Monday, August 21, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 111: April/May 1970

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 218

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Tortoise and the Hare Went to War!"
Story by John Reed
Art by Sam Burlockoff and Joe Giella
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #5, July 1955)

"Frightened Boys . . . or Fighting Men"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: From the time Easy Co. landed in North Africa, they were nursed and patched up by a faithful "Medic!" who always remained quiet. Bulldozer complains that the medic never gets involved in the fighting, but Rock tells him that each man has his job. Pushing up into Italy, Easy Co. continues to rely on the medic, though Bulldozer doesn't let up with his criticism. Suddenly, a Nazi ambush causes a landslide to bury Rock and Bulldozer, but the fearless medic braves enemy fire to rescue them, forfeiting his own life in the process.


Kanigher and Heath work well together here and Heath draws one particularly strong page near the end that is completely wordless, conveying the medic's heroism in pictures alone.

In "The Tortoise and the Hare Went to War!," brothers Bill and Donny are assigned to a tank and a plane in WWII. The tank lumbers along like a tortoise and the plane zooms ahead like a hare. The plane saves the tank, the tank saves the plane and, in the end, the plane makes an urgent landing right on top of the tank and the two join forces to keep the enemy at bay.

Not much to recommend this six-page filler reprint; the story is by the numbers and the art is inoffensive and run of the mill.

When the destroyer called the U.S.S. Stevens is attacked by Japanese firepower in the Pacific in 1942, will its crew act like "Frightened Boys . . . or Fighting Men"? Fortunately, it's the latter, as they survive a kamikaze attack and sail on.

A four-page entry, this eschews any characterization or dialogue to present a battle incident with a series of breathless captions. The art by Glanzman is good until he tries to draw a closeup of a soldier's face. Glanzman died very recently.

"Frightened Boys  . . . or Fighting Men"
Peter: Solid Rock tale this issue with stunning Heath visuals. Nice to see an unsung hero of the war get his due, but Bulldozer's unending whining got on my nerves. I know Big Bob liked to create "highlights" during a story (such as a character going on and on about something, seemingly for the first time) but it only helps to minimize the story's impact in the finale if we know that Bulldozer will see the light due to his victim's sacrifice. We know that "Medic!" is going to die because 'dozer needs to learn a lesson. Anyway, it's still a memorable melodrama and . . . did I mention Russ's flawless art? I didn't? Well, it's reeeeeally good! Also, isn't it unique that Rock introduces his "memory" by giving it a date? It's a nice touch and a reminder that these adventures and morality plays aren't necessarily delivered to us in chronological order. The plot of "Tortoise and the Hare" sure smells familiar to me but, at the very least, it helps remind us that the war was fought by an awful lot of brothers. "Frightened Boys . . ." is the premiere installment in a serialized back-pages feature on the U.S.S. Stevens, a "series " that would last six years and hop across all four of the war titles. Unique in that the entire series showcases one battleship and its various highs and lows, "U.S.S. Stevens" became a quick fan favorite and the entire epic was collected in a gorgeous full-color hardcover by Dover last year. Glanzman could tell a hell of a story but he sure couldn't draw (although I must say this first chapter looks pretty good); the art will become secondary to the insights shared with us by Glanzman, who actually served in World War II aboard the Stevens!

Star Spangled War Stories 150

"3 Graves to Home!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Monster of the Viking Sea!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #12, July 1957)

"The Marne"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: When his plane catches fire and he's forced to ditch, Hans von Hammer seeks shelter to nurse his wounds. First up, he's taken in by a kindly blind woman who mistakes him for a French pilot, dresses his wounds and soothes him with her soft voice. She tells Hans of her son, a French pilot who flies a plane with specific markings. Hans remembers shooting the plane down two weeks before. When police come to the door, Hans tells the woman that he's wanted by the local gendarme and she hides him in her cellar. The police tell her that they're looking for the infamous Hans von Hammer and the woman points to her cellar. Hans is already on the run. The exhausted Enemy Ace takes refuge in a barn and is fed cheese by a small French boy who tells the Hammer of his older brother, a pilot in the No. 24 squadron. Hans remembers shooting that squadron down recently and heads off to find a different place to lay his head. He falls asleep in a field and is awakened by a beautiful shepherdess who bandages Hans's exposed wounds and tells him of her man who has promised to marry her when he returns from war. Perhaps Hans has seen this man? About so high, blond hair, and flies a Nieuport with the markings of two hearts entwined. Once again, Hammer's photographic memory recalls shooting down this lovely lass's beau while putting the kibosh on some French recon balloons. "How in the hell do I get myself into these messes?" muses the Enemy Ace while he heads for home. Once there, he collapses in his valet's arms, confident he hasn't murdered any of Schulz's family lately.

This sub-par episode reminded me of the old Abbott and Costello routine, "Susquehanna Hat Company," where poor Costello can't walk down the street without running into someone who has it in for the brand of hat he's carrying. The Enemy Ace just wants some rest and a few band-aids but he can't dodge the relatives of some his recent fatalities, no matter how he tries! Joe Kubert takes Big Bob's annoying old habit of pushing the coincidences at least two steps too far with "3 Graves to Home!" But if his writing hand has taken a leave of absence, the one with the pencil sure hasn't. More full to near-full page posters here than you could shake an Eisner Award at.

Jack: I thought it was a great story! Did you notice how the cover depicts a scene that is exactly the opposite of what happens in the story? On the cover, the old woman covers for Hans while he cowers in the crawl space; in the story, she does not hesitate to tell them where she thinks he is, but he is already gone. I found the kindness of the French peasants very interesting, though even the ones with sight should have recognized him for an Enemy Ace.

Peter: Jon, the Viking Prince, "Fighting Fury of the Frozen Fjords!," has his most monumental task before him: to figure out what's been tearing apart the fishermen's nets before they turn their backs on Jon and look to villainous Ulric for leadership. A dive to the bottom of the ocean uncovers a hidden cave where dwells a T. Rex (well, I think it's a T. Rex . . . let's just say it is for argument's sake). Jon discovers that the monster has been reaching its arm through a small hole and nabbing the nets. Advising his men to fish in another locale, the Viking Prince is confident he's secured enough votes for re-election but the evil Ulric destroys the monster's lair, freeing him! The dinosaur goes wild, destroying the village, until Jon uses fire to beat the beast back into the water. It has a go at Ulric's ship and Jon tries to save the crafty and downright nasty Ulric but "The Monster of the Viking Sea!" pulls the vessel and its master to the bottom of the ocean. Another rip-roaring and absolutely delightful fantasy from the Haney/Kubert team. I wonder if Ulric popped up in the next installment as if nothing happened, a la the good old Golden Age of DC Storytelling. Sadly, this is the last of the Viking Prince reprints as, next issue, SSWS tries something new and (hopefully) exciting.

Dinosaurs and Vikings.
What's not to like?

Jack: The cover blurb says that this story is from the Golden Age of Comics, but I think that's pushing it--1957 was the Silver Age! Maybe the Ages weren't quite so well-defined as of 1970. Whatever the case, the story is fun and Kubert's art is excellent.

Peter: Finally, Ric Estrada educates us to the battle that saved Paris in "The Marne," a history lesson that, thankfully, doesn't take long to digest. Circulation statement shows that SSWS sold an average of 149,170 copies a month during 1969, down from 170,310 the year before. Let's hope Joe Kubert's big experiment (commencing next issue) is a success or we'll have one less title to cover. Oh, who am I fooling? It's a fairly successful test but I'll tell you more in our next issue.

Jack: I like these short stories by Ric Estrada mainly because I hope to learn a bit more about famous battles without expending too much effort. That said, I didn't really follow this one and I think there might be more to the story than could fit in such a short space.

More from "3 Coincidences Too Many!"

G.I. Combat 141

"Let Me Live . . . Let Me Die!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Sea Devil!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #65, January 1959)

"Churchill at Omdurman"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While at an ammo depot, the men of the Jeb Stuart meet an African-American G.I. with a chip on his shoulder. Without the time to investigate further, the boys roll the Haunted Tank toward their destination: a valley currently held by Sgt. Rock and Easy Company but about to be visited by a load of Krauts. Seemingly just as the Haunted Tank rolls in, the fireworks begin. Our side makes a dent but the tank is out of ammo and Rock orders his buddy, Jeb, to head back to the depot for more ammo. When the men get to the depot, they find it's been blown to hell and the only survivor is the man with a grudge. He helps the boys load up as much ammo as is salvageable and then boards the tank, telling Jeb he's eager to hit the spots where bullets are flying instead of being a "delivery boy." On the way back to the valley, the tank is attacked by a Focke-Wulf and Jeb is wounded; the new recruit takes over and machine guns the plane until it explodes into a ball of fire. The tank gets back to Easy just as the boys are taking on heavy fire from the Ratzis but, with the tenacious willpower of the "delivery boy," the Jeb and Easy defeat the powers of evil. Unfortunately, our new hero is fatally wounded and dies in Jeb's arms. "We didn't even know his name," remarks one of the crew. Answers the commander: "All you've got to know is . . . he was--a man!"

"Sea Devil"
"Let Me Live... Let Me Die!" is a good, solid drama that doesn't ramp up the preachiness (yes, we know the man is black but the color of his skin is pretty much irrelevant here, other than his placing in the depot) and what could have been a schmaltzy climax is, instead, a very moving scene thanks to the stellar art of Russ Heath. I know I'm continually saying this, but Heath seems to top himself with each successive art job. The man's work is absolutely mesmerizing.

Jack: I wasn't as impressed with Heath's work on this story, but I was impressed by Kanigher's script. The black soldier on the cover being held is shown only from the shoulders down, and the story itself seems subtler than what we sometimes read from DC "message" comics of this era. The soldier's wish to die like a man is coded language that would have meant more to readers in 1970 than it does to us today.

Peter: The "Sea Devil!," a brand-spanking-new German U-Boat, can move up, down, and sideways with ease, making it virtually impossible to destroy, and the commander of a US destroyer is finding that out the hard way. But arrogance can be a U-Boat captain's undoing and that's just what kills the Sea Devil in the end. What a great story! If this wasn't a reprint, it would definitely find a place in my Top Five this year thanks to Haney's exciting script and Mort Drucker's cinematic art. What I liked was that the Captain of the destroyer used a bit of training and a whole lot of luck to gain the upper hand.

Jack: Mort Drucker's art carried this story for me, though I really like the final panels. After the Nazi captain spends the entire story boasting that his sub can move in any direction, the well-aimed (with a lot of luck involved) drop of an anchor sends the U-boat one way: "And down . . . down . . . down plummeted the Sea Devil . . . in only . . . one direction . . ." It's too bad we don't see more Bob Haney scripts.


Peter: Ric Estrada's "Churchill at Omdurman" chronicles a battle the future British Prime Minister took part in against the Dervishes that resulted in the British reclaiming the Sudan. These little bits of military history can be very entertaining; this one a bit less so (and yet I'm quick to point out that I'm not sure why it left me cold--it just did, sorry). Estrada's art remains solid and, until I've seen proof somewhere, I'll continue to believe that Estrada was responsible for the scripts as well.

Jack: I'm as big a fan of Winston Churchill as anyone, but this brief exercise in Colonial might also left me cold. Perhaps it was the unfairness of using a gun against opponents armed with swords.

More Heath!

Our Fighting Forces 124

"Losers Take All!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by John Severin

Jack: Captain Storm pilots a small boat across the English Channel to France, taking Gunner, Sarge, and Johnny Cloud along with him. Once ashore, they enter a forest and find an abandoned WWI plane, which Cloud uses to fly them to a small village, where the Nazis are holding a king prisoner. The mission of the Losers is to rescue the king! After hiding the plane, they are ambushed by Nazis guarding the castle, but an exchange of gunfire wipes out the Nazis.

The Losers enter the castle and find that the king is just a boy in short pants. They fashion makeshift parachutes out of drapes and leap out of the tower window where the King is held, floating safely to the moat below and then swimming fast to avoid Nazi gunfire as they make for the nearby village. A huge statue of Adolf Hitler holding a sword has been erected in the village square, and the Losers blow it up, the pieces burying approaching Nazi forces. Next morning, American troops arrive to take the king home, and the Losers are on the way to their next adventure.

As I read "Losers Take All!" two things occurred to me: this series follows the same pattern as Hunter's Hellcats, and we're in for a long slog. The Hellcats were a bunch of misfits who were put together as a team and given impossible assignments. How is that different from the Losers? The only difference I see is that the Losers are established characters while the Hellcats were not. Joe Kubert has written some good stories in the past but this one reads as if he cranked it out of the Kanigher automatic war story machine. And don't even get me started on Andru and Esposito. My only hope is that soon they'll be too busy with Spider-Man to handle DC War chores as well.

"Losers Take All!"

Peter: Though I held out hope this new series would be something different, I'm afraid it's living up to its title. The plot (never mind the concept of the series for a moment) makes little sense--you've got an important job, so you send your biggest schmucks? I thought the fact that the king was a tyke was a nice twist but then the poor little runt gets sideswiped by Andru and Esposito and comes out looking like a ventriloquist's doll. Well, folks, at least there are only another 46 "Losers" to wade through.

Jack: In Afghanistan in the 1880s, British Sgt. Patrick Tubridy tells a reporter visiting from London a "Parable!" A young man named Shelley had impressed onlookers in London with his ability to walk a high wire strung above the street, so when he was sent to Afghanistan he repeated his act for the tribal chieftains. He was later discharged and went to live with the locals, who thought him a holy man because he cured their ills. They decided to murder him, thinking he would be even more useful to them in Paradise, and took him up into the hills and cut open his belly. He did not die right away, though, and British soldiers found him and brought him back to the fort. When asked how his wound was, he quoted Shakespeare, and was thus identified as an Englishman.

Coincidentally, we are reading EC War Comics every other week and we've seen plenty of work by Severin and a few stories by DeFuccio. Severin is a fine technical artist and the pages look impressive, but the story is a bit dull.

Peter: The back-up is another story altogether, thank goodness. You'd be excused for thinking you'd wandered into a Harvey Kurtzman-scripted EC War title (especially since you're greeted by the friendly visuals of John Severin) while reading "Parable!" It's so unlike anything we've seen in a DC war comic yet and I'm hoping it's a sign of things to come. Severin's art is gorgeous and a high-class touch after wading through the Ross + Mike muck; I love love love that panel of the two men resting on the porch, the sergeant casually looking back over his shoulder at his guest. It rings as such a captured moment of real life, doesn't it?

Our Army at War 219

"Yesterday's Hero!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath

"Follow Sgt. Gruggles"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The latest replacement soldier to join Easy Co. is P.F.C. Duncan, formerly a hero in Baker Co. After leading the way during the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, he went on to destroy two enemy tanks on his own, but when he was sent out on a recon mission with three other men he was the only one to come back alive. As Rock and co. head off to hold a town at an important crossroads, Duncan tells his new sergeant that he only looks out for himself.

"Yesterday's Hero!"
After reaching the town, "Yesterday's Hero!" does not take part in a group action by Easy Co. to defeat Nazi snipers by pushing a flaming wagon of hay straight into them. Duncan admits to Rock that he's a fraud who only looks out for himself and Rock lectures him by stating that they are all doing the same thing but that they realize that looking out for each other is the best way to protect themselves. Assigned to keep watch in a bell tower, Duncan sees Nazi tanks approaching and opens fire on them, giving the rest of Easy Co. time to attack and knock them out. The bell tower is leveled but Duncan survives, having learned a valuable lesson about the importance of teamwork.

Fairly standard Sgt. Rock fare, this is a rare story where the writer has not been credited in the GCD. I suspect it's Joe Kubert, since he wrote the story in the prior issue, but we can't know for certain. It's a shame Kubert's editorial duties keep him from drawing these stories as well; Heath is fine and all, but I'd rather see Kubert doing Sgt. Rock.

Peter: PFC Duncan's story seems rushed, which is a shame since it held my interest. The boys note that Duncan must be Clark Kent looking for a phone booth and, after he survives a direct tank hit while he's in the tower, I'm inclined to believe that.

"Follow Sgt. Gruggles"
Jack: In the Civil War, Union troops "Follow Sgt. Gruggles" as he leads them to take Missionary Ridge. Private Tom Cort thinks Gruggles is mad, based on the fervor with which he attacks the enemy's position, but he is grateful for the sergeant's help when Gruggles saves Cort's life at the last minute. Next day, the same soldiers have to take the same ridge again because of a mistake in identification the prior day. They are defeated and thrown in prison, but when Gruggles plans a dangerous escape, Cort volunteers to sacrifice himself to ensure that the effort is a success. Cort distracts the guards, everyone else gets out, and Gruggles admits that Cort was a brave man.

This is a good story that survives Fred Ray's pedestrian art. Perhaps the anti-war sentiment in the air in 1970 led to more downbeat tales such as this appearing in the DC War comics; it seems like we're seeing more and more where the heroes and villains aren't so easy to distinguish and where the good guys don't always get out alive.

Peter: "Follow Sgt. Gruggles" tells a tough, violent story but it's illustrated by Fred Ray and we know from experience that that's not good. Ray doesn't seem to have any kind of style; it's all slapdash and shaky and very distracting. The remaining circulation numbers come out this month (Our Army's numbers appeared in the March issue) and, across the board, the news was not good for the DC war titles. Below are the numbers for 1969 and then 1968, showing the drastic drops in some of the books. That drop would continue on into the 1970s.

                                                                        1969                         1968

G.I. COMBAT                                               186,264                    209,640
OUR ARMY AT WAR                                  180,137                    189,221
OUR FIGHTING FORCES                           133,154                    158,350            
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES             149,170                    170,310

Next Week . . .
Ray Bradbury takes us on the
Million-Year Picnic!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Caroline Munro Archive: Rain on the Wind by Walter Macken, Pan Books, 1970

by John Scoleri

Welcome to the latest installment of this semi-regular feature on bare•bones in which I share rarities from my Caroline Munro collection. 

This time out, I'm sharing another instance of Caroline Munro appearing on the cover of a novel. Rain on the Wind by Walter Macken is described as drama, excitement and romance amid the terrible beauty of Galway’s Atlantic seaboard. It's worth noting that this is the 1970 paperback edition from Pan Books (033002454X), of which a handful of affordable used copies are available through Amazon.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Charles Beaumont Part Two: The Long Silence [8.25] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

Pity poor Nora Manson! Day by day she sits at the window of her home in Larchville, a suburb of New York City, unable to move or speak but able to see and hear all that goes on around her. Her first husband was the scion of a wealthy family that owned and ran a bank in the city. When he died, she married Ralph Manson, who had worked his way up to a position of importance in the bank. Tragedy struck when her 18-year-old son Robbie, who had been working at the bank, was accused of stealing over $200,000. When the crime was discovered, Robbie could not be found, until Nora discovered him dead, hanging from the rafters in his attic room.

Not long after that, Nora heard movement in the attic and found that a man she knew well was spending time up there with the large sum of cash he had stolen from the bank. He had framed Robbie and murdered him, staging the killing to look like a suicide. To prevent Nora from revealing his crimes, he pushed her down the stairs, leaving her paralyzed and in shock.

Phyllis Thaxter as Nora
Now, over the course of one terrifying weekend, Nora struggles to communicate the truth, while Robbie's killer is among the people gathered at her house. On Saturday night, she is frightened by the strange sight of a shapeless mass that seems to creep about her room on four large, yellow hands. She refuses to drink her nightly glass of milk for fear that it has been poisoned.

Nora survives Saturday night and, on Sunday, those around her have reason to suspect that there had been an intruder the night before. By Sunday night, Nora has recovered enough movement in one hand to provide clues to her nurse, who ventures into the attic and begins to piece together the truth. Just in time, it turns out, because the killer is back and his attempt to murder Nora is foiled by timely intervention by a neighbor.

April 1947
Composition for Four Hands was first published as a two-part novel in the April and May 1947 issues of Good Housekeeping, one of the most popular "slick" women's magazines of mid-century America. It was then published in book form in 1949, as the second novel in Lawrence's Duet of Death. Very much a novel for women, the story is suspenseful and the plotting complex. Hilda Lawrence, the author, uses a non-linear approach to her narrative. The story itself unfolds over a short period of time, starting after lunch on Saturday afternoon and ending on Sunday night. The main characters are all women:
  • Nora Manson, the invalid who struggles to remember what happened to her and to her son as she also struggles to recover enough movement to tell someone before she is killed;
  • Milly Sills, the young night nurse who is devoted to caring for Nora and who acts as her replacement, going up to the attic to uncover the truth;
  • Emma, the devoted housekeeper;
  • Hattie, the cook.
May 1947
The men in the novel fall into three categories:
  • George Perry, the young man next door who loves Millie and saves the day;
  • Bruce Cory, brother of Nora's deceased husband and one of the two main suspects as the book nears its end;
  • Ralph Manson, whose devoted attention to his invalid wife hides a terrible secret.
Lawrence creates an effective mood of suspense and dread throughout the novel, using multiple perspectives and flashbacks to slowly provide the details of what happened in the past and how it affects what is happening in the present. At the start of the novel, the reason for Nora's paralysis is unknown; the scene where she is pushed down the stairs occurs late in the book. Robbie's suicide comes early in the novel's second half, so the entire first half leaves the reader in the dark about two key events while providing just enough detail to make it clear that something terrible has happened. The third and final mystery is the identity of the killer, and this is not revealed until the very end of the story, in a single sentence. Juggling three mysteries along with the story of Nora's deadly weekend is a demonstration of technical skill by the novel's author.

Born Hildegarde Kronmuller in Baltimore in 1906, Hilda Lawrence had a short but memorable career as a mystery writer, publishing four novels between 1944 and 1947 and then three two-part mystery novelettes in women's magazines between 1947 and 1951. Including a short story in 1948 and an amusing article setting out her thoughts on writing mystery novels in 1945, she seems to have written for publication only from 1944 to 1951. She died in 1976.

The attic in Composition for Four Hands is both a place and a symbol, representing Nora's mind. The attic is the location of the traumatic events that set the story in motion; it has a door that is firmly locked with a key that has been lost. Only at the end of the book is the key located and the attic opened, allowing Milly to discover physical evidence of the crime and allowing Nora to unlock her own memories of what really happened and who is responsible. Composition for Four Hands is not a great literary achievement, but novels such as this can sometimes be made into great films.

William Gordon and Charles Beaumont are credited with the teleplay for the TV adaptation, retitled "The Long Silence." How did they handle the narrative-driven, non-linear approach to storytelling found in the novel? Often, writers for the Hitchcock show would move flashbacks to the beginning, in order to present the story in clear, chronological order. Did they turn much of the narrative into dialogue? Did they add a scene with gunplay? And what of the creature that creeps at night on four yellow hands? In the book, these turn out to be painted furnace gloves, two of which are attached to a pair of shoes. Will this detail--which gives the novel its title--even make it into the film?

Michael Rennie as Ralph
The story was broadcast on CBS on Friday, March 22, 1963, toward the end of the first season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. There is no way to tell what William Gordon did and what Charles Beaumont did as far as the teleplay goes, but it succeeds in keeping the main plot points of the novel while curing some of its flaws. Not surprisingly, the writers of the script take a chronological approach to the story, thus eliminating the three main mystery elements from the book. The show opens with Nora being walked out of the bank after having been told of Robbie's supposed theft; she is taken home and prescribed bed rest. Instead of being a neighbor and a close family friend, George is now Robbie's brother and Nora's son--this gives him an excuse to be on hand for all of the events that follow.

Ralph is on his way out of the house with a suitcase that night when Robbie returns home and confronts him with the evidence of his crime; they argue, and when Robbie insists that Ralph come upstairs with him and confess to Nora, Ralph puts one hand over Robbie's mouth and the other on his throat. He is so forceful that he accidentally kills Robbie. About to get in his car to leave the house, Ralph sees a coil of rope hanging on the garage wall and gets the idea to stage a suicide. As he types the fake suicide note, the noise of the keys awakens Nora, who comes upstairs and discovers the grisly scene. As in the novel, Ralph pushes her down the stairs and she is left paralyzed and unable to remember what happened.

Rees Vaughn as Robbie
Reorganizing the story in this way is very effective, even though it means that the viewer knows what happened with the theft, how Robbie died, how Nora was injured, and who is behind all of these acts. In the book, these are mysteries whose secrets are revealed gradually--we learn how Robbie died early in the second half, what happened to Nora later on, and the killer's identity at the very end. In the film, this is all clear early on and the suspense of the show is generated by Nora's attempts to recover her memory, her efforts to communicate the danger she is in, and the likelihood that Ralph will kill her before she can identify him as the guilty party.

The TV adaptation also solves problems in the novel having to do with timing and motive. In the book, it is not clear why Nora is suddenly in danger or how long ago Robbie died and she was injured. In the film, she is hospitalized and a nurse is assigned to care for her--Milly Sills has been renamed Jean Dekker. Voice-over narration is used to allow Nora to express her thoughts, her confusion, and her inability to understand why she is in the hospital or what happened to her. Over time, she begins to recall that there is something wrong involving Ralph. After six weeks, she is moved home from the hospital and the doctor says that she appears to have a mental block brought on by trauma. Nurse Dekker accompanies her home from the hospital as her private nurse and, a week after she returns home, the sound of the nurse typing her treatment note brings back Nora's memory of what happened. The film has now joined up with the early part of the novel, almost halfway through its fifty-minute run time. The discovery of Robbie's body and Nora's fall down the stairs are replayed in a short flashback, with Nora's face super-imposed over the scene to show that her memories have come flooding back. Her fingers begin to twitch and it is clear that Ralph is in great danger of being identified as the man who killed her son and caused her paralysis.

Natalie Trundy as Nurse Dekker
From then on, Nora must remain still when Ralph is around. Her doctor tells her nurse that a single shock could cause a significant relapse, and Ralph sees this as a solution to his problems. He instructs Emma, the housekeeper, to stay away from Nora in order to keep her calm--unbeknownst to Ralph, Nora begins to recover movement in her fingers the next day. That night, George takes Nurse Dekker out to dinner, leaving Nora alone with Ralph, who tries to give her an extra sleeping powder; when she refuses to take it, he realizes that she has recovered her memory. Admitting what happened but refusing to accept blame, he tries to smother Nora with a pillow but is foiled when Nurse Dekker comes home early.

The nurse discovers that Nora can communicate by moving her fingers, and this allows her to convey her fear of Ralph, who slips into the room again when Nora ventures downstairs to tell George what has happened. Ralph shakes Nora and she finally screams, bringing first Nurse Dekker and then George, who subdues Ralph with a few well-placed punches. As the screen fades to black, Nora recovers her ability to move and speak, and a tragedy has been averted.

Vaughn Taylor as Dr. Babcock
Gordon and Beaumont do an excellent job of translating the novel onto film, eliminating secondary characters and tightening the story's structure. The creature with four hands is removed entirely, though there are indications that it may have survived in an initial draft of the teleplay. In Alfred Hitchcock's introduction, he remarks that "one of the characters is a strange, indescribable, four-handed monster." This suggests that the introduction as filmed either was based on a reading of the novel or on a version of the teleplay that included this incident. In the novel, the creature creeps behind a screen in Nora's room; there is a screen in her room in the film, but it plays no role in the proceedings. The scene in Act Three of the film where the doctor tells the nurse that a single shock could cause a relapse seems like it could be setting up a scene with the four-handed creature; instead, Ralph menaces Nora by threatening to smother her with a pillow, suggesting that the fear of suffocation alone could harm her. Removing this element from the story serves to strengthen it, since the concept is ridiculous. The credits say that "The Long Silence" is "based on a short story," but I think it is more accurate to call Composition for Four Hands a novel, or at least a novella; other episodes, such as "Run for Doom," were based on novels of similar length.

"The Long Silence" is a superb hour of television; exciting and suspenseful, it benefits from strong direction, outstanding acting, and a good score by Lyn Murray. Director Robert Douglas makes fine use of shadows in several scenes, especially when Robbie is found hanging in the attic and we see only the shadow of his dangling corpse as it is reflected on the wall. Michael Rennie is utterly convincing as Ralph, portraying a man who never takes responsibility for his evil acts and always seeks to blame others for what he has done. Phyllis Thaxter also turns in a top-notch performance as Nora, conveying great emotion with just small movements of her face and through effective voice-over narration. Finally, there is no need for gunplay--the villain is subdued with fists, in a denouement that is consistent with the book.

James McMullan as George
Robert Douglas (1909-1999), the director, was born Robert Douglas Finlayson in England and had a long career as both an actor and a director. He began acting on stage at age 16 and continued to act and direct in the theater until 1957. He flew with the Royal Navy in WWII and moved to Hollywood in 1957. He worked in movies as both actor and director from 1931 to the late 1960s and he also worked extensively in television, again as both an actor and a director, from the early 1950s to the early 1980s. He acted in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and directed four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Behind the Locked Door" and "The Sign of Satan."

Sharing the writing credit with Charles Beaumont is William Gordon (1918-1991), another Hollywood Renaissance Man. He started out writing for radio in the 1930s, then worked as an actor, writer, director, and announcer on radio and early television. He continued writing for and acting on TV into the 1980s. Gordon both acted in and wrote for Thriller, acted on The Twilight Zone, and directed six episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The score is by Lyn Murray (1909-1989), a prolific composer who started out in radio, then worked in film from the late 1940s through the late 1980s and on TV from the mid-fifties onward. He won an Emmy in 1986, scored Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), and wrote the music for 35 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Connie Gilchrist as Emma
Among the cast, top billing goes to Michael Rennie (1909-1971), who was born Eric Alexander Rennie in England. He started acting late, at age 26, and his first film role was as a stand in for Robert Young in Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936). He became a star after WWII and his best-remembered role is in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). He acted on TV starting in 1956 and appeared on Batman, as well as in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and "The Long Silence."

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who plays Nora, started out on stage, then began acting on screen in 1944. She contracted polio in 1952 and, while she recovered quickly, the experience may have given her some insight into her paralyzed character in "The Long Silence." She was on Thriller and The Twilight Zone, and she was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents six times and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice. At the end of her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978).

The lovely Natalie Trundy (1940- ) plays Nurse Dekker; she was born Marguerite Campana and acted on screen from 1953 to 1978. One of her five husbands was producer Arthur Jacobs, who cast her in the second through fifth Planet of the Apes films. She was also on Thriller and The Twilight Zone. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

In smaller roles:

*Vaughn Taylor (1910-1983) as Dr. Babcock; a busy character actor from 1946 to 1976, he was in Screaming Mimi (1958), Psycho (1960), and countless TV shows, including The Twilight Zone and Thriller; this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Claude Stroud as Ogden
*James McMullan (1936- ) as George Cory; this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show but he was a busy actor on TV from 1962 to 1997 and also appeared in a handful of movies.

*Connie Gilchrist (1901-1985) as Emma; she was a busy character actress on screen from 1940 to 1969; she was in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Home Away from Home."

*Claude Stroud (1907-1985) as Edgar Ogden, who helps bring Nora out of the bank in the first scene; he was on screen from 1933 to 1971 and he appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Last Escape."

*Rees Vaughn (1935-2010) as the unfortunate son, Robbie; he had a brief career, almost exclusively on TV, from 1962 to 1970; he was on the Hitchcock show three times, including "The Big Kick."

The two-part serialization of Composition for Four Hands in Good Housekeeping may be read for free online here and here. "The Long Silence" is not available on US DVD or online.

The FictionMags Index. Web.
Galactic Central. Web.
IMDb. Web.
Lawrence, Hilda. "Composition for Four Hands." Good Housekeeping April 1947. Web.
Lawrence, Hilda. "Composition for Four Hands." Good Housekeeping  May 1947. Web.
Lawrence, Hilda. Composition for Four Hands. NightHawk, 2016. E-book. In Duet of Death, first published in 1949.
Lawrence, Hilda. "Domesticating the Murderer." The Saturday Review of Literature 17 Feb. 1945: 16-18. Web.
"The Long Silence." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. 22 Mar. 1963. Television.
"Robert Douglas, 89, Suave Actor Turned Director." The New York Times 16 Jan. 1999. Web.
Wikipedia. Web.
"William D. Gordon." Web.

Charles Beaumont on Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Charles Beaumont's contributions to the Hitchcock TV series, like those of his friend Richard Matheson, were not extensive. Beaumont adapted "Backward, Turn Backward" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1960 and, while the adaptation was faithful to the story, the episode is not memorable. He then co-adapted Hilda Lawrence's novel, Composition for Four Hands, for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962, and the show is exciting and suspenseful.


Episode title-“Backward, Turn Backward” [5.17]
Broadcast date-31 Jan. 1960
Teleplay by-Charles Beaumont
Based on-"Backward, Turn Backward" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine June 1954
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-“The Long Silence” [8.25]
Broadcast date-22 March 1963
Teleplay by-William Gordon and Charles Beaumont
Based on-Composition for Four Hands by Hilda Lawrence
First print appearance-Good Housekeeping April and May 1947
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-unavailable

In two weeks: Our series on the work of the husband and wife team of Francis and Marian Cockrell begins with "Revenge," starring Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles!

Monday, August 14, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 38: September 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
    38: September 1953

Mad #6

"Teddy and the Pirates!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Melvin of the Apes!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Casey at the Bat!" ★★
Original Poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Ping Pong!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

It's time for high adventure in Hong Kong with "Teddy and the Pirates!" Pat O'Bryan assigns Teddy and his sidekick Half-Shot to find the inside man who has been hijacking their opium shipments. After meeting up with a beautiful blond named Burma Shave and a zoot-suited Asian named Connie, Teddy and Half-Shot end up with the Dragging Lady. They are shanghaied on a pirate ship; Half-Shot is fed to hungry sharks and finally figures out who the inside man is.

"Teddy and the Pirates!"
It's really not possible to summarize a wild humor strip like this and, not being overly familiar with Terry and the Pirates, many of the details go right by me, but Kurtzman is in great form and Wood's art is exceptional. We all know Wally can draw lovely ladies like nobody's business, and this story gives him plenty of chances to show off his skill at depicting the female form.

Sir Whitegreen Greystroke is exploring the jungles of darkest Africa when he comes upon "Melvin of the Apes!" A mole shaped like the family crest proves that Melvin is the long-lost Lord Greystroke, so it's back to London and the bosom of his wealthy family. Melvin creates such a fuss at a fancy dinner held in his honor that several members of the London branch of the family flee to the African jungle to get away from their raucous relative.

"Melvin of the Apes!"
(Guest starring Wally Wood)
John Severin really tries, and I give him points for that, but his stories tend to be the least funny ones in Mad. The sheer lunacy of Melvin's behavior at the dinner in London carries this one along reasonably well, but when Wally Wood sticks a drawing of the Dragging Lady from the prior story in one of the panels, it's clear who really excels at this sort of thing.

The Mudville Nine are losing 4-2 in the 9th inning when a couple of surprise hits with two outs set the table for Casey, but when he strikes out at the end of the game the crowd is disappointed.

Do we really need yet another retelling of "Casey at the Bat"? I like this old baseball poem as much as the next guy, and Davis does a heroic job of trying to take everything literally and make it funny (a runner is really hugging third base, for example), but this seems out of place in Mad.

The panel that made Jose squirt milk from his nose.
("Ping Pong!")
A ship chartered by movie producer Cecil B.V.D. Mill makes its way through the Tropics to the island of the ferocious Ookabolaponga, where they find "Ping Pong!" a giant and terrible ape. They capture him and bring him back to New York City, where no one pays him the slightest attention.

King Kong is my all-time, number one favorite movie, so I automatically love this satire, and Will Elder is the ultimate Mad artist, with more gags per page than anyone else (though Wally Wood is getting close). The story has the usual amount of guys ogling pretty girls, natives speaking with unexpected eloquence, and little signs in the corners of panels, but the ending is a bit of a letdown.--Jack

"Casey at the Bat!"
Melvin Enfantino: I think that a key to finding a lot of these parodies amusing is a knowledge of the victim. F'r instance, I've never read a single installment of "Terry and the Pirates," so "Teddy" only comes off as slightly amusing to me. It's readable because Wally can draw no woman homely and Teddy's side-kick, Half-Shot, has some genuinely funny lines ("I know this dame's type, Teddy! They act business-like on the outside, but underneath it all, they're feminine . . . cringing . . . delicate . . . like any other woman . . . treat 'em rough, I say!"). "Melvin of the Apes!," a sequel to "Melvin!" (from issue #2) is just as scattershot as its predecessor, hoping to wring laughs out of sight gags that really aren't very funny. "Ping Pong!" is about the funniest thing in this issue (it's worth noting that the obligatory native tribe here becomes the Ookabolapongas rather than the usual Ookabolakongas), with its deadly Archaeopteryx Iktheposaurus Razzledazzlebus Pterodactyl Ptooey (actually just a giant pair of pliers!) and its hilarious climax where Pong and the crew arrive in Manhattan and no one gives a stuff. I can vividly remember reading aloud (in character) "Casey at the Bat!" with a Mad-pal of mine in my early teens and thinking it was hilarious. Now I wonder what possessed Harvey to run the poem in the first place. Not a dig at Kurtzman, mind you, just an interest in how the man ticked.

Jose: It’s such a joy (and a relief!) coming to an issue of Mad and seeing the title really starting to form its unique identity, thus ensuring a healthy supply of belly laughs whereas the first issues had only managed to be mildly amusing. Granted, not every story here is a sure-fire classic, but the overall charge and acceptance of the inane that Mad has gradually been acquiring allows for most of the entries to feel one of a piece. “Teddy and the Pirates” allowed me to warm up to the idea of Wally Wood as a humorist; I hope we see more like this and better in the future. I thought “Melvin of the Apes” was, like its predecessor, one of Severin’s funniest outings and a marked improvement over other examples of his solo work. Stuff like Melvin’s rapid departure via car at hearing of the riches that await him crack me up! “Casey at the Bat” is an oddity for sure, never quite finding a good balance between the words that are being parodied and the lampooning images themselves; this one just came across as a rapid series of lukewarm punchlines. “Ping Pong,” on the other hand, is the kind of humor that I live for. From that random aforementioned pair of prehistoric pliers to a terrified sailor swimming away while a shark chews on his head, this thing is just firing on all cylinders in every panel. If the success of a Mad story is gauged by how much it makes you laugh, then “Ping Pong” is surely the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Crime SuspenStories #18

"Fall Guy for Murder" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig

"Juice for the Record!" ★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Frozen Assets!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"From Here to Insanity" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Fall Guy for Murder"
P.I. Gregg Saunders gets a call from Harry Wilson, a man Saunders has a bit of history with. Wilson stole the love of Saunders's life years before and now that love, Edith, is missing; Wilson wants to hire Gregg to find Edith. The private dick doesn't believe Edith packed everything and left; rather, he believes Harry murdered the woman and disposed of her body, so he takes the case. Some detective work unearths the tidbit that Wilson has become a great murder mystery reader, checking books out from the library two or three at a time. The flustered librarian informs Gregg that the final straw was when Wilson "lost" a book titled, Fall Guy for Murder. Saunders can't find a copy of the book so he tricks Wilson into leaving his apartment long enough for the detective to comb through the place. Book in hand, Saunders begins to read and realizes he's been set up; all the events in the book mirror what's been happening in real life: the disappearance of the old flame, the hiring of the P.I., the P.I.'s suspicions, even the trip to the apartment and the reading of the book. In the book's finale, the murderer comes back to his place to kill the P.I. and frame him for the murder of the wife but Saunders is too smart for that so, when he hears the door open, he empties his revolver into the oncoming figure. Unfortunately, that figure is Edith, with Harry Wilson right behind, explaining that he had met someone else and Edith was in the way so he wrote Fall Guy For Murder and let nature take its course. A very clever little noir with some great Johnny Craig art but don't think about it too much or the silliness and the holes will materialize (for example, the entire drama is built upon Wilson's assumption that Saunders will show up when the man he hates the most beckons him). Al and Bill were definitely reading Manhunt and Ellery Queen for inspiration; writers like Frank Kane and Richard Prather were pumping out P.I. fiction starring dicks like Saunders.

"Juice for the Record"
"Pop" Martin is a sweet old man who loves his job as caretaker of the giant generator at the city hospital, but his son, Richie, is a rotten apple who's taken to hanging out with mobsters and robbing banks. Pop tries to put his son back on the straight and narrow but Richie won't have any of that, spitting on his father's low-paying but honest job. One night, Pop tries to break up a fight between his son and a particularly shady goon who thinks Richie's holding out on him. Richie pulls a heater and ventilates the hood but gets one in the back while arguing with his father. Richie is rushed to the hospital and life-saving surgery is begun. Not wanting his son to die in the electric chair, Pop grabs a dictaphone cylinder (look it up on Google, you youngsters out there) and moans out a confession to the murder of the hood. Just then, one of the doctors hurries into the office and informs Pop that the electricity has gone out and they need him to reboot the generator fast--Richie will die on the operating table without power. Pop hands his confession recording to a cop and heads for the generator room. He gets the juice flowing again but it's too late as his son has expired on the table. The cop approaches the old man later and informs him that the recording was blank--the electricity had gone out before Pop had recorded his false confession! A maudlin dud through and through, "Juice for the Record!" resembles some of the product found in the titles published by the lesser funny book companies. Elder's art doesn't help either, giving the proceedings an amateurish look. Pop's story-length "woe is me" speeches are a drain. Yeccch!

"Frozen Assets"
Mort and Helen have murdered Helen's husband and locked him in a freezer for four months . . . but there's a good reason for that. You see, Jasper (the husband) has a really rich aunt who has named Jasper her only beneficiary when she dies, with one proviso: Jasper must outlive his aunt or the dough goes to a "state foundling hospital." With quite a lot of sweet talk, Mort convinces Helen that marrying Jasper is a great idea, and then, after the old bag croaks, they'll put Jasper in the ground and run off with the inheritance. The best-laid plans of mice and Morty, though . . .

After the marriage, Helen and Mort do their darnedest to keep their hands off each other while Helen's new hubby is around but, one night, Jasper surprises the couple while they're making out on his couch and he and Mort tussle. Helen gets some chloroform (which, I take it, was kept around the house for emergencies just such as this) and the couple lock Jasper in a freezer until a later date when he'll be thawed out. Jasper's aunt finally kicks the bucket and the ice-cold corpse is finally laid out for discovery but . . . not so fast. After an autopsy reveals that Jasper had oysters in his stomach, which hadn't been in season since four months before, the cops take the klutzy kouple into custody. I got a kick out of the twist in the tail of "Frozen Assets!" and the couple's choice of murder weapon (Death by Freezer!) is a particularly nasty one. If you've got to give Kamen work, this is the perfect vehicle for his assets: just some standard talking-head panels and character faces that are pretty much interchangeable; no heavy lifting here.

"From Here to Insanity"
A homicidal maniac takes a poor old woman hostage, forcing her to give him shelter while he's on the run from the cops. When the police go door to door and come to the old woman's apartment, the loony orders her not to open the door and tells her what to say. The landlord joins in the conversation and, after a bit, they leave. The murderer, relieved at last, informs the woman he's going to kill her and she asks if she can pray first. At that moment, the police break the door down and cuff the bracelets on the wacko. Smiling, the landlord informs the befuddled criminal that he knew that something was up since Mrs. Greene is stone-deaf. How could she be answering questions through the door? The final panel shows the maniac, now insane, giggling in his padded cell. Crandall’s creepy artwork almost out-Ghastlys Graham Ingels (the nut's eyes are constantly popping from their sockets). As great as the script for "From Here to Insanity" is, Al and Bill had a little . . . um, inspiration . . . from a story called "You Got to Have Luck" by Stanley Ralph Ross, which appeared in the October 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In that story (the author's first), the thug was an escaped con and his victim was a young mother. In the twist climax, the police show up after the woman's mother rings and her daughter answers the phone, telling her she's just fine. The story was later filmed for the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. If it wasn't for the more-than-a-tad plagiarism, I'd salute this story with four stars. Even so, it's the best tale this issue. --Peter

"From Here to Insanity"
Jack: Peter, you may not believe this, but "Juice for the Record!" was my favorite this time out! The story is well-told and has a satisfying payoff, and I'm getting to like Will Elder's proto-comix art more and more as we read through these comics chronologically. "Fall Guy for Murder" is a rare Johnny Craig story that he drew but did not write; I love the private eye theme and the lending library that operates out of a drugstore. No one can draw tension and sweat quite like Craig, but the ending petered out for me. "From Here to Insanity" shows Reed Crandall quickly ascending to the top of my list of favorite EC artists with his depiction of the homicidal maniac but, since I knew the twist ending in advance, the story did not have as much power as it might otherwise have had. That leaves this issue's Kamen Kontribution, an okay story until the dopey twist ending. Oysters are out of season? That's really the surprise ending? Come on!

Jose: “Fall Guy for Murder” is one of the more complexly-plotted EC tales that we’ve seen in a while that resolves itself in a mostly-satisfying manner. All the lead-up to the final twist works like gangbusters, especially the tense moments of Gregg slowly realizing that he’s practically reading his life story ala “The Aliens” (WF 17) and growing increasingly wary of his executioner’s inevitable arrival. But, as Peter mentioned, once you look at everything in retrospect it starts to sound pretty damn funny. Can you imagine Harry’s reaction if his plan had gone to hell? “It took six months to write that freaking book! Four to find an agent… a year before it landed on an editor’s desk…” Talk about patience! “Juice for the Record” puts me in mind of a super-saccharine morality picture from the 50s with its tender-hearted elderly protagonist just wanting to do the right thing in a crazy mixed-up world of hood rats and dope peddlers. It’s like a low-grade, male version of Mildred Pierce, but for all of that it’s relatively harmless and innocent, much like ol’ “Pop” himself. An opportunity was missed at the end of “Frozen Assets” for Mort to meet the news of his oyster-related punishment with a depressed cry of, “Aww, shucks!” You know you would’ve loved that. Speaking of puns, I’m glad Al resisted the urge to spoil the ending of the final story by writing the title out as “From Hear to Insanity.” Reed Crandall continues to please with his lovely and rugose artwork, all of his characters looking like bowls of jello set into motion. The homicidal maniac depicted here is one for the ages, a bug-eyed creep who revels in the pain of his victims in some unsettling flashback sequences that show him panting over screaming faces and still bodies. If my crime stories ain’t freaking me out, then they’re broken!

Tales from the Crypt #37

"Dead Right!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Pleasant Screams!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Strop! You're Killing Me!" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"The Rover Boys!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Carl Winston and Joseph Fairbanks are two old doctors who have been friends since they met in medical school. They like to get together and sip brandy by the fire, but Joseph has a disturbing habit of bringing up his pet theory that human senses may continue to function after death. Poppycock! says Carl, until Joseph poisons him and Carl sees, hears, and feels the entire process of being prepared for burial. His coffin is lowered into the ground and the dirt begins to be shoveled when Joseph reveals that it was all a gag! Too bad Carl had a heart attack and died just before the undertaker came.

Jack discovered a deadline had been missed.
("Dead Right!")
Jack Davis's art is very good in "Dead Right!" and the story is interesting--it's just not that interesting. The idea that a body could still perceive the world around it for a while after death would explain so many of the narrators in these EC stories who describe their own demise and subsequent events; here, it's more scientifically intriguing than dramatic.

High school teacher Felix Purdy struggles through a dark wood and is killed by a werewolf. He then finds himself in a lonely alley, where he is killed by a vampire. A zombie next kills him in a deserted graveyard, then he is executed by guillotine, then buried alive by gnomes. Finally, he realizes that he's in someone else's dream and will disappear when they awaken. And awaken they do--the dreamer is a high school student who harbored particularly gruesome "Pleasant Screams!" about his teacher.

Jack makes sure no more deadlines are missed.
("Pleasant Screams!")
Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, this is a dud from start to finish, despite competent art by Joe Orlando. The parade of deaths by the usual suspects quickly grows tiresome and, in the end, the revelation that it's all the dream of a poor student is tiresome and obvious.

Nothing ever changes in the Lyndale Fire House, where Old Dan Harper and Clem Dunlop have served the small town of 452 souls faithfully for 17 years. But when Clem retires, Mayor Witter hires Frank Miller, a young taskmaster, to be the new fire chief and Dan's boss. Frank immediately sets out to modernize the firehouse and works Dan ragged, trying to get him to retire. Old Dan hangs on as best he can, so when Frank is on duty one night and a call comes in that Dan's house is on fire, Frank takes so long getting there that the house burns down and Dan is killed. After a new fire truck arrives a month later, Frank is again on duty one night when a call comes in that his own house is in flames, He throws on his fire-fighting clothes and slides down the newly-installed descent pole. In the morning, the townsfolk arrive to find Chief Miller sliced all to pieces, since someone (or something) had replaced the descent pole with a steel strip, sharpened to a razor edge.

Bill Elder plays Can You Top This?
("Strop! You're Killing Me!")
There are several stories that appeared in Horror Comics of the 1950s that disturbed me so much that I have not been able to forget them more than 40 years after reading them for the first time. "Strop! You're Killing Me!" is a key example of one of those tales. Like the razor across the eye scene in Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, there's something about the slicing and dicing that really bothers me at a visceral level. The story is a brilliant tale of revenge and the end is a real shocker.

Dr. Sheldon Remson won't take being stripped of his license to practice medicine lying down! Inspired by a vaudeville act with trained seals, he murders the five members of the medical board that sanctioned him and then implants their brains into the craniums of five dogs, thus creating "The Rover Boys!" The dogs are the toast of vaudeville and seem incredibly intelligent for canines. One night, the pups get their revenge, killing Dr. Remson and placing his brain into the noggin of a horse; from then on, the horse that pulls the milk wagon is harried by five very persistent pooches.

Jack makes double dog sure no deadlines will be missed.
("The Rover Boys!")
Why does Ghastly seem to get some of the dumbest scripts from Bill and Al? Your guess is as good as mine, but this one gives him very little to do. As is often the case, his best panel is on the first page, where the Old Witch introduces the story. Healthy dog and horse cartoons don't give him much to work with.--Jack

Peter: I have to give "The Rover Boys" a couple of extra stars for being just about the most ridiculous thing I've read in a long, long time. I'm hoping Al was kicking back a few pints when he dreamed this one up but, for heaven's sake, let's see the full eight-page version that was censored, the one showing the dogs doing brain surgery on a horse. I'd buy that for a dollar! Did we really need the prologue that's also the epilogue? "Dead Right!" has a twist built on a ridiculous amount of extremes. Surely, Joseph knew that Carl had a bad heart, so why would he play such an elaborate joke on the man if it was all in fun? "Pleasant Screams!" has a great O. Henry twist but is saddled with some of the worst Joe Orlando art we've seen yet (and that trend will continue into Shock SuspenStories, below); I'm not sure why Orlando hit such a wall at this time as his earlier work was outstanding and the stuff he contributed to DC a decade later stood with the other superstars DC had in their bullpen at the time. "Strop, You're Killing Me!" is remarkable for two reasons: the bad guy turns out to be Chief Miller instead of old Dan Harper, the obvious heavy since he's being wronged. The other stand-out element of this one is the over-the-top final panel, resplendent with reds and cut meat and bone. Bill Elder was an odd choice to draw this strip (it's more of a natural for Davis); you almost expect to see little banners on the firehouse wall reading "Your mother wears army boots" or something along those lines. With Elder at the helm, you can almost substitute Archie and Jughead for Chief Miller and Old Dan.

Jose: “Dead Right” is yet another story that plays that old “Breakdown” song by putting us in the headspace of a protagonist who is “mistaken” for a corpse, but the thing that surprisingly kept my attention for the duration was Jack Davis’ art. Whereas before Davis seemed to wilt a bit in the horror mode when compared to his war stories, he really looks like he’s coming into his own here with “Dead Right,” adding more detailed linework and upping his facial expression game considerably. “Pleasant Screams,” on the other hand, has neither art nor story to recommend. Fittingly, it plays very much like what we eventually find out it is: the demented, monotonous murder-fantasies of an idle-brained student. Sadly, that means that the yarn becomes a slog to read through early on. If I have to read one more line about “needle fangs rending flesh…” etc. etc. “Strop! You’re Killing Me!” is the biggest surprise and winner this time around. After reading this, I wish that Elder had been given more horror stories. Sitting comfortably right between the barely-restrained zaniness of Jack Davis and the wholesome apple pie aesthetics of Jack Kamen, Elder’s illustrations take you gently by the hand and guide you smoothly across pages populated with those charming little doll-like people of his before whacking you upside the head with that final tenderloin shot. Zow-ee! More of that, please! Like Peter said, “The Rover Boys” cut out at the exact moment that would’ve made this story worth all that dreary buildup. All we get is a pack of mad hounds and one of them menacingly gripping a hypodermic in its jaws? Yer killin’ me, EC!

Shock SuspenStories #10

"The Sacrifice" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

". . . so shall ye reap!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Home Run!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Sweetie-Pie" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

The whole mess gets started when insurance salesman James Reed hits up his old chum John Fielding to offer a hot deal on a policy only for him to fall head over heels for hot dish Mrs. Fielding. Gloria definitely reciprocates the feeling, going so far as to tell James to come on back now, ya hear? Thus begins their steamy affair, and it isn’t long before Gloria is whispering sweet something-somethings in James’ ear about offing John. (Murder? P-p-perish the thought!) But James’ objections last as long as it takes for him to look at Gloria again, and then we’re off to the races and John is off to the pavement when James gives him the heave-ho over the balcony. Enter Paul Nichols, the friendly neighborhood pervert who spied the homicide from across the way and who now plans on using his knowledge to blackmail Gloria into becoming his sex slave marrying him while James blubbers away on the bench. Crushed at seeing his beloved degraded on a daily basis, James pens a confession taking all the blame for the plot, sends it off to the cops, and then chugs some poison. Gloria is delighted by the news; as James lies dying, she phones her lover Paul to tell him that their plan has gone off without a hitch.

Get this guy a lollipop!
("The Sacrifice")
Sure, you can see James M. Cain’s fingerprints all over “The Sacrifice,” but Al manages to pen a sordid little shocker that matches up quite nicely with Kamen’s sensibilities. Once Paul enters the scene he cuts through the staid “lovers kill the husband” mechanics like a hot knife through butter and kicks the narrative into gear with his not-so-subtle allusions to just what he plans on doing once him and Gloria tie the knot. Not quite Snidely Whiplash, but Kamen seems to be enjoying the chance to draw a character so vulgar and oily for a change. James, on the other hand, is one of the most thin-blooded protagonists we’ve seen yet; the panel of him self-admittedly crying in Gloria’s arms like a kid running to his mama is like a parody of the typical nicey-nice fellas Kamen has traded in in the past. Thankfully there’s a lot of seediness and anguish that follows that up before the perfect capper of Gloria’s dimpled, cheery face brings it all to a close.

Somewhere, a middle-aged husband and wife sit together in their home while, somewhere else, their adult son sits in the dark, thinking. All three of them are reflecting on the past, specifically the events that lead to the son’s current, sorry state. The parents are confused: didn’t they treat him well with the utmost respect and instill the best of morals in him? The son is angry: didn’t they see how hypocritical they were in their life lessons, how obliviously cold they were when he needed them most? The parents accuse him of tramping around with his girlfriend when they spy lipstick on his collar, but the son knows that it was only from when she fell asleep on his shoulder; they criticize him for bullying a smaller kid before turning around and boasting of their victories over their lessers. And so the pendulum swings back and forth until finally the son’s (legitimized?) offenses escalate to the full-blown crime of gunning down a woman for her purse. Even as the son writhes in the electric chair, the parents are filled with indignant rage at what he has done to them while the son, in his final conscious moments, finally confesses to himself that maybe everything happened just because he wasn’t a good person.

Say what you will about the ping-pong effect that “…so shall ye reap!” may have on your eyeballs, this is undeniably one of the more powerful “preachies” that have come from Feldstein’s pen. The thing of it is, though, one pauses to give it that name as there really isn’t any cause or message that’s being broadcast here, at least not at the volume that previous examples like “The Patriots” or “Hate” have had. What allows “…so shall ye reap!” to become so haunting in the final analysis is that the accusatory finger that Al normally has prepared by the opening splash still hasn’t settled on either party by the end of “…so shall…” We’ve seen both parents and son perform incredible acts of kindness as well as incredible acts of selfishness. But the brilliancy here lies in the fact that *all* of these events are filtered through personal memory, that most fickle of narrators, so that even in a tale that is ostensibly third-person we have no way of telling for sure just how accurate any of this is. All that we can objectively know is that two parents sat in their living room crying while their son was executed in prison, and that they blamed all their misfortunes on him while the son came to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, he really was a rotten bastard the entire time. And if you’re asking me, that lets you know right there which one of them was probably telling a story closer to the truth.

The blob, five pages too late.
("Home Run")
Doctor Muller wants nothing more than to transfer out of operating the atomic pile and attempt to take  a crack at developing a rocket capable of shooting man out of Earth’s orbit and to the moon—and beyond. At first army brass laugh off his requests as fantasies, but when the doctor insists they relent and let the old greybeard have his fun. Color them much surprised when Muller turns around and delivers on his promises, and soon he’s rounding up a team of space explorers to man the first-ever trip to that angry red planet, Mars. But on the way into Mars’ orbit, Muller lets loose with a bombshell: he is in fact a castaway Martian inhabiting the body of Dr. Muller who has used his disguise and advanced alien intellect to construct the only means of returning to his home base. Pulling a gun on the crew, he promises the men a quick and fairly painless absorption by his fellow amoebas upon touch-down. The crew get the upper hand and Muller is shot in the scuffle, but the victory proves short-lived as the horrified men watch the corpse revert to the Martian’s protoplasmic body and hear the dreadful, sucking advance of his pals up the ship’s ramp.

Writing out the synopsis of “Home Run” like so actually makes it sound like it might be worth a damn, but sadly this is not the case in reality. After the engrossing and heartstring-tugging “…so shall ye reap!” this SF tale sinks the issue like a lead weight, nearly begging the reader to close their eyes and give in to sleep after seemingly endless panels of Muller and his disbelieving military supervisors going about the terribly exciting business of proposing space travel, testing rockets, talking about how determined and amazed they are and oh no zzzzzzz… The last-minute revelation that this has all been an insidious plot by an evil blob to suck its way through mankind just barely salvages this one, but I would’ve definitely preferred it had “Home Run” just introduced that thread on Page 2.

Can we keep it?!
Something is causing multiple car crashes to occur at night along lonely highways—and something else seems to be snatching the bodies of the victims from the scene—and by gum Phil the reporter is going to find out what and what! But the cars keep stacking up and the corpses keep slipping out no matter how hard the police search for them… until a handful of cadavers begin turning up of their own accord. Autopsies reveal that the bodies have been entirely drained of blood, and the presence of two telltale marks in the throat has Phil shouting “vampire!” and everyone else shouting “can it!” Phil’s fiancé Sally pulls him away from his Nosferatu obsession just long enough for them to get married and drive off for their honeymoon, but a pair of brilliant lights send the happy couple ass over teakettle down a hill. Phil, completely paralyzed from the neck down, can only watch in dread as a dark, menacing figure collects him and his wife and transport them to a makeshift morgue. There the odious gentleman pleasantly explains to Phil his love of sweet things and how his late-night snack runs have rustled up the occasional rotten morsel; thus the random cadavers that have turned up. As the gentleman prepares Phil and Sally for blood draining, the case becomes quite clear: this man is no vampire, but a ghoul!

“Sweetie-Pie” manages to build up genuine intrigue as we try to suss out the riddle of the disappearing/reappearing bodies, and the introduction of the grinning fiend in the climax and his matter-of-fact manner of talking to his food is authentically chilling, but all of this loses some of its—ahem—bite when we discover that we were being set up for the old “monster switcheroo” trick that EC so adored. Still, it feels good being in the hands of Reed Crandall, whose jittery George Evans act produces some striking compositions. --Jose

Peter: Poor Gloria (of "The Sacrifice") is stuck in a world where all her paramours look alike. What's a bad girl to do? "Home Run!" is ruined by pretty poor purple prose and one of Joe Orlando's lesser art jobs. "Sweetie-Pie" has some great Crandall work but suffers from a script torn from the pages of Spicy Terror Tales ("I'm not a vampire! I'm a ghoul!"). ". . . so shall ye reap!" rises majestically over its three mediocre compadres this issue. The "He Said . . . They Said" format actually acts as the great divide; we have no idea which side is closest to the truth and Al seems very happy keeping it that way. The climax still packs a wallop and I can't even begin to guess how it went over 64 years ago. Not being a wealthy man myself, I'm reading these EC funny books courtesy of the reprints Russ Cochran published in the 1990s. Not only did Cochran do us a service by sharing these classics with us but he also would, from time to time, take us behind the scenes of EC. Such is the case with the letters page for Shock SuspenStories #10 (December 1994), wherein Russ reprints before-and-after panels from   ". . . so shall ye reap!" Evidently suspecting that the panel reprinted below would cause trouble, EC self-censored the art before it was published.

(". . . so shall ye reap!")

The panel that was published.
(". . . so shall ye reap!")

Jack: I thought ". . . so shall ye reap!" was a chore to read and a waste of good art. Who wants to read this sermon? On balance, I sided with the parents. As I began to read "The Sacrifice," I thought the writing style was a joke, since it sounded more like a Love Story pulp than an EC comic, but if there was a joke in there I must have missed it. The tale is yet another variation on James M. Cain's Postman with no surprises. "Home Run!" is boring and overly talky, but I did like the panel where the Martian blob eats the scientist. That leaves "Sweetie-Pie," which I loved from start to finish. A great mix of crime and horror with a worthy twist, it features more superb art by Crandall.

The Vault of Horror #32

"Whirlpool" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Out of His Head!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"An Ample Sample" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and William Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Funereal Disease!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Taking a hot dip in the "Whirlpool!"
Why are three strange and ugly creatures trying to kill a poor, distraught young woman? Why is she subjected to tortures such as the rack, long needles, scalding baths, and freezing ice, with the pièce de résistance being the electric chair? Well, actually she's not. This poor woman is caught in a "Whirlpool" of madness within her own mind. When she awakens and a kind man leads her down a hallway, three doctors (the three monsters from the intro) explain each phenomenon to the distraught young lady: the long needles (simply a sedative), the scalding bath and ice (shock treatment!), and the electric chair (electro-therapy). You guessed it; our heroine is an inmate at an asylum and, as the three doctors transform back into monsters in the woman's mind, we learn that this madness will continue. "Whirlpool" is akin to a 8-page funny book version of the Hitchcock/Dali dream sequence from Spellbound; it works for what it is but it won't make anyone's Best of the Year list. Johnny Craig is vague as to this woman's circumstances (we're never even told her name) and, in this case, that might be a good thing. There's a risqué, almost S&M vibe to some of the "tortures" the protagonist is put through--dress unbuttoned, cleavage exposed, the poor maiden is grabbed by the hair and stretched out on a rack a la the Spicy pulps.


He thinks he's so cleaver.
("Out of His Head!")
Out in the woods, Alex buries a meat cleaver in the skull of his law partner, Stanley, but the man refuses to stay down. Though he flees the scene and heads back to his lush apartment, Alex can't get rid of the walking corpse. Everywhere he turns, there's Stanley with that ridiculous cleaver halfway through his skull! Alex finally gets the bright idea that if he can't see Stanley, Stanley won't be there, so he takes an ice pick to his own eyes. Waking up in the hospital after an eye operation, the first thing the murderer sees is a bright, shiny object embedded in a skull. Knowing he can never escape Stanley, he throws himself out the hospital window. The doctor, with his head-reflector atop his noggin, mutters that Alex must have been "Out of His Head!" Like Johnny Craig with "Whirlpool," Al sidesteps motive and history (other than to have Alex exclaim that "everything is mine now!") and, while he's at it, an involving story. This is a two-pager strrrrrrretched to seven.

Irwin braves a steady downpour to return a hammer and saw to neighbor, Bert, and asks Bert to come over to his place to see what he's built. Bert tells him that as soon as the rain stops he'll be more than happy to see his neighbor's new project and invites Irwin to wait out the storm. Irwin begins crying and Bert pulls the story out of him. Years before, Irwin and his wife, Hannah, were happy as could be but then Hannah developed a sweet tooth and would spend every dime of Irwin's meager pay on fancy chocolates (as a substitute for what Irwin "as her husband, couldn't satisfy"). Gaining an enormous amount of weight, Hannah eats the couple right into the poor house but the final straw is when the behemoth finds the money that Irwin has been saving up for a new set of duds (he hasn't bought any new clothes in years!). "I murdered her, Bert!," the distraught man confesses and begs his friend to follow him back to the house. When they get there, Bert sees exactly what Irwin has been up to with the borrowed tools: a giant candy box filled with "An Ample Sample" of Hannah! Milking that "Foul Play"/" 'Taint the Meat . . ." climax yet again, Al proves that what he needed most in 1953 was a little time off and maybe another writer on these horror stories. Hannah's transformation from lovely (and thin) girl to selfish (and obese) shrew seems to be pulled out of whole cloth, with the throw-away rationale being that Irwin can't give his wife that extra something in bed, so she turns to the cocoa bean for comfort. I love George Evans but there's not much room for the artist to flex his muscles, with just a couple of loony panels (Irwin's bug eyes as he shows Bert the new toy and the reveal panel itself).

Ya never know what ya gonna get.
("An Ample Sample!")

"Funereal Disease!"
Gardener Jasper Milliken has been working on the Fairchild Estate for decades and now, nearing the end of his life, he's saved up just about enough for a nice funeral. Since a proper burial was denied his mother and father (they got the potter's field), it's been Jasper's life goal to have a nice send-off. His boss, Niles Fairchild, on the other hand, hasn't got the proverbial pot to piss in and discovers Jasper counting his pile of greenbacks one night. Knowing that the money could get his life back in order, Niles enlists his business partner, Tom, to help murder Jasper. Deed done and Jasper buried in the same potter's field as Mom and Pop, Niles re-establishes himself in the world of profit and success. The partners have a celebratory drink and Tom heads for home. Soon after, the rotting corpse of Jasper Milliken makes a call on Niles and beats him to death. The authorities arrest Tom for murder so he can't make Niles's funeral but that's okay, neither can Niles. Jasper's dumped his body in the potter's field and taken Niles's place in the sumptuous coffin. With a few variations, we've seen this one before. I thought it interesting that Niles involved Tom in the murder but the rising of Jasper is almost, note for note, the resurrection of Arthur Grimsdyke in "Poetic Justice." Is the title a take-off of "venereal disease?" If so, it's another example of Al pushing that envelope. All in all, a very average issue of The Vault of Horror.

Rich man, poor corpse.
("Funereal Disease!")

The cover was self-censored post-production (but before the issue was published) in a ludicrous fashion. Are we to take that the corpse at the door has just been crapped on by an enormous seagull? No, nothing that sinister. Fearing that they'd take hell for the violence on the cover as well as between the covers, Bill and Al had the original cover (shown below) tinkered with. Not that the tamer version kept Wertham off their backs.--Peter

Original cover for Vault #32,
pre-censoring, from a house ad.
Jack: Peter, did we read the same comic book? I think this may be the best horror comic I've ever read, with no story getting less than three stars. Craig's cover is astonishing in its violence and makes me want to write to my congressman. "Whirlpool" is another classic that I remember from the big book and my young friends and I used to chant its refrain of "Who are you? What's your name?" to each other. Craig and co. make great use of words, pictures, colors, and lettering to tell a gripping and horrible story, and the final transformation of the three doctors into three floating heads of horror is truly terrifying. The circle is closed and we return at the end to where we were at the beginning.

Jack Davis also does fine work in "Out of His Head!" though his drawing of the head with the cleaver stuck in it is not as brilliant as Johnny Craig's version on the cover. Still, the image is a shocking one and it is repeated over and over until we readers can almost sympathize with the monstrous choice to put out one's eyes with an ice pick! EC is going farther and farther with the gore here and it will soon be the end of them. "An Ample Sample" has a great buildup and a socko ending and, while it does recall the earlier stories Peter mentions, this kind of creativity never gets old.

Finally, "Funereal Disease!" finds Ghastly in top form doing what he does best--drawing a shambling corpse exacting its revenge. I'll say it again: from cover to cover, perhaps the best horror comic I've ever read.

Jose: While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that VOH 32 is one of the best horror comics I’ve ever read, I will say that I lean more closely to Jack’s estimation of this issue than Peter’s. “Whirlpool” has a bit of a lag to its pacing, but it’s a worthy experiment in terror and form that’s a pleasure to drink in with your eyes. The frequent comparisons Jack has made between Johnny Craig and Will Eisner feel especially warranted by this story, as we see Johnny constantly toying with the limitations and the opportunities of the comic book medium to add to the mood of his story. (Take for instance the canny utilization of the shrinking room to create a series of four diminishing panels against the dark backdrop.) “Out of His Head” was a tale that I had a lot of fondness for back in my salad days, and though like “Fare Tonight…” from TFTC 36 my adoration of it might have cooled just a bit it still remains a fun read that showcases Jack Davis’ ever-increasing prowess at depicting more convincing anatomy and great facial expressions. I see what Peter means about this one feeling stretched, but if you ask me—and you are, aren’t you?—“Out of His Head” is just about the perfect length for a dramatized adaptation. I remember thinking “An Ample Sample” was a lazy retread on my first exposure to it, but my growing affection for George Evans’ art and keener critical eye (ha!) have allowed me to appreciate this one much more on its own terms. A simple yarn that falls back on the old “what-can-we-do-with-the-body-parts-this-time?” shtick, perhaps, but under Evans’ unerring pen it strikes truly unsettling chords, particularly in that final, grimmer-than-I-first-realized panel. “Funereal Disease” is another serviceable story that benefits from Feldstein’s and Ingels’ charming portrayal of poor, old Milliken. The gardener doesn’t elicit the sympathy of an Arthur Grimsdyke, but we get just enough of his personal history and motivation that we can’t help but root on that hobbling, sour-looking cadaver when it comes back to literally kick the crap out of his tormentor and then pull the bastard’s funeral ceremony right out from under him. (P.S. I could never put a finger on just what pun was at work in this title, but now that Peter has pointed out that one salacious possibility I'm kind of in shock.)

Next Issue
War may be Hell but . . .
Heath is Heaven!