Monday, September 15, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 36: May 1962


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


Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 93

"No-Return Mission!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"One Pilot Too Many!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Take Fury Hill Twice!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The Jeb Stuart is assigned a "No-Return Mission": the tank must fight its way to four stranded infantry companies - Dog, Able, Baker, and Fox. All four are lying low in foxholes awaiting the enemy and if they don't get some interference run, they're goners. The crew of The Haunted Tank have already watched two tanks try - and fail - to rescue the stranded men on their long shot missions but, as the ghost of the tank's namesake keeps reminding his descendant, this war was meant to be won by fighting men and not by bookkeepers. En route, Jeb discovers the enemy's trick: a special underwater tank lies in a river waiting for the allies and then destroying them before they can defend themselves. This time though, Jeb Stuart is paying attention and turns the tables on the Germans. Eventually, the tank reaches its destination and vanquishes the oncoming German onslaught. Once again, The Haunted Tank is victor! A very engaging and exciting adventure, marred only by the obligatory catch phrases repeated ad nauseam. It's nice to see the ghost get involved but, like The War That Time Forgot, the gimmick can be limiting. It always seems as though Jeb (the tank commander) is knocked unconscious just as Jeb (the ghost) is about to do something interesting. I wonder if the point here is that Ghost Jeb can only take over the Tank when WWII Jeb is unconscious a la Don Blake/Thor. Of course, any nits are pushed to the side when your visuals are delivered by the master.

"No-Return Mission"

Jack: Russ Heath's art really makes this story work. Kanigher veers dangerously close to the edge of using a phrase and repeating it to death ("thousand to one shot" and its variations), but the excitement and suspense mount as the tank moves closer and closer to its impossible mission. I do have one nitpicking question, though. If the Nazi plane crashed into the ground and made a crater that the tank could hide in, wouldn't the plane be at the bottom of the hole? Does that mean that the tank is sitting on top of the plane's wreckage? There is one panel where the tail of the plane is sticking out as the tank heads into the hole, so I guess they just squashed it beneath them. (And wouldn't the plane's flaming wreckage be too explosive to sit atop?-PE)

Peter: Bud's not the greatest pilot in the air force but he's trying. When the squadron's #1 fighter is hurt in a training snafu, Bud is suddenly escalated into the ranks of "aces." What really fries Bud's onions though is that the injured ace, Randy Hart, is assigned the rumble seat in Bud's new fortress. That's just "One Pilot Too Many" as our hero soon learns. He can't relax enough to spread his wings with the greatest pilot in the air force breathing down his neck and he soon begins to fumble. When Bud is shot, Randy must take over the controls but the transition isn't smooth and the ace freezes up with panic. Bud grows large cojones very quickly and manages to get the duo off the island they've landed on and defeat an entire Japanese tank division for good measure. How can you complain about a double shot of Heath in one issue? I can't. At least the obligatory "guppy becomes a piranha" plot has a nice twist at the climax. And, hell, I'd welcome further adventures of Bud and Randy over the goof squad over at Our Fighting Forces any day.

Jack: Haney and Heath accomplish quite a bit in six pages. I don't think this story is up to the level of the Haunted Tank tale that preceded it, but it's still pretty good. The final heroic turnabout, when Randy freezes and Bud takes the controls, is satisfying.

"One Pilot Too Many"

Peter: A sergeant who failed to take Fury Hill in World War I is, coincidentally, asked to try try again in WWII. Second time's a charm though and it seems all our hero had to do take Fury Hill was to get knocked senseless and charge up the side of the mountain like a crazy man. It all comes out in the wash. Jack Abel contributes an okay art job but "Take Fury Hill Twice" is a little too cliched for my tastes. What are the odds this guy will be in charge of taking the same hill in two different wars? I'd have been able to swallow it easier if the army had sent him there because he'd already attempted the feat. It's not an awful story though and I can give it a thumbs-sideways.

"Take Fury Hill Twice"

Jack: I was all set to write that I didn't care for this story until I came to the end and it completely turned my opinion around. The image of the haunted soldier approaching Fury Hill alone is a powerful one. I also liked the end, when he can finally say what it looks like from the top of the hill. I'm glad that the story where a soldier feels ashamed of his failure to accomplish a task in one war was not an example of a father putting his guilt on a son, as we saw last month ("No-Ace Squadron," Our Army at War 117, also by Chapman).


Russ Heath
Our Army at War 118

"The Tank vs the Tin Soldier!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Kamikaze PT Boat!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"The Seesaw Aces!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Meet Randy Booth, a young Hollywood actor known as "the teenager's sweet tooth," who is the newest private in Easy Co. His handsome face and tailored uniform stand in stark contrast to the unshaven faces and muddy uniforms of the rest of the soldiers, and his attitude matches his appearance. He does not think he belongs with Rock and his men and he nearly gets everyone killed when he doesn't follow orders and tips off a Nazi tank to Easy Co.'s position. But when a soldier named Sunny is injured (dies?) saving Randy from an explosion, Randy tells everyone that he is an actor and only knows what to do when he is given a part to play. He finally proves his mettle by distracting a Nazi tank with an empty bazooka long enough for Rock and his men to open fire. Randy lays injured (dying?) and Rock admits that, in this performance, he was a hero. Russ Heath is a good artist but here he is handicapped by having to try to draw in the style of Joe Kubert.

Russ Heath's take on Sgt. Rock

Peter: As much as I love me my Heath, Sgt. Rock is not the strip Russ should have been assigned to. He makes a great stab at Kubertishness with the splash but then it's all downhill from there. Rock never looks the same from panel to panel. We're too spoiled by Kubert's dirty grungy GIs to believe Russ' artificial sweat. Put the art to the side, this is still one of the weakest Rocks I've read in a while. Nothing new here, just the same ol' "green GI redeems himself in the end" chestnut.

"Kamikaze PT Boat!"
Jack: Al's PT boat is sent out to recon and report on a Japanese destroyer, but instead of wrecking the PT boat the destroyer takes it and its crew prisoner, then sends them on a mission to act as a "Kamikaze PT Boat!" and destroy an allied destroyer. Al and his crew overpower their Japanese guards and turn the boat around, eventually ramming it right into the Japanese destroyer and blowing it up. Abel's art is run of the mill but the story is entertaining and short.

Peter: A fairly exciting tale that spotlights the seldom-seen (at least in these parts) kamikaze. A predictably rosy ending is its only weakness.

Swastikas everywhere!
Jack: Fighter-pilot Sam shot down 10 Nazi planes in WWII but it's the Korean War now and the memory of those engagements haunts him and makes him unable to shoot down any MiGs. Fortunately, his kid brother Billy is up there with him in another jet and he takes care of the Red fighter planes for his brother. When Billy gets in a jam, Sam forgets all of his emotional baggage and comes to the rescue. The brothers are "The Seesaw Aces!" and mop up the skies. Jack Abel is doing something very interesting with the art in this story, using colors and shapes that made me think of Charlton Comics of a few years later. There are some creative panels where enemy fire is represented by red ovals and where swastikas float like ghosts in the sky around Sam's plane. Abel is not usually one of my favorites, but I think he really took this story and ran with it in some new directions.

Peter: I must confess to losing my place a time or two in the confusing flashbacks but when I'd regained my ground there was nothing but Ten Ton Swastika ... blahblahblah. A rare overall weak issue of OAaW. This issue's Combat Corner, the Sgt. Rock-hosted letters page, is filled with fascinating information. Where did Kanigher get all this data?

Kind of Charlton-esque


Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 68

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Blind Snowbird"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Loser Take All!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Gunner and Sarge and the marines keep repelling Japanese Banzai attacks, so their new arch-enemy drops a samurai sword with a note inviting them to "Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!" the next day. The marines' plan to sneak up on him is foiled, so they drop dummy marines on his base with some real soldiers sprinkled in. The marines attack but Col. Hakawa escapes and our boys are driven back to their own base. I guess Robert Kanigher was trying to think of some way to liven up this series, but adding a practical joker/Japanese mastermind was not the way to go about it. I pine for the days of pretty nurses!

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"

Peter: I couldn't imagine a worse strip than Gunner, Sarge, Pooch, and Hakawa, even if it starred Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Krypto the Super-Dog and was illustrated by Frank Robbins. My God, do you people even know how many brain cells I sacrifice reading this tripe? It's hell being a completist. How in God's name did Bob Kanigher balance the writing of a solid series like Rock with pumping out infantile crap like this?

"The Blind
Snowbird"
Jack: An American "snowbird," a private operating on a snowy mountain range, spots a Nazi and captures him in order to bring him back to base and make him spill his guts about the enemy's position. What the Nazi doesn't realize is that his captor is "The Blind Snowbird," since our hero has been blinded by the snow's glare. He manages to make it almost back to base with his prisoner before the Nazi realizes he is blind, at which time the American causes an avalanche to bring his fellow soldiers running to investigate. It's bad enough that we're supposed to believe that the soldier fools the Nazi into thinking he can see, but Jack Abel's art is looking particularly rushed this month, and not only in Our Fighting Forces.

Peter: The fact that this snow bird could have "memorized every foot of the mountain" makes any of this story hard to swallow.

"Loser Take All!"
Jack: After taking out a Nazi plane, an American WWII pilot destroys a tank before crashing in the desert. He and the tank commander race for the only water source, not knowing that this will be a case of "Loser Take All!" The American pilot gives up his empty gun and falls for a Nazi trick but he is saved when a Nazi plane flies overhead and shoots the tank commander in a case of mistaken identity. This story doesn't manage to work up any real suspense and the resolution is not credible.

Peter: Those Nazis... never played fair. Don't quote me but I swear we've seen this plot before.


Andru & Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 102

"Punchboard War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Town that Wouldn't Die!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Sergeants are Made--Not Born!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: GI Robot Joe has his overhaul completed just in time for he and partner (human) Mac to be assigned to a top secret mission. En route, their plane is attacked by a giant fish from the prehistoric age. From there it's a quick trip down the rabbit hole into an entire world of giant dinosaurs and stuff. Present among all the cool stuff in the prehistoric world is a giant robot Nazi equipped with machine gun fingertips. Can't Mac and Joe ever catch a break? By this point, Mac must be thinking the army's got it out for him, sending him off to fight dinosaurs two issues in a row. Well, he'd take umbrage if he didn't obviously have Alzheimer's, the only excuse I can come up for a double dip in the prehistoric age. Heck, after the barrage of monsters Mac faced in his last adventure, you'd think surprise would be the last emotion he'd show when faced with a giant fish. The only two aspects of this junk that keep my interest is the origin of the giant Nazi and the fact that Mac and Joe are still on the island at the climax of the "thriller." That's never happened before (the GIs are always rescued and then, ostensibly, go on to feats more valiant than vanquishing Stegosaurs) so maybe Bob got wise to the fact that even the eight year-olds were getting tired of the same ol' same ol'. I have no idea what a "Punchboard War" is, by the way.

"Punchbowl War"

Jack: G.I. Joe the robot? Check! Sudden and unexpected dinosaur attack? Check! But then things get even more fun as our heroes are swept into the Lost World where they meet--of all things--a giant Nazi robot! I channeled my inner eight year old and enjoyed the heck out of this story. The pages flew by! And just to show that it's not all fun and games here at bare*bones e-zine, I went back over our old posts and identified "Biggest Target in the World" (Our Fighting Forces 52) as the last time Kanigher pulled out the idea of a giant enemy soldier. Except that time, it was a living, breathing Japanese giant!

Peter: An old man and his two grandchildren are all that stands between the Nazis and "The Town That Wouldn't Die!" With a smorgasbord of items (bottles, cans, 1917 cannon, wooden "I Surrender" signs), the trio successfully repel the German forces and carve out a little bit of freedom in their neck of the woods. Having a Goodwill in your town definitely comes in handy when fighting off a Nazi tank division seems to be the moral of our story. I wonder why zee French talk so funn-ee but zee Germans talk like zee Americans? I bet Jack's heart skipped a beat when Petite Jean ran from the town centre on the splash page, imagining it was his old love, Mademoiselle Marie but, alas, it was only a common French resistance fighter.

"Oui, Oui! Jeanne est une fille avec de très belle poitrine"

Jack: A stirring tale from Bob Haney that brings back our favorite French-accented speakers of English from the resistance! This is Abel's best work of the month, though his long, rectangular faces do tend to get tiresome. I really liked the trio of French folk that held off the Nazis with nothing more than a bunch of old junk.

Peter: The poor private just wants a couple more stripes but he learns very quickly that "Sergeants are Made -- Not Born!" This kid won't take no, however, and so he executes a one-man tour of brave deeds in front of his sergeant until the old man has no choice but to slap the extra stripes on the kid by story's end. It helps that the Sarge actually was the kid's old man! I've already copped to my ignorance as to how the whole military thing works so maybe I'm wrong by doubting this kid could not only be promoted so quickly but also be commanded by his own pop.  Haven't we gotten this title (or a variant) several times before? I'm looking forward to "Colonels are Men - Not Mice," "Admirals are Sugar - Not Spice" and "Privates are Grilled - Not Toasted."

"Sergeants are Folded -- Not Spindled"

Jack: I will make an educated guess that Hank Chapman wrote this story. There is plenty of slang and the title phrase is repeated too often. The clincher is that a young man has to do something heroic to impress his father. The twist ending was pretty good and I am at the point where I'd rather see Novick's art than Abel's, but overall this story wasn't very interesting.

In Our Next Terrifying Issue...




Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Milius, Motorcycle Muse to Sons of Anarchy

by Gilbert Colon

“Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles.”
              —Homer

“…My whole concept of what I do goes back to the old theme of telling the story, of the Homeric thing of being able to tell the tale of the Trojan Wars again and again…”
—Milius in Milius

In the epic Epix channel documentary Milius (2013), filmmakers Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson interview FX’s Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter about movie maverick John Milius, famous for directing films such as Red Dawn (1984) and for his script work on Apocalypse Now (1979).  Unlike other Milius guest interviewees–Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Clint Eastwood among them–Sutter has no direct association with Milius besides his expressed admiration.  In his segments, Sutter acclaims Milius for being “one of the first guys who said, ‘Hey, this is how people talk,’” and concludes from his “amazing body of work” that “if somebody asked me to describe who the dude was, I’d say he was a storyteller.”  

But Milius’ mark on Sutter’s creative process may go far beyond simple story and dialogue.  A more concrete clue lies in Milius’ end credits when Miami Vice scenes and the superimposed B-movie episode title “Viking Bikers from Hell,” pseudonymously written in 1987 by Milius, flash across the screen with other clips from his filmography.  Though Sons of Anarchy is stylistically, tonally, and philosophically different from Milius’ episode, it is not a leap to see how it put the gas in the tank of Sutter’s imagination.  




During Milius’ rolling credits, Miami Vice co-creator Michael Mann cops to the amusing circumstances of how the episode was hatched.  “I says John, come on and write an episode, it was a phone call … ‘Great, I got something I want to do called “Viking Bikers from Hell.”’  So I bought it on the title alone.”  Starring actor Reb Brown, a Milius alumnus from Big Wednesday (1978) and Hardcore (1979), “Viking Bikers from Hell” begins when his character, also named Reb, is sprung from prison.  Reb Gustafson is a man on a mission and a motorcycle (a Yamaha Fazer 700cc) after a biker brother, “The Wire,” is killed while selling drugs.  Reb’s obsessive devotion towards The Wire puts him on the warpath with a fanatical vengeance.  With The Wire’s true killer unknown to Reb, he methodically murders The Wire’s every customer in a ruthless process of elimination.  As it was vice detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) who blew The Wire away rather than blow his own cover, his deep cover alias makes its way to the berserker-biker’s death list, catapulting the two on a bloody collision course.



Evidence of Milius’ anonymous authorship of the episode abounds.  The opening credits read “STORY BY WALTER KURTZ,” the Milius nom de guerre recognizable from Apocalypse Now’s crazed Colonel Kurtz (memorably played by Marlon Brando).  The episode even opens and closes with Apocalypse Now’s signature sun, blood orange against a crimson sunset sky at the beginning and rising to cast a red dawn at the end.  Throughout, Milius’ obsessions are all over “Viking Bikers from Hell.”  A prison psychologist compares Reb to Genghis Khan, emperor of the Mongols (the Asian horsemen, not the California motorcycle gang on the ATF’s watch list).  A Genghis Khan biopic has for ages been an unrealized dream project of Milius, and the documentary Milius animates some of his battle scene storyboards.  Its proposed lead is no less than Don Johnson’s Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man co-star, Mickey Rourke (“Motorcycle Boy” in Coppola’s Rumble Fish).  In Red Dawn (1984), just before the Soviet paratrooper invasion begins, a schoolteacher lectures his classroom about Genghis Khan’s military tactics.  In The Wire’s videotaped last will and testament in Miami Vice, he charges Reb with a duty: “I want you to play Geronimo,” Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) being a future film from Milius’ pen.  Then there are the episode’s allusions to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, just as there are in Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, a film that also obliquely references Genghis Khan on two occasions.  Milius’ fascination with the motorcycle subculture on display here, those steel horses of the highways, years later gives birth to a Showtime Rebel Highway telefilm Motorcycle Gang (1994).  Even the “Viking” in the title anticipates his unfilmed 1990s screenplay The Northmen.  Mrs. Milius herself, Elan Oberon (Red Dawn, Farewell to the King), is cast as The Wire’s tragic sister who wants nothing to do with her brother’s life – “You come from a world I wish never existed,” she soulfully, bravely, tells Reb to his face.  

“The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies
and chase them before you, to rob them of their
wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to
ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives
and daughters.” 
                        —Genghis Khan


“The noise was like a landslide, or a wing of bombers passing over.  Even knowing the Angels, I couldn’t quite handle what I was seeing.  It was like Genghis Khan, Morgan’s Raiders, The Wild One and the Rape of Nanking all at once.”
—Outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga

The Violators, Milius’ Miami Vice biker gang, are a breed apart from Sutter’s “Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club” (also known as “the Sons” and SAMCRO).  As the episode title suggests, these “Viking Bikers from Hell” are almost a nomadic Aryan Brotherhood on wheels (or at least wolf pack leader Reb is).  They are the very opposite of, for example, moviemaker George A. Romero’s quixotic fellowship of Renaissance fair motorcyclists in Knightriders (1981) questing for a chivalry that flowered in a mythic England where King Arthur warred with Viking invaders.  In contrast, Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy began, its founder’s journal entries reveal, as an idealistic motorcycle club started by American Vietnam vets and other anti-establishment types looking to drop out of society and live according to their own unfettered notions of American freedom and individualism.  In the present-day, however, the “Ride Free or Die” band of brothers has devolved into a “Fear the Reaper” organized crime family dealing in guns, drugs, and murder, far from the vision of its founding member John Teller (and one of the dangers of going down the road of “do your own thing”).  Another Vietnam War serviceman, Colonel Kurtz, goes his own way too in Apocalypse Now, well off the beaten path and straight into the Heart of Darkness.



La propriété, c’est le vol!  (Property is theft!)”
—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property?
Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and
of Government

“Not here for your money.  Here for the bank’s money.”
—John Dillinger in
Michael Mann’s Dillinger

The original intellectual underpinnings of Sutter’s Sons are the radical leftist founding fathers of anarchist theory, international syndicalist Emma Goldman and French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, both quoted in the personal journal manuscript of founder Teller, deceased father of the series’ main star, Jax (the melancholy Dane of Sutter’s “Hamlet-on-Harleys,” played by Charlie Hunnam).  Jax himself explicitly rejects Nietzschean thought: “There’s an old saying, ‘That what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’” – the opening Nietzsche aphorism in Milius’ Conan the Barbarian – “I don’t believe that.  I think the things that try to kill you make you angry and sad.”  In the pilot episode, Jax discovers his father’s diaries and learns of the early days of Teller’s easy riders when they began as “a Harley commune” based on “social rebellion.”  “It wasn’t outlaw, it was real hippie s—t,” he tells his mother with stars in his eyes.  Later that season, the reigning SAMCRO president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) even hurls the counterculture epithet “fascist pig” at a federal agent.  One wonders how Milius, wishful to complete a Theodore Roosevelt trilogy he began with The Wind and the Lion (1975) and Rough Riders (1997), would regard the Sons of Anarchy considering his hero TR’s war on anarchists (after their own Leon Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley), not to mention the writer-director’s own self-avowed “Zen anarchism” and politics affectionately tarred by Milius interviewee and Conan collaborator Oliver Stone as those of a “crazed right-wing nut case.”  Ironically, earlier in the documentary director Randal Kleiser (Grease) describes Milius as, of all things, a “wild anarchist.”  




Despite sharing a gun- and drug-running business model, the hell-on-wheels Vikings of Miami Vice subscribe to a much different weltanschauung than the Sons.  Reb’s prison reading taught him Nietzsche: “The will to power, eternal recurrence.  The man understood it all.”  Reb’s infatuation with a philosopher in the Nazi Party pantheon is one of many hints that he would fit right in with Marilyn Manson’s Aryan Brothers on Sons of Anarchy more than SAMCRO.  Reb’s Nordic name “Gustafson” and the references to the Vikings and Valhalla (down to a song by that name by Chris Barr and Rick Conrad) drive the point home.  To the sister of a fallen fellow biker, he even says with a solemn stoicism, “My loyalty is honor,” a close translation of the Waffen-SS motto etched on their ceremonial daggers.  The jailhouse shrink who wrote Reb’s psych evaluation equates the “extraordinary bond” between Reb and The Wire to that of “Hitler and Himmler.”  These are not sensational embellishments, however, considering how historical Hells Angels regalia includes the hooked cross, Iron Crosses, Luftwaffe insignia, and SS bolts, a connection that does not go unnoticed by biker films like American International Pictures’ The Glory Stompers (1967) and Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966).  Even a comedy starring marginal Milius trouper Eastwood, Every Which Way But Loose (1978), comprehends this.  



Naïvely dismissing the Hells Angels “swastika fetish [as] no more than an antisocial joke,” embedded journalist Hunter S. Thompson, in his ride-along exposé Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, almost seems to speak to Sutter from out of the past, like Teller’s “Motorcycle Diaries,” when the gonzo journalist advises Hells Angels to “drop the swastika and decorate their bikes with the hammer and sickle”–the Sons come close, adopting the Proudhon anarchy-is-order symbol–“[because] that would really raise hell on the freeways...hundreds of Communist thugs roaming the countryside on big motorcycles, looking for trouble.”  Nazi paraphernalia may be absent from SAMCRO, but in the end the paths of both gang’s lunatic fringe worldviews lead to the same place of crime and violence, inciting Smith & Wesson-armed Crockett and shotgun-pumping Tubbs to conclude cheerfully that the only way to restore “cosmic balance in the universe” is to be “better shots” than “the monsters, the freaks, the animals.”  

More Milius motorbike menace can be seen in his 1994 remake of the 1957 AIP Motorcycle Gang which the director calls, in an IGN interview by Ken P., “one of my favorite films.”  What begins as a road movie turns into a showdown when psychopathic Jake and his heroin-dealing road pigs-on-hogs terrorize a peaceful Ike-era family traveling the lonely Southwest highways to California.  Jake is played by actor Jake Busey – it must be contractual that Milius’ motorcycle hoods keep their real first names a la Reb–son of Big Wednesday’s Gary Busey, a motorbike enthusiast who made headlines with his near-fatal 1988 crash that left him with brain trauma.  Elan Oberon from “Viking Bikers” plays the postwar family’s adventuresome mother, and once again her real-life husband, Mr. Milius, supplies her with lines that put the motorcycle outlaw phenomenon into moral perspective.  When her bad-boy crazy teen daughter (Carla Gugino) compares the bikers to “Beatniks” and Brando in The Wild One, Oberon’s otherwise adventuresome mother counters with the facts of life, dismissing Jake and his crew as nothing more than “gangsters” and “dangerous criminals.”  Jake proves Leann’s mother right by later kidnapping the dewy-eyed daughter, violating her, and offering her up for gang rape.

“The Menace is loose again, the Hell’s Angels…
running fast and loud on the early morning freeway,
low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy
through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the
center stripe, missing by inches...like Genghis Khan
on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus,
flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your
daughter’s leg with no quarter asked and none given.”
—Outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson in
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
                                                   
“No questions,  no quarter,  no mercy.”
—Daughter Leann in voiceover from Motorcycle Gang.

From “Viking Bikers” to Motorcycle Gang, Milius’ iron horsemen are elemental forces of terror, not a tragedy of fallen ideals as depicted in Sutter’s series.  As rough and tough as Sons is, Sutter downplays many of the more loathsome realities of biker culture, institutional gang rape being one, perhaps fearful few would follow weekly exploits as described by the unusually sympathetic Thompson in Hell’s Angels.  None of Milius’ motorpsychos make any pretense of belonging to a legitimate “MC” (motorcycle club).  What film critic Elvis Mitchell says in Milius about the filmmaker’s work, Dillinger (1973) from AIP in particular, holds true for his biker fare: “They were enormous morality plays.  He didn’t romanticize Dillinger in a way that Coppola romanticized the Corleone family.  He basically still said that as interesting a guy John Dillinger is, he’s a criminal.”  In the end, Motorcycle Gang’s common criminals wind up dead as Dillinger when they prove no match for World War II vet, avenging father, and “Go for Broke!” Zen samurai Gerald McRaney (Major Dad himself) in the film’s Straw Dogs finale.



“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’.”
—Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger.

Elsewhere, Milius’ fetishization of the motorcycle mystique can be seen in his screenplay work for Magnum Force (1973) and its Moto Guzzi Eldorado V7 850 Police Specials as well as Evel Knievel (1969) and that daredevil’s trademark Harley-Davidson XR-750.  In Milius, George Hamilton, who starred as Knievel, relates efforts to recruit Milius for a shooting script.  “But would you like some motorcycles?  ‘Motorcycles,’ he said.  So I got him a motorcycle and he was riding on the motorcycle and he was in love.”  When script progress stalled, Hamilton threatened “there’d be no more riding the motorcycles...,” after which time all 140 telegrams of Milius’ complete screenplay poured in piecemeal over the wire.  

More recently in 2003-2004, both Stax from IGN FilmForce and Ain’t It Cool News reported that “Milius’ biker flick Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death)...hit a roadblock,” describing the project as “a modern day Western, set among motorcycle gangs, drugs and codes of honor in the modern Southwest...a neo-Western following ex-Marine/ex-Hell’s Angel/ex-con Jonah Hawk’s vengeful campaign against the Road Wolves, a vicious biker gang that kills Jonah’s friend and kidnaps the man’s girlfriend.  Jonah targets the Road Wolves and their allies, culminating in a battle royale in the New Mexico desert.”  With a Southwestern setting, an ex-serviceman, Mexican drug-smuggling, bikers, and a kidnapping, it feels like “Son of Motorcycle Gang.”  Go further west and Jornada del Muerto could almost be Sons of Anarchy.  


Shotgun with Milius!


Milius continues his road romance with motorcycle culture in his novel Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, a thriller from Del Rey co-written with Raymond Benson about an invasion of the U.S.A. by a Korea unified under dictator Kim Jong-un, and the grassroots American “resistance cells...made up of soldiers...National Guard units...policemen...firefighters, Texas Rangers, and plain, ordinary folks…”  With Communist Koreans instead of Communist Russians, Homefront sounds vaguely like the Red Dawn remake (2012) Milius publically skewered.  Several scenes feeling like outtakes from Jornada del Muerto dot the landscape of this book: 

“Motorcycles.  Another gang of outlaws ... Now to get out of there and back to the Marine base.  ... Walker got off the Spitfire [and] drew the kitchen knife from the jury-rigged sheath on his calf … Four serious motorcycles roared into the backyard –a couple of Harleys, a Kawasaki, and a Triumph [carrying] seven men … all whooping like American Indians circling the covered wagons ...”  

The description of one rider sounds like a nod to the preproduction casting of WWE pro wrestler and sometimes actor Triple H in Jornada del Muerto

“The one … riding alone was bald, had the build of a professional wrestler, and had tattoos up and down his bare arms.  All of them wore black leather jackets with the sleeves cut off.”  

Again in Homefront, as with Motorcycle Gang and the Milius-scripted Extreme Prejudice (1987), there is Mexican border strife.  In true Teddy Roosevelt fashion, Milius bares his teeth in a 2009 phone interview with CNN about the War on Drugs south of the border: “We need to go down there, kill them all, flatten the place with bulldozers so when you wake up in the morning, there’s nothing there.  I do believe if you have a military, you use it.”  Somewhere Oliver Stone is rolling his eyes.  



“I want frontier justice on this, boys.  You forget
about the rules because down on the border,
I write the rules.”
—Texas Ranger in Motorcycle Gang
while loading his six-shooter.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT

What do I want?  I want respect, that’s what!  
Respect for human life and American property!  
And I’ll send the Atlantic Squadron to Morocco to get respect.


JOHN HAY 
That’s illegal.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT
(smiling)
Why spoil the beauty of the thing with legality?
—President Theodore Roosevelt ordering the rescue of a kidnapped American family held captive by Moslems in The Wind and the Lion.  

In 2010, former Hells Angel and Rourke outrider Chuck Zito (Homefront and HBO’s Oz where bikers ally with Aryan Brotherhood) sued Sutter for stealing the idea for a motorcycle gang show he pitched to FX (under the name Nomads, then The Wild Angels).  The case was settled in favor of Sutter in a court of law (not on the street) because Sutter was able to prove he shopped Sons of Anarchy to HBO and AMC prior to FX.  In a conciliatory move, Sutter gave Zito a recurring fifth season guest role as Nomad biker Frankie Diamonds, along with some screen time on his Discovery Channel documentary series Outlaw Empires (which features episode titles like “American Bikers,” “Aryan Brotherhood,” and “Italian Mafia”).  If Zito needs more consolation, he owns the authentic “Black Death” that Rourke rode in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and not long ago received a blurb from Milius himself for his autobiography Street Justice.  Zito appears in Milius to credit the moviemaker, along with Rorion Gracie, with “start[ing] the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] back in 1993.”  Gracie, in his clip, explains how together they came up with the octagonal cage to keep ultimate fighters in the arena, but only after Milius first proposed “a moat with alligators or sharks or an electric fence.”  

Milius’ own strange and terrible cycle sagas–“Viking Bikers from Hell,” Motorcycle Gang, the unmade Jornada del Muerto–all notably predate both Zito’s Nomads and Sutter’s Sons.  Of course no broadly-sketched creative concept can be uniquely claimed by any single creative mastermind, else nobody could ever again make another crime lab series or police procedural show.  It is a straight line from Milius and Sutter all the way back to a whole outlaw biker gang film genre stretching to The Wild One (Brando again, on his own vintage Thunderbird 650cc) and Easy Rider (where 1960s idealism, like in Sons of Anarchy, becomes an excuse for narcotics trafficking) to any number of the “bikesploitation” movies of AIP and Roger Corman, both of which employed Milius.  But this does not mean that inspiration is untraceable.  During the course of the Zito-Sutter suit, Sutter said via Twitter: “HAVING THE F***ING IDEA IS NOT THE SHOW. THERE HAVE BEEN DOZENS OF OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE TV DRAMAS PITCHED IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. NONE OF THEM HAS MADE IT TO SERIES, EXCEPT SOA...”  Naturally he is right, and none of this is to suggest Sutter has been derivative of anything of Milius’.  Just as there are radically different visions held by Milius’ and Sutter’s biker gangs, so too the depictions differ.  But Sutter is not shy about tipping his hat to the pop culture artifacts and experiences that have shaped his work, so unless footage of him acknowledging his debt to Vice, however small, exists someplace on the cutting room floor of Milius, why not speak up when the cameras were rolling?  Sutter told the Wall Street Journal (11/30/09) that he attended a birthday bash for Hells Angel founding member Sonny Barger (Lenny “The Pimp” Janowitz, founding member of SAMCRO on two episodes of Sons of Anarchy).  He also shared how in his twenties traveled cross-country on his Harley, sold it to pay for grad school, but rides one once again thanks to Harley-Davidson who sponsors his show.  Most significantly, in “Kurt Sutter Explains His Cultural Influences (New York Magazine, 9/16/13), Matt Zoller Seitz got Sutter to enumerate his muses.  Everything from Sons of Anarchy’s well-known Hamlet angle to the Godfather connection is there, along with personal political picks like Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen.  Unsurprisingly, Sutter lists the Rolling Stones who infamously hired Hells Angels bodyguards.  In TV land, Hill Street Blues makes the cut, but oddly not the seminal “Viking Bikers from Hell.”



“For me, the stories are huge on Sons – it’s an epic show and it’s pulpy.”
—Kurt Sutter, Wall Street Journal (11/30/09)

If there remains any doubt that “Viking Bikers from Hell” caught Sutter’s eye early on, consider the Sons of Anarchy episode “John 8:32” in which Clay chomps a prison guard noseless.  The Scripture passage for which the episode is named, “The truth will set you free,” contains Reb’s exact words before he drowns a man he is pumping for information, though the only real truth these devil riders hold is best expressed by a poster for The Wild Angels that screams, “Their credo is violence!  Their God is hate!”  In another episode, “The Culling,” it is Clay’s right-hand man Tig Trager who bites an ear off a white separatist.  Meanwhile, back on Miami Vice, Crockett stops by a biker bar and roughs up the Violator’s point-man Jack Cragun, played by none other than actor Kim Coates, the future Tig on Sons of Anarchy.  “You know, I knew you were in here.  I could smell you all the way outside,” Crockett growls.  “Think it’d be better if I bit your nose off?” Cragun snarls back, recalling images of biting Mick Belker from Miami Vice co-creator Anthony Yerkovich’s other show, Hill Street Blues.  Crockett sneers, “I love it when you talk that way.  Makes me so hot!,” as it probably would the deviant Tig.  “Now we’re gonna play name the wacko!’” he continues before proceeding to use Cragun as his own personal punching bag.  Even with a malodorous Cragun stinking up the joint, at least this time Johnson refrains from vomiting on his suspect the way he does two years later in John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang (1989) where he plays a cop gunning for neo-Nazis (and, briefly, some bikers).

“When you’re a Ranger, you’re a Ranger for life.  These guys were handpicked by the Attorney General of Texas.  They were heroes.  Guys like Bill McCulloch, Bigfoot Wallace.  Frank Hamer was the guy that got Bonnie and Clyde...These guys could ride into hell with a bucket of water.  They used to send one Ranger in to clean up an entire town.  Backup was on his hip.”
—Sonny Crockett,
Miami Vice

With all the corrupt lawmen sullying Sons of Anarchy, the series could use a straight shooter like Crockett, who in one episode called the Texas Rangers childhood heroes of his.  (Said Rangers are Milius’ true heroes, as demonstrated by those in his eponymous 2001 film, the historic ones who hunted John Dillinger, the one in Extreme Prejudice out to smash the Mexican drug trade, those who rode with TR’s Rough Riders, or the one on the trail of bikers in Motorcycle Gang.)  It would be an imaginative bit of cameo casting for Sutter to give “Marlboro Man” Johnson a second go at Tig in Sons of Anarchy.  His Crockett character boasted to the man destined to be Tig, while slapping him around during questioning: “I could do this all day, every day.”  With Sons of Anarchy’s final season in overdrive, today could be one of those days.




GILBERT COLON has written for publications ranging from Filmfax to Cinema Retro to Crimespree Magazine.  His interview with Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral) for Mystery Scene’s Ed Gorman appeared in the anthology book They’re Here, with further articles forthcoming at sites such as Bradley on Film.  Read him at Gilbert Street and send comments to gcolon777@gmail.com.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Voices in the Dark: The Horrors of Dark Fantasy (1941-1942), Part Two



by Jose Cruz

6.      The House of Bread
Original Broadcast: December 26, 1941

Cast: Ben Morris (Scott Bishop), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Sonya), Fred Wayne (Boss), Garland Moss (Word).

Scott Bishop, author of pulp stories and radio plays a-plenty, sits at his typewriter one night trying to strum up some inspiration. A smell of incense and the reverential tones of an organ fill the air and soon Bishop falls asleep. The writer dreams deeply, envisioning himself atop the tallest peak in all of creation, able to hold a God’s-eye-view of the “common clay that mankind calls the Earth.” Soon he is greeted by an older man, one who speaks in vague tones of seeking the ultimate Truth in life. Despite his mystic attitude, the man—who is named Word—tells Bishop that the Truth is by no means unclear and that he will know it when he sees it. He tells the writer that he shall find what he seeks in the House of Bread.

Awaking from the vision, Bishop realizes that he must take on this new life mission. He turns in his resignation to his unnamed boss (perhaps an editor?), despite his employer telling him what promise his career has, including a request from “Fantastic Periodicals” for a new series of supernatural tales. Bishop’s wife Sonya, on the other hand, is much more understanding, astoundingly so. Sonya never once questions her husband’s motives or mental health, chipper and supportive of the whole endeavor regardless of the risk their journey will have and the time that it will take to complete.

Withdrawing the necessary funds from the bank and getting the car fixed, the Bishops start on their cross-country trek. Sonya chronicles their progress in a diary, a nifty device used to economically describe the couple’s advancement across the U.S. to the east coast where they board a ship bound for London. Bishop muses at how “something [told] us our goal was far beyond the sea.”

From there the Bishops hit all the big names of Europe, from Buckingham Palace and gay Paree to the dilapidation of Morocco and opulence of Tripoli. They stop at several sites of interest that go by such holy titles as “The Light of the World” and the “Place of Peace” thinking they will find their destination there, but to no avail. No one knows anything about the House of Bread. Weeks become months and the countries whir past in a blur, the Truth always eluding their desperate grasp.


The Three Kings by Phillip Brown Parsons
Finally, the Bishops finds themselves in Jerusalem. The date: December 25th. But the Bishops are not greeted by idyllic snow on this Christmas Day but a ravaging storm, the clouds “covering all newborn stars but one.” This solitary light overwhelms the couple and they follow its brilliant rays to a humble house where they find shelter from the harsh weather. Also in the abode is none other than the man named Word himself, here to greet and congratulate the duo for their efforts. Scott recognizes the old one from his dream and realizes that his mission has been completed. The old man also reveals his true nature by quoting scripture: “And the Word was God.” He also comments with just a touch of wise judgment that Bishop now fully believes in the Truth only because he can see it. “Blessed is he who has not seen Me and still believes,” the old man intones as the organ pipes its sacred chorus.

It is only after Scott and Sonya awake the next morning feeling incredibly refreshed that they understand Bishop’s dream entirely. They learn from some locals that Jerusalem was named by the Hebrews, a word when translated means “the house of bread.”

Though it might surprise contemporary listeners, a religiously-themed play on a horror program was not exactly rare. Wyllis Cooper, original creator of Lights Out! and Quiet, Please, had written one such story for the former show (the title varies in radio logs: “Uninhabited,” “Three Men,” “Christmas Story”) that served as a Yuletide special. It tells the tale of three WWI soldiers of varying ethnicities who are united by chance around Christmastime when they share a train compartment only to find out that they are contemporary variants of the Three Kings after they are beset by powerful dreams and fragrances of myrrh, echoing Bishop’s similar episode from “The House of Bread.”

This unofficial tradition makes for a surprising entry in Dark Fantasy’s catalog of wraiths and monsters, one that will either fascinate the listener as a refreshingly different take on the hallmarks of the Bible being considered as supernatural events or a thudding bore filled with saccharine homilies about belief and good will. Or, like me, a little bit of both.

“The House of Bread” is strongest during its hallucinogenic scenes, ones that portray the search for Truth that Bishop is tasked with finding in the cryptically-named, titular site as a journey into mystery where anything is possible. The effect of this episode, however, might be dependent on the listener’s beliefs. The elucidations of Word might come off as too preachy in his extensive quoting of the Bible, but if viewed in general terms they take on a kind of mythic power and wisdom. When the elder tells Bishop “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light,” Bishop asks who had said that. Word’s response is moving in its simplicity: “They were words spoken by a man who was about to die.”

The rest of the play has other affecting passages. At hearing Bishop’s newfound mission, his boss asks him exasperatedly “What in the name of heaven has come over you?” Bishop (the real one that is) lets the statement’s irony register with the listener without thankfully having one of his characters point it out. Sonya also makes a witty estimation of Madrid’s two social classes, saying that the populace is divided into “those who stay up past three and those who wake up before four.”

The characters themselves are, of course, of interest in themselves. Continuing the tradition of Arch Oboler and Wyllis Cooper casting “themselves” in their own respective shows (Oboler was the only one to genuinely perform in his), Bishop puts himself in the middle of the drama for “The House of Bread.” An unorthodox choice, considering that Oboler’s and Cooper’s episodes dealt with them primarily as the writers and creators of their radio programs (“The House of Bread” makes no such mention of Dark Fantasy). Perhaps “The House of Bread” reflects Bishop’s own search for the truth, his metaphysical ponderings worked out under the guise of a holiday special.

The satirical pokes are still present though, especially in evidence during the exchange between “Bishop” and his boss. The employer makes reference to “the trunk full of rejection slips” that the writer received trying to submit to the slicks and the evening hours he spent penning for the pulps, a background that Bishop (in reality George M. Hamaker) would undoubtedly have sympathized with. He even makes dissatisfied reference to a radio play he’s writing (“an Egyptian mummy thing”) and Sonya later purchases a back issue of a magazine that has one of her husband’s stories in it, a throwaway detail that adds a touch of genuineness to their relationship. Did the real Dores Hamaker nee Hatfield collect her husband’s work and bestow complete trust in him like Sonya in the episode? Like the central Truth found in “The House of Bread,” it would certainly be nice to believe.

7.      Resolution 1841
Original Broadcast: January 2, 1942

Cast: Charles Carshon (Duke Tobac), Minnie Jo Curtis (Laura Cabot), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Helen Richards), and Ben Morris (Ed Richards).

Laura Cabot recounts the strange events that occurred only a few hours previously when she and her friends gathered together to celebrate the New Year, 1942. “I must tell someone,” she explains. “And so… I’m telling you.”

Duke Tobac, a friend of Ed and Helen Richards, is accompanying the couple and Laura as they make their way across the snow-swept country lane in Quincy, Massachusetts, to the cabin that has been in Laura’s family for centuries. The Richards are clearly hoping that Duke and Laura will hit it off, which they certainly seem to be doing as they spend time getting to know each other. A revelation suddenly comes to Laura: Duke’s last name reversed is Cabot. Adding to the oddity is the fact that Duke recognizes the house despite having never being there before.

Laura herself feels the complete opposite. The usually cozy atmosphere of the familial estate somehow seems different and off. Both Laura and Duke compound the mystery when they voice their opinions of their “dates.” Duke says that Laura is charming but that “it seems I have known her before. Somewhere. Sometime.” And Laura confesses to Helen that she has felt a similar attraction to Duke, “something greater” than love.

Later the group bids farewell to 1941 and look forward to what lies ahead. “May all our troubles disappear like bubbles of champagne,” Laura toasts, an optimistic attitude for Bishop to give his characters considering the fact that it wasn’t even a month prior to this broadcast that radio listeners received a very different kind of New Year’s resolution from President Roosevelt. Seeing that the fire is starting to get low, Duke volunteers to brave the cold and fetch some wood.

Laura comes back wearing a dress that belonged to her mother she found in an old trunk, her friends commenting on how quaint and antiquated it makes her look. At the mention of her family, Laura reveals the trouble she’s in: the house has been heavily mortgaged and she can’t afford to keep it with all the debt she’s accumulated. Quick to reinforce his status as a man, Ed tells her they can’t help her out. Just then a loud clattering is heard from outside. Ed rushes to the rescue and finds Duke sprawled in the snow with a semi-serious head wound.


Times Square, New Year's Eve 1941
Duke is barely lucid as he’s carried back into the cabin, finally calling out to Laura in a hoarse, aged voice. He refers to Ed and Helen as strangers and asks Laura why she keeps addressing him so informally. He tells her that he is not Duke but Jeremiah Cabot, Laura’s great-great-grandfather, and she his daughter. Laura is stunned: Jeremiah was the source of a Cabot family legend that held that the old codger made a New Year’s resolution to return to earth after his death.

The purpose of the spiritual visit isn’t made clear until Duke/Jeremiah indicates to Laura that there is a brick in the fireplace that can be removed. In the stone hutch, Laura finds some family photos, the original deed to the house, and ten thousand dollars stowed away. His mission completed, Jeremiah’s whiskery spirit leaves Duke’s body and the friendly lug is back to his old self. Laura reads the words from Jeremiah’s last will and testament in awe, recording his sworn intent to come back to the land of the living from the year 1841!

“Resolution 1841” is a quietly magical though slight episode from Dark Fantasy, relying on the old reincarnation theme without adding its own flavor to the mix, leading the audience to feel just as much déjà vu as the characters. It is an interesting progression for the series showing that, like with the previous religious-themed story “The House of Bread,” there was ample ground to cover besides the regular ghosts and ghouls.

The quaint narrative doesn’t ever move past bland generalities in its exploration of the supernatural though—the characters always refer to “something” that’s either “strange” or “odd”—and the final wrap-up with the ancestor’s spirit pointing the way to the buried treasure might smell a bit too much of Scooby-Doo and The Hardy Boys for some tastes. The blustery wind effects do add a potent note of chilliness that give the story a solid sense of place.

Sadly, it’s the moment when Helen refers to Laura as being twenty-three years old—as portrayed by the very worn and brittle voice of Minnie Jo Curtis—that accounts for the episode’s one truly unbelievable incident.

8.      The Curse of the Neanderthal
Original Broadcast: January 9, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Reggie), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Amanda), Murillo Schofield (Hayes), Fred Wayne (Doctor Gustaf), and Daryl McAllister (The Neanderthal Man).

Amanda Loveland is desperately trying to call her sister Grace in London from the artist colony she’s residing in at Lookout Point. Her beau Reggie and friend Hayes gently joke at Amanda’s urgency, but despite her sarcasm—“Oh no, I’m just sitting here jiggling this receiver for the exercise!”—Amanda is taking the matter very seriously. She knows Grace is due to be at a tea party, but she has reason to believe that her sister is nowhere near London.

As she explains to Reggie and Hayes, earlier she had gone out to Nannau Canyon to do some painting. Nannau Canyon, by the way, might be a reference to “The Demon Tree,” as the source of that story was the legend of the Strangling Tree of Nannau Woods. This would be corroborated by Hayes’ reaction to hearing Amanda’s tale: “They say the place is simply oozing with ghosts at night!”

Just as Amanda is starting to apply the coloring to her portrait, she hears a great rumbling and sees that the path back to the colony has completely caved-in, leaving her stranded in the middle of the canyon. Trying to find her way out, Amanda hears the horrid screeching of a bird (most likely provided by WKY animal impersonator Muir Hite) but ponders why there is “No other night noises at all.” Suddenly Amanda spots a light illuminating a figure in the distance. She’s shocked when she recognizes it is her sister Grace, beckoning her sibling to the way out of the canyon. Before Amanda can reach Grace, she has disappeared without a trace.

Back in the colony having told her strange tale, Amanda gets a call from her sister. Grace confirms that she is in fact in London and has been the whole time. So just who could it have been that acted as Amanda’s guardian angel? Hayes believes that it was one of the resident Nannau spirits that took the familiar form of her sister to help her in her time of need, though Reggie is less inclined to believe in the possibilities of the paranormal despite the evidence he’s already seen.

Hayes asks Amanda if he can look at her painting, but when it’s unveiled the group is shocked to find a new addition to the landscape that Amanda has no memory of creating. “A strange, monstrous-looking creature lurking in the shadows” they gasp. “A huge, fiendish thing” they utter. The mystery now ever so thicker, the group decides to investigate further by journeying back to the canyon… but in the full light of day.

Going back to the exact location where the monster was painted, the trio spots a pile of human bones resting there. Reggie concludes that the remains are from a Neanderthal man hundreds of years old, and it is he who then posits that it was this ancient caveman’s spirit who turned into Grace to save Amanda. Way to stick to your convictions, Reggie.

The group takes the fossils to the resident historian/archaeologist Dr. Gustaf, and the old man similarly concludes that the bones are from a caveman. He also proves helpful in deciphering a sample of the Neanderthal’s “picture writing” that the group found along with the remains: “Who moves my bones will surely die as I have died.” Gustaf insists on making an exhibit of the remains at the museum and poo-poos the curse. The doctor then puts on his exhibit, is claimed a genius by the historic community, and goes on to live a long and fruitful life.

Oh, you wanted to know how the story actually ended?

Reggie and Amanda later return to the museum to check out the caveman display but are perturbed to find the exhibit missing. Just then an eight-foot tall man who speaks very slowly interrupts them to ask the way to Gustaf’s study. Reggie gives the man the directions and the stranger goes on his way. The couple marvels at the giant’s “bushy eyebrows” and “wide forehead,” also noting the grotesque twist the stranger had in his neck. Amanda has her suspicions, but before you can say “revenant” she and Reggie are spooked to find the intact caveman skeleton inexplicably back in its place. Rushing to the doctor’s study, they find Gustaf dead of a broken neck. Reading the last line Gustaf scribbled in his notebook, Reggie discovers that the caveman perished by the very same means.

“Curse of the Neanderthal” goes for a sense of grave solemnity and mystery that unfortunately only seems to make it more risible. Bishop cannot seem to settle on what properties he wants to bestow upon his threat. It’s not enough that the caveman himself comes back to life; his spirit must also have the power to transform at will too. He acts as both savior and executioner. This dichotomy might not seem so bad but the narrative is too confused to be truly suspenseful.

There are some just plain goofy moments that level any kind of tension out. The encounter with the revived Neanderthal (the sonorous tones of Daryl McAllister, previously seen as Emperor Buul in the similarly odd “The Thing from the Sea”) is especially non-frightening. McAllister talks in a stilted fashion to embody his inherent primitiveness, and yet he still speaks perfect English, a power undoubtedly picked up during the Changeling classes he took in the centuries after his death. Not to mention that he has perfect manners for a knuckle-dragging brute. “Pardon me for having disturbed you,” he tells the couple after asking for their assistance.

This episode also suffers from some deterioration that hampers the listening experience in some spots. The scene of Amanda talking to her sister Grace on the phone has prominent white noise and a persistent “clapping” can be discerned when the group consults Dr. Gustaf’s expertise. The finale in the museum is barely audible through the aural scratching, but the pertinent information can still be gleaned if one listens closely.

9.      Debt from the Past
Original Broadcast: January 16, 1942

Cast: Jane Wyatt (Mary Billings), Ben Morris (Mark Matthew), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Office Manager), and Muir Hite (Mr. Gibson).

A woman asks a man sitting on a park bench if she may peruse his copy of the newspaper and he gladly concedes. It seems both of them (she Mary Billings, he Mark Matthew) are in the desperate process of searching for employment. Mark jokingly acknowledges his shoes: “Those are yesterday’s want ads I’m walking on.” He’s been sleeping on the same bench for days and eating sparingly. Noticing Mary’s own hunger, Mark invites her to hamburgers and coffee at the local diner.

Mary explains that she’s only been in town for two weeks and her search has been just as fruitless as Mark’s. She does point out a particular ad in the paper that seems promising. It asks for an “ambitious, talented, and reasonably attractive” woman to apply for the position of a typist at the Temple Building. Mark coyly references the fact that Mary certainly has the looks for the job. But they both ponder the one odd caveat in the ad: interested parties can only apply after midnight. Still, a job’s a job.

Traveling to the deserted building in the dead of night, Mary takes the elevator up to the appointed thirteenth floor (!), praying that this may be her break. The lift doors open to reveal a huge office that’s filled with “rows and rows of desks” and “brilliant lights.” It looks by all appearances like a contemporary workplace, but Mary can’t help but note the old-fashioned clothes that everyone seems to be wearing. Consulting head honcho Mr. Gibson in his office, Mary is further confused when the manager insists that he placed his want ad in the City Bee, not the Times as Mary had seen.

Testing his new applicant’s dictation prowess, Mr. Gibson outlines a letter to be sent to an associate and is astounded by how efficiently Mary takes it down. For this strong asset Gibson is willing to offer Mary a cool twenty dollars a week for her services. Mary is politely depressed by this news, telling Mr. Gibson that she might feel the need to ask for a raise after a period of time when she has proved her work ethic has earned it. Gibson is open to this, but he is a little more critical of Mary’s appearance, telling her she must dress in more conservative long sleeves and ankle-length skirts and do away with her makeup.

The young lady is eager to please, so she offers to tidy up Gibson’s office, noting that the calendar is clearly outdated. She tells him that it’s January 1942, not April 1912 as the calendar says. “I can’t understand what would lead you to say a thing like that,” he tells her. To further prove his point, he furnishes a crisp edition of the daily paper, the headline of the R. M. S. Titanic’s tragic sinking screaming out to her from the front page. Mary is completely mystified by these events, and she can only dazedly agree when Mrs. Johnson, the office manager, takes down her pertinents and observes that if Mary is twenty-two she must have been born in 1890.

Jane Wyatt
At the end of her overnight shift, Mary reports to Gibson who appears to be in his own strange reverie. He provides her with a check for eighty dollars, the sum of a whole month’s work. He tells Mary that she is just what he expected her to be and looks out at the advancing new day. “The dawn will soon be here and… Would you mind going now?” Gibson bids farewell to Mary, wishing her the utmost happiness.

Mary tells Mark of the entire odd experience and the two resolve to go right back to the office. But when they arrive, the clerical setting has transformed into a shuttered room with “heaps of junk and boxes and barrels” strewn about. Not only that, but Mark informs her that the City Bee, the newspaper Gibson insisted he advertised in, had gone out of business at least twenty years earlier. And why is the check Gibson offered made out to Mary’s mother, Margaret Billings?

It isn’t long before they find out. Looking through her late mother’s diary, Mary comes across an entry that explains she worked for Gibson’s company when it suddenly shut down operations, leaving all its employees without a month’s pay. Gibson promised to pay back his workers as soon as he could. Margaret laments this sad news in her diary and mentions the terrible Titanic accident that occurred that same day. So it seems that even though Gibson had to transcend life and death to do so, he ensured that this was one debt that was fully settled.

“Debt from the Past” was a play written by Scott Bishop especially for Jane Wyatt, the program’s only guest star player. Wyatt would later be a three-time Emmy-winner for her performance as Margaret Anderson in Father Knows Best, and she certainly does an admirable job of playing the innocent but persevering Mary. It’s too bad a more dynamic story couldn’t be provided, as “Debt from the Past” is the type of rote “They were friendly ghosts the whole time” yarn that you see in “true-life” titles like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction all the time. It’s fairly fluffy stuff, and when compared to the premiere episode, “The Man Who Came Back,” it makes the latter seem like a rip-roaring yarn of epic proportions.

There are some bizarre lapses in logic that aren’t doing any favors for anyone either. Most glaringly, why would Gibson’s ghost feel the need to stage this elaborate scenario of hiring Mary at a phantom office just to give her eighty bucks he owed her mother? And why would he pretend like he couldn’t understand Mary’s confusion with the anachronistic surroundings while being fully aware (if his final words are any indication) that this was all just a supernatural intervention from the beginning? Couldn’t he just have appeared at her front door and said “This for you-oo-oo-ooo…” before vanishing into thin air? That would have been a decidedly shorter episode, but it reveals the true thinness of the premise.

Not only that, but the act of charity that Gibson’s payment of the owed money seems to be is negated when one considers that the spirit wasted Mary’s time working for a non-existent company and ended up leaving her back in the unemployment line. So much for favors.

Mark’s acceptance of Mary’s fantastic story is just as shaky. Upon returning to the dilapidated office, Mark recovers a tube of Mary’s lipstick, an item she says she accidentally left behind. “Then what you told me did happen,” Mark responds in awe. No, it just proves that Mary might be a mentally ill woman who was playing with makeup in an abandoned building. It’s strange why Bishop didn’t save Mark’s reaction for a stronger piece of evidence, such as the check Gibson wrote out.

“Debt from the Past” may lightly amuse for its twenty-odd minutes, but when it comes to being well-written it doesn’t have a ghost of a chance.


Coming in Two Weeks: Part Three of Voices  in the Dark!

This Saturday: John Milius and The Sons of Anarchy!