Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bullet Gal: A New Novel by Andrez Bergen

A new novel by Andrez Bergen has just been published. Titled Bullet Gal, it is a narrative reimagining of Bergen's 12-issue comic book series of the same name that came out in 2015. Roundfire Books describes the novel this way:

Teenage gunsel-cum-aspiring-hero Mitzi (last name unknown) breezes into Heropa with twin 9 mm pistols blazing - only to be targeted for recruitment, betrayal and assassination. French femmes fatale, an out-of-touch super-powered elite, and one hell of an underlying mystery, figure heavily in this fusion neo-noir, science-fiction dystopia. Interweaving the scrappy one-liners is a story much more than the sum of its parts, concerning questions about grand creative process.

I reviewed the comics for barebones last year:

Bergen is onto something new here, yet it's something old at the same time. This novel is a prequel of sorts to his 2013 novel, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, but... another influence that goes unmentioned is T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, in that Bergen is taking scraps of popular culture from decades past and juxtaposing them to help tell a story. The story concerns a young woman who becomes a noir-like hero in the city of Heropa. I won't give anything away, yet Bergen is definitely inventive and the book looks great. You don't need to have read any other Bergen books to enjoy Bullet Gal, but if you pick it up you many want to find out more about the worlds Bergen has been developing. My favorite book of his so far was One Hundred Years of Vicissitude (2012), followed by Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011). He also does other comics from his home in Tokyo, though with the flavor of his native land of Australia. Give Bullet Gal a try. It's not like much else you'll see these days! 

For more information on the novel, visit the Roundfire Books website here. The paperback is listed at $15.95 and the e-book costs $6.99, though Amazon lists it at $5.38 as of this writing.

--Jack Seabrook

Monday, November 28, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 20: March 1952




Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!


The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
20: March 1952


Feldstein
 Shock SuspenStories #1

"The Neat Job!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Yellow!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"The Monsters!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Rug!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Eleanor married Arthur three years ago even though she didn't like him all that much; she was afraid of being an old maid. He bought a big old house for them and she soon discovered that he had a mania for keeping things organized. After years of being emotionally abused by her nut of a husband, things boiled over one day when a picture fell off the wall and she tried to find a nail to hang it back up. She made a mess of his precious workshop and he really let her have it when he got home. Eleanor learned all too well how to do "The Neat Job!" and killed Arthur with an axe. When the cops arrived, they found that she had chopped him up into bits and organized the pieces in neatly-labeled jars on the workroom shelves.

"The Neat Job!"

The first issue of Shock SuspenStories is off to a bang-up start with a surprisingly good story from Feldstein, Gaines and Kamen. The setup is perfect and, while the pages of Arthur insisting that everything be organized may go on a little too long, the payoff and final panel are worth the buildup.

Colonel Henderson is in a fix--the Germans are surrounding his position and they have cut the phone lines. When a report comes in that his son, Lt. Henderson, is thought to be "Yellow!" by his men, the colonel orders that his son lead the mission to repair the lines. The mission fails and his son comes running back, but a survivor reports that he deserted his men under fire. A court martial is held and father sentences son to death by firing squad. Visiting his son in his cell, Pops tells him that all of the firing squad rifles will be loaded with blanks, so sonny boy just has to pretend he's dead and he'll be left behind. When he's brought before the firing squad, the son seems brave, but when he is shot to death his father comments that he had a feeling his son would meet his end bravely.

Two in a row! We already knew that Jack Davis could deliver fantastic art in war stories, but this is the first outstanding battle tale we've seen written by someone other than Kurtzman. Feldstein and Gaines deliver an exciting tale with a tough ending.

The first spaceship to land from outer space attracts a carload of scientists, but as soon as the Earthmen arrive the aliens announce that they're leaving. When the scientists ask why, the aliens tell a story of horribly deformed mutants being born after exposure to radiation. They take off for outer space and leave two of the mutants behind--surprise--they're human beings!

A swing and a miss! Al and Bill bore us with the oldest sci-fi cliche in the book and Joe Orlando's art continues to puzzle me. After his first few EC stories were so impressive, more recent ones have shown him struggling. If this issue is a microcosm of the EC line as a whole, it's not surprising that the weakest of the first three stories is the science fiction one, since the two science fiction comics are consistently the weakest of the line.

"The Monsters!"
Wealthy socialite sportsman Conrad Cartwright brings his reluctant friend Reggie on a hunting trip and promises to shoot and kill a grizzly bear to give Reggie a bearskin rug. Reggie thinks the whole thing is disgusting. Conrad succeeds in killing and skinning a huge bear, but Reggie wants no part of "The Rug!" That night, Conrad hears what sounds like a grizzly outside. He goes out to explore and is confronted by a massive bear wielding a hunting knife. One thing leads to another, and soon Reggie is shocked to discover a new rug in front of the fireplace--the skinned corpse of Conrad!

Ghastly does his best with a ludicrous script and, though the payoff is obvious from early on, the sight of the human skin rug provides a memorable final panel. But how did the grizzly skin Conrad and display the rug in the cabin in the few moments between Conrad's scream and Reggie's rush down the stairs? That's one efficient bear.--Jack

Peter: I bought a few of the East Coast Comix reprints back in the early 1970s but their cover price (a whopping one dollar when mainstream funny books cost two dimes) precluded my collecting a full run of the series at the time. And I'm not sure I would have been interested in anything but what the Crypt-Keeper and his two cohorts were dishing out anyway. So my first exposure to Shock SuspenStories was when I stumbled over Russ Cochran's slipcased box set in 1981. Despite the steep price, I handed over the bills, took the gargantua home and devoured it. This led to my subscribing to the entire Cochran EC Library and becoming a second- (or third-) generation EC FanAddict. Though I love the horror and science fiction books, Shock, to me at least, is the pinnacle of EC, the most consistently excellent title. An experiment, really, on the part of Al and Bill, to create a variety title combining themes that would normally be found in one of the crime, sf, horror, or war titles. The genre carousel would be tinkered with over the next few issues ("Yellow!" will be the only war story to appear in Shock) and then jettisoned down the line.

This month's issue of Better Homes and Gardens.
("The Rug!")

"The Neat Job" would seem an odd choice for a big screen EC comic adaptation since it lacks excitement or anything resembling a shock until its final moments but Milt Subotsky does an admirable job capturing the gist of the story for Vault of Horror. Terry-Thomas portrays the stuffy and overbearing Arthur and Glynis Johns the frazzled Eleanor. The screenplay remains faithful right up to and including the big reveal (the only major departure is that Eleanor uses a hammer rather than a hatchet) and the scene where Arthur berates Eleanor for invading his work space seems torn right from the page ("Can't you do anything neat? Can't you? Can't you?"). The cops in the funny book seem a tad too restrained to me but one of them delivers what might be the first of the classic "Choke..." sign-offs. Both "The Monsters!" and "The Rug!" are silly exercises in themes that have been covered already. "The Rug," in particular, stretches the reader's patience with Reggie's seesaw emotions about hunting and the reader's guffaw mechanism with that final image of the skinned Conrad still in his hunter's clothes.The clear winner in the premiere is "Yellow," a story so infused with the horrors of war, the reader can be excused for assuming it's yet another Kurtzman masterpiece, rather than a rare foray into the war zone by Al. The story made for one of the better adaptations aired on HBO's Tales from the Crypt in its 4th season. Perhaps it's the comparative lack of sex and gore found in most of the other episodes or the presence of Kirk Douglas as the Colonel that made this one a cut above the rest. Though, as I've stated, Shock is my favorite title, the debut is anything but a stunner. It's going to take a couple issues to get cooking but when it does...

Jose: As the lead story, “The Neat Job!” inadvertently sets the standard for what Shock SuspenStories would become over time, as it would primarily adhere more closely to the treacherous and murderous activity of its “sister” title, Crime SuspenStories, rather than the speculative trappings of the science fiction or horror series, although SSS would retain the Old Witch to fill the final slot with gruesome helpings from her cauldron. It’s an effective tale that uses Bill Gaines’s own notorious OCD habits as its springboard to shape its retributive justice finale. I admit to actually preferring the filmed version to the original comic. Thomas and Johns are perfect in their roles, and the black humor rides high all the way through, including a “brief” bit where Thomas ends up slipping on his wife’s bloomers after she mistakenly places them in his undergarment drawer after doing the laundry! “Yellow!” also had a stellar transfer, this time to the small screen for the HBO series. Both of the Douglases, Kirk and son Eric, give solid turns and Lance Henriksen, as a grizzled commanding officer, is wild fun. The less said about “The Monsters!,” the better. And while the series’s first horror offering, “The Rug!,” might be fairly derided for a hilarious climax that recalls the similar coda of “Gone… Fishing” (VOH 22), it’s all worth it for that image of the towering bear gripping the hunting knife before it goes to town on Conrad’s butt.

John: Is it just me, or does this first issue appear to be assembled from stories cobbled together from existing E.C. titles? On the bright side, "The Neat Job!" is a nice way to kick off the issue with an unhappy housewife doing in her husband in a way that would make him proud. And while "Yellow!" might be more appropriate in one of the war titles, it's one of the better examples thanks to a great story and Jack Davis's art. "The Monsters!" is a lesser effort than we regularly see in the SF titles, and "The Rug!" is one of those tales that only becomes interesting in the final panel.


Feldstein
 Tales from the Crypt #28

"Bargain in Death!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Ants in Her Trance!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"A-Corny Story" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Ventriloquist's Dummy!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

For some reason, it's 1928, and medical students Sid and Mel decide that they'll need to dig up a fresh corpse to continue their studies. Across town, Alex convinces George to take a drug that will mimic death so he can be buried and they can split his life insurance proceeds. The simulation of death is carried out and George is quickly buried. Sid and Mel see the death notice in the paper and plan to dig him up. Alex collects $40K from the country's speediest insurance adjuster and buys a car to hightail it out of town. Now, bear with me here. George is buried alive and suffocating, waiting for Alex to come dig him up. Sid and Mel hire an idiot handyman for five bucks to dig up the corpse. When he does so and opens the coffin, out springs George, very much alive. Sid and Mel run away and across the street, right in front of Alex's speeding car, causing a fatal crash. When the students get back to their dorm, they find that the handyman has provided the corpse he promised by braining George with a crowbar and now he wants his five bucks.

Featuring Peter Enfantino as the handyman.
("Bargain in Death")
I don't know if Johnny Craig had a hand in inking Jack Davis on "Bargain in Death!" but some of the panels are much smoother than we've grown used to from Mr. Davis. Feldstein's story is heading in an obvious direction from page two but the ride is a lot of fun and the ending is a wee bit unexpected.

Famous hypnotist Leopold Monetti likes to perform at parties. His best trick is to put his wife Evette under and command her to stop her heart. He brings her out of it with the phrase, "snap out of it!" Leopold meets Selma Appleton at one of these parties and they begin an affair; she soon talks him into killing Evette by putting her under and using the wrong phrase to try to bring her back. Evette is dead and Leopold insists that Selma wait a year before they can marry. On the anniversary of Evette's death, Leopold takes Selma to his late wife's grave to pay their respects. Selma goes nuts with guilt and Leopold yells at her to "snap out of it"--uh oh! Evette's rotting corpse hears the magic words and emerges from her grave to scare the happy couple to death.

How to convince a man to commit murder!
("Ants in Her Trance")
Despite an awful title, "Ants in Her Trance!" has much better art from Joe Orlando than we saw in this month's Shock SuspenStories and Feldstein's story is a hoot. I may be a dope, but I did not see the end coming in advance.

Arnold Everette is a successful businessman who fires his long time employee Carlo Pietro for being too old. Pietro returns to his home in Haiti and mails Arnold a withered tree, which Arnold plants outside his window. Arnold begins to grow younger and more vigorous and the tree also shows signs of renewal. Unfortunately, the reversion does not stop for either Arnold or the tree; the tree ends up an acorn and Arnold passes through adolescence, childhood and infancy to end up a gleam of sunlight.

"A-Corny Story" indeed! The moral is that one should never fire an employee who comes from Haiti.

Larry Douglas is the entertainment director at a resort hotel. He tracks down Charles Jerome, a famous ventriloquist who hasn't worked in ten years, and offers him a job performing. Larry recalls how Charles's career had ended after a dancer had been found killed. Now, Charles agrees to come out of retirement and his act is a hit all over again. That night, a woman is killed near the resort, and Larry tracks Charles down, only to find that "The Ventriloquist's Dummy!" was really a hollow body and the head was a grotesque creature that had grown in place of Charles's hand. Charles cuts off the head/hand and is killed by the sharp-toothed severed head.

You really can't un-see this once you've seen it.
("The Ventriloquist's Dummy")

I knew it was going to come eventually, but this story is the first one in our trip through the EC comics that crossed the line from "fun" to "disgusting." I have a feeling it won't be the last. I seem to recall reading that Ingels had a real problem with some of the stories he was assigned to draw, and ones like this make me see why. --Jack

Jose Cruz on a pleasant Saturday.
("A-Corny Story")
Peter: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy!" has some nice art but suffers from an overlong expository; "Ants in Her Trance" is a tad bit obvious ("Snap out of it!" screamed right over Evette's grave) though it's got a very risqué (for 1950s) bit of fun when Selma nibbles on Leopold's ear; and the hook of "A-Corny Story" was already done before (and I'm sure one of my younger colleagues will name that story) but much better. That leaves the lead-off, "A Bargain in Death," which shows just how much insurance companies have changed in the last sixty years: Alex is paid the full 40K in benefits on the day of the funeral! "Bargain" was very faithfully filmed for The Vault of Horror, starring Michael Craig as George (here rechristened Maitland) and Edward Judd as the conniving Alex.

Jose: This issue seems to be one of several significant firsts, at least to my eyes. With lucky number 28, it feels like all of the artists on hand are really beginning not only to nail down their aesthetics but also show a marked level of polish and sophistication. You could essentially go down the line and say that “Story X” is a classic example of “Artist Y,” a work that could be offered up as a fair representative of all the illustrator’s other pieces for the company. “Bargain in Death!” has the deranged energy and kooky humor that Davis would trade in for many of his opening slots in future issues of Tales from the Crypt, his new nasty niche. “Ants in Her Trance!” finds Orlando transitioning from early scenes of romantic glamour (including some frank sexuality that involves not only that kinky ear-nibbling but a shot of our lovers smoothing out their clothes in an obviously post-coital moment) to melty climaxes overrunning with goopy grue, a trademark particular to his horror stories. “A-Corny Story!” might be just that and feature the fittingly bloodless premise that Kamen was always handed from Feldstein—that other age regression story from the artist that Peter alludes to would be the extra-Freudian “Second Childhood” all the way back in Weird Fantasy #16—but here Kamen’s art looks to be taking on a level of dimension, briskness, and vitality not formerly seen in his static images. My compatriots are correct in noting the extra-dark flavor of “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!,” a conte cruel that aims to be cruel just for the halibut, but its seedy and visceral power can’t be denied, and it’s impressive all the more that that power can still be felt considering how free of physical violence it really is. This is not the in-your-face stuff of snuff that EC would later dabble in—see the header image of this series nabbed from “Foul Play” for an example—but a carefully composed piece by Ingels that leaves most of its nastiest bits (the “rat-gnawed” victims, the severing of the ventriloquist’s hand) strictly to the shadows. Ingels seems to have intuited that showing that horrible, cancerous, fanged face would be enough for the reader to fill in the rest of the gaps. Boy, was he right.

John: "Bargain in Death!" is a bit of a fun twist; one part insurance scam, one part grave-robbing for fun and profit. Not that we haven't seen them before, but it was an interesting amalgam of the two concepts. No ants in "Ants in Her Trance!"? Sacrilege! Fortunately, the story is fun despite the title. I would have preferred someone other than Orlando handling the art—his shambling corpse leaves something to be desired—but it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the story. We get another bad title in "A-Corny Story", and this time a story to match. "The Ventriloquist's Dummy!" is surprisingly not what readers might reasonably expect it to be. It's not perfect, but it earns points for giving us a unique twist to the ventriloquist dummy sub-genre.


Craig
 Crime SuspenStories #9

"Understudy to a Corpse!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Medicine!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Cut!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Tree Grows in Borneo!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels




Oh my God!
An antique trunk!
("Understudy to a Corpse!")
Brad and Alice have just bought a lovely new home but, while exploring in the attic, they make a horrifying discovery: a skeleton in a trunk! Eleven years before, bedridden Cyrus Klitch had cut his miserable nephew, Jeremy, out of his will. Jeremy, for his part, needs his uncle's donations to pay for his own acting classes. When Cyrus reveals that Jeremy has not only been excised but that the handouts end immediately, the enraged nephew hatches a plan. He'll make himself up like his uncle and have Cyrus's lawyer revise the will, leaving everything (naturally) to Jeremy. The old goat isn't too much trouble to suffocate with a pillow and Jeremy replaces Cyrus in the bed, summoning the lawyer for a new will. After the attorney leaves, Cyrus's nurse enters and gives "the old man" his nightly glass of milk. As Jeremy grips his burning throat, the nurse informs "Cyrus" that she'd overheard him one night telling his attorney to make the woman his sole beneficiary and she's tired of waiting! Good, ironic twist (Musical Wills?) caps off the so-so "greedy relative" saga known as "Understudy to a Corpse!" Young Jeremy actually  elicits a bit of sympathy (something most greedy relatives can't seem to buy) from the reader since he genuinely believes he can make the big time with a little help from stingy Uncle Cyrus; for a change, the guy is not a gambler or womanizer. Seems a bit of a stretch that no one emptied the attic in eleven years or smelled some really awful odor. We never get back to poor Alice and Brad but I assume they're not still in that attic as well.

Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, and Dr. Howard diagnose.
("Medicine!")
Nora marries Dr. Luther Haines (world-renowned for his skull splinter operations!) for his money and prestige but the doctor's ever-present assistant, the lovely Miss Doyle, has the woman's radar activated. Could this pretty young thing be Nora's replacement someday? Nora decides that no one will be replacing her and so vows to get rid of them both by poisoning her husband's "Medicine!" (he has a kidney condition that dictates a teaspoon of the stuff every day at four sharp and Miss Doyle is always there to deliver the dosage) and pinning the crime on her competition. With the deadly deed done, Nora heads into town for some celebratory shopping but a truck hits her head-on and she wakes up in the hospital in a semi-comatose state. Nora can hear what's going on but she cannot communicate. Once her identity is discovered and her skull splinter diagnosed, the doctors scramble to notify Luther, who shows up quickly with Nurse Doyle in tow. His loving words of comfort and Miss Doyle's concern convince Nora she'd been barking up the wrong tree. As the doctors are wheeling the newly-relieved patient into the operating room, Dr. Haines is reminded to take his daily dose of kidney medicine and, as ether is administered, Nora realizes she won't be waking up. Though Al gets points for not winding it all up with the cliched finale (the doctor and nurse have been planning to kill Nora), he gains none for the silliness found throughout "Medicine!" What kind of assistant is Miss Doyle, anyway? We see her prepping patients, assisting in operations and, perhaps most importantly, taking dictation! Perhaps my favorite moment in this nonsense is when Nora is being examined by three doctors (three doctors!) after her accident:

"Medicine!"
Doctor #1: Good lord! She's paralyzed! With a skull fracture, that means only one thing...
Doctor #2: Skull splinter! Probably frontal lobe!

What are the odds? Kamen does what Kamen does best--people in stock poses. Most of his characters sneer rather than show anger, sadness, or joy. In fact, if you took the dialogue away from the final eight panels, you'd could easily be fooled into thinking Al had ended with the cliched tryst. Rather than the compassion Luther and Doyle express in their monologues, both characters are sneering as if there's something afoot.

Self-propelled justice.
("Cut!")
John Hammond is the idol of millions, an actor who can do no wrong, but his stand-in, Russel Slade, finds that jealousy is eating him alive. After a make-up man comments that Russel could become a star if anything happened to Hammond, Slade decides to change his luck. When Hammond takes a couple weeks off from stardom to vacation at his country lodge, Russel follows him up and confronts him while the movie star is mowing the lawn. Slade shoots the actor and flees but trips and falls, knocked unconscious. He awakens just as the mower "bears down on him." "Cut!" is a simple little potboiler with not much going for it other than a delicious closing pun. Hammond's almost child-like curiosity about the lawn mower ("Often wondered how those things worked!") is charming and a spot-on but subtle put-down of Hollywood life. Davis isn't given much to work with other than talking heads but it's certainly more interesting than, say, Kamen's "Medicine!" job.

Scared? Try petrified.
("A Tree Grows in Borneo!")
In the jungle of Borneo, explorers George and Amos discover a temple topped with a roof made of solid gold. Though the men are there working for a platinum company, all thought of the job at hand flies out the window when faced with such riches. As they prepare to climb to the top of the temple, they stumble upon a gruesome sight: a skeleton of a man buried in the trunk of one of the huge trees. George explains that the natives buried their dead upright in the hollowed trees. Their pilfering is a major success and the two head back to the States, swearing that if one ever decides to return, the other will accompany him. Trust, however, does not seem to be either man's greatest character trait since they buy adjoining properties to keep an eye on each other. Amos runs out of money first but decides he doesn't want to share the wealth with George so he knifes him and shoves his corpse into a hollowed tree. Months after Amos's return from a second Borneo trip, he's wandering the estate when a storm comes up and he takes refuge under a tree. Turns out it's the Amos tree, whose branches reach out and tear George limb from limb. Another weak "greedy explorers" tale, "A Tree Grows in Borneo!" finishes off a rather weak issue of Crime. We've encountered these two exact characters before (only the names have been changed...); all that's missing is the vengeful natives. Even Al seems bored towards the end of the tale since he misidentifies Amos on page 6. --Peter


Thistle kill you.
("A Tree Grows in Borneo!")

Jack: I'm really surprised you were so blase about this issue. I thought it was a great comic book! Craig's cover is gorgeous and his story is, as usual, top-notch work. I'm sure that in all the years of scholarship on EC comics someone has explored the coloring; it is especially effective here, with certain panels rendered in a single color to highlight shadows and light. The Kamen story was surprisingly suspenseful and satisfying, but the Davis story is just plain silly, all a big setup for a ridiculous conclusion: a marauding lawnmower? Seriously? Ghastly's concluding tale is very finely drawn and, like his story in this month's Tales From the Crypt, it makes me wonder if EC was starting to edge into a more graphic and explicit direction.

Jose: This entry from the rogue’s gallery of Crime SuspenStories struck me on the whole as neither truly good nor devastatingly bad, just middle of the road. Craig recycles the “cadaver discovery” gimmick that he used to open “Seeds of Death” in HOF #5 to introduce the main narrative in “Understudy to a Corpse!,” but the results are slightly less engaging here. The story in total feels as if it’s a rehash of elements that the artist put to better use in earlier stories. “Medicine!” barely registers as a blip on the interest monitor, another Kamen soap opera that introduces a promising thread with Nora’s consciousness post-accident that is ultimately failed by the artwork which leaves the villainess’s predicament completely free of suspense. “Cut!” might be diverting fluff, but at least it’s fun, with the second appearance of the “actor assuming the identity of another” theme this issue. The strength of the issue is carried on the shoulders of Graham Ingels, who delivers on the unpredictable “A Tree Grows in Borneo!” The reader can never be entirely certain just what route the story is going to take and how Feldstein plans on returning to the springboard of the tree-entombed skeleton, so that the climax, albeit gruesome, comes as a genuine surprise that uproots our expectations.

"Medicine!"


Craig
The Vault of Horror #23

"A Stitch in Time!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"99 44/100% Pure Horror!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Dead Wait!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Staired . . . in Horror!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Ever meet-cute in a graveyard? Irma Leechman and Robert Hornsby do just that one blustery November afternoon when they both become acquainted after visiting the adjoining gravestones of their late husband and wife respectively at the town cemetery. The two lonely souls hit it off and, after a few dates, Robert pops the question to which Irma provides her enthusiastic answer. The ending to a perfect love story… if your idea of a perfect love story is a femme fatale’s plot to bump off her new sugar daddy just like she did with her last husband! That’s right; Irma’s a bad girl with a bad jones for Robert’s cool stacks of cash. She’s just looking for the right opportunity to seal the deal, like when Hubby #1 proposed a trek up to the balcony of an old lighthouse during an idyllic trip that ended with him getting a closer look at the ocean than he anticipated. Irma adopts a new tactic with her second marriage and proceeds to nag Robert to death, starting with her revulsion of the grand spiral staircase that adorns his mansion, one that is painfully reminiscent of the setting from her first marital crime. When she denies Robert the chance to visit his old wife’s grave, the little cuckold runs delirious to the cemetery one stormy night and dies from a heart attack upon the burial mound. The two cemetery occupants get to talking and comparing notes before deciding to go and pay Irma a visit. Needless to say, the lady is unprepared for entertaining her new house guests so the cadavers show their disdain by chasing Irma up the staircase—no hiding for her since she had all the rooms on the second floor boarded up in her delirium—and giving her a taste of the ol’ heave-ho over the banister.

Graham Ingels cheesecake: big, bad, and a little butch.
We'll take it!
("Staired... in Horror!")

“Staired… in Horror” is easily one of Al Feldstein’s and Graham Ingels’s best contributions to the EC horror line. It’s fair to say that Feldstein tosses a lot of ingredients into the pot, and that not every flavor comes through as clearly and strongly as the others—Irma’s mania about the staircase, for instance, feels like an element that could service an entire story and one that might warrant more breathing room here—but the writer uses clever and effective means of condensing the narrative’s extended timeline into seven easily-digestible pages. No mean feat, and the fact that Feldstein’s prose and characterization have only become sharper over the last year helps. (Gotta love that bit about the “things deep in the cold earth… whispering to each other.”) On top of all that we have the grandly expressive and Gothic imaginings of “Ghastly” Graham to round out the tale. His shambling corpses might be briefly glimpsed and his stab at cutting off a piece of cheesecake comes across as hermaphroditic at times, but it’s all part of the charm if you ask me. Skip the colored reprints and stick with the B&W hardcover compilation if you really want to see the art sing.

Paging Dr. Wertham!
("99 and 44/100% Pure Horror!")
Ernie Mattson is another in a line of homicidal connivers; the hunky young businessman was the perpetrator of a nefarious knifing that earned him the position of factory manager at the Hudson Soap Company. After years of toiling under the thumb of cigar-chomping Benny Anderson, Ernie decides to trade in the scrap meat-hauling and cake-rendering for a shot at something more supervisory in nature. While Ernie’s killing is common enough, it’s his disposal of the body that’s ingenious: dumping Benny’s remains in one of the giant rending vats, Ernie has his old boss reduced to a dozen soap cakes that he then stores in a locked cabinet at his luxurious apartment for the sake of nostalgia. When Ernie finds himself out of fresh soap and with a hot date on the agenda, he decides to use one of the Benny-cakes during his shower. But if Ernie had listened to Jerome Kern, he’d know that “Soap Gets in Your Eyes.” One thing leads to another, and soon the murderer has broken his leg and drowns to death in the scalding water of his walk-in shower after the Benny-cake clogs up the drain.

“99 and 44/100% Pure Horror!” (try saying that one five times in a row) might be a standard revenge yarn that deals in simple formulas, but I have a fondness for the choice of setting this time out and its inventive—and integral—use in the story. The string of mishaps in the shower leading up to Ernie’s comeuppance may seem rather generic and random, but I actually like them for that very reason. I prefer this type of payback, the kind where Ernie seems to be the victim of simple bad luck, rather than the contrived and literal route that other stories took in punishing their villains.

Zombie-eyed slaves of the starving class.
("A Stitch in Time")
Speaking of villains, few in the EC repertoire come any more one-note than the despicable Mr. Lasch of “A Stitch in Time!” The burly, cigar-chomping (natch) slave-driver of an early-century sewing mill is completely merciless and without an ounce of nuance to be found in his 300 lb. bulk. He maintains a vocal level no lower than screaming, he considers anything not involving sewing to be a waste of the company’s time up to and including breathing that he hasn’t given the OK on, and he thinks nothing of driving one old biddy out of her gourd when he assigns her to sort out scraps of thread after she’s injured her hand on faulty equipment before finally driving the mumbling broad out into the street where she’s run over by a hapless driver. Suffice to say, the other nine ladies under his employ don’t take kindly to this and show the boss their appreciation by sewing his lips and hands together and then leaving him to die in a fire.

“A Stitch in Time!” seems markedly un-Craigian when one compares it to any of the writer-artist’s other horror pieces. Even relative potboilers like “Midnight Snack” (TFTC #24) didn’t suffer from the bland repetitiveness of this sadistic little story. For eight pages we watch as the female employees of the sewing mill confront Lasch with one indignity or hardship after another and—surprise, surprise!—they reaffirm that their boss is a complete jerk with every one of his responses. Even though all this ends with the catalyzing death of the old woman that finally spurs the ladies to enact their brand of justice, the effect of each preceding event never really feels cumulative, as if it’s building toward something. The fact alone that the biddy dies from getting run down by a car literally seconds after Lasch throws her out where everyone can witness the travesty smacks of convenience, and it all boils down to a fairly vicious albeit bloodless climax that comes across as caustic rather than cathartic.

Rough way to treat a guy for dreaming of malted milk balls.

Filling out this issue’s middleweight division is Jack Davis’s second assignment, “Dead Wait!” Unlike what the title may imply, Feldstein’s script is lean and mean even if it doesn’t quite qualify as a fighting machine. We have a main, real-time plot concerning man of dubious morals “Red” Buckley—the way that Davis draws him, there can be no real question as to his ultimate motives, seeing as how he could pass for a GhouLunatic—assassinating former boss and Soelas plantation owner Pierre Duval in order to lay claim to the Frenchman’s priceless black pearl shot through with flashbacks leading up to current events. It takes years of wheedling and building false camaraderie for Red to get to his treasure, but at long last he gets it, along with some valuable getaway assistance from Red’s native manservant, Kulu. Come to think of it, Kulu has also spent years wheedling and building camaraderie as well. But what could he possibly want from Red? The sharpened edge of a machete has the answer after it severs the criminal’s head from his body, earning Kulu exclusive bragging rights amongst his tribesmen as he becomes the new owner of a one-of-a-kind red-headed gourd! As my compadres mention below, Davis pulling double-time on this issue leads to “Dead Wait!” looking a little rushed and rough around the edges at times, most noticeably the cramped delivery of that zinger ending. Still, it’s worth noting that even under those circumstances “Dead Wait!” still manages to come out ahead of some of its competition. Heh, heh, heh.--Jose

Peter Enfantino drowns in this issue's mediocrity.
("99 and 44/100% Pure Horror!")

Peter: Dismal offerings this time out, with the only highlight being Ghastly's nightmarish art on "Staired . . ." All four stories are built around well-worn plots and all four feature very lazy writing. Right from the title, you know what you'll get with the final "twist" in "Stitch." It's just another variation on the "heartless employee" skeleton that EC threatens to run into the ground; very rarely will this plot line work anymore (off the top of my head, I can think of only one exception, the upcoming "Blind Alleys," but that's about it) and the sheer nastiness of the villain becomes almost comical. Why in the world would the protagonist of "99 44/100% Pure Horror" leave the damning evidence locked up in his closet rather than putting it out into the marketplace for sale? "Dead Wait" has a nicely twisted closing but Jack's art is rather sketchy (perhaps because he had to contribute two stories this issue?) and the build-up ho-hum.

Paltry offerings leave Jack Seabrook speechless.
("A Stitch in Time!")

Jack: I love how Johnny Craig uses silent panels once in a while to convey tension. It's too bad his great art and storytelling skills are wasted on a mundane tale like"A Stitch in Time!" "99 44/100% Pure Horror!" has a big buildup but a weak finish; I was frustrated that every bad thing that happened in that shower could have happened with any old bar of soap. It's odd that Davis's art is so much weaker in "Dead Wait!" and it makes me wonder if an uncredited inker is at fault. The boring story is only partly  redeemed by a great finish, but EC is still being a bit coy with depictions of severed heads. Ghastly's story is dull and obvious and it's too bad he can't draw a sexy girl even when he tries.

John: I thought "A Stitch in Time!" was a disappointing use of a ladies' uprising. I guess I was looking for a little more exciting revenge than what they dish out. Jack Davis' art in "99 44/100% Pure Horror!" did nothing for me at all, thought I did it was much better used in "Dead Wait!" Clearly the standout in this issue is "Staired . . . in Horror!" with its amazing Ingels artwork, and not just of the shambling corpse variety. His lounging dame could give Kamen a run for his money!

In Our Next Issue...
We discover that, for some things,
fifty years changes nothing!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-John Williams Part Six: Banquo's Chair [4.29] and overview

by Jack Seabrook

"Banquo's Chair" is the last episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to star John Williams, and it is an outstanding half hour of television. The title refers to an incident in Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth. In Act three, scene three, Macbeth orders the murder of his friend Banquo. In scene four, at dinner, Macbeth learns that the murder has been carried out. The ghost of Banquo enters and sits in Macbeth's chair at the dinner table, but no one other than Macbeth can see the specter. Macbeth denies involvement in the crime and the ghost leaves, but it returns just as Macbeth drinks a toast to his absent friend, whom the others do not yet know is dead. Macbeth gets upset, begging the ghost to "Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves shall never tremble" (3.4.101-02) and the ghost exits. Macbeth has had his friend murdered to further his own ambition and a ghost, either a real one or one in his tortured mind, returns to haunt him.

A similar situation occurs in "Banquo's Chair," which was first published in July 1930 as Banquo's Chair: A Play in One Act by Rupert Croft-Cooke. The action of the play, which is only 15 pages long, takes place in "a large but rather decayed house on Sydenham Hill," which is located in southeast London and which features many large homes from the 1800s. Retired police chief Sir William Brent is setting the scene in order to conduct an experiment, aided by Lane, a butler. Robert Stone arrives in the company of Harold Gandy, a well-known novelist, and Brent reminds them of the Sydenham Murder, in which an old woman named Miss Ferguson was killed a year before and no arrest was made. The police were sure that the culprit was her nephew, John Bedford, but they could not prove it, so they allowed Brent to wait for the anniversary of the crime, in which the old woman was strangled in her chair while having dinner in the very room where the men now stand.

Bedford breaks down and confesses
Brent promises his guests that Bedford will confess tonight. The retired policeman rented the house and convinced Bedford to come to dinner with the promise of meeting the famous Mr. Gandy. Brent reminds his guests of Banquo's chair and promises that Bedford will see a ghost. He has hired actress May Dacklethorpe to impersonate the old lady and appear by candlelight. Bedford arrives and conversation follows; Brent explains that his regular cook left because she thought she saw the ghost of an old woman. The electric lights fail and candles are brought out for a game of cards. Bedford sees the figure of an old woman but the others pretend not to see her. He gradually gets more and more excited until he blurts out a confession of murder and is taken away by the police. To his great surprise, Brent receives a telegram telling him that May Dacklethorpe has the flu and cannot come that evening.

Banquo's Chair is a clever and atmospheric short play where a character is driven to admit his own guilt by what appear to be the machinations of a crafty police inspector. Only after the guilty party is gone do the other participants in the evening's events discover that their silent visitor may have been a ghost after all.

John Williams as Brent
Rupert Croft-Cooke must have known he had a good thing in this little play, because he rewrote it as a short story that was published in his own collection called Pharaoh With His Waggons and Other Short Stories (1937). The story may have been published in a periodical before that but I have not been able to find an earlier source. It was also collected that same year in an anthology edited by Hugh Walpole called A Second Century of Creepy Stories; as the last story in the book, it may have been the newest. The short story follows the action of the play but is in narrative rather than dramatic form. The scene is set with the background of Brent at Scotland Yard before the action gets going; he invites the narrator to dinner and the tale unfolds as in the play.

The author was born in 1903 in England and his first book, a collection of poems, was published in 1922. In a fifty-year career as a writer, he wrote over 100 books, including mystery novels as Leo Bruce. Eight of them featured Sergeant Beef, while another 23 featured Carolus Deene. Croft-Cooke was jailed for six months in 1953 and 1954 under England's laws that criminalized homosexuality; his case was among those that led to a change in the law. He died in 1979 and there is a website about him here. He did not write for film or television; only a handful of his works were adapted for those media and this is the only time one of his stories was adapted for the Hitchcock series.

Reginald Gardiner as Major Cooke-Finch
After its publication in short story form, "Banquo's Chair" lived on, first as a thirty-minute radio play on Suspense, broadcast June 1, 1943, and starring Donald Crisp. (Listen to this version online here.) The play was performed a second time on Suspense, again with Crisp, on August 3, 1944. (This version may be heard online here.) The next year, it was adapted for film as a 65-minute Republic Pictures feature called The Fatal Witness, starring Evelyn Ankers. One of the dinner guests in this film is played by Hilda Plowright, who would go on to play the ghost 14 years later in the version aired on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (There is a clip from The Fatal Witness online here.)

Suspense expanded the story to one hour and it was presented on radio for a third time, this time starring James Mason. The broadcast aired on March 9, 1950, and may be heard here. The final radio appearance of "Banquo's Chair" came on February 6, 1957, on a series called Sleep No More, where Nelson Olmsted reads the short story aloud, with musical accompaniment. (Listen to the reading here.)

Finally, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted "Banquo's Chair" for television and the show was filmed on March 25 and 26, 1959, and broadcast on CBS on Sunday, May 3, 1959, with a teleplay by Francis Cockrell and direction by Hitchcock himself, who was then doing the final editing work on North By Northwest. The show is a triumph, one of the best of the series. The credits say that it is based on a story by Rupert Croft-Cooke, so it is safe to assume that Cockrell had the story and not the play at his desk when he sat down to write.

The opening shot
The show begins with an outdoor shot that represents the point of view of someone traveling by carriage through southeast London. Titles tell us that the scene is set in "Blackheath, Near London," that the date is October 23, 1903, and that the time is 7:20 PM. The street is lighted by gas fixtures and the people passing by wear turn of the century clothes; there is the sound of horse's hooves and the street is wet from rain. The neighborhood is one of large homes and resembles that of the story's Sydenham Hill; both Blackheath and Sydenham Hill are in the eastern part of the city. The decision to move the story back more than two decades from the 1930 play is likely to allow for the use of gaslight rather than electricity.

The scene dissolves to the interior of the house, which is decorated in the Victorian or Georgian style. Inspector Brent arrives to visit Major Cooke-Finch, who lives in the house. Unlike the story, where Brent himself rented the house, in the TV version Cooke-Finch is the resident. John Williams plays Brent in an uncharacteristically brusque manner, unlike his other performances in the series but in keeping with the description of the character in Croft-Cooke's story. Brent drops hints of what is to occur that night and, on three occasions, a surprising word from Brent is followed by a close-up of another character who comments on it. The first time, when Brent utters the word "ghost," the camera focuses on the Major, who exclaims: "Odd, I thought he said ghost!" The Major acts as a stand-in for the viewer, saying aloud what the viewer is thinking.

Max Adrian as Stone
Robert Stone is the next guest to arrive. Here, Cockrell makes a change that allows him to have some fun with the script. Instead of being a famous writer, as in the story (or a female mystery writer, as in the 1943 radio play), Stone is a Shakespearean actor who is currently playing in Macbeth. The Major remarks that he has not seen the play yet and that he prefers the Tivoli and Gertie Gitana. The Tivoli Music Hall was one of London's leading music halls and opened in 1890. Gitana (1887-1957) was a British music hall entertainer who would have been 15 years old at the time this story took place (see a photo here or listen to her sing here); she made her London debut in 1900. Once again, the Major stands in for the viewer, who prefers popular forms of entertainment to highbrow drama.

Once again, Brent utters a key word and the camera moves in for a close up on another character's reaction: this time the inspector says "murder" and Stone's face is seen in close up. The murder occurred two years ago, twice as far removed from the gathering as in the story, and in Cockrell's teleplay Major Cooke-Finch admits that he could afford to "take" the house because the murder lowered its value. Here, it is the Blackheath Murder rather than the Sydenham Murder. Cockrell adds another nice touch: in addition to Miss Ferguson, her little Pekinese dog was also killed. The dog may have known the murderer, since no bark of warning was heard; this recalls the famous incident in Conan Doyle's 1892 Sherlock Holmes story, "Silver Blaze," where a dog did not bark because he knew the murderer.

The third and final time Brent's words elicit a reaction shown in close up occurs when he announces: "I intend to produce Miss Ferguson's ghost" and the camera moves in on the Major once again as he remarks, "He did say ghost!" These tricks help set a somewhat light tone in the first act of "Banquo's Chair" that contrasts with the growing suspense in the second act. Perhaps no one but John Williams could deliver this line as effectively: "We can't bring her on with the soup; that would be pushing it. I'll bring her on with the pheasant," he says, referring to the ghost. One more Shakespearean reference is made, as Stone comments that May Thorpe, the actress hired to play the ghost, had been featured in his version of Hamlet as the queen; of course, her husband also appears in that play as a ghost. Brent admits that he told Bedford that he had new evidence that he wanted to discuss and this is how he lured him to the scene of the crime on its second anniversary; this is a change from the story, where the chance to meet a famous writer was enough to attract the killer. Act one ends with Bedford's arrival, as he enters the dining room and approaches the camera.

The shot that opens Act Two
Act two opens with a shot from above that is unusual for Alfred Hitchcock Presents; it establishes the seating arrangement at the table and recalls a similar overhead shot in "Crack of Doom." For much of the rest of the scene, Hitchcock places his camera at a short distance from the table, shooting between Cooke-Finch and Stone to show Bedford, who asks Stone about Macbeth (another Shakespeare reference), followed by a shot from behind Bedford, showing his point of view of the doorway to the dark room behind the Major. As table talk progresses, the camera focuses on Bedford alone. The banal chatter continues and Bedford reacts as the sound of a dog barking is heard, reminding him of the dog that he killed two years before. There is a cut to a shot in the next room of a sergeant teasing a small dog with a treat in order to coax him to bark; the action of the sergeant underlines the extent of Brent's careful scene-setting and psychological manipulation of Bedford.

Thomas Dillon making the dog bark
The other men at the table claim not to hear the dog and Bedford lets the matter drop. Just then, the flames in the gas lamps go down and the room grows dim, lit only by flickering candlelight and what little remains of the gas flames. This is surely why Cockrell chose to move the date of the events back to 1903, so he could take advantage of the gaslight and its double meaning. Not only is the room lit by gaslight, but Bedford himself is being gaslighted--a term defined as "a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity." The term stems from the 1938 play, Gas Light, which was made into a movie with Ingrid Bergman in 1944; it fits perfectly the series of events staged by Inspector Brent to drive Bedford to confess to murder.

Kenneth Haigh as Bedford
There is a loud noise and the front door is blown open, revealing hard rain and driving wind outside, the ideal setting for the arrival of a ghost, who may have been the source of the door's sudden opening. Conversation around the table continues and the camera closes in on Bedford's face, as music begins to play on the soundtrack. From his point of view, we see a ghost walk slowly into sight in the dark doorway behind Brent; she seems to consist of a floating head, hands, and broach as her black dress fades into the dark background. Hitchcock develops a brilliant contrast between picture and sound here; he shows Bedford's agony while the banal conversation goes on around him and the music reflects his inner torment. Bedford looks around surreptitiously and returns to engaging with the others at the table, yet he is interrupted again as the ghost reappears, advancing and retreating from the doorway like a figure on a black movie screen. Bedford squeezes his eyes shut, trying to drive the horror from his sight, as Stone discusses Hamlet; Stone's mention of "the irrational acts of leading ladies" may be read as ironic commentary on what the actress playing the ghost is doing in the next room.

The music, the table talk, and the visions of the ghostly old woman continue; Stone goes on to mention an actress playing Ophelia--who dies in Hamlet--and her belief in astrology; in a way, Stone is laying it all out for Bedford, but the young man is too wrapped up in what he is seeing to pay attention to the clues provided by the actor at the table. Referring to acting, Stone comments that "the rewards are many," but this could also refer to the inheritance Bedford received for murdering the old woman. Bedford snaps out of it for a moment and asks Stone about the audience that keeps "you coming back for one curtain call after another," just as the ghost of Miss Ferguson keeps re-emerging to take center stage in Bedford's line of sight.

The close ups of Bedford's face get tighter and tighter; he is an audience of one, unable to fathom why no one else in the room can see the play being acted out before him and afraid that it is happening only in his mind. As in Hitchcock's Spellbound, a Theremin is used to good effect here, adding an aura of unreality to the proceedings. When Bedford finally loses control, the close up is so tight that the frame cannot contain his entire face. He leaps from his chair, yelling at the ghost and, in his threat to kill her again, he utters the confession that seals his doom. The music suddenly stops and Bedford realizes that he has been tricked. He is arrested and taken away, out into the rainy night and his bleak future which, in 1903, surely means hanging.

George Pelling as the butler
The coda to the show, where the surprise ending occurs, is different than it is in the story, where Brent receives a telegram with news of the actress's unavailability. Here, Cockrell and Hitchcock take a more visual approach by having the actress enter, dressed like the ghost. She apologizes to Brent for the delay that prevented her timely arrival and the music rises again as the men exchange looks. The show ends with another close up, this time of Brent's shocked expression.

"Banquo's Chair" is a bit shorter than the usual episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (only 18 minutes from start to finish), yet it is a brilliant show where the writing, direction, acting and music all work together to make a short film that has a great setup and payoff with a classic twist ending.

Francis Cockrell (1906-1987) wrote for movies from 1932 to 1956 and for TV from 1950 to 1973. He wrote 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "I Killed the Count" was the last one examined here and "Banquo's Chair" was his last teleplay for this series to be aired.

The murderer, John Bedford, is played by Kenneth Haigh (1931- ), who was onscreen from 1954 to 2004. He was on the Hitchcock show twice and also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Reginald Gardiner (1903-1980) plays Major Cooke-Finch; his first film role was an uncredited part in Hitchcock's 1927 silent suspense classic, The Lodger. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show; he was also seen in Chaplin's The Great Dictator and he was on screen until 1968.

Shakespearean actor Robert Stone is played by Max Adrian, who was on screen from 1934 to 1971. He only appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents once and was later seen in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965).

Thomas Dillon (1895-1962) plays the sergeant who gets the dog to bark; in a 23-year career, he played bit parts in many classic films. Hilda Plowright (1890-1973) plays the ghost; in addition to her small role in The Fatal Witness she was on screen from 1938 to 1965. Finally, George Pelling plays the butler; he had small parts in no less than eight episodes of the Hitchcock series.

The music supervisor on "Banquo's Chair" was Frederick Herbert (1909-1966), who was a music mixer in films from 1937 on and who worked in episode TV from 1958 to 1960. His work on this episode is particularly striking.

Watch "Banquo's Chair" on Hulu here or order the DVD here.

Sources:
"Banquo's Chair." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 3 May 1959. Television.
Croft-Cooke, Rupert. "Banquo's Chair." 1937. 65 Great Murder Mysteries. Ed. Mary Danby. London: Octopus, 1983. 156-61. Print.
Croft-Cooke, Rupert. Banquo's Chair; a Play in One Act. London: H.F.W. Deane & Sons, 1930. Print. Rpt. 1932 by The Baker International Play Bureau, Boston. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Mogg, Ken. "Banquo's Chair (episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents)." Senses of Cinema. 21 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
"Rupert Croft-Cooke." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2003. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Shakespeare, William, and G. Blakemore Evans. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. Print.
Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. Print.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Message to the author. 12 Nov. 2016. E-mail.
"Suspense - Banquo's Chair." Escape and Suspense! Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

John Williams on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Overview and Episode Guide

John Williams was featured in ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, all during the first four seasons of the series. In season one, he appeared in "The Long Shot," with Peter Lawford, where he plays a con man with a special interest in facts about London. In "Back for Christmas," he plays a husband who murders his wife. In "Whodunit," he plays a mystery writer who is murdered and then sent back to Earth to try to identify his killer.

Williams appeared in six episodes of season two, his busiest year. In "Wet Saturday," he plays an outsider who happens upon a murder that is being covered up by a wealthy family. In "The Rose Garden," he plays a book publisher who discovers that a murder mystery novel is not as fictional as it seems. "I Killed the Count," the only multi-part episode of the entire series, finds him playing a Scotland Yard inspector with too many people confessing to murder. In "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater," he plays an unhappy husband with a rich fantasy life.

He did not appear in any episodes in season three, but in season four he made his last appearance, as a retired Scotland Yard inspector in "Banquo's Chair." While the casual viewer might remember Williams as having played one police inspector after another, following his successful role in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), the truth is that his roles on the Hitchcock series were diverse and demonstrated his acting range. These ten half hours are uniformly entertaining and often mix humor with crime to good effect. Williams continued as a busy actor for another two decades, but his appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents remain among his most memorable.

EPISODE GUIDE-JOHN WILLIAMS ON ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS

Episode title-“The Long Shot” [1.9]
Broadcast date-27 Nov. 1955
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on-"The Long Shot" by Swanton
First print appearance-none (radio play aired 31 Jan. 1946 on Suspense)
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Long Shot"

Episode title-“Back for Christmas” [1.23]
Broadcast date-4 March 1956
Teleplay by-Francis Cockrell
Based on-"Back for Christmas" by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker, 7 Oct. 1939
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Back for Christmas"

Episode title-“Whodunit” [1.26]
Broadcast date-25 March 1956
Teleplay by-Francis and Marian Cockrell
Based on-"Heaven Can Wait" by C.B. Gilford
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 1953
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Whodunit"

Episode title-“Wet Saturday” [2.1]
Broadcast date-30 Sept. 1956
Teleplay by-Marian Cockrell
Based on-"Wet Saturday" by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker, 16 July 1938
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Wet Saturday"

Episode title-“The Rose Garden” [2.12]
Broadcast date-16 Dec. 1956
Teleplay by-Marian Cockrell
Based on-unpublished story by Vincent Fotre
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Rose Garden"

Episode title-“I Killed the Count” [2.25, 2.26, 2.27]
Broadcast date-17, 24, 31 March 1957
Teleplay by-Francis Cockrell
Based on-I Killed the Count by Alec Coppel
First print appearance-play first performed in 1937 and published in 1938
Watch episode-here, here and here
Available on DVD?-here

"I Killed the Count"

Episode title-“The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater” [2.30]
Broadcast date-21 April 1957
Teleplay by-Sarett Rudley
Based on-"Three Dreams" by A.A. Milne 
First print appearance-Cosmopolitan, April 1949
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater"

Episode title-“Banquo's Chair” [4.29]
Broadcast date-3 May 1959
Teleplay by-Francis Cockrell
Based on-"Banquo's Chair" by Rupert Croft-Cooke 
First print appearance-play published in 1930; short story collected in the 1937 collection, Pharaoh With His Waggons and Other Short Stories
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Banquo's Chair"

In two weeks: Our short series on Richard Matheson starts with "Ride the Nightmare," starring Hugh O'Brian and Gena Rowlands!