is because "Beret" is actually a Gestapo agent who wants Hollister to contact the Resistance so he can capture them all. However, after Hollister learns the truth, he realizes that "Beret" actually gave him good advice — which he uses to escape the Nazis and safely return to America.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: How George Whitney dies in "One Step Down". He instantly collapses in a motel bathroom, without displaying any symptoms beforehand. The woman he's with even talks to him from the next room for a couple of minutes until she wonders why he's not answering.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: In "The Hunt", a Small-Town Tyrant sheriff deliberately lets inmates escape from his jail so he and his posse can have fun tracking them down — and killing them.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: As noted, two of them.
  • Just Following Orders: In "A Cruel and Unusual Night", Judge Stimming defends the death sentence he gave to Sherman Tyler by explaining that he didn't have a choice; after all, he doesn't make the laws, the people do.
    • Godwin's Law: Tyler responds by, yes, comparing Stimming to the Nazis. Not surprisingly, the judge objects.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: How gangster Ramon Castillo sees himself in "The Watchman", and how his journalist friend Jack Fleming depicts him... for a while.
  • Kill the Cutie: In "Operation Greif", Marie Ange discovers the Nazi infiltrator posing as a GI smuggling explosives along with blood supplies. Unfortunately, her fate is sealed when the Nazi sees her. He even lampshades the trope by saying "You're a smart girl, but not lucky."
  • Latin Lover: Mario Robrioz plays this trope for all it's worth in "The Robrioz Ring".
  • Lie Detector: The subject of "The Machine That Played God". After Peggy Merritt accidentally kills her husband in a car accident, then fails two tests, she convinces herself that the tragedy was a murder/attempted suicide because the lie detector must know more about what's going on inside her that she does herself. Justified because Peggy is a psychological wreck, and also because she's hiding from the real truth: She didn't murder her husband, but she never loved or respected him either.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In "Doesn't Anyone Know Who I Am?", the amnesiac businessman protagonist renames himself "George Press" after seeing a stickshift marked "press" in the truck that picks him up after he's mugged.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Love Makes You Crazy: In "The Deep End", Angie Powell appears to be no more than the Sexy Secretary to construction tycoon Sam Kimber. She's actually a sexually repressed religious fanatic who murders two people because she thinks they're corrupting her beloved boss. She winds up in a psycho ward.
  • May–December Romance: The relationship between Sam Morris and Marta Aviles in "That He Should Weep for Her" starts to turn into this.
  • The Mexican Revolution: The titular character in "Threepersons" served as a scout under General John J. Pershing; this was presumably during the Pancho Villa Expedition, though it's never spelled out.
  • Mighty Whitey: General John Doe from "Jungle of Fear" is a villainous example. He's a white 19th century American who claims to have been raised in China, although it's more likely that he's a US Navy deserter who jumped ship there to escape hanging for murder. By 1850, he's a general in the Chinese army and the chief adviser to the Emperor's brother, and he plans to make the brother Emperor so he can rule behind the scenes as an Evil Chancellor.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: In "Who Is Jennifer?", one of the main characters is a teenage vagrant who keeps changing her name and background. We never find out who she really is.
  • My Beloved Smother: Lina Rosetti from "Their Own Executioners". She Really Got Around when she was young, but eventually went to the other extreme and became a repressed Catholic fundamentalist — which helps explain why her son Martin became a neurotic Momma's Boy who killed his wife.
  • My Greatest Failure: During The Korean War, Major Will Stanton (Villain Protagonist of "A Lion Amongst Men") was a General Ripper who led a group of young recruits into battle before they were ready, getting most of them killed in the process. While he acts as if he holds the soldiers responsible for their own deaths, we eventually learn that he's blamed himself all along.
  • Narrator: The series usually doesn't use one, but "Operation Greif" and "The Kamchatka Incident" are exceptions. A few episodes have First Person Peripheral Narrators as well.
  • New Old West: "The Long Ravine". It's set in The Present Day, but it takes place in a small Western town, and the plot revolves around a gold mine and claim jumping.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Harly Clay from "Threepersons". He can't get over Tom Threepersons being a Native American (he usually calls him "Cherokee", which Tom hates), but invites Tom to join his task force because he respects Tom's abilities. At the episode's climax, when Tom goes to fight the bad guys on his own, Clay repeatedly tells him that he won't be able to provide backup, but does so anyway.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: "That Time in Havana" features Conrad Easter, an American artist living in Cuba who pretends to be a drunken Cloudcuckoolander. He's actually working with an anti-Castro guerrilla cell, and he convinces the protagonists to give their million dollar stash to the rebels.
  • One-Word Title: "Graffiti" and "Threepersons".
  • Operation: [Blank]: The episode title "Operation Greif".
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: Several, but only two were successful; "The Case Against Paul Ryker", in addition to its theatrical release, became the basis for Court Martial, and "Rapture at Two-Forty" was spun off into Run For Your Life.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Pete Rugolo's score for "Twixt the Cup and the Lip" incorporates "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in several scenes.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: And neither does "Their Own Executioners", the only episode without a musical score.
  • Recycled In Space: "Jungle of Fear" is Casablanca in 1850 Panama.
  • La Résistance: Alluded to in "Operation Greif", when Marie Ange mentions that her brother (who was a member of the resistance) was killed by the Nazis. She joins him soon enough.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: In "A Lion Amongst Men", Major Will Stanton is a paranoid bigot who's trying to start a militia, although his only "recruit" is a friend who's clearly just indulging him.
  • Russian Roulette: "Threepersons" has a variation. During a barroom confrontation with Federal agent Tom Threepersons, gangster Candido Gomez says he wants "a friendly fight". He takes all but one bullet out of his revolver, then passes it across the bar to the unarmed Threepersons, who stays true to his Does Not Like Guns ethos by firing it into the air. Threepersons then gives the gun back to Gomez, who does fire at him... but it's one of the empty chambers. This goes on until Threepersons just takes the gun from Gomez before either of them can fire the bullet.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In "Are There Any More Out There Like You?", wealthy Thomas Bollington uses bribery to "pull strings" for his daughter Janet and her friends after they kill a pedestrian while drunk driving...including offering the only witness $1000 not to tell the police that Janet was at the wheel.
  • Serial Killer: "Once Upon a Savage Night" has Georgie Porgie, who murders blonde women in the Chicago area and is targeted by police along the Illinois Tollway.
  • Shave And A Haircut: In "Are There Any More Out There Like You?", one of the college students briefly plays it on his recorder.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "The Deep End" begins with a woman going for a swim while pleasant swing music plays on her radio. When a scuba diver appears and drowns her, the soundtrack switches to the expected "suspense thriller" music... and then back to the swing music after the murder is finished.
  • Spanish Civil War: Where Jack Fleming and Ramon Castillo first meet in "The Watchman".
  • Spot the Imposter: The plot of "Operation Greif", which is based on an actual Nazi plot during World War II in which German spies posed as American soldiersnote  in order to sabotage the Allied war effort. In the episode, a group of American GIs realize that one of them is an infiltrator, and both the characters and the audience have to figure out who it is.
  • Stepford Smiler: Edna Bollington in "Are There Any More Out There Like You?". Her family is collapsing around her and she doesn't know how to deal with it, so she ignores it and concentrates on fixing the best Christmas dinner ever.
  • Suicide by Assassin: In "Kill Me on July 20th", racer Tony Camion blames himself for his brother's death on the track, so he changes his life insurance policy to benefit his brother's family, then hires an unknown hitman to, yes, kill him on July 20th. And then Tony changes his mind...
  • Surfer Dude: Played by none other than James Caan in "The Hunt".
  • Teens Are Monsters: Rex Andrews from "The Gun". After his pacifist father refuses to shoot a burglar, Rex turns into a Gun Nut, as well as a sullen Delinquent who harasses the neighborhood's resident crazy old lady. However, seeing his father disarm the woman after she freaks out and grabs a shotgun leads to a Heel Realization.
  • Twentysomethings Are Monsters: The antagonists of "Are There Any More Out There like You?" are four college seniors who are utterly despicable. It's bad enough that they're all arrogant Smug Snakes who hold the rest of the world in contempt — but then they're involved in a fatal drunk driving accident. They have no sympathy for the victim or remorse for their actions, they obstruct justice by refusing to tell the police which one of them was driving, and all they care about is that their own lives are disrupted as little as possible.
  • Took a Level in Badass: What happens to USAAF pilot Ben "Hard Luck" Hollister in "The Action of the Tiger" after his Character Development.
  • Translation Convention: In "The Action of the Tiger", most of the dialogue that's supposed to be in French or German is spoken in English.
  • Twilight of the Old West: "Threepersons" is set on the Texas/Mexico border circa 1923, with Prohibition in effect while horses and automobiles share the streets. The heroes go after a gang who's smuggling booze across the border.
  • The Unpronouncable: In "Jungle of Fear", the Mighty Whitey character goes by "John Doe" because the Chinese can't pronounce his real name.
  • The Unreveal: As noted, the end of "Who Is Jennifer?" Is the mysterious teenage vagrant really the long-lost daughter of a wealthy widow? We never find out.
  • The Vietnam War: In "The Long Ravine", Chris Sandee is just back from his service. The episode dates from 1965, making the story among the first TV episodes to refer to the war.
  • Villain Protagonist: A few of the stories are Heist Episodes that are told from the perspective of the criminals.
  • The Voice: Jack Fleming's analyst in "The Watchman". The character is heard but never seen, and his conversations with Fleming are shot from his point of view.
  • Wicked Cultured: Professor Raymond Shipley from "The Jack Is High". He teaches English lit and woos a stripper by giving her a collection of Sappho's writings. He also recruits a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits to rob an armored car.
  • World War II: The setting for at least three episodes ("The Action of the Tiger", "Operation Greif" and "Graffiti"). It also appears briefly in "The Watchman".
  • Woman Scorned: In "One Step Down", rich widow Harriet Whitney is less upset by the death of her husband than the fact that he was in a No-Tell Motel, about to cheat on her. Harriet uses her wealth to search for the mysterious other woman, not realizing that it's her best friend.
  • Yellowface: "Jungle of Fear" has white actors playing the two main Chinese characters. The episode's other Chinese roles were played by Asian actors (including Harold Sakata, Goldfinger's Odd Job).