Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Twenty-Three: "Fatal Figures" [3.29]

by Jack Seabrook

Robert C. Dennis followed "Guest for Breakfast" with his adaptation of "The Right Kind of House," which was discussed here in my series on Henry Slesar.

After that came "Fatal Figures," adapted from a story by Rick Edelstein. In the story, we meet Harold Goams, who has been passing the same flower store on the way home from work at 6:12 PM every day. He always exchanges a friendly wave with the shop's owner, so when he passes the shop one Friday evening and sees a sign that reads "Mr. Rubin died. Store for Rent," his world is shaken. Arriving home, he tells his spinster sister Margaret about the man's death, but she calls him "ridiculous." Harold laments his own lack of importance and comments that he was excited to see in the company newspaper that there are 8,756 employees; he was proud to have "contributed to an important figure."

Margaret takes out the World Almanac and shows him that he is one of 9,113,614 people born in New York State in 1910. Harold begins to study the Almanac, looking for figures in which he is included, such as "Employment Status of the U.S. Population" and "Male Labor Force." He stays up all night, "finding himself in every table," until he happens on the statistic for "Auto Thefts . . . 226,530." He disappears and returns ninety minutes later, wearing "soiled trousers."

"Fatal Figures" was
first published here
In the morning, he breaks with routine and walks out to get the newspaper. Returning home, he goes to his room and searches the paper until he finds a headline that reads, "Councilman Barnett's Cadillac Stolen and Found in Bronx River." That afternoon, Harold again breaks with routine and retires to his room, where he crosses out the auto theft statistic in the Almanac and writes in a new number, increasing the total by one. He sees the next entry: "Robberies . . . 63,197" and leaves the house again, heading for "the corner drugstore." He returns an hour later and Margaret hears sirens outside. Alone in his room, Harold removes two bottles from his pocket and updates the statistic for robberies in the Almanac.

Margaret enters and asks Harold what is wrong, pointing out that he has been acting different since "we had that conversation about your being important." Seeing that one of the bottles contains a perfume called "My Sin," she concludes that he is "having an affair with some hussy" and insults him, saying that he had "better become resigned to the fact that you and I are nobody, and we're even less without each other." She leaves the room, goes downstairs, and calls up to ask him if he would like some tea.

Harold reads the next entry in the Almanac: "Murders and Manslaughters . . . 7, 124." He disposes of the perfume bottle but notices that the other bottle is labeled "As2 03," which his chemistry book reveals is highly poisonous white arsenic. Harold goes downstairs and pours tea for himself and Margaret. He goes back upstairs to drink his tea alone, ignoring his sister's "aborted cry." He revises the figure in the Almanac for murders and, laying down in bed for a nap, looks at the next entry in the book: "Suicides . . . 16,000."

Vivian Nathan as Margaret
"Fatal Figures" is a clever story, in which the author repeatedly uses the word "figures" both to describe the numbers in the Almanac and to describe Harold and his sister; all represent in one way or another the "Fatal Figures" of the title. Like many of the protagonists on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Harold is no one special--a middle-aged bookkeeper who lives with his spinster sister. His daily routine is interrupted when Rubin dies, so he snaps, but in a manner entirely consistent with his personality; his crimes proceed in an orderly fashion and he carefully updates the statistics in his Almanac after each incident.  The perfume called "My Sin" describes his transgressive behavior and the ending is subtle, but we realize that he has no choice but to kill himself.

Rick Edelstein (1929?- ), who wrote the story, is quoted in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion as saying that this was the first story he ever wrote. It was sold for publication and the TV rights were purchased soon after. He has numerous credits as a TV script writer from 1969 to 1986, including 349 episodes of the soap opera The Doctors from 1968 to 1969. He directed a handful of TV shows and also wrote plays, film scripts, novels, and short stories. He worked as a stage director, teacher and acting coach, and he was married to actress Sally Kellerman from 1970 to 1972. He is still writing today and samples of his recent work can be found online.

John McGiver as Harold
Robert C. Dennis adapted "Fatal Figures" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the episode was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, April 20, 1958. The show opens with a postman delivering the mail. Harold comes out of his house to get it, but tells Margaret that it's "just your Almanac." As he so often does, Dennis takes a key element of the story and introduces it right away. Harold complains that "I haven't missed my bus in 13 years" and Margaret replies that she doubts that a wife would have done much better. Margaret's initial comment comparing herself to a wife sets up a motivation that is lacking in Edelstein's story.

Harold passes a florist shop and sees a "For Rent" sign; he speaks to a man on the sidewalk in front of a store next door and learns of the florist's death and his name. This adds another character to the story, however briefly, and reveals the news of Rubin's death through dialogue rather than narration. When Harold gets home, he tells Margaret that "I'm mourning for myself. Mr. Rubin is me and I'm Mr. Rubin . . . when I die there'll be no more notice taken of me than there was of Mr. Rubin." Margaret is hurt and again takes on the role of surrogate wife, whining "after all the years I spent making a home for you." Harold tells her that he should have gotten married and had children; she responds that she would have gladly stepped aside if he'd brought home a wife.

Margaret shows Harold the Almanac in order to underline his insignificance, but he begins to read it and we hear his thoughts in voice over. Dennis again shows actions rather than telling them, letting us see Harold steal the car and later enter the drugstore to rob it. Harold comes home with a bottle of perfume but no second bottle of Arsenic; instead, he takes a gun out of his pocket and we realize that he held up the pharmacy at gunpoint.

The final statistic
Harold behaves almost like a husband disobeying his wife when he refuses to play checkers with Margaret and goes up to his room to read. When he claims to have bought the perfume for his sister, it once again underlines the curious relationship between the siblings, a relationship that is, in many ways, similar to one of husband and wife. Margaret certainly reacts as a spouse would: "I have devoted half my life to your comfort, your well-being, and this is the thanks I get?" She fears that he will turn her out and bring another woman into the house.

Margaret tells Harold that she saved him from making a fool of himself, presumably referring to a long-ago relationship he had with another woman, and he thinks that he would "rather have been a fool." This sets up a motive for murder. Harold then reads the statistic for that crime and the screen fades to black. Oddly enough, Dennis removes the scene where Harold prepares the poisonous tea. Instead, the next scene finds him in the parlor, wearing a black armband and speaking to a police detective about Margaret's death. The detective thinks that Margaret died of food poisoning and Harold asks if it could have been murder. He is clearly disappointed at the detective's conclusions and frustrated that he will have to change the statistic back to the original number in the Almanac.

Te detective returns for a second visit and Harold confesses to having murdered his sister with rat poison. The detective represents the viewer here, wondering why Harold would have committed such a crime and why he is now confessing to it. Harold explains his reasoning and is pleased with himself for ensuring that the statistic will have to be changed. He goes up to his room to get his coat and cannot resist another look at the Almanac. He sees the suicide statistic, picks up the gun, and announces the new number. The camera pans away, we hear a shot, the room shakes--and the episode is over.

Ward Wood as the detective
A strange ending, indeed! Dennis shows rather than tells the car theft and the scene leading up to the drugstore robbery, but then he leaves out Margaret's murder and adds on scenes at the end with the detective; a somewhat subtle conclusion on the printed page becomes a more obvious one on the TV screen.

Rick Edelstein, again quoted in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, praised Robert C. Dennis for going "that one step further" and dramatizing the suicide as much as he could within the confines of network television in 1958. Edelstein thought Dennis "did it tougher than me."

Harold is played by John McGiver (1913-1975), an actor with a face and voice like no other. Funny in a deadpan way, he was born in New York City and began his acting career in Irish Repertory Theater. He served in WWII and then worked as teacher, appearing in plays Off-Broadway before becoming a full time actor in 1955. He had ten children and was on screen from 1955 to his death in 1975. He was seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and also appeared on The Twilight Zone twice.

Vivian Nathan (1916-2015) plays Margaret; she was a founding member of the Actors Studio in 1947 and was on Broadway starting in 1949. She was born Vivian Firko in New York City and made a handful of appearances on screen from 1953 to 1989. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.


Nesdon Booth
The detective is played by Ward Wood (1924-2001). He was acting in his first movie, Air Force (1943) at age 18, for director Howard Hawks, when he received word that his twenty year old brother Charles was missing in action. Ward wanted to quit the picture and enlist right away to avenge his brother's death, but Hawks talked him into finishing filming his part. Wood then joined the Marines. When he got out of the service, he returned to acting, appearing on screen from 1947 to 1982. This was his only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but he also appeared once on The Twilight Zone and was a semi-regular on Mannix from 1968 to 1975 as Lt.Malcolm.

The man on the street is played by Nesdon Booth (1918-1964), who started in movies in 1949 and later appeared in many TV episodes, including twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, twice on The Twilight Zone, and once on Thriller.

"Fatal Figures" was directed by Don Taylor (1920-1998), the actor-turned-director who acted in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Silent Witness") and directed seven episodes, including "The Right Kind of House" and "The Deadly." In "Fatal Figures," he takes a humorous approach, as shown by the light, bouncy music that plays during several scenes.

"Fatal Figures" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story.

Sources:
"Death in Pacific Came--Not to Actor, But Brother." St. Petersburg Times 13 Aug. 1942: 1.
Edelstein, Rick. "Fatal Figures." Mystery Digest Mar. 1958: 4-12.
"Fatal Figures." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 20 Apr. 1958.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 14 May 2016.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 14 May 2016.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 14 May 2016.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 14 May 2016.

In two weeks: "The Crocodile Case," starring Denholm Elliott and Hazel Court!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 79: December 1965/The Best and Worst of 1965


The DC War Comics
1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook



Russ Heath
All American Men of War 112

"Lt. Steve Savage--The Balloon Buster!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Grounded Sparrow!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Peter: Growing up in the early 20th Century western town of Mustang River, Wyoming, young Steve Savage learns from his pa that it's always a good thing to learn how to use a pistol but with great power comes great responsibility. When Pa dies, Steve tries to strike out on his own but runs afoul of the town bullies and is run out of Mustang River by the sheriff. When World War I begins, Steve becomes a pilot and attempts to apply his uncanny shooting abilities to flying. Coincidentally, some of the bullies from his past turn up in his squadron but Steve does his best to ignore their taunts. When his Major announces that German balloons are playing havoc with the American pilots, "Lt. Steve Savage--The Balloon Buster!" is born. It's not a birth without hiccups, though, since the Major has expressly forbidden Steve and his fellow pilots to engage with the balloons; each enemy craft is guarded by several Fokkers. Steve ignores orders and blows up the balloons but, in the process, his two comrades are killed. The Major promises a court martial just as the General pulls up to inquire as to the name of the "ace" who had downed three balloons. As the General leaves, the Major promises that Savage won't be court-martialed but that his stay with the squadron, from here on out, will be hell.

"Steve Savage" opens as a western and quickly morphs into a war story; not such an unusual melding since both war and western comics were still very popular in 1965. I was prepared to dislike this new series but it won me over thanks to its flawed but likable hero and Russ Heath's magnificent illustrations. When Steve realizes that his actions have caused his fellow aces to come under fire unprotected, he lands his Spad at the wreckage and ties the men to the wings of his plane. When he lands back at the base, he's told that both men are dead. It's not spelled out for us (thankfully) but I think it was Bob Kanigher's subtle intention to imply that the men were dead before Steve strapped them to the wings and that our hero was experiencing some sort of battle shock. At least that's the way I prefer to read it. "Balloon Buster" will only last four installments but Bob will resurrect Steve Savage in 1982 for a short run in The Unknown Soldier, which climaxes with a duel between Steve and Hans von Hammer himself!

The hapless hero of "Grounded Sparrow" just can't catch a break. His fellow aces keep stealing his kills when he can't get there in time and then, to make matters worse, he's grounded in the midst of German artillery when his wings are sheared off. Only quick thinking and Gene Colan's lovely art can deliver this guy to the finish line. This is the first of three issues devoted exclusively to WWI adventures. The reason Bob chose to hatch this experiment is lost to time but since AAMoW was smack dab in the middle of the five DC War titles as far as circulation is concerned, chances are it wasn't to boost flagging sales. Perhaps it was just an attempt on Bob's part to mold a title that had no theme to speak of into a showcase for WWI tales but it's odd that the writer/editor didn't take this chance to spotlight his newest creation, Enemy Ace.

Jack: Steve Savage drove me crazy with his western talk! "I'm th' gun!" "I'm th' gun!" "I'm th' gun!" Over and over and over. In the flashback, Steve's Pa tosses five dimes in the air and Steve blows holes in each of the coins. Jeez! Use silver dollars next time to get a little bit of lift on them, Pa, so Steve doesn't blow yer fool head off! Part two supposedly "thunders to an unforgettable climax," but I wasn't buying it. When Steve tied Nick and Larry to the wings of his Spad I thought, "uh oh!" and, sure enough, I was right. Poor Nick and Larry don't make it back to base alive. I think they got riddled with bullets during Steve's gun battle with enemy planes, but that's just my opinion.

As for the latest Hank Chapman story, I agree that Colan's art is nice but that plane shore took a long time rolling down main street before it crashed into the German gun and blew up!


Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 161

"Dead End for a Dogface!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"MIG Bait!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: The newest member of Easy Company is a panting soldier whom the other combat-happy Joes immediately nickname "Breathless." Rock's intuition tells him that Breathless ("gasp-gasp") has a secret and, while the reader may reasonably wonder if that secret is undiagnosed asthma, it turns out that the new guy's brother was a coward who was executed by a firing squad. Breathless wants to prove that he is no coward so, when Rock leaves him behind on a dangerous mission, the new recruit disobeys orders and follows the sergeant.

Nazi rockets have Easy Co. boxed in and the only way to go is straight into the path of a flame-throwing Nazi tank. After Rock and his men rush the tank and blow it up, they notice that Breathless is nowhere to be found. Has he followed his brother's example and run from a fight? Nope! He's been captured by the Nazis and is facing a firing squad. He refuses to give up the location of Easy Co. but Rock and his men get the jump on the bad guys and manage to rescue their newest member, destroying the secret Nazi rocket launching site for good measure.


A fair to middling entry in the Sgt. Rock series, though Kubert's superb art is almost to be expected at this point. One of these days, Kanigher will think of another way into a story besides the arrival of a new recruit.

Chapman's "MIG Bait!" is a fairly exciting tale of air battle action in the Korean War. The jet planes are a nice change of pace from all of the fokkers we've been meeting lately.

Peter: I found it utterly out of character for the Sarge’s supporting cast to lay the blame for Breathless’s disappearance on Rock’s shoulders. They’ve been with him through at least 79 adventures; there has to be trust built up. I’ve seen the boys follow Rock blindly into hopeless situations because of that trust. Does it suddenly dry up and disappear with the coming of Breathless, a green recruit who’s obviously damaged goods? I don’t think so. As for "MIG Bait," Andru and Esposito draw planes (and dinos) pretty good but if I was one of Nelson’s compadres and saw how hop-headed he looked on the splash page, I sure wouldn’t be flying in the same skies.


THE BEST AND WORST OF 1965

Peter

Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Killer of the Skies" (Showcase #57)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Killer of the Skies"
Best All-Around Story: "Killer of the Skies"
Best Cover: All American Men of War #108 >




Worst Script: Hank Chapman, "Submarine Baby-Sitter" (Our Fighting Forces #89)
Worst Art: Jack Abel, "No Purple Heart for Pete" (Star Spangled War Stories #118)
Worst All-Around Story: Kanigher/Abel, "TNT Toothache" (Our Fighting Forces #89)


TEN BEST STORIES OF THE YEAR

  1 "Killer of the Skies"
  2 "Enemy Ace" (Our Army at War #151)
  3 "Fokker Fury" (Our Army at War #155)
  4 "Jets Never Let Go" (All American Men of War #111)
  5 "Battle of the Tank Graveyard" (GI Combat #109)
  6 "Ghost Ace" (GI Combat #112)
  7 "Tank Fight in Death Town" (GI Combat #113)
  8 "Lt. Steve Savage, the Balloon Buster" (AAMoW #112)
  9 "What's the Color of Your Blood" (Our Army at War #160)
10 "Choose Your War" (GI Combat #110)



Jack

Best Script: "Killer of the Skies!"
Best Art: "Nothin's Ever Lost in War!" (Our Army at War #157)
Best All-Around Story: "What's the Color of Your Blood?"
Best Cover: Showcase #57 (duh!)>



Worst Script: "TNT Toothache"
Worst Art: "Jackass Volunteer!" (Our Army at War #160)
Worst All-Around Story: "The Tank Eater!" (Star Spangled War Stories #120)

TEN BEST STORIES OF THE YEAR (in no order)

  1 "War Party" (Our Army at War #151)
  2 "Enemy Ace"
  3 "Easy's Last Stand!" (Our Army at War #153)
  4 "Booby-Trap Mascot!" (Our Army at War #154)
  5 "No Stripes for Me!" (Our Army at War #155)
  6 "Fokker Fury!"
  7 "Killer of the Skies!"
  8 "Nothin's Ever Lost in War!"
  9 "Iron Major--Rock Sergeant!" (Our Army at War #158)
10 "What's the Color of Your Blood?"



Next Week...
Jack gets some good old-fashioned Jivaro punishment
for disagreeing with Peter on Best Story of the Year!



December 1965 was a great month for house ads!








Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Caroline Munro Archive: Join the Lamb's Navy

by John Scoleri

I'm back again with yet more rarities from my Caroline Munro collection, a continuing series here on bare•bones.

Caroline Munro's followers are well aware of her years modeling for Lamb's Navy Rum, appearing in advertisements and calendars, and as you can see here... coasters! Here are three that I've picked up over the years. There's at least one more that I'm aware of, and possibly several others as she was involved with Lamb's Navy Rum for more than a decade.




Thursday, May 19, 2016

Black Sails, Disco Inferno by Andrez Bergen

On June 30, 2016, a new novel by our friend Andrez Bergen will be published! Here's the press release. Watch this spot for a review!

BLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO

by Andrez Bergen with Renee Asher Pickup

RELEASE DATE:JUNE 30, 2016

LIST UNDER:CRIME/NOIR/PULP

PUBLISHER: OPEN BOOKS

An unnamed city, in which crime families flourish and police pinch pennies from those with most power...

Black Sails, Disco Inferno retells the classic medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult by turning things on their head, reversing the sex of our chief protagonists, and then placing them in a '70s pulp/noir world.

Andrez Bergen's latest novel (with Renee Asher Pickup) exposes Trista and Issy to a sensual, disco-infused narrative — one overflowing with double-dealings, violent brutality, and a spellbinding mystery.

Black Sails, Disco Inferno is also the novelization of critically-lauded 2015-16 comic book series Trista & Holt that Bergen wrote and illustrated (Pickup scripted #7). Feedback to the comic is included in these lovely bytes:

Captures the spirit of noir so perfectly it hurts.
GRAPHIC POLICY

The dark, brooding world of Trista and Issy is compelling.
SCI-FI JUBILEE

Trista is a breath of fresh air.
MARA WOOD

A crime story, albeit with a hell of a lot of references to medieval literature.
FLICKERING MYTH

Slow-burning, hard-boiled noir.
COMING UP COMICS

Bergen shows once again he has a firm grasp on the concepts of noir literature – perhaps due in part to his readings of Chandler and Hammett (two of the genre’s best), and his consistent great work on Bullet Gal.
ALL-COMIC

The 280-page novel is now ready for pre-order, and both writers involved are available for comment or interviews.
.
OPEN BOOKS: http://www.open-bks.com/library/moderns/black-sails-disco-inferno/about-book.html.

Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, artist and ad hoc saké connoisseur who's been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 15 years.

He makes music as Little Nobody and Funk Gadget, and ran groundbreaking Melbourne record label IF? for over a decade from 1995.

Bergen has also written articles for papers and magazines such as Mixmag, The Age, Anime Insider, Australian Style, Impact, Remix, Yomiuri Shinbun, VICE, and Geek Magazine.

He published noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011, the surreal fantasy One Hundred Years of Vicissitude through Perfect Edge Books in 2012, comicbook/noir/pulp tome Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? (2013), a collection of short stories and archival articles called The Condimental Op (2013), a surreal coming-of-age tale with crime/noir undertones titled Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth (2014), and the horror/noir comedy Small Change (2015).

He additionally makes comics, as writer and occasionally artist, with Tales to Admonish, Bullet Gal, Trista & Holt, Magpie, and a graphic novel version of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat under the belt.

Bergen has published stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, All Due Respect, Solarcide, Weird Noir, Roundfire Fiction, 8th Wonder Press, Project-Nerd Publishing, Under Belly Comics, Another Sky Press, and IF? Commix, and works occasionally on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by the likes of Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani, for Production I.G in Japan.

Renee Asher Pickup is a mellowed-out punk rocker living in Southern California.

She is senior editor at Dirge Magazine, class facilitator at LitReactor, and is one of the hosts of the Unprintable Podcast.

Renee writes fiction about bad things happening to flawed people — and stands by the statement that From Dusk Till Dawn changed her life.

Monday, May 16, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part Six: January 1951



Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
6: January 1951


Craig

Crime SuspenStories #2

"Dead-Ringer"
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"A Moment of Madness!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Corpse in the Crematorium"★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Contract for Death"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

A man pleads for his life against a night sky--why? He tells his story, about how he fell into a life of crime. When he saw that a millionaire had amnesia and was resting in Saneville Sanitarium, he was shocked to notice that the man was a "Dead-Ringer" for himself! He murdered the man, buried his body in the woods, and took his place at the loony bin, eventually recovering his memory and getting discharged. But life on the outside wasn't as rosy as he expected it to be, since his marriage was a sham and his business partners hated him. When he is kidnapped by three brothers whose father killed himself after being swindled by the millionaire, he pleads for his life and explains who he really is. They shoot him anyway.

"Dead-Ringer"
I like this issue of Crime SuspenStories mainly for the cover and the two stories by Johnny Craig. The opener, in particular, features an eye-catching splash page, with four small figures against a big night sky, and a story that moves along rapidly. Craig's second story, "The Corpse in the Crematorium," is not quite as good, seeming like a mashup of "Breakdown" and a Cornell Woolrich thriller, as a woman races against the clock to save her cataleptic husband from the title fate.

The Ingels story is just OK, and it makes me wonder (not for the first time) when Ingels will really hit his stride. The Kamen story is one of those where you know what the end will be fairly early on. Why is Kamen so fond of having his characters look right at the reader?-Jack

Peter: "A Moment of Madness" is an effective little crime thriller with an abrupt but powerful conclusion. Ralph Bently is a member of an EC minority: the innocent protagonist who meets a nasty end. Bently is guilty of nothing but job-related stress and being a bit . . . rude at times (after killing a boy's dog, Bently pays the boy's father for his silence and trots off with a curt, "I'd better be on my way!") and yet, in the end, he takes his own life rather than risk killing the woman he loves. Not your typical EC baddie, eh? The other three stories are immensely forgettable with the only aspect of "The Corpse in the Crematorium" worth noting is that Johnny rips off Louis Pollock's short story, "Breakdown" (later filmed for the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), for his nail-biting finale.


"A Moment of Madness!"
Jose: On the whole I found all of the stories in the second issue of Crime SuspenStories greatly readable. “The Corpse in the Crematorium” is probably the laziest of the lot, no doubt due to Craig pulling double shifts for this issue and thus leading him to “freely adapt” a story that’s been done better elsewhere. “Dead-Ringer” fares well by comparison, the publisher’s classic house style shining through in the story’s depiction of a cheap hood shooting for the high life only to sink deeper and deeper into a mire of bad news and poor timing. Although it’s hard to believe that a group of killers would patiently listen to this guy’s story of how he “slowly . . .” and “carefully . . .” impersonated the life of their intended victim, Craig’s minimalism and noirish angles really up the ante and make this a solid opener. That bleakness and irony are maintained at full boil in “A Moment of Madness” and “A Contract for Death.” Ingels’s story manages to be grim without revealing (or reveling in) much violence, and its doomed tone and vicious climax makes it feel like it’d be a touch more at home in Crime’s yet-to-be-released sister title, Shock SuspenStories. The Kamen yarn is one of the artist’s most enjoyable pieces, one that zips along nicely and packs in one or two nicely dark surprises.

"The Corpse in the Crematorium"
John: In "Dead-Ringer" we once again learn that killing someone to get yourself a good life never works out as planned. Craig's splash page is particularly effective. Perhaps because of Ingels's art, I just couldn't get into “A Moment of Madness.” I had high hopes for "The Corpse in the Crematorium," only to be let down by yet another 'nick-of-time' rescue of a character from a ghastly fate, which frankly would have made it a very chilling tale. If I wanted to read stories where everything working out for the characters, surely I'd be buying something other than EC Comics. While I enjoyed "Contract for Death," it felt as if a page was missing where they explained why the drunks would kill the doctor because a corpse was left on his doorstep.


Feldstein
Tales from the Crypt #21

"A Shocking Way to Die!" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"Terror Ride!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"House of Horror" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Harvey Kurtzman
(reprinted from Haunt of Fear #1)

"Death Suited Him!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

When mobster James Cooper is sentenced to die, he vows he'll return from the grave to get revenge on those who found him guilty. Coincidentally, a local mad scientist has been working on a theory of how to raise the dead. He seeks out Cooper's fellow gang members and asks if he might experiment on the mob boss after he's fried in the electric chair. Cooper agrees to the plan and, after he's executed, his body is whisked away to a laboratory where the professor, sure enough, brings Jimmy boy back. Cooper shows his gratitude by plugging the prof and then goes on a mad killing spree, evening up the score with the folks who did him wrong. Unfortunately, for Jim, the prof's plan wasn't foolproof and his body begins to rot. His final would-be victim, the judge who sentenced him to death, smashes the living corpse with a poker and Cooper dissolves into rotted flesh and bone. As with most of these early stories, "A Shocking Way to Die" sputters rather than shocks, though Cooper's rapidly rotting features hold the attention nicely. It's laughable how easily the professor and his mobster cohorts steal Cooper's body. The only jolt delivered throughout the narrative would be the mad scientist's murder by Cooper. Nothing else elicits more than a yawn.

Shocking!

Fresh off a wedding ceremony, George and Ruth stop at a creepy little amusement park, ignore all the CLOSED signs, and enter anyway. They happen upon the one attraction still open for the evening, the Water Wheel Ride and, once again, ignore the warnings (including a very creepy ticket taker). The boat ride turns out to be a "Terror Ride" when the couple discover that the ticket taker has been populating his scary attraction with corpses and plans to add two new figures to his ride. The only thing that saves George and Ruth is a slippery boardwalk. Another groaner, but at least "Terror Ride" is saved by Wally Wood's lovely art. It's not clear why the attraction is open that evening or why the crazed owner is killing his customers or, especially, why Ruth and George aren't holed up in a motel somewhere. Serves them right.

"Terror Ride"
Lawrence Cabot really fancied Nancy Anderson but John Baxter comes from money and we all know that girls love the green stuff. The nail in the coffin is when Lawrence can't afford to rent a tux and so can't go to the graduation dance. John pops the question to Nancy and she happily agrees, leaving Cabot in a funk. John settles into his six-figure a year job and happy matrimony while Lawrence ekes out a living as a salesman or something. One day, the poor schlub decides the only way to get Nancy and happiness is to off John . . . and so he does. Months pass and Nancy starts to warm up to Larry again; he asks for her hand and she says "Soitanly!" The wedding day approaches but only one thing is missing as far as the groom-to-be is concerned: he wants to wear the tux that John wore the night he stole Nancy from Larry. So he digs up the grave and steals the tux. Wearing it to the ceremony the next day, the air begins to thin and Larry starts to choke. No, it's not the usual wedding day jitters but, as the coroner later pronounces, embalming fluid poisoning! As dumb as they come, there's only one way to enjoy "Death Suited Him," and that's with your brain firmly in cruise control. The narrative chugs along all right until you get to the part where Lawrence decides it would be a good thing to violate John and wear a suit that perhaps Nancy might recognize! Why take the chance? Because, if he didn't, there would be no story. If you're trying to convince a young fan that EC published the greatest horror comics ever, Tales from the Crypt #21 would not be the evidence you should bring forward. Three very mediocre stories and a reprint (which was awful the first time and didn't get any better with six months of aging) will not win your case, my friend. -Peter

"Death Suited Him"
Jose: While we saw a revenant corpse in last month’s “Man from the Grave” (HoF #4), I believe “A Shocking Way to Die” marks a milestone for E. C. in that it is the first story to have a corpse come back to life with the sole drive of vengeance on its leaky little brain. Technically we have bumped into this once before with “The Dead Will Return” (VoH #13), but “A Shocking . . .” is the first time we see the walking cadaver in the act of hunting down its enemies, a logline that would become forever associated with the publisher. Outside of historical context, the story does stand up pretty well, though the nice buildup results in a rather rushed ending. Wally Wood’s art just barely keeps “Terror Ride” from becoming “terrible,” as its old hash spooky-amusement park/waxworks hijinks we’ve seen plenty of times before. I’m inclined to think that Gaines and Feldstein were reading through Bennet Cerf’s Try and Stop Me again, as “Death Suited Him” is based on a popular urban legend—the reprint this issue, “House of Horror,” was culled from Cerf’s tome—that the E. C. ghouls reconfigured to fit their needs, changing the legend’s “white satin dress” to a tuxedo and switching up the gender of the main character to fuel the villain-gets-his trajectory of the plot.

Jack: "Terror Ride!" was my favorite story, and not just for the wonderful art by Woody. I thought the journey on the boat was very entertaining, as the happy couple pass one horrifying scene after another. I liked the ending, too, and thought the plot worked out in a satisfying manner. The living corpse in "A Shocking Way to Die!" decomposes very quickly, unlike the tuxedo in "Death Suited Him," which is in perfect condition after four months underground. I guess an airtight coffin keeps things fresher longer.

John:  I'm a sucker for a good reanimated corpse tale. Or, as in the case of "A Shocking Way to Die!,"  a half-way decent reanimated corpse tale. I just couldn't understand why James Cooper proclaimed his innocence so vehemently before promising to come back and get those who sent him to his death. I might have enjoyed "Terror Ride!" for Wally Wood's art if we were shown any of the terrifying things on display in the dark boat ride. The return of “House of Horror” gives us time to consider why, if you're going to include a reprint, would you pick such a dog. Surely they could have found a better 6-page story to use. I thought “Death Suited Him” was a pretty silly premise to justify grave-robbing, but the twist elevated it above most of the other tales in this generally lackluster issue.


Craig
The Vault of Horror #16

"Werewolf Concerto!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Fitting Punishment!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Grave Wager" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Escape!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

Pete Luger has just had a rude awakening. Once a big-shot of the criminal underworld, he now wiles away his afternoons lugging piles of brick in a prison work yard to the jeers of his fellow hoods. All he needs is a getaway, the smallest chink in the prison’s security system to facilitate his escape to the other side. It seems like the only cons who ever make it past the exit are the ones who get carried out in pine boxes. Just like that, Luger has his plan. Securing a position as the jail’s morgue attendant, Luger passes the word to his buddies on the outside that he’ll stow himself away in a coffin to be intercepted by his comrades when the hearse makes it ways to potter’s field. The plan seems to go off without a hitch, but when two cons arrive to pick up the casket they finish Luger’s half-assed job by nailing the lid down and taking it downstairs where Pete Luger gets his second rude awakening: the piles of bricks that they’ve just spent the last few months unloading have been used to construct the prison’s very own crematorium.

"Escape!"

As clipped and sparse as a James M. Cain potboiler, “Escape!” earns high marks for its assured delivery and the smooth transition of its visuals under Feldstein’s practiced pen. In an issue brimming with ghoulies and ghosties, it says something that the most powerful of the lot is a tense little thriller about a criminal with one too many bright ideas getting one of the publisher’s most blackly ironic punishments to date. It’s a whip-smart climax that could certainly please O. Henry and Roald Dahl.

"Werewolf Concerto"
The reader may be forgiven for groaning early on in “Werewolf Concerto” as the tale’s stale-by-1951 “twist” rattles to its inevitable conclusion that finds Herbert Antone, the proprietor of a Belgian resort hotel, suffering from recent mysterious attacks by a wild animal, not only revealing to the reader the terrible curse of lycanthropy that plagues him but discovering that the famed pianist to whom he’s provided free room and board to boost up tourism and who only goes out at night is a vampire with bloody eyes set on his canine jugular. Even with some effective touches sprinkled throughout, the tale is clearly a freshman effort for later stories where Craig will have his monsters mash and upend conventions of the genre.

Kamen gets stuck with an even staler premise in “The Grave Wager,” another in a line of “bored dilettantes playing ghoulish pranks/initiations” following “Report from the Grave” (VOH #15) and “A Fatal Caper” (TFTC #20), this time focusing on two chums who challenge their cocky friend to stay up all night with a corpse for a cool hundred bucks, only for the circus performer posing as the “corpse” to get up and give the jerk a fright and thus effectively bring about the performer’s death by candle-beating and the jerk’s descent into white-haired madness.

Much better is the A Christmas Carol-by-way-of-pre-code-horror story “A Fitting Punishment.” Ingels definitely seems in his element here as he imbues his illustrations with the craven miserliness of the carrion-esque villain, Ezra Flint (heh heh). The tale’s latter third that has “old, wicked” Ezra convulsing in horror at his fireside from the thumping noises that recall the abuses he dealt to the tortured nephew whom he crippled and later maimed as a corpse to accommodate the short casket he stuffed the body in are pure ghost story gold, recalling the auditory theatricality of classics by Poe and W. W. Jacobs. It bodes well for the future of E. C.’s artist-king of Gothic terror. - Jose

"Fitting Punishment"
Peter: The obvious winner here is “Escape,” thanks to its clever twist ending. Most of the stories we’re reading in these horror comics contain either telegraphed twist finales or (pretty much) no finale at all. Witness “Werewolf Concerto,” with its obligatory “you’re a werewolf but I’m a vampire” closing panel, and “The Grave Wager,” wherein one of Roger’s pals states the bleedin’ obvious just in case we didn’t get it. On the Ghastly watch, “Fitting Punishment” shows that Graham is heading quickly for that legendary status after a slow beginning. That final panel, of Stanley’s corpse astride his crutches sans feet, is a real shocker and is a perfect example of why we sick puppies hold EC so close to our (-choke-) hearts! One thing I can state positively: 1951 will be a much better year for EC Horror than 1950.

Jack: I was surprised in "Werewolf Concerto!" when Hubert turned out to be the werewolf, but the other revelations were as expected. I do love Craig's art and method of storytelling, though. I agree with Peter about Ghastly's art in "Fitting Punishment!"--it was the best story in the issue and the art fit perfectly. Kamen's streak of mediocrity continues with "The Grave Wager," which is the weakest story, as usual. "Escape!" is fun because you know something will go horribly wrong but you don't know what or how till the last panel. The main character inspired a famous steakhouse in Brooklyn.

"The Grave Wager"
John: "Werewolf Concerto!" was definitely a groaner (the panel on the last page where Hubert hits the piano keys to the tune of CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK! sums it up quite nicely), but I couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of the Vampire Pianist living in her grand piano. While Jessica Mitford's seminal tome on the funeral industry, The American Way of Death, wouldn't be published until 1963, it describes abuses just like those Feldstein includes in “A Fitting Punishment.” Ingels's art is the icing on the cake to my favorite story in this issue. If only all unscrupulous funeral directors got the same just desserts as old Ezra... "The Grave Wager" reminds us that the '50s were a simpler time, when a couple of buddies would get together for a good time and go dig up a corpse in order to prank their friends. It's a shame no one has been able to make an entertaining story out of that premise. Fortunately, things end on a high note with “Escape!” As my colleagues have pointed out, it's a refreshing change of pace when the plot twist you know is coming finally arrives and it hasn't been fully telegraphed in advance. And best of all, it's clever! No, "Surprise—I'm a Vampire!" here, thank goodness.



Next Issue:
Meet Lt. Steve Savage
Balloon Buster!
On Sale Monday, May 23rd!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Twenty-Two: "Guest for Breakfast" [3.21]

by Jack Seabrook

After "The Equalizer," Robert C. Dennis's next script for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Guest for Breakfast," which was adapted from a story by C. B. Gilford, who also wrote the story on which "The Equalizer" was based.

Broadcast on CBS on Sunday, February 23, 1958, "Guest for Breakfast" is a tale of marital discord, where an unhappy couple's problems are brought into sharp focus when a crisis erupts. The show begins as Jordan and Eve Roth bicker over breakfast in what looks like just another day in a long-running argument. Eve taunts Jordan about Sylvia Lester, who has been his lover for a year, and Jordan responds with cruel remarks about Eve. The doorbell rings and a disheveled man enters; he knocks Eve down and pulls a gun out of his pocket. He is Chester Lacie, on the run without much to lose.

Scott McKay as Jordan
Jordan emerges from the kitchen and assumes that the man is Eve's lover--until he sees the gun. The three go into the kitchen, where Lacie reveals that he killed two people the day before. He plans to stay until dark and then take their car. Jordan says that he will be missed at work. He works for a publishing company and, when Lacie asks him to name some of the books that his company has published, Jordan says that the names would not mean much to Lacie, since they don't publish comic books. (Recall Fritz Lang's While the City Sleeps, released in 1956, in which a psychotic killer is seen reading a comic book. In the mid-'50s, if an adult male read comics he must have been mentally disturbed!)

Jordan is impressed with his own wit and is smooth in speech and appearance, in contrast with the rumpled, plain-spoken gunman. Lacie tells Jordan to go to work, but Eve says that if Jordan leaves, he won't be back--he hates Eve and would be happy if Lacie killed her. Jordan and Eve argue until the gunman tells Jordan to call in sick to work.

Joan Tetzel as Eve
Jordan and Eve each try to convince Lacie to take them with him when he leaves in their car. They continue to fight, dredging up years-old arguments in the midst of the current crisis. Lacie decides to take Eve with him, so Jordan convinces Lacie that he'll need money to escape. Eve reveals that Jordan keeps money in a box in his bedroom upstairs. Jordan distracts Lacie and runs and locks himself in the bedroom. Lacey blames Eve and holds her captive; he grabs her by the hair and drags her downstairs.

Jordan emerges from the bedroom and leaps on Lacie, overpowering him. Later, after the police have gone, Jordan and Eve resume their bickering. Eve admits that she pushed Lacie's arm and saved Jordan from being shot. Nether Jordan nor Eve can explain why each acted to help the other at the peak of the crisis. Jordan surmises he might not have acted boldly for anyone but Eve. She bursts into tears and he comforts her in an unexpectedly tender moment. Schmaltzy music begins to play on the soundtrack and the episode ends with this dialogue:

Richard Shepard as Lacie
Jordan: "Why did you pull his arm?"

Eve: "You Jordan, me Eve."

They are man and his mate, linked by marriage despite their mutual disappointment, and they acted on instinct to save each other in a time of crisis.

Needless to say, the ending of "Guest for Breakfast" is unsatisfactory. The rest of the episode develops a good sense of tension and the story adheres to Aristotle's three unities for rules for drama in that it follows one action, occurs in no more than 24 hours, and exists in a single physical space. The film is directed by Paul Henreid, who uses some deep focus shots to keep all three characters in focus even when they are on different planes of a shot. The performances by all three actors are strong and, were it not for the ending, it would be a very good show.

A deep focus shot
Gilford's story was first published in the October 1956 issue of Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine. Dennis's script follows the story closely. Joan Tetzel plays Eve as a much more attractive and stylish woman than she is described on paper; the Eve of Gilford's story has "gone to seed," according to Jordan, "wearing a wrapper [with] a scarf knotted around her head." In the story, when Jordan barricades himself in the bedroom, he calls out to Lacie and tells him to shoot Eve, which Dennis must have thought was too cruel to include in the teleplay. Gilford handles the ending better, the subtlety of the story's conclusion eclipsing the overly romantic turn that the television version takes. Gilford writes that, after the police leave, Eve has transformed herself: "She had changed her clothes. She was wearing a neat, dark dress, her hair was well-groomed, her mouth was bright with lipstick" She comments on the "turnabout when the chips were down" and Jordan replies that "We've had quite an emotional day and solved absolutely nothing." They are the same two people in the same marriage. "The same?" asks Eve, and Jordan replies: "I'll have to think it over."

Gilford's ending fits much better with the relationship that has been established between Jordan and Eve Roth. The crisis and their unexpected defense of each other makes them reconsider their marriage, but no sudden conclusions are reached. This is much more believable than the televised version, with its corny evocation of Tarzan and Jane and its suggestion that the Roths reverted to the law of the jungle.

A stuntman stands in for McKay
Paul Henreid (1908-1992) directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series; the last one examined here was "The Diplomatic Corpse."

C. B. Gilford (1920-2010) wrote stories that served as the basis for five episodes of the Hitchcock series; the last one discussed here was "The Equalizer."

Playing Eve Roth is Joan Tetzel (1921-1977), who performed many parts on the Broadway stage from the 1930s into the 1960s. She was married to Oscar Homolka from 1949 until her death, appeared in movies from 1946 to 1965 and on TV from 1953 to 1976. She was in Duel in the Sun (1946) and Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947). She was on Thriller twice but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

"Guest for Breakfast" was
first published here
Her husband Jordan is played by Scott McKay (1915-1987), who was born Carl Gose and who was also a stage actor for 35 years. He was in movies from 1944 to 1980 and appeared with Joan Tetzel in Duel in the Sun. On television from 1950 to 1977, he appeared in another Hitchcock episode, Henry Slesar's "A Woman's Help." He was married to Ann Sheridan for a year prior to her death.

Finally, Richard Shepard plays Lacie. He has nine credits on TV between 1956 and 1963 but I have not been able to find any other information about him.

In 1964, C. B. Gilford adapted his own short story as a one-act play, published under the same title. The story is completely rewritten though the key events are the same. In this version, Jordan and Eve's roles are reversed--he works a dull job as a bookkeeper while she has just landed a job as an advertising executive and makes more money than he does. This is the source of the friction between them and there is no mention of an adulterous affair.

Lacey broke out of prison and killed a guard; here, he did not kill his wife and her lover and does not compare the situation at his home to that of Jordan and Eve. This time, Eve also works in an office and has to cancel her appointments; she has more cash on her than Jordan does! The balance of power and motivations of the characters are much different than those in the original story or the TV version. As a result, the ending seems to work better, since they are not as estranged in the beginning. The play runs just twelve pages and was published for amateur theater companies to perform.

In the original story, Jordan and Eve have the surname "Roth" and Chester has the surname "Lacie." These are changed to "Ross" and "Lacey" in the play. The TV version does not identify the characters' names in the credits, but it may be the case that Robert C. Dennis changed the names for TV and C.B. Gilford followed suit in his play.

"Guest for Breakfast" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for a copy of the story.

Read the GenreSnaps review of "Guest for Breakfast" here.

Sources:
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 01 May 2016.
Gilford, C.B. Guest for Breakfast. Kansas Cty, MO: The Play House, 1964.
Gilford, C. B. "Guest for Breakfast." Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine Oct. 1956: 102-12.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"Guest for Breakfast." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 23 Feb. 1958. Television.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 01 May 2016.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 01 May 2016.

In two weeks: "Fatal Figures," with John McGiver!