I haven’t recapped a production from CBS Radio Mystery Theater in a while, and I picked up again with a good one. Time Killer, aired on April 5, 1976, was written by the multi-talented Arnold Moss, writer, performer, and creator of several New York Times Crossword puzzles.We open with CBSRMT’s signature creaking door and E.G. Marshall welcoming us to the show in his signature creepy voice, segueing to a couple guys on a city street watching a building being demolished. One of the men laments the tearing down of the old to build the new, the new being Radio City Music Hall.
“But Radio City was built over 40 years ago!” the other man gasps. His companion pulls a What you talking about Willis? Willis, or rather Professor Edmond Qualen (played by Mandel Kramer, man of a thousand CBSRMT roles, including the first Old Time Travel Radio production I recapped, The Man Who Asked for Yesterday) replies, “If what I think has happened has really happened, I’m either the luckiest man in the world or the most miserable…”
E.G. comes on to plug the sponsor (All State) and pontificate about time for a little bit, then returns us to the show.
Flashing back some time earlier, Professor Qualen is delivering his final lecture of the semester in his Parapsychology class, musing about the fluidity of time and how someone with extraordinary sensibilities will be able to “puncture a tiny hole in the…impenetrable barrier to our physical and psychic senses and…the human race be forever released from its own bondage and fog-bound limitations of its own feeble making.”
Whew, that’s a lot to process. I hope it’s not on the final.
Class is dismissed and everyone hightails it off to the local Rathskeller, except a perky grad student who pretends she has a question for the prof, but really wants to confirm their plans for dinner. Teacher-student romance, that’s one fog-bound limitation the prof has clearly broken through.
Qualen takes Clovis Mason (repeat-CBSRMT performer Rosemary Rice) to a burger joint, where one of the college’s basketball jocks, Moose or Tubby or something like that (Russell Horton), interrupts their conversation about time travel to blah-blah about the big game against Princeton tomorrow.
“Body beautiful, brain non-existent,” Qualen quips after he sends Tubby on his way. Not nice, Clovis chides, and I agree. Seems the prof is a bit of jerk. A jerk who can’t relax and tends toward irrationality, Clovis points out, even though he spent a dozen years in Tibet learning how to meditate.
The prof isn’t listening, too busy musing about the good old days and the speakeasies he used to frequent, places where he could really relax. If he could only go back to one particular speakeasy in the 30s, he says, he’d fix something that happened there. Why don’t you? Clovis says, suggesting he put his own theories to the test and mentally project himself back in time.
Now, most people would say no way, my theories are just a bunch of bull I spew to earn a paycheck and perhaps tenure someday, but Qualen is not most people. “Why not?” he suddenly roars and, shoving Clovis away, bolts from the restaurant. He wanders the streets of New York, his head spinning, until he ends up at a speakeasy where he used to hang out, Luigi’s.
The prof falls into conversation with a tough-sounding guy bending an elbow at the bar, Joe Delaney (voice actor extraordinaire Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto in the (Popeye cartoons).
Qualen starts yapping about the old days when life was simpler and people didn’t stress so much about politics and things like the United Nations. Delaney’s all, Huh? Don’t you mean the League of Nations?
The weirdness continues: the dollar bills look like play money, Luigi and Delaney rag on prohibition using old-timey slang, and Delaney laments not being able to get a ticket to the hottest show in NYC (Showboat) but at a steep $4.40 a ticket why try!
Qualen’s confused but excited—has he traveled in time?
We’ll have to wait to find out. E.G. Marshall busts in, taking us to a break and a bunch of ads and PSAs that yank me back to senior year in high school. Most unwillingly, I assure you.
Delaney suggests they head out to another speakeasy and on the way there the prof freaks out to see Radio City Music Hall under construction and the 6th Avenue Ell, torn down years before 1976, up and running.
Professor Qualen is now convinced he’s gone back in time, to 1932 to be precise. He tries to explain his time fluidity theories to Delaney, who thinks the guy is thoroughly bats. Qualen gets peeved—inordinately so—then blacks out, waking up in Clovis’s Greenwich Village apartment.
So, did he dream it all up or did it really happen? He thinks it happened, and he insists he needs to go back and find Delaney. Why, Clovis (and we!) wants to know, but he can’t answer. He’s got some kind of unfinished business and I fear Chekov’s Lindbergh baby may be part of it.
The prof is frustrated; he meant to go back to 1932, not ’34.
Delaney’s there and he hasn’t forgotten his strange old pal. He mentions that the last time he saw Qualen was the day the Lindbergh baby’s body was found. “The murderer ain’t been caught,” he adds in an extremely suspicious voice.
Just when I think it’s mistaken-identity curtains for Qualen, the story throws us a curve. The prof goes on a tear, telling Delaney (and Luigi, who’s listening in as any good barkeep would do) all about satellites and disco music and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap.
“I don’t belong here,” Qualen says. “Believe it or not, I am living in the year 1976 and I have willed myself back to what you call now.” Then he shoots Delaney what I imagine is a smug grin and waits for the guy to Hoorah! or pat him on the back.
Now anyone who’s even the slightest bit familiar with time travel tropes knows what happens next. No hoorah or gee, what’s it like to live in the age of polyester leisure suits? Delaney gets grim. “You don’t belong here, you belong in some kind of asylum,” he growls, suggesting Luigi call an ambulance for their demented friend.
Already tethered to a tight rope, Qualen snaps, and snaps hard—the two men scuffle then the prof breaks a bottle over Delaney’s head.
Injured from the fight, Qualen ends up at Clovis’s apartment. She treats his injuries as he tells her what happened at Luigi’s, finishing by saying he fears he killed Delaney in 1934—a fear that has haunted him his whole life. That’s why he’s willed himself back into the past, to find out what really happened to Delaney.
Clovis is remarkably understanding in light of this revelation, but I’m confused. Is guilt causing him to manically relive real events of his life in his mind, inflicting the injuries on himself a la Fight Club (whoops, forgot I’m not supposed to talk about Fight Club). Or is he truly time travelling from the future and making the past events happen?
I think this conundrum calls for a little Captain Janeway.
Anyway, Basketball Tubby drops by to return a psych paper Clovis let him copy…er…loaned to him. The professor suddenly feels faint, then tells Tubby he’s sorry his team will lose tomorrow’s game by one measly point. Tubby’s all, excuse me, I’m due back on planet Earth, and backs out of the room.
Segue to the next day, Clovis and Qualen are listening to the game on the radio (they have no TVs in this universe, apparently), and are all agog when the home team loses—by one point. The prof gets all excited that he’s apparently traveled forward in time and immediately decides to time-jump forward and visit Luigi’s for… what? To catch Aha’s Take On Me in its MTV debut on the bar’s TV? His motivation is fuzzy and so is his judgement—he takes a gun with him.
“Don’t do anything foolish,” Clovis begs as he leaves. “I won’t,” he says but I suspect he totally will.
Qualen hears a strange ringing in his ears and suddenly finds himself in Luigi’s, circa 1978. A guy (also Jackson Beck) bellies up to the bar and strikes up a conversation. He tells the prof all about the colorful history of Luigi’s, including the fact that a guy was killed there in the 1930s and the killer disappeared into thin air.
“What did Delaney die of?” Qualen asks. The stranger’s all, how did you know the victim’s name? The prof tries to tap dance an excuse, but the stranger, who is of course a cop who’s been after Delaney’s murderer for a long, long time, isn’t buying it. The cop slaps handcuffs onto Qualen and tells him the man the prof killed was… dun-dun-dun… his father.
“You’ll never get me,” the prof chortles and quantum leaps out of there, much to Officer Delaney’s sputtering surprise.
The still-handcuffed Qualen lands back with Clovis at her place, waving the gun, ranting that the coppers will never take him alive. The prof hides in the bedroom when Basketball Tubby shows up.
I think Tubby’s there to ask Clovis about Qualen and how he knew his team would lose, but I’m totally wrong. He’s there to ask her on a date. Tubby! At a time like this?
A moment later, not unexpectedly, a gunshot sounds from the bedroom.
Clovis cries out and we segue into a radio news report about Qualen’s death and the intriguing mystery of why the professor was wearing a new type of police handcuff–a new model not scheduled to go into production until 1978.
So, moral of the story? Don’t go messing with the past, you might not like what you dredge up? Or perhaps do confront the past and put your demons to rest? I don’t know, and E.G. Marshall doesn’t give us any clues as he returns to say goodbye.
And so shall I. For a time.
Want to hear the entire audio broadcast? You can enjoy it here: