"Dark theaters are best for dark deeds."
Previously, I reviewed Christopher St. John Sprigg's The Perfect Alibi (1934), a detective novel that turned the idea of an iron-clad alibi on its ear, which reminded me of a truly brilliant and innovative, but practically unknown, detective story that used the unbreakable alibi to perfection – performed over seventy years ago on the timeless CBS radio drama-series, Suspense. A bleak, mournful story that still stands today as one of the best episodes in the twenty year history of the show!
"The Too-Perfect Alibi" was written by Martin Stern and originally aired on CBS radio on January 13, 1949, starring actor/comedian Danny Kaye as the story's antagonist, Sam Rogers. Sam is a close friend to the woman he loved and "the fellow she loved."
Catherine was "the loveliest thing on God's earth" and Jack was "a beautiful hunk of man," a perfect match, but Sam never understood why Catherine was so made about him. A good-looking nobody who works as a clerk in a sports shop. However, when they announce their engagement, the well-to-do Sam takes it on the chin and offers them a lovely house as a wedding present, which delights Catherine, but Jack resents that Sam gives them everything he can't afford – sarcastically comparing him to Prince Charming. Unfortunately, for Jack, this remark reminded Sam of the fairy tale of "the Prince, the Princess and the Ogre." A story in which the Ogre dies because "the Prince kills him."
"The Too-Perfect Alibi" is an inverted mystery and the first 15, of 30, minutes comprises of plotting and carrying out the murder. Sam's plan hinges on an alibi, "a strong, unshakable alibi," designed to keep him out of the electric chair.
Usually, these alibi-tricks hinge on the manipulation of clocks, eyewitnesses or documents, such as dated tickets, letters or postcards, which gives the murderer a (small) window to do the dirty deed. Sometimes this window of opportunity is counted in minutes, not hours, which makes them quite risky endeavors. Sam created an indestructible alibi that removed much of the dangers of the initial stages of murder and the only dangerous obstacle was disposing the body where it would be found the following day. When the police started asking question, they got "thirty-five affidavits from responsible people" who swear Sam was at a party at the time of the murder.
A very inventive, yet simple, alibi that's impossible to crack open and can stand with the best alibi-stories by Christopher Bush, who might have partially inspired the story, because Sam utters an unusual phrase when he's almost caught deposing of the murder weapon – saying to himself that his "alibi was still 100%." A possible reference to Bush's The Case of the 100% Alibis (1934)?
So the first half of "The Too-Perfect Alibi" deals with the plotting and execution of Jack's murder, but, in the second half, Sam is confronted with the dire, unintended consequences of his perfect little crime. You have to listen for yourself how this dark, twisted fairy tale ends, but, if you want to end a detective story on a bleak, melancholic note that will cast a gloom on your audience, this is how you do it. I could hear "The Real Folk Blues" playing in my head when the episode ended ("you're gonna carry that weight!").
"The Too-Perfect Alibi" is, in my humble opinion, one of the best inverted detective stories ever written, which not only has an excellent and original alibi-trick, but an unforgettable conclusion that ended the episode strongly. You can listen to the episode on the Internet Archive (here) or Youtube (here). Enjoy!