Monday, March 28, 2011
by Jack Seabrook
“Human Interest Story” began as the short story, “The Last Martian,” published in the very first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction (October 1950). It was collected in Best Science Fiction Stories: 1951, then again in the Fredric Brown collections Honeymoon in Hell (1958), And the Gods Laughed (1987), and From These Ashes (2001).
The story features many of Brown’s favorite themes. It takes place in the city room of a small-town newspaper and in the bar across the street, and it mixes the naturalistic details of Brown’s crime fiction with the fantastic aspects of his science fiction.
As the story opens, a dull evening in the city room of The Trib is enlivened by news that there is a man across the street in Barney’s Bar claiming to be from Mars. Reporter Bill Everett is sent over to investigate because he has “a light touch on the human interest stuff.”
At the bar, Bill meets Howard Wilcox, a rather intense man who is convinced that he is really Yangan Dal, the last Martian. He tells Everett that, until a few hours before, he had been on Mars, where he had been locked in a small room and had to escape, only to find every other Martian inexplicably dead.
Finding millions of dead Martians gathered on Games Field in Zandar (the capital city), he pushed a button on a copper column in the center of the field and suddenly found himself inhabiting the body of Mr. Wilcox, on Earth, heading home from work. He stopped in a bar to ask the bartender for advice.
Everett hears him out and counsels him to resolve himself to the fact that he is Howard Wilcox, telling him to go home to his wife. Back at The Trib, Everett reveals that he, the city editor, and Barney are all from Mars, and that Wilcox was an imbecile who had been mistakenly left alone in a mental institution when the other Martians got “the mentaport rays that carried our psyches across space.”
Everett agrees that he will keep an eye on Wilcox “until we take over,” and tells his fellow reporters that the man was “just a drunk being the life of the party.”
“The Last Martian” was adapted for television by Fredric Brown himself, and this is the only instance I have been able to confirm of Brown adapting one of his stories for television. The teleplay is reprinted in the collection, The Pickled Punks, and it is retitled “Human Interest Story.”
The script follows the story closely but there are some changes worth noting. Wilcox (or Yangan Dahl, his Martian name) tells Everett that there is no alcohol on Mars, since it is poison to Martians. This was probably an in-joke for Brown, who was known for his own prodigious drinking as well as that of many of his fictional characters. Dahl says that on Mars he was eight feet tall, while in the story he was three feet tall.
While the story takes place in the city room and the bar, the teleplay adds another location—that of Wilcox’s flat, where he and Everett go to visit Mrs. Wilcox. In the teleplay, Wilcox tells Everett that he told his wife that the two men met when they attended Hughes High School in Cincinnati together. This is another in-joke, since Hughes is where Fredric Brown attended high school.
Finally, after a scene at Wilcox’s home, Everett and Wilcox walk into town for beer and Everett leads him down a dark alley. Back in the city room, Everett tells his editor that he had to kill Wilcox to prevent him from revealing the truth about the Martians to his wife. The added scenes and the additional twist ending add an element of menace to the tale that is lacking in the short story, which ends on a more wry note.
The filmed episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents does not stick closely to the dialogue in the script. The program was rehearsed and filmed over a two-day period on April 8 and 9, 1959, and starred Steve McQueen as Everett and Arthur Hill as Wilcox. McQueen had just turned 29, and the first season of his series, Wanted: Dead or Alive, had just ended its run earlier that month when “Human Interest Story” was broadcast on May 24, 1959. McQueen’s’ performance is memorable, though he takes many liberties with the dialogue in the teleplay. He affects a cool, dispassionate air when listening to Wilcox’s story, as if he’s heard it all before, but he exudes a subtle menace at the end when he reveals that he had to kill the last Martian.
Arthur Hill was 36 years old and had a 50-year career in TV and movies. He played Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law in a series that was spun off from Marcus Welby, M.D., in the early 70s.On “Human Interest Story,” his performance is suitably intense, and he follows the dialogue in the script much more closely than does his co-star.
The show is directed by Norman Lloyd, who had a long association with Hitchcock as an actor and a producer. Lloyd does a nice job here, opening up the teleplay by moving the section in the bar out of a booth and around to various locations in the bar. There is a memorable bit of business where McQueen plays pinball as Hill tells him the most exciting part of his story; McQueen’s cool detachment is perfect for the jaded newsman. Lloyd and director of photography John F. Warren also change the camera angles and lighting subtly in the last scene to increase the sense of danger as Everett and his editor discuss the murder of Wilcox and the upcoming Martian takeover. The lighting suddenly changes and Lloyd uses low angle shots to shift the mood, as the episode ends with the editor spinning a globe.
The story was remade as an episode on the 1980s revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Retitled “The Human Interest Story,” it was reworked by Karen Harris. While this episode is available online as a bootleg DVD, I have not seen it recently (if ever), and I remember this revival series as being subpar.
The original 1958 version of “Human Interest Story” is one of the best adaptations of a Fredric Brown story to television, made better by Brown’s own involvement as writer of the teleplay. In a future article I will discuss how Brown began to develop an interest in writing for television, and where this interest took him.
Brown, Fredric. “Human Interest Story.” Rpt. In The Pickled Punks. By Fredric Brown. Hilo, HI: Dennis McMillan Publications, 1991. 139-176.
Brown, Fredric. “The Last Martian.” Rpt. In And the Gods Laughed. By Fredric Brown. W. Bloomfield, MI: Phantasia Press, 1987. 159-167.
Galactic Central. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.philsp.com/>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
"Human Interest Story." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 24 May 1959. Television. Collected in Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season Four DVD set, Universal Classic Television, 2008.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Wikipedia. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
by Jack Seabrook
“The Night the World Ended” was first published in the January 1945 issue of Dime Mystery. The story is set among the newspapermen and drunks that Fredric Brown so often wrote about, most memorably in novels like The Screaming Mimi and Night of the Jabberwock.
The tale begins in Nick's bar, where a newspaperman named Halloran is known for his cruel pranks. He works the copy desk at night on the city paper, and he cooks up a trick to play on Johnny Gin, who is described as “just another punchy stew-bum.” Halloran has a fake newspaper made up and he pretends to buy it from the local paperboy. The headline on the front page reads, “World Will End at 1:45 Tonight!”
Fredric Brown's fondness for mixing science fiction and detective tales surfaces briefly here, as an impending collision with the planet Mars is given as the reason for the impending cataclysm. Johnny sees the headline and, in his drunken, fog-enshrouded mind, he believes it to be true.
Johnny's initial thoughts are entirely practical and positive at first; he thinks that “the end of the world came only once. A guy ought to do something . . .” He wants to take a bottle of quality booze, borrow Nick the bartender's gun, go outside, and shoot a celebratory shot into the air. When Nick steps out of the bar for a minute, Johnny fulfills his wishes, taking the gun and some expensive cognac. Brown deepens his character by having him recall drinking it before while on leave in France (presumably in World War One).
Nick picks the wrong time to walk back into his own bar, sees Johnny with the bottle and gun, loses his temper, and gets shot by the confused alcoholic. “Blind panic hit Johnny Gin,” who races outside and away from the bar.
“You fool, Johnny Gin, what does it matter that you've killed a man when he was going to die within an hour anyway?” Johnny follows this up by shooting a policeman who confronts him, then jumps off of a bridge into shallow water to hide from the law. The cold water shocks him back to his senses and he realizes he's been duped.
The story ends as Johnny shoots and kills Halloran outside the newspaper building at 1:45 a.m.—“The end of the world for Halloran, and just when he'd predicted it.”
“The Night the World Ended” was reprinted in Mostly Murder, Brown's 1953 collection of short mystery fiction. The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which would air an adaptation of another story in that collection (“The Dangerous People”) less than two months later, also liked this story, and it was broadcast on CBS on April 28, 1957.
The teleplay was written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, who wrote 16 episodes of the series in all, an episode of The Twilight Zone, the 1944 noir classic Phantom Lady (based on the Cornell Woolrich novel), and the Oscar-nominated 1950 film, Caged. Unlike “The Dangerous People,” which is a very faithful adaptation of the short story, “The Night the World Ended” takes a very different path on TV than it does on the printed page.
The program begins in a similar vein to the story, as Halloran plays his prank on Johnny, though this time the world will end at 11:45 p.m., in three hours.
As Johnny leaves the bar, eager to make the most of his final hours, Halloran quips: “His world ended years ago.” Justus Addiss, the show's director, repeatedly shows clocks or has chimes on the soundtrack to demonstrate the passage of time for the doomed Johnny. At 9 p.m., Johnny goes to a liquor store, from which he steals two bottles of expensive liquor. He drinks alone in a park but accidentally smashes the bottles when he trips and falls over a group of dogs being walked by a dotty old woman.
The woman, Felicia Green, is a lonely spinster who invites Johnny back to her home to have a cup of tea. We learn a bit more about Johnny's past as he talks to Felicia and tells her that his wife and baby died 30 years before. She cleans the spilled booze off of his sport jacket and we see that it's now past 10:30. Johnny comes on too strong and she calls for help, driving him away.
In the second act, Johnny meets three boys in an alley and takes them to a sporting goods store. He breaks in and they play with the balls, bikes, and guns. This scene—and much of the show—is more sad than suspenseful. Johnny, not caring about consequences, loads a gun and shoots a security guard who arrives to stop the boys' fun.
Johnny wanders the streets and happens upon a newsstand, where he sees the real edition of that evening's newspaper. Knowing he's been tricked, he goes back to the bar and shoots Halloran. “Every joke's gotta have a payoff,” says Johnny, and the clock reads 11:45.
Russell Collins, born in 1897 and 59 years old at the time the program was broadcast, is very good as Johnny. He appeared in numerous TV shows and had a role in Spencer Tracy's Bad Day at Black Rock. As Johnny, he is wonderfully dissolute, sporting a few-day growth of white stubble on his face and staggering around in his rumpled coat and hat.
Harold J. Stone plays Halloran and, although he does not have much screen time, he embodies the character of the cruel prankster. Stone is instantly recognizable from his decades of TV work; he also appeared in Roger Corman's X-The Man With the X-Ray Eyes.
The most bizarre performance comes from Edith Barrett as Felicia—she was only 50 years old at the time but comes across as a very odd and flighty spinster. Surprisingly, she had an amazing year in 1943, when she appeared in Jane Eyre, The Song of Bernadette, The Ghost Ship and I Walked With a Zombie!
Finally, I must mention the 13 year old Harry Shearer, who is the eldest of the three boys who Johnny meets in an alley.
Shearer looks the part of the poor, dirty-faced city boy whose affinity for guns leads Johnny to make a deadly mistake.
“The Night the World Ended” is not as good a TV episode as “The Dangerous People,” but Russell Collins's performance as the drunken Johnny is worth seeing.
Brown, Fredric. “The Night the World Ended.” Dime Mystery (1945). Rpt. in Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown. Eds. Francis M. Nevins, Jr., and Martin H. Greenberg. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1985. 101-10.
Galactic Central. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. http://www.philsp.com/.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 14 Mar. 2011. http://www.imdb.com/.
“The Night the World Ended.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 28 Apr. 1957. Collected in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season Two. Universal Classic Television, 2006. DVD.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
bare•bones is pleased to bring you David's Rondo-nominated article from Monsters From The Vault #27.
(Click pages to enlarge)
Copyright © David J. Schow, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission and by special arrangement with the author and Monsters From The Vault publisher Jim Clatterbaugh.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
by Peter Enfantino
160 pages, 35 cents
Cover illustration by Graves
I Didn’t See a Thing by Hal Ellson
(4500 words) ** illo: Lee
Dip keeps pigeons and deals with the everyday hip lingo of Hal Ellson. It’s a tribute, I guess, to Ellson’s grasp of street language that I had no idea that Dip actually raised pigeons until well into the story. I thought we might be discussing drugs or girls but, no, they’re birds. Ellison’s definitely an acquired taste. He pretty much cornered the market on pigeon noir between this story and “The Pigeons” (from the February 1955 issue).
The Punisher by Jonathan Craig
(5500 words) *** illo: James Sentz
Second in the “Police Files” series by Craig is an improvement over the first (in the February 1955 issue). Craig uses a different set of cops to tell the story of a man burned to death in his bed. At first, the thought among the detectives is that the man fell asleep while smoking, but quickly that idea is replaced with homicide. The resolution and identity of the killer is handled well.
First Case by David Alexander
(3500 words) *** illo: Gussman
Miss Petty takes an unusual interest in the first case of young attorney Winston Knight, Jr. The interest can be traced back to the affair she had had with Winston, Sr. years before. Though there’s not much to the story, it’s still fairly effective.
(3000 words) **** illo: Richards
Jim has a particularly adulterous wife and things have gotten a bit out of hand so Jim does what any loving husband would do: he starts eliminating his competitors. “Moonshine” shows the same kind of skewed world view that infested the novels of Gil Brewer.
Brewer was one of the fabled Gold Medal authors, writing such classics as A Killer is Loose (1954), The Red Scarf (1958), The Three Way Split (1960), and his biggest seller, 13 French Street (1951). Manhunt readers were fortunate enough to visit Gil Brewer’s hellish world ten times over the course of the magazine’s life.
Welcome Home by G. T. Fleming-Roberts
(15,500 words) ** illo: Roy Houlihan
Norb Bailey returns to his hometown to get to the bottom of the shooting death of his brother. Well-written but could have been told in half the word count. The high word count is appropriate however since Fleming-Roberts wrote hundreds of novels and short stories for the pulps. He was one of the ghost-writers for such "hero pulps" as Secret Agent X. You can find a plethora of information on the author here. This was his only Manhunt appearance.
The Jury by Kenneth Fearing
(3500 words) ** illo: GHP
Thorndale knows everything about the syndicate’s business and now he’s to take the stand. That obviously doesn’t sit well with the mob and so they make Thorndale an offer he can’t refuse.
(6000 words) ** ½ illo: Tom O’Sullivan
Airport cops Mace Prouty and Don Wells have their hands full when a woman enters their office to claim her husband took out a fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy and hopped on a plane with a briefcase rigged to blow. On the same day, a mobster that Prouty had run oout of town is set to get off a plane at Prouty’s airport. Interesting angle to the cop story is soured a bit by that Ring-Ding-Daddy-O lingo that populates most of Frank Kane’s fiction.
It should be noted that, even to this day, many sources erroneously identify this Jack Webb (1916-?) as the Jack Webb (1920-1983) who created and starred in Dragnet (Allen J. Hubin, in Bibliography of Crime Fiction, gives the author’s birthdate as 1920, which is actually the actor’s birthdate). According to Webb’s bio (published on the inside back cover of V. 2 N. 3), the author is “no relation to the Jack Webb who directs and stars in Dragnet” (in fact, his portrait actually makes him look more like contemporary mystery author Ed Gorman!). Jack Webb, the author, wrote many novels in the 1950s starring the crime-solving team of Catholic priest Father Joseph Shanley and Detective-Sergeant Sammy Golden, including The Broken Doll (1955),The Brass Halo (1957), and The Deadly Sex (1959). The bio in Manhunt also notes that MGM was about to begin filming a series of Shanley/Golden flicks, but I can find no reference to these films being produced. Prouty and Wells return for two more adventures.
Memento by Erskine Caldwell
(2000 words) *** 1/2 illo: James Sentz
When Nellie Stoddard, a wonderful woman form all accounts, passes away suddenly, her husband, a no-good bastard form all accounts, makes a trip down to the county courtroom to attend to some unfinished business. As I’ve stated before with some of the “high-calibre slick” fiction contributed by Caldwell, there’s not a lick of Manhunt blood in “Memento.” That doesn’t make it a bad read, Quite the contrary, it’s a fabulously written tale, one that would fit nicely in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post.
(4500 words) * illo: Roy Houlihan
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a beautiful, but troubled, woman comes to Peter Chamber’ office to hire him as a bodyguard. He consoles her, admires her great figure and accepts the job. She goes home and her body is found there later on. She’d paid Peter a ten thousand dollar retainer and he doesn’t believe in free money so he digs into her murder.
Incident in August by G. H. Williams
(2000 words) ** 1/2 illo: Roy Houlihan
Poor Mal is about to be strung up by country hicks for a crime he didn’t commit. Climax pulls no punches. The Ox-Bow Incident meets Manhunt noir.
This issue’s Mugged & Printed features bios of Erskine Caldwell, Edward D. Radin, Gil Brewer, and Kenneth Fearing.
Also in this issue: What’s Your Verdict? #9: The Domestic Killer, Vincent H. Gaddis’ Crime Cavalcade, and Portrait of a Killer #20: Everett Appelgate by Dan Sontup.
In addition, beginning this issue was Edward D. Radin’s “The Bite,” a non-fiction piece about a murderous barber circa 1935. Radin, according to his Manhunt bio was “renowned as the country’s top fact-crime writer.”
Oh, for the days when page count increases didn't automatically equal price increases. An extra 16 pages beginning this month and nary a reprint among those pages.-PE