Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Ten: Gratitude [6.28]--Our 250th Episode!

by Jack Seabrook

"The Thing Called Gratitude," by Donn Byrne, was first published in the January 1922 issue of Hearst's International. It was collected in Byrne's book of short stories called Rivers of Damascus and Other Stories, which was published in 1931. The story was adapted for the small screen by William Fay, and the episode, titled simply "Gratitude," premiered on NBC on Tuesday, April 25, 1961.

The short story tells of Meyer Fine, who worked his way up from a poor beginning on the streets of Manhattan to owning his own gambling joint, a place many reputable citizens are known to frequent. Fine falls in love with a beautiful actress named Minna Fenton and, when he proposes marriage, she accepts. She moves into his home above the gambling den and worships her husband like he is a hero.

"The Thing Called Gratitude"
was first published here
All his life, Fine has had an extreme fear of death. When young Patrick Hennessy gambles away his fortune and commits suicide, his rich, powerful father decides to ruin Fine. Hennessy sends a detective to observe the goings-on at the casino and, to prevent the man from reporting on the important men who were present, gangsters shoot and kill the detective outside his home.

Fine's valet is an ex-con named John Lardner, who waits on the gambler hand and foot and understands his employer's inner demons. One night, the district attorney visits Fine and tells him that he is implicated in the detective's murder. Fine is given one day to decide if he will inform on his colleagues or face the electric chair. The next day, the gambler is torn between his fear of death and his code of not being an informer. Lardner discovers Fine sitting at his desk, holding a revolver, unable to shoot himself but saying that "'it's the only way out.'" The valet calmly picks up the gun and shoots his employer in the back, killing him. When he is arrested, Lardner lies and says that he never liked Fine, and the detective chides him for his ingratitude.

Peter Falk as Meyer Fine

Very dated when read today, a century after it was written, "The Thing Called Gratitude" depicts a world of gangsters running a gambling casino in a house in a Midtown Manhattan that seems hopelessly remote. The prose is stilted, with long, flowery descriptions of the characters and their emotions, and the casual racism of the times is jarring. Meyer Fine, the Jewish gangster, is referred to as "Oriental," and one of his colleagues suggests that he replace his valet with "'a decent Jap.'" The surprise ending demonstrates that Lardner, who is said to understand Fine best, knows what his employer wants and needs and provides it by shooting and killing him. This spares Fine the terror of impending death in the electric chair and preserves his heroic image in the eyes of his widow. The final words spoken by the detective are ironic; in accusing Lardner of lacking gratitude, he misunderstands the amount of loyalty required for the valet to execute his employer.

Paul Hartman as John Ingo

The television version is set in 1916, but the viewer only knows the exact year because Alfred Hitchcock mentions it during his introductory remarks. The story begins at Christmastime, as a horse-drawn carriage drives past a Manhattan home in light snow and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" plays on the soundtrack, perhaps setting up the episode's concluding demonstration of faith and loyalty by John Ingo (as Lardner has been renamed). Inside the house, a casino employee named Otto asks John where Fine is, since a blackjack dealer is unavailable for work that day. Fine emerges and John helps him dress; Fine tells John that he placed a bet on a horse that won and that he has placed the winnings in an envelope for John. This first scene thus establishes the time and the place, as well as showing the viewer the relationships between the characters and providing a basis for John's devotion.

Adam Stewart as Avery H. Combs, Jr.

Fine descends the stairs inside his house to the casino, where young Avery H. Combs, Jr. (Hennessy in the short story) is wagering heavily and losing badly. Back upstairs in Fine's home, the casino owner remarks that his valet sees him as he is: "'tired, uncertain...much of the time afraid.'" It is revealed that Fine did not attend a recent wake or funeral due to his fear of death, but John breaks the mood with a light remark. Another casino employee, this one named Hubert, enters to report that Combs "'just blew his brains out'" in the subway a block and a half away from the casino. Earlier, Fine had said that Combs's rich and powerful father would start an investigation if he learned how much money his son was losing at the gambling tables.

Edmund Hashim as Frank Mazzotti

In the following scene, a policeman (rather than the district attorney) talks to Fine and two other casino owners, Mazzotti and Dunphy, in the downstairs room, from which all traces of gambling have been removed. He assures them that the gambling dens' days are numbered and warns that Combs will see them all in jail. When John enters and pours a cup of tea, the lieutenant remarks that he knew John when the valet was just a common criminal. Later, when the casino is again up and running, Dunphy visits Fine and points out the respectable citizens in attendance. Fine notices a young man at the bar whom he does not recognize and asks Hubert to identify him. The stranger walks away from the bar, pulls a camera out of a parcel, and photographs important members of society at the gambling table.

John Dennis as Joe Dunphy

Fine orders Otto to follow the man, take care of him, and destroy the film. In the following scene, the man approaches the door of the Sheldon Detective Agency and is suddenly gunned down on the sidewalk. A hand reaches down and takes his camera. Back at the casino, Fine discusses what happened with Mazzotti and Dunphy and admits that it is a bad situation. Fine insists that he did not tell Otto to kill the detective; Otto lost his head and, as a result of his rash act, was himself killed an hour ago. Fine insists to his colleagues that they are all in it together, but they leave him alone and head for a meeting with another criminal known as the Dutchman, a meeting to which Fine is pointedly not invited.

Left alone with his valet, Fine telephones the Dutchman, who hangs up on him. Fine steps outside, intending to visit the Dutchman to clear up matters, but only takes a few steps along the sidewalk before he is shot in the arm by a gunman in a passing black car. John brings Fine back inside and tends to his wound. Fine says that one of the Dutchman's boys shot him.

Bert Remsen as Lt. McDermott

Later, John keeps watch at the window and Fine is afraid to venture outside. John suggests hiding out in New Jersey, but Fine is distraught and refuses to consider that as a solution. John leaves the room and Fine takes a gun from his desk drawer, then tries to point it at his own head but cannot. John rushes in and Fine laments his own lack of courage, begging John to help him. John picks up the gun and shoots Fine, then lays the weapon down on the desk and calls the police. In the final scene, the same policeman who had earlier spoken to the trio of gambling bosses asks why John killed Fine and the episode ends in the same manner as the short story, with the policeman asking, "'Didn't you ever hear of a thing called gratitude?'"

Karl Lukas as Otto

The plot and ending of "Gratitude" are close to those of the short story, with one significant change: the character of Minna, who falls in love with Fine, accepts his marriage proposal, and worships him, has been completely eliminated. She is a major character in the short story, and Fine's agony at the end is, in part, driven by his desire to live up to her image of him as a great man. Instead, Fay focuses more on the organized crime aspects of Fine's world. The character of the Dutchman, who is absent from the short story, is added as an unseen but feared crime boss, and it is Fine's fear of being killed that drives him to assisted suicide. In the short story, he is torn between becoming an informant and dying in the electric chair. In the TV show, the ethical question does not arise, and Fine instead fears his own murder by the gang.

As a result, the TV version is somewhat more dynamic than the short story, though it is hardly a captivating thriller. The acting is good and Fay's plotting is solid, but the story that served as the basis for the teleplay can only be livened up so much. In the end, neither is particularly memorable, and one wonders why the decades-old story appealed to the producers of the TV show.

Phil Gordon as Frank the bartender

"Gratitude" was directed by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001). He started out as a film editor, working on features from 1944 to 1954 and on TV from 1955 to 1957, then began directing episodic television in 1956. He directed 16 half-hours and three hours of the Hitchcock series, including "The Woman Who Wanted to Live," as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Crosland directed a handful of movies, but his main focus was on TV, and he directed his last show in 1986.

The short story, "A Thing Called Gratitude," was written by Donn Byrne (1889-1928). Born Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne in New York City, the author grew up in Ireland and returned in 1911 to New York, where he began selling fiction. He wrote short stories, poems, and novels, and eventually returned to Ireland, where he died in a car accident before the age of 40. Some of his works were adapted on film from 1918 to 1929 and he had a revival when his works were adapted for television from 1951 to 1961.

Clegg Hoyt as Hubert
Peter Falk (1927-2011) stars as Meyer Fine. Born in New York City, he started out on Broadway in 1956, began appearing on TV in 1957, and on film in 1958. He appeared in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("Bonfire"), and he also was seen on The Twilight Zone. He will always be remembered as Lieutenant Columbo, from the long-running series of TV mysteries that aired, on and off, from 1968 to 2003. He won five Emmy Awards during his career, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and wrote an autobiography, Just One More Thing (2006).

In the role of John Ingo, Fine's valet, is Paul Hartman (1904-1973), who started in vaudeville as a dancer and had a successful career on Broadway, in movies, and on TV. He appeared on Thriller and The Twilight Zone and his five appearances on the Hitchcock series also included "Not the Running Type."

In supporting roles:

  • Edmund Hashim (1933-1974) as Frank Mazzotti, one of the other gambling bosses; he was on TV from 1955 to 1970 and was seen on the Hitchcock show three times, including "Maria."
  • John Dennis (1925-2004) as Joe Dunphy, the other gambling boss; born John Grover Sauer, he was on film from 1953 to 1979 and appeared in countless TV shows between 1953 and 1983. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he was seen on Batman, The Night Stalker, and in two Mel Brooks films, Young Frankenstein (1974) and High Anxiety (1977), a spoof of Hitchcock's films
  • Bert Remsen (1925-1999) as police Lieutenant McDermott; he served in WWII and fought at Okinawa. His screen career lasted from 1952 to 1999 and included appearances in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Annabel." He was also seen on Thriller and The Outer Limits.
  • Karl Lukas (1919-1995) as Otto; born Karol Louis Lukasiak, he was on screen from 1951 to 1991 and had roles on Batman, Night Gallery, and The Odd Couple. He had begun his career on Broadway in the 1940s and was a semi-regular on The Phil Silvers Show (1955-58). He was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Bang! You're Dead."
  • Adam Stewart as Avery H. Combs, Jr.; his credits include six TV shows between 1949 and 1962.
  • Phil Gordon (1916-2010) as Frank, the bartender; born Phil Gulley, he served in the Navy in WWII and worked as a jazz musician in the 1940s and 1950s. He acted on TV from 1959 to 1969 and also worked as a dialogue coach on Green Acres from 1966 to 1969. He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Man From the South."
  • Clegg Hoyt (1910-1967) as Hubert; he was on screen from 1955-67 and he was in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Day of the Bullet." He was also on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and Star Trek.
A trivia note on this episode's IMDb page states that the character of Meyer Fine is named after the real mobster Meyer Lansky, but I doubt this is true. Donn Byrne wrote this story in 1921 and Meyer Lansky was just 19 years old at the time. While he may well have been involved in crime in New York City at that point, I doubt he was the basis for the sophisticated gangster of Byrne's story. Both men were Jewish, both were named Meyer, and both were successful in gambling and organized crime, but I don't think the fictional character was based on the real person.

Order "Gratitude" on DVD here or watch it for free online here.

Sources:

AllMovie, www.allmovie.com/.

Byrne, Donn. "The Thing Called Gratitude."  Hearst's International. Jan. 1922, 41-43, 70.

The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.

"Gratitude." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 28, NBC, 25 Apr., 1961.

IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, philsp.com/.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.


In two weeks: Ten O'Clock Tiger, starring Robert Keith and Frankie Darro!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Baby Sitter" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Mrs. Herman and Mrs. Fenimore" here!

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 58: December 1974 + The Best of 1973-74


The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
1964-1983
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter



Eisner
The Spirit #5

"The Return"
Story & Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 8/14/49)

"The Spirit Now Deputy"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 4/24/49)

"The Hunted"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 5/1/49)

"The Prediction"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 6/19/49)

"The Deadly Comic Book"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 2/27/49)

"Death, Taxes and... The Spirit"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 3/13/49)

"Hamid Jebru"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 5/8/49)

"Ice"
Story & Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 1/2/49)

Jack-A beautiful new Eisner cover introduces another 56 pages of sheer genius, this time all from the year 1949. The highlight is "The Deadly Comic Book," with gorgeous color and a plot that reminds us that comics were being burned by gleeful citizens years before EC horror gathered steam. Three of the stories in this issue appeared in sequence, though only two are printed right after each other; in "The Spirit Now Deputy," he leaves Wildwood Cemetery and moves to the city, having become an official member of Dolan's police department. Of course, the Spirit bristles under rules and authority and is soon a wanted man once again. "The Hunted" follows, and it's nice to see Dolan working undercover for a change. Later in this issue, "Hamid Jebru" comes right after "The Hunted" chronologically and finds the Spirit in the clear and heading to Egypt to track a criminal.

Jules Feiffer is credited in the GCD as co-writer on six of this issue's stories. In "The Return," credited to Eisner alone, the Spirit is shot once again and Sammy saves the day. "The Prediction" is a light entry with a very dedicated weatherman, while "Death, Taxes and...The Spirit" has more ghostly doings, as a dead man's phantom worries that his tax return won't get mailed on time. There is an ironic and satisfying ending to this one. The last story, "Ice, is the weakest, saved only by a humorous finale in which the Spirit accidentally proposes marriage to Ellen Dolan. The art throughout the issue is top-notch.

Peter-The letters page becomes volatile again, when repeat correspondent William Williams of New York, New York, reiterates his feelings on Ebony and Will Eisner's racism (WW said that, not me!). It's basically the same letter that saw print back in #4 and Dube (or Eisner or whoever was writing the letter replies) reiterates exactly what they said last issue: Ebony is not a creation of racism the same way Ricky Ricardo and Archie Bunker aren't racist. Huh? Exactly. As for Spirit tales this issue, my favorite would have to be "The Spirit Now Deputy." I laughed out loud at Spirit's frustration with red tape and the lack of action in his new day-to-day life. A very close second is "The Deadly Comic Book," which kinda sorta predicts the Wertham mess to come and fully takes advantage of color. Like Mike Coan of Eugene, Oregon, I wish this whole magazine could have been presented in vivid color.


Creepy #67
Kelly

"Excerpts From Year Five!" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Haunted Abbey" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Vicente Alcazar

"The Happy Undertaker" ★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Martin Salvador

"Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'" 
Story by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Rich Corben

"Holy War" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Oil of Dog!" 
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by Jack Butterworth
Art by Isidro Mones

Five years after the electricity runs out and millions die, Ben and his love, Pat, attempt to make their way through freezing winters (or are all the seasons freezing?), cannibals, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. There's more to it than just that but I think "Excerpts From Year Five!" is a perfect title for a story filled with vignettes and random thoughts. The story, for me, was like being on a see-saw; I can't deny some images were harrowing (a young child hung upside down and slit up the middle as playtime for a group of Satan worshippers comes immediately to mind), but I also couldn't get past the fact that so much of Budd Lewis's writing came across as self-important, and yet nothing more than mere descriptions of what's going on in the panel below. This is an old story, but these Warren writers couldn't get out of their own way when trying to craft their next "masterpiece." 

But enough of the bottomless pit of despair this man has fallen into shines through that I have to give a thumbs-up despite my eye-rolling (which extended to the fact that, doomsday or no, Pat looked like she'd just had her hair and nails done). I probably complain way too much and I should be thankful Doug Moench didn't get his hands on this one (the child would be quoting John Lennon's "Mother" as its little tummy met the knife). "Excerpts" is a chilling look at an entirely-possible future with an added layer of grunge thanks to Jose Ortiz. 

While on a vacation in Spain, Rick and his beautiful young wife find themselves lost, and happen upon an old abbey in the woods. They ask the monk who answers their knock if they can stay the night and he shows them to a room, informing them that they must not wander the halls. He also refuses their request to take pictures of the abbey. Of course, once the monk leaves, Rick suggests they explore the place regardless of their stern warning. As they get further into the caverns of the vast building, Rick becomes more and more obsessed with getting pics of the monks and their home. 

The couple hear voices and hide in the shadows as the monks enter the room with a young girl. One of the monks explains that the girl is a witch and needs to be punished, and the American couple watch in horror as the girl is bricked up behind a solid wall. Once the monks leave, Rick attempts to break through the wall, but discovers it's solid as if it's been set for years. Finally breaking through, they are horrified to discover a rotting skeleton. They race up to the top level to discover "The Haunted Abbey" to be in ruins. A goofy hodgepodge of lame American tourist assholes (you know, the ones that don't do what they're told because they're... um... American?)  and stunning art, Jarringly, halfway through the story, we're suddenly told that Rick was a photographer in 'Nam and he always gets his pic no matter what, so that explains his sudden change in demeanor. How did a Gold Key Ripley's Believe It or Not story end up at Warren? 

As an aside, while doing some research, I noticed that the minute Warren folded up camp and stopped answering phones in the early 1980s, Budd Lewis's career was over. That must have been a bitter pill to swallow for a writer who, just based on the little proof I've had so far, was a competent and sometimes very good writer (one who would drop a couple of classics during his Warren career). The sad story of what happened to Budd post-Warren can be read here. Lewis died in 2014

Bill Wyman takes a wife
Felix Stark is "The Happy Undertaker!" And what's not to be gleeful about? He handles all the dead bodies in town, more business than he can handle sometimes, and then robs the corpses of their gold fillings. Lining his pockets with the ill-gotten gains, Stark is getting fat and greedy. One night, Stark notices an extra coffin and a slumbering teenage girl named Madeleine. He awakens her and listens to her tearful story of poverty and homelessness. As if struck by an epiphany, Stark offers the girl a job: she'll extract the gold from his "victims" for room and board. The girl quickly agrees and becomes the undertaker's hardest worker.

Stark then asks Madeleine if she has any friends looking for a place to stay; very quickly, fellow street urchins Lionel and Laura become full-time Stark Undertaking employees. But Felix Stark has taught the children too well and they turn the tables on their boss, informing him of their decision to strike out on their own just before embalming him and taking his gold fillings. Haven't we read "The Happy Undertaker!" before? Maybe several times, actually? Credit to Carl Wessler for not falling back on the "Oh my God, they're vampires/ghouls!" trope he usually settles on (Wessler even winks at his audience at the climax when Stark screeches at his tormentors: "I should have known... sleeping in coffins...! You're vampires... ghouls... or... or some kind of monsters...!) and presenting his creepy kids as just creepy kids. Martin Salvador continues to be simply a middle of the road artist at Warren, not as dynamic and stylish as Ortiz but not as scratchy and uncomfortable as Abellan. Competent, nothing more.


Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'" is an exquisitely-presented reimagining of the famous poem but, since the darn thing is so well-known, the only surprise we get is that Lenore was such a babe. I would hasten to add that Poe's vision of Lenore probably wouldn't match up to Corben's. Adapter Margopoulos adds some clunky dialogue to the bits of Poe's original that are used; I'm surprised he didn't go all out and make it rhyme. By the way, I can't look at that panel of the bird on the bust without thinking of MAD Magazine's much more faithful adaptation.


William returns from a long journey to report to his father, Lord Theadon, that, indeed, the mountain kingdom does contain some unseen treasure and the men who live in its village, Gladarum, are cattle to be slaughtered. Needing capital to fund their upcoming "Holy War" against Rome, Theadon and his troops march into Gladarum and slaughter the entire population. When they enter the temple, home of the vast riches, they discover only the cross on which Jesus was crucified and a sign that reads: "Peace through love for all mankind."

Right from the beginning of "Holy War," my smartass brain was devising ways of utilizing the punchline of "One Tin Soldier" by Coven, and then Budd goes and screws up my vision by using it himself! It's beyond obvious where Lewis found his inspiration for the story, but beyond that it's just not very interesting. It's like a low-budget 1960s sword-and-sandal flick with ponderous dialogue and gory battle scenes. Budd does manage to slide a few zingers in (at one point, Lord Theadon quips that "As much money as I've given to the church I should be able to call the pope 'baldy'...") but, overall, this one's a slog.

Finally, Ambrose Bierce's grim and satirical take on business practices of the 19th century, "Oil of Dog," gets the Warren treatment. There's not much of a story, since the original source material is only 1500 words long (and you can read it here); Butterworth's only contribution might be the exclamation point found at the end of the title. A boy narrates the story of his parents, an abortionist and an oil manufacturer, who live in simple harmony until they discover that baby bones make for better oil. They reap the benefits until the neighbors complain. With no income, they turn their eyes on each other for ingredients. Fabulously transcendent Isidro Mones art that feels like it was produced in the 1880s.-Peter

Jack-Not a bad issue of Creepy, with 31 pages written by Budd Lewis. I thought "The Haunted Abbey" was spooky and enjoyable, with a narrative that kept me guessing, despite the lack of originality. I am not familiar with the song, "One Tin Soldier," so I was completely surprised by the climax of "Holy War" and gave the story an extra star for avoiding the standard Warren trope of "they were all vampires!" or "the treasure is a tentacled monster that eats people!" "Oil of Dog!" was the best of the bunch, both for its black humor and the very fitting art by Mones. The story reminded me of the legend of Sweeney Todd, as well.

Corben's art and the color are the clear highlights of "The Raven," though Margopoulos's dialogue is awful. "The Happy Undertaker!" is more sub-par work from Wessler, with mediocre art as usual by Salvador. I did not like "Excerpts From Year Five!" at all, due to the extreme violence and the lack of cohesion between art and story. I'm tired of dystopian future stories, perhaps because I'm currently plodding through Jonathan Lethem's disappointing new novel, The Arrest. The cover, table of contents page, and end of "The Happy Undertaker" all promise a story called "Bowser," but it was replaced by "The Raven." On the letters page of Creepy 69, the editor says it was an error at the bindery. "Bowser" won't turn up till Vampirella 54, dated September 1976.


THE BEST (AND WORST) FROM 1973-1974



Peter

Best Script: Bruce Jones, "Jenifer" (Creepy #63)
Best Art: Bernie Wrightson, "The Black Cat" (Creepy #62)
Best All-Around Story: Jones/Wrightson, "Jenifer"
Best Cover: Sanjulian, Vampirella #35 > 
Worst Story: T. Casey Brennan/Felix Mas, "The Climbers of the Tower" (Creepy #50)


The Ten Best Stories


1 "Jenifer"
2 "Lycanklutz" (Creepy #56)
3 "Nightfall" (Eerie #60)
"The Black Cat" 
5 "Terror Tomb" (Creepy #61)
6 "Bless Us, Father" (Creepy #59)
7 "The Hero Within" (Creepy #60)
8 "Spawn of the Dread-Thing" (Eerie #53)
9 "Hide From the Hacker" (Eerie #57)
10 "It!" (Creepy #53)

Best Continuing Series: Dr. Archaeus



Jack

Best Script: Tom Sutton, "It"
Best Art: Tom Sutton, "It"
Best All-Around Story: "It"
Best Cover: Sanjulian, Creepy 50>
Worst Story: Doug Moench/Vicente Alcazar, "Bright Eyes!" (Eerie 54)

The Ten Best Stories

1 "Hell From On High" (Vampirella 22)
2 "It"
3 "Lycanklutz"
4 "The Bloodlock Museum" (Creepy 57)
5 "As Though They Were Living" (Vampirella 30)
6 "Jenifer"
7 "The Pepper Lake Monster" (Eerie 58)
8 "Nightfall"
9 "The Witch's Promise" (Vampirella 23)
10 "Terror Tomb"

Best Continuing Series: Dr. Archaeus



Next Week...
A Crossover Epic Starring...
Doctor Death!!!

Monday, April 26, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 26: February 1982

 

The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino



Kubert
Batman #344

"Monster, My Sweet!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Batman is exhausted from fighting crime and upset that he can't tell anyone about Poison Ivy's hypnotic takeover of the Wayne Foundation. Ivy is lounging in her greenhouse, beating up crooks and chatting with her assistant, Ivor. Councilman Reeves is getting ready to reveal Batman's secret identity to all of Gotham City! The papers are signed to turn over the Foundation to Ivy, but her triumph is short-lived when she starts seeing the Caped Crusader everywhere she goes.

Bruce Wayne runs into Vicki Vale, who is back from a long stint in Europe, and that evening at a press conference, Councilman Reeves reveals that Batman's secret identity is that of mob boss "Big Jack" Johnson! Robin surprises Alfred by returning unexpectedly to the Batcave, while Batman bursts into Poison Ivy's greenhouse, only to find himself under attack by Ivor, who has been transformed into a tree-monster. Batman wins the battle with a bit of help from Robin, who subdues Poison Ivy. Ivor spills the beans about how Ivy tricked Bruce Wayne into giving her control of his Foundation, and a crusading reporter reveals that Councilman Reeves's big revelation was a fake. Suddenly, things are looking pretty good for Batman!

Peter: Whole lot of stuff going on this issue and several subplots come to a head. Thank goodness the silly Poison Ivy arc is through--I couldn't take much more of that stumblebum excuse for why Bruce couldn't say the words he was thinking (how come his brain didn't sputter like his mouth?)--but it ended pretty great, with her Ivor the Plant Monster creation. Talk about a stitched-together Halloween costume! Vicki Vale is back after a disappearance (in comic years) of nearly two decades. What's the story on that? We'll have to learn together. Thankfully, Gerry has listened to me and gone full-out crossover, so we don't have long to find out about Vicki and the election news. Long live the Colan-Janson art and the longer stories.

Jack: "Monster, My Sweet!" is certainly long, at 27 pages, but it's not very good, nor is the Colan-Janson art anywhere near what we've come to expect. There are some very awkward panels along the way and I hope this doesn't signal more slapdash work to come. The story is all over the place, since Conway decides to wrap up some subplots and start some more. I was not clear as to why Ivy is seeing Batman everywhere. Is Batman really following her? Why? Bruce Wayne thinks about his "plan" at one point, but what is it? To drive Ivy crazy? Then he crashes through the glass roof of her greenhouse. Why? He didn't know Ivor was now a tree monster. In fact, Batman would have no way of knowing that Ivor would tell everyone about Ivy's actions and that they'd all be there to listen. Frankly, the whole thing makes little sense and is poor storytelling.


Aparo
The Brave and the Bold #183

"The Death of Batman"
Story by Don Kraar
Art by Carmine Infantino & Mike DeCarlo

The Riddler is mysteriously let out of prison and invited to play a new game called "The Death of Batman." Ninety minutes later, acclaimed mystery writer H. Rutherford Creighton is kidnapped after giving a speech at a gathering of detective fiction fans. Batman has until dawn to solve the mystery of his abduction and save the writer's life. His partner? The Riddler, who is also receiving clues and instructions.

Together, the old enemies follow the clues and escape death several times until they locate Creighton, who reveals that he planned the entire escapade. He resents Batman for having taken his place as the world's greatest detective and wants the Dark Knight to join him in a fatal conflagration. Only the Riddler can save Batman from certain death!

Jack: After a terrific Aparo cover, I was all set not to like this story, mainly because I don't care for 1980s'-era Carmine Infantino artwork, but I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps Mike DeCarlo's inks softened some of the rough edges of the penciling, but these 19 pages were fun to look at. As for the story, I was also surprised. At first it seemed overly wordy, but the twists and turns drew me in and I enjoyed it quite a bit. For once, the unlikely pairing in The Brave and the Bold works well. Batman and the Riddler need each other to survive this night and to solve the mystery, and their relationship is one that is clearly longstanding and complicated. Writer Don Krarr seems to have gone by various names, including Don Kraar, Don Karr, and Donald Short, and (unless I'm mixing up people) he wrote both comics and academic tomes.

Peter: Lately, The Brave and the Bold has been a chore to wade through and this issue is no respite. Between the tiresome banter, lifeless one-liners, and 1960s'-era graphics, "The Death of Batman" was nearly the death of me. The denouement* (*outcome) was prévisible* (*predictable), the plot was artificiel* (*contrived), and team-up absurde* (*preposterous). 

"Fox and Hounds!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

While Greyfox the assassin tries to figure out how to locate Nemesis, our hero visits underworld stoolie Roadrunner and is suddenly attacked by goons. He knocks them all out and escapes. Meanwhile. Greyfox tracks down the helicopter Nemesis stole awhile back and pressures a mechanic to summon Nemesis to the airport, where Greyfox is waiting.

Peter: Boy, the black stereotypes these comic book writers were foisting on us even into the 1980s were nuts! Imagine a white character saying "Sweet Mama!" and not raising an eyebrow or three. The only supporting character in any of these titles who's African-American and doesn't get the Huggy Bear treatment is Lucius Fox. Actually, come to think of it, Lucius is the only regular black supporting character in the Bat-titles. Anyway, I swear I come to each new chapter of Nemesis hoping I'll find something new to talk about and every time I'm disappointed. 

Jack: Maybe we could talk about the way that this series just keeps going without ever getting anywhere. Nemesis visits Roadrunner wearing one of his false faces, but he also wears a shirt with the big scales of justice on the front, so Roadrunner knows who he is right away, as do the crooks who bust in. I guess the point is that no one ever sees his real face. Yet in the last panel, Nemesis's hair has suddenly changed from blonde to red. What gives?


Buckler & Giordano
Detective Comics #511

"The 'I' of the Beholder"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Batman and Robin have very little time to celebrate Hamilton Hill's come-from-behind victory over Arthur Reeves in the mayoral election before jumping into their next adventure. There's a brand new villain in Gotham who goes by the name of Mirage (good moniker this time out). With a special wrist gadget, Mirage can make his victims believe they're high atop a snowy peak or deep below the ocean depths. He's been pulling off high-stakes heists and getting away clean.

Back in town, Vicki Vale has snapped photos of the new kid in town, but the illusions she saw while under Mirage's influence do not translate to film. This raises her ire, but a day out with former flame Bruce Wayne calms her down a bit. But what is Vicki really playing at?

Meanwhile, the eternal student Dick Grayson is back at Gotham University, strolling the campus, when he literally runs into a stunning woman named Dala. Despite their age difference, Dala agrees to Dick's offer of a cup of coffee. Disgraced politico Arthur Reeves visits the den of the man who provided him the pics of Batman's "true identity" and watches in shock as the man in the shadows emerges to unmask himself as "Boss" Thorne, who tells Reeves the election went just as he had planned. 

Mirage shows up to a "Fall Swimwear Gala" celebration, hoping to score another payday. Robin arrives and fisticuffs ensue, but Mirage's illusions are too much for the "Teen Wonder" and he finds himself helpless, fighting off the tentacles of a giant octopus. Batman drives up just as the villain is exiting stage left and also finds himself lost in a dream world. Later, back at the Batcave, the dynamic duo brainstorm and decide that the 7th-tier bad guy's mental images are being created by a "combination of optical and audial stimulation." The Dark Knight quickly whips up a gadget he hopes will eliminate the audial side of the nightmares. 

That night, Mirage pulls an armored car heist, but Bats is waiting for him, earplug and all. The fight is going well for our hero until his earpiece is damaged in the brawl and he must fall back on his wits to save the day. The Dark Knight Detective cleans Mirage's clock and then, as Bruce Wayne, heads over to the Wayne Foundation board meeting, where he announces his resignation. The board is further shocked when Wayne offers up Lucius Fox as his replacement. 

Peter: With Colan/Jansen on one title and Newton/whoever on the other, DC has got its two main Bat-titles speeding along on the right the track. It seems like Gerry is loving these sub-plots and resigning himself to the fact that he has to pop in a villain now and then as well. Conway is especially adept at providing strong female characters who have a role in what's going on. They're not just the window dressing of the past. It's not readily apparent what Vicki is up to, but we know she knows Bruce is Batman (who doesn't at this point?), and new Dick love interest Dala will play a larger and more sinister part in the "Teen Wonder"'s future. 

The "Boss" Thorne reveal is cheezy; not sure how Reeves couldn't figure the man's true identity before, shadows or no. And let's see how long the "Bruce Wayne resigns" thread will go on. I think that one was played as many times as Spider-Man said "I quit!" When faced with a Batman who no longer sees his illusions, Mirage says something that caught my interest: "They never covered this at the academy!" A real nifty website called Batman Wiki informs me that Mirage attended the Academy of Crime! I'd love to see its "Hall of Academia!" How many successful graduates? Oh, and "Most Lackluster New Villain Design" this month goes, by default to Mirage.

Jack: Mirage isn't bad, as new villains go. It's been a problem for some time now that the new villains just don't seem memorable, which means that the writers have to keep going back to the tried and true baddies. Newton's art is excellent, as usual, and Detective as of 1982 is reliably better than Batman. I wondered what academy Mirage attended, so thanks for looking that up. One question: did anyone ever sell Grit? Or even see a copy? Those ads always intrigued me as a kid.

Next Week...
Corben Evermore!
Plus the best of 1973-74!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Nine: The Contest for Aaron Gold [6.4]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Contest for Aaron Gold" is based on an early short story by the renowned writer Phillip Roth. It contains no crime and may represent an attempt by the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to dramatize works of fiction that were more literary than the show's usual sources; in fact, two short stories by John Cheever would also be adapted for the series in the sixth season, its first on the NBC television network.

The short story was first published in the fall 1955 issue of Epoch, a literary journal edited by the Cornell University English department. As the narrative begins, Werner Samuelson arrives at Camp Lakeside, a summer camp for boys where he has been hired to teach ceramics. Samuelson was chased out of Austria in 1940 by Germans and has spent the ensuing years running a ceramics shop in Philadelphia; the summer camp job is a way to earn extra money. He observes Lionel Steinberg, who runs the camp, berating Angelo, who is heading a crew that is paving the camp's roads.

"The Contest for
Aaron Gold" was
first published here

Werner also sees Lefty Shulberg, the camp's swimming instructor, dive from a tower into the lake. The boys arrive at camp and the road paving continues. Werner introduces the first dozen boys to the ceramics shop, where they begin to work with clay until the whistle blows and they run off to swim. Of the dozen boys, only one begins to demonstrate artistry, crafting a small figure that resembles a knight. A few days later, Werner meets the sculptor: eight-year-old Aaron Gold. That night, as Werner sees Lionel riding Angelo about the speed with which his paving is being completed, the camp boss tells the ceramics instructor that Lefty, the swimming coach, complained about Aaron Gold having been late for swimming.

Lionel is focused on the day that the boys' parents come to visit and insists that each boy have something completed in the ceramics shop in time for visiting day. Over the ensuing fortnight, Aaron Gold continues to develop his knight sculpture, a passion that makes him late for swimming. Werner is impressed by Aaron's work, but Lionel visits the ceramics instructor one night and chastises him for contributing to the boy's failure to be well-rounded. Though Werner is determined to do what it takes to keep his job, Aaron says that he cannot work any faster and the instructor does not pressure him. Two days before the parents are to arrive, Lionel visits the ceramics shop and complains about Aaron's unfinished knight sculpture.

Barry Gordon as Aaron Gold
After Lionel departs, Werner completes the sculpture himself. On visiting day, Aaron comes to the shop and is furious when he sees that Werner has completed his sculpture and given it arms. The boy accuses his teacher of ruining his work and runs off in distress. Werner destroys the sculpture, packs his bag, and leaves the camp, passing Lefty, who talks to the parents happily.

Roth's story pits an athlete (Lefty) against an artist (Werner) and contrasts both with a pragmatic businessman (Lionel) and a laborer (Angelo). The pull between the different paths open to the boys makes summer difficult for Werner, who tries to cultivate Aaron's artistry but ends up giving in to the exigencies of adult life and the need to keep his job. Aaron's reaction to Werner's attempt to finish the statue is unexpected and Werner reacts by destroying the compromised piece of art and withdrawing from the scene. The "contest" of the title is between the three adults at camp, with Lefty wanting to develop Aaron physically while Werner wants to develop him mentally. Lionel stands between the two, trying to create a balance between them both. Lefty appears to win out in the end, as Aaron's parents appear to listen to him happily while Werner leaves in disgrace.

Sydney Pollack as Bernie Samuelson
In adapting Roth's short story for television, William Fay does a superb job of turning narrative into dialogue, remaining faithful to the source for most of the episode's length before ending it with a significant change. In the short story, all of the characters are clearly Jewish, except for Angelo, who paves the roads. In the TV version, Lionel Steinberg has become Lionel Stern, Werner Samuelson has become Bernie Samuelson, and Lefty Shulberg has become Lefty James; as a result, the all-Jewish camp now has only two members who are clearly intended to be Jewish, and they are the kindred, artistic spirits of Bernie Samuelson, the ceramics instructor, and Aaron Gold, his protege.

Frank Maxwell as Lionel Stern
The show opens with a scene where Stern introduces Bernie to the camp and the contrast in their personalities is highlighted. A scene follows in the ceramics shop, as Bernie tries to show the rowdy boys the potter's wheel and they engage in making "'pancakes, snakes, and ashtrays.'" The repeated scenes with Angelo the paver in the short story have been removed, so the TV version spends little time focusing on the physical labor of the character who works with his hands in a non-artistic way. There is one particularly good shot, after Aaron has refined the knight's legs; Aaron's and Bernie's voices are heard on the soundtrack while the camera lingers on the sculpture, circling around it slowly in order to examine it from all angles as if it were being spun on a potter's wheel.

William Thourlby as Lefty
Fay begins to set up the new ending in the scene where Stern visits Bernie at night to chastise him. Stern ends by saying, "'As long as Lefty's not screaming and this whatchamacallit of Aaron Gold's has two arms on it when his parents come on Sunday...'" The sculpture is shown to have one arm that holds a shield; the other arm is missing. In the story, the focus is not on two arms; instead, Steinberg remarks: "'If Gold has a what-do-you-call-it with real pretty legs, that's all the better!'" The focus of the teleplay thus begins to shift attention to the fact that the statue is missing one arm.

In the next scene, Aaron tells Bernie that only his father is coming on visiting day: "'he isn't married to my mother anymore.'" This is a change from the story, where both of Aaron's parents show up for visiting day, and the TV version thus suggests a reason why Aaron is so focused on his father. The dialogue in this scene is expanded from that of the story, as Bernie tells Aaron that Stern will be unhappy if the knight sculpture is incomplete and Aaron assures Bernie that his father will not be unhappy. Aaron compares his father to Bernie, a comment that clearly has an effect on the ceramics instructor. Aaron adds that "'My father could lick Uncle Lefty,'" the swim instructor, further emboldening Bernie in his support of the boy's artistic endeavors.

John Craven as Herbert Gold
When Stern is examining the finished products in the ceramics shop, he tells Bernie that Aaron's father owns the "'Daisy Dooley chain of supermarkets--47 stores.'" Stern reasons that a successful man like Gold would not be pleased with a son who did not succeed at summer camp; Aaron has not earned his swimming badge, his woodcraft badge, or his softball stripe, so when Stern picks up the knight and sees that it lacks an arm, he angrily tells Bernie to finish the sculpture and threatens to fire him. To Stern, the businessman, the sculpture is the only thing standing between Aaron and utter failure in the eyes of his rich and powerful father.

Suddenly, Bernie speaks to Stern in a way similar to the way Aaron had spoken to Bernie in a prior scene, like a child to an adult, saying "'I couldn't do that.'" Bernie is not shown working on finishing the sculpture, as he is in the story, so when there is a dissolve to visiting day, suspense is created about what Bernie chose to do. After Aaron sees the completed figure and runs out of the shop, Fay's teleplay diverges from Roth's story. In the story, Werner destroys the statue, packs his bags, and leaves the camp, passing Lefty as he addresses the parents. In the TV version, Stern enters the ceramics shop and Bernie confronts him in anger. Stern claims that adding an arm was "'only a suggestion,'" and Bernie replies, "'I got a better suggestion.'" He snaps the new arm off of the sculpture and is about to tell Stern where he can stick it when a well-dressed businessman enters. "'Excuse me,'" the man says with a smile, "'my name is Herbert Gold. I'm looking for Aaron, my son.'"

Buddy Lewis as Angelo
Gold turns, revealing that his suit jacket sleeve is pinned up and he is missing an arm, just like Aaron's knight. The camera zooms in on the sleeve and the shot fades to black. This ending gives the show an entirely different meaning than the story on which it is based. In addition to being a contest between art and pragmatism, or the mind and the body, the love of a boy for his father is now highlighted. Aaron sees the knight as a representation of his dad, who can lick Lefty, who is kind and artistic like Bernie, and who is also a successful businessman, far more so than Stern. In essence, Gold becomes the adult version of the well-rounded boy that Stern seeks to cultivate; the combination of the three sides of manhood represented by Bernie, Lefty, and Stern. The fact that he is divorced and (presumably) raising Aaron alone suggests an even deeper connection between father and son.

In his teleplay for "The Contest for Aaron Gold," William Fay takes a good short story and adds more depth and emotional resonance, with a surprising last shot that makes the viewer re-evaluate everything that has gone before. A third-season episode, "The Return of the Hero," also ends with a surprise when the main character is revealed to be missing a leg, a revelation that suddenly explains his actions throughout the show. In an interview, Norman Lloyd credited Hitchcock with the idea for the new ending to "The Contest for Aaron Gold," but Fay’s script makes it work.

Robin Warga
Director Norman Lloyd (1914- ) was born Norman Perlmutter and was active in the theater in the 1930s. He had a long career as a film and television actor, from 1939 to 2015, and he appeared in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Spellbound (1945). He also directed for television from 1951 to 1984. He acted in five episodes of the Hitchcock series and directed 22, including "Man from the South."

Giving a memorable performance as Aaron Gold is Barry Gordon (1948- ), a child actor who also had success at a very young age as a singer. Gordon went on to a long career as both a character actor and a voice actor and was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1988 to 1995. His screen career began in 1956 and continued until at least 2017; he was seen in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the other was "The Day of the Bullet") and one each of Thriller and The Night Stalker.

Phil Phillips as Henry
Sydney Pollack (1934-2008) plays Bernie Samuelson; he had a long and successful career as a director and sometimes an actor. He began as a TV director from 1961 to 1965, then switched to movies from 1965 to 2005, winning an Oscar for Out of Africa (1985). He directed two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Black Curtain," and was one of a few people (including this episode's director, Norman Lloyd) to both act and direct for the Hitchcock TV show.

Frank Maxwell (1916-2004), with his distinctive streak of white hair, plays Stern. He was onscreen from 1951 to 2000 and appeared in many TV episodes, including roles on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. His six appearances on the Hitchcock show include "Special Delivery" and "The Hatbox." He was president of AFTRA from 1984 to 1989.

In smaller roles:
  • William Thourlby (1924-2013) as Lefty; he modeled for the covers of pulp magazines and was the original Marlboro Man in the 1950s' cigarette ad campaign. He played various bit parts, often uncredited, on screen from 1951 to 1971.
  • John Craven (1916-1995) as Herbert Gold; he was in the original Broadway cast of Our Town and on screen from 1937 to 1970, appearing in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "The Day of the Bullet," with Barry Gordon), as well as Thriller and The Twilight Zone.
  • Buddy Lewis (1916-1986) as Angelo; he was on screen from 1957 to 1981, mostly on TV, including an appearance on The Odd Couple.
  • Michael Adam Lloyd (1847- ) as one of the boys; this is his only screen credit--was he director Norman Lloyd's son?
  • Robin Warga (1949- ) as another boy; his brief screen career lasted from 1958 to 1962, with one last credit in 1975.
  • Phil Phillips as Henry, another boy; he was on screen, mostly TV, from 1956 to 1963.
Watch "The Contest for Aaron Gold" for free online here or order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Sources:

The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.

IBDb, IBDb.com, www.ibdb.com.

IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com.

"The Contest for Aaron Gold" Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 4, NBC, 18 Oct., 1960.

Roth, Philip. "The Contest for Aaron Gold."  Fifty Best American Short Stories. Ed. Martha Foley. New York, NY, Avenel Books, 1986. 549-62.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, philsp.com/.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.


In two weeks: Gratitude, starring Peter Falk!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Gentleman from America" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "A Bullet for Baldwin" here!