Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fredric Brown on TV Part One: Alfred Hitchcock Presents "The Dangerous People"

by Jack Seabrook

    One of my favorite adaptations of a Fredric Brown short story is "The Dangerous People," which was broadcast as the last episode of season two of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on June 23, 1957.
    "The Dangerous People" was first published as "No Sanctuary" in the March 1945 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine.

   It was reprinted in Brown's collection of short mystery stories, Mostly Murder, which was published by Dutton in 1953.  Most likely, the creative team behind Alfred Hitchcock Presents saw the story in this collection and purchased the rights, since other stories in the same collection were also adapted for the TV series.  The story was again reprinted in the fine 1985 collection edited by Francis M. Nevins, Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown.

    As the story opens, Mr. Bellefontaine waits on the platform of a little railroad station somewhere in the Midwest and hears a distant siren, "the wail of a tortured fiend," that alerts everyone to the fact that someone has escaped from the Asylum for the Criminally Insane only five miles away.

    Mr. Bellefontaine is a lawyer with a secret; in his briefcase he carries a revolver, which he is transporting for a client.  Inside the station is one other passenger, a shabbily dressed man who sits by a potbellied coal stove.  The two men talk, and we learn that the other is Mr. Jones, a bookkeeper for the Saxe Paint Company.
    In the remote little station, each man begins to suspect that the other is the escaped lunatic.  Bellefontaine watches Jones idly play with a poker by the coal stove, while Jones begins to realize that Bellefontaine came out of the bathroom with a gun in his pocket.  Each man's thoughts are made known to the reader through an interior monologue, and Jones is as harmless as Bellefontaine, but Brown ratchets up the suspense as their paranoia increases, with the wailing siren in the background.
    A freight train approaches and they nearly attack each other just as a policeman enters the station.  In the story's twist ending, the policeman turns out to be the escaped lunatic, and the two man savagely attack him with gun and poker, tying him up to await the authorities.

    As the lunatic killer is taken away, he thinks that both men "had gone off like a charge of dynamite," and "he'd be safer back in the asylum . . . They must be crazy!"

    "No Sanctuary" is a wonderful little tale of suspense, using interior monologues and changing points of view to let the reader in on what each man is thinking without allowing the characters to reveal their thoughts to each other.
    There are a few clues to the setting of the story.  Bellefontaine is headed for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Jones is headed for Madison.  Jones works for the Saxe Paint Company, the main office of which is in Chicago, Illinois, but which also has a branch office in Madison.  The escaped lunatic killed a policeman in Waynesville, and they are at a railroad station.                             

    Some quick internet research reveals no town called Waynesville in Wisconsin, but there is one in central Illinois, about a four-hour drive from Milwaukee.  Waynesville today is a tiny town that is dying out.  It is near the old train stop at Wapella on the Illinois Central line, so one may imagine that the events of this story took place at the Wapella station back in the mid-1940s.

    There is a good deal of information on old insane asylums on the web as well, and my favorite in Illinois was in Bartonville, a building now said to be haunted.

   The story was adapted for television by Francis Cockrell, who wrote numerous scripts for movies and TV, including 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and episodes of Batman and The Outer Limits.  The teleplay is quite faithful to the short story, right down to the character and place names.  The thoughts of the two main characters are expressed through voice-over, which sets up a nice contrast to their innocuous dialogue.  Cockrell expands the story to teleplay length by adding conversation between the characters, but the plot points follow the story almost exactly.


    The script even contains a pun that would have made Fredric Brown proud; as Jones stands in the station, suffering from a terrible hangover, he thinks that he should walk uptown to get a drink but he can't because he suffers from inertia.  He thinks:  "I would go uptown and get myself a drink but I haven't got the ertia."

    The climax is changed slightly to add a bit of action; in the story, the two men attack the lunatic and the next thing we know he is tied up.  In the television program, Bellefontaine pulls his gun on the man and Jones tries to run out of the station; the lunatic chases him and they wrestle for a moment until asylum orderlies appear and overpower the man.  The program ends with Bellefontaine and Jones chatting amiably, admitting that each had suspected the other.

    "The Dangerous People" was directed by Robert Stevens, who directed more episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (44) than anyone else. 

He won an Emmy in 1958 for directing "The Glass Eye," another classic Hitchcock episode whose cast included a young William Shatner.  Stevens does a wonderful job of creating suspense, using close-ups, sound, and music to establish a claustrophobic atmosphere.  The set of the station is perfect, with a chewing gum machine on the wall, a penny scale next to it, and several benches.  The director of photography was the talented Lionel Lindon, about whom much has been written (and spoken) in the commentaries on the recent Thriller DVD set and last year's A Thriller a Day blog.

    Sound was by Richard Tyler, and the haunting siren has stayed with me for decades since I first saw this show at 2:30 in the morning on New York's channel 9.  The music is also perfect, provided by music supervisor Stanley Wilson, who also worked on Thriller and Night Gallery.

    But the most credit should go to Albert Salmi (as Jones) and Robert H. Harris (as Bellefontaine).  Salmi was a method actor who was very good at exuding a sense of menace; he died tragically in 1990 when he shot and killed his wife before turning a gun on himself.

    Harris also did many TV episodes, including eight on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and he specialized in portraying little men who were unlikeable and dangerous in a pathetic sort of way.

    "The Dangerous People" is contained in the season two box set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents released by Universal in 2006 and can also be seen on Hulu.


Brown, Fredric. ""The Dangerous People"" Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories
    of Fredric Brown
. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1985. 90-
    100. Print.
"The Dangerous People." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 23 June 1957. Television.
Galactic Central. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
Halliwell, Leslie, and John Walker. Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies. New York:
    HarperCollins, 1997. Print.
"Illinois Central." American Heritage. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
"Shadowlands Haunted Places Index - Illinois." The Shadowlands. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
Skateboards, Zero. "Bartonville Insane Asylum Pictures." A Graphic, Industrial, Interior
 and Modern Design Magazine. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 20

by Peter Enfantino

Vol. 3 No. 2  February 1955
144 pages, 35 cents
Cover by Michael

The Revolving Door by Sam Merwin, Jr.
(4000 words) **   illo by “GHP”
            Marty embezzles 50 grand from the mob and has to hide out in a fancy hotel, waiting for a way out of town. Well-written story with a predictable outcome.
            This was Sam Merwin, Jr.’s first Manhunt appearance (with three more to follow). Son of writer Samuel  Merwin, Sam Merwin, Jr (1910-1996) dabbled in both crime and science fiction fiction. His science fiction included The House of Many Worlds (1951) and its followup, Three Faces of Time (1955). Crime novels included Murder in Miniatures (1940), Knife in My Back (1945) The Creeping Shadow (1952), and Killer To Come (1953). In addition, Merwin was omnipresent in the pulps (just a few of the titles he appeared in: Detective Novel, Thrilling Adventure, Fifteen Sports Stories, Phantom Detective). His short story, “The Big Score”(from Manhunt, July 1955) was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1962.

Hot by Evan Hunter
(4500 words) ***   illo by Houlihan
            Life aboard a Naval ship in Guantanamo Bay aint all it’s cracked up to be even if you’re on the good side of the skipper, which Peters definitely is not. His commander has it out for Peters, but Peters is determined to make him pay.

Return Engagement by Frank Kane
(8000 words) *   illo by James Sentz
            Johnny Liddell is hired by Abel Terrell, a man who believes he murdered someone months before. Problem is, the victim’s body turns up and police say the man died within the past few days. Terrell doesn’t know what kind of scam is being played but he’s pretty sure there’s one and he’s been the target. So how did the corpse get a second life (and death)? Johnny know that the answers to all difficult questions are usually found in a nightclub and the answer usually has something to do with a beautiful girl. The weakest of the Liddells thus far is lackluster and lazily written with a lame payoff.

The Pigeons by Hal Ellson
(2000 words) *
            At a home for boys, Hop is constantly picked on by Al. Hop’s only consolation is the pigeon nest next to his window. When Al finds this out, he sabotages Hop’s happiness.

The Competitors by Richard Deming
(4000 words) ***   illo by Houlihan
            Sam and Dave find that business is less than booming at their mortuary. When Dave comes up with the bright idea of buying a combination hearse/ambulance to branch out, things get a little rosier. That is, until their only competitor, Harry Averill, of Averill’s Funeral home, gets the same idea. That’s when Dave comes up with a novel way to drum up more business for the funeral home: murder their riders on the way to the hospital. Dark comedy is absurd at times (well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it?) but ultimately entertains. Would have made a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Rendezvous by James T. Farrell
(5000 words) ** ½
            Annabelle lives the good life; nice house, rich husband, no job, everything money can buy. But she’s not happy. She feels she can find happiness in one night stands. To that end, she contacts an old college acquaintance (the boyfriend who never was), now a big shot newspaper writer living in New York and asks him if they can meet and talk about old times. So they meet and talk, and talk, and talk. A nice enough slice of life story but here comes my “this does not belong in a Detective Story Monthly” speech. I’d like to know how readers at the time reacted to stories in Manhunt that had no criminal elements whatsoever (other than imagined adultery).

Self-Defense by Harold Q. Masur
(5000 words) ** 1/2   illo by Dick Shelton
            George Richardson fears his adopted son will be kindnapped in the near future so he hires attorney Scott Jordan to handle the ransom drop if the boy is snatched. Sure enough, his son is taken. Better-than-average Jordan tale (the 8th of 9 to appear in Manhunt) is almost ruined by its Perry Mason-esque wrap-up wherein Scott tells us all about how the kidnapping went down – even though there’s no way he could know this information. Interetsing side note: in the Mugged & Printed column this issue, the editors mistakenly title this story “Dead Issue,” which is actualy the title of the previous Scott Jordan mystery (December 25, 1954).

Classification: Homicide by Jonathan Craig
(17,500 words) **   illo by Gussman
            A woman is found stabbed to death on the top of her brownstone apartment in New York. Detectives Walt Logan and Steve Manning catch the case and eventually get to the bottom of the brutal murder.
            The first of Jonathan Craig’s “Police Files” stories, “Classification: Homicide” tends to get bogged down by Craig’s love of technical terms and police lingo and doesn’t spend enough time developing characters. I can tell there are some good characters sketched in this novel, but unfortunately it’s hinted at rather than fleshed out. The obvious comparison to the “Police Files” series and Craig’s other series, the Pete Selby novels, would be Ed McBain’s long-running 87th Precinct novels (the first novel of which, Cop Hater, would be published in 1956) which also dwells on every move a cop makes and every form he fills out. McBain does it better though.

Mugged and Printed this issue features James T. Farrell, Hal Ellson, Frank Kane, and Jonathon Craig.
Also in this issue:  Crime Cavalcade by Vincent H. Gaddis; You, Detective #3: The Sweet Death by Wilson Harman; What’s Your Verdict #8: The Legal Mind by Sam Ross; and Portrait of a Killer #19: Herbert Mills by Dan Sontup.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Health Knowledge Genre Magazines Part Six: Startling Mystery Stories

by Peter Enfantino
(Part 3 of 3)

No. 13 Summer 1969
130 pages, 50 cents
cover by Richard Schmand 
(though credited to Robert Schmand)

(1) The Gray Killer – Everil Worrell
(11,000 words; from Weird Tales, November 1929)
(3) * The Scar – J. Ramsey Campbell (7000 words)
(6) *Where There’s Smoke – Donna Gould Welk (2200 words)
(5) Ancient Fires – Seabury Quinn
(16,500 words; from Weird Tales, September 1926)
(4) * The Hansom Cab – Ken Porter (3000 words)
(2) The Veil of Tanit – Eugene de Rezske
(9000 words; from Strange Tales, March 1932)

Notes: In The Editor’s Page, editor Robert A. W. Lowndes discusses Edgar Allan Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and detective Auguste Dupin. J. Ramsey Campbell went on to be a big name in horror fiction, but by 1964 (at the age of 18) he’d already had a collection of his Cthulthu Mythos stories published by Arkham House, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants.Campbell went on to write acclaimed novels such as The Face That Must Die, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and Incarnate. He added “crime writer” to his resume with the excellent The One Safe Place in 1995. “Where There’s Smoke” appears to be Welk’s only published fiction (at least I find no other trace of her). RAWL mentions in Welk’s bio that the author is awaiting the return of her Air Force Lieutenant husband from Pakistan. Perhaps that ended her career? “Ancient Fires” is followed by Part One of a chronological listing of the Jules de Grandin stories. Featured are four of the Weird Tales covers that highlighted a de Grandin story. There’s also a bit of discussion of the cover and interior artists. As with Welk, I can find no further trace of Ken Porter after this appearance. In his Inquisitions column, RAWL reviews Mr. Fairlee’s Final Journey by August Derleth and The Sherlockian Doyle, published by Luther Norris. RAWL also takes a look at 3 new fanzines: The Baker Street Journal, The Armchair Detective, and The Rohmer Review. Contributing to the letters page this issue is Stuart Schiff (editor and publisher of Whispers) and author David Drake.

No. 14 Winter 1969
130 pages, 50 cents
cover by Virgil Finlay

(2) The Dogs of Doctor Dwann – Edmond Hamilton
(12,000 words; from Weird Tales, October 1932)
(5) *The Parasite – Dorothy Norman Cooke (6500 words)
(1) The Outsider – H. P. Lovecraft
(2750 words; from Weird Tales, April 1926)
The Crawler – Robert A. W. Lowndes
(verse; from New Annals of Arkya)
(3) The White Domino – Urann Thayer
(5750 words; from Ghost Stories, July 1928)
* The Case of the Doctor Who Had No Business – Richard Lupoff (4600 words)
(6) The Feline Phantom – Gilbert Draper
(3750 words; from Strange Tales, March 1932)
(4) The Consuming Flame – Paul Ernst
(14,000 words; from Weird Tales, November 1935)

Notes: In his Editor’s Page, RAWL discusses Philo Vance. “The Dogs” is illustrated by T. Wyatt Nelson. Dorothy Norman Cooke joins the League of Vanished Authors. Lupoff’s contribution chronicles a fanciful visit between Edgar Rice Burroughs and Dr. Watson. “The Consuming Flame” is a Doctor Satan story. In The Cauldron (the letters page), RAWL discusses the Lancer paperback reprintings of The Outsider. Contributing letters are future monster movie TV host John Stanley (who asks after a new Robert Bloch hardcover, not knowing at the time that in a couple decades he’d actually publish a Robert Bloch collection—Lost in Time and Space with Lefty Feep).

No. 15 Spring 1970
130 pages, 50 cents
cover by Robert Clewell

(3) Horror Insured – Paul Ernst
(14,500 words; from Weird Tales, January 1936)
(4) By Hands of the Dead – Francis Flagg
(6250 words, from Strange Tales, March 1932)
(1) The Monkey’s Paw – W. W. Jacobs
(5500 words; from Harper’s, September 1902)
(5) * Cry, Baby, Cry – Henry Slesar (4000 words)
(2) The Man Who Cast No Shadow – Seabury Quinn
(13,500 words; from Weird Tales, February 1927)

Notes: RAWL discusses Agatha Christie’s sleuth Hercule Poirot in his Editor’s Page. “Horror Insured” is another tale in the saga of Doctor Satan (the final to be run by Health Knowledge).  The story, it is noted, has been “slightly revised in order to eliminate certain inconsistencies in the original version.” This was also done to “The Consuming Flame” in the previous issue. The Flagg story is illustrated by H. W. Wesso. “The Monkey’s Paw” is illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen (since this illo is dated 1900, it’s questionable as to whether this accompanied the story in its original appearance). Reviewed are Who Done It? By Ordean H. Hagen, a massive study of detective, mystery, and  suspense fiction, and A Compendium of Canonical Weaponry, compiled by  Bruce Dettman and Michael Bedford. Part Two of The Cases of Jules de Grandin, a chronological listing of the stories from 1933-1951, appears following “The Man Who Cast…”. 4 more Quinn Weird Tales covers are reproduced and RAWL discusses the cover artists. Mike Ashley writes in.

No. 16 Summer 1970
130 pages, 60 cents
cover by Richard Schmand

(5) The Smell – Francis Flagg
(5000 words; from Strange Tales, January 1932)
(3) *The Temple of Death – David H. Keller, M. D. (12,000 words)
(4) The Silver Bullet – Phyllis A. Whitney
(8500 words; from Weird Tales, February 1935)
(2) *The Man Who Collected Eyes – Eddy C. Bertin (3100 words)
(1) The Devil’s Rosary – Seabury Quinn
(18,500 words; from Weird Tales, April 1929)

Notes: RAWL discusses Miss Marple and various other topics in The Editor’s Page. The unfortunately titled “The Smell” is illustrated by H. W. Wesso. “The Temple of Death,” a Taine of San Francisco tale, is a posthumous story, submitted by Keller’s widow.  “The Silver Bullet” is illustrated by Vincent Napoli. Inquisitions features reviews of Number Seven Queer Street by Margery Lawrence and The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of pastiches published by Abal Books. It’s noted after “The Devil’s Rosary” (a de Grandin story) that, as this issue went to press, RAWL had just received news of the passing of Seabury Quinn on December 24, 1969.

No. 17 Fall 1970
130 pages, 60 cents
cover by Richard Schmand

The Infernal Shadow – Hugh B. Cave
(10,500 words; from Strange Tales, October 1932)
The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis – Clark Ashton Smith
(8750 words; from Weird Tales, May 1932)
*Laura – Joseph H. Bloom (4250 words)
The Vicar of Hell – Edward D. Hoch
(10,500 words; from Famous Detective, August 1956)
The Bride of Dewer – Seabury Quinn
(13,500 words; from Weird Tales, July 1930)

Notes: RAWL dissects G. K. Chesterton’s sleuth, Father Brown in The Editor’s Page. An uncredited illo accompanies “The Infernal Shadow” (it looks, to me, like H. W. Wesso’s work). T. Wyatt Nelson illustrates “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.”  “The Vicar of Hell” is the final Simon Ark story to be reprinted by Health Knowledge which is unfortunate since I found the stories I read from the series to be top-notch pulpish fun. C. C. Senf,, who did several sharp covers for Weird Tales in the early 1930s, illustrates the Jules de Grandin “The Bride of Dewer” (this would be the last de Grandin to be reprinted by Lowndes). In his review of A Compendium of Canonical Weaponry (in #15), Lowndes made a mistake about a revolver and fandom lets him know what they do in their spare time. Two full-holstered readers write in to rip RAWL a new one. The newest title, Bizarre Fantasy Tales, is featured in an ad on the back cover. Unfortunately, the zine would last only two issues.

No. 18 March 1971
130 pages, 75 cents
Uncredited cover

Drome of the Living Dead – John Scott Douglas
(11,000 words; from Weird Tales, August 1935)
*Conjured – Larry Eugene Meredith (2300 words)
The Golden Patio – Aubrey Feist
(6000 words; from Strange Tales, June 1932)
*The Cleaning Machine – F. Paul Wilson (2000 words)
The Storm That Had To Be Stopped – Murray Leinster
(27,000 words; from Argosy, March 1, 1930)

Notes: The final issue of SMS is the only one to be tagged with a month rather than a season.  RAWL discusses Nero Wolfe in his Editor’s Page. RAWL reviews The Secrets of Dr. Taverner by Dion Fortune, the latest issue of The Rohmer Review, and a chapbook by Jacob C. Solovay, Sherlock Holmes: Two Sonnet Sequences. An uncredited illo accompanies “The Golden Patio.” F. Paul Wilson went on to become the best-selling author of The Keep and several novels featuring hit-man Repairman Jack. “The Storm” is a follow-up to “The Darkness on Fifth Avenue” (SMS #5) and “The City of the Blind” (SMS #12). The final “Cauldron” is given a nice illustration (uncredited) and features a letter from Richard Lupoff (concerning his story in #14). RAWL notes in answer to a reader’s query that the remainder of Doctor Satan stories will be reprinted in good time. Another NRA member/SMS subscriber writes in to give RAWL a piece of his mind. As noted, this was the final issue of SMS. However, a “Next Issue” ad featured a snippet from “The Full-Moon Maniac,”  an original story written by David Charles Paskow, a frequent letter writer to the Health Knowledge digests. It’s doubtful this story was ever published (at least not in a professional magazine).


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Tangled Web: The Annotated Guide to Web Detective Stories Part 3

by Peter Enfantino

Vol. 3/#2 August 1960

A Grave Matter! by Frank Kane *1/2 (8200 wds)
            Ace PI (and chauvinist pig) Johnny Liddell investigates the murder of a beautiful young client ("A loosely-tied dressing gown gave ample evidence that the magnificence of her facade had needed no artificial assist") . What he turns up leads him to a ring of arsonists. Overlong (21 pages actually feels more like 2100) relic of the early 1960s, a time when the paperbacks teemed with well-hung PIs like Mike Shayne and Shell Scott. Liddell appeared in over two dozen novels and several short stories in magazines such as Manhunt and Pursuit. Many of the stories were collected in the paperbacks Johnny Liddell's Morgue and Frank Kane's Stacked Deck (the latter reprinted "A Grave Matter").

And Sin No More! by Jack Kavanaugh **1/2 (2300 wds)
            Frankie falls for a hooker and murders her pimp so he can have her for his own.

Blood Bargain! by Pete McCann **1/2 (4400 wds)
            When a young lawyer is blackmailed by his sexy mistress, he turns to the only man who can help him: an aging hit man. The real identity of the hit man is a nice touch, albeit one that should be guessed at fairly quickly.

Murder is Eternal! by Edward D. Hoch *** (5475 wds)
            Our unnamed narrator accepts the job of assassinating "The Eternal Brother," a cult leader who's amassed a fortune for himself from a legion of gullible believers. The job goes awry and the gunman finds himself on the run. Frustrating or fascinating. Either adjective applies to "Murder is Eternal!" Frustrating in that Hoch leaves us high and dry on a few details (why is the Brother assassinated in the first place? Why is the Brother armed when he's gunned down?). Fascinating for just that reason. So many of these stories spend their last eight to ten paragraphs in boring expository that it almost  becomes a given that Hoch will finish with: "You see, Bobby, the Eternal Brother was murdered because he had an affair with my Aunt Gertie and..." Thankfully, that never comes. Instead you get a fairly suspenseful narrative and neat prose such as: "Oh God, we live so many days, so many terrifying days, and then without warning, we always die." or "The bullets took him in the chest and face and he just stopped living all at once." Hoch is well-known for his such mystery series characters as Simon Ark, a supernatural sleuth; Ben Snow, a nineteenth-century gunman who wanders into impossible situations; super thief Nick Velvet; and Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a country doctor who solves miracle problems. Hoch also has the distinction of appearing in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine since 1973.

The Loving Corpse! by Leslie G. Sabo ** (2775 wds)
            Larry Kendall, who's often fantasized about killing his shrewish wife, comes home to find someone's granted his wish. Unfortunately for Larry, the killer has left evidence pointing to Kendall as the murderer. Nice double twist ending elevates mediocre story.

Burn in Hell, Darling! by Bill Ryder * (5100 wds)
            Completely predictable tale of a mobster's scorned moll, who's ready to testify against her ex, but the mobster's got other ideas. The police put her under protection. Do I have to tell you about the big twist at the end?

Punks Don't Kill! by Cliff Garner *1/2 (4500 wds)
            Murdering punk Jackie lies dying in a gutter with a cop standing over him. The one thing Jackie's always longed to do is murder a cop. A 12-page story built around a delivery that could have been wrapped up on the second page.

Death Wears Black Lace! by Art Crockett ** (4450 wds)
            Larry Striker makes off with $50,000 in mob money. Everyone knows that you can't get away with that kind of behavior, but Larry gives it the old college try. He holes up at an old girlfriend's place, only to be betrayed by the woman.

Hot Rod Honey! by Frank Hueppner ** (5050 wds)
(note: contents page lists this story as "Hot Red Honey!")
            War vet Joe Wood sets out to revenge an old girlfriend's son, who's been savagely beaten by a gang of thugs. Joe Wood's an interesting character trapped in a humdrum story. Hot Rod Honey feels like a piece in a bigger story but, as far as I can tell, it's the only story to feature Wood.

Vol. 3/#3            October 1960

The Triple Cross by Richard Deming ***1/2 (5700 wds)
            PI Manville Moon is hired by wealthy socialite Henry Sheffield, who's convinced he's being stalked by mobster Eddie Dallas. A solid PI mystery with a compelling character in Manville Moon, who's a card-carrying member of the so-called "Defective Detectives," sleuths who suffer from some form of handicap but who still save the day. Moon maintains a sense of humor despite the absence of a right leg--at one point in the story, his client "checks his credentials" while gazing at Moon's artificial leg. Manville Moon was also the star of three novels by Deming: The Gallows in My Garden (1953), Tweak the Devil's Nose (1953), and Whistle Past the Graveyard (1954). Deming is perhaps best known by crime fans and pb collectors as the author of several Dragnet and The Mod Squad TV tie-ins.

Model of Murder by Christopher Mace * (4000 wds)
            George Carlton, a frustrated artist, decides once and for all that he must kill his grossly overweight wife Bernice. It's not just that she's obese, but also because she's loaded and George's girlfriend is getting a bit impatient waiting for Bernice to have that hoped-for heart attack. A dopey story with the most outlandish wife-killing scheme ever devised in the history of mankind: to evoke the heart attack, George sculpts a severed arm, dips it in chocolate (to simulate blood--remember this is the black and white era) and hangs it in his wife's closet. Not the most reasonable method, but, hey, it works.

Daughter of Darkness by O. W. Reynolds ** (2400 wds)
            Sick of being a kid stuck in a one horse town, working at a drive-in with old pervs grabbing at her tooties nightly, seventeen year-old Margaret hooks up with the stranger in town, who loves young lasses almost as much as he loves holding up filling stations. Margaret quickly shows the hood how much she hates men.

Comfort Her Corpse by Jim Barnett * (4000 wds)
            Cain and Abel - WEB style. Author Barnett can't even keep the two brothers' names straight. Hands down the most ludicrous expository dialogue in, maybe, the whole issue.

Dumb Bull by Flip Lyons *1/2 (3200 wds)
            Rosie Hauer, hooker, is with Jose Marchione, mobster, when Teddy Landon (our titular hero) breaks in to haul the crook away. In all the confusion, Teddy forgets to bring in Rosie (which is why he's a dumb bull) and she becomes a target of the rest of the Marchione brothers, who fear she'll rat them out to the cops.

You Can't Cheat Death by Earle Smith * (6000 wds)
            George Smathers is blackmailed after he commits a hit and run.

The Smell of Fear by Buck Grimes ** (4100 wds)
            No, not a Naked Gun story. Frank Cooney, prison guard, is taken hostage by Cass Rawn, bad dude, and a handful of other inmates. If the cons don't get their every wish they'll start plugging Frank and the other guards held. When Frank is given a message to deliver personally to the warden outside the prison, he must fight his urge to run to safety rather than save the other guards, even if one of those guards is his son.

Lust Isn't Funny by Fletcher Flora *** (2500 wds)
            Mrs. Baldwin lives a life of hell with her philandering husband, a successful comedian who loves to booze and womanize. The pressure gets to be too much and the woman cracks under the strain. A nicely written just desserts story by the author of such well-respected crime novels as The Hot Shot (1956), The Brass Bed (1956), and Wake Up With a Stranger (1959), as well as over a hundred short stories published in the crime digests.

Mistress of Evil by Bill Ryder * (3800 wds)
            Margery Coleman has a big time hang-up: she can't do the nasty with her husband unless he promises to beat and degrade her. Something's wrong with her husband's brain because instead of doing the sensible thing (beating and degrading her), he goes the sensitive '90s husband route and sends her to a psychiatrist. Once she gets there though, Margery seduces her shrink. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for Margery) her doctor turns out to be none other than Gustave Himmelman, aka Gerheardt Heinrich, medical officer of Dachau (still holding a torch for Adolf after all these years). Margery's offer of naked, blistered, whipped, and sweaty flesh triggers some long dormant desires in Little Hitler's brain and he shows her how to really have a good time. From beginning to end, "Mistress of Evil" is one long laugh-fest, enjoyable for its' soft corn and sado-masochist debauchery. When Himmelman asks Margery what makes her believe that she is a wanton hussy given to forbidden fruit, Margery whips a riding crop from her purse and dangles the weapon of love before the headshrinker:
            Margery Coleman's shoulders heaved with the force of her sobbing. Her breasts rose and fell swiftly under the tight confines of her silk dress. Himmelman thought how like a sinner she looked on the final Judgement Day.
            "Why can't I be normal like other women? Why must I have such horrible desires?" she wailed.
Back in the early '60s, publishers with names like Nightstand, Greenleaf, and Bee-Line served up tons of novel-length trash along the lines of "Mistress," usually introduced by some phony sex therapist attesting to the importance of the story to follow. Bill Ryder sold 26 stories to the Holyoke group, including 10 that were published in WEB.

As Hot as Ginger by Art Crockett ** (5200 wds)
            Petey and his buddy Big Sal Cherry burglarize the apartment of Ginger Lansing, unaware that she is a policewoman. After she gets the upper hand on the two, Ginger ventilates Cherry and turns her attention to Petey. The thug manages to escape but becomes the subject of a massive manhunt. The real challenge for Petey then is to get the hell out of Dodge, which he attempts by changing his physical appearance. Routine crimer is highlighted by the humorous passages of Petey's transformation.

Vol. 3/#4 January 1961

Hang by the Neck! by Stephen Marlowe ** (5725 wds)
            PI Chester Drum is hired by Senator Hartsell to protect his son Blair from a hit man. If I didn't know otherwise, I'd swear that "Hang by the Neck!" was written by Michael Avallone. The dialog is peppered with such Avos as "I rolled over on my Labonza for him. Afterward Tony did some more bullskating." There's also a fairly risquĂ© (for the day) exchange between Drum and a hooker:
            "How do you like it?" she asked.
            "With your mouth open," I said.
            Her eyes got hard. "Now listen, mister," she said. "Maybe Rose should have told you I don't do anything like that." The hard look faded. "Unless," she said, rubbing her thumb on her extended fingers, "you can tempt me."
            "I meant with your mouth open so you can talk."
            "You mean just talk?"
            Stephen Marlowe's Chester Drum was the star of 19 novels , with titles like Danger is My Line, Death is My Comrade, and Double in Trouble (the latter written with Richard Prather). The novels, as opposed to "Hang by the Neck," have more of an espionage slant to them.[1] Marlowe was actually a pseudonym for Milton Lesser, who wrote tons of science fiction for the sf digests in the 1950s.

Evil is a Redhead! by Hal Ellson * 1/2 (3875 wds)
            A beautiful redhead is running a unique scam: she works her way from boat to boat, first bedding then robbing each ship captain. Told with all the excitement of a police report.

Love Her to Death! by Gil Grayson ** (4300 wds)
            Wally and Maria murder a Vegas high roller and make off with his loot. When Wally decides that he'd rather not halve the 200 big ones, Maria takes maters in her own hands.

Ghost Beat! by Ed Lacy *** (1600 wds)
            Harry's a retired cop who's having a hard time just hanging around the house. Good little character study with no WEB violence whatsoever. Respected writer Ed Lacy wrote over 100 short stories for the crime digests and such well-respected novels as Sin in Their Blood (1952), Be Careful How You Live (1959), and Room to Swing (1957). Marcia Muller wrote of Room to Swing's PI Toussaint Moore: "he is the first convincing black detective in crime fiction."

Portrait in Passion! by Grover Brinkman ** (3900 wds)
            Up in hillbilly country, cheesecake photographer Mort Murray stumbles onto one of the most beautiful chunks of flesh he's ever laid hands on. Faster than you can say "Ellie May Clampett," Mort's got the girl consenting to nudes and on the way to hot porno action. Then her brother comes home. A fairly amusing finale, but with one or two too many twists.

As Silent as Doom! by Arnold English **1/2 (3675 wds)
            Manson is an inmate of a maximum security prison. The facility's warden allows no speaking, so most of the communication comes through sign language. When Manson secretly circulates a petition to the warden to abolish the silence rule, he's sold out by a fellow prisoner. Unique tale ends with a big "OUCH!!"

Lust Claims a Bride! by Bill Ryder * (3950 wds)
            Due to some major mental scars, Babs doesn't want to make love to her husband. He's getting fed up and takes to stepping out. Enter the crazed sex maniac who has been roaming the neighborhood raping and beating beautiful women. Babs is next on his list. I won't be ruining anything for you by giving away the nasty twist at the climax: Hubby comes home to find Babs twirling from the ceiling, getting flogged by the maniac. Being a karate expert, he kills the rapist, but then is taken aback by how lovely his wife looks spinning like meat on a hook:
"I'm going to be a caveman. I'm going to beat the hell out of you. Then I'm going to take you. I've decided that's a better treatment  for a frigid bitch like you than all the crap (Bab's psychiatrist) Palmer can conjure up to waste money"
More incredible than hubby's transformation from pent-up but understanding mate to masochistic animal is Babs' resignation to her fate:
"It might work," she told herself. "It's worth a try."

The Soft Arms of Murder! by Al James * (3200 wds)
            Celeste tires of her millionaire husband and cooks up a scheme to off him, but in the usual dumb WEB broad style, she screws up big time.

Harness Bull! by Don Unatin ***1/2 (5925 wds)
            Officer John Stewart reflects on his life as an honest cop and how that honesty has kept him at odds with the other cops in his precinct, all graft-takers. "Harness Bull" is almost like two short stories: one, the main plot, deals with Stewart's endeavors to put away a mob boss who has gotten away with murder. The more interesting piece of the story though is its question of whether Stewart should have gone along with his fellow bulls in their crimes (and live the good life overflowing with money, women, and friends) or stay the straight course and keep a clean soul (and suffer the scorn of colleagues, wife, and worse, his own self doubts). In the end, Stewart contemplates just that after he stumbles across a dead man with a load of cash. The author wisely ends his narrative right there before filling in the blanks and, instead, puts the question to the reader - "what would you do?"

Vol. 3/#5 May 1961

Deadly Error by Frank Kane ** (6600 wds)
            Johnny Liddell and his Girl Friday Muggsy Kiedel (Frank Kane's version of Lois Lane) run into the usual trouble when Liddell investigates the suspicious fires that have claimed five expensive homes covered in articles written by ace reporter Kiedel. A couple of antiques thieves are making off with priceless paintings and furniture and selling them for the big payday.

Death Watch by J. Simmons Scheb **1/2 (2100 wds)
            Ever since his mother left him when he was four and screwed up his life completely, Frankie's wanted to kill a tall blonde. So when the opportunity presents itself, he springs into action.

So Young to Die by Ed Lacy *** (3900 wds)
            15 year-old Joe Lancaster is duped into the boxing arena by a shyster fight manager, only to find that he has a natural punch, one that can level anyone it's aimed at. But with more punches, Joe becomes more punchy until he's pert near brain dead. The "boxer who's supposed to throw the fight but doesn't" storyline has been done to death in the movies, but Lacy manages to throw a sly twist into this one.

Requiem for a Heel by Jim Arthur *** (2800 wds)
            Phil and Helen Mandler have been waiting ages for Uncle Jerry to croak and leave them his pot of gold. The couple has slaved years for the old man and they're owed that much. But the old goat is cantankerous and finally Phil loses patience and buts a bullet between Uncle Jerry's peepers. The only problem is that the sheriff doesn't believe Phil's "hunting accident" line and demands to be cut in on the booty. Then there's the funeral parlor director who's suspicious, and the mortician... Funny story would have made a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The Night People by Edward D. Hoch **** (2900 wds)
            A reporter is given an assignment: find a story, any big story to fill a front page. He sets out to find sensation and finds a prostitute resigned to life in the street. What the hell is this wonderful character study doing in the pages of WEB? This is the type of story you would have found in Collier's or Saturday Evening Post.

Murder's No Bargain by James Holding **** (4200 wds)
            Assassin Manuel Andradas, aka The Photographer, is hired by the Italian mafia to take out Giovanni Corelli, a well-known and wealthy building contractor who has been using faulty materials for his structures. Believing he has been underpaid for his services, The Photographer approaches Corelli with a deal: Corelli pays the hitman and he'll  smuggle him out of the country. When the contractor ponies up, the assassin kills him anyway (in a particularly nasty way too). James Holding wrote hundreds of short stories for the crime digests, including several more adventures of The Photographer for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. A humorous aspect of the stories is that the hitman always haggles over the price his bosses are willing to pay him, feeling he's always worth more.

Woe is For Wednesday by Hal Ellson ***1/2 (3800 wds)
            Wild and wacky tale of an inmate named Flint, who begins his tour of his new home (an asylum) and meets all kinds of goofy occupants. "Woe is For Wednesday" almost defies description with its many twists and turns, some relevant, some not.

Dumb Rookie by Art Crockett **1/2 (2400 wds)
            Johnny Grogan, rookie cop, falls into the clutches of Tom and Sandra, who need Johnny's uniform to pull off their warehouse heist. Peppered with very funny passages:
            "The crazy gal stood on a ledge ten stories up and Joe had been assigned to get out on the ledge and drag her in. But she'd grabbed Joe's tie and told him that if he touched her she'd jump and take him with her. So he opened his pocketknife inside his pocket and then told her that her slip was showing. The crazy dame looked and Joe cut the tie."

Track of Fear by H. A. DeRosso *** (3900 wds)
            Johnny returns from a day of hunting to find his dad murdered. The man responsible is looking for the jewelry he and Johnny's dad had stolen many years ago. But Johnny's a smart kid and soon he's got the killer in a trap. H. A. DeRosso wrote several dozen crime stories for such respected digests as Manhunt, Hunted, Pursuit, and Mike Shayne, but is best remembered for his gritty western novels, including End of the Gun and .44 (Bill Pronzini called the latter "a stark and suspenseful portrait of a professional gunfighter"). My first encounter with DeRosso was the story "Vigilante," which first appeared in the old pulp magazine, New Western, back in 1948, and was reprinted by Ed Gorman in his anthology of westerns by crime writers, The Fatal Frontier. DeRosso had a gift for showing the dark side of his characters, even those identifiable as "heroes".

Talk Me to Death by Seymour Shubin ** (1700 wds)
            Mrs. Brown is an inconsiderate clod on the party line and Mr. Hammond, after exhausting his patience, decides it's time to clean her clock.

No Passion to Kill by C. B. Gilford **1/2 (5200 wds)
            Clare Kusick has fallen in love with her supervisor, James Dysart. Problem is, Dysart doesn't love her, so Clare threatens to tell a tall tale of sexual harassment on the work room floor. No other avenue is available so Dysart kills her and mutilates the body to make it appear as if a maniac has struck. Fairly interesting story serves up something of a taboo at its conclusion (a taboo, at least, for its time): that the reason Dysart murders Clare is not because of a fear of losing his job, but because he's a latent homosexual and therefore hates all women. When the truth becomes clear to him, he commits suicide. Probably wouldn't appear in any of today's mystery magazines.

Vol. 3/#6 September 1961

Blood Bargain by Henry Slesar ** (5200 wds)
            Hitman William Derry is hired by mob kingpin Rupert Harney to kill embezzler Eddie Breech. Derry shows up for the kill but then discovers he has a heart when it turns out that Breech's wife is in a wheelchair. He concocts an elaborate plan to enable Breech and his wife to escape. Derry soon learns that being a nice guy ain't all it's cracked up to be. Not one of Slesar's best.

Angel of Evil by Robert Rossner **** (6600 wds)
            Sandy, Mitch, David, and Kevin are staunch members of the He-Man-Women-Haters Club, living together, partying together, vacationing together, until Mitch falls for the lovely Leora. At first the other three men find her charming, but eventually the false charm erodes away and what stands before them is the angel of emasculation. The three men decide the best thing to do for Mitch is kill Leora. So they do. Rossner does a good job of showing both dark and bright sides to each character. These three men only want what's best for their fallen comrade and that justifies any actions they may take. The matter-of-fact conversation wherein the trio plans Loera's death evokes memories of the famous (and very similar) scene in Paddy Chayefsky's Network. The narrative also conjures up a well-told EC comic story (right down to the Shock SuspenStories ending) with the cherry on top being an art job by Jack Kamen. A highpoint in WEB history.

Requiem for a Junkie by James Stevens ***1/2 (4200 wds)
            Max is a recovered junkie, only wanting to put his woes behind him when part of his past, in the form of his old junkie pal Herb, comes knocking at his door. Herb begs Max to put him up and help him kick his morphine addiction. Now married and a father, Max sees Herb as a mission, hoping to save the poor guy and save himself at the same time.
            The lost ones. They call for the God they've never known. There are no atheists in foxholes. Outside the world the day they're born, frightened, they sell out for a ride to cloudland. Their God is a thirty five pound monkey perched lovingly between the shoulder blades. Heaven is a dirty room and a vein charged full of hope.
            Unfortunately, Herb doesn't take well to rehab and grabs Max's daughter by the throat, threatening death if he goes without a fix. Max must think quickly. The final paragraphs are a little too much Happy Hollow, but the message of the story, though told a thousand times before, is told starkly, pulling no punches.
            (Max) shed his tears for the weed-heads and the short-time-one dollar fix who would soon be taking the C train or the H train or the M express for the trip to oblivion. For the bug house, the big house, the death house.
            And the tears won't help.

The Dumb Die Hard by Henry H. Guild * (4200 wds)
            Danny Bolton was once bug man of The Ramblers gang until Bill Harper muscled his way in. Danny's got a plan to wrest away control and it involves the delicious (but brain-dead) Connie Rondel. A shortened title of "Dumb" might have been more appropriate.

To Serve the Dead by Edward D. Hoch ** (5600 wds)
            Ben Ferrel goes to Puerto Rico with Senator Eaton as companion/bodyguard. When  the Senator is brutally gunned down, it's up to Ben to find the killer. Though it's written well, "To Serve" just doesn't have much excitement. It's a short story that seems mighty long.

A Corpse Can Hate by Harlan Ellison *** (4800 wds)
            Piddy Sandoz is only doing a Good Sam for a blind guy at a Salvation Army food kitchen when he recognizes the old man as the once-great prize fighter Kid Walders, now reduced to living on the street. Walders promises to pay Piddy the princely sum of five dollars if he'll help him find his old manager, Primo, who pushed the Kid into the ring one too many times, thereby rendering him damaged goods. A very funny road trip, so unlike the usual WEB fare, "Corpse" is a breath of fresh air amidst the misogyny, sado-masochism, two-timing dames, and sadistic wardens (not to mention the horrors that were to beheld starting with the next issue). Once the Kid finds Primo, a fight breaks out and the manager is forced to kill the man who was once his property. This means nothing to Piddy, who just wants his five bucks. Amazingly, Primo is outraged at the sight of the man rummaging through the dead fighter's pockets:
            "Why you lousy little grave-robber, get your effing hands off that guy, you ain't fit to wear his dirty underwear, that was Kid Walders and he could of been a contender..."
            But my favorite line comes from Piddy in a moment of fright and self-doubt:
            I was frankly dropping my load.

Trail of Doom by Bill Engeler ** (2100 wds)
            Carl Steadman is obsessed with the West but his money-loving wife sure isn't. When they visit an old ghost town, Carl Finally hears one too many shriek-fest from his lovely wife and exacts some good old-fashioned Western justice on her.

You Don't Have to Kill by Grover Brinkman ** (2600 wds)
            Silas Greentree has big bucks stashed on his ranch and three conmen are up to killing him and taking possession of the loot. Brinkman's best writing attribute was his way with a title. He wrote dozens of stories for Offbeat, Pursuit, Two-Fisted, and Hunted with such wonderful titles as: "Smooth Siren of Death", "Soft Arms-Bloody Hands", "Her Corpse Needs Loving", "Death's Errand Boy", and my favorite of Brinkman's: "Hell's Lovely Gravedigger."

Fear Stacks the Deck by William H. Duhart ***1/2 (5600 wds)
            Good cardtable yarn about two pre-teens who take on an old card shark and teach him some of his own tricks. No violence, two thrusting breasts, lots of early 60s vulgar lingo. Should have been included in a one-shot called Web Gambling Stories.


Clute, John and Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
St. Martin's, 1993.
Cook, Michael L. Monthly Murders. Greenwood, 1982.
Cook, Michael L. Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines. Greenwood, 1983.
Hubin, Allen J. The Bibliography of Crime Fiction 1749-1975. Publisher's Inc.,1979.
Pronzini, Bill and Marcia Muller. 1001 Midnights. Arbor House, 1986.
Tymn, Marshall and Mike Ashley. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines. Greenwood, 1985.

Some delectable quotes from the 14 issues of Web Detective Stories:

            "Sorry," I said. "I'm not your type."
            "I'm everybody's type." She answered, moving closer through the mist.
            "Know any place where I can get a little action?"
            "My apartment."
            "Different kind. Cards, dice, that action."
            "You a queer?" she asked, watching me more closely.
            "I hope not."
-from "The Night People"

He hit the girl so hard in the gut the sound was enough to make you sick. Squishy, like when you squeeze a sponge. I thought she'd upchuck everything she'd ate for a week.
-from "As Hot as Ginger"

"But Captain, how long does a gink stay with a hustler? Marchione could've pulled out at any minute."
-from "Comfort Her Corpse"

He walked off down the street, jamming the stockings into his pocket as he went. In his pocket, his fingers released the stockings and fastened on something else-something as hard and male as the stockings had been female.
- from "Short Cut to Hell"

The man at the door was expressionless. The gun in his hand belched six times. Ben's body twisted grotesquely and fell to the floor.
The phone still clung to his hand.
But it was dead.
And so was Ben...
-from "Gang Girl's Revenge"

Here was a girl who knew what her sisters had forgotten!
- from "Life is Worth Dying"

Afterwards, back in her own apartment, she put his eyes in the box with the others.
- from "Look Death in the Eye"

I told her who I was and what I wanted. I also gave her a smile, half power. What I could see above the typewriter looked usable. It couldn't be all hers. But, what the hell, I've got padded shoulders in my jacket, so we're even.
- from "Just Kill Him, Darling"

From a distance he heard a woman laughing wildly, then a second explosion and the world fell on his head.
-from "Hell's Deadly Lover"

What happened next to Marc is something that has defied understanding ever since man left the caves.
-from "Don't Run From Evil"

Her eyes took in my clothes, looking for a bulge.
-from "The Devil is a Darling"

"Oh Arnie," she murmured as she wriggled out of her panties.
-from "Penny Costs Plenty"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fredric Brown's "Arena" and The Outer Limits

by Jack Seabrook

            "Fun and Games" is based on "Arena," a science fiction story by Fredric Brown that was first published in the June 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.  The Outer Limits credits do not list the story as a source, but reading the story and then watching the show make the inspiration clear—as clear as "He's So Fine" begat "My Sweet Lord" and "Soldier" begat The Terminator.

            The story begins with Bob Carson awakening in an unfamiliar setting, naked, lying on hot blue sand under a blue dome.  Moments before, he had been a fighter pilot, alone in a small ship on the edge of our universe, part of a fleet waiting to intercept the invading fleet of the Outsiders.  The two fleets were poised for a final, massive showdown.

            Just before his ship engaged with the enemy, both ships suddenly plummeted toward a planet that came out of nowhere.  On the planet, Carson hears a voice inside his head telling him that it belongs to a highly advanced being, one who is intervening to prevent the destruction of two races.

            The notion of a "watcher" from beyond pops up to this day in fantastic fiction, from The Watcher in the Fantastic Four comic books to the dapper, bald men on the current TV show, Fringe.

            The watcher has selected a champion from the human race and another from the Outsiders; they will fight to the death and the loser's race will be wiped out.  "Brain-power and courage," the voice tells Carson, "will be more important than strength."  Time stands still outside the dome, awaiting the result of the contest.  And the Outsider, Carson's opponent, is described as a "red sphere of horror . . . rolling toward him."

            The trick to the story is that an invisible barrier separates the combatants, and only "Brain-power and courage" allow Carson to solve the mystery of how to cross the invisible wall and dispatch the alien.  Along the way, the two are contrasted: Carson is young, filled with self doubt but compassionate, while the Outsider exudes waves of hatred and thoughtlessly tortures a lizard, the only other conscious being in the arena.

            The contrast between Carson and the Outsider is stark, and it mirrors the time of the story's writing.  Americans were fighting Nazis and Japanese, and it is no accident that the Outsider is a red sphere, much like the red circle found on the flag of Japan.  The war flag of the Japanese imperial army, used in World War Two, features a red ball with rays extending out from it on all sides—very much like the Outsider and his retractable tentacles.

            It must have been tempting to Fredric Brown and his war-weary readers to imagine that the Second World War could end in a moment after a battle of champions, with the winning side unharmed and the losing side eliminated.

Carson deduces that the invisible barrier is one of consciousness and knocks himself out with a stone so that his body rolls across to the other side.  On awakening, he brutally kills the Outsider, saving the human race.

            In David J. Schow's book on the Outer Limits, he writes that "Fun and Games" may have been inspired by Brown's story.  Robert Specht wrote a script called "Natural Selection" and Joseph Stefano rewrote it to make the program that was broadcast.

            The comparisons between TV show and story are instructive.  The show opens with stock footage of the Roman Coliseum and Roman soldiers marching, as the narrator talks about ancient times and fun and games.  The program then shifts to the present, as a card cheat in a poker game is shot to death and bitter ex-boxer Mike Benson finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Soon enough, Benson and Laura Hanley, a pretty woman who lives in the same building, are "electroported to a planet called Andara.  It is a million million light years away from your own."  The watcher of this story is visible (though he always appears in shadows), rather than the telepathic voice Carson hears in the short story.  As in the story, Benson wonders if he is dead, but instead learns that he and Hanley have been selected as Earth's representatives to fight two representatives from another planet in the "arena."  The winner's race will be preserved, the loser's will die.

            Unlike the short story, this contest is a game, a spectacle presented for the enjoyment of the watcher's race, who are so far advanced that they essentially have nothing better to do.

            There is some back and forth with Benson and Hanley going back to Earth until Benson agrees to participate in the contest; he is not a heroic character and he only agrees because he fears being arrested for the poker player's murder and being locked up.  The arena where the contest takes place looks suspiciously like the usual Outer Limits woods, and while the watcher tells Benson and Hanley that it resembles Earth of a million years ago, the only difference seems to be a fiery, bubbling river.

            The aliens of "Fun and Games" are not very frightening, with their rubber ape masks and furry gloves, and when they first appear they utter a combination of a roar and a meow.  One alien apparently kills the other right away and spends the rest of the contest winging a serrated boomerang at our heroes with the accuracy of a gangster shooting at the cops in an old Warner Brothers flick.

            Benson is not smart or heroic; those qualities belong to his partner, Laura Hanley.  Both have psychological problems that prevent them from doing much beyond talking, and the watcher monitors their every move and comments mockingly.  "Fun and Games" is as grounded in the world of early 1960s television as "Arena" is a product of World War Two-era fear and desire—Benson is a cheap, semi-tough ex-boxer with a sort of a Brooklyn accent; Hanley is pretty, serious, and right-thinking—I was waiting for her to identify herself as a schoolteacher, but she never did.

            Laura runs away from Mike, either out of self-sacrifice or fear, and he finally meets the alien on a log spanning the fiery river.  Mike falls and hangs by his fingers as the alien tries the old trick of stomping on those same fingers with his big, furry foot.  It is up to Laura to save the day with some boomerang throwing skills she probably did not know she possessed.

            The Watcher wearily admits that Mike and Laura's actions have saved the human race, and the program ends with neither the participants nor the rest of humanity having changed as a result of the ordeal.

Although the story has been adapted and expanded to fill a 50-minute time slot, the basic premise of "Fun and Games" tracks that of "Arena" closely.  One clever and subtle aspect of the TV show is the way it comments on us, the viewers—the Watcher follows the action on a TV screen, and his fellow citizens presumably do the same.  Mike, Laura, and the aliens perform for the viewers' enjoyment, as do the actors every week on The Outer Limits.

            On a side note, I suspect that "Arena" was the first Fredric Brown story I ever read, when it was reprinted in the March 1977 issue of Starlog, along with Boris Vallejo's illustration reproduced above.  Almost 34 years later, I still enjoy reading Fredric Brown's work.


"44: Fantastic Four #13." Marvel Genesis. Web. 05 Feb. 2011.

Brown, Fredric.  "Arena."  The Best of Fredric Brown.  Ed. Robert Bloch.  Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1976.  Book Club Edition.  8-34.

"Hulu - The Outer Limits - Original: Fun And Games - Watch the Full Episode Now." Hulu – Watch Your Favorites. Anytime. For Free. Web. 05 Feb. 2011.

"Rising Sun Flag." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Feb. 2011.

Schow, David J. and Jeffrey Franzen.  The Outer Limits: The Official Companion.  NY: Ace Science Fiction Books, 1986.

Topel, Fred. "All Is Revealed about Fringe's Bald Alien-like Observer." Blastr. Web. 05 Feb. 2011.

"Weimar World Service: The Starlog Project – My Favorite Magazines." This Is Weimar World Service. Web. 05 Feb. 2011.