Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Six-"The Right Price" [4.22]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Right Price" is based on Henry Slesar's short story, "Make Me An Offer," which was first published in the December 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine under the pseudonym Jay Street. The story is slight but enjoyable; the show is less successful.

Slesar's story tells of Mort and Jocelyn Bonner, a not so happily married couple who have both grown fat with advancing age and who now sleep in separate rooms. One night, lying in bed unable to sleep, Mort hears a noise downstairs and gets up to investigate. He discovers a burglar, who invites him to take a seat on the living room sofa. Frightened, Mort encourages the thief to take what he wants and depart, but the man proposes an arrangement where Mort tells him where the valuables are and is later able to collect on his insurance.

Mort proposes another sort of deal. The two men discuss having the thief murder Jocelyn and agree on a price of $3500. The thief goes upstairs to carry out the deed and Mort waits below until it seems to be taking too long. He ventures upstairs, finds the thief in Jocelyn's room, and is suddenly overtaken and killed by suffocation with a pillow. Jocelyn thanks the thief and gets out her checkbook.

"Make Me An Offer" is well written, and Slesar makes good use of descriptive phrases and recurring motifs. "There was a moon, plump and full in the center of his bedroom window," describes the view from Mort's room at night. His pillow is uncomfortable and he punches it "savagely." He imagines Jocelyn raiding the refrigerator, "tip-toeing around like an over-weight ballerina" and thinks of her figure as "elephantine." The burglar wears "a blue-dyed Eisenhower jacket" as well as "dirty sneakers and workman's gloves"--he is said to resemble "a jockey out of silks." The thief, never given a name, converses with Mort amiably, his phrasing recalling the speech patterns of Damon Runyan's characters, best remembered in the stage musical and film Guys and Dolls.

The story takes place in a suburb of New York City and the thief remarks that he "worked the numbers in Jersey." Mort suggests he try robbing homes in Scarsdale. The imagery of moon, weight, and pillow returns at the story's end, when the narrator comments that "the moon . . . was still plump and imposing." The face of the moon is said to bear "a distinct resemblance to Jocelyn's own fat features," and right before Mort is killed, "Jocelyn's moon of a face exploded into a brilliant nova" and "another white moon was descending towards him"--the moon this time is the pillow that will smother him, bringing Jocelyn, plumpness, moon and pillow together at the climax.

The unhappy home office
The short story was adapted for television by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and retitled "The Right Price." Although the story had been published originally as by Jay Street, Slesar is given credit as its author onscreen. It was broadcast as part of the fourth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and premiered on SundayMarch 8, 1959. While the Hitchcock series excelled at certain kinds of humor, such as the host's introductory and conclusory remarks, this episode falls flat precisely because it tries too hard to be funny. Instead, it commits the cardinal sin of being boring.

The program opens with a slow dolly shot in on Mort and Jocelyn working unhappily together in an office. Jocelyn, played by Jane Dulo, suddenly gets up from her desk and whips off her dress, revealing a slip underneath and announcing that she is going to bed--the office is shown to be a room in the house they share. Unlike in the story, Mort and Jocelyn sleep in the same bedroom (in twin beds, of course). Mort comments that her first husband fell out of an open window to his death and Jocelyn tells him "you'll never get a cent of my money," suggesting a financial motivation for the subsequent murder plot.

Allyn Joslyn as Mort
When Mort encounters the burglar downstairs, the man, who is never given a name in the short story, tells Mort: "Just call me The Cat. I read that once in a story. 'Call me The Cat,' the handsome burglar said." This is probably a reference to Hitchcock's 1955 film, To Catch a Thief, which starred handsome Cary Grant as a cat burglar. In "The Right Price," The Cat is played strictly for laughs by Eddie Foy, Jr. The episode's incidental music plays along and sounds like a laugh track on a situation comedy, complete with "wah-wah" horns.

Foy picks up little items around the house and pockets them, though Allen Joslyn, as Mort, grabs his cigarette lighter back when Foy moves to pocket it. The chatter between the two men wakes Jocelyn briefly but Mort lies to her and tells her that he is listening to the radio and having a midnight snack. The chat between Mort and The Cat seems to go on and on; at one point, Foy reclines in front of the fireplace with a sandwich and a beer! A beat cop named Joe even stops by because he saw a light on in the house; Mort sends him on his way with a promise to stop by the station house to praise his neighborhood patrol skills.

Foy's oddly gleeful expression
moments after the murder
The final scene is surprisingly brutal. The burglar knocks Mort out with the butt of his gun then smothers him on the bedroom floor with a pillow. It is unusual to see a murder committed so graphically; what is even stranger is the follow up, as The Cat beams at Jocelyn and tells her to "Make it out to cash. Five thousand." Cheerful music is heard as the picture fades out on The Cat's goofy grin.

Eddie Foy, Jr. (1905-1983) plays The Cat and recalls Phil Silvers with his big, black glasses and silly smile. Born Edwin Fitzgerald, Jr., he was the son of a vaudevillian. He was on Broadway from 1929-1961, in movies from 1913 and on TV from 1957. Memorable movies in which he appeared included Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), The Pajama Game (1957) and The Bells Are Ringing (1960) This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. As a child, he was part of the act called The Seven Little Foys; a 1955 movie was made about them but he was not in it.

Mort is played by Allen Joslyn (1901-1981), who was on Broadway from 1918-1952 and appeared onstage with Boris Karloff from 1941-1944 in Arsenic and Old Lace. He was in movies from 1937 and on TV from 1953, appearing just this once on the Hitchcock show. Memorable movies included Howard Hawks's Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Preston Sturges's The Great McGinty (1940), and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), a movie that starred Jack Benny and one which the great comedian never lived down.

Jane Dulo as Jocelyn
In the role of Jocelyn, Jane Dulo (1917-1994) creates another in a long line of acerbic women. Dulo appeared in countless TV episodes from 1951 to 1992 as well as the occasional movie; like her two co-stars, this was her only time on the Hitchcock series.

Bernard C. Schoenfeld (1907-1990), who wrote the teleplay, did much better work than this in the films Phantom Lady (1944) and The Dark Corner (1946). He wrote for TV from 1952-1975 and was responsible for 16 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Night the World Ended."

Finally, Arthur Hiller (1923- ), whose direction of this episode is so uninspired, helmed 16 other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as three sub-par episodes of Thriller. He has been making movies since 1957 and directed the classic comedy The In-Laws (1979).

"The Right Price" may be purchased on DVD here or seen for free online here.

The murder

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013.
"The Right Price." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 8 Mar. 1959. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "Make Me an Offer." 1958. Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. Ed. Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Avon, 1960. 137-43. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Four: October-November 1969

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
House of Mystery 182 (October 1969)

"The Devil's Doorway"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth

"Grave Results!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Wayne Howard

"The Hound of Night!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: "The Devil's Doorway" is one of the better stories we've seen to date. Phillip Warren buys a mirror from a New England house and is assured that everything in the house was exorcised a long time ago. He brings it home and his daughter starts to disappear into the mirror and come out again. After one trip, she gives him a cult statuette that her new friend Mr. Belial gave her. Phillip realizes that Belial is another name for the Devil and goes into the mirror himself. He confronts the Devil and escapes with his life. He destroys the mirror only to discover that his daughter is still trapped inside. To add insult to injury, he finds out that the mirror was the only item in the old house that had not been exorcised! Alex Toth does a tremendous job with the art in this creepy story.

"The Devil's Doorway"
Peter: What a fabulously creepy story this was. How many post-code horror strips have ended on such a grim note? Not that many. Warren excelled at bleak finales but I think most code-imprisoned comic writers probably felt they needed their tale to end on a high note. We never even find out what happens to little daughter Beth, caught forever in hell. If you're Beth's father, try living with those consequences. I first saw the name Jack Oleck when I was a horror movie paperback tie-in nut in the early 1970s and picked up the novelizations of the Amicus films Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror and devoured both of them. Oleck would go on to morph a handful of his House of Mystery scripts into two similar "novelizations" for Warner. We'll mention those further when 1973 rolls around. Alex Toth is one of those rare artists who can make his human characters so life-like but can pump out a pretty nifty demon when the occasion is warranted. Here he's at his best.

John: For the most part, I felt the art served the story just fine, although I didn't find the devil himself to be very menacing. I did like the simple yet evil visage in the final panel, though, so better late than never. I also felt the whole bit about everything in the house being exorcised—BUT THE MIRROR—was an unnecessary plot twist. He made it clear to readers from the outset that the mirror was supernatural, considering the first time we saw it in the house, the daughter was jumping OUT of it... A minor nit-pick in an entertaining tale.

"The Hound of Night!"
Jack: "Grave Results!" is a three-page throwaway about some coffins that won't stay put. Wayne Howard, the artist, does a decent Wally Wood impression but the story makes no sense. This is Howard's first professional credit and he was working as one of Wood's assistants at the time. Even more confusing is "The Hound of Night!", which includes a Baskerville-type hound, a witch, a magic lamp, and a jealous brother who tries to profit by the occult but finds out that it doesn't work out so well. The story is a muddled mess and Grandenetti's art is over the top.

Peter: "Grave Results" reads as though there's quite a bit missing. It presents us with a silly concept and then never gives us a solution. Why were the coffins constantly changing positions? Who knows? Obviously not Marv Wolfman or he'd have clued us in. Nice art by Howard, who would go on to do a lot of horror work for Charlton and Gold Key. I have to disagree with you, Jack, about the art on "The Hound of Night." I've never been a fan of Grandenetti's but, thanks to this journey we're taking, I'm beginning to think I may have missed something the first time 'round. The story's a bore though.

John: Thanks, Jack, for the explanation why I felt I was looking at a Wally Wood story initially, and Pete's right. You read "Grave Results" thinking you're going to get some sort of 'strange-but-true' explanation, only to have the story abruptly end. A waste of pages, as a result. As for "The Hound," I didn't find it to be a worthy inclusion by way of art or story, so we'll just leave it at that!

Neal Adams
The Unexpected 115 (November 1969)

"Diary of a Madman"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ed Robbins

"Abracadabra--You're Dead!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Curt Swan and Jack Abel

"The Day Nobody Died!"
Story by D. W. Holz (Dave Wood)
Art by Werner Roth and Jack Abel

Peter: Like House of Mystery and House of Secrets, The Unexpected (nee Tales of the Unexpected) got its start running really bad science fiction/fantasy stories with art by such DC old-timers as Bernard Bailey, Sheldon Moldoff, Nick Cardy, and Curt Swan. For the eleven issues preceding our debut here, Unexpected featured the "exciting" adventures of Johnny Peril, "adventurer of the weird." The title had been running weird mystery stories now and then for the past year but it wasn't until #115 that the entire issue was given over to thrills and chills. Unfortunately, we may have to wait a bit for those hoped-for emotions.

Jack: Can we take a moment to mention that fantastic Adams cover, which--for a change--does not feature children in peril? It's a beauty! Adams took an incident from the third story in this issue and fashioned a thrilling picture. One more thing: this issue appears to be the first month that DC runs writing and art credits for every story, following a trend popularized by Marvel several years before.

John: Right out of the gate, we meet 'The Mad, Mod Witch'? That's not a good sign...

Peter: First up is "Diary of a Madman," easily the worst "horror" story we've yet run across (and hopefully will run across), in which teenage Maude meets eccentric artist Amos and his lunatic brother. The girl falls madly in love with the painter but he keeps her at arm's length. For good reason, we come to find out. Amos doesn't really have a mad brother but a second face on the side of his head. We learn nothing else about the mutant... why does he act crazy sometimes? What does he want with Maude? Why does he dress like a dandy? I was astonished when Maude's father insists she not see the painter again and reminds her she's still a minor. You wouldn't be able to tell from Robbins' art, which resembles some of that awful stuff found in the lesser pre-code horror titles in the 1950s. Maude swings from looking like a teenager to, well, Bea Arthur. Carl Wessler wrote much better scripts for EC and Warren.

"Diary of a Madman"
Jack: Peter, you and I had completely different reactions to this story, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I will grant you, it looks like something out of a lesser-grade 1950s horror comic, and I wonder if it was a reprint that no one has identified or possibly something that had been sitting in the files. They jazz it up with a frame that features an introduction by the Mad, Mod Witch and an incomprehensible story about crazy Maude, who shows us she's a 1969 girl by wearing a headband. But the ending of this story is a shocker! The man with two faces--one handsome, the other hideous--sure took me by surprise.

John: While I do think there are cases where one panel can save an otherwise lackluster story, in this case, rather than being shocked and horrified, I found it to be hilarious. Granted, I had been waiting for the explanation all along that the two brothers were one and the same, but I never would have guessed Amos was a two-faced bastard! At a different age, I might have found this twist more effective, but not today.

Peter: The other two stories this issue are abysmally bad patchworks presented in a format a la Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not. We're led to believe that these events actually happened but the problem is, the narratives are so disjointed we don't necessarily disbelieve, we just don't comprehend. The art and writing this issue are so uniformly dreadful that it makes the prospects of this title bleak.

Unexpectedly Bad Fashions
John: Thank you for clarifying that Ripley's Believe It or Not is a Gold Key title I can safely skip!

Jack: "Abracadabra--You're Dead!" is too short to work and this is the first time I've seen Curt Swan credited as "Curtis." Like the prior story--but even more so--this looks like something done years before 1969. The last story is by Dave Wood under the pseudonym D.W. Holz, though why they thought he couldn't be credited with two stories in one issue I'll never guess, especially when they spill the beans about the name in this issue's letter column! The story is not bad and recalls "The Howling Man" on The Twilight Zone. The house ads and covers for other DC comics in this issue have made me realize that this is just about the exact time when I fell in love with comics. These covers have a strange effect on my heart!

John: The movie On Borrowed Time is an old favorite of mine, so I was looking forward to this tale of death being captured. My hopes were dashed when I saw that Death was captured via the classic fashion of—I'm sure you saw this coming—a bear trap! Unfortunately, none of the interesting things that arise as a result of death's capture are really explored here. I recommend folks check out the movie instead.

Our pal Death says, "See you soon!"

Neal Adams
House of Secrets 82 (November 1969)

"Realler Than Real"
Story uncredited
Art by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta

"Sudden Madness"
Story uncredited
Art by Dick Giordano

"The Little Old Winemaker"
Story uncredited
Art by Jack Sparling

"The One and Only, Fully Guaranteed, Super-Permanent 100%?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Dick Dillin and Neal Adams

"Sudden Madness"
Jack: "Realler Than Real" is a poor story featuring the artistic stylings of Werner Roth, who also drew a story for this month's Unexpected. We have trashed Roth repeatedly over at Marvel University. The story features an obnoxious movie producer who demands realism from his crew. He ends up shot by an arrow from an Indian in a movie being screened for him.

Peter: "Realer Than Real" suffers from the same malady that afflicts so many of the war stories we've been reading: a tendency for the writer to latch onto a key word (in this case, "realism") and run it into the ground. It's not the only drawback, of course, since it's poorly written and unengaging as well.

John: It's an awfully big buildup for a silly final panel gag. I would have preferred it if we found out that he was in fact killed by the crew he continually berated, using their special effects skills to make it look like the onscreen Indians were the culprits. Oh well. That brings us to "Sudden Madness," and let me say right here and now, I can't wait for the return of the two coolest characters to debut in the DC Universe  in years: Frggmleeg and Zgagg!

"The Little Old Winemaker"
Jack: "Sudden Madness" is all of two pages long. Aliens give games to everyone that drive them crazy, sort of like a Rubik's Cube. "The Little Old Winemaker" is pretty good in comparison to the first two stories in this issue. A jealous nephew is against his elderly aunt marrying a little old winemaker. Some time later, the nephew is convinced that the winemaker has murdered the aunt and hidden her body in a cask of wine. He goes mad, chopping up all of the wine barrels and eventually drowning in the wine that spills out. Jack Sparling has fun showing the young man go nuts and some of the crazy scenes are entertaining. "The One and Only . . ." shows henpecked Stanley Landman get revenge on his shrewish wife by ordering a product from a mail-order catalog. This story is nothing special but it has the unusual credit of Dick Dillin being inked by Neal Adams. Dillin drew the Justice League of America for a long time and Adams's smooth hand looks good over his pencils.

Peter: Is it just me or does there seem to be a word balloon missing in the splash page of "Sudden Madness"? The first thing Abel says is "--- a little device called Sudden Madness!" as if there's a leading balloon. "The Little Old Winemaker" features the best art I've ever seen from Jack Sparling (and I do mean it's good art!) and a nice, nasty twist ending (turns out the nephew was right!) marred only by an afterward by Abel reminiscent of those "let's set this right, the guilty really were brought to justice" epilogues forced on Alfred Hitchcock while he was on TV. Just ignore those final two panels and it's a keeper. And I couldn't disagree with you more, Jack, m'man. I think "The One and Only..." steals this issue's Best Story prize. It's a genuinely funny and (for its day) quite edgy tale, the best we've seen so far from future Hall of Famer Marv Wolfman.

John: I enjoyed "Winemaker," although I honestly would have preferred for the aunt (or pieces of her) to pour out of one of the huge casks. And I forgive the story the physics problem of the volume of liquid within the casks somehow exceeding the volume of the room in which said casks were stored. "The One and Only..." was also a a lot of fun. The wife reminded me of the character Adrienne Barbeau portrayed in Creepshow. No, not for those two reasons.

"The One and Only . . ."

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 5 (November 1969)

"The Sole Survivor!"
Story uncredited
Art by Berni Wrightson

"A Guy Can Die Laughing!"
Story uncredited
Art by Pat Boyette

"The Computer Game"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Stanley Pitt and Dick Giordano

Peter: Stubborn Captain Dandridge of The Ocean Queen would sooner lay upon the sea floor for eternity than take advice from his crew. So it is that the ship enters a deadly storm and all crew are lost save the good captain. Washed ashore Bird Island, Dandridge makes the best of his solitude and prepares for a passing boat. That boat comes but not with good news: there has been a "sole survivor" of the Ocean Queen wreckage and she's anxious to get back to the mainland to tell her story of how Captain Dandridge effectively killed his men. When the outraged Captain demands to see this mysterious woman, she has vanished. The crew tracks her footprints to... the Ocean Queen's "bowsprit," the wooden carving that leads the ship, now half buried in the beach! An odd little tale this one. Usually, the "punchline" is focused on at least a few times in the course of the story but here we see the "bowsprit," only in passing, twice. No leading dialogue is spoken, nothing like "You know, it is said, here out at sea that a bowsprit has unearthly powers..." The other oddity is that there is no closure. Dandridge is almost forgotten in the final panels. He's not turned into a "bowsprit" nor does he end up on the ocean floor. When we see the panel of the approaching ship, I'd have bet ten bucks it would be Dandridge's crew, now rotting corpses, lumbering off to exact their revenge. As it stands, there can be no trial as the witness testimony came from a hunk of wood. A nice piece of wood, but a piece of wood nonetheless. Berni Wrightson hits another triple (coming very close to leaving the yard) with his drippy mouths and exaggerated features. The major plus when Berni is illustrating is that you really don't need a great story. Just something to fill the word balloons above his classic renderings.

John: As I was reading this tale, I was actually thinking how nice it would be to be able to lift away the word balloons to better appreciate Wrightson's amazing linework herein. 

Jack: You did not mention Cynthia! In Alex Toth's frame this issue, we learn that Cynthia picked up her "impudent ideas" at college. That goes for so many of us!

Peter: The other two stories this issue are pretty silly. The protagonist of "A Guy Can Die Laughing!" (which very clearly reads "A Guy Can Laughing! Die" on the splash page) is washed-up clown Alfie Steed, who can't seem to bring a smile to a single face in his audience. One day, while in a museum, Alfie stumbles on the costume used by "the cruel King Richard"'s court jester. Without taking the time to read the warning, Alfie steals the suit, killing the nightwatchman in the process. In the end, the new clown suit brings a million laughs but the downside is that it won't come off its new owner until death do they part. Pat Boyette contributes his usual eerie art but there's not much to the story and the final panel "twist" is one that's already been revealed!

John: I was surprised that, out of left field, Alfie kills the night watchmen. Even more surprising is that it took place between panels! Let's just say that I didn't find myself laughing at this one.

Peter: Finally, "The Computer Game" is another knockoff of the "computer becomes the boss" genre that had already grown old only a short time after 2001: A Space Odyssey had hit screens. The art is dreadful (it reminded me of the back-up features we hated so much while covering Detective Comics on this blog) and I'm not familiar with Australian artist Stanley Pitt but he's certainly not helped by Dick Giordano's inks. This is that kind of photo shop art that shows no imagination or life.

Jack: You're being too hard on this one, Peter. The giant, room-filling computer is good for a laugh nowadays, when computers fit in the palm of your hand. Once again, Cynthia saves the day in the closing frame. Her college beau runs off in fright, telling her that he did not realize she was "that kind of girl"—i.e., a witch. She sheds some tears, though I'm not sure if it's because lover-boy ran off or because he didn't like her story best!

John: I'm glad you were able to find something to like in "The Computer Game," Jack, but I think they could have used the 'computer-in-a-room' to much greater effect with just about any other tale...

About that ad above: you'll notice three titles listed under the header "DC's New Mystery Line" that we haven't covered and won't be covering. From Beyond the Unknown was a science fiction reprint series (launched November 1969) that ran 25 issues until December 1973. The title reprinted 1950s DC SF stories from titles such as Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. Challengers of the Unknown was a SF team book that ran 77 issues from May 1958 through January 1971. Since both these titles were focused on science fiction, they were out of our parameters. The Phantom Stranger was a tougher title to exclude but we decided we wanted to narrow our target to anthology books and TPS is a character comic. While an early 1950s version of The Phantom Stranger lasted only six issues, the revamp in June 1969 (highlighted by some extraordinary cover art by Neal Adams) managed 41 issues (to March 1976) and was anchored by the dynamite writer/artist team of Len Wein and Jim Aparo. For the very same reason, we won't be covering Swamp Thing or Deadman either. Send all complaints to Peter.

This really brings it all back!
Yes, there was a time when Scooby-Doo was a new show!

Coming Next Week!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Star-Spangled DC War Stories Part 4: September 1959

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Cover by Grandenetti
All-American Men of War 73

"No Detour!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Tanks Don't Cry!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker

"Nobody Owns a Medal!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: The various detours a duo of soldiers in WWII must take to get to their target is the focus of "No Detour!" Overly long and suffering from the "take a word and drive it in the ground" syndrome, I found myself losing patience with this story before too long. Kubert's art, as usual, is perfect. Amazing how he could make all these various characters stand out from each other. From Sgt. Rock on down to the stumblebums of "No Detour!", all seem to have distinctive features. "Tanks Don't Cry!" is an excessively sappy yarn about a soldier who's been told by his brothers that their modes of transportation (aircraft, battleship, etc.) are living, breathing entities that protect their occupants from the hells of war. This convinces our protagonist that his tank is every bit as lively but convincing his partner inside the tank is not so easy. Much better is "Nobody Owns a Medal!" which, while falling back on the by-now cliched catch phrase, shows how a "green" soldier can become a hero and a mentor in no time flat during war. A medal is simply something a soldier strives for but then, once gained, is held only until a "braver" man comes along.

"Tanks Don't Cry!"
JS: One thing I'm learning from reading these comics is Army slang: "cook an egg" means to get a grenade ready for throwing. A "tin pot" is a helmet. I thought "Tanks Don't Cry!" was effective, but then I'm more sappy than you are. I guess these comics were aimed at adult men who had been in the service, which brings up an interesting point--were these the first comic books aimed squarely at an adult audience?

Cover by Grandenetti
G.I. Combat 76

"Bazooka for a Mouse"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"Rendezvous for a Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Second Champ"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker

"Don't Look Back!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

PE: One of the best stories I've yet read on this war-torn journey is "Bazooka for a Mouse," a very taut six-page suspenser about a "Mouse" (a single G.I.) armed with a bazooka and the Germans who come to St. Croix to put him out of commission. Bob Haney works wonders with such a small amount of space, milking every bit of suspense for what it's worth and delivering a genuine surprise in the end. Believing the "mouse" to be out of ammo, the arrogant German tank soldier stops to take a picture of the American soldier before blasting him, only to find that American ingenuity can go a long way on the battlefield. Haney had a very prolific month in September 1959, placing eleven (out of a possible sixteen!) scripts in the war titles, outnumbering Bob Kanigher almost four to one. That won't last. Could be Kanigher was taking a vacation but more likely he was busy scripting Wonder Woman (which he also edited for 20 years) and attending to his duties as editor of the Big Five.  Another fabulous cover painting by Jerry Grandenetti.

JS: I'm glad you mentioned the cover. Have we seen paintings before? I don't recall paintings on comic book covers before Charlton in the mid-'70s. This one is impressive. "Rendezvous for a Fort!" is another air battle story drawn by Ross Andru, who seems to have a knack for drawing jets. The P-38 in this story is a pretty cool plane. "Don't Look Back!" is another one of those stories where they repeat a phrase over and over. This issue is unusual in that it features four short stories instead of one long one and two short ones.

Cover by Heath
Our Army at War 86

"Tank 711"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"Last Ride for a Mustang!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Bring Up the Bazooka!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Nicky Anderson, a member of Sgt. Rock's Easy Company, is one tough cookie to please. He's convinced Easy Company does all the work with no outside help. When Easy is cornered by a Nazi tank, Nicky's viewpoint is put to the test. A very nicely done installment of Sgt. Rock, "Tank 711" veers its attention away from main event Rock and lets us get to know another member of Easy. Not having read any of these stories before, I'm curious if these supporting characters make return appearances or if they fade into the background, never to be heard from again. Bob Haney slides behind Boss Kanigher's typewriter without nary a misthrown pineapple.

JS: Middling Kubert is still better than a host of other comic book artists. The guy should open a school!

PE: Equally good is Haney's "Last Ride for a Mustang," with jaw-dropping aerial battles courtesy of the pencil of Russ Heath. It's pilot Hal's 50th mission, the mark that spells "retirement" for an ace, and his buddies Ed and Sam are adamant that Hal will survive this journey, thanks to their cover. Ironically, it turns out that Sam and Ed are in need of back-up and Hal's final mission is a tough one. Haney and Heath prove that, given the right chemistry, magic can be produced despite (or maybe because of) a five and a half page brevity. "Bring Up the Bazooka" deals with the troubles soldiers have finding the right range with their weapons. Some targets are too close, some too far. As someone who has not only never fought but never been around weapons, I found this to be an interesting little enlightener. In the movies, you're led to believe that you simply have to load the bazooka and you're a winner. Ain't necessarily so, says Hank Chapman. Jack Abel proves to be an exemplary substitute for Kubert.

JS: This story is definitely above-average from Abel, though I thought the title referred to what you tell a kid who has swallowed his chewing gum.

Cover by Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 49 

"Blind Gunner"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Ace -- Minus One!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Mort Drucker

"Tanks on the Hour!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

JS: In this issue's Gunner and Sarge story, "Blind Gunner," Sarge assigns a dog named Billy to partner with Gunner on patrol. Although Billy seems to be a real sweet pooch who saves Gunner's life repeatedly, Gunner is an ingrate and tries to get rid of him. When Gunner is blinded in a tank attack, Billy saves him yet again, but Sarge thinks it was all Gunner's doing and reassigns the poor puppy. I am a big dog lover and I liked Billy best of any of the characters in this story. He just did not get the appreciation he deserved. Gunner, Sarge and their mates are a bunch of bozos. And what is such a nice dog doing in the middle of the War in the Pacific?

PE: Granted this pooch is the sweetest comic dog since Lassie but I have to question whether a canine can actually do the things portrayed here. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for a guy in red underwear and cape but this is supposed to be a little more reality-based, isn't it? Can a dog really determine whether an enemy soldier is setting off a decoy land mine? Keep a soldier submerged as an enemy boat patrols above? Pretty smart dog. I think I like my war tales a bit grittier.

JS: In "Ace--Minus One!" fighter pilot Captain Banner just needs to down one more plane over Korea to be considered an ace. When the enemy gets wind of this, he becomes a target and is soon shot down himself. In an odd twist of fate, he steals an enemy jet to fly home and ends up targeted by his own men! Before long, though, he shoots down his fifth plane and is now an ace. Finally, "Tanks on the Hour!" features more of those methodical Nazis whose plans go awry when they hew too closely to the clock and become predictable in their tank attacks on some GIs. The clever Yanks fight back a few minutes before the clock strikes, taking the Germans by surprise. So much for planning and organization!

PE: I liked "Ace--Minus One," primarily for its Mort Drucker art, especially that claustrophobic sequence where Captain Banner realizes he's about to be shot down by a batch of Korean migs (reprinted above). Again, I'm impressed by just how cinematically the action is storyboarded. Drucker, however, seems to lose the handle on Banner's facial features (in one panel, he resembles Richard Nixon, in another Curly Joe from The Three Stooges!), which can be a bit confusing at times. Drucker's Korean jet pilot immediately brings to mind one of the fabulous characters he'd produce for Mad. "Tanks on the Hour!" comes off as nothing more than a fragment, saved only by the usual stellar art of Russ Heath.

JS: Peter, can you recall a single story yet that did not involve 1) WWII, 2) the Korean War, 3) Nazis, or 4) Japanese? I know they were timely but weren't there a few other wars in the thousands of years of human history? Not to mention Fascists in Italy?

PE: I think Kanigher might have felt the youngsters out there might not know much about the Civil War or The War of 1812 while The Big War and Korea were not too far in the past. I'd wager that's your answer, Jack. Perhaps someday when we're very old and grey, and looking in the rear view mirror at this blog, we might visit the EC war comics. You'll find plenty of variety in those pages.

From "Tanks on the Hour!"--that's supposed to be an
overhead view of a smoky scene but
the proportions look all wrong!

Cover by Irv Novick
Star-Spangled War Stories 85

"Human Air Raid!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Flattop Mosquito!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Who's Left?"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: I'll not waste much time on the Mademoiselle Marie installment as I've already noted I think it a waste of precious paper other than to say that, call me a nut, I couldn't get Patty Hearst out of my mind while viewing Marie mow down Nazis with her machine gun. Pretty cool trick Mlle. and her freedom fighters pull by jumping off a cliff and pulling their parachute cords "a few yards above the train." Try that sometime, without splattering.

Zee Fronch Fud ees a beet gassy, no?
JS: Mlle. Marie, the Battle Doll, is back! In "Human Air Raid!" she lets herself be captured for a million franc reward and saves a downed allied airman, blowing up a bridge for good measure. Wotta woman! As the airman heads off, she says with a wistful look in her eye: "Come back soon--and free my beloved France--from the Invader!" Got to love those French resistance fighters. The Battle Doll series may not be top drawer, but at least it's different!

PE: "Flattop Mosquito" begins interestingly enough as a new fighter pilot lands his jet aboard a battleship and stands stunned by its size. The story, unfortunately, quickly grows tedious as the pilot continually compares himself to a "mosquito" in proportion to the carrier and then, predictably, becomes its sole savior when he averts a kamikaze attack. Our finale, "Who's Left," has something of a rarity for these code-approved comics: American casualties. Granted, the deaths are "off screen" but it's evident by the touching final panel (the surviving  G.I. saluting his fallen comrades' ghostly images in the sky) that life has been lost here.

JS: In "Who's Left?" a G.I. keeps asking the title question as the members of his platoon are wiped out one by one until he finds that the answer is himself alone. A nice story with a positive message.

You tell 'em, Battle Doll!

A public service announcement from our friends at DC:

Coming Next Week!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Five-"The Morning After" [4.14]

by Jack Seabrook

A mother's love is the topic Henry Slesar addresses in "The Morning After," which begins as Mrs. Trotter visits her daughter Sharon, who is used to staying up very late and who lives in a modern, well-furnished apartment. The contrast between mother and daughter is striking. Mrs. Trotter took the bus to visit Sharon and wants to shop for "a pair of hospital shoes for every day." Sharon is a kept woman, supported by Ben, "a bad man, a crook" in her mother's eyes. Ben is married and Sharon is waiting for him to get a divorce so she can become his next wife. Mrs. Trotter, on the other hand, was married to Papa her whole life.

As Sharon takes a shower, Mrs. Trotter looks through a "thick magazine . . . devoted to Paris fashion . . . filled with photographs of slender women in settings that had no connection with the reality Mrs. Trotter knew." The telephone rings and she answers it. Ben is calling, frantic because his wife died during the night. He thinks he is speaking to Sharon and urges her to tell the police that they spent the night together.

Sharon emerges from the shower and Mrs. Trotter tells her that Ben called and that his wife is dead. Mrs. Trotter tells her daughter that Ben killed the woman and that "he wants you to tell the police . . . that he wasn't here last night." Sharon assents and the doorbell rings.

Jeanette Nolan
"The Morning After" is very short and features a marvelous twist ending, though it is hardly a surprise when it happens. The title refers both to the state of Sharon's affairs, as her mother visits her after what appears to have been a late night, and to Ben's phone call, which comes the morning after he killed his wife. Did he spend the night with Sharon and leave at 4 A.M. to murder his wife? We don't know, but we do know that Mrs. Trotter has cleverly set events in motion that she thinks will help rid her daughter of a bad boyfriend.

"The Morning After" first appeared in the February 1957 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It was picked up by the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and became the first of Henry Slesar's stories to be adapted for the small screen during the show's fourth season, broadcast on January 11, 1959. Slesar still had not broken into the business of writing teleplays, so the script was written by Rose Simon Kohn (1901-1985), who has few credits beyond this and another episode of the Hitchcock series, but whose teleplay for this story is an excellent example of how to expand a very short story.

Dorothy Provine
The show begins as Mrs. Trotter prepares for a visit from Sharon but cries when she looks out of her window to see her daughter arriving with Ben in his expensive convertible. Whereas the short story took place in one brief morning, the television show spans a couple of days and features characters only mentioned in the story. The contrast between mother and daughter is established immediately by Sharon's pearl necklace and fur stole, which look gaudy in comparison to her mother's simple attire. The women argue about Sharon's relationship with Ben. The teleplay then takes off in a different direction from the story as Mrs. Trotter visits Ben at work (he owns Ben Nelson Plastics, Inc.) and pleads with him to stop seeing Sharon.

Robert Alda
Robert Alda, as Ben, skillfully portrays a rich, powerful man who uses bravado to try to cover up his awkwardness at meeting his mistress's mother. He says "this is a very pleasant surprise," then catches himself repeating the same facile phrase only moments later. Contrast wealthy Nelson with simple Mrs. Trotter, in her cloth coat and white gloves, a woman out of her element in Nelson's gleaming, modern office. Nelson is a liar, a smooth operator who assures Mrs. Trotter that Sharon will never know about her visit and then rushes to Sharon's apartment to tell her everything, remarking that "I won't have her meddling in our affairs." To her credit, Sharon stands up for her mother and herself. Ben smooths things over with an expensive bracelet--the relationship is based on money and empty promises--yet he slips momentarily and reveals that his wife does not know about Sharon.

Fay Wray
Mrs. Trotter next takes the bold step of visiting Mrs. Nelson at home--a large, expensive house where a maid admits her. Fay Wray plays Mrs. Nelson as a refined, polite woman who knows nothing of Sharon until Mrs. Trotter spills the beans. As it dawns on both women that Mrs. Nelson knew nothing, the audience knows more than both characters and suspense is created by waiting to see how the truth will out and what Mrs. Nelson's reaction will be. Wray and Jeanette Nolan, as Mrs. Trotter, both give excellent performances. Wray's shock and anger bubble below the surface and Mrs. Trotter appears to be understanding, though she is destroying a marriage (and later, a life) with her carefully chosen words--she, who earlier had asked Sharon to consider Mrs. Nelson's feelings. Mrs. Trotter is surprised that Mrs. Nelson did not know and bursts into tears.

As the storm rages!
Ben comes home that night to find a storm raging outside; the elements mirror the characters' emotions and this scene is lit with high-contrast, noir lighting. Mrs. Nelson sits in her chair, half in shadow, while the shots of Ben look upward from her point of view. Later that night, Mrs. Trotter arrives at Sharon's apartment, wet from the rain. She confesses to having visited Ben but cannot confess to her other visit because Sharon interrupts her. Nolan plays the final scene on the telephone perfectly, her whispers indistinguishable from those of Sharon.

Just before the telephone rings.
"The Morning After" is an outstanding example of a half-hour black and white crime drama of the late 1950s, where the writing, direction, and acting all combine to produce a very effective program. Director Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) could often be counted on for a dark, atmospheric TV experience. Among his 27 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and  The Alfred Hitchcock Hour were "The Cream of the Jest," "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?", and the Robert Bloch episodes, "The Cure" and "A Home Away From Home." Jeanette Nolan (1911-1998) had appeared in the last episode adapted from a Slesar story, "The Right Kind of House." Only 47 years old at the time of filming, she played the mother role this time with dark hair, unlike the grey hair she wore last time. She was only three years older than Robert Alda (1914-1986), who plays Ben Nelson. Alda began his career in vaudeville and later moved into TV and movies, including Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger (1946) and the horror classic, The Beast With Five Fingers (1946). This was his only episode of the Hitchcock series.

Alternate cover
Alda was seven years younger than Fay Wray (1907-2004), who plays his wife. Wray was in movies from 1923 and her long list of classic horror films is topped by King Kong (1933), her greatest role. She appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and was still very striking in appearance in this episode at age  51. Even more striking was the lovely Dorothy Provine (1935-2010), who plays Sharon. Provine had just started her TV career in 1957 and began appearing in movies in 1958. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series. She would later appear in Good Neighbor Sam (1964) with Jack Lemmon, based on a novel by Jack Finney. She is perfectly cast in "The Morning After" as the beautiful young woman who unknowingly drives a man nearly twice her age to murder his wife.

"The Morning After" is available on DVD here or can be viewed online for free here. It is certainly worth a look.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 9 June 2013.
"The Morning After." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 11 Jan. 1959. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "The Morning After." 1957. Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. Ed. Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Avon, 1960. 59-64. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 9 June 2013.