Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Was The Year That...

by Peter Enfantino

I started off writing a "Bestest Stuff of 2011" piece this morning before realizing that a list of my favorite things of 2011 would be embarrassingly predictable to anyone who read last year's bestest list. I'm a creature of habit and I tend not to try new things (just ask my beautiful, long-suffering girlfriend) so it would be no surprise that three superhero films make my top ten movies list (Number One, for those who care, would be 13 Assassins, a film that transported me back to the first time I saw Once Upon a Time in the West) and that the best music I listened to in 2011 was not Arcade Fire or Radiohead (in fact, the only music on Rolling Stone's annual list of "The Best Albums by Groups You've Never Heard" that I'd spin on my turntable would be Adele's 21) but the deluxe edition of The Rolling Stones' Some Girls featuring the same kind of pillaging of the Stones' vaults that made Exile on Main Street my choice for best cd last year.

So, instead of one of those boring "This is what I thought was the most stimulating, please choose to agree or disagree" exercises, I thought I'd opt with the possibly-just-as-boring list of happenings in 2011 that stimulated me:

2011 Was the Year That...  four superhero movies were released in one summer and only one of them sucked. You knew I had to work this in somewhere, right? It was a divine coincidence that Marvel characters would get the lavish treatment three times in a two months span at the same time we were rediscovering Marvel Comics' dawn. Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America: The First Avenger all packed good acting, mature script, well-staged action sequences and, above all, a respect and almost reverence for its subject matter. Of course, it's all just a prelude to this fanboy's wet dream, The Summer of 2012, when we finally get to see how Joss Whedon intends to give ample screen time to seven Marvel characters and two super-villains and still squeeze in an interesting plot. The trailer doesn't do it for me but I'll still give Whedon the benefit of the doubt and turn up on opening day. I'm also interested to see how screwed up the reboot of Spider-Man will be with a completely CGI-ed Lizard as its villain. Then there's that 500 pound gorilla that will put all of them in the rear view mirror very quickly on July 20.

2011 Was the Year That...  I finally buckled and bought a blu-ray player and HD tv. Scoleri had been gently prodding me for years (just as he had to do with the computer, the cd player, the dvd player, the itouch, the dishwasher, and every other relevant electronic device of the last twenty years--I said I was a creature of habit) but I'd been resisting. Just how much better could this be than my big screen non-HD tv and my dvd player? Gulp! What finally pushed me over was seeing The Dark Knight  on blu at a buddy's house. Well, that, and the cheap prices on Amazon. Sadly, I find it near-impossible to pop in a dvd now. The $5 dvds in the bins at Wal-Mart now remind me of the $1 VHS tapes at the garage sales I once frequented. My wallet has taken a hit in the last month thanks to the afore-mentioned Amazon and their Gold Box deals. I've added blu boxsets of The Bourne and Jurassic Park Trilogys, The Alien Quadrilogy, and the Complete Dirty Harry, as well as all of Christopher Nolan's films to my collection. Anybody want to buy a bunch of dvds of those films?

2011 Was the Year That...  I discovered comics files. I'd seen these things offered up on the net but had never given them a try until we decided to tackle the Marvel Universe, one issue at a time. After buying every single Essential volume (yep, I sure did) and being disappointed with the black and white reproduction, I took a chance and ordered a couple of discs from a dealer. Now, I'll never try to convince you that reading your comic books on a computer is a more rewarding experience  than lovingly and carefully turning the original dusty pages themselves. No dice. I will say that it's quite a bit cheaper. Just to give you an idea, the forty or fifty B&W reprint volumes cost me upwards of $500 and files of those same comics set me back about a hundred clams (and that's not even considering what the original comics would cost you!). I also picked up several hundred files of public domain pre-code horror comics.  A lot of this will translate into blogs we're working on. I doubt our Marvel University blog would be as readable without these files.

2011 Was the Year That...  Stephen King remembered how to entertain his readers again. I read a Stephen King novel all the way through and enjoyed it for the first time in about twenty years (the last time was The Dark Half, if I recall correctly). I've had to replace my living room window several times thanks to King's annoying habit of drawing me in only to piss me off halfway through a novel with those fucking italics, annoying catchphrases and pop culture references (how many times, in that dopey slasher flick novella in Full Dark, No Stars, did he mention that soda pop sign?), and goofy colloquialisms like cockadoodie. King more than redeemed himself with his latest, the time travel novel 11/23/63, a rip-roaring "what if?" that puts the spin on his Johnny Smith character from The Dead Zone. What if you could go back and prevent JFK's assassination? Would it make the world a better place? It's not as easy a question as it seems, argues the author and the outcome may be a little predictable if you've read much of King's fiction but its final image of the central character dancing with his lover is haunting and will stay with me a long time. 

2011 Was the Year That...  HBO proved yet again that it's the place to go for the best TV programming with Game of Thrones, a thrilling fantasy series based on the novel by George R. R. Martin. Juggling several main characters, plot lines, and cliffhangers deftly, it proved that fantasy can be more than elves, unicorns and soft-focus fairies. Indeed, it's tough to view Thrones as a fantasy since there are only a few fantastical winks in its ten-hour running time to prove this isn't a dramatic piece based on historical occurrences. Beheadings, political shenanigans, and in-breeding? Sounds like modern-day Alabama to me. I was so lost in Thrones' universe that, a few days after I watched the last episode, I bought the five books that (so far) chronicle  the "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga. We're talking over 5000 pages for a guy who finds it hard to find the time to read his e-mails. Bravo to George R. R. Martin (or "little Georgie," as Stan Lee would call him on the letters pages of the early Marvel Comics) for creating such a fully developed and entertaining landscape for a reader to lose himself in.

2011 Was the Year That...  I spent more time listening to movie podcast than music on my iTouch. First time that's happened. I've listened to a few podcasts regularly (man, do I miss Mondo Movie!), but it's only been in the last six months that I've become near-obsessed with film discussion by fans rather than scholars. In particular, the laugh-out-loud observations by the crews of Filmjunk, 35mm Heroes, and The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnight Cinema. Junk and 35mm tend to stick to what's going on at the local cineplex but GGTMC eschews the current fare (for the most part, so do I) and opts to enlighten the uneducated (me) to the joys of Supervixens (1975) and Django the Bastard (1969), always in an entertaining and respectful fashion. All three podcasts have sent me running to Netflix, in the hopes I'll find salvation. 

2011 Was the Year That...  John and I met and befriended quite a few hard-working individuals. Make no bones about it, Jack Seabrook, Jim Barwise, Matthew Bradley, and Tom McMillion work long hours to help us produce Marvel University and all they get out of it is a sense of satisfaction (I hope) and a plea for "More, more, more!" A huge thank you to these gentlemen for making our part-time hobby that much more enjoyable. Just wait 'til you see what we've got planned for 2012! Speaking of which...

2012 Will Be the Year That...  I'll finally get to hear new music from Van Halen (after an absence of 28 years!), Aerosmith (11 years) and The Rolling Stones (well, we hope so, anyways). We'll thrill to (or groan at) the long-awaited final film in the Christopher Nolan/Batman trilogy. Pre-code horror comics will continue to be reprinted and re-assessed between hardcovers. The producers of Game of Thrones will have the unenviable task of adapting an 1100 page second volume that's long on character and a long time between action bits (and I loved it all the same). We'll be providing lots of entertainment here at our series of blogs. You already know about the Kolchak: The Night Stalker dissection we'll be undertaking for the next four weeks but let me give you a sneak preview of some other goodies we have planned: Jack Seabrook and I will be unveiling "Batman in the 1970s," a MU-style travel through Batman and Detective Comics from January 1970 through December 1979 that'll run from January 15th on through the end of 2012. Sometime in '12, bare*bones will be home to multi-part looks at DC's mystery and war comics. MU will continue to count down to December 1969 (and its authors' smiles will grow when Gi-Ant Man and The Torch lose their regular series slots). Then there's the matter of the follow-up to Kolchak, which will be...

Nope, some stuff has to remain a surprise!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Just in time to celebrate the New Year, we'll be starting up our latest TV-show-a-day blog, this time following the exploits of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

If you enjoyed our blogs on Thriller, The Outer Limits, and Batman, you won't want to miss this one! Expect to see several of the same panel of experts adding their two cents on a daily basis, and along for the ride this time out are Mark Dawidziak, author of The Night Stalker Companion, and Matthew Bradley, author of Richard Matheson On Screen.

We hope you'll pop over to It Couldn't Happen Here... to check things out, and watch for our official launch on January 1st!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

All of us at bare•bones want to wish our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

We hope you all woke up to a nice surprise under the tree this morning (with special thanks to Ken Mitchroney for sharing an example Christmas surprise!).


Friday, December 23, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part Five- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Greatest Monster of Them All"

by Jack Seabrook

Robert Bloch’s second teleplay for season six of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was “The Greatest Monster of Them All,” broadcast by NBC on February 14, 1961. As the show opens, Hal Ballew sits in his office in a run-down Hollywood studio, reading a book on entomology and trying to find a new insect around which he can build a cheap monster movie. Director Morty Lenton chides him for his cheapness, suggesting a giant cockroach. Tipsy screenwriter Fred Logan arrives and, in place of a giant bug, Ballew suggests that he write a horror movie with a high school angle—playing youth against death. Logan brings up the name of Ernst Von Kroft, an old-time monster movie star.

Later, Ballew brings Von Kroft to his office and introduces him to Logan. Von Kroft takes his job seriously, wanting to create a horror picture “in the great tradition.” Ballew and Lenton don’t have the same aspirations; Lenton even suggests a toothless vampire.

The scene then shifts to the movie set, where the young cast takes a coffee break as Logan brings in new dialogue for the scene about to be filmed with Von Kroft. Von Kroft acts out a scene with starlet Lara Lee, putting his all into it, and Logan applauds his efforts. Lenton insists on close-ups of Von Kroft but won’t say why.

The great Sam Jaffe.

Once the movie has been released, Ballew sends Logan to a theater to take notes on audience reaction to his new picture; he mentions that Von Kroft will also be attending. As Logan watches the movie unfold, Von Kroft sits nearby, in a theater otherwise filled with teenagers. They appear to be frightened by the events onscreen until Von Kroft’s scene begins. Lenton dubbed a Bugs Bunny voice for all of Von Kroft’s lines, and the theater explodes with laughter. Logan is shocked and Von Kroft is angry and mortified.

William Redfield
Logan, drunk, visits Von Kroft at his apartment, only to find the old man distraught, wondering why Lenton made him look like a fool. Von Kroft pulls out his old makeup case and Logan passes out. On awakening, Logan goes to Ballew’s office and finds it empty. He continues on into the studio, exploring the darkened set of the recently-filmed motion picture. He finds Lenton dead, with two puncture wounds in his neck. Nearby, he finds Ballew injured. Ballew tells him that Von Kroft killed Lenton and is still on the loose.

Von Kroft, in full vampire makeup and with knife in hand, leaps from a catwalk above Logan and Ballew but breaks his neck in the fall and dies. Says Logan, he was “the greatest monster of them all.”
Bloch’s teleplay was based on a story of the same name by Bryce Walton. Comparing the story to the teleplay demonstrates Bloch’s talent for solving dramatic problems in a way that utilizes the medium of television to improve upon a source.

The monster, shrouded in fog.

Walton’s short story features the same characters and plot, but Bloch’s teleplay expands it, adding more humor and making significant changes. The banter between Ballew and Lenton is new, and actors Sam Jaffe (as Ballew) and, especially, Robert H. Harris (as Lenton), play their scenes broadly, with Yiddish/Brooklyn accents and misplaced words (“Edgar Albert Poe,”  for example). At one point, Lenton vigorously massages his bald head in what appears to be an attempt to stimulate hair growth. Watching this program, it’s clear that everyone involved was having fun, going well beyond Bloch’s script in order to be entertaining. One suspects that the subject matter was quite familiar to all of them.

Robert H. Harris tries to promote hair growth.
The opening scene, where Ballew and Lenton try to come up with a new insect for a giant bug movie, is not in the story, nor is the scene where Von Kroft visits the producer’s office and spontaneously tries out for the part by attacking Lenton like a vampire. As he has done in other scripts, Bloch uses foreshadowing here, anticipating the later murder of Lenton by Von Kroft in a manner made to look like that of a vampire.

Best of all is the movie set. The show’s third scene opens with a close-up of a fog-enshrouded monster that looks like the monster from Night of the Demon (1957); the camera pulls back to reveal a woman dressed in black, who moves in to kiss the monster before they both take a coffee break. The blonde starlet, Lara Lee, chews gum incessantly until Lenton tells her to get rid of it; she takes it out of her mouth and tosses it disdainfully on the floor of the set, saying “yes, master” in a voice like that of a mad scientist's hunchbacked servant.
Director Robert Stevens, who directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (this was his last, until the series expanded to an hour), also deserves credit for this wonderful episode. He uses an extreme close-up of Von Kroft’s eyes during the informal tryout in Ballew’s office to show that Von Kroft has talent of the sort that is sorely lacking in the contemporary movie business.

One aspect of the story that Bloch chose to play down is the detail about Von Kroft’s rooming house, which Logan visits prior to seeing the movie. Describing the ancient Hollywood rooming house, Logan tells us:

It was really very old, with cupolas and a bell tower, and surrounded by untended masses of rose bushes, wisteria, and untrimmed palm trees whose branches hung dry and brown, like dead grass skirts.

Bloch chose to replace these evocative details with humor and action. In Walton’s story, Von Kroft is clearly an amalgam of Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff. He was a matinee idol in Hungary (like Lugosi), he became famous in Hollywood for playing a monster in heavy makeup (like Karloff), and he always did all of his own makeup (like Chaney). In Bloch’s teleplay, Von Kroft’s background is not discussed, beyond stating that he had been a great horror film star in the old days.

Meri Welles and Richard Hale

The biggest differences between the story and the teleplay involve Lenton’s betrayal of Von Kroft and the story’s ending. In the story, Lenton films Von Kroft in close-up, focusing on his toothless mouth. When shown on the big screen, a toothless vampire gumming a starlet evokes audience laughter. In the teleplay, Lenton instead dubs what has to be an uncredited Mel Blanc reading the lines in a Bugs Bunny voice. The effect is much more dynamic onscreen, both funny and cruel.

At the end of the story, Von Kroft uses his makeup to turn himself into a summary of various monsters he had played. When Logan arrives at the studio, he finds Lenton lying in a grave with a broken jaw and Ballew hanging dead from a gibbet, replacing a dummy that had been there before. In the teleplay, Von Kroft dresses as a vampire, as in the movie he had just filmed, kills Lenton with a knife to make it look like a vampire’s bite, and leaves Ballew in a grave with unspecified injuries. At the end of the story, Von Kroft is found lying dead under the gibbet from which Ballew is hanging; in the teleplay, he leaps to his death from a catwalk.

Bloch’s adaptation of Walton’s story is very creative, using sound and pictures to turn the story into a real send-up of low-budget monster movie making around 1960. Bryce Walton was a prolific pulp author who wrote over 1000 short stories in his career and lived from 1918-1988. “The Greatest Monster of Them All” was first published in the May 1959 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and it was reprinted in Ellery Queen’s 1967 Anthology.

The cast of the Hitchcock show features William Redfield as Logan. Redfield lived from 1927-1976, and was in many TV shows and movies. He had a key role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and helped found the Actor’s Studio, but I will always remember him as Floyd Unger, Felix’s brother, in the “Shuffling Off to Buffalo” episode of The Odd Couple, broadcast February 8, 1974. Floyd ran a bubble gum factory in upstate New York and briefly hired Felix, whose unsuccessful ideas included Opera trading cards for kids who didn’t like sports.

Playing Hal Ballew was Sam Jaffe (1891-1984), who had a long and brilliant career in Yiddish theater, on Broadway, in movies and on TV. He was blacklisted in the 1950s but spent 50 years in the movies. Robert H. Harris played Morty Lenton; Harris lived from 1911-1981 and appeared in 9 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including “The Dangerous People.”

Richard Hale played Ernst Von Kroft. Hale lived from 1892-1981 and appeared in many movies and TV episodes. Much to my surprise, as I was recently watching All the King’s Men, Richard Hale turned up in a crowd scene early in the film and then later had a key role playing the father of a girl killed in an auto accident. His character’s name? Richard Hale!

Other minor payers in the cast included Baruch Lumet, who also had a small role in “The Cuckoo Clock,” and Meri Welles (as Lara Lee), who appeared in “Madame Mystery.”

Sources: - Your Best Source for EBooks, Historical Documents and Sheet Music - All in PDF Format. Web. 20 Dec. 2011. <>.

Galactic Central. Web. 21 Dec. 2011. <>.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

"The Greatest Monster of Them All." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 14 Feb. 1961. Television.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 20 Dec. 2011. <>.

Walton, Bryce. "The Greatest Monster of Them All." 1959. Ellery Queen's 1967 Anthology. Ed. Ellery Queen. New York: Davis, 1966. 146-57. Print.

Wikipedia. Web. 20 Dec. 2011. <>.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part Four- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Changing Heart"

by Jack Seabrook

Have you ever had the experience of reading a story that really excited you and then being disappointed at the filmed adaptation? Such was my reaction to “The Changing Heart,” adapted by Robert Bloch from his short story, “Change of Heart.”

After having a hand in three episodes of season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents¸ Robert Bloch’s first episode for the sixth season was “The Changing Heart,” broadcast on January 3, 1961. During the first five seasons, the series had been shown on CBS on Sunday nights. For season six, it moved to Tuesday nights on NBC. “The Changing Heart” was the first time Bloch adapted one of his own stories for the Hitchcock program.

“Change of Heart” was first published in the winter 1948 issue of the short-lived magazine, The Arkham Sampler. It is set in New York City and narrated by a young man who inherited an old watch from his uncle. After learning that the jeweler at an expensive shop does not think it worth fixing, the young man happens on the small Greenwich Village shop of watchmaker Ulrich Klemm. Clocks are everywhere in his basement shop.

Bloch’s writing in this story is lyrical. The clocks are described as if they were living things: the narrator tells us that “the face of the grandfather’s clock leaned forward.” Klemm agrees to repair the watch and his beautiful granddaughter Lisa emerges from the back of the shop. The narrator compares her voice to those of the chiming clocks, and she is described as having “golden hair and silver flesh,” two metals used in watches.

The narrator also feels like a timepiece, writing that “something leapt in rhythm deep in my chest.” This is Bloch’s way of foreshadowing the story’s shocking dénouement. The narrator accepts a dinner invitation and listens as Klemm talks of clocks and his beloved home country of Switzerland. Lisa cuts her finger and the narrator bandages it, demonstrating by her flowing blood that she is a human being, something we will wonder about at the end of the story.

Abraham Sofaer as Ulrich Klemm
 The narrator goes home and dreams of Lisa, then returns to the shop often, listening to Klemm’s stories for hours on end and learning that the old man’s father had wanted him to be a surgeon but that he preferred repairing clocks. The narrator begins to take Lisa out, soon falling in love and proposing marriage. She says that she cannot leave her grandfather because he depends on her; Bloch writes that she shook her head no, “like an automaton.” When the narrator tells the old man that he wants to take Lisa away, the clocks say no and so do Klemm and Lisa. She was “the old man’s masterpiece. He had spent years perfecting her pattern of obedient reaction.”

The narrator leaves and accepts a job in Detroit. Months later he returns to New York and hears that Lisa is dead. A friend had seen Klemm, who told him that his granddaughter had had a heart attack and was dying. The friend later saw a wreath on the door of Klemm’s shop.

Nicholas Pryor as Dane Ross
The narrator goes to the shop, knocks on the door, and is let in and welcomed by Lisa, yet all of the clocks are strangely silent. Lisa tells him that Klemm saved her but that the stress of doing so caused his own death. She has not eaten or slept since the old man died. The narrator turns on a light and sees that the girl is “white and waxen, her eyes blank and empty, her body wasted.” He takes her in his arms and puts his head to her chest, only to run screaming from “that shop of shadows and silence.” From her chest he had heard “not a heartbeat, but a faint, unmistakable ticking.”

“Change of Heart” is a beautifully written story of love and horror, one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read by Robert Bloch since I began this project. I was excited to watch Bloch’s own adaptation for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which begins (coincidentally?) with Hitchcock emerging from a grandfather clock that cuckoos! Recall that Bloch’s last episode of the series, the prior spring, had been “The Cuckoo Clock.”

In adapting his story for television, Bloch did a very good job of expanding it and opening it up, setting scenes outside the little clockmaker’s shop and contrasting the claustrophobic interior with more open exteriors. The most disappointing aspect of the filmed episode is the casting. As Dane Ross, the narrator of the story, the producers cast Nicholas Pryor, who was 25 years old at the time. Seeing him today I cannot help but think of his roles in Risky Business (as Tom Cruise’s father) and, especially, Airplane!, as a sick airline passenger. He tries to be earnest but he just doesn’t look like someone who would sweep the lonely granddaughter of an old clockmaker off her feet.

Also problematic is the casting of Abraham Sofaer as Ulrich Klemm. Sofaer was born in 1896 in Burma and was of Burmese and Jewish ancestry. Despite his efforts at a German accent, his olive complexion, protruding eyes and unkempt hair do not fit my mental picture of an old Swiss clockmaker.

Bloch’s script for the show is outstanding. The plot generally follows that of the story with some minor changes: Klemm, not the young man, bandages Lisa’s finger, and the friend only referred to in the story appears in the filmed version and goes to a Bavarian-themed restaurant with the young lovers. Bloch uses foreshadowing again, and clock phrases and imagery are pervasive—when Lisa cuts her finger, she says she cut her “minute hand.” The young man is transferred to Seattle, rather than Detroit (there is no explanation for this change—perhaps Detroit was thought to be too close to New York in the world of 1960, where air travel was more affordable and common than it had been in 1948, when the story was published).

Anne Helm as Lisa
 Dane (the young man is named Dane Ross in the television adaptation) asks Lisa if her grandfather “can carry her around on the end of a chain, like this watch” and says that “he’s turned you into a piece of clockwork that he can wind up.” Most different from the story is the way Klemm seems to exert a hypnotic influence over Lisa. When he speaks to her, the background music sounds like a clock striking, and she obeys as if in a trance. Dane remarks: “you’ve turned her into an automaton.” Earlier in the show, Klemm had mentioned leaving his automatons behind when he left Europe.

Near the end of the story, the teleplay dramatizes Dane’s friend’s visit to Klemm’s shop, where Klemm tells him “I will not let her die!” as he refuses to consider calling a doctor. At the end, when Dane visits the shop for the last time, he has to break a window in the locked door to let himself in. Lisa does not welcome him and speak to him; instead, he first finds Klemm dead at his workbench, then goes behind a curtain into a back room where he finds Lisa, sitting immobile in a wheelchair, a doll-like smile on her face. She neither speaks nor moves, and we hear a loud ticking. Dane puts his ear to her chest and looks up in shock; the camera then pulls back to reveal Klemm’s masterpiece.

Robert Sampson
This final scene of “The Changing Heart” must have been pretty shocking when it first aired in early January 1961. The horror of the beautiful young woman with a clockwork heart is reminiscent of similar horrors that were airing on NBC's Thriller, which had debuted the prior fall and to which Robert Bloch also contributed many episodes. In fact, Thriller followed Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Tuesday evenings. The prior week, Thriller had aired "The Cheaters," based on a story by Bloch, and on January 3, 1961, Thriller aired "The Hungry Glass," which guaranteed a terrifying evening for viewers lucky enough to tune in to both programs.

"The Changing Heart", was directed by Robert Florey, born in Paris in 1900 and working in films from the early 1920s. Some of his efforts in the thriller genre included Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), and “The Incredible Dr. Markesan” on Thriller. "The Changing Heart" was the first episode of the Hitchcock series that he directed; he also directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “Perchance to Dream” and “The Fever.” His work with shadows often created an uneasy world that seemed like a bad dream.

Baruch Lumet
Also in the cast were the lovely Anne Helm, born in 1938 and 22 when this was filmed. She is perfectly cast as the young and innocent Lisa, though her innocence may have been long gone by the time she appeared with Elvis Presley in Follow That Dream (1962) and briefly moved into his house right after filming ended.

Robert Sampson played Dane’s friend; he appeared in many episodes of various TV series and was seen on TV as recently as 2008. Finally, Baruch Lumet (1989-1992) makes a brief, non-speaking appearance playing the concertina in the Bavarian restaurant; he was well known in Yiddish theater but is probably best known as the father of director Sidney Lumet.
“Change of Heart” was reprinted in the 1962 paperback collection of Bloch stories, Atoms and Evil, as well as in the fall 1984 issue of Weird Tales.

Bloch, Robert. "Change of Heart." Atoms and Evil. Greenwich: Fawcett, 1962. 129-34. Print.

"The Changing Heart." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 3 Jan. 1961. Television.

Galactic Central. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

Wikipedia. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part Three - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Cuckoo Clock"

by Jack Seabrook

Robert Bloch recalled that “The Cuckoo Clock” was his first assignment to write a teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He said that, starting with this episode, he adapted his own stories and those of others except when he was busy writing for Thriller or working on screenplays—then other writers would adapt his stories for TV.

“The Cuckoo Clock” was broadcast on April 17, 1960, during season five. It stars Beatrice Straight, who would later win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Network (1976), and Fay Spain, who was in Roger Corman’s Teenage Doll (1957). As the story begins, Ida Blythe and her daughter Dorothy (Pat Hitchcock) arrive at a General Store in the mountains, where they purchase groceries before heading to their isolated cabin. Ida’s husband died suddenly the year before and she has not been back since then; she returns now only to prepare the cabin to be sold.

Bert the shopkeeper tells them that a patient recently escaped from the asylum just outside nearby Ardmore, and Dorothy is worried about her mother staying alone in the cabin overnight, especially since the telephone service has not been turned on yet. But Ida insists that she’ll be fine, and Dorothy leaves her at the lonely cabin after darkness has fallen and a steady rain has begun.

Beatrice Straight and Pat Hitchcock as
mother and daughter
Ida’s watch is broken, so she sets the time on the cabin’s little cuckoo clock. After tidying up, Ida goes outside to the shed for some firewood, returning to the cabin to find a young woman inside. The woman, whose name is Madelene Hall, is worried about the escaped lunatic. She had spent the afternoon walking and painting on Hunter’s Ridge. At sunset, she saw a man in a raincoat on the hill staring into the sunset. Sure he was the lunatic, she dropped everything and ran until she saw the light from Ida’s cabin.

Fay Spain

Hall is sure that she hears the man outside and there is a knock at the door. She and Ida ignore it out of fear and the knocking stops. Hall begins to express pity for the lonely, misunderstood man outside alone in the rain and the darkness. She seems to empathize a little too much with someone who is sick and alone and wants to lash out and hurt people. Hall tells Ida about her Aunt Dora, who kept a canary until one day she lopped off its head with her pinking shears. She tells Ida that even ordinary people can snap. She admits that her doctor told her to quit her job, and her bizarre behavior makes Ida suspect that Madelene is the escaped lunatic. Hall denies it. Ida suspects that she invented the man in the raincoat, but suddenly there is another knock at the door. Opening it, Ida sees a man in a raincoat who tells her that she should watch out for the escaped lunatic, whom he describes as a clever, dangerous woman. Ida notices blood on Madelene’s arm and throws her aside, letting the man in.

Donald Buka
He turns and locks the door, then explains, with a crazed look in his eye, that he followed Hall and guessed where she might be. Pleased that his trick has worked, he has a violent reaction to the striking of the hour on the cuckoo clock, tears it from its place on the wall and smashes it to the floor. “It was mocking me!” he cries—“I can’t stand being mocked!” The telephone rings, its connection finally made, but it is too late for Ida.

The lunatic instructs her to look at the clock, and we see the cuckoo on the floor, having been ejected from its place of safety, its head severed from its body. The lunatic plunges his knife into the body of the decapitated, mechanical bird, and we suspect that Ida’s fate will mirror that of the poor cuckoo.

“The Cuckoo Clock” is directed by John Brahm without his usual noir reliance on shadows. The program is instead rather high contrast, with several bright close-ups, and reminded me a bit of the videotaped Twilight Zone episodes made in that program’s 1960-1961 season.

This episode, like “The Cure” and “Madame Mystery,” was among the 26 programs selected for the 1981 PBS series The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Notably, most of the episodes picked for that series were from the fifth season of the original series.

Jack Black
Beatrice Straight lived from 1914 to 2001, making her 46 years old when this show was broadcast in April 1960. Pat Hitchcock, Alfred’s daughter, was born in 1928 (and is still living), so she was 32 years old at the time of the broadcast. Straight looks a bit younger than 46 and Hitchcock looks a bit older than 32 in the show, making it difficult to accept them as mother and daughter. Fay Spain only lived from 1933 to 1983, so she was 27 at the time of broadcast. Rounding out the cast were Donald Buka (1920-2009) as the lunatic, who has a passing resemblance in this show to Jack Black, and Don Beddoe (1903-1991) as Bert, the shopkeeper, one in a long string of small roles he played over the course of almost 50 years in the business.

The original story on which this show was based was difficult to track down. The title card credits Frank Mace with the story. Mace was born in 1931 and was a “young British author who writes primarily in the general field of mystery-from ‘old-fashioned “straight” horror to semi-humorous detective stories,’ as he puts it,” according to the Internet Book List. It was also noted that “writing is not his primary occupation, thus far” and that he “lives in Liverpool, England.”

Monthly Murders lists the following seven stories by Mace:

“Cum Grano Salis” London Mystery Magazine 27 (March 1955)
“After Sunset” London Mystery Magazine 32 (March 1957)
“The Man in the Raincoat” London Mystery Selection 39 (December 1958)
“Happily Ever After” London Mystery Selection 43 (December 1959)
“Impromptu Part” London Mystery Selection 46 (September 1960)
“Punter’s Tale” John Creasey Mystery Magazine March 1961
“The Fixers” John Creasey Mystery Magazine Spring 1963

An exhaustive internet search turned up one more story:

“The Ideal Type” collected in Dark Mind, Dark Heart, Arkham House, 1962

Finally, there is an erotic novel called The Sensualists that is credited to Frank Mace, though it appears to be a retitled reprint of Tender Buns, by someone named P.N. Dedeaux. I find it hard to believe that this Frank Mace is the same Frank Mace who wrote mystery short stories.

Where does that leave the story supposedly called “The Cuckoo Clock” that was adapted by Robert Bloch for Alfred Hitchcock Presents? There are two sources that say that the original Frank Mace story was titled “The Cuckoo Clock.” The first is Bloch himself, who was quoted as saying that he adapted “The Cuckoo Clock” by Frank Mace. The second is an Internet post by Ramsey Campbell (called “Britain’s most respected living horror writer” by the Oxford Companion to English Literature), who wrote in February 2011 that Frank Mace was a pseudonym used by John Owen of the Liverpool Science Fiction Society. Campbell added that Owen only learned that his story, “The Cuckoo Clock,” had been adapted for television when the producers of the 1980s remake of Alfred Hitchcock Presents contacted him about the rights. Apparently, Norman Kark, editor of London Mystery Selection, had sold the rights for the 1960 adaptation and kept the money.
One of John Wood's line
drawings accompanying
"The Man in the Raincoat"
Now, according to Monthly Murders, there were five stories published in London Mystery by Frank Mace and two in John Creasey Mystery Magazine. As far as I know, John Creasey edited the magazine with his name in the title and Norman Kark edited London Mystery Selection. Campbell’s post also mentions London Mystery in this anecdote, so one may assume that the Frank Mace story appeared there—yet none of the five stories listed in Monthly Murders is titled “The Cuckoo Clock.”

Logically, we can eliminate “Impromptu Part,” since it was not published until September 1960, after “The Cuckoo Clock” had already aired. That leaves four stories as possible sources for Bloch’s teleplay, assuming he and Campbell are remembering incorrectly that the original story was called “The Cuckoo Clock.” Using internal evidence from the program, I began to suspect that the story it was based on was in fact “The Man in the Raincoat,” published in the December 1958 issue of London Mystery Selection.

Fortunately, there was a copy of issue 39 for sale on eBay recently, and it arrived in my mailbox today! A quick read confirmed that "The Man in the Raincoat" is in fact the basis for "The Cuckoo Clock."

The Man in the
Bloch did quite a bit of revising and expanding to adapt the story for television. He added the initial scene at the General Store and he invented the character of Mrs. Blythe's daughter. The story takes place entirely in Mrs. Blythe's house, which is not described as a lonely mountain cabin. Instead, Mrs. Blythe is an old woman who lives alone by a moor. She lets in the young woman voluntarily, and later she is tricked by the man in the raincoat, who convinces her that the young woman is the escaped lunatic. In Mace's story, Mrs. Blythe does not suspect the young woman on her own.

Most surprisingly, the anecdote about the canary getting its head cut off with pinking sears is nowhere to be found, and there is no mention of a cuckoo clock at all! Bloch expanded the source by opening it up, adding characters, and building suspense. The canary story foreshadows the fate of the cuckoo at the end of the show, and the cuckoo clock's occasional striking of the hours adds a sense of foreboding and insanity (one character is thought to be "cuckoo" and another actually is). The closing image of the mechanical bird with a knife in its belly is a successful way of showing violence on television without actually portraying anything offensive.

I suspect that the reason Bloch and Campbell recalled the story as "The Cuckoo Clock" was because Bloch's changes to the original were so powerful that the televised tale replaced the original in the memories of those recalling it.


Cook, Michael L. Monthly Murders: a Checklist and Chronological Listing of Fiction in the Digest-size Mystery     Magazines in the United States and England. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982. Print. 
"The Cuckoo Clock." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 17 Apr. 1960. Television.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. 304, 572. 
Internet Book List : Home. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <>.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <>.

"Jack Black | Hot Celebrity Photos." Hot Celebrity Photos | Celebrity News in Pictures. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.
"London Mystery Magazine." Wikipedia. Web. 2011. <>.
Ramsey Campbell. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <>.
Vault of Evil. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part Two - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Madame Mystery"

by Jack Seabrook

"Madame Mystery" was broadcast March 27, 1960, during the fifth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  It was the second Robert Bloch story to be adapted for this anthology program, and it was based on a short story titled "Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?" that was first published in the April 1958 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Both story and teleplay concern Steve, an unsuccessful Hollywood writer who rents a cottage at the beach to write and meets Jimmy Powers (Dolan in the teleplay), a young and successful public relations man in the movie business.  Steve is jealous of Jimmy's inexplicable success at the young age of twenty-three. Betsey Blake, known as the Screen's Blonde Baby or Miss Mystery, has been killed in a speedboat accident. She had just finished filming Splendor, an expensive movie scheduled for release in several months.

The studio is worried that her death will hurt the picture's chances for success, so Jimmy pitched a publicity campaign idea that the studio loved--lots of news about her life and death will create interest in the upcoming film, and the news campaign will include a rumor that she is still alive. Jimmy asks Steve to work on the campaign but Steve refuses.

As the months go by, the publicity campaign around Betsey Blake is a huge success. By the time Splendor is ready to open, Betsey Blake fever has gripped the nation. Jimmy visits Steve to boast about his success, when a dumpy, drunken woman appears in the doorway. She is Betsey Blake, back from an extended trip. She explains that she survived the boat accident and spent some time in South America. She came home when she ran out of cash.

Audrey Totter as Betsey Blake

Betsey has been following her rise in popularity and now wants to reveal to the public that she is still alive. However, instead of the mysterious blonde siren, she has become a fat, drunken brunette. She goes home with Jimmy, who later returns to Steve's cottage alone, explaining that the woman who had claimed to be Betsey Blake was really just a fraud trying to cash in on the dead star's sudden fame.

Joby Baker as Jimmy

Jimmy tells Steve that there was an accident near Jimmy's house and the woman fell off of a steep cliff to her death. Jimmy is in no hurry to tell the police and doesn't want any mention of the woman's claim to be Betsey Blake, fearful that it would ruin the publicity machine he has so successfully engineered. Steve calls the police. Jimmy admits that he never liked Betsey Blake and offers to pay Steve to keep quiet about the dead woman's claims. Steve realizes that the woman's death was no accident and that Jimmy killed her. "You'd murder your own mother for a story," he says, and Jimmy replies: "How'd you guess?"

Harp McGuire as Steve

When William Fay adapted "Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?" for television, he made some changes. The story begins with a young, blonde starlet named Lois stumbling into Steve's beach cottage as he works at his typewriter. Lois is on a date with Jimmy, who soon arrives. Her character adds nothing to the plot, but she does set up a nice contrast with the aging, faded Betsey Blake who appears at the end of the first act. Lois is the "before" picture in the arc of a Hollywood starlet; Betsey is the "after."

Instead of "The Screen's Blonde Baby" or "Miss Mystery," as in the story, the TV Betsey has the nickname, "Madame Mystery," presumably because Fay thought "Madame" was more exotic and mysterious. The biggest change in the teleplay is that Jimmy is successful in convincing Steve to work on the publicity campaign by putting three one hundred dollar bills down in front of him. In the story, Steve remains pure and does not succumb to the lure of easy Hollywood money. In the teleplay, there is no such resistance.

When Betsey appears, she looks frazzled but not quite as slovenly as she is described in the story. When Jimmy takes her home and she dies in the story, the action is described in rather vague detail by Jimmy when he returns to Steve's cottage. In the teleplay, we see it all, and it is different. Jimmy walks Betsey back to his house, which is reached by a long set of steep wooden stairs on the outside. At the top of the stairs, they fight bitterly, as Jimmy insists that he made her movie a guaranteed hit and Betsey reminds him that it was she who got him a job at the studio in the first place. Jimmy violently shoves Betsey through the landing's flimsy wooden railing and she falls to the beach below. We see her lying on the beach, dead.

The teleplay then ends as does the story, with Steve calling the police and telling Jimmy, "You'd kill your own mother to be a big man at Goliath Studios, wouldn't you?" and Jimmy replying, "My mother? That's right, Stevie. But how did you know that's who she was?"

William Fay, who adapted the story for television, was born in 1918 and is still alive. He wrote for many TV shows from 1954 to 1967, including 16 episodes of the Hitchcock series. He was also a writer of short stories and the editor of Popular Publications starting in 1935.

John Brahm directed "Madame Mystery." Brahm directed ten episodes of the Hitchcock series and his dark, brooding style has been discussed before on bare*bones and also on A Thriller A DayBrahm of the chance to show something moody and mysterious.

Betsey did not survive a fall from a not very great height.

The star of the show is Joby Baker, as Jimmy.  Baker was born in 1934 and is still alive.  He appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock series and was on TV and in movies from 1952 to 1984, including a regular role on the series Good Morning, World (1967-1968). In "Madame Mystery," Baker chews the scenery in his attempt to portray a brash, young Hollywood publicist who covers up his feelings of self doubt with loud talk and a flashy style.

Harp McGuire plays Steve as a slightly older, more mature writer. He lived from 1921 to 1966 and was on TV from 1953 to 1963. His performance is low key and not very memorable.

Best of the cast is Audrey Totter as Betsey Blake. She was born in 1918 and appears to be alive today and living in a Hollywood nursing home. She had a small part in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and a lead role in The Lady in the Lake (1947). She appeared in numerous TV episodes and movies from 1945 to 1987 and was a regular on four different TV series. As Betsey Blake, she is brash and loud, looking every bit the aging starlet who still has a thing or two to say to anyone who will listen.

Meri Welles
Rounding out the cast as Alfredo the plumber is Mike Ragan, who was born Hollis Bane and who appeared in countless movies and TV shows starting in 1924. Playing the part of Lois, the starlet, is Meri Welles, who had a role in Little Shop of Horrors (1960) as the blonde who Seymour meets by a park bench, accidentally knocks out with a rock, and then feeds to his carnivorous plant.

"Madame Mystery" will be available in January 2012 when Universal releases the DVD set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents season five.  The short story, "Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?" was reprinted in the Robert Bloch collections Blood Runs Cold (1961), Bitter Ends (1990), and in the multi-author anthology, Silver Screams: Murder Goes Hollywood (1994).


Bloch, Robert. "Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?" Silver Screams: Murder Goes Hollywood. Stamford: 
Longmeadow, 1994. 253-67. Print. 
Galactic Central. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <>.
"Madame Mystery." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 27 Mar. 1960. Television.
Wikipedia. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <>.