Thursday, September 19, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 43

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 28
September 1952 Part II

 Strange Tales #10

"The Boy Who Was Afraid" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Monster's Son" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Frightful Feet!" (a: Bill Benulis) ★1/2
"The Hidden Head" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"Keep Out" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★1/2

Terry just wants to stay in all day and read but his "All-American football player" father has other ideas. When dad tries to drag Terry out the door, the pre-teen explains that he can't go outside because something terrible will happen if he steps on the sidewalk cracks. Pop thinks his son is a loon so he carts him off to a psychiatrist. An intense session gets the doc nowhere and, very soon, he's agreeing with the overbearing father that "shock therapy" might be in order, so they drag Terry out the door and onto the sidewalk. Evidently, Terry was right because the second his foot hits a crack, the three of them fall into an abyss and are never seen again. "The Boy Who Was Afraid" is a weird little shocker with great Krigstein art and a climax that punishes the innocent as well as the guilty. Sometimes ambiguity can really wreck these fifties horror stories but at times, as here, it can add to the enjoyment.

"The Monster's Son" lets us in on the heretofore-unknown secret that the Frankenstein Monster was a brilliant scientist as well and created himself a son. Why he did this is anyone's guess. The first wife was a nag and he decided not to give it another shot? So the Monster creates a life-like mask for his son and then releases him into the world. Our narrator travels to Castle Frankenstein to investigate this strange tale, stumbles on the monster who's still alive, and falls to his death while trying to escape. Of course, in the climax, the monster unmasks the man to show us our narrator was his son the whole time. Yep, it's an outlandish outcome (so this poor dope never recognized the fact that he was wearing a mask?), but the premise is outlandish as well, so I give the uncredited writer some extra points for trying something different.

In "The Frightful Feet!," Carl hunts rabbits to separate them from their feet until the rabbits begin to recognize the yellow shoes the hunter wears and they hide. Carl goes chasing a stray rabbit one day and falls in a huge rabbit hole. The rabbits gather round the fallen man and somehow separate Carl from his feet and make his feet lucky charms (complete with key chain!).  Again, Bill Benulis comes through with a fabulously funky art job. I can see some poor kid being ruined by the cutey pie bunnies turned carnivore.

As  Germany is burning all around him and his beloved Fuehrer blows his own brains out before his eyes, General Hans Klauber scurries about Berlin, searching for a way to elude capture. Salvation arrives in the form of plastic surgeon Ludwig Fritsch and, after a bit of strong-arming, the doctor agrees to change Klauber's face. After the surgery is complete, the General kills his savior, doffs the bandaging, and heads out into the street, assured he'll make a getaway.

But Ludwig Fritsch has had the last laugh when Klauber is surrounded by Russian troops and his new face is revealed to be that of his former boss, the Wolf. Perhaps that final panel can be seen coming from afar but I liked the violent, almost vicious tone to "The Hidden Head," and its scratchy, almost sleazy artwork by Ed Winiarski (which I'd probably bemoan in other cases) is perfect for that tone. Winiarski's splash, depicting Hitler's suicide (albeit off-panel), is pretty graphic for its day as is Klauber's gunning-down of the plastic surgeon.

Of course, the near-perfect score is blemished with the final story, "Keep Out," a tedious and predictable crime story about mobster Buggsy Kane and his unusual demise. The Ayers/Bache "art" only adds to this amateur-night entry. Forget this one and enjoy the first four-fifths of this strong issue.

Brodsky & Rule
 Spellbound #7

"The Last Body" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Vampire's Bride" 
(a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
"The Dope Eloped!" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
"Don't Close the Door!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Crank!" (a: Joe Maneely) 

Craig, the simple-minded aide of a mad scientist, helps out by digging up fresh bodies for his boss but the big idiot might not be as stupid as the egg-head thinks. Nope, Craig is just biding his time until the boss perfects his formula for eternal life and then he's going to kill him, leaving Craig the only man in the world who will never die. Things go awry when Craig is ordered to find a fresh body for experimenting. While I still have affection for DiPreta's art (think Krigstein-lite), the plot of "The Last Body" is overworked and the final panel surprises no one.

Stan Lee's "The Vampire's Bride," is a funny three-pager about a diva actress whose latest role, that of a vampire's squeeze, makes her the target of affection from a real-life vampire! I'm not a big fan of Dick Ayers or Ernie Bache, but their work here is very Everett-esque and perfect for the material. Joe Hoskins is right taken by the bee-ootiful Emmy Lou, despite the nasty looks and attitude he gets from the girl's aunts. One night, Joe gets it in his fool head that he's gonna steal Emmy Lou from her guardians and they'll run off to a justice of the Peace and get hitched. The simple farmer gets hisself a ladder and creeps up to Emmy Lou's bedroom, stealing the girl through the window and out to his jalopy below. Joe tells the girl to be quiet and they drive away. Emmy Lou's aunts see Joe's taillights disappear from their property and allow how Joe must have come to see Emmy Lou but lost his nerve. Just as well since their niece died in bed the night afore! It's a completely inane finale (the aunts seem pretty calm, one remarking about how much she'd like a cup of tea, all while their kinfolk rots in a bed upstairs and, yeah, don't they usually take dead bodies away, even in backwoods towns?) but the premise is at least interesting and begs answers to just what happens when Joe finds out his love is dead as ten-day-old roadkill. Might not make a difference.

Henri Arnaud, aka "The Fox," is France's most notorious thief and he's got his sights set on an eccentric Count who lives in a hill-top castle with a rumored fortune hidden somewhere in the castle walls. Arnaud ignores the superstitious locals, who warn of thieves who never returned from the fortress of Count de Valois, and makes his way to the top of the hill. When he enters, he discovers a welcoming Count who tells him of a treasure that awaits behind a door that can only be opened with one key. As the Count holds the key aloft, Arnaud caves in his skull and heads for the treasure. When he enters the room, the door shuts and he's locked inside a room with a second door. When he opens that door, it leads into another room with a second door. As "The Fox" discovers he's trapped in a giant maze, the undead Count de Valois watches on approvingly.

"Don't Close the Door" is one of those Atlas horror stories that lulls you to sleep with what appears to be a contrived, formulaic plot, only to throw a couple of nice surprises in the blender and turn it on full speed. It's also adorned with killer Bill Everett handiwork; his de Valois is a leering, bulbous-nosed, sharp-toothed creep in the glorious Everett tradition. The finale is "The Crank!," the humorous tale of grumpy Mr. Grumpett, who constantly berates the janitor in his fancy apartment building. Grumpett gets his comeuppance in the end as most of these rich curmudgeons do. Having Bill Everett and Joe Maneely in one issue is always an excuse for celebration.

 Suspense #22

"The Blood Brothers!" (a: George Roussos) ★1/2
"The Gabby Ghost" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"Hate!" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"Too Late!" (a: Stern) ★1/2
"Each Night I Drown" (a: Vernon Henkel) 
"The Bomb!" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2

Professor Trask has failed nineteen times in the last two years to perfect his serum capable of stimulating the half of the human brain never used (though some might point out to Trask that funny book readers only use a quarter of their brain!) and, thus, increasing the intelligence of the human race. Alas, the experiment is a failure and the formula is fed to Trask's pet razorback, Rufus (!). What Trask doesn't know is that his formula (hereafter dubbed Formula Nineteen) does actually work on the brain of a pig and, while Trask and his aide, Jim, are out getting a ham sandwich, Rufus rises from his pit, dons a lab smock, and begins replicating the formula for mass consumption by his brother and sister swine. Trask and Jim return to the lab and are somewhat amazed by the sight of Rufus, standing erect, in full three piece suit, beaker in hoof, but very soon grow used to the idea of a talking pig lecturing them on subjects such as science, world peace, and survival of the fittest.

One of the benefits of Formula Nineteen is that its host can read the minds of those around him and Rufus takes advantage of his new skill to second-guess the human race. When Trask introduces his former pet to his colleagues in the academic world, Rufus becomes Big Pig on Campus and is soon advising the military, while secretly planning the demise of the human race. Jim is onto the dirty swine and poisons Rufus's wine at a big-brain get-together, but not before King Porky has transmitted his message to the pigs of the world: "This is the day, brothers!" The Hog rises and mankind is slaughtered in meat factories or confined to stys. Can Professor Trask find a way to save mankind?

Possibly. But not by the end of this wonky, hallucinogenic camp classic. Where has this story been when all the so-called historians rave about the great pre-code horror classics?  Who, in the name of Ed Wood, conceived and wrote this "alternative classic?" "The Blood Brothers!" has a humorous tone at its core (I mean, it would have to, right?), but it's also got some deadly serious moments (the silhouette of a naked man, hung from a hook and about to be carved into sandwich meat) to remind us this is a horror story not a MAD Magazine parody of Animal Farm.

Rufus (to Trask): I was your pig! Now, I am afraid... you are my man!

The Bailey Family move onto the farmland of nasty miser Kenneth Harkins to the tune of a hundred clams a month! The place is run down but Harkins won't lift a finger or spend a penny to bring the place up to code so the Baileys must make due. On the plus side, the place is haunted by "The Gabby Ghost," a harmless old specter who's doomed to wander the estate until he can trick Harkins into signing the land over to the Baileys (yes, it's more complicated than that but really not worth explaining). The Baileys manage to figure out a secret in Harkins's past that forces him to sign the deed. "The Gabby Ghost" goes to his final resting place and the Baileys have a place to live. A pleasant, comedic little yarn tantamount to one of those 1940s ghost movies starring Hope and Crosby or Abbott & Costello, with violence kept to a minimum.

No one in Halbroek could beat bowling champion Jud Adkins and the braggart never let anyone forget that fact. Jud would brag to anyone listening (and to plenty who weren't) that he could beat anyone at a game of ten-pins. Then, one day, Jud gets two strangers calling at his dumpy apartment, identifying themselves as members of a centuries-old bowling club located in the Catskills (!) and challenging Adkins to a match with their best bowler. Jud immediately agrees and heads up into the hills for the spar. After his pale-faced adversary beats him 300-299, Jud regrets being such a boastful ass since the stakes were... Jud's head! "Strike!" is a really dumb sports/horror story (never a good combination to begin with) has howlingly-bad dialogue ("It isn't your bowling people don't like! It's you!) and equally ho-hum graphics.

A phony lecture delivered to us
by Stan and Co.
Tom Mason has been a bigot since he grew up in the projects, becoming disenchanted with "dirty foreigners" taking the jobs from "real Americans." Mason grows up delivering vicious blows to minorities (even, in one case, murdering a Swedish foreman) and eventually joins the "International Order of Bigots" (no, seriously, the international order!) to spread his hateful deeds and language acropss the country. When Mason is drafted into the Korean War, he orders a "dirty foreigner" to climb out of his foxhole, knowing the GI will be ripped to shreds by incoming fire. Once the man is killed, Mason climbs out and is also shot. A medic approaches the dying Mason and ignores him, explaining that he hates red-heads.

Atlas could just about hold their own with EC in the horror department but one genre the company should have avoided altogether was the "preachie." "Hate!" is the worst kind of "preachie," delivering its half-assed condemnation of hate groups (I'll bet dollars to donuts the decision was made to dub Mason's club "The International Order of Bigots," instead of the KKK because, well, you know, the KKK spend money on funny books too) at the same time its uncredited writer delivers his message that all men are brothers until the day they die with the same wrench Tom Mason uses on his foreman. And the final panel screams "See? Bigotry is a really dumb thing!" in such an inane way we're forced to laugh rather than ponder. One of the worst bits of crap I've read on this journey.

In "Too Late!," two meatheads kidnap a young man and plan to ransom him to his wealthy parents but the kid keeps getting the drop on the two dopes so they finally decide to put him in cement and dump him in the river. They're astonished to see the kid in town the next day until the kid explains he was dead when they kidnapped him! More interesting than the dull, insipid story is the identity of the artist on "Too Late!," who signed his work simply "Stern," and has escaped fame ever since.

Super-genius Albert Cody rows his wife far out into the ocean and then tells her how miserable she makes him and things will change from here on out. Thinking her husband is going to kill her, wifey begs for her life, insisting she'll change, but Cody has something else up his sleeve. The Professor explains that he has has created a potion that will allow him to breathe underwater and study ocean life, his one true love. The suddenly-irritated blonde tells her husband that a ship full of gold sunk to the bottom of the sea in the area years before and that Al shouldn't waste his time with plankton and abalone. Irritation turns to boiling mad when Albert refuses and his wife knocks him upside his head with an oar, killing him.

Downing the magic liquid, she dives in and quickly finds the wreck and its priceless cargo. When she returns to the surface, however, she finds it hard to breathe. Diving down to her husband's body, she reads a note he'd written to his colleagues back at the University, explaining that he had not found an antidote for the serum so he'd be spending the rest of his life swimming with dolphins. Our murderous heroine sighs (or bubbles), sits on a log, and waits for the first undersea Macy's to open. Sidestepping the usual (the protagonist who murders his wife) and delivering a bit of a surprise, "Each Night I Drown" is a fun, very brief romp that's sure to deliver a smile or two. Vern Henkel's art is as about as generic as it comes but there's no denying it's effective in spots (his first few pages have a Joe Sinnott sheen to them as if Sinnott himself steeped in and gave Henkel a hand).

Professor Jason Lucas has been principal of Meadville High for twenty years but the school is falling down around him and his pleas for renovation have fallen on deaf ears. Finally, his bosses deliver the good news: the town council has okayed a new school! But the bad news is they're forcing Jason to retire and are hiring some new snob to run the place (unbeknownst to the Prof, the new kid is trading kisses with Lucas' daughter!) but at least, they reason, Jason's beloved desk will be placed in the new Principal's office. Jason doesn't take the news very well and, instead, hatches an explosive plan of revenge. He plants a time bomb in the desk, set to go off during the commencement ceremony and then heads home to sulk. Unfortunately for the Professor, his bosses reconsider and decide that packing up and leaving Jason's desk at his house will be a nice surprise. It is. And so's the story.

Mystic #12

"The Hooded Horror!" ★1/2
(a: Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry)
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #23)
"Stop the Presses" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #13)
"The Dummy" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"The Man in the Tomb!" (a: Bob Fujitani) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #13)

In "The Hooded Horror," a man in a red hood is terrorizing the city, but he wises up and decides to go big time, so he contacts the local mafia to become their Don. The mobsters pull a double-cross and decide to unmask him but they discover the hood is not a disguise… it’s his real head! Nonsensical but entertaining nonetheless with nice Infantino art.

"Stop the Presses" is a dopey melodrama about a new reporter who's always being picked on by his editor. After a particularly embarrassing dress-down by his boss, the reporter turns in a very timely story on the untimely death of his editor. Even Gene Colan's wildly exaggerated art (the reporter's hairstyle is shifted so far to one side it almost looks as though half of his head has caved in!) can save this one from the dumpsters. Even worse is "The Dummy," about Mark, a department store salesman who uses women and discards them like empty cigarette packages. The salesman makes a big mistake when he talks Susan, a co-worker into stealing expensive jewelry and hiding it in a mannikin. During the getaway, the plastic dummy grabs hold of the heartless dummy and crashes his car. A very confusing script, with several important plot points left on the cutting-room floor (as an example, we're never shown the dialogue between Mark and Susan initiating their entrance into the criminal world -- it just happens), with truly wretched art by Vic Carrabotta.

Colan's "Stop the Presses"
The finale, "The Man in the Tomb," is a laugher. The Knights of Mystery, a super-exclusive men's club has just finished up its latest initiation when the door is kicked in by local mobster, Muggs Vinetti, who tells the boys that his dame is about to dump him if he doesn't join a club with "social prestige" (like the... Knights of Mystery!?). His gat provides all the motivation the men need to welcome in this newbie. But first, Muggs must survive the grueling initiation: surviving a night in a graveyard tomb. Muggs protests that the guys will simply lock him in and throw away the key but the Knights indicate the key on the hook just outside the hole in the door. All Muggs has to do is reach his arm through and grab the key and he's free. The Knights drive away, swearing they'll find a new initiation location just as Muggs loses his cool, reaches through the locked door and drops the key outside the door. The premise is laughable, the art is mediocre, but the twist is a good one (even if it's contrived). What moll ignores all the dough her mobster man makes and sends him out for a social uptick?

In Issue #44
Can someone help this poor soul
find the right Skull?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 164: September 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
& Luis Dominguez (?)
Weird War Tales 41

"The Dead Draftees of Regiment Six!"
Story by Michael Fleisher & Russell Carley
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Peter: When Congress passes the Conscription Act of 1863, which allows anyone with $300 to avoid the draft, the rich buy their way out of fighting and the poor are sent to the front line. Those with devious minds manage to keep themselves out of harm's way and/or make a dishonest buck off the carnage; they would include registrar Bartholomew Sims, who solicits bribes and then sends the briber to war anyway, and abolitionist Jonathan French, who talks a good talk but cheats and lies his way out of the draft.

When the victims of this odious pair are slaughtered by an overwhelming Rebel force, their ghosts rise from the grave for vengeance and unwittingly touch off the Draft Riots of 1863.

Previous to "The Dead Draftees of Regiment Six!" (an all-too obvious and stupid title), the only reason I'd get excited about these "Full-length Weird War Tales Epics!" is the fact that I'd only have to write out one synopsis and a paragraph about how lousy the thing was. Enter Michael Fleisher, one of the most polarizing and (not coincidentally) one of my favorite comic book writers of the mid-1970s. Fleisher is, of course, legendary for his macabre and whacked-out reboot of the Spectre for Adventure Comics, but he also managed to pump out some legitimate classics for the mystery line as well (I picked MF stories as the best of both 1973 and 1974). He lends his... unique... style to Weird War and I say "Thank Goodness for that!"

The script is a meandering, semi-preachy stew that begins as a compelling and, at times, infuriating diatribe against the evils of the rich during the Civil War then devolves into the usual "vengeance of the ghosts" halfway through the running time. But leave it to Fleisher to take the preconceived notions we have about this utterly boring title and tweak them, very much the way Quentin Tarantino screws with our expectations in the cinema. These spirits don't simply haunt their "murderers" or scare them to death, they line them up in front of cannons or burn them to death (did Fleisher divine the slasher craze of a decade later?), only to discover they've tripped a land mine that harms the innocent (one of the ghosts sees his sister hanged for being an abolitionist). It's a very potent finale to what is surely one of the best Weird War Tales ever.

Jack: An interesting history lesson mixed with some ghosts and violence, "The Dead Draftees of Regiment Six!" is not a great comic but it's the best we've seen out of this title in a while. I prefer the book-length stories to the shorter ones and Garcia Lopez has a style that recalls classic DC art. An interesting note in the letters column from the editor compares three of the main DC War Comics writers: "Bob Kanigher builds his stories around character relationships, or a catchy gimmick, whereas David Michelinie suggests a moral starting point. Michael Fleisher is well known for his occupational series of mysteries." I don't know what that last sentence means, but the comments on Kanigher and Michelinie seem accurate.

G.I. Combat 182

"Combat Clock"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Invasion? Where's Everyone?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: When a magnesium bomb leaves the crew of the Jeb blinded, they must rely on the eyes of a little girl they rescued from a bombed-out farmhouse. Despite numerous diversions and terrible odds, the boys manage to make it to salvation. Top to bottom, this is one big, stinky fish. I hesitate to use stale material like "Big Bob must have been blind when he typed up this nonsense" but then Kanigher himself had no problem floating this one out there. The script for "Combat Clock" is muy tonto and borrows a hook from a bygone Sgt. Rock adventure but, this time, hangs its hat on the maudlin (poor orphan leads Jeb and blind boys to victory!). It's like that long-lost Flying Nun episode where Sister Bertrille goes back through time and helps Pancho Villa defeat the German army. But, sadly, it's what we've come to expect from the Haunted Tank for a long time now. The ghost only makes a brief cameo, adding zero to the excitement.

"Combat Clock"

"Invasion? Where's Everyone?"
When a direct hit capsizes the LCI he's riding in, a soldier must make his way to the beach on D-Day without being cut to ribbons by the ammo flying through the air. When he makes it ashore, he realizes he's the sole survivor and has to figure a way to clear a path for the other troops soon to hit the beach. "Invasion? Where's Everyone?" succeeds in conveying the panic this G.I. feels, but his superhuman abilities in defeating what seems to be the entire Nazi army strain credibility. It's got the feel of one of Big Bob's 1950s scripts, sans the Mort Drucker art and (mercifully) the tag line.

Jack: Both stories are pure Kanigher cheese! The situation in the Haunted Tank story is absurd and, while Joe Kubert might have made it bearable, Sam Glanzman's not up to the task. We've seen the blind gimmick before and I knew what was in store right from the cover. We've also seen plenty of D-Day stories in the past and Ric Estrada's art is not gritty enough to convey the danger and violence of the invasion.

Our Army at War 284

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

"Medal of Honor"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: Sgt. Rock tells the kids of San Gullio to go home but they refuse, explaining that the Fascists herded their parents into caves and killed them. A Nazi tank rolls into town and, as Rock readies himself for battle, he wonders how the men he assigned to help the convoy are making out.

Jackie Johnson, Wildman, and Zack help the convoy break through a Nazi roadblock and head off to "Linkup!" with Rock at San Gullio. As Rock pours bullets into the Nazi tank, Bulldozer and Ice Cream Soldier help engineers by blowing away some more Nazi attackers.

Back in San Gullio, the kids help Rock set fire to the tank. Elsewhere, Little Sure Shot and Four Eyes destroy a Nazi plane and protect the tanks they were guarding. The Nazis outside San Gullio decide to send flamethrowers into the town to wipe out any resistance. Bulldozer and Ice Cream Soldier show up just in time with some TNT and, after the last of the Nazis have been defeated, Rock introduces the reunited men of Easy Co. to his new pals--the Bambinos of San Gullio.

I had hoped that a two-part Sgt. Rock story would be better than this, but Doug Wildey does not succeed in rendering the various members of Easy Co. clearly enough to make their separate adventures interesting. Basically, Rock fights with the kids while the other sub-groups blow up Nazis, then they all get back together. Kanigher's attempt to write something long-form this time is a failure.

Captain Henry Talmage Elrod performed heroically in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor by using his plane to down two Japanese bombers over Wake Island, destroying an enemy warship by bombing it from above, and fighting close-up as Japanese invaded the island. He was finally shot and killed by an enemy soldier.

"Medal of Honor"
Norman Maurer's art looks like a vestige from the Golden Age and is acceptable in that light, but this is hardly an exciting story, despite the true heroics on display.

Peter: Another month and another disappointing Rock saga; this one even comes equipped with a catch phrase Bob runs into the ground ("'Wonder how Rock's doin'?'") and Wildey art that looks suspiciously like Kubert in a lot of spots. These adventures that cast the spotlight on delightful war kids are a slog.

"Medal of Honor," while shining the light on a man who was unquestionably a war hero, is nothing more than an Encyclopedia Britannica entry, lacking any emotional depth whatsoever. "Medal of Honor" is cut from the same cloth as "Invasion? Where's Everyone?" but the latter manages to be interesting and involving while the former is way too dry.

Kirby & Berry
Our Fighting Forces 159

"'Mile-a-Minute' Jones!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

Jack: The only survivor of a truck accident is an African-American soldier known as "'Mile-a-Minute' Jones," and he demonstrates why he's called that when he runs for his life from Nazis with guns. To his surprise, one of the Nazis is almost as fleet-footed as he and turns out to be Bruno Borman, a paratrooper who raced against Jones in the Berlin Olympics and nearly beat him.

Meanwhile, the Losers have been assigned the task of capturing General Kessel before those same Nazi paratroopers can get to him. The Losers rescue Jones and proceed to the villa where Kessel awaits. Jones locks Borman up with other Nazis who were guarding Kessel but neglects to search Borman, who quickly escapes by cutting his bonds with a hidden razor blade.

The Losers march off with Kessel but Borman soon catches up to them and races off to warn a nearby squad of Nazi soldiers. Jones gives chase! The race is on and, while Jones fails to catch Borman before the swift Nazi can reunite with his fellow paratroopers, those same men rush into battle and are blown up by a mine field--the same mine field Jones had just raced across unknowingly. The Losers rescue him and reinforcements arrive to end the Nazi threat--for now.

Hardly a Losers story, this succeeds because Kirby keeps the pace rapid and tries hard to depict a noble "Black" character. Clearly based on Jesse Owens, Jones has no distinct personality to speak of but can run very fast. He is at once a stereotypical African-American character who recalls those in 1940s' comics (of the sort Kirby drew) and an attempt to represent something more. Kirby's writing is the worst aspect of his '70s attempts at storytelling (his art was pretty bad, too), but in this story he manages to come close to producing something entertaining and worthwhile.

Peter: Maybe it's because Jack's on a downward slide and hasn't hit a right note in months, but I didn't really mind "'Mile-a-Minute' Jones!," all that much. It beat the hell out of "Panama Fattie," despite having a very familiar ring to it (remember that Rock adventure where one of the members of Easy was a disgraced ex-Olympian?), so I'll give it a passing grade of C+. On the bright side, The King's tenure on "the Losers" is fast coming to an end (he'll be Marvel's problem in just a few months). Stay tuned!

Star Spangled War Stories 191

"Decision at Volstadt"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Story by Sid Check
Art by Buddy Gernale

Peter: In the opening pages of the third chapter of the exciting "Volstadt" epic, the Unknown Soldier has left little Gudren alone in the forest while he forages for civilian clothes. When he returns, both Gudren and US's magic make-up case are in the hands of the Ratzis! When he attempts to follow the troop back into Volstadt, he's chased by Nazis and cornered in a dead-end alley. In the nick of time, a basement door flies open and a gorgeous resistance fighter saves US's fat. Our hero quickly explains the situation and then his savior, Joanna, explains that both Gudren and the case are located in the Nazi headquarters owned by a local turncoat named General Von Bittschwann, a swine responsible for turning the local boys into Hitler Youth.

US and his new friends attempt a break-in at the General's only to discover they have stepped into a trap. They manage to overtake the Nazis, swipe Gudren and escape, but Joanna is gunned down in an alley by her own son, Eric... a new Hitler recruit. Back at the base, US grabs a machine gun and heads back to Von Bittschwann's place to grab his gear and ventilate a few Germans. Once again, our hapless protagonist falls into a trap and is cornered by Joanna's brainwashed son. When US tells Eric he's killed his own mother, the kid shoots him and then turns his pistol on Von Bittschwann before being gunned down by soldiers. The Unknown Soldier is taken into custody.

David Michelinie proves that, given a whole lot of space to work with, a genuinely riveting and well-written tale can be presented before DC War fans. "Decision at Volstadt" continues the wall-to-wall action present in the first two chapters and, again, leaves with a surprising cliffhanger. I was completely surprised when Eric was presented with the facts about his mother and then shot US anyway. Talaoc just seems to be getting better and better every issue as if the quality of scripts is egging him on. Bring on the conclusion!

After their "Stuka!" crashes and burns, two Nazi pilots must impersonate French civilians. So, it's only ironic that, hours after their own plane strafed the fleeing civilians, they should be the target of one of their comrades. Maybe not ironic so much as predictable, but some nice art by Buddy Gernale.

Jack: Easily the best comic we read for this post, SSWS 191 is a winner from start to finish. I am really getting to like Talaoc's art, and Michelinie recovers from a weak story last time out. The Unknown Soldier's ability to miss bullets still amazes me, as does the facility of every Nazi soldier with the English language. I was surprised to see US get shot, but I guess it was only a flesh wound. The backup story was great, too, and the final page features some impressive art. On the letters page, the editor remarks that they got about six letters commenting on issue 185. Who knew it was that easy to get a letter published in a comic? I always thought loads of readers were writing in and I'd have no chance. I should have written!

Next Week...
The Dark Age continues...
But Tom Sutton attempts to make it interesting.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Arthur A. Ross Part Seven: Wally the Beard [10.19] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

Walter Mills is a 25-year old London bookkeeper who is frustrated by his routine, unexciting life. One day, he surprises himself by buying a stylish suit and hat, then adding a fake beard from a costume shop to the ensemble. Having always though of his weak chin as a defect that kept him friendless, Mills finds a new sense of self-confidence in disguise and visits a neighborhood pub, where he pretends to be a Navy man and attracts attention from the other patrons. Pretty Noreen Harper is particularly taken with him, though her companion, a rough character named Curly, is less impressed.

"The Chinless Wonder"
was first published here
Calling himself Phillip Marshall, Stanley fools his landlady, Mrs. Jones, and quits his job, living off money he has embezzled from his employer bit by bit, enjoying keeping company with wealthy Noreen, and moving to a new neighborhood. He buys a small boat to impress his new girlfriend, though he cuts his arm while working on the pleasure craft and some blood is spilled, staining both the boat and his bag. Noreen takes him home to bandage his wound and the two spend a romantic afternoon together. Returning to his new boat, Walter is confronted by Curly, who recognizes him as Wally Mills, "'the chinless wonder of Corson Street,'" and threatens to expose him. To buy Curly's silence, Walter agrees to help hide a sack of stolen goods by dropping it into the Thames River right where his new boat is moored.

The next morning, Walter's troubles multiply when his former landlady attempts to collect back rent that he owed to her when he moved out suddenly. She visits the new room that Walter has rented as Phillip Marshall and she and his new landlady inspect it, finding Walter's possessions and a bag with bloodstains on it. When Walter returns later that day, the police are waiting for him. Noreen sent a message by Curly that she has gone to visit a sick aunt in Brighton, and Inspector Marples asks Walter about the bloodstained bag. Walter takes the police to his boat and explains how he cut himself, mentioning the moorings in passing.

Larry Blyden as Walter Mills
The next morning, the police confront Marshall with the news that the bloodstains match the Army records of Walter Mills, and they are about to arrest Phillip for murder when he peels off his beard and reveals his true identity. Inspector Marples is angry but, just as Walter is about to leave, another policeman arrives to announce that a dead body has been found. The police retrieved Curly's sack from the river and inside it they found the body of Noreen's husband. Walter realizes that she and Curly have played him for a fool.

"The Chinless Wonder" is a light, entertaining story with an unexpected ending. The author, Stanley Abbott (1906-1976), wrote a handful of short stories in the 1950s and early 1960s (The FictionMags Index lists a total of eight), and three were adapted for television: one on General Electric Theater in 1958 and two on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965. "The Chinless Wonder" was renamed "Wally the Beard" after a nickname Curly calls Walter Mills at one point in the story, and the television version improves on the short story.

Kathie Browne as Noreen
Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for this episode, and a theme for woodwinds and strings plays over the opening credits. The setting has been moved from London to an unspecified location in the United States and the show begins in Walter's office, where his fiance of six weeks, a young woman named Lucy, breaks off their engagement, calling him "'a very ordinary man'" and adding that he is "'dullsville'" and "'ordinaryville.'" Balding and bespectacled, Walter looks older than the 25-year-old character of the short story; in fact, Larry Blyden, who plays the part, was 39 at the time of filming and the character later refers to himself as a "'mature man.'" Walter visits a wig shop and an enthusiastic and engaging salesman convinces him to purchase a toupee and false goatee.

We next see Walter in a bar, with his new look in place, where he meets Noreen and Curly. In these early scenes it quickly becomes apparent that Arthur A. Ross has taken the narrative passages of the short story and converted them into sparkling dialogue that is delivered flawlessly by the actors, from Larry Blyden and Kathie Browne (as Noreen) down to the bit players, such as Dave Willock, who plays the wig salesman. The telefilm is also aided immeasurably by Bernard Herrmann's score, which provides unobtrusive music that fits each scene perfectly.

Katherine Squire as Mrs. Adams
Walter, as Phillip, returns home to the rooming house where he resides and is confronted by his landlady, renamed Mrs. Adams. The scene is cleverly staged to demonstrate a shift in the balance of power brought on by Walter's new self-confidence: the camera is positioned to look up at him, now that he is in charge of the relationship, and it looks down at Mrs. Adams, who is now in a subordinate position. She refers to Walter as a "'weasel,'" but Phillip defends his alter-ego in a stirring testimonial. Alone in his room, Walter leans out the window and laughs with delight, exclaiming "'I'm new! I'm free! I'm a new, free man!'" However, his reverie is interrupted when he sees Curly looking up at him from the street below.

The next day, Walter is again himself, sans hairpieces, when Mrs. Adams bursts in, looking for Phillip Marshall and carrying a note for the man from Curly. As Phillip, Walter visits a new rooming house, where the landlady, Mrs. Jones, is quite taken by his appearance and treats him like a man of distinction. As in many other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, unmarried people live together in rooming houses, living spaces that were soon to become scarce as the postwar housing boom took hold.

George Mitchell as Keefer
Walter/Phillip calls Noreen and arranges to see her, then visits a marina and purchases a boat from a man named Keefer. There is a nice bit of business between Phillip and Keefer where Phillip admits he knows little about sailing and enlists Keefer's aid in convincing Noreen otherwise. Bernard Herrmann's score hits playful, nautical notes here, supporting the light, seafaring tone of the scene. Phillip cuts his thumb trying to set up the boat and the scene dissolves to Noreen's apartment as she bandages his wound. In this scene, especially, Kathie Browne (as Noreen) is photographed with glamorous, classic Hollywood lighting as the musical score takes a romantic turn. She confesses to having a husband, "'almost an ex-husband,'" and praises Phillip's "'interesting'" beard, calling him a "'mystery.'" The score supports the dramatic tone of the scene and the music swells as Phillip and Noreen kiss.

Berkeley Harris as Curly
Phillip leaves Noreen's apartment on another emotional high, only to be brought low again by a confrontation with Curly, who wants his help in hiding stolen loot. To protect his secret, Walter agrees to the deal and he and Curly take the boat out and sink the bag. Meanwhile, the new landlady, Mrs. Jones, answers an ad from the old landlady, Mrs. Adams, and the two gossip about their tenants and inspect Phillip's room. Phillip comes home to find the landladies and Lieutenant Johnson in his room, and the scene that follows mixes humor and suspense; Phillip is suspected of foul play while his answers to the policeman's questions grow increasingly awkward and Mrs. Adams is shown in reaction shots.

Lee Bergere as Lt. Johnson
When pressed to prove his innocence, Phillip peels off his hairpieces to reveal the truth; once again, Herrmann's score lends gravity to the scene as well as pathos: one feels sorry for Walter, whose ruse has led to suspicion of criminal activity. Up to this point, the teleplay has followed the events of the story closely, but here Ross inserts a new scene, in which Walter visits Noreen and confesses the truth to her. Noreen accepts him as he is and, when he tells her about having hidden Curly's loot, she tells him to cut it loose so it cannot be traced to him.

In the show's final scene, Walter heads out on his boat at night to cut the bag loose from the moorings, only to have a police boat arrive. Back at the marina, the bag of loot is opened to reveal the corpse of Noreen's husband, and Walter realizes he has been had. The small changes Ross makes to the end of the show make the conclusion more exciting and suspenseful, a fitting finish to a strong episode.

Dave Willock as the wig salesman
"Wally the Beard" improves on "The Chinless Wonder," with a good script, crackling dialogue, fast-paced direction, evocative music, and top-notch acting. The theme of doubling is important. Walter's life changes when he takes on the role of Phillip, but the choices he makes along the way to preserve the ruse end up with him getting in trouble with the law. Noreen is playing a double role as well, but it is so subtle as to be nearly invisible. She must know Walter is putting her on right from the start, yet she is utterly convincing in her love for him, right up to the end. By putting on a toupee and false beard, Walter assumes the part of a Man of Distinction, that vague essence of male cool that permeated the 1950s and 1960s and was immortalized in the song, "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity (1966). The Man of Distinction is irresistible to women, drives a fast car or boat, and dresses and grooms himself with care. For Walter Mills, this seems easy at first, but what he fails to realize is that he is not really fooling anyone; instead, con artists and criminals target him as their patsy and his landladies end up calling the police when they suspect him of murder.

Elizabeth Harrower as Mrs. Jones
"Wally the Beard" is the only episode of the Hitchcock series to be directed by James H. Brown (1930-2011), who worked for years as an assistant director or production manager, including on 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1958 to 1961 and two more of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also worked as Hitchcock's assistant director on The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and directed for television from 1961 to 1974. In an interview, Brown later remarked that most of his directorial jobs arose when someone else dropped out. He went on to work as an associate producer, production manager (including nine episodes in the first season of The Odd Couple), and director of TV commercials. He admitted that he preferred the steady work of an assistant to the insecurity of a director.

Leslie Perkins as Lucy, Walter's fiance
Larry Blyden (1925-1975) carries the show as Walter Mills. Born Ivan Lawrence Blieden, he served in the Marines in WWII and began his acting career on Broadway in 1948. He acted mostly on TV from 1950 until his death, only appearing in three films in that period. He was on Thriller and two classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, though this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He won a Tony Award in 1972 for his role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and died in 1975 in a car accident.

The duplicitous Noreen is played by Kathie Browne (1930-2003), who was born Jacqueline Katherine Browne and who was married to Darren McGavin from 1969 until her death. She appeared on screen from 1955 to 1980, mostly on TV, and was seen on an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Bed of Roses"), Star Trek, and The Night Stalker.

John Indrisano as the bartender
Mrs. Adams, Walter's first landlady, is played perfectly by Katherine Squire (1903-1995), who was on Broadway from 1927 to 1959 and on screen from 1949 to 1989. She was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Man from the South," where she plays the scolding wife of Peter Lorre's character, and she was seen on Thriller and The Twilight Zone. Later in her career, she was a regular on the soap opera, The Doctors (1970-1975).

Squire's husband, George Mitchell (1905-1972), often appeared with her, and in "Wally the Beard" he plays Keefer, the experienced sailor at the marina who is exasperated by the antics of Walter Mills. Mitchell was on Broadway from 1942 to 1970 and on screen from 1935 to 1971. He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "Forty Detectives Later," and he was also seen on Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

In smaller roles:
  • Berkeley Harris (1933-1984) as Curly; he was on screen from 1952 to 1981, mainly on TV, and this was one of his two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
  • Lee Bergere (1918-2007) as Lieutenant Johnson; he was on Broadway from 1936 to 1972 and on screen from 1954 to 1989. He makes the most of his role as the policeman and his scenes manage the difficult balance of humor and suspense.
  • Dave Willock (1909-1990) as the wig salesman; he started out in vaudeville in 1931 and played many small parts on screen from 1937 to 1975. He acted on radio in the '30s and '40s and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was in one other episode of the Hitchcock show and he was also on The Twilight Zone. He, too, makes the most of a small role, enlivening his single scene and interacting well with Larry Blyden.
  • Elizabeth Harrower (1918-2003) as the second landlady, Mrs. Jones; she started on radio in the '30s and was on screen from 1949 to 1974. This was one of two Hitchcock episodes in which  she appeared. She was also on The Twilight Zone and Batman. After she stopped acting, she became a prolific writer for soap operas in the '70s and '80s.
  • Leslie Perkins plays Walter's fiance in the show's first scene; she had a brief screen career from 1963 to 1970 and was also seen on Batman. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Blink and you'll miss John Indrisano (1905-1968), who plays the bartender in the scene where Walter meets Noreen. He was a professional boxer from 1924 to 1934, then a boxing referee from 1934 to 1949. He trained many film actors for boxing scenes and played bit parts on film and television from 1933 to 1968. He was on Batman three times and he was also on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Throwback," where he utilizes his boxing skills.
Watch "Wally the Beard" for free online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!

Abbott, Stanley. “The Chinless Wonder.” Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Jan. 1965, pp. 61–71.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Obituary: James H. Brown (1930-2011).” The Classic TV History Blog, 20 Sept. 2011,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
“Wally the Beard.” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 19, NBC, 1 Mar. 1965.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Arthur A. Ross on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Arthur A. Ross wrote the teleplays for eight episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, all of which were broadcast between January 1964 and March 1965. One of the episodes, "The Evil of Adelaide Winters," was based on a radio play by Ross; the rest were based on stories written by others.

Ross's five scripts for season nine demonstrate a skill at mixing comedy and suspense and often explore the relationships between men and women, especially in the context of marriage. "Three Wives Too Many" is a brilliant expansion of a short story in which Ross expands the role of the murderous wife. "The Evil of Adelaide Winters" is faithful to the radio play of the same title and makes good use of the visual medium. "Anyone for Murder?" veers off into new territory from the short story on which it is based, mixing murder with black humor in an examination of marriage that is more interesting and amusing than its source. "Ten Minutes from Now" removes the elements of humor that were found in the short story and suffers as a result, while "Who Needs an Enemy?" is another black comedy that explores the relationships between men and women.

The three scripts by Ross that were produced for season ten include "Triumph," a rare episode that lacks humor but benefits from lyrical writing and a superb reworking of the short story's narrative structure. This hauntingly beautiful episode once again explores the relationships among married couples. "Thanatos Palace Hotel" is Ross's second failure, a script that expands Western elements from the source to its detriment and loses the element of surprise. Ross's final script, for "Wally the Beard," is perhaps his most humorous of all and succeeds in adhering to the short story's plot structure while improving on its narrative.

In all, the eight shows scripted by Arthur A. Ross constitute a fine addition to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, often displaying the black humor for which the show's host was so well known.


Episode title-"Three Wives Too Many" [9.12]
Broadcast date-3 January 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Three Wives Too Many" by Kenneth Fearing
First print appearance-Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1956
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"The Evil of Adelaide Winters" [9.16]
Broadcast date-7 February 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "The Evil of Adelaide Winters," a radio play by Arthur A, Ross
First print appearance-none; first radio broadcast on Suspense, 10 September 1951
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

"The Evil of Adelaide Winters"

Episode title-"Anyone for Murder?" [9.20]
Broadcast date-13 March 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Anyone for Murder?" by Jack Ritchie
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1964
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Ten Minutes from Now" [9.26]
Broadcast date-1 May 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Ten Minutes from Now" by Jack Ritchie
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 1963
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-no

"Anyone for Murder?"

Episode title-"Who Needs an Enemy?" [9.28]
Broadcast date-15 May 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Goodbye Charlie" by Henry Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1964
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Triumph" [10.9]
Broadcast date-14 December 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Murder in Szechwan" by Robert Branson
First print appearance-Collier's, 9 October 1948
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-no


Episode title-"Thanatos Palace Hotel" [10.15]
Broadcast date-1 February 1965
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Thanatos Palace Hotel" by Andre Maurois
First print appearance-Candide, 16 December 1937
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Wally the Beard" [10.19]
Broadcast date-1 March 1965
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "The Chinless Wonder" by Stanley Abbott
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1965
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

In two weeks: Our series on Bill S. Ballinger begins with "Dry Run," starring Walter Matthau and Robert Vaughn!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn's entertaining discussion of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Never Again," on the Good Evening podcast here!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's incisive podcast about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "A Bullet for Baldwin," here!