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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Lights Out! -- "Come to the Bank"

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Lights Out! aired "Come to the Bank" on November 17, 1942. The show was created by Wyllis Cooper (1899-1955) in 1934, who then turned it over to Arch Oboler (1909-1987) in 1936. It ran until 1947 and was one of Old Time Radio's most beloved horror shows, famous for its grisly sound effects. Oboler wrote, and introduced each show, relying on the scripts and strong acting to carry the weight in lieu of the elaborate musical scores and high class production values employed by shows like Escape and Suspense. Nevertheless, the formula worked, and when everything clicked Lights Out! produced some fine work.

"Come to the Bank" isn't the sort of story that lends itself to gory sound effects, for it tells the tale of a professor convinced that if we used more than a tenth of our brain power we could achieve anything, and he sets out on his singular quest to prove it. He fails to show up for his classes for several weeks, and when a student of his searches him out she discovers what he has been up to, and is invited by the professor to watch him prove that his experimentation has been fruitful. Together, and while on a trip to the local bank, the professor seemingly disappears by walking through a solid wall, but no one has seen the event and no one will of course believe the student. When the professor now goes officially missing, the young woman takes it upon herself to free the professor, who she believes is stuck between the walls of the bank (thick concrete with a marble front). But she must do something quickly, for how long can the professor--through sheer dent of willpower--remain alive in his trapped state? If she fails, will they find the bones and decaying flesh of the professor in time to come? The desperation exhibited in the voice of the female lead sets the tone, providing nerve-wracking tension throughout, especially near the conclusion as we really don't know the eventual outcome until the very end.

It is interesting to recount what some have said about Oboler, who wrote, directed, or produced many radio shows over his lifetime, doing his work for Lights Out! (and saving the money he made from the popular show), to finance what he considered his more important social and political radio work. Many called Oboler a genius akin to the talent of an Orson Welles. However, no one in the public eye is ever immune to detractors, and while many called him genius, others held a different view:

"Ronald Colman's daughter said that Oboler was an “eccentric Hitler hating truth stretching flashy writer” who “wrote and directed in dirty dungarees, no socks, thong sandals, and a hat with a grease stained band”.  Time called him a “horn-rimmed half-pint scrivener." Oboler was no stranger to confrontation. Though assuredly as horrified as the rest of the nation at the audacity of the Japanese: Arch was probably thrilled at the thought of taking part in the scrap."

And from the same source:

"Oboler was the precocious child of poor, but cultured Jewish immigrants in Chicago. Young Arch was a voracious reader and had been taught to appreciate fine music. He sold his first short story at the age of ten (a story about an amorous dinosaur) and he continued to write through his teen years. Possibly hoping to shake the image of being a nerdy kid, Arch was also an accomplished boxer, in contention for a Golden Gloves championship. The writing was a better course to follow after getting expelled from the University of Chicago, even though it was his confrontational manner that earned him the boot."

Arch Oboler was quite a character, both in his personal and professional life, and was regarded in the latter with the highest respect. Listen now to this "fun" little story from Arch, the sort that made Lights Out! so popular and helped fund his more "serious" anti-Nazi, anti-Communist radio shows during WWII. He also skirted NBC's neutrality policy to sneak some anti-Fascist material into Lights Out! from time to time when the censors weren't looking. "Come to the Bank" is not one of those episodes, alas.

Play Time: 22:20

{America had entered WWII just short of a year before this November 1942 epsode of Lights Out!, and the country was on a solid war footing and mentality. Everything had changed, though not as much for the children as with their parents. Thus, a Saturday morning would find them once again at the corner drugstore magazine racks searching for their favorite reading material. Some of their favorites were sold out this time, so they elected to choose something different rather than leave empty-handed. Doc Savage was monthly in 1942 and could be counted on for high adventure with Doc and his gang. Spicy-Adventure Stories was offering a war story (as many magazines had begun to do)--witness the Japanese and Germans conspiring on the cover--and except for no June issue it was on a monthly schedule as well. And the venerable Weird Tales was bi-monthly in 1942 but still offered quality work by top names.}

[Left: Doc Savage, Nov. 1942 - Center: Spicy-Adventure Stories, Nov. 1942 - Right: Weird Tales, Nov. 1942]

         

To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.