Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Fifteen: "The Money" [6.9]

by Jack Seabrook

Nearly 30 years old, Larry Fabrizio wants to marry his girlfriend Angie, but she doubts his ability to make money. This is the setup for Henry Slesar's short story, "Trust Me, Mr. Paschetti," which was first published in the June 1959 issue of the men's adventure pulp, Man's World. Larry quits his job working for Patsy's wire joint, which pays $150 a week, and visits the offices of Paschetti Import Co. in downtown Manhattan, where he meets Mr. Paschetti, who had come to America years before with Larry's father, Tony.

Tony lived an honest life while Mr. Paschetti made it big in the import business. Larry is hired at a salary of $75 an hour, which surprises Angie. Larry assures her that he is "thinking about the future" and plans to bide his time before robbing Paschetti and leaving the country with Angie at his side. Larry works for Mr. Paschetti and begins to earn his trust. Eventually, when a big deal comes along, Larry telephones both Paschetti and his business partner and tricks them into making a change in plans by imitating their voices on the telephone.

Robert Loggia
Paschetti gives Larry $30,000 in an envelope to deliver and tells him that he had been engaged to Larry's mother back in Milan, before she had met Larry's father. He tells Larry, "'Your Pop was the best guy on earth. Stupid, but the best.'" Larry shows Angie the money and, for the first time, begins to boss her around. That evening, he goes to Paschetti's apartment and confesses, earning the old man's forgiveness. Back at Angie's apartment, Larry tells her that, now that he has gained the old man's trust, he is ready for the big payoff.

Is Paschetti truly fooled by Larry's telephone call or is he testing the young man's loyalty? Slesar's story is subtle enough that one could read it either way. Is it a coincidence that, when Paschetti gives Larry the envelope with the money to take on his own, he makes a speech about Larry's mother and says a kind word about his father? A reader of Slesar's tricky tale could believe that it is an elaborate game of cross and double-cross, with Paschetti setting Larry up at the same time that Larry thinks he is tricking Paschetti. Does Larry intend to take the money back before Paschetti makes his surprising confession about his relationship to Larry's mother? These questions add depth to what is, on the surface, a straightforward crime story with a twist at the end.

One may assume that Slesar's agent had trouble selling this story, since his stories were, by 1959, appearing regularly in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, the premiere digests for mystery and crime fiction of the day. "Trust Me, Mr. Paschetti" appeared instead in Man's World,  one of the lurid men's adventure pulps that were prevalent from the late 1950s into the 1970s. A review of the table of contents shows the sort of fare that accompanied Slesar's story in the June 1959 issue: "Col. Kennedy's Half-Nude Half-Caste Nanny" and "The Girl in Private Devereux' Combat Boots" were two of the titles.

Slesar's track record with the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents must have led to this story's being been sold to the show for adaptation, since it is doubtful that Joan Harrison often looked to publications such as Man's World for material. Slesar adapted his own story and retitled it "The Money"; it was first broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, November 29, 1960, right before "The Fatal Impulse" on Thriller that same evening.

Will Kuluva and Wolfe Barzell (Miklos)
"The Money" follows the source story closely and has two particularly notable elements. The first has to do with the heritage of the main characters. In "Trust Me, Mr. Paschetti," Larry Fabrizio, his late father Tony, and Mr. Paschetti are all Italian-Americans. Paschetti and Tony came to the United States from Italy together and Paschetti had been engaged to Larry's mother in Milan. In "The Money," Larry's last name is Chetnik, Paschetti becomes Stephen Bregornick, and even Paschetti's business partner becomes "Miklos." Why were all of the surnames changed from Italian to something else and what do the new names represent?

The most likely reason for the change has to do with the popular TV series, The Untouchables, which had started airing regularly a year before and which was in its second season when "The Money" premiered. The Untouchables, set in the Great Depression, portrayed numerous mobsters as being of Italian-American descent and was met with howls of protest from Italian-American groups, who did not like its depiction of their group in a negative light. One may assume that the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents asked Slesar to change the heritage of his characters so as not to cause additional offense to a large cohort of viewers.
The Chetnik flag

Slesar's choice of new surnames is interesting and not likely to be unintentional. Chetnik, Larry's surname in the teleplay, is the name of a Serbian paramilitary organization of the first half of the twentieth century. Bregornick sounds similarly eastern European, and Miklos is a Hungarian name. Slesar thus suggests a vague foreign minority group operating on the fringes of the law without resorting to stereotypes of Italian Americans.

The other item of interest in "The Money" is the direction by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), the busy director who did a great deal of work in episodic TV from the 1950s to the 1970s and who was the son of director Alan Crosland, who directed Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927). Alan Crosland, Jr., directed 16 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, along with episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Four shot with Larry in foreground

In "The Money," Crosland's direction is impressive, with extensive camera movement and careful thought given to placement of characters within the frame to express unspoken thoughts and relationships. The show opens with a shot where the camera is placed behind the sofa in Angie's apartment. Angie gets up after having been lying on top of Larry, and the camera swings around to the left as Larry sits up, ending in a shot with him in the foreground and her in the rear. She is also reflected in a mirror, and her two faces are above his, showing her place as the dominant partner in the relationship. Crosland's mobile camera follows Larry across the room and the director does not just rely on the usual series of close-ups and two-shots that mark the standard progression of a TV show of this era.

The camera looks up at Larry
The camera placement continues to be unusual: when Larry arrives at Paschetti's office, the camera starts out low, behind the secretary's typewriter, then glides right and up into a two-shot. Larry drives the story, and Crosland's camera is at its most fluid when following his movements. Another unusual feature is the elaborate set for Paschetti's ornate apartment, which Crosland films in a medium long shot that allows the viewer to see all four characters together in one scene, with Larry in the foreground. Placing him closest to the viewer allows us to see him listening to the older men talk business; Larry is silently learning from them.

In the second scene set in Angie's apartment, Angie initially towers over Larry in the frame until he barks at her to "shut up and sit down." The dynamic between the characters changes as Larry begins to assert his power and now he is placed higher than she is in the frame. This scene is followed by the scene where Bregornick confesses his relationship to Larry's mother; in this scene, the shots of Bregornick are straight-on while the shots of Larry are taken from a camera placed on a lower plane, looking up at the young man.

Larry now has the upper hand
The next scene in Angie's apartment demonstrates the development of Larry's self-confidence and the change it has wrought in his relationship with his girlfriend; he tells her to "sit down" and is clearly in charge, filled with his own sense of power. In one shot, he walks toward the camera as it slowly backs away, almost as if it feels threatened by the newly empowered Larry. When Larry visits Bregornick and gives back the money, he turns to leave and Crosland sets up another fine shot with Larry in the foreground and the two older men small in the rear distance. Once again, the balance of power is shifting. The final scene in Angie's apartment reverses the one that opened the episode--now, Larry is on top, looming above Angie as she lies on the sofa.

Doris Dowling
"The Money" is a good example of an episode where the teleplay is a run of the mill melodrama but the direction and camerawork are exciting and give it more depth than it would otherwise possess. The show could as easily be called "The Power," since its main theme deals with Larry's developing sense of his own abilities. The twist ending, so important to the Hitchcock series as a whole, is almost unnecessary here, since the story that comes before it is satisfying without the about-face.

Robert Loggia (1930- ), who plays Larry, has been acting on TV and in movies since the 1950s. He starred in four short-lived series, including T.H.E. Cat (1966-67), and was featured in four episodes of the Hitchcock series.

Doris Dowling (1923-2004) plays Angie; she was the seventh wife of big band leader Artie Shaw and appeared on the Hitchcock series only once. Her nearly four-decade long career included roles in The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Will Kuluva
Will Kuluva (1917-1990) turns in the episode's most complex and emotional performance as Bregornick. He was in movies from 1932 and on TV from 1949. He only appeared in this episode of the Hitchcock series but he was also on The Twilight Zone once.

Alan Crosland Jr.'s other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents include "The Gloating Place" and "The Big Kick."

"The Money" is not yet available on DVD (the release of the season six boxed set is pending at Amazon) but it may be viewed online for free here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2013.
"The Money." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 29 Nov. 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. ""Trust Me, Mr. Paschetti"" Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 30-41. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2013.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirteen: April-May 1971

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

Neal Adams
House of Mystery 191 (April 1971)

"No Strings Attached!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Bill Draut

"The Hanging Tree!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Tony deZuniga

"Night Prowler!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Bernie Wrightson

Peter: Kindly ol' Gregory Miller (Gramps to the multitudes of children he entertains with his puppet shows) is approached one day by a particularly nasty fellow by the name of Lucas Stone. The man makes Gramps an offer few would refuse: twenty-five thousand dollars for the house the old man lives in. Citing memories and a fondness for the children, Gramps turns the offer down and, before too long, Stone shows up again with the police and informs the old man that he's bought the house from under him and he's got one day to vacate. 24 hours later, Gramps is arrested for vagrancy and locked up. We find out that the house is in the path of a planned freeway and the owner stands to make mucho dinero when he sells out to the city.

"No Strings Attached!"
The children send their love letters to Gramps but Stone intercepts them and, thinking he's been forgotten, the kindly old man dies of a broken heart. That night, as the children sleep and Stone cackles, the puppets come to life and exact their revenge, making Lucas Stone a part of the show. No doubt raised on a steady diet of EC Comics, Len Wein "pays homage" to one of the classics, "Poetic Justice"(Haunt of Fear #12, April 1952), a story that would become even more famous when it hit the big screen as one-fifth of the Amicus film, Tales from the Crypt. Unlike the EC story, "No Strings Attached" is no classic as neither writing nor art stand out. Hardly any time is spent focusing on the eventual weapon of revenge, the puppets, so their arrival seems more of an afterthought, a windup.

Jack: The awakening toys look quite malevolent but that's about the only good thing I can say about this one. I'm not very clear on how bad guy Stone turns into a puppet at the end.

John: Yeah, I was looking forward to the big payoff, so I was disappointed when it happened off the page. My favorite part of this story was Cain's prologue where the dragon torches the knight.

Peter: Most witches curse future generations from their perch atop a burning stack of firewood. Not Hecubah. This witch decided she'd throw a curse on anyone who carved their initials in "The Hanging Tree." So, through the hundreds of years after, generation after generation manage to forget the witch's vow and seemingly can't help themselves from putting knife to bark. Hoping to stop the reign of terror, Isaac Irvington does his best to warn off young lovers but this enrages Hecubah and she drags Isaac down to hell with her. A really bad horror story, I was surprised to learn that this wasn't a Golden Age reprint. It's got one of those dishpan haunting story lines and deZuniga (who I liked a lot in his previous outing) blends in with Bill Draut and the other weak artists consigned to these forgettable quickies. The only compliment I can pay this bilge is that, when one couple finds out Isaac stopped them from carving because of a witch's curse, they lay tracks back to the tree, determined to finish their handy work. The only thing that could have made it perfect would have been if Draut had drawn speeding circles for the couple's legs.

Here me?

John: I thought the art was okay, but the story was nothing to write home about.

Jack: I cackled when the tree limb fell on poor Amos with a big "THUD"! Too bad Isaac Irvington wasn't named Sam Schmedlap--he would have avoided a lot of trouble.

"Night Prowler"
Peter: There's a "Night Prowler" loose in a small rural town and every one is on edge, so when Fred's wife wakes him to tell him there are noises coming from the ground floor, the man calmly takes his shot gun and creeps down the stairs. Needless to say, on this Christmas Eve, it's not a prowler Fred meets up with. A three page quickie, the story is naturally abrupt, but it's cute enough and there's some top-notch Wrightson here to hold us over until Len and Bernie launch their magnum opus in a few months.

Jack: When Bernie Wrightson tries to draw average folks they come out looking a little weird, don't they? As usual, I like a Christmas story, and was surprised that nothing horrible or grisly occurred.

John: I was similarly shocked, but not in a good way. Wrightson drawing what is essentially a feel-good story? It just seems like a waste of his talent.

Peter: Circulation figures show that, in the previous twelve months, House of Mystery was selling an average of 180,642. That's an increase of 7,436 copies over the 1969 numbers.

Neal Adams
House of Secrets 91 (May 1971)

"The Eagle's Talon!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood

"Please, Don't Cry, Johnny!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sam Glanzman

"There Are Two of Me... and One Must Die!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Murphy Anderson

Peter: While leading a coup against the vicious dictator, General Mirez, the freedom fighter known as El Aguila (The Eagle) is taken prisoner and has his hand (actually an eagle's talon grafted on by a witch, or so the rumors say) lopped off. As he dies from blood loss, El Aguila curses Mirez with death "by eagle's claw in a cage" (...on a Monday morning just past sunset near the border of Jacinto...). Over the next few days, the General is attacked by deadly birds that only he can see. Fearing he's losing his marbles, Mariz heads off on vacation but the despot soon learns that revenge will find him even at a beach resort. Finally, a Grandenetti art job I can say good things about! Granted, you can't see any of Jerry through the Wood but still... The story's another one that's been done to death and much better (Ray Bradbury wrote a version that was made into an Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as I recall) ["The Life Work of Juan Diaz"--Jack] at that. I'd have liked to know more about El Aguila and his talon but (uncredited) decides to off the character within the first few panels. How did he get such a perfect talon? Did a surgeon do the graft or was it really a witch with a keen eye and steady hand, able to sew nerves together?

Commandant Von Ekt takes time out from hunting
Mlle. Marie to catch the ghost of El Aguila

Jack: Too bad Neal Adams did not draw the story along with the cover, which is fantastic! There is no beautiful girl running from a giant eagle in the story, only the fat generalissimo. This story hits new heights for gruesomeness in a DC horror tale--the talon/hand gets chopped off, eagles are machine-gunned, etc. Young bird-loving readers must have had nightmares in 1971.

John: Based on the Adams cover, I was expecting something more along the lines of Night of the Eagle (aka Burn Witch Burn). But I have to say, giving El Aguila a claw was a pretty wild idea.

Peter: "Please Don't Cry, Johnny" is an abysmal three-page joke about a little bald-headed boy who doesn't appreciate being picked on and called "egghead" at school. When he gets into a fistfight, his teacher visits his home and discovers that Johnny's father is actually a giant egg (Humpty Dumpty?). I'd prefer to be listed as (uncredited) too if I'd laid this rotten egg.

Co-starring Vincent Price as...
Jack: How could you not love that final panel? It's so bizarre!

John: I'm with Jack on this one. It's so out of left field, I have to give them credit for at least surprising us. 

Peter: Industrialist Marshall Perkins has a nasty habit of seesawing between good fella and mean ol' cuss. His son insists that Marshall must get a handle on his emotions before something bad happens. On a business trip to Hong Kong, Perkins runs across an incense burner in the shape of a Buddha that purports to separate a man from his madness. Once back in the States, Marshall burns the incense and is confronted with the personification of his own evil. The twin exclaims to Perkins that he'll ruin his life and then take over. This leads to the inevitable showdown when Marshall's son is forced to choose which one of the twins to shotgun. DC titles had the most annoying habit sometimes (and this extended to their hero comics) of showing you the punchline and then working backwards (or bassackwards actually). "There Are Two Of Me..." begins with Perkins having one of his mood swings and then, when we turn the page, we see a large title page of two Marshall Perkins accusing each other of fraud. We then get into the meat of the story. How can any reader be surprised then when the story begins to reveal its "secret"? Not that it's much of a read but at least we didn't get the most predictable of climaxes (the entire time I was convinced that Marshall's gorgeous wife and his son were having an affair, slapping on Marshall masks and trying to drive the old man loony) and Murphy Anderson's art is appropriate for a story that should have been published in 1956.

John: Actually, that story technique can be very effective. Richard Matheson frequently used it quite successfully. But I'll go out on a limb and say that I'm confident Richard Matheson was not responsible for this lackluster tale.

Peter tries to calm Jack, insisting that these horror stories can only get better!
Jack: What can I say to that? After five years of therapy you'd think I'd be further along.

Neal Adams
Unexpected 124 (May 1971)

"These Walls Shall Be Your Grave"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Gift of the Ghouls!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by George Tuska

"The Incredible Rebirth of Martin Phipps!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Sparling

Jack: Dr. Kane seems to barely escape danger from a rampaging patient named Abraham in "These Walls Shall Be Your Grave," a tale set in a mental institution. When a driver with car trouble pulls off the highway and stays the night, he is awakened by Dr. Kane, who frantically borrows the car to chase an escaped inmate. In the UNEXPECTED climax, Dr. Kane is revealed to be a patient himself, whose daughter protects him from the truth. It's hard to know what's worse in this story--the old chestnut about the lunatic masquerading as the asylum chief, or Jerry Grandenetti's slapdash art. I really have to wonder if he thought he was creating some sort of bizarrely original style. I have difficulty selecting just one panel to represent how bad this looks.

Jerry "Picasso" Grandenetti
Peter: Well, what's worse--the story or art. How about a draw? Did George Kashdan really believe anyone would gasp at the UNEXPECTED ending? Only a moron would miss what this was about right from the beginning. I assumed some other twist was coming our way but I'm beginning to think that the most UNEXPECTED curve ball would be a decent story. And I'm still shaking my head when thinking about the story Grandenetti drew (and Wally Wood inked) in House of Secrets this month. That story and this one are evidence that an inker is truly part of the artist package. The art in "These Walls" looks like a 6th Grader let loose with water colors.

John: This art was so bad I couldn't bring myself to read the story. Sounds like I didn't miss out on much.

Jack: Milton Rapp is given the deed to a new house, which turns out to be a "Gift of the Ghouls!" It seems all of the neighbors are witches and warlocks who try time and again to kill Milton's son Gary. When Gary's birthday rolls around, it will mean doom for the sorcerers. Day after day, Gary manages to escape death, so the neighbors cook up a witch-themed birthday party. But before eating the birthday cake that will kill him, Gary blows out the candles and all the witches disappear. Maybe Peter can make some sense of this mess, because I sure can't. All I can say is that George Tuska's art looks polished after Grandenetti's.

A wild witch party according to Tuska
Peter: Good God, this mess just gets worse as I turn the pages. Milton's wife wears one of those bandanna things Lucille Ball used to wear, Milton has green hair in one panel, and Gary goes from slim to porky and back again depending on which page I'm on. The only compliment I could give to Tuska's work is that he'd be the perfect artist for Alvin and the Chipmunks. As for the story, and its "unique conjunction of the stellar constellations," I'm convinced writers like George Kashdan had nothing but contempt for the brats reading their swill. How else to explain such lazy writing, endlessly recycled plots and punchlines and finales that make no sense whatsoever? This stuff would have put me off DC horror had I read it at ten years of age.

John: Wasn't it just last month that I was threatening to stop reading Unexpected? The art is a marginal step up from the prior story, but the story is another 'Expected bottom feeder.

20? or 45?
Jack: "The Incredible Rebirth of Martin Phillips!" doesn't last long, as grouchy old Phipps learns when he cheats a mystical painter out of the $10,000 fee the artist wants to charge for making Martin look decades younger. Martin woos and wins young Eloise Brooks from his company's steno pool, but one day the chickens come home to roost and Martin finds he's old again. He goes in search of the mystical artist but can't find him. Too bad he didn't stay home longer--Eloise has also grown old, apparently having used the same trickery to regain her youth. This story is just dopey! Eloise is supposed to look 20 when she meets Martin, but she looks more like she's about 45 and a chain-smoker to me.

Peter: Well, she could be 20 and look 45 because she's a chain smoker, Jack. Oh, and she's drawn by perennial favorite Jack Sparling. I didn't have a problem with this one, enjoying it for what it was, and the twist at the climax actually surprised me. Can't begin to tell you when the last time an UNEXPECTED story actually had an UNEXPECTED finale. This may be a case of me lowering my standards when dealing with this title.

John: Dorian Gray he's not. Take another gander at that art. Eloise looks like one of those misshapen folks from the early days of the Marvel Universe. And that's supposed to be when she looks good!

Jack: The circulation report in this issue says that Unexpected was selling an average of 159,390 copies a month in 1970, an increase of 4,280 copies per month over the previous year.

Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams
The Witching Hour 14 (May 1971)

"Fourteen Months!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jeff Jones

"Which Witch is Which?"
Story by David Kaler
Art by Stanley Pitt

"The Haunted House in Space!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon

Jack: Starfleet Commander Elliot Scott has been in space for "Fourteen Months!" and it's taking its toll. He shoots down an enemy ship and celebrates with his colleague Kelly--though we learn that everyone else on board was killed in a prior battle and he is talking to dead men. This story is only 3 1/2 pages long and never gets going, though the art by Jeff Jones features some unusual use of light and shadows. Did you know Jeff Jones later became a woman before he passed away? I was out of the comic scene for a few decades and missed that.

"Fourteen Months!"
Peter: I believe this is the first we've seen of the soon-to-be-famous Jeff Jones. Very soon Jones would join that second tier of comic book/paperback artists that included him, Boris Vallejo and Ken Kelly (the first tier was reserved for Frank Frazetta alone). "Fourteen Months" is an oddball, to be sure, with half the visuals resembling Jones the stylist and the other half (in particular, the panels of the space ships) looking like he farmed it out to one of the grade school kids down the block. What's startling about Jones's work, as well as that of Bernie Wrightson, is just how much it stands out from the weaker artists in the DC mystery stable (Grandenetti, Sparling, Tuska, Glanzman, etc.).

John: I was surprised to see a tale set in space, and while I had high hopes that Jones might bring something special to the table, this one didn't amount to much. 

Jack: Ladies man Archer Ka-R would be better off knowing "Which Witch is Which?" when he and his pal Hale land on Juvan Three, "every space jockey's dream of paradise"! Archer hooks up with lovely blue Ilysia and falls hard for her, doing the things lovers do across the universe--shopping, running on the beach, riding giant flying chickens--until Hale knocks him out and takes him back into space on their ship. Archer is really angry and gets into a fight with Hale, accidentally knocking Hale into a control that opens the ship's cockpit dome, sending them both into space where they die immediately. Back on Juvan Three, it's revealed that Ilysia was a witch who put a spell on Archer to avenge her sister (?) Versa, whom Archer had jilted on a prior visit. This is a really weird story! The art goes back and forth between looking very stilted and wooden, like a reprint from a 1950s comic, and looking like elaborate pulp magazine cover art, especially in respect to the women. In addition to the art credit to Stanley Pitt, there is a "Design" credit given to Reg Pitt. The design of the pages is quite nice, actually. The Pitt brothers were Australian artists who were the first from that continent to have their work published in an American comic, or so says Wikipedia.

"Which Witch is Which?"
Peter: How the heck do you pronounce Ka-R? There's more than a hint of sexuality here, especially in the panel of obvious post-coitus between Ka-R and one of his lovelies. The finale is a strange bird indeed. Ka-R doesn't meet his maker at the hands of the girl swearing revenge, as is often the case, but as a result of raging testosterone! This guy just can't wait to get back to Earth to bed his maiden! I could stress that the sequence of panels where Ka-R and Hale fight in briefs has an almost homoerotic bent to it but, since I'm not Fredric Wertham, I'll just say that I thought the climax was fabulous and right out of left field. Eccentric is so much better than cliched.

John: Wait—you're not Fredric Wertham?

Jack: Three space criminals discover "The Haunted House in Space!" where, when each of them dies, he turns into the room he most fears. It seems that there is a witch involved, but the story makes little sense. Fortunately, we are treated to eight pages of utterly gorgeous art by the great Al Williamson.

"The Haunted House in Space!"
Peter: I couldn't make heads or tails of most of this story and the bits I could understand (man becomes the room he fears the most) were just silly. Who walks around fearing he'll become an attic or a closet? Incredibly silly story with fabulous graphics, "The Haunted House in Space" reminds me of one of those interminably bad Skywald stories lovingly illustrated by... Carlos Garzon! The artist would move on to bigger and better (?) things when he and Al Williamson teamed up again for Marvel's adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

John: I'm a huge Al Williamson fan, and yes, I first became aware of him when he did the Empire Strikes Back run in Marvel's Star Wars comic. But I fell in love with his style, and as a result I enjoy everything I've seen of his, including this strange tale. 

Jack: This issue has only the most tenuous connection to the supernatural. All three stories are set in outer space, and even the frame takes place there. Jeff Jones, Al Williamson, and even the Pitt brothers turn in some great visuals but it's too bad the stories are not of like quality.

Peter: It's a different road that editor Murray Boltinoff was steering the title onto but I don't have a problem if it results in some nice artwork. Interesting and intelligent stories wouldn't hurt but I'm thinking baby steps here. If you nail one maybe the other falls in line? We'll see.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 13: June 1960

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 95

"Battle of the Stripes"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Topsy Turvy Fighters!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"3 Tanks to Tangu!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Bulldozer Nichols has decided that Sgt. Rock is about ready to retire, so Bulldozer will earn his stripes and take his place. By telling Rock this at every turn, Bulldozer begins to demoralize the other men in Easy Co., even as he demonstrates his own heroism. Rock decides to let actions speak for themselves and, when he rescues Bulldozer and other soldiers who are pinned down in a deserted farmhouse by a Nazi tank, Bulldozer realizes that everyone is lucky to have Sgt. Rock in charge. Kubert is back on his game this month with an exciting tale of yet another member of Easy Co. who gets too big for his britches until Rock teaches him a lesson.

"Battle of the Stripes"
Peter: This isn't the first Sgt. Rock tale to feature an arrogant co-star, one who'd like nothing else than to see his name in lights and wear those stripes. While Our Army at War Featuring Bulldozer Nichols isn't in the cards, he's an involving character for the 13 pages he's been written into. The Kanigher/Kubert/Rock triumvirate continues to churn out exciting and intelligent yarns, putting most of the other war tales in the dust. Thankfully, the trio have a long, fruitful career ahead of them (and us). We've got another identified Easy Co. grunt, this one a blonde shrimp by the name of Mickey Sloane.

Peter and Jack 45 years ago
Jack: As little boys, brothers Ed and Mike dream of commanding a tank and a sub. When they grow up, they are disappointed to find each other in the opposite job. Fortunately, Ed manages to use his bazooka to sink a sub after his tank is sunk, and Mike destroys a tank on land after his sub gets stuck in some coral rocks. Jack Abel's art is better than usual but this story is pretty unsubstantial.

Peter: The coincidences are flowing free and easy this month at DC War Central. The idea that one brother, a sub lover since birth, lands up with tank duty and the other brother, vice versa, is laughable enough, but then throw in the use of their vehicles as the opposite's vehicle (tank used as a sub/ sub used as a tank) and you've got a genuine howler.

Jack: A platoon of G.I.s must take out three enemy tanks to reach the Korean town of Tangu. Heath does a nice job with this short tale, and the conclusion is impressive.

Peter: You had me at Heath. Never mind the simple story (more like a fragment, actually). I love those last lines: "Once there were three tanks to Tangu! Now there are none!"

"3 Tanks to Tangu!"

Joe Kubert
All-American Men of War 79

"Showdown Soldier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Sundown Squadron!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"No Round Trips in the Infantry!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: "Showdown Soldier" focuses on three different men of war: a GI heading into just another bombed out village comes under fire from the Nazis and manages to survive because he has a showdown with the stupidest soldier Germany ever put on the front line; a fighter pilot overcomes impossible odds in order to bomb an important bridge; and a submarine skipper holds off an enemy bomber and an enemy cruiser all while trapped atop a submerging sub. What do these three heroes have in common? They all started the morning thinking it was just another day but overcame deadly force to emerge triumphant and exclaim "This was the showdown!" Oh, and all were depicted by the fumbling pencil and ink of Andru and Esposito. The "three-story coincidence" gimmick has been played before in the pages of DC war and, in "Showdown," there are not enough original ideas to keep this reader's interest for 13 pages.

"Showdown Soldier"
Jack: I was primed not to like this story from the start but it drew me in as it went along. The three similar stories avoided being too repetitive and that Nazi fighter pilot looks maniacal! I must admit I was disappointed after that Kubert cover to see that this was not a Sgt. Rock crossover.

Peter: A PT Commander, facing the inevitable sinking of his ship, uses ingenious strategy involving the setting of the sun and a lot of paint to fool the enemy into thinking his one ship is an entire squadron. Interesting gimmick to "Sundown Squadron" (quick, say the titles of the first two stories three times fast if you can), one that takes a stretch of credibility at times but still maintains the tension right up to the climax, when the PT crew fires their last torpedoes as their own ship goes down. The quality of Jack Abel's art continues to see-saw but, thankfully, here we get decent Abel.

"Sundown Squadron"
Jack: I thought this one was clever and I agree that Abel's art was not bad.

Peter: Abel's art isn't the problem with "No Round Trips in the Infantry." This time out it's the story, or lack thereof. Two soldiers discuss the concept of a one way trip and a round trip ticket in the war: "it's all one way in the infantry... unless the enemy gives you a round trip." So, of course, we spend the next six pages reading the phrases ad nauseum. Just once I'd like to get to a climax and the hero utters the wrong catchphrase ("This was a showdown!" or "I got one for Smitty!") all while his comrades look on in bewilderment.

Jack: Two Jack Abels and one Ross Andru made for a real letdown after that cover. Have you noticed that the letters pages are now about half story comments and half military questions? We're seeing a noticeable change as time goes by with more reader involvement.

"No Round Trips in the Infantry"

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 55

"The Last Patrol!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Tic-Toc Sub!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker

"The Flying Bridge!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Gunner and Sarge are sent out on what they hope will be "The Last Patrol!" for awhile. Their lieutenant promised them leave if they can bring back a prisoner to disclose details of an upcoming enemy attack. The duo keep running into the enemy--they down a sniper from a tree, blow up a tank, and take out a machine gunner, but because they keep killing everyone they meet they don't come back with a prisoner. They finally meet up with some underwater frogmen and find themselves captured and held prisoner on a sub. Managing to blow up the sub, they take a sailor prisoner, only to find that the lieutenant is not happy because the sailor knows nothing about operations on land. Gunner and Sarge continues to be a boring series with uninspired artwork by Jerry Grandenetti. In this story, we begin to see some of the unfortunate trends that will reach full bloom about ten years later in the horror titles.

Sarge finally reveals his true feelings to Gunner
Peter: "The Last Patrol" is what you'd get if Quentin Tarantino had been around to direct one of those screwball 1950s Martin and Lewis films. Lots of carnage and casualties with a wink at the audience. These guys just can't catch a break, all the while stepping over nonexistent corpses (that might have given us toddlers a skewed outlook on war, no?) and cracking wise. I found it more palatable than the usual Gunner and Sarge (Pooch must be off making films with the army while all this action is going on) but it's not my idea of time well spent. Would any man in WW II actually have said "I dig you, Sarge"? And how do you deliver a knockout blow to the head deep under water? Grandenetti's art, much maligned in these quarters, has a bit of a Ditko look to it here (see sample to my right). Bad Ditko, but Ditko nonetheless. On the Sgt. Rock's Combat Corrner letters page, Richard Fiske O'Neal of Memphis says Corporal Peter is out of his mind and Gunner and Sarge is the swellest. So top of the charts, in fact, that Richard and 17 of his buddies in the neighborhood formed a Gunner and Sarge Fan Club. I'd remind Richard (if he's reading this) that even Yoko Ono had fan club members at one time and there's no reason to look back in shame.

Jack: Frogman school dropout Wilson is the only one on his sub who has a prayer of removing a ticking time bomb from the outside hull. Holding his breath and swimming for his life, he not only manages to save the day, he also outdoes a couple of Nazi frogmen and blows up their destroyer! "Tic Toc Sub!" is a little far-fetched but the art by Mort Drucker looks great and the relentless "Tic Toc" that runs through the panels creates some tension.

Wilson has to go because he's the only
one with his name on the back of his shirt
Peter: "Tic-Toc Sub" is an exciting short that almost resembles a kid's video game. Wilson can't swim, has only a matter of seconds to dislodge the bomb, is attacked by enemy frogmen, and nearly blown to pieces by depth charges, all before planting the explosives on the Nazi sub. I'd say if you can make it through all those levels you'd score 2000 points. Ah, but wait until you start swimming back to your own sub and you're attacked by that giant octopus! I love Mort Drucker's art here much better than on Mlle. Marie and the underwater fighting is a bit more realistic than in our opener.

"The Flying Bridge!"
Jack: A jet pilot in Korea needs to find a bridge that reinforcement troops can cross to help the tired G.I.s of Baker Company, who are barely holding on to Dirty Ridge. He is attacked by ground fire and enemy planes and finally has to crash land, only to find that, by keeping the enemy busy, he allowed the reinforcements to swim their way to Dirty Ridge! This is not Russ Heath's best work, but he always draws nice air action.

Peter: Heath's best art is almost panoramic in scope. "The Flying Bridge" has way too many small panels and close-ups for Heath to "breathe." It's still high art compared to Grandenetti, Abel, and Andru and Esposito.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Fourteen: "Pen Pal" [6.6]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar's contributions to the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents began with "Pen Pal," which was based on the story of the same name that had been published in the December 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

"Pen Pal" begins as 53 year old spinster Margaret Lowen receives a visitor, Lt. Berger from the Eighth Precinct. He is looking for her niece, Margie, who lives with her but is away for the weekend. Margie is 22 years old and has lived with her aunt since her parents were killed six years before. She has been conducting a relationship by mail with 28 year old Raoul Collins, who is serving a life sentence at the State Penitentiary for killing a man during a robbery 11 years before. Berger shows Margaret a photo of Margie that was found in Collins's cell and reads a love letter that she wrote to him. He tells Margaret that Collins led a jailbreak and escaped; he may come looking for money or a place to hide.

Katherine Squire
Berger warns Margaret and asks her to call him if Collins shows up at her home. He warns her not to call her niece and then leaves, after which Margaret goes upstairs and does her makeup before going grocery shopping. She returns home and takes a nap, then peers outside as evening comes on. While watching TV she hears a noise in the cellar. Collins has arrived! He comes up the stairs and they meet in the kitchen. He wants to get in touch with Margie and professes his love for her.

Pretending to telephone Margie, Margaret calls Lt. Berger. Collins realizes what she is doing and lunges at her; she bashes him over the head with a candlestick before falling to her knees in front of the now-unconscious killer, calling him "My darling"! The police come and take him away; after they have left, Margaret tears up the photo of her niece that Berger had brought and sits down to write a letter. Pretending to be Margie, she writes to Collins to say that she is glad he is back in prison so that they can continue to exchange letters.

"Pen Pal" is an outstanding story with a shattering twist ending that seems to come out of nowhere and puts everything that happened before it in a new light. Reviewing the story again with the knowledge that Margaret has been pretending to be her young and pretty niece Margie, one finds clues sprinkled throughout: when Margaret learns that Collins has escaped and may be on his way to her house, she does her makeup and goes grocery shopping, making herself look presentable and stocking the house with food for what will surely be a famished guest. Yet when the reality of the situation becomes unavoidable, she takes action to send her unknowing suitor back to the safety of prison, first calling the police and then conking him on the head with a candlestick.

Clu Gulager
The description of the candlestick is illuminating: it is described as a "tarnished silver candlestick that had long ago lost its mate." Although there is no indication that Margaret was ever married, the candlestick represents her strength as an aging, single woman; she may be tarnished, and any hope at love may have disappeared years ago, but she is still able to summon the courage she needs to take action in a crisis and light the way toward a more positive future.

In several ways, "Pen Pal" is similar to "The Deadly Telephone," the story that served as the basis for the prior Slesar/Hitchcock adaptation, "Party Line." In both stories, a lonely, middle-aged woman sits alone in her house, waiting for an escaped criminal to arrive. Each man enters through the cellar (the subconscious level or that which lies below the surface) and comes up the stairs to the kitchen (traditionally, the woman's domain) before threatening the woman. In "The Deadly Telephone," the woman presumably is killed, while in "Pen Pal," she defends herself successfully.

"Pen Pal" also features themes of role playing, transference and doubling. Margaret plays the role of Margie when she corresponds with Collins, but when she meets him in person she must switch gears and play the role of Margie's concerned aunt, pretending not to know the man with whom she is secretly in love. She transfers her feelings for him onto her niece, and she transfers her concern for herself and their future onto the young girl as well. Finally, Margaret and Margie are mirror images of each other, living together in the same house and sharing the same name.

Stanley Adams
One question that cannot be answered is whether Margie is real or whether she is a product of Margaret's imagination. When Lt. Berger comes to the house, it is clear that he does not know anything about Margie beyond what he read in the letters Margaret wrote to Collins; he says that they traced Margie to this address through the Pen Pal club. Margaret claims not to know where Margie has gone for the weekend, beyond a vague notion that she is visiting friends. Collins has never seen her or spoken to her; he only has a snapshot of her that was sent by Margaret, and the snapshot could be of anyone.

The question of Margie's existence becomes more acute in the first television adaptation of "Pen Pal," which was broadcast on November 1, 1960, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. For the sixth season, the program had moved from Sunday nights on CBS, where it had been shown for its five years, to Tuesday nights on NBC, where it immediately preceded the new hour-long series hosted by Boris Karloff, Thriller ("The Watcher" followed "Pen Pal").

Unfortunately, "Pen Pal" is an episode that is more interesting to discuss than it is to watch. It is hobbled by uninspired direction by John Brahm and by a weak performance by Katherine Squire as Margaret. Unlike the house in the story, which had a basement and a second floor, the house on TV is a tiny ranch, with all of the rooms on the same level. Much of the show takes place in the front parlor; there is also an extended scene in the kitchen and a key event occurs in Margaret's bedroom, which is visible just off the parlor. When Collins (his first name has been changed from Raoul to Rod) breaks into the house, he comes in through Margaret's bedroom window rather than through a cellar window, perhaps symbolizing a more direct assault on her maidenhood rather than her subconscious.

The snapshot of "Margie" (Gloria Ellis)
The small house and the three sparse rooms lead the viewer to wonder if Margie really exists. Margaret tells both Lt. Berger and Collins that Margie lives there with her, but where? Does she sleep on the couch at age 22? There are no decorations that suggest the presence of a young woman, and the TV show strongly suggests that Margie is a creation of the lonely spinster. Unfortunately, Squire's performance as Margaret fails to develop any of the emotion that the role demands, either on the surface or simmering underneath. Margaret should have a barely hidden tenderness for the man she loves, yet she is cold, her expression barely changing throughout the encounter. At one point, Collins calls her a "dried up old crab," and the description fits.

Brahm's direction does not help matters--the show is filled with dull shot/reverse shots, medium closeups, and barely any camera movement. In the long kitchen scene, Margaret is shot in closeup in front of a blank wall. The only time the show demonstrates a hint of atmosphere is near the end, when night has fallen and the lights are on in the parlor. In this scene there is a hint of evocative lighting, matched by a shot of Lt. Berger on the other end of the telephone, sitting at his desk with a desk lamp casting light on his face.

Worst of all is the scene in the kitchen, which should be tragic but is instead dull. As it ends, Collins grabs Margaret's arm and she puts her hand on his chest to hold him back in a twisted near-embrace that has different meanings to each of them. Hidden beneath their interaction is the implied threat of rape, far from the romantic fantasy Margaret has spun in her solitude.

The twist ending is slightly changed from the story--Margaret does not call Collins "darling" as he lies on the floor; instead, after the police leave, she sits at her desk and composes a letter, revealing for the first time to the viewer what has really been going on. She stares at a snapshot of Rod and exclaims, "My poor darling!" before collapsing on the desk in tears.

The teleplay is credited to Hilary Murray, who appears to have no other credits. Is Murray yet another pseudonym for Slesar? Can one assume that the two prior teleplays that were credited to Eli Jerome were actually written by Slesar because they resulted in good episodes, while this one is not because it is mediocre? Adding to the mystery is the fact that Hilary Murray's only other credit is for the teleplay of the remake of "Pen Pal," which was aired as part of season four of the 1980s color remake of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on October 15, 1988.

In a rare turnabout, the color remake is far superior to the black and white original. In this version, Margie, the niece, clearly exists, because we see her in the show's first and last scenes. The role of Margaret is played by Jean Simmons, who turns in an excellent performance, finding all of the emotional depth and complexity in the role that Katherine Squire missed. The story and both TV shows quote 19th-century English poet John Clare in the letter Margaret wrote to Collins:

          Language has not the power to speak what love indites
          The soul lies buried in the ink that writes.

Jean Simmons
In other words, words cannot express what is felt in the heart; the soul is in the writing, as is evident with Margaret, who cannot say what she can put down on paper.

In the remake, Simmons is too pretty and charming to be completely believable as a spinster, but her strong performance makes the episode succeed. Page Fletcher, as the convict (now renamed John Harris), looks like he escaped from a music video rather than from prison (he sports a mullet) but he, too, gives an emotionally satisfying performance. The direction, by Rene Bonniere, is much more lively than that of Brahm in the original, with the camera moving about and opening up the story. One key scene follows the action from the kitchen up to Margie's bedroom, where Margaret tenderly puts her hand on John in a gesture that is maternal on the surface but passionate underneath.

One other important change in this version is that John brandishes a revolver, and it is this gun that Margaret grabs from his rear waistband near the end when he threatens her. She shoots him--not fatally--rather than hitting him with a candlestick.

For the first time, I can recommend the 1980s remake over the original!

The story on which both shows were based was co-written by Henry Slesar and Jay Folb (1922-1997), who had also co-written the story, "A Night With the Boys." Director John Brahm (1893-1982) was at the helm of ten episodes of the half-hour Hitchcock series and five episodes of the hour series; his daughter maintains an interesting website about her father here.

Katherine Squire (1903-1995), who plays Margaret in the 1960 TV show, appeared on stage, in movies, and on TV for many years, including roles in five episodes of the Hitchcock series. Clu Gulager (1928- ) plays Collins in the black and white version, giving a better performance than Squires. This was one of three appearances for him on the Hitchcock series. He also had regular roles on two series: The Tall Man (1960-62) and The Virginian (1963-68). He is still acting at age 84 and has a website. Finally, making his only appearance on the Hitchcock series is Stanley Adams (1915-1977), who plays Lt. Berger. He is best known to classic TV fans for his key roles in "The Trouble With Tribbles" on Star Trek and "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" on Lost in Space.

Jean Simmons (1929-2010), so good as Margaret in the remake, was one of the great British actresses of the twentieth century, appearing in films from 1944 to 2009 and on TV from 1966 to 2003. She was unforgettable in roles such as Estella in Great Expectations (1944) and Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (1955). This was her only appearance on any of the Hitchcock series.

The 1960 TV show is not yet available on DVD, but Amazon recently announced that they will soon release season six on DVD, though it will be manufactured on demand, which will mean a price increase. The show may be viewed for free online here.

The 1988 remake may be viewed for free online here.


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