Monday, January 27, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Nineteen: December 1971 / Best and Worst of 1971

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 130

"One False Step"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Murder Spree"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta

"Death Mask"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Man Nobody Could See!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #3, July 1956)

"The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #5, September 1956)

"You Don't Dare Dig the Gruesome Groupies!"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Art Saaf

Compare to Cardy's cover
Jack: Horace Palmer is a chemist whose nagging wife Mildred thinks his hobby of exploring caves is a waste of time. One day, he takes "One False Step" and falls into a deep cavern. He makes his way down a ledge to the bottom, where he finds a race of people with blank eyes who have been living down there for centuries. They forbid him to leave but he escapes, determined to get rich off the Titanium he has found in the cavern walls. Back at home, he brags to Mildred, who quickly tells the neighbors. Unexpectedly, the neighbors appear to be from below, having come to collect Horace or to exact their revenge.

Peter: Dopey rip-off of H. G. Wells' "Country of the Blind" starts off promisingly (especially the scene where Horace is stuck on the ledge) but quickly deteriorates and leaves us shaking our heads after its inexplicable climax. Are we to believe that the "people underground" somehow knew Horace would be arriving so they had two of their folk move in next door to him beforehand? And why would Horace's wife invite over a couple that have no eyes? Is it really any wonder that no one has stepped forward to claim credit for some of these stories? Jerry Grandenetti just gets better (sarcasm).

That "Crunch!" is harsh!
Jack: The three Wharton sisters come into millions when Daddy dies and Edward Kelsey decides he'll marry one and hope to inherit. He marries homely Claudia but when the will is read she's last in line. He kills Claudia, then takes her sister Amanda out for a boat ride and kills her too, extending his "Murder Spree." At last he marries Kate, who unexpectedly falls ill and dies of a fatal disease. The police arrest Kelsey for her murder and it turns out she took an overdose of pain pills in order to frame her hubby. This is a surprisingly violent little story, especially the panel where Claudia meets her maker.

Peter: It's never made clear that Edward has fallen in love with Kate after dispatching her two sisters. Not that the info would have made the story any better but it might have made the climax a bit more effective. This is a trip we've taken way too many times. Oh! The irony! The art looks as though Calnan and Colletta were given two days to produce it and they wrapped it up in two hours.

Jack: A thief steals a collection of "Death Mask"s intending to make copies and sell them as originals. Unexpectedly, he has a heart attack and collapses into his own soft clay, where he is smothered to death. One question: why make copies to sell as originals after you've stolen the originals?

Peter: "Death Mask" is another one of those one-pagers that make me wish there were more ads in these books. If you're a DC editor and you've got a page to spare, give it to Aragones.

"The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"
Jack: "The Man Nobody Could See!" is this issue's first reprint and it features some pretty nice vintage 1956 art by Mort Meskin. Meskin's work sometimes resembles that of Kirby and, in a comic with work by Grandenetti and Calnan, it looks awfully good in comparison. The story is a blatant rip off of the Claude Rains movie classic in several aspects. Ruben Moreira's art on "The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks" is even better and looks like some of the best work from the Golden Age of comics.

Peter: Yet again, I find myself with more to say about the reprints than the new material. It's not that either one of the stories is any good but both have some charm to them and neither conveys an arrogance on its creator's part. I don't get the vibe there was someone sitting at a typewriter chanting the mantra, "These stupid kids will eat up anything!" I could be wrong, of course, and evidence of that is on view in the two reprints this issue.

"Gruesome Groupies"
In "The Man Nobody Could See," Mr. Conn is genius enough to invent a formula to make himself invisible but dumb enough to use the wrong bottle when trying to become visible again! And how smart is this guy if he's only got a little bit and can never recreate it? Not to beat a dead horse, but why would the money he stole from the bank and stashed in his invisible clothes (!) disappear? When he steals a heavier coat, it becomes transparent as well. Oy, my head is hurting. I need some rules here. Well, how about "The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"? A very elaborate set-up and a climax pulled right out of an episode of Lights Out! All that was missing were Shaggy and Scoob.

Jack: Lemuel and his friend Chad are making peanuts playin' and singin' their music deep in the hills of Tennessee. They run off with the money from their latest gig and are picked up by a station wagon full of sexy groupies. The head gal, Melba, promises Lemuel that he will be famous and, unexpectedly, that comes to pass. However, when she takes him to her coven to be married at the altar of Satan, he balks, and he soon learns that "You Don't Dare Dig the Gruesome Groupies." I was eight years old when this comic was published and I think that this story would have appealed to me then. Forty-two years later it seems a bit childish.

Peter: The worst was definitely saved for last. A horror story so tame it could have been printed under the Archie banner. At least we're spared the lyrics from Lemuel's songs.

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 197

"Ghost Ship"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Sparling

"Mr. Mortem!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Leonard Starr
(reprinted from House of Mystery #20, November 1953)

"I Wish I May, I Wish I Might"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank Giacoia

"House of Horrors"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

"The Guardian of the Past"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Secrets #11, August 1958)

"Ghost Ship"
Peter: A power-mad Captain drives his crewmen to mutiny but the ship meets with a violent end. There are only three survivors--one of whom is the Captain--when a "Ghost Ship" materializes and picks them up. Realizing they've been rescued by the legendary Flying Dutchman and that they're in grave danger, the crewmen jump ship and leave the Captain aboard. The ship disappears and the crewmen are saved by a less ghostly boat but, when they're examined, they discover they've aged forty years! A nice change of pace from writer Jack Oleck, an intelligently written ghost story with a genuine surprise climax that doesn't outwear its welcome despite its length (13 pages is a tad long for a DC mystery piece). Jack Sparling's art is perfect and his use of odd-shaped panels is also a breath of fresh air.

Jack: I really liked this elegiac, wistful tale and I thought Sparling's art worked for a change. Especially good were the occasional panels without any word balloons or captions. The beautiful cover by Adams replaces the sailors with children (of course) and serves as a great introduction to the story.

"Mr. Mortem"
Peter: Our two reprints this issue are, as usual, a mixed bag. Both have decent art but tired plots. First up: Drew Wilson can't shake the funny feeling that the strange man in the hat and black overcoat he's been seeing around has something to do with all the catastrophes Drew keeps happening upon. When a safe nearly falls on his head, Drew realizes that "Mr. Mortem" is after him now! Mr. Mortem! Get it? In "The Guardian of the Past," a crew of Egyptian excavators unearths the tomb of Khardis III, guarded by a statue of the Cat-God, Set. When one of the members steals jewels from the idol and tries to escape, he's thrust back into ancient Egypt, where he is captured. Only through the help of a kind-hearted colleague and a lucky black cat can the thief re-enter modern times. More of an adventure story, I wouldn't consider this a "mystery," but it's certainly more enjoyable than "Mr. Mortem."

"Guardian of the Past"
Jack: "Mr. Mortem!" has some amusing puns, such as "I wouldn't be caught dead in that man's company" and "I decided I'd kill some time." The three locations mentioned--Millburn, Livingston, and Boonton--are all near each other in northern New Jersey. I actually liked the plot of the "Guardian" story more than the art, though there are some glimpses of the Cardy magic. I am a sucker for anything having to do with Ancient Egypt. By the way, the main character asks, "Do I Dare Enter?" anticipating our blog many years later!

"I Wish I May, I Wish I Might"
Peter: Mark Wagner's had it up to here with his nagging wife and all he wants is just a little peace and quiet. One day, while walking on the beach, he happens upon what looks like a genie's bottle. Saying the magic words "I Wish I May, I Wish I Might" indeed brings the obligatory genie, this one a little more hip than those we've been exposed to in the past. This genie cons Mark into trading places with him in the bottle and goes out into the world, where he's quickly accosted and arrested by police as a hippie. Meanwhile, Mark's being nagged by the genie's old lady in the bottle. The moral: be happy with what you got, yadda yadda. Len Wein, probably in the midst of his fist-pumping, down-with-the-establishment phase, can't help but get in a dig at the fascist cops who exist for nothing but putting down the poor, long-haired peaceniks. That nonsense doesn't age well but, otherwise, this is a pretty funny, harmless bit of silliness.

Jack: Oh boy, I thought this was awful. The corny hippie dialogue and the mediocre art make for a painful experience or, as the genie says, "one big drag." I really try to like Dick Dillin's art because of his tenure on the JLA but stories like this try my patience.

"House of Horrors"
Peter: Frank Cannon is convinced that the "House of Horrors" on the hill is inhabited by vampires! So sure is he that he drives up one night and plunges a stake into the heart of one of the occupants. But is Frank a hero or a loon? I've gotta admit that I've read stories like this dozens of times--the old "are they or aren't they" trick--but I also have to admit that I liked the heck out of this one. It had just the right mix of familiarity and surprise to make it worthwhile. Nestor Redondo is fast catching up to Bernie Wrightson for the DC Mystery Line Gold Medal. He's not flashy and his details, especially in the background, are on the money.

Jack: A great story with great art! I can't say that I've often been this intrigued by a DC mystery story, but this one had me going right up to the last panel. I'm a little fuzzy on how the vampires are going to dig up their comrade in a few months and remove the stake from his heart, but I can live with it. Didn't that happen in one of the Christopher Lee movies? Was it Dracula Has Risen From the Grave where Drac pulled the stake out of his own chest because the vampire hunter didn't pray over it? Or did I make that up?

Peter: You make up so much stuff, Jack, that I can't keep up with you.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 2

"No Grave Can Hold Me!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan and George Tuska

"Mission Supernatural!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Bob Brown and Wally Wood

"The Sorrow of the Spirits!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley
(reprinted from House of Mystery #21, December 1953)

"Enter the Ghost!"
Story by Joe Samachson
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #29, August 1954)

"Galleon of Death"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Lantern in the Rain!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irwin Hasen
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #113, February 1953)

"The Ghost Battalions"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Sam Glanzman

"No Grave Can Hold Me!"
Jack: Carpathian Mountains, 1923: Istvan Behn is haunted by the ghost of Old Zenna, whom he had put to death as a witch the year before. As she burned, she cried out that "No Grave Can Hold Me!" and it came true. Her spirit destroys all of his ill-gotten gains and finally takes his life, but his torture does not end as his ghost remains haunted by hers after he dies. This is not an auspicious way for the second issue of Ghosts  to begin, with a four-page story by the dubious art duo of Calnan and Tuska.

Peter: I hope I'm wrong (for the sake of my sanity) but Ghosts is shaping up to be DC's answer to Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not, which specialized in true ghost stories and the like. I'm not sure I'll be able to stay awake through 50 issues of this stuff. Evidence that I may be on the money comes fast and furious with "No Grave Can Hold Me," which has no story to speak of and seems "based on true events." At least, the art's serviceable (a gift when dealing with anything George Tuska gets his pen or ink on).

"Mission Supernatural!"
Jack: 1970, London: at Gorham Airport, the skies are still haunted by a ghostly airplane that could not land in 1942. It seems that turning on the lights in those days would have exposed the landing strip to Nazi bombs, so the poor pilot was left flying above for all time. Now, a 747 is running out of fuel and needs to land, but a storm has knocked out power on the ground. Guess which ghostly plane comes to the rescue, on a "Mission Supernatural," leading the jet to safety and crashing to create a flaming beacon? You guessed it. This story is better than the first one mainly because of the serviceable Bob Brown pencils that are perked up in spots by the inks of the master, Wally Wood.

Peter: If a ghost airplane crashed, would it go up in a flame of orange or white? This story gives us the answer we've been seeking all these years. Regardless of the goofiness (or maybe because of it), I liked this one.

"The Sorrow of the Spirits!"
Jack: The reprints this time around start with "The Sorrow and the Spirits," a tepid tale of a man who discovers that the ghosts of those long dead are hanging around waiting to pounce on our bodies as soon as we die. It's his bad luck that the spirit after his corpse is that of Genghis Khan. Like Peter, I got a kick out of this story, mainly for the Curt Swan art. This is one of the places we diverge, as I always liked Swan and many of the other classic DC artists. "Enter the Ghost!" is another one of those stories where we are told that there's a rational explanation, but then they throw a twist in the last panel. I found the whole thing sort of confusing. "Lantern in the Rain!" is only two pages long and has some nice art by Irwin "Dondi" Hasen in a quick tale about a ghostly lantern that prevents a train crash. This story has been told once or twice before, I think.

You be the judge--ghost or reflection?
Peter: Having said that "Mission Supernatural" was my favorite this issue, I feel I should put an asterisk after that statement since I enjoyed the heck out of  "The Sorrow of the Spirits," a "so bad it's good" pre-coder with decent art by Superman artist Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. It's the dialogue that  Jack Miller provides, however, that kept me giggling through its spare six pages. I could spend the rest of this blog's space filling it with quotes pulled from this alternative classic but my favorite bit would have to be from the climax, in which the coroner presents his report: "Ganges' case is not unique in police medical circles. His condition was brought on by a combination of overwork and concentration on a mystical subject! Even his amazing ability to ride the horse while under the illusion that he was Genghis Khan follows a familiar pattern!" Mind you, this after the protagonist, a direct descendant of Khan, rides a stolen horse through the town square while bystanders remark how much the chap looks like Genghis Khan! Priceless. Just give me an entire issue of this stuff and I'll be happy. Unfortunately, our second reprint is "Enter the Ghost!" a tedious "fake supernatural thriller" that dips into more than one well of cliches, saddled with lifeless art by Ruben Moreira (whose oeuvre seems to consist of two heads talking in every panel). "Enter the Ghost, Exit My Patience." The third reprint this time out, "Lantern in the Rain!" is an effective chiller about a ghost who stops a train wreck that manages to get done in its two pages what none of the new stories could do in triple the length.

"Galleon of Death!"
Jack: 1965, Tobermory Bay, Scotland: treasure hunters Val Connors and Dan Keith see a ghostly ship and recount the story of how it went down with Spanish gold aboard. It turns out to be the "Galleon of Death" for Val after he falls for a beautiful female ghost and ends up joining her underwater, glorying in a chest filled with coins. At eight pages, this is the closest to a sustained narrative we'll get in this issue. DeZuniga's art is very impressive.

Peter: With nice art, a well-written story with several surprises (raise your hand if you were fooled, as I was, into thinking Val's partner was faking ghosts and would end up the bad guy) and a surprisingly bleak finale (or is it a happy ending?), "Galleon of Death" confounded all my expectations. There could be a hint of sunshine through the clouds now and then, I guess.

"The Ghost Battalions"
Jack: Selby, a patient in an East Coast Veterans Hospital, is haunted by the memory of his Company, which disappeared while they were fighting in Korea twenty years before. His helpful doctor tells his colleague about a series of other "Ghost Battalions" that have disappeared in the heat of battle. That's it. Not much of a story, is it?

Peter: "The Ghost Battalions" suffers from the same malady that afflicts "No Grave Can Hold Me." There doesn't seem to be a story here so much as a series of incidents disguised as a narrative. Two doctors discuss soldiers who have vanished onto thin air throughout history but it doesn't tell us what happened to Selby's comrades. Selby, in fact, is reduced to nothing more than a face in a handful of panels, more of an afterthought to a catalog of oddities. How can a reader become involved in a story if there's none being told?



Best Script: Len Wein, "Swamp Thing" (House of Secrets 92)
Best Art: Gray Morrow, "A Girl and Her Dog"(House of Mystery 196)
Best All-Around Story: "Swamp Thing"
Best Reprint: Robert Kanigher/ Alex Toth & Sy Barry "Queen of the Snows" (Unexpected 127)

Worst Script: Uncredited, "Farewell to a Fading Star" (Unexpected 129)
Worst Art: Bruno Premiani, "Please Let Me Die!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst All-Around Story: Uncredited/Jack Sparling, "The Man With My Face"                                
(House of Secrets 94)


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "House of Horrors" (House of Mystery 197)
Best Art: Berni Wrightson, "There's More Than One Way to Get Framed" (Unexpected 128)
Best All-Around Story: Jack Oleck/Nestor Redondo, "House of Horrors" (House of Mystery 197)

Worst Script: George Kashdan, "Seek Your Own Grave!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst Art: Bruno Premiani, "Please Let Me Die!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst All-Around Story:  George Kashdan/Dick Dillin/Vince Colletta, "Phantom of the Woodstock Festival" (Unexpected 122)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty: "The Horseplayer" [6.22]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Horseplayer," directed by Alfred Hitchcock from a teleplay by Henry Slesar, is based on Slesar's short story, "Long Shot." Neither the television show nor the story deals with the usual subjects seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, such as murder or other violent crimes, but both are lighthearted tales on the surface that mask or satirize more serious issues.

In "Long Shot," we meet Father Amion, a priest whose parish "wasn't rich enough to own its own mouse." One Sunday, he is surprised to find a ten-dollar bill in the collection plate. Morton, the church sexton, points out that the donor was a man in a "pink-checked suit," who was new to the congregation. After receiving more large donations, Fr. Amion speaks to the man, whose name is Sheridan and who explains that his success in betting on horse races has improved ever since he saw and heeded the sign outside the church that said to "TRY PRAYER."

Fr. Amion tries to explain to Sheridan that he misunderstood the message, but the gambler does not appreciate the nuances of the priest's argument. The next week, a $35 donation follows a winning bet on a horse called Red Devil. The irony that the church is benefiting from actions that may be considered inappropriate is not lost on Fr. Amion, who turns down Sheridan's offer to place a bet on his behalf. Soon, Sheridan pulls up in an expensive new car, bought with the proceeds of his winning bets. He tries to share a tip with Fr. Amion about a long shot running in an upcoming race, but the priest again refuses, though his resolve is shaken when he attends a meeting at which the church's desperate financial situation is made clear.

Claude Rains as Father Amion
The next time he sees Sheridan, Fr. Amion gives the man $500 of church funds to bet on the long shot and immediately regrets his rash act. Fr. Amion visits Bishop Cannon to confess what he has done and, after the bishop counsels him that he must pray for the horse not to win, Fr. Amion spends the night in prayer. The next day, a dejected Sheridan visits the church; to Fr. Amion's surprise, Sheridan hands him $2100. The horse did not win, but Sheridan played it safe and bet Fr. Amion's money on the horse to place, which it did. His own bet, to win, was a loser and now he is broke again. As he leaves the church he puts his last two dollars in the poor box.

Like the popular musical Guys and Dolls, "Long Shot" finds humor in the unlikely intersection of the worlds of racetrack gambling and religion. Slesar's tale was published in the November 1960 issue of Fantastic. At about the same time, Alfred Hitchcock had a production meeting to discuss filming this story as one of the two episodes he would direct for the sixth season of his television show. The episode was produced from January 4 through 6, 1961, and aired on March 14, 1961, retitled "The Horseplayer."

Percy Helton as Morton shows Father
Amion the latest big donation
In the very first scene, it is clear that this story fit perfectly into Hitchcock's fascination with the Catholic church. As mass concludes, we see the church roof leaking profusely, heavy drops of rain falling on the parishioners. After mass, a contractor explains to Fr. Amion that roof repairs will cost $1500. Whereas the story focused more generally on the poverty of the church, the TV show is focused on the need for roof repairs. In a subsequent scene, Fr. Amion recites part of the mass in Latin and Hitchcock positions his camera to focus on Sheridan's hand placing a large donation into the collection basket; Morton, the sexton, even holds it up with delight to show Fr. Amion, who is still on the altar!

The episode's casting is perfect. Claude Rains lends an air of dignity to the role of Fr. Amion and Percy Helton, who always resembles a human rodent with his high, raspy voice, plays the sexton. Ed Gardner plays Sheridan, using his expertise at playing a rough, uneducated character with a heavy New York accent to fine advantage--the contrast between his demeanor and speech and those of Rains in their scenes together is marvelous.

Ed Gardner as Sheridan
And who is "The Horseplayer" of the episode's title? Is it Sheridan, the obvious choice, or is it Amion, who finally places a bet and wins more than he expected? Beneath the lighthearted mood of this show lie themes of sin, gambling and pragmatism--the world of the church vs. the world of the flesh. Is Sheridan a stand in for the Devil? Is Amion a Christ figure? One way to view this episode is as a satiric replaying of Satan's temptation of Christ. In the story, Amion is first intrigued by the rough-hewn man who leaves large donations in the basket. He then approaches him and learns that those donations come from an unsavory source. He does not condone the man's betting but he does not refuse the money.

Sheridan then asks Amion if he wants to place a bet himself. Amion at first refuses, then when Sheridan drives up in an expensive car and the reality of the church's poverty hits him, Amion essentially embezzles church funds and falls from grace, asking Sheridan to place an enormous bet on a long shot. Amion has succumbed to the Devil's temptation after all. The visit to the bishop represents an attempt to confess and be forgiven; as penance, Amion must pray that the horse does not win.

Kenneth MacKenna as Bishop Cannon
Slesar's ingenious conclusion satisfies everyone: Amion's prayers are answered in that the horse does not win, yet Amion himself--and the church, by extension--is rewarded with a financial windfall because Sheridan did not do what he was asked to do. Inadvertently, the Devil helped God prevail, and Sheridan slinks out of the church, putting his last two dollars in the poor box. The amount is significant: two dollars is the standard amount of a racetrack bet and Sheridan makes his final wager on the church to win.

Slesar's teleplay softens Amion's crime by making it clear that he is not using church funds to place his own bet--instead, he goes to the bank and withdraws his personal savings. When he visits the bishop, the bishop gives a small smile when he hears Amion's anguished confession, but he is more concerned when he hears the size of the bet, suggesting that, in this world, the church leader measures a sin's magnitude by its financial risk.

Sheridan stands alone in the
back of the church
Sheridan/Satan misuses prayer for personal gain. Right before Amion "falls" and gives him the money to place a bet, Sheridan remarks that he plans to head to a warmer climate: "I'm buyin' me a place down in Florida. Got a wonderful location--right between the Catholic church and Hiohela." In other words, between God and Mammon--exactly where Amion stands at that moment of crisis. Amion knows that he is committing a sin when he gives the money to Sheridan, since he slips it into his hand quickly and then looks around nervously to see if he has been observed. The final scene shows Sheridan's desolation at having been outfoxed--he is seen in a long shot, alone at the back of the church. Does his final donation to the poor box stand as a tacit admission of defeat? Surely Fr. Amion's concluding look Heavenward is meant to suggest that he is looking to God, but the last shot of the episode makes it clear that his concerns remain secular, as the camera lingers on the leaking roof.

Claude Rains (1889-1967), who plays Father Amion, was one of the great stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. Born in London, he served in World War One and started his acting career onstage in London before moving to Broadway and eventually getting into film. The list of great films in which he appeared is long and includes The Invisible Man (1933), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca (1942) and Hitchcock's Notorious (1946). He appeared in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "And So Died Riabouchinska" and "The Cream of the Jest."

Ed Gardner (1901-1963) plays Sheridan and appears to have used the same persona that made him famous as creator and star of the radio show, Duffy's Tavern, where he played Archie the bartender. He made a movie of Duffy's Tavern in 1945, starred in a TV series of the same name in 1954, and did little else of note, save writing a couple of scripts for The Cisco Kid in the mid-'50s and appearing on two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Morton tells Amion that
Sheridan has returned

Percy Helton (1984-1971), whose appearance and voice are memorable, was seen in countless films and TV episodes from the silent days until his death. He began his career in vaudeville and I always associate him with the younger actor John Fiedler, who had a similar appearance and sound. Helton was on the Hitchcock show seven times, always in supporting roles.

Finally, Kenneth MacKenna (1899-1962) plays the bishop. Born Leo Mielziner Jr., he directed films in the early 1930s and acted in films from the '20s to the '60s. He was on TV for a couple of years around 1960 and only appeared on the Hitchcock series this one time.

Most episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were adapted from previously published short stories. Sometimes, the story is better than the TV show; sometimes it is the other way around. And sometimes, as with "The Horseplayer," a good story is adapted into an even better episode of the series. The combination of Slesar, Hitchcock and Rains produced a winner!

"The Horseplayer" is available on DVD here and may be viewed online here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"The Horseplayer." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 14 Mar. 1961. Television.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. Print.
Slesar, Henry. "Father Amion's Long Shot." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon Book Division, 1962. 50-61. Print.
Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 19: December 1960 / Best and Worst of 1960

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 101

"End of Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"One of Our Jets is Missing"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are sent by plane to parachute into enemy territory without any idea of how they will get out. The jump is interrupted when an enemy jet starts firing on their plane, and Rock and the last few men are lucky to survive the crash when the two flying machines collide. Rock and Co. escape through the treetops and destroy a Nazi ammo dump, still uncertain of their escape plan.

Ordered to head to a hill in open territory, they battle bomber planes and see the enemy army moving quickly toward their unguarded position. In the end, Allied planes arrive and bomb the enemy; Easy Co. had been used as bait to draw the enemy into the open so they could be wiped out. Hands down the best story I've read in some time, and one of the best Sgt. Rock stories I've read yet. Kanigher's tale is filled with suspense and excitement and Kubert's art is excellent.

I don't think it was a strawberry ice cream soda
the men of Easy Co. were picturing . . .
Peter: The perfect mesh of enthralling story and breathtaking graphics make "End of Easy!" (SPOILER ALERT!) the best all-around story of 1960 in my mind. So many iconic images: Rock using his shoulder as a tripod for a machine gun; the Messerschmitt crashing into the plane delivering Easy to the line; the hopeless march up the hill; and the sight of what appears to be an entire army heading towards that same hill moments before the sky lights up with Allied gunfire. Usually the mantra in these stories can be tiresome but Rock's repeated "The army won't let us down," used to calm his men (and probably fool himself), is chilling. We see the doubt begin to form on the Sarge's face, fighting for room with the weariness, amidst the unbeatable odds. A classic!

Jack: Fighter pilot Hank James returns to Korea after spending time at home as instructor only to find his brother Bill, another pilot, listed as missing. No one will talk to him about what happened, so on his next mission in the air he takes out his frustration on the enemy. He later learns that Bill is suspected of having turned traitor and flown off to join the Commies. During Hank's next mission he pretends to surrender and follows enemy jets to what looks like a secret airfield. He is warned off by signals flashed by an American P.O.W. on the ground; he blasts one of the jets that had been escorting him to bits and zooms off to find the real hidden airfield. Back home safely, the footage recorded by his jet's camera not only shows the other airmen what he has done, but also reveals that the P.O.W. who flashed the signals was none other than his loyal brother Bill! I am thrilled to see a longer back-up feature instead of two short ones, and the extra pages allow the creative team to develop the story a little bit more. As Peter has pointed out recently, Jack Abel's art is improving, and this tale is another winner!

"One of Our Jets is Missing"
Peter: The fact that the signaling POW will be Brother Billy is one of those DC war coincidences we just have to swallow (as well as the fact that this is yet another tale in The Fighting War Brothers sub-genre) but the climactic panels are bleak as hell. It's vague as to whether a rescue party will be mounted for Brother Billy or if his life of imprisonment will continue. A rare bit of grey amidst all the black and white and, seriously, did Jack Abel become a really good artist overnight? A very strong issue of Our Army at War!

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 82

"The Flying Chief!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Fighting Links!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: All his life, John Cloud has fought bigotry. Christened Flying Cloud by his Native American father and dubbed "The Flying Chief" by his fellow airmen in the service, Cloud finds himself irritated by every mocking word the men throw at him. None of them seem to take him seriously until he proves himself in battle. When the leader of the fliers is killed during the battle, the rest of the men turn to John Cloud to be their new "chief." John decides it's "not what you're called but what is meant that matters." The first appearance of new regular star Johnny Cloud, Native American fighter pilot, is a well-written, if a tad predictable, drama predicting the minority hero craze of the 1960s-1970s. John Cloud's acceptance by his comrades is a foregone conclusion but his sudden acceptance of their continued "Indian nicknames" doesn't ring true for me (nor does that funky cloud that follows him around). If he hated the treatment prior to the death of the group's "mouthpiece," he should hate it afterwards. Hopefully, further adventures (and there will be 29 more Johnny Cloud stories between here and the cancellation of AAMOW in 1966) will step away from the bigotry issue and concentrate on more intriguing story lines. I'm not saying that racism is acceptable, I'm just saying that 30 stories of Indian mockery in the skies of battle can tend to get... samey. Irv Novick's art here is very reminiscent of Joe Kubert's. I wonder if Robert Kanigher urged his staff of war artists to head in that direction. Certainly Jack Abel's work is evidence that that may have been the case. In 1969, Johnny Cloud, Gunner and Sarge, and Captain Storm (a DC war character who helmed his own short-lived title from 1964-1967) would form The Losers (the DC War answer to the Justice League), a series that would run  in OFF for nearly a decade.

Jack: Other than the unfortunate dark pink hue that the colorist insists on giving "redskin" Johnny Cloud, and our hero's penchant for spouting wise aphorisms every few panels, this was a good story. Novick's art is solid and the originality of the character makes up for any plot holes. For me, this is much more promising than that other series about the soldiers who keep running into dinosaurs. Thank goodness we don't have Andru and Esposito trying to draw Indians.

"The Fighting Links"

Peter: When running relay with his three older brothers, Tommy Link could never convince them he would make a good "anchor man." None of them thought he was fast enough. Once all four enlist in WWII, a freak coincidence forces "The Fighting Links" to run a relay that means life or death and Tommy's true abilities come to the surface. I'm sure it was a tough job for Bob Haney to consistently come up with 3-6 fresh ideas and craft them into stories with substance each and every month but, for some reason, there seems to be a wealth of "War Brother" stories lately and this is the worst of them all. It goes past coincidence and into parody that a brother is rescued by another brother and it's repeated three times in the space of hours. Poor Russ Heath is given nothing exciting to work with here, no elaborate battle scenes, just a whole lot of little panels of soldiers running around. That's a waste of the most talented DC war artist of the time.

Jack: Silly and far-fetched. I was waiting for a brother to say, "fancy meeting you here"! The worst Heath art we've seen to date.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 58

"Return of the Pooch!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"UDT3 is Missing!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Arf! Arf! Yes, he's back, to the never-ending delight of Peter--it's the long-lost Pooch! Last seen in Our Fighting Forces 51 (Nov. 1959), the K-9 superdog has been away from his human pals while he healed from an injury. Now, the pup is dropped by parachute with battle plans hidden in his collar. The wind carries him off course and straight into the hands of Japanese soldiers. Gunner and Sarge track him down and are captured; the enemy assumes something must be hidden in Pooch's collar but they can't locate anything. The U.S. trio makes a daring escape by jumping off a cliff into a river and then they make their way through the jungle back to base, fighting off an enemy sniper and tank along the way. Back at base, they discover that Pooch's collar tag held a tape recorder that captured the enemy's battle plans. Sarge translates them and the U.S. fighters are able to repulse Japanese attacks from land and sea. Hooray for Pooch! Did they really drop dogs by parachute in WWII? And how about the strange way Gunner and Sarge each seem concerned with looking like a hero in front of the dog? They are acting very much the way they did around Miss Julie last issue. What is the connection here?

Now coming down the runway is Gunner,
modeling the latest model in grenade bras!
Peter: If there's a bigger waste of 18 pages out there, please don't point me in its direction. This Gunner and Sarge series is the only real taxing part of our war journey so far. Yeah, we've encountered some lousy stories and bad art but, like the polar opposite of "End of Easy!" this is the perfect marriage of both. I'm still trying to figure out why this story's letterer granted Pooch 8 "Arf! Arf" word balloons but only one for "Arffff! Arf!" Seems as though the latter is much more expressive. Extra points in the "sheer lunacy" column for the scene where Pooch knocks Martin and Lewis Gunner and Sarge over a cliff and then proceeds to untie their bonds. This is the pits, a series only Jack could love! And how about that tape-recording spy device that knows exactly when to turn itself on?

By the Sun God himself!

Next up: the Go Go Gophers

Frogs are not fish, my friend
Jack: A frogman joins Underwater Demolition Team 8 and is told that Team 3 disappeared while tracking an enemy sub at TNT Reef. The new frogman is sent out alone to try and sneak through where the prior team had failed. With the help of some phantom frogmen, he destroys the sub. Who were the other frogmen? Ghosts? Fish? Who knows? Kind of a cool story, though. This issue demonstrates that, next to Jerry Grandenetti's art, Jack Abel's stylings look pretty darn good.

Peter: Sgt. Rock has tough time dealing with picky readers on his Combat Corner page. David Rollon of Houston insists there was "no such thing as a 'Crash Dive' in a sub" since "all dives are crash dives..." and Walter Greenfield reminds Rock that "no warships were ever sunk by explosive charges..." (as shown back in "School for a Frogman", Star Spangled #87). Rock sets them right but I wonder how these correspondents felt about Bob Haney's assertion that the Navy was assisted by ghost frogmen. Being a comic book writer wasn't all cocktail parties and sweet dames, was it?



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Big Gun-Little Gun" (GI Combat 79)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "The Toy Jet" (All-American Men at War 78)
Best All-Around Story: "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)

Worst Script: Bob Haney, "The Last Commander" (Our Army at War 94)
Worst Art: Ross Andru/Mike Esposito "GI Shock Absorbers" (Our Fighting Forces 54)
Worst All-Around Story: Robert Kanigher/Jerry Grandenetti
                                        "Return of the Pooch" (Our Fighting Forces 58)


Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)
Best All-Around Story: "End of Easy!"

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "Too Tired to Fight!" (G.I. Combat 83)
Worst Art: Jerry Grandenetti, "A Tank for Sarge!" (Our Fighting Forces 57)
Worst All-Around Story"Too Tired to Fight!"

Come in, Peter! Come in, Peter! Pooch needs us!