Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-John Cheever Part One: The Five-Forty-Eight [6.5]

by Jack Seabrook

Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Cheever (1912-1982) is widely acknowledged as a "master of the short story"[1] whose fiction often focused on the "'rich suburban communities of Westchester and Connecticut.'"[2] His stories were published from the 1930s until his death in 1982 and The Stories of John Cheever, a large collection that was published in 1978, won a Pulitzer Prize. In its sixth season, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted two of Cheever's stories, the first of which to air was "The Five-Forty-Eight," originally published in The New Yorker on April 10, 1954.

"The Five-Forty-Eight"
was first published here
As the story begins, a Manhattan businessman named Blake steps out of the elevator at 5:18 p.m. and sees Miss Dent, a woman who looks at him with loathing. She follows him down the street in the rain and he sees her reflection in a store window. Thinking she means him harm, he ducks into a men's bar and recalls that she had been hired as his secretary. She had thanked him for giving her a chance, since work had been hard to find after an eight-month stay in the hospital. One night, she invited him home and he took advantage of her; he had her fired the next day.

Leaving the bar, he boards the 5:48 train and sees familiar faces, though his own quarrels with his wife have made his friends and neighbors less cordial. The train gets underway and Miss Dent appears and sits next to Blake. She tells him that she has been ill and unable to get another job; he must talk with her or she will kill him with a pistol she carries. The train makes its way toward Shady Hill and Miss Dent gives Blake a letter; he reads it and sees the depths of her despair and mental instability. At the Shady Hill stop, they disembark and she holds him at gunpoint as the crowd of commuters disperses. They walk to a coal yard near the station and she makes him lie down and put his face in the dirt. Satisfied, she walks away, leaving him to make his way home alone.

Phyllis Thaxter as Miss Dent
"The Five-Forty-Eight" has received critical attention and is a rewarding subject for study. Early in the story, Blake looks in a store window to avoid turning around to see if Miss Dent is following him. He sees what had been a domestic display but we are told that "the flowers were dead and the cups were empty and the guests had not come." Blake "saw a clear reflection of himself," and the author compares the bleak domestic scene with the heartless, disliked businessman, who thinks of himself as "an insignificant man," not worthy of pursuit.

His recollection of his first sight of Miss Dent (even her name suggests that she is damaged) demonstrates his cruelty and his sense of superiority: her "dress was simple, her figure was not much, one of her stockings was crooked." When he goes home with her, he thinks that her room "seemed to him like a closet." His taking advantage of her is inferred: "When he put on his clothes again, an hour or so later, she was weeping." In his role as her boss at the office, he has power over her. The cruelty he shows to Miss Dent is mirrored by the cruelty he has shown his wife at home; he recalls thinking that his spouse had lost the "physical charms that had been her only attraction" and he refused to speak to her for two weeks.

Zachary Scott as Blake
The pistol that Miss Dent carries is an equalizer, leveling the power relationship between her and Blake. She is mentally disturbed, but it is not clear if her mental problems are organic or whether they are a reaction to her treatment at the hands of men like him. During her conversation with Blake on the train, she quotes from the twenty-eighth chapter of Job, implicitly aligning herself with the Old Testament prophet who could not understand why such great misfortune had been heaped upon him. Miss Dent asks Blake, "'if there are people in the world who represent evil, is it our duty to exterminate them?'"

At the story's climax, she guides him to a terrible place near the railroad station, where he sees "a rat take its head out of a paper bag." She tells him that she dreams of "'picnics and heaven and the brotherhood of man'" and says that "'I want to help you'" before she makes him put his face in the dirt. "He fell forward in the filth . . . He stretched out on the ground, weeping." Miss Dent forces Blake to his lowest point before "he raise[s] himself out of the dust" and walks home. Is this a resurrection? Is Blake a phoenix rising from the ashes? Will he change his behavior and live a good life? The story ends without telling us. One of the many fascinating things about "The Five-Forty-Eight" is that its characters have a life before the story starts and they have a life after it ends. We get small hints about their lives before but we are left to ponder the course of their lives after.

The story's title, "The Five-Forty-Eight," refers to the train Blake and Miss Dent ride. It is a commuter train that runs every day at the same time, and the banal situation of people going home from work at the end of the day is contrasted with the deep emotion and dramatic confrontation between the two characters whose lives intersect briefly. Perhaps the saddest moment in the story is when Blake reads the letter that Miss Dent wrote to him but never mailed. It begins, "Dear Husband," and those two words tell us a great deal about her state of mind. One may assume she was a virgin before their one night stand; seduced and abandoned, possibly even pregnant, she took a very traditional approach and thought of Blake as her spouse because they had slept together. She tells him that she has been very sick and has not been outside for two weeks--did she have a miscarriage? Cheever's characters are so full of life that many readings are possible.

Penny Edwards as Miss Smith
The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents took on a challenge when they bought the rights to adapt Cheever's story for the small screen. They made an excellent choice by selecting Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969) to write the teleplay. Born in Michigan, Armstrong had been writing mysteries since 1942 and addressed "the injustice that the wealthy and powerful often inflict upon the less fortunate."[3] An article on her work is titled, in part, "The Mean Streets of the Suburbs, the Kindness of Strangers." As a woman and a former office worker, she was an inspired selection for this task.

The TV version follows the plot of the story but Armstrong's script makes some alterations that help increase the story's dramatic effect. The show opens as Blake walks out of his office and says goodnight to Miss Smith, a buxom blond who has replaced Miss Dent as his secretary. We have yet to meet Miss Dent, but the comparison between the meek brunette and the beautiful blond says something about Blake's hiring decisions.

When he exits the elevator in the lobby, where the story begins, Miss Dent approaches him and speaks to him, whereas in the story he sees her following him. In the show, he does not speak and only responds to her by touching his hat and walking around her.  Cheever's woman has a look of "loathing and purpose," but on screen, Miss Dent's appeal to Blake is more in the nature of pleading. Even the clothing choices serve to define the characters: Blake has a hat, coat, and scarf on, protecting him from the elements, while Miss Dent wears a two-piece cloth suit, carries her raincoat, and wears no hat--her hair is blown by the cold wind and she is in too much of a hurry to put on her coat.

Blake sees Miss Dent reflected in the window
Director John Brahm uses a reverse tracking shot to follow Blake and Miss Dent as they rush along the busy sidewalk, the camera moving backwards to keep pace with them as he strides confidently forward and she is buffeted by the other bodies. Oddly enough, the two of them are walking against the flow of the crowd.

Instead of seeing her reflection in a store window, Blake sees Miss Dent's reflection in the window of a coffee shop right before he ducks into a "Men's Bar" that has a neon sign above the door that reads, "Ladies Not Admitted." From the bar, he turns and sees her through a glass window in the bar door, watching him: he is safe in the company of men while she, as a woman, is left out in the cold. After a quick stock shot of the exterior of what looks like Penn Station in 1960, there is a dissolve to the interior of the train. A man named Watkins sits next to Blake for a moment but is relieved to be summoned to another seat by a woman named Mrs. Compton; their brief dialogue establishes that Blake is not well-liked by his neighbors. The train scenes and the theme of the unhappy businessman recall the Twilight Zone episode, "A Stop at Willoughby," which aired on May 6, 1960, less than six months before "The Five-Forty-Eight" premiered on NBC on Tuesday, October 25, 1960.

Miss Dent is shut out of the bar

Brahm creates a sense of motion as the train moves along through the night, with images passing by outside the windows and appropriate train sounds that include the rumble of the wheels and signals clanging. Armstrong lifts dialogue right from Cheever's story and uses it in her script, supplementing it with new dialogue when necessary to replace narration. There is a well-composed shot of Blake and Miss Dent when she first reveals her gun: he is larger in the picture, but he is trying to push himself against the right side of the frame, while she is smaller but has unexpected power over him due to the firearm.

Note the frame composition

The picture then dissolves into an extended flashback sequence that is much longer than the brief sequence in the story. We see Blake and Miss Dent working late together at the office. He invites her to dinner and we see them walking along the sidewalk on the same set used for the climactic scene of "The Day of the Bullet," where Iggy runs off past the line of stone stoops with curved handrails, yelling, "You'll see!"

The same set as in "The Day of the Bullet"

Miss Dent invites Blake to her apartment and he checks his watch and remarks that he has 45 minutes till his next train. He measures his life by the train timetable! They go into her apartment and she tells him that she is alone and lonely in New York City. They drink Scotch and dance to a record she puts on the turntable. After they sit on the couch and talk, she demonstrates her vulnerability and happiness at the situation through silent gestures and movements. He toasts, "'Here's to--something or other,'" showing that their time together is less significant to him than it is to her, then puts an arm around her and pulls her mouth to his in a sudden kiss. She is concerned that he will miss his train, but he tells her, "'There's always another train.'" Careful viewers will recall that this line was said to him earlier in the show by the bartender in the men's bar and Blake had replied that he'd heard that line before. He did not reveal then that he was the one who said it to his vulnerable secretary three months earlier and that now she was pursuing him through the streets of Manhattan.

After a fadeout, the picture fades back in and it's the next day at the office. Armstrong once again dramatizes an event that was told briefly through narration in Cheever's story, and Brahm stages the scene brilliantly. Miss Dent sits at her desk, typing, when Blake enters and is brusque with her. We see him in his office through plate glass double doors that separate his office space from the outer office area where Miss Dent sits; we can see him arguing with a man named Johnson but we can't hear what is being said. Johnson then comes out and tells Miss Dent that she is fired. She is distraught and questions this decision. The shot is set up so that we see Miss Dent and Johnson speaking in the foreground while at the same time we can see Blake sitting at his desk in the background, through the glass doors. She insists on going into his office to talk to him and there are two quick close-ups, one of her and one of Johnson, that mask Blake's exit out a back door, so when Miss Dent rushes in he's already gone and all we see is a coat hanger swinging on a hook; he grabbed his coat and ran in order to avoid her.

Another great frame composition

The long flashback ends and the screen dissolves to Miss Dent and Blake on the train. She tells him that she knew he was married and would have understood and not told his wife; this is an addition to the story. Armstrong removes all of the biblical quotations from Job but follows the rest of the events closely. When Brahm has the camera pull back from the tight two shot to show the rest of the people in the train car, we see how the intense drama between these two people is separate and apart from the uneventful daily trip of the rest of the commuters, who are unaware of what's going on among them. There is a very nice shot of Blake and Miss Dent's reflection in the train window, and soon the train arrives at Shady Hill, where the action once again shifts back to the outside world. Other commuters are met by their happy spouses and everyone disperses, leaving the unhappy couple of Blake and Miss Dent alone on the platform. All of his neighbors have abandoned him, just as he abandoned Miss Dent.

Reflected in the train window

Left alone on the platform

She guides him out of the light of the station and over to a siding area where sit a couple of old, abandoned train cars. The final confrontation takes place and it is essentially a soliloquy for Miss Dent; after they disembark from the train, Blake never speaks again. The scene is played beautifully by Phyllis Thaxter as Miss Dent, but does it work dramatically as the conclusion to a TV show? It certainly works on the page, where Cheever narrates as Blake watches Miss Dent walk away before he "got to his feet and picked up his hat from the ground where it had fallen and walked home." In the TV show, she turns and walks away and he lifts his face from the dirt as the picture fades out. I find this to be a disappointing finish to a thrilling drama and perhaps some sort of voice over narration might have helped. In any case, "The Five-Forty-Eight" is a brilliant adaptation of a classic short story, with a fine script, inventive direction, and a standout performance by the leading lady.

The abandoned siding

John Brahm (1893-1982) was born in Germany and brought some of the expressionism of that country's late silent film period to his work in Hollywood. He began directing films in 1936 and his best work is thought to be on display in The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945). He began directing for television in 1952 and he would direct a large number of TV shows in the next 15 years, including episodes of Thriller, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone. He directed ten half-hour Hitchcock shows and five hour ones; "A Night with the Boys" and "Murder Case" are good examples of his work.

Giving her all as Miss Dent is Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2002), an actress who started out on Broadway before moving to film in 1944 and TV in 1953. In addition to roles on Thriller and The Twilight Zone, she appeared in nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Long Silence." Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978) and her last screen role came in 1992.

The caddish Blake is played perfectly by Zachary Scott (1914-1965), who had played a similarly despicable character in Mildred Pierce (1945). Like Thaxter, his career began on Broadway before he moved into film in 1944 and TV in 1950. His career ended early, at the age of 51, when he died of a brain tumor. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

In supporting roles:
  • Irene Windust (1921-1999) as Mrs. Compton, the gossipy woman on the train who likes Blake's wife but can never find much to say to him; she had a brief screen career from 1958 to 1963 but managed to appear in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Blessington Method."

Irene Windust and Raymond Bailey

  • Raymond Bailey (1904-1980) as Mr. Watkins, who sits briefly with Blake but then moves to sit with Mrs. Compton; he was on screen from 1939 to 1975 and appeared in 11 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Backward, Turn Backward." He had a regular role on The Beverly Hillbillies as Mr. Drysdale from 1962 to 1971.
  • Penny Edwards (1928-1998) as Blake's new secretary, Miss Smith; her screen career lasted from 1947 to 1961 and she was also in "The Blessington Method" with Irene Windust.

Charles Davis

  • Charles Davis (1925-2009) as Johnson, who fires Miss Dent in the flashback; he was on screen from 1951 to 1987 and he was in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "I Killed the Count."

Paul Gordon
  • Paul Gordon (1916-2010) as the bartender in the flashback; he was on screen from 1959 to 1969 and played bartenders in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Man from the South."
  • Joseph Hamilton (1899-1965) as the train conductor; he was on screen from 1954 to 1965 and may be seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show.

Joseph Hamilton

John Cheever's story may be read for free online here. The Hitchcock show may be viewed for free online here or may be ordered here on DVD. The story was remade in 1979 for PBS and that DVD is available here.

If IMDb is to be believed, "The Five-Forty-Eight" had been adapted for television in 1955 and broadcast live on March 7th of that year as part of the series Robert Montgomery Presents. The title of the episode was "A Matter of Dignity" but the summary shows it was the same story as "The Five-Forty-Eight." What is surprising about this entry is the alleged identity of the actor playing Blake: John Cheever himself! I have not been able to find any corroboration for this credit, though, and the episode appears to be lost.

Notes:

[1] "John Cheever."

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Charlotte Armstrong."

Sources:

"Charlotte Armstrong." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003. Contemporary Authors Online, http://link.galegroup .com/apps/doc/H1000003000/CA u=lawr69060&sid=CA&xid= bd5286ca. Accessed 10 June 2018.

Cheever, John. "The Five-Forty-Eight." The Stories of John Cheever, Knopf, 1978, pp. 236–247.
The FictionMags Index. www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
"The Five-Forty-Eight." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 5, NBC, 25 Oct. 1960.
Galactic Central, philsp.com/.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
"John Cheever." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Contemporary Authors Online, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1000017448/CA?u=lawr69060&sid=CA&xid=7db0ff1e. Accessed 10 June 2018.
"The Last Word: The Mean Streets of the Suburbs, the Kindness of Stran..." Archive.is, 29 June 2013, archive.is/20130629214925/http://mcfarland.metapress.com/content/ 542u870u0570u55k/.
"The New Yorker April 10, 1954 Issue." The New Yorker, The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/magazine/1954/04/10.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 June 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks: Our short series on John Cheever concludes with "O Youth and Beauty," starring Gary Merrill and Patricia Breslin!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 132: November 1972


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




Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 165

"Witness for a Coward"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling

"General Oliver O. Howard"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Vengeance of Horus"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Lt. John Devers stands accused of desertion, a crime that will cost him his life before a firing squad at dawn, but the Unknown Soldier is convinced Devers is innocent. Problem is, the only "Witness for a Coward" is the Black Eagle, Nazi Colonel Heinz Lutzen, and Lutzen is safely behind enemy lines. Knowing he has only hours to save Devers's life, US sneaks behind the lines in disguise and convinces Lutzen (at gunpoint) to accompany him back to the base to testify for Devers. Though Lutzen is understandably hesitant to leave his comfortable desk, the two head out into the freezing night and narrowly avoid capture to arrive at the last second to delay the execution. Lutzen's testimony clears Devers of all charges and, though the Black Eagle is taken prisoner, US allows the Nazi to steal away into the night.

Is this fear? Hunger?
Consternation?
Constipation? 
Even though its last-second stay of execution is hokey beyond belief (US and Lutzen literally drive their jeep right into the courtyard as the firing squad is "Ready . . . Aim . . ." ing!) "Witness" is not a bad story at all, thanks to some interesting twists and turns. After spending some time with US and seeing how determined he is to save the life of a "nobody," simply because it's the right thing to do, Lutzen develops a respect for our hero and even helps him to achieve his goal. It's nice to see Bob Haney suggesting that, even among mass-murderers, there is still some honor and respect. The final escape is predictable but still handled very nicely. And then there's that Sparling artwork. Oh my. Editor Joe hints at upcoming changes but, alas, a different artist is not one of them. We're stuck with Sparling for two more years.

Horus takes wing
"Gen. Oliver O. Howard" is a mercifully short bio of the Civil War General with excruciatingly bad visuals by Norman Maurer. It's the kind of art you'd see on a cereal box, devoid of anything resembling style or definition. "The Vengeance of Horus," which reboots the myth of the battle between gods Seth and Horus, might have worked better as a springboard for one of those cosmic epics in the pages of The Avengers rather than a DC War book, but the art's not bad.

Jack: Two years of Jack Sparling on Unknown Soldier? Quite a come down from Joe Kubert. I liked the lead story, too, and thought it was pretty exciting. I've seen worse examples of Jack Sparling's work. Maurer's art is not much better on the General Howard story, though the tale of a military man who kept going even after he had been shot twice in the same arm is stirring. "The Vengeance of Horus" is four pages of wackiness, as Marais and Estrada shove as much Egyptian mythology as they can into a limited space. It ends up seeming more like a superhero story than a war story.


Neal Adams
Weird War Tales 8

"The Avenging Grave"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
Story Uncredited
Art by Steve Harper and Neal Adams

"Duel of the Dead"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

Peter: Sadistic German Lt. Otto Strasser gave orders to slaughter dozens of helpless French soldiers in WWI. Now, as a major, the Nazi leads his men over the same ground that holds the rotting corpses of those slain French soldiers. Strasser vows to his men that "the dead never return," but perhaps he's not entirely correct as the French corpses rise from their resting place for revenge. "The Avenging Grave" has some great art from DeZuniga but a threadbare "script" that holds no surprises. It's just too much like so many "the dead will rise" funny book stories to elicit more of a response than "meh!" I do like that the story signals a change in the direction of the title. Yes, some of the stories in the previous issues took their shoes off and dipped their toes in the supernatural water, but this story wades right out there. No doubt about it, this is a Weird war tale. It's just not very good.


The Golem rises from his stand in a Prague village and avenges the vicious murders of the town's Jews at the hands of the Nazis. "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" suffers from a case of overkill in that the Golem legend has been used for many comic horror stories (not to mention as the basis of a Marvel character) and so there's not much new ground to be tilled. Having said that, the story has some very nice Harper/Adams art and a really sadistic bent to it (the Golem rises to protect but only after most of the villagers have been herded into a church and burned alive--how about some of that protection here?!) that won me over and so I'd give it a thumbs-up.


Yet another sadistic German, this time Fokker pilot Hans Kessler, revels in the blood on his hands. Kessler not only enjoys shooting down enemy aces but landing after their demise and removing their heads for his trophy wall. One afternoon, Kessler shoots down an English pilot and lands for his souvenir only to get the surprise of his life: the corpse's fingers seem to have a life of their own and mow down the bloodthirsty ace. "Duel of the Dead" ends this issue's obvious message that only the Germans had a hankering for killing and mayhem. The end twist has been used before in one of the war titles (and probably by Big Bob), but I wasn't ready for it and it surprised me a bit. As with Big Bob's "Gallery of War" feature, I get the feeling Weird War really gave the writer a longer leash to tell more violent stories than those used in the other four titles which, because of their continuing cast members, could be constricting. This first real issue of WWT isn't all that great (though the art is top-notch), but it's certainly more entertaining than the pablum we were served in the first seven numbers.


Jack: The best thing about this issue is the cover by Neal Adams! I was excited to see the all-new contents and the art by DeZuniga, whom I remember fondly from his work on the Marvel black and white magazines. I also like seeing Joe Orlando sign on as editor, signifying that this is now a horror book rather than a war book. That said, the three stories are mediocre and the art not much better than that. I see very little of Neal Adams in the second tale and this is hardly DeZuniga's best work. The violence is definitely greater than what we're used to, though. I look forward to seeing what next issue brings!


Kubert
Our Army at War 251

"The Iron Major"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Deserter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: The Nazis are shelling a seaside village, so headquarters orders Rock to get Easy Co. out of there right away! They march out of the village and, on a rooftop, "The Iron Major" stops a sniper from killing Rock with a long-distance shot. Recalling his prior meeting with Rock, the Iron Major says he wants to confront his nemesis face to face. Easy Co. decides to mount a rear-guard action and go back to the village, attacking by surprise from the sea. They succeed in defeating some of the Nazis but soon Rock comes face to face with the Iron Major, and hand to hand combat ensues; one of those hands is made of iron! Rock bests the major but refuses to shoot him point blank, leaving open the possibility of a future meeting.

"The Iron Major"
Kanigher does a decent job of bringing back the Iron Major, but I would've liked a little more information about where and when this story tales place. That's often a problem with the Sgt. Rock series--are they in Italy? North Africa? France? And what year is it, anyway? The U.S. troops weren't in Europe all that long during WWII but Rock and his men seem like they've been there 20 years or so to judge by the number of adventures they've had. In any case, Heath really shines in this story and, as usual, I liked the wordless sequence where the men sneak up on the Nazis from the sea.

In 480 B.C., King Leonidas of Sparta must protect the pass at Thermopylae from the assault of Persian King Xerxes and his army. A young Greek soldier named Nicias becomes "The Deserter!" and runs from battle when things get too hot, but the wise words of an old blind man he meets spur him to return to the fight, and he becomes the last Greek slain.

"The Deserter!"
A great big bare*bones welcome to Alfredo Alcala, an artist we loved in our DC horror series! This is a stirring piece of history, well-told by Kanigher and well-illustrated by Alcala. I do hope we get more history lessons if they're as good as this one!

Peter: I love that we got another showdown between Rock and the Iron Major (who first appeared way back in OA #158, September 1965 and was sequelized in #165, March 1966) but, truthfully, wasn't that a bit anticlimactic? A lot of build-up and then Rock simply embarrasses the poor Major. I want a re-re-rematch! The art by Russ is simply stunning; I'm going to have a hard time picking which of his jobs this year was the best but this is up there for sure. The guy just kept getting better and better. Speaking of which . . . gentlemen and nerds, I give you Alfredo Alcala for the first time in a DC war title! Anyone who read our blog on the DC mystery titles knows that Alcala is my all-time favorite artist and I have no shortage of synonyms for "great" in my treasure box to be used. This was the only war story Alcala contributed to appear outside of Weird War (where he would place 25 jobs); only natural since AA's style suited the supernatural. Good stuff on the way!


Kubert
G.I. Combat 156

"Beyond Hell"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Crowded Coffin"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: The boys of the Jeb Stuart find themselves in a precarious pickle: their generator is shot and there are no open auto stores in the middle of the desert. The General is not much help either, throwing out his usual abstract mumbo-jumbo and then heading back to purgatory until the next adventure. Luckily, the crew stumble upon a dried-up oasis that happens to be where Rommel buried all his spare tank parts in case they were needed. Once they weather a sand storm and replace that generator, it's a good day. This is what we in grade school would have called a higgledy-piggledy story, bouncing to and fro but lacking anything remotely resembling a plot. The boys are stuck again, the General is his usual unhelpful self and, seriously, talk about finding your needle in a haystack. Jeb remembers someone saying Rommel had a cache out in the desert and (whattya know!) they're sitting right on top of it! The saving grace for "Beyond Hell" might be Sam's art which, if not on a level with Russ Heath (though that splash looks mighty Heath-ian), seems to be leveling out and steering away from the scratchy USS Stevens-style art. One interesting aspect of the script (and there's just the one, unfortunately) is that the rest of the crew see the General's ghost for a moment. They laugh it off as a mirage but maybe this is a sign of things to come.

A nice Eisner-esque, Heath-ian
splash from Sam Glanzman

A German U-Boat and an American sub face off in a deadly sea battle. The U-Boat gets the upper hand and sinks the sub but the Americans don't give up so easily and attempt a take-over of the Nazi ship. Heavy casualties mount during the hand-to-hand combat inside but the U-Boat's fate is decided when an American destroyer fires on and sinks the sub. The men on board sink to the bottom of the ocean and await their fate. "The Crowded Coffin" is just as powerful as the first entry in "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War" ("White Devil . . . Yellow Devil" back in Star Spangled #164), with only Frank Thorne's crude art as a bit of a drawback. The image of an American calming a panicked young Nazi while doom seeps in around them is particularly stirring; it's almost as though Big Bob felt unleashed with this new series and decided to tell those deeper stories he always wanted to tell while chained to Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. I mentioned Frank Thorne's artwork being a bit of a minus but it's not horrible, just very average, a la Glanzman. I must say that, though I've always been a pessimist, I like the direction the DC War titles are taking at this time and I hope they only get grittier.

The bleak, but stirring, conclusion to
"The Crowded Coffin"

Jack: It was surprising that the rest of the tank crew was able to see the ghost, wasn't it? After all these years of Jeb being the only one with the gift of sight, suddenly the other guys witness the general, but don't believe what they see! Will this trend continue or was Kanigher just being forgetful? I thought Glanzman's art was okay except when he tried to draw human faces, which seems to have been his weakness. Fortunately, there are many panels with only machinery. I expected more from Frank Thorne than we get in the backup story, but I guess if there's no redhead in a chain mail bikini in the tale then his heart's just not in it! The story was ironic and downbeat but I didn't find it terribly interesting.

ATTENTION!

Desperately needed for an upcoming project. If you have scans for the following Atlas comic books, or can make us a scan, please contact us:

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
Journey Into Unknown Worlds  #38 (3rd issue), 9, 10, and 48
Mystery Tales #4, 8, 11, 12, 21, 42, 43, 49, and 51
Mystic #13
Spellbound #14
Suspense #26 and 28

See your name in lights on this very website!

Next Week in EC Issue 60 . . .
The Aces are High!

How Peter and Jack spent the early '70s.

Monday, June 11, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 59




The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 59: April 1955, Part I


Davis
Impact #1

"Tough Cop" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Diamond Pendant" ★★ 1/2
Story by Guy de Maupassant
Adaptation by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Dress" ★★  1/2
Story by Al Feldstein (?)
Art by George Evans

"Master Race" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

Detective Frank Monahan catches young Eddie Fuller trying to grab some cash from the open register drawer at a diner and plans to arrest him, but the boy's sob story leads Monahan to follow him home, where Mrs. Fuller lies in bed, gravely ill. Monahan calls an ambulance and the boy's mother is taken to the hospital. Monahan, who has a solid reputation as a "Tough Cop," then marches the boy right past the station house and takes him to his own home, where joins a group of other underprivileged boys the Monahans have taken in.

The disappointing ending of "Tough Cop"--
were they mocking the new Comics Code?

Carl Wessler tells this story in Guys and Dolls fashion, both in the captions and in the dialogue; he even tips the reader off to what he is doing in a caption on page two, where he writes that the diner is "crowded with guys and dolls." Crandall's art is decent, as usual, but the end of the story is an unwelcome twist.

Millie thought all the men were looking at
"The Diamond Pendant" . . .
Larry's boss invites him and his wife Millie to a New Year''s Eve party, so Millie borrows "The Diamond Pendant" from her wealthy friend Julia and is a hit at the soiree. She loses it on the way home and is so ashamed that she and her husband mortgage their future to pay for another one. They spend the decades that follow working like slaves to pay off the loan; Larry eventually dies and Millie becomes an old hag at 55. Finally paying off the loan, she confesses the truth to Julia, who is shocked and admits that the pendant was nothing but a cheap, paste imitation!

Guy de Maupassant was a great storyteller and I enjoyed this updating of his classic tale, though Ingels's art seems a bit too depressing for the subject matter. What was even more depressing was Millie's lament that, at age 55, she was in "life's twilight." That is particularly troubling to those of us born in 1963.

Jane keels over in "The Dress."
A young woman named Jane wants nothing more in life than to wear "The Dress" that used to belong to her grandmother, but her Aunt Agatha won't allow it. Martin Paulson, who lives upstairs, begins to think that Agatha delights in torturing Jane by refusing to let her wear the dress. He gets the other boarders to give Agatha the silent treatment, takes her to court, and finally breaks into the glass case where the dress is kept. Agatha bursts in and Jane is overcome by emotion and drops dead of a heart attack. Agatha finally reveals to Martin that the desire to wear the dress had been the only thing keeping Jane alive; the dress was so old that it would have fallen to dust if removed from its glass case.

Martin is such a busybody and Agatha is such a dolt! He should have just asked her what was going on and she should have confessed long ago. It would've saved everyone a lot of trouble and Jane would still be among us. Well, she'd be pretty old by now, but who knows?

One of many classic segments
from "Master Race."
Carl Reissman, former Nazi in command of the Belsen Concentration Camp, escaped from Europe after WWII and settled in New York City, afraid that one day his past would catch up with him. And so it does, in the form of a camp inmate who suddenly recognizes his former captor one day on an otherwise deserted subway car. Struck with fear, Reissman runs as the man pursues him, but the former Nazi's attempt at escape this time ends in tragedy as he falls beneath the wheels of a subway car.

"Master Race" is, of course, one of the all time classic EC stories, filled with powerful images and illustrated magnificently by Krigstein in cinematic style. It's impossible to put one's self back in the mindset of a reader in 1955, only ten years after the camps were liberated and the Nuremberg Trials held. How much of what is portrayed in this story was common knowledge then, and what was a story like this doing in a comic book, typically read by kids? Gaines, Feldstein, and Krigstein deserve a lot of credit for telling this shattering story and for doing it so well. That said, why did Jack Davis draw the cover?--Jack

Peter: After the hammer fell and the newly-devised CCA came into effect, outlawing the words "Terror" and "Horror" in all titles, Bill Gaines felt he had no choice but to retire his horror line. Though Shock SuspenStories didn't qualify as a horror title, its contents certainly crossed the line several times. Impact was obviously a reboot of Shock, featuring stories that would have fit comfortably within those covers. The standout is "Master Race," a story that has been the subject of perhaps more ink than any other EC story (aside from "Judgment Day") and yet isn't one that's usually brought up in conversation. That could be because it appeared post-New Trend or because it doesn't end with body parts in the deli window; who knows? It's a fabulously layered story, with more of those cinematic flashes Krigstein would show from time to time (the oncoming "steel monster," the commuters in the train's windows, the finale on the platform, etc.), and an effective twist ending that I suspected at first but then strayed from, only to have it thrown in my face. Oh, hell, he was the prison guard, not the new passenger! An interesting trivia note: "Master Race" was originally scheduled for Crime SuspenStories #26 (ergo the "falling man" cover) but Krigstein requested the 8-page length and so it was held back for a later issue.

Hey Kids! Comics!
("Master Race")
"Tough Cop!," with its contraction-free dialogue, is a weird, ultimately unsatisfying morality tale about perception. It would work if Monahan's personality turn-around weren't so unbelievably abrupt. And, speaking of morality tales, have you ever read anything as miserable as "The Diamond Pendant"? No, Millie doesn't take an axe and give Julia forty whacks (as she might have done in a Ghastly Crypt tale) but what is the moral here? That it's evil a woman should want to look a little good so her husband can advance in the world and raise them above the hellhole they've been consigned to? Maybe Wessler left out a few details from de Maupassant's original, but I fail to see much in the way of Millie's "pride, hunger, and envy for material things" on display. After such a great build-up chock full of suspense, I guess it was only natural that "The Dress" would have such a disappointing reveal (holy cow! the dress fell apart! now that's impact!) but at least we get some nice George Evans visuals to ease the pain.


Kamen
Psychoanalysis #1

"Freddy Carter: Session 1" 0 (yes, you read that right, zero)
"Ellen Lyman: Session 1" 0
Stories by Dan Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mark Stone: Session 1" 1/2★
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Jack Kamen

Troubled teenager "Freddy Carter" has been brought to "the psychiatrist" by his parents, who are at the end of their rope with the juvenile delinquent. Dad's tried everything . . . "bribes, threats, beatings, reason," but now the little fool has gone and done it . . . Freddy has stolen his best friend's watch! Mom, meanwhile, has done everything she can to bring up a lover, not a fighter, but her bullying husband keeps butting in and interrupting Freddy's poetry classes. "I'm a man and I want my son to be a man . . . not some effeminate drip, writing sonnets about ladies' eyebrows . . ." Fair enough, Pop wants Tom Brady, Mom wants Nureyev. But what does Freddy want and why did he snatch Billy's wristwatch? Well, those are a couple of really good questions. Our hero, "the psychiatrist," informs Freddy that the reason for the theft lies behind the fact that he doesn't get enough attention from Mom and Pop. Billy's parents are so cool and Billy's pa doesn't care that Billy wants to become a lumberjack rather than a quarterback. Billy's mom feels a boy should just do what he wants to do, even dress in girl's clothing if that's what floats his boat. "So, you see," says "the psychiatrist," "you didn't steal that watch, Freddy, you were trying to steal Billy's parents." Promising to unlock the "pretty terrific guy" who lives deep inside the budding psychopath, "the psychiatrist" tells Freddy his hour is up but he'll help him some more next issue. Now scram, ya crazy juvie!

Norman Bates's younger brother opens up.
("Freddy Carter: Session 1")

True enlightenment may come at a cost.
("Ellen Lyman: Session 1")
"Ellen Lyman" is having really bad migraine headaches so she's come to "the psychiatrist" for answers but all he seems to want to do is ask the girl about her bad dreams about Scotch gardeners and big gates and exams she can't possibly get 100% on and skeletons who lie around trees so how in the heck is she gonna get cured this way? Turns out all of Ellen's problems lie in the deep-seated hatred she has for her sister, who used to steal all the love from Mom and get all the best dresses and Ellen would only get the hand-me-downs because Mom and Dad had financial problems and all Ellen would get to play with was that nasty dirty white rabbit her sister threw away and what kind of toy is that anyway? So the doc says Ellen's headaches come from the fact that she wants to see her sister dead and after all what good would that do anyway since it wouldn't bring the dead bluebird back to life or get her the Duncans' beautiful garden next door so . . . well, the hour is up and Ellen will have to come back next issue.

Way too many sissies out there.
("Mark Stone: Session 1")
"Mark Stone" makes a bundle writing TV scripts but he's unhappy and waiting for the big heart attack that will kill him. He knows it's coming because all success stories end in heart attacks. Mark is so self-loathing that he can't go to the picture shows or the theater for fear of seeing true art and knowing, once again, that he's nothing but a hack. Then there's his horrible childhood, growing up Jewish and all with a demanding father and dodging rocks in an anti-Semitic neighborhood. It's enough to turn anyone into a highly-paid TV lackey. "The Psychiatrist" knows exactly what's at the root of Mark's problem but nine pages is just not enough to explain it so Mark will have to come back next issue.

I have a feeling this is going to be a rough four issues. I want to see the transcript of the office meeting where Al said to Bill, "I've got a great idea for a zine!" and Bill green-lit an entire title devoted to 1950s' problems solved by a nameless shrink. Oh, and let's have Jack Kamen (who, to be honest, is perfect for a waste of time like this) illustrate the entire run of the rag, as that will work up excitement among the dwindling fan base. Populated by cliches rather than characters and mostly scripted by (insanely enough) the guy who would go on to write Flowers for Algernon, can this get any worse? I've had to come up with a new "0" rating to help convey my true feelings for this swill. I'd love to be able to say this rating won't be trotted out again but alas...  The only thing that would have saved this experiment, for me, would have been a psychiatrist's postscript that told how the session really didn't work and Freddy later became one of those child-molesting sheriffs in Shock SuspenStories and Ellen was one of those swamp-molls who killed her husband and dumped him in the quicksand from Haunt of Fear and Mark became editor-in-chief of the New Direction titles. Instead, we'll have to put up with these insufferable stereotypes for another three issues. -Peter

Peter makes an appointment with the "psychiatrist"
when he discovers Psychoanalysis is not a one-shot.
Jack: Peter, when you talked me into this project, you did not tell me that I would have to read four issues of a comic book called Psychoanalysis and that they would all be drawn by Jack Kamen. Now that Jose has given up on us, we have no choice but to plod through these overly-wordy pages till we reach the end. The introductory page states that Mark Stone's story will take five "issue sessions," but since I think this comic is going to last only four issues, will we be forever left wondering  how the poor, tubby TV scribe will ever stop having chest pains? I have to admit that I found the analysis of Freddy Carter's problems kind of interesting, probably because I saw a bit of myself there. Ellen Lyman's tale perks up a bit with the dream sequence but that goes on too long. I thought sure that Duncan the next door neighbor would turn out to be the Scotch guard, but nope, they went in a New Direction. I am really excited for next issue!


Wood
Valor #1

"The Arena" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"Strategy" ★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Revolution" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Return of King Arthur" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood



Gladiator Andronicus has a very important fan in "The Arena" to watch him best the other contenders, a gorgeous gal named Agrippina, a woman who happens to be married to the emperor, Titus Flavius. Agrippina uses her wifely charms to persuade her hubby that Andronicus is wasting his talents in the arena and should be a captain in Rome's greatest army. The emperor agrees and sends Andronicus to battle the Greeks, much to the chagrin of Agrippina. While battling, Andronicus meets and falls in love with a beautiful slave girl named Theta and they begin a steamy love affair. When Agrippina discovers her lover has strayed, she sentences Theta to death in the arena, where she will be torn to shreds by bulls and gorillas. Unable to dissuade Agrippina, Andronicus drops himself down into the pit to face death with his true love.

Andronicus discovers that love hurts.

The "Strategy" revealed.
Tasked with "taming" the "savages" of Haiti, the General finds his adversary more than able and, in the end, the General is tricked by a crafty "Strategy."

Thirteen years before the French "Revolution," young Claude Gaulois, son of a poor baker, finds himself in love with the daughter of Duke de Chambeaus, a cruel and tyrannical man who has no time for baker's sons. Claude's father, Pierre, works for the resistance in his off hours and finds his son's predilection for the child of his enemy to be distracting. Through the years, Pierre tries to talk sense into his stubborn son but to no avail; the boy cannot shake his love for the beautiful Nanon. When the Bastille falls, the aristocrats and their families are sentenced to death and Claude has no choice but to don a Zorro-like mask and save his love and her father. As their small boat sets off for London, the Duke praises Claude for his actions but reminds him he is only a baker's son and not fit to marry the daughter of royalty. Nanon reminds her pompous pop that he is no longer royal and that she'll court whomever she pleases.

Could the strange knight who has appeared throughout the countryside to wrong rights and free shackled men really be the famed King Arthur of Avalon? How could it be when Arthur had died there centuries before? Whoever this vision is, he's successful at raising an army of like-minded men as he travels from village to village. But once this King Arthur ascends to the throne, it becomes obvious he is only a fraud using the legend to obtain wealth and power. However, this "King Arthur" discovers that it's not wise to besmirch the name of a legend, even a dead one.

They say they want a "Revolution."

As Shock gave way to Impact, so Two-Fisted begat Valor, a war title that didn't advertise itself as a war title but as a funny book devoted to "mortal combat." For the most part, editor Feldstein did a good job laying claim to the talents of artists who had proven their combat mettle in Two-Fisted and Frontline (how Al ever thought Graham and Bernie were battle guys, I'll never know). I liked "The Arena" quite a bit. It's a lot like those big-budget Hollywood epics (Gladiator, Braveheart, etc.) that have a downbeat ending but somehow make you feel good about life! Not that Andronicus and Theta were feeling great about life in the panel following the finale! Wessler provides lots of great little historical details that I thought Andronicus surely must have been a real-life hero but it seems as though he might be a composite of several historical characters. As for the rest of the premiere issue, well, that's a mixed bag. "Strategy" has a great surprise but not-so-great art from Bernie, who is in full "Grandenetti-mode" here. Perhaps Bernie upped his game when he found something that challenged him or offered him an empty landscape. Similarly, Graham Ingels contributes his first bonafide success outside the horror genre with "Revolution," but the story left me a bit cold. On the flip side, I thought "The Return of King Arthur" was very clever and Wally contributes one of his typically detailed and stunning artjobs. So, I guess I would echo my misgivings at the onset of Piracy -- can Al find enough quality scripts to fill five issues of Valor? -Peter

Jack: The gorgeous art in "The Arena" carried me along and I thoroughly enjoyed this rousing tale of lust, love, and heroism in Ancient Rome. Krigstein's art in "Strategy" is fine, and the story was a satisfying one with a knockout surprise ending. It's no surprise, however, to see a black man victorious in a 1955 EC comic, hot on the heels of 1954's Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education! Ingels seems best-suited for period pieces, so "Revolution" works, but "The Return of King Arthur" is just historical enough to be a bit too confusing to enjoy completely, despite Wood's excellent art.


Feldstein
Weird Science-Fantasy #28

"The Inferiors" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Lost in Space" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, and Roy Krenkel

"Round Trip" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Trial of Adam Link" ★★★
Story by Eando Binder
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando


"The Inferiors"
A ship traveling through deep space lands on an Earth-like planet, hoping to find out what caused an ancient civilization to wipe itself out utterly. The spacemen find a helpful disc and projector and learn that the dead civilization reached the pinnacle of evolution and then began to go backwards. Knowing their fate, they agreed to kill themselves but allowed a handful of members of their race to live and travel to another planet, where they would breed, survive, and devolve until they reached the lowest rung on the evolutionary ladder. Of course, that planet was Earth, and the lowest rung is man.

While it's nice to read a Feldstein/Wood collaboration and enjoy the artwork in "The Inferiors," the story is rather predictable and there's little new to see here. Yes, man is violent. We get it. It was clever the first time but by the tenth  it's getting to be old hat.

Young Myra Van Dyke spends her days on Mars, pining away for her boyfriend Jim on Earth and whining to her father about wanting to go back to her beau. Dad tries to distract her with fun activities, such as hunting on a moon of Jupiter, but to no avail, and she escapes from him, buys a space cruiser, and rockets back toward Earth and her Jim. She is shocked to see no sign of Earth and thinks she has overshot the green planet and become "Lost in Space." Instead, she had never left her father and the trip was all in her addled mind. Her father tries to tell her once again that Earth and Jim were destroyed by a comet, but she cannot hear him and just keeps begging him to let her go back.

"Lost in Space"
Al Williamson's art is so beautiful that it hardly matters what story he's illustrating. This one is fairly good, though it is really little more than a story about a crazy teenage girl who wants to see her boyfriend and whines for pages on end.

Sixty-three year old dishwasher Henry Wilkens grew up wanting to go into space but never made anything of himself. His wife Ellie has never done anything but nag and now he's old and has no prospects. He must resign himself to being stuck on Mars.

Maybe someone can explain "Round Trip" to me? Is it really as simple as it seems--an old man never got to go into space and oh, by the way, he lives on Mars, not Earth? So?

"The Trial of Adam Link"
Adam Link, the intelligent robot last seen in "I, Robot," returns in "The Trial of Adam Link." Dr. Link's nephew Thomas is a lawyer determined the defend his uncle's robot. On the eve of trial, Adam saves two people from a burning building, but nobody witnesses his heroic act. During the trial, the prosecutor's case is too strong and, though Adam saves a young child from being run down in the street, the jury comes back with a guilty verdict and he is sentenced to die in the electric chair.

This is a fascinating story, simplified for the comics but still captivating, even with Joe Orlando's somewhat homely portrayals of the humans involved. Since we're near the end of our EC sci-fi run, I have a feeling the tale of the thoughtful robot ends here, but I'd like to see more.--Jack

"Round Trip"
Peter: "Lost in Space" could have used some of the excitement of the TV show. Who cares that Earth was destroyed by a comet? All I wanted was for Myra to stop that incessant whining ("sobbbb"). Raise your hand if you were surprised by the finale of "The Inferiors." Right . . . you, the one with his hand raised . . . you need to stay after class and re-read all the EC sci-fi stories. Obviously, Al Feldstein did. "Round Trip" is like a hundred other Jack Kamen-illustrated "bad marriage" stories with a Martian backdrop (big deal!) and "The Trial of Adam Link" is the second installment in the really bad robot series. Obviously, editor Al was looking to fill some pages with continuing series characters like those in Two-Fisted; I just wish he'd looked elsewhere.








Next Week . . .
Things are getting Weird!


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Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
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