Monday, April 28, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 26: July 1961

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

Joe Kubert and Jack Adler
 GI Combat 88

"Haunted Tank vs. Ghost Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Don't Dig In!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Everything's a Straight Line!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: The "Jeb Stuart" aka The Haunted Tank comes up against its stiffest competition yet: a "Ghost Tank" that can seemingly appear out of nowhere, blast its enemies to Kingdom Come and then vanish in a poof of smoke. With the aid of his namesake, who now regularly appears in the sky, GI Jeb Stuart uncovers the secret of the "ghost tank": an elaborate elevator system that enables the tank to disappear into an underground fortress. When Jeb gets wind of the cave, he manages to infiltrate and destroy the Nazi hideout. Even though this predates the James Bond extravaganzas of the mid-60s like Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the hydraulic elevator certainly brings those films to mind. Even if so amazing a feat could be accomplished,  I'd question whether the Nazis would build the fortress out in the boonies. How many tanks could they destroy out there and at what cost? That military sky is getting pretty crowded; I just hope Jeb Stuart doesn't get run down by Johnny Cloud's Great Spirit! I love Russ Heath's art (as always) but I'm not sold on a series about a haunted tank just yet.

Jack: First of all, what a cool cover! It took me a minute to figure out what the green thing in the foreground was, but when I did--yikes! The colors are also really impressive. As for the second haunted tank story, I thought it was cool! A ghostly Jeb Stuart in the sky is better than the Great Spirit any day. He's kind of like Yoda, dispensing nuggets of wisdom at opportune moments. One question: will the tank crew get knocked unconscious once per issue?

Peter: Charlie Cigar, Big Al, and Little Al, aka The Three Stooges/The TNT Trio, are given explicit orders to check out Area Green and "Don't Dig In!" but when the trio is buried under tons of sand the lieutenant is the last of their worries. Like targets in a shooting gallery, the boys are attacked first by a Zero and then a tank. Ingenuity and a little luck see them through. I've a feeling that this series will make me wish I was reading Sarge and Gunner. There really is no story here; it's just a punch line dragged out over four pages. Just like the previous installments.

Jack: Bob Haney has no better luck with these awful characters than did Bob Kanigher. This was a very long four pages! I was hoping that the tank would squash the Trio but they escaped once again. They have been gone since issue #85 and hopefully we won't see them any more.

Peter: Your prayers are answered, Jack. That's the last of the TNT Trio. GIs are told by their C.O. that everything's a straight line. It's a straight line to the beach. It's a straight line into the jungle. It's a straight line over the rickety bridge. It's a straight line up the mountain. Only it's not. Obstacles are thrown at the men right and left to throw them off their straight line but they do, finally, make it up the mountain. This is not a story but more a series of incidents stuck together with chewing gum and bad pencil scratchings. I'm not even going to take the time to count how many times Bob Haney uses the words "straight line." Let's just say that it's omnipresent and let it go at that. Well, I will throw in that this is the worst story of the month hands down. My favorite line (one I shouted out a few times) is when Joe asks Rusty, "Everything's a straight line?" and Rusty replies, "C'mon, Joe! Stop talking' to yourself!" It seems that when Haney and Kanigher got writer's block, they'd crack open a dictionary, throw two words together and write a story.

Jack: The very definition of a filler story. My brain took a straight line from start to finish as quickly as possible.

Jerry Grandenetti
 Our Army at War 108

"The Unknown Sergeant!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Ace on My Wing!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Passing through a battered French village, the men of Easy Co. are stunned to see a statue of a WWI doughboy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sgt. Rock. "The Unknown Sergeant" had saved the village but his identity was unknown. In Easy's next battle, Rock commandeers an enemy tank and sustains a head injury, which leads him to imagine that he's a soldier in past wars, saving the day each time but never being identified. He finally comes to and saves the day again but no one knows it was his doing. Since I am firmly a member of Team Kubert and Peter is on Team Heath, I'll say that I missed big Joe this time around. I wish I liked this story more, but it's corny and dull.

Sgt. Rock dreams it's 1776 all over again
Peter: Russ Heath is my favorite DC War artist but it's pretty startling to see him assigned to Rock. Russ does his best Kubert impersonation at times (especially that second panel on page two) but seems to shy away from close-ups of the Sarge as if to fool the customers into believing it's really Kubert at the stick. The story didn't win me over, too long and predictable, but I appreciate the sentiment and then there's Heath's art. Three Russ stories this month! I'm going to get spoiled.

Jack: Newly assigned to a WWI flying unit, Lewis wants to fly alongside Hawkes, the ace, but Hawkes always flies alone, ever since his kid brother was killed by the German ace Von Bock while flying with Hawkes. Lewis can't seem to get through to Hawkes but when Hawkes is captured by the Germans, it's Lewis to the rescue! He pulls Hawkes out of danger on the way to a POW camp and then must fly him back to base, as an "Ace on My Wing," pursued by Von Bock. Can Hawkes manage to cling to a strut on the wing of Lewis's plane while Lewis does aerial stunts and engages in a dogfight with the enemy? You bet he can! This story starts out seeming as if it's going to be another one where the same thing happens over and over, but it really gets going once Lewis heads off to rescue Hawkes. The concluding flight, with Hawkes clinging to the strut, is exciting.
"Ace On My Wing!"

Peter: This one borders on "it was all a dream" territory with its outlandish panels of the Ace surviving massive speeds and stomach-churning dips on the wing of the spad. Perhaps most fantastic of all is that our green pilot spots the Ace far below him, riding in the backseat of a car. This guy's got an eagle's vision. I never saw that climax coming when the Ace (after being such a wienie to our young hero all through the story) smiles and tells the kid he wants some flying lessons. I'm being sarcastic. Funny that I noted Heath doing a Kubert impersonation in the Rock story because it seems as though Abel is aping Heath here (not a bad thing, it turns out). So, this issue is all art, no story.

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 97

"The Sub-Crusher!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The End of Lady Luck!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: Brothers Nick and Petey, one a PT Captain, the other the commander of a submarine, are given the top secret assignment of finding out what is capturing and squishing American subs like soda cans. Assuming the Nazis must have devised some nefarious new secret weapon, the brothers head out to sea to find "The Sub-Crusher," only to be caught in a deadly storm. Amidst the roiling waves, Petey witnesses a fearsome sight: a huge claw rising from the deep, holding his brother's submarine in a death grip. The sub is pulled below the water and all aboard are presumed dead. The PT boat, lost in the storm, arrives at a mysterious island populated by giant creatures. At every turn, the small boat is attacked and pummeled but, through the ingenuity of its captain, the craft manages to make it off the island, where they discover the (very much alive) crew of the submarine, a little worse for wear and tear. As we salute our heroes, the Air Force flies in to bomb the living crap out of the island and blow the monsters from the prehistoric age back into... the prehistoric age. At least until next issue!

There's no getting around that the entire Allied militia knows about the dinosaur-infested Pacific at this juncture so there should be no excuses in our next chapter. This installment is so much fun and just so silly I can picture Bob Kanigher playing out the plot in his bathtub with toy boats and plastic dinosaurs. Things don't start out so well when we're introduced to (surprise!) two brothers serving in the same objective. I'd like to see that cobwebbed cliche put to rest for good but I'll bet dollars to donuts we haven't seen the last of that one this year.The Pterodactyl comes off as pretty darn smart when it drops a torpedo on our guys. Maybe the Army should think about training these birds for active duty? And, call me silly, but I buy the giant ape but not the huge coconuts. Right, selective gullibility. My most important question this issue would have to be: why is Nick the PT Captain and not Petey?

Jack: This is just lost on me. I like dinosaurs as much as the next guy, but when I read these War That Time Forgot stories I can't help thinking that this would have seemed childish when I was eight years old. Some of the images are cool, like the claw rising out of the water holding a sub or the pterodactyl's wings expanding beyond the panel borders, but Andru and Esposito's parade of sweaty, bug-eyed men and Kanigher's paint by numbers plotting, where the soldiers proceed from dino A to dino B to dino C, fails to capture my interest. At least this time they went back to base and told someone about it. I love how they blow up the island so they can get back to the serious business of fighting the war. Why not train some of these monsters to attack Nazis? Now that might be a story I'd enjoy.

Paging Jack Driscoll!

Peter: The crew of the "Lady Luck" have run 24 bombing missions without a scratch, earning the amazement and, yes, ire of the other bomber crews. For its 25th, and final, flight, the bomber draws a "milk run" (a low-combat mission) and the men prepare for yet another round of boredom. Unexpectedly, the "Lady Luck" begins drawing fire and flak and it becomes her duty to make sure the other bombers finish their mission. Could this be "The End of Lady Luck"? Once again, I'm out of superlatives for Russ Heath's astonishing art. The panels of the disintegrating bomber are gorgeous and wrought with fine detail. Let's not forget Bob Haney, who comes through with an exciting story yet again. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Haney is emerging as the real star of the writing staff.

Jack: You just knew Lady Luck's last mission was not going to end well! I was starting to wonder if we'd get a downbeat ending for a change, but miraculously the crew of Lady Luck all survived intact, even though the plane crashed and disintegrated. You're right about Heath's work on this one--it's stellar!


Monday, April 21, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Five: June 1972

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 136

"An Incident of Violence"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

"Don't Let Me Die!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Tuska

"The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond"
Story by Jerry Case
Art by Howard Sherman
(reprinted from House of Secrets #52, February 1962)

"Die a Deep Death!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Artie Saaf

"The Exile from Earth"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #16, August 1957)

"Please--Kill Me Once More"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"An Incident of Violence"
Jack: Bannister has lost an arm to an alligator in an accident in the Florida Everglades, so he vows revenge on the scaly beast. He becomes obsessed with killing the creature and does not realize that his daughter is in love with Frank, who plans to kill him and take over his mill. Bannister turns the tables on Frank during a climactic "Incident of Violence" and sees to it that the man and the gator both end up dead. We're not off to a good start with this issue of Unexpected, as Murray Boltinoff gives us another run of the mill revenge tale.

Peter: I love when, after Bannister spends the first three pages raging about how he'll get that alligator, his doctor says, "Something's seized control of his mind, and I think I know what it is! He's determined to hunt down that alligator... to wreak his vengeance!" Brilliant! Elias' art is awful, with Frank (you know, Frank, "the migrant worker"!) looking as skinny as Mick Jagger in one panel and normal the next. If I was Boltinoff, I'd be angry that, years later, someone dug up the fact that he actually wrote this dreck.

"Don't Let Me Die!"
Jack: Ignoring his partner Jack Hurley's plea of "Don't Let Me Die," Lloyd Garber lets the man drown and keeps the fortune in silver they've discovered. Lloyd does not get away from his conscience, however, and tries to escape the dreams that haunt him by going on an ocean voyage. When the ship hits an iceberg, Lloyd sees the face of his late partner staring at him in the ice and knows death has come. I think Lloyd may have been the lucky one--at least he didn't have to read this story!

Peter: I think we bring it upon ourselves when we see the names Carl Wessler and George Tuska on the splash and still turn the pages. Recipe for disaster. I gave Wessler an extra half-star (for a total of one-half star) for having the nerve to pump out the line: "There's a feeling of doom hanging over me... but why?", after Lloyd has murdered his partner and been cursed to die.

"Die a Deep Death!"
Jack: Manuel loves Dolores but can't win her on his poor miner's salary, so he robs the payroll. An explosion in the mine traps him and it looks like he will "Die a Deep Death!" To add insult to injury, one of his co-workers grabbed the money he stole from his lunchbox. I thought the art by Lee Elias on the first story in this issue was pretty run of the mill, but following it up with new efforts by Tuska and Saaf has made it look good in comparison.

Peter: I was completely confused by the climax. Did Jose take the time, while the roof was coming down around him, to shuffle the money out of Manuel's lunchbox, transfer it to his own, and then fill Manny's box with rocks? Why not just grab Manny's lunchbox and head out the door? I tell you, Jack, the one thing I bring away from these DC horror stories is that dames just ain't good for ya.

"Please--Kill Me Once More"
Jack: When Cronin is killed in an accident, he travels to the afterlife, a world of shadowy figures with secrets to tell. Among them is Willie Wilson, who reveals that he hid millions and even his best friend Doc Karnes doesn't know where the money is. The doctors bring Cronin back to life, so he seeks out Karnes and asks him to "Please--Kill Me Once More" for five minutes so he can go back to the afterlife and find out where the money is hidden. Karnes complies, but just as he is about to revive Cronin the cops bust in and arrest him for practicing medicine without a license. Unexpectedly, this story is not half bad. Maybe my expectations are getting too low. I knew what was coming a mile away, but Grandenetti's art works strangely well when he's depicting the shadowy afterlife. Too bad his living characters look just as bizarre as his dead ones!

Peter: I think we've been working together too long, Jack, because I really liked this one and I can't decide if that's because Unexpected has an unusually high moronity rate or because it's a good story. Like you, I think Jerry's art works perfectly... in most spots. We still get a panel where Cronin's face seems to be melting and the cop who busts in on Dr. Karnes seems to be doing a boogie dance but, otherwise, he's aces. I especially liked that innovative panel. Sure, we've seen the same a zillion times before from Jim Steranko but when you're talking about Jerry Grandenetti you count the little things as a big plus.


"The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond"
Jack: What are we going to do next issue when Unexpected shrinks back to normal size and there are no more reprints to bail out the new stories? At least we have some oldies to enjoy in this issue! "The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond" follows an Asian jewel to the West and results in the death of those who possess it--or does it? Howard Sherman's art is always a pleasure, and this story takes a lot of twists and turns that are explained in long captions. I am beginning to suspect that '50s and '60s DC mystery comics may have been more entertaining than the superhero comics! In "The Exile from Earth," amateur archaeologist Kirk Randall unearths an ancient Egyptian magic ring that makes him invincible as long as he does not set foot on land. He steals everything he can get his hands on but loses his powers when he accidentally steps in a garden. I love it! Sheldon Moldoff is one of the best DC Golden Age artists, and this crazy story allows him to have fun. It's hilarious to see Randall hopping over patches of dirt to retain his powers!

"The Exile From Earth"
Peter: Well, Jack, I have to agree with you about the reprints. They've been a breath of Unexpected fresh air. Who'd have known we'd be dissing the new stuff and extolling the virtues of 1950s and 1960s DC reprints? Not me! Having said that, I do have to note for the record that "The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamonds" is pretty silly stuff, and not very exciting at that. These have to be the most free-thinking cops of all time to put three and three together and come up with "Hey, I think these guys are dying because of these diamonds!" Then writer Jerry Case tops it all off with a Scooby-Doo expository wherein the dirty diamond dealer (who's pretty calm while confessing to murder) explains how he staged all the drama (including a giant wind machine somehow hidden off-panel!). Not much better is "The Exile from Earth," which confused the heck out of me with rules that seemed to change constantly. Or maybe I just fell asleep?

Jack: Perhaps this month's most frightening news comes in the letters column, where the editor announces that The Witching Hour and Ghosts are about to go from bi-monthly to monthly!

Peter: I'll go get the coffee and Excedrin.

Russ Heath
The House of Mystery 203

"The 1000 Eyes of Death"
Story by Bob Kanigher
Art by Ernie Chua

"The Golden Doom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Mystery #64, July 1957)

"Almost Human"
Story by John Albano
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Tower of Prey"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: Sheep rancher Mark Dawson has an unreasonable hatred for eagles that no amount of bloodlust will truncate. Despite the warnings of his Indian employees, Mark continues his systematic erasing of the eagle population. Unfortunately for Mark, he kills one bird of prey too many and the late king of the sky's mate comes a'callin. It's then that Mark realizes he's facing "The 1000 Eyes of Death." Bob Kanigher once again proves that, as mystery writers go, he's one hell of a war comics scribe. I'll sound like a broken record but this one's incredibly stupid. We're never clued in to just why Mark is so obsessed with killing eagles (was his father mauled by one? His baby daughter carried off and fed on?) so there's nothing to lay the hate on. You have to laugh out loud at the panel where we find out Mark has anticipated an all-out attack by a convocation of eagles and electrified his front window! Dawson just comes off as what he is: a badly-written character. And what's the deal with the eagle who can suddenly turn into a squaw? Rules, Bob? At least we never saw the Great Spirit of the Sky, a la Johnny Cloud! Gorgeous cover by another DC war vet, Russ Heath.

Jack: Bob Kanigher obviously did not have his fill of corny Injun mumbo-jumbo with Johnny Cloud, since this story features another noble savage babbling about the Great Spirit. How many of these stories do we have to endure where a nut is obsessed with killing something and eventually gets killed by the thing itself? At least there's a relatively foxy squaw ghost to ogle. And by the way, do giant eagles really make off with full-sized sheep in their talons?

Peter: The Morrisons don't go out much as they're busy keeping their deaf mute son, Donald, locked in the basement. One day, Donald breaks loose, kills both his parents, and emerges into the "real world." He's hit by a truck and arrested but befriended by a prison guard who recognizes the "Almost Human" prisoner as nothing more than an overgrown child. The guard gives Donald a red ball and it quiets the giant. The next morning, sounds of rage are heard from the cell block and, when the guards enter, they see the brute bending his bars back. Donald is shot and killed and it's only then that the guards realize the giant was only trying to retrieve his ball. Could this be John Albano's "homage" to Richard Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman"? Not a very good one. Would being born a deaf mute also give you super powers? Or a misshapen face and large tufts of hair over your body? I'm fairly certain I don't even have to Google that question.

Jack: Another story that doesn't make a lot of sense, but at least Sparling's art is bearable in a quirky sort of way. As is so often the case, they telegraphed the ending in advance.

Peter: Developer J.J. Rahtlar will do anything to see the building of his 504-story skyscraper,
including evicting tenants from the apartment building he's leveling. One such tenant, the portly Mary Q. Lardly, takes umbrage at the loss of her living quarters and curses J.J. with her raven's claw. Leaving the building, J.J. accidentally runs the woman over with his sports car and, as she lays dying, she once again promises J.J. will die a horrible death. Years later, after seeing the fruition of his hard work, the tycoon moves into the brand new skyscraper's penthouse suite, only to be ripped to shreds by a one-clawed raven. There's nothing here we haven't read dozens of times since we started this journey: curses are a dime a dozen it seems. The monikers attached to the characters, Rahtlar (like a snake) and Lardly (like the cooking fat, duh!) lack anything resembling irony or wit (or subtlety, while I'm at it) and a 5300 foot tall building defies logic and architecture even in a comic book. What does make you turn these pages is the exquisite art of Nestor Redondo, still in search of a great script.

Jack: Nestor Redondo always seems to lift the material he draws to a higher level with his beautiful draftsmanship. The script is cliched--an evil man named Rahtlar and a fat woman named Lardly? But the last panel is a nice touch, with the dead fat woman among the crowd of onlookers gaping at the dead man. So ends this special bird issue of House of Mystery!

"The Golden Doom"
Peter: Murderer Emile Marlez must get out of Paris pronto so he joins the Foreign Legion. While posted in the desert, Emile happens upon a man in a cave who claims he's got the Midas Touch but is about to perish because he hasn't eaten in a week. Thinking he's smart enough to avoid "The Golden Doom," Emile gorges himself on food and drink and then takes the potion. Sure enough, he's able to turn everything he touches to gold and he's a rich man. Trouble is, when the week is over, he still can't touch food without turning it to gold. Seeking help from Dr. Devin, Marlez learns all he has to do is touch the golden food again and it will become normal. Unfortunately, he'll have to enjoy solid food in prison. I love how Emile is reading a newspaper that's been turned to gold but conveniently contains information about Dr. Devin, living in Morocco, who can help the poor sod find a cure. As reprints go, this one is squarely on the bottom of the pool. So bad, in fact, I mistook it for new material.

Jack: I can buy that Emil would not know that touching food a second time turns it back from gold into its original form, but how could this be beyond the ken of the archaeologist who found the elixir in the first place? You'd think he'd know that salient fact. I do love the panel where Emil gorges on food before drinking the elixir!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 5

"Death, the Pale Horseman!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"The Hands from the Grave!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"The Telltale Mirror"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(reprinted from House of Mystery #13, April 1953)

"Caravan of Doom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Phantom from the Fog"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #123, June 1962)

"The Hearse Came at Midnight"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Now that's one pale horseman!
Jack: China, 1939, and Col. Tanaka's Japanese forces are overrunning China. The Colonel defiles the tomb of a great Mongol warrior and makes off with an ivory carving of a warrior horseman who is shooting an arrow. But Tanaka ignores the warning of an old Chinaman at his peril because soon he learns that "Death, the Pale Horseman" will come riding and looking for him. When a horde of ghostly riders attack the Japanese troops, guess who the only one killed turns out to be? Yep, it's Col. Tanaka, and the ivory carving is now missing its arrow. I kind of like these stories in Ghosts that take place in far-flung countries and other times.

Peter: I haven't liked too many stories published in Ghosts as I'm not fond of the "Believe It or Not" style but I do have to say this one kept my attention throughout. I would imagine that the soldiers could have withdrawn the Ming Chi's arrow from Tanaka's back and found it to be ages old but they seemed pretty convinced it was the work of a ghost without needing proof.

Not what you want to
see right before
brain surgery.
Jack: London, 1969, and Val and Joanne Barton enjoy their honeymoon in the London fog until Joanne trips on a curb and falls, sustaining a concussion. Desperate for help, Val happens on the home of neurosurgeon Dr. Markham, who performs emergency brain surgery with the help of Val, who is a medical student. Once Joanne is safe, Dr. Barton dematerializes and Val realizes he was a ghost. Next morning, Val wakes up on a park bench with Joanne, whose head is wrapped in bandages. He makes his way to a hospital, where he learns that the only man who could have done the tricky operation was the late Dr. Markham, who was killed in a Nazi bombing raid in 1940. Did Val receive help from "The Hands From the Grave" to save his wife's life? I must be in the mood for Ghosts today because this was a fun story, despite Calnan's wooden art.

Peter: Here we part, Jack, as this was pure hokum with typically lazy art from John Calnan. I love how the doctor who's been assigned to Joanne exclaims that "only one man could have performed that operation... Dr. Markham" after not having seen any of Markham's work for thirty years! Then two very sane doctors agree to go check Val's story and bump into a bobby who knows everything about the spot where Dr. Markham died (again) thirty years before! You just don't get that kind of tourist info in the States. My biggest guffaw was reserved for the scene where Val tells Markham he casts no reflection and the ghost says, "That's true... you see I'm not here!" Does Dr. Markham show up now and then to keep from getting rusty?

Jolly helpful, those blacks!
Jack: German East Africa, 1917, and two British soldiers are lost in the jungle after escaping from a POW camp. They are captured by slave traders and forced to march with the slaves, but when they escape during a slave revolt, everyone fades into nothingness and they realize that they have been led to safety by ghosts. This four-pager has nice art by Jack Sparling but is too short to be little more than an anecdote.

Peter: I don't believe in Ghosts.

Dear God! It's Jerry!
Jack: Harkness University, 1903, and Colin Miles loves to play practical jokes. A fellow student named Denny has a weak heart and dies but it doesn't stop Colin. A year later, on the anniversary of Denny's death, Colin is kidnapped by spectres and whisked off when "The Hearse Came at Midnight." His friends follow and find that poor Colin is already dead and buried in the graveyard right next to Denny. This issue of Ghosts gives us the opportunity to compare 1953 Grandenetti with 1972 Grandenetti and, believe me, it ain't a pretty sight.

Peter: The problem I have with stories like these is that I tend to look at the points that make no sense. When his buddies make it to the graveyard, they find a tombstone with Colin's name etched into it. Who put it there? Did Death ring up Busy Bob's Tombstone Shop and order a marker? Did the three bozos really climb into the casket (below) or is Grandenetti just that poor an illustrator? Come back, Frank Robbins, all is forgiven.

Not a midget, just more Jerry G.
Jack: This month's reprints open with "The Telltale Mirror!" in which a tramp named John Bowers finds a mirror that foretells disaster. He uses his knowledge of the future to make a tidy sum until the mirror predicts his death and, despite his best efforts, the prediction comes true. Well, it had to happen. Now we can see what early Jerry Grandenetti art looks like, having endured his scribblings in the early '60s with our war comics blog and the early '70s with this blog. And you know what? He wasn't very good in 1953, either. I still find it hard to believe he was ghosting The Spirit in the early '50s. As for "The Phantom from the Fog," I frankly have no idea what the heck was going on. Some sort of rebel patriot is helped to escape a dictator's clutches by a phantom who rises from the sea mist, or maybe it's an actor impersonating the phantom, or---oh, I give up.

Peter: My head still throbs from the 7-page expository (to an 8-page story) but I think I can explain it to you, Jack. The actor who was playing the Mist Phantom was... no, wait, the Mist Phantom kidnapped the actor for ten minutes while he did some supernatural stuff and then brought the actor back around for the non-supernatural stuff and then re-materialized just long enough for our hero to see him... no, wait, our hero imagined all the supernatural stuff and only saw the real stuff... no, wait... Well, at least we have Ruben Moreira's pretty pictures to look at long after we've given up trying to figure out just what they illustrate. Am I the only one who sees a lot of Milton Caniff in Moreira's work? There's no chance I'll see any of Caniff's work in Jerry Grandenetti, be he 1953 or 1972. If I had the time and the inclination, I'd chart the course of Jerry and find out exactly when his style took such a dramatic turn for the... different. Having just read an interview with Grandenetti (here) in which he's very humble about his own career, I feel badly about taking so many potshots at the man's art but a lot of his work really is awful (or at least an acquired taste), right up there with Frank Robbins and Jack Sparling. The most amazing thing to me is that this is the same guy responsible for the awe-inspiring DC war wash tone covers. If the credits weren't there, I'd never guess.

At least this time the actor wasn't late for his gig!

Nick Cardy
Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion 5

"They All Came to Die!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Don Heck

Peter: Four strangers are invited to Crag Island under mysterious circumstances by a man none of them know. Once there, they discover the island is home to the infamous Cragmore Sanitarium, owned by their host, the reclusive John Ames. One by one, we meet the five and discover exactly why each was beckoned to the island: beautiful Judith Fremont, whose very existence was torn apart by a jilted lover who took his own life; reporter Frank Morton, who isn't the man he claims he is; Dr. Mark Richards, who was devastated by the overdose death of one of his patients; and "The Hanging D.A.," Miles Branche, dying of cancer but still proud of sending nineteen guilty men to the gallows. The four are met by caretakers Carl and Anna Geller (who, it becomes clear, have a few skeletons in their own closet), who bring them together in the dining area where they are all met by a rude shock--notes at their place settings accusing each of murder. It becomes quickly apparent that Ames is an angel of vengeance and seeks payment for each guest's sins: a payment in blood! One by one, the guests drop like flies until only gorgeous Judith stands before the real killer! Luckily for Judith, the men she surrounds herself with are very resilient and she's saved at the last moment from a death worse than fate. Love conquers all. -sigh-

Peter: Way too long (at 36 pages, the longest tale we've had to digest so far) and yet still jam-packed with cliches and purple prose, "They All Came to Die" is a fascinating failure despite above-average work by Don Heck. Well... above-average for Don Heck. Despite the rank smell emanating from this bloated carcass, there are still some bits of enjoyment to be picked off the bones. Since I've read really good writing from Jack Oleck during our journey, I have to believe he had his tongue firmly in cheek and a gleam in his eye as he typed:

The horror that was to come lay in their future...


His kiss was harsh - a defiant gesture torn from the tortured depths of his soul...


while sodden leaves like skeletons of lost dreams whirled...

Damsel in distress Judith exists only to change wardrobe, scream and accept harsh but warm kisses. She pinballs between Mark and Frank and back again, culminating in a laugh-out-loud "contemplation of options" finale that had me standing up and cheering. In Oleck's words: (Judith) "had known this man's lips, his arms and... she was a woman!" She might be a babe but she's about as dumb as a Vince Vaughn flick to go hiking up a mountain in go-go boots. Thanks to the Heck art, Judith is also, at turns, a dead ringer for Natasha/The Black Widow (a character Heck was more than familiar with) and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (a character he'd become familiar with recently). If we can assume "They All Came..." is indicative of the type of story that will run in this title and its sister, the upcoming Secrets of Sinister House, we're in for some interesting reads to say the least.

Jack: I really enjoyed this, even though it was quickly apparent that it is a brazen ripoff of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None--more the 1945 movie than the novel. Judith's eyes go from green to blue and back to green, depending on the page, and her go-go boots sometimes have cutouts up and down the sides and sometimes not. It's all a lot of fun and moves very fast. Best of all is that every few pages, one man or another takes Judith in his arms and passionately kisses her! And whenever anything scary happens, she gets hysterical!

Peter: Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion began life as the straight gothic comic title, The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love (and originally blurbed in ads as The House of Forbidden Love) and only added elements of horror (as tame as they are) with this issue. The idea was to present each story as a novel, complete with chapter titles, giving the writer more space to flesh out his characters. Well, that was the idea anyway.

Babs or 'tasha?

Thank heavens!

Professor Jack's summer hang-out!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Six: "Cop For a Day" [7.4]

by Jack Seabrook

The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents reached back into Henry Slesar's catalogue for "Cop For a Day," which had been published in the January 1957 issue of Manhunt. More hardboiled than most of the Slesar stories that had been adapted for the series, this tale begins with Phil Pennick and Davy Wyatt holed up in a "one-room flat that had been their prison for two days." The duo had robbed and shot a bank messenger and got away with $18,000. Despite Davy's worries that he will be seen and arrested, Phil goes out for sandwiches. He buys a newspaper and learns that a woman who witnessed the shooting can identify the criminals. Back at the flat, Phil tells Davy that he has a plan to solve the problem created by Davy's "'jerky trigger finger.'"

Phil goes out again and visits his friend Marty Hirsch, who works in the garment district on Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. Borrowing a policeman's uniform, Phil puts it on in the bathroom at Angie's restaurant and then goes to the apartment house where the witness lives. He talks his way past the policemen guarding her residence, knocks on the door of Apartment 4-E, and tells the woman that he has a photo for her to identify. Once inside the apartment, Phil takes the woman into the bedroom and shoots her, then calmly walks out and takes a taxi back to the tenement where he and Davy are hiding out.

As he opens the door to the flat, Davy shoots him in the stomach and forehead, mistaking him for a real police officer.

"Cop For a Day" has a sudden twist ending that is presented so matter of factly that it falls flat. The most notable feature of Slesar's story is the underworld slang he uses. Women are "dames," the witness is "a honey blonde, with a figure out of 52nd Street," and Phil wonders if she is "cooling her high heels in a police station." Other than these entertaining turns of phrase, the story is not among Slesar's best. Fortunately, by 1961, when he adapted the story for television, Slesar's skill had grown and the teleplay is much stronger than its source. The episode premiered on NBC on Tuesday, October 31, 1961, a fitting day to present an episode that features a character putting on a costume!

Glenn Cannon as Davy
As he did in his adaptation of "The Man With Two Faces," Slesar opens the show by dramatizing the crime that was only discussed in retrospect in the story. Here, we see the robbery take place in an exciting and suspenseful scene. Director Paul Henreid and cameraman John L. Russell work together to make the scene come alive by using a moving camera that follows Phil and Davy as they trail and attack the bank messenger. The selection of stock musical phrases by Joseph E. Romero is also excellent and heightens the tension in the opening scene.

The show then picks up where the story began. There is a real contrast between laconic, experienced Phil, played by Walter Matthau, and jumpy, inexperienced Davy, played by Glenn Cannon. As Phil, Matthau looks like he has seen and done it all before. He has some nice bits of business, such as whistling Mozart while he waits in Marty's vestibule. When Phil is dressed as a cop and loitering across the street from the witness's apartment building, a woman comes up to him and asks for directions to the nearest post office. Matthau directs her to a location about ten blocks away, clearly making it up as he goes along and enjoying himself in his role as a crook impersonating a cop. His loose-limbed, confident stride and smug expression throughout the episode make his sudden death at the conclusion a shock.

Henreid's creative shot selections and camera movement also continue from the first scene to the last. In the deli, as Phil reads the paper, the camera zooms in on the word "Dies" in the headline about the bank messenger's fate--this trick shot recalls a similar one used by Hitchcock in "Back for Christmas." After the death is known, the scenes in the apartment turn darker and more shadowy. Even a simple shot-reverse shot sequence is spiced up by using angles looking up or down, depending on the character's placement in the frame. When Phil enters the woman's apartment building, Henreid places the camera at the top of a staircase so we can watch from above as Phil comes through the door and climbs the stairs. There is similar camera placement when Phil and Marty go into Marty's stock room: the camera is placed at the far end of the room and we look down past a row of coats to see the two men. Henreid's mobile camera, creative shot selection and camera placement make the episode move quickly.

Bernard Fein as Marty
The music is also worth noting, even though it is comprised of stock phrases from the library. When the camera zooms in on the newspaper headline, there is s two-note sting that is repeated to underline the significance of the onscreen word. This is followed by a jazzy, cymbal-based theme that underscores Phil's cool demeanor in the face of danger. The music is also suspenseful as Phil approaches the woman's building, and the murder scene is set to ominous drums.

In addition to the new opening scene, Slesar's teleplay makes several changes to the story. When Phil first comes back from his trip to the deli, there is an impressive scene where Davy waits in the basement apartment, listening to the unknown man come down the stairs. We hear Phil's footsteps on the stairs and outside the door and it is as if we can see him coming closer. This scene foreshadows the conclusion, where Davy shoots Phil as he comes through the door. It has been established that Davy is tense and quick on the trigger, and being left alone in the apartment makes him jumpy and ready for disaster every time the door opens. Slesar's teleplay also simplifies Phil's costume change. In the story, he takes the costume to a restaurant and changes in the bathroom. In the TV show, he picks out the policeman's uniform, which is displayed on a mannequin in Marty's stockroom. He then has Marty help him put it on, adding badges on his shirt and hat as a finishing touch.

Carol Grace
Last of all, the murder scene is streamlined. In the story, Phil tells the woman that he has a photograph for her to identify. In the show, he simply says that he needs to use her telephone and she lets him in. There is then some clever banter between the two of them. She is sarcastic and disrespectful to Phil, and he answers back in a straightforward way until he pulls his gun. The murder itself is fairly graphic, as he puts a pillow over her and shoots her through it while she begs for her life. He leaves her lifeless body on the bed, not quite as horribly displayed as that of Susan Oliver in "Annabel" (also directed by Henreid), but bad enough. The latter seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents show a willingness to display violent acts (recall the concluding murder in "Servant Problem") that had not been present in earlier years.

The show ends with a more extended scene than that in the story; Davy shoots Phil and then approaches the body, turning it over to reveal the face of his partner in crime. While Davy had muttered "You cop, you dirty cop" only moments before, when he sees what he has done he screams "No!" and the episode ends. This slight extension of the scene cures the suddenness with which the story ends and makes the conclusion more satisfying.

"Cop For a Day" is a fine example of how to take a run of the mill story and use a strong teleplay, good acting, creative direction and appropriate music to create a memorable half-hour of TV.

Paul Henreid (1908-1992) directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Landlady." The last Slesar episode he directed prior to "Cop For a Day" was "The Last Escape," with Keenan Wynn.

The camera at the top of the stairs
Playing Phil Pennick is Walter Matthau (1920-2000). Born Walter Matthow in Manhattan, he was a child actor in Yiddish theater who served under Jimmy Stewart in the Air Force in WWII, earning six battle stars. He went on to star on Broadway, then on television, and finally in many films. He won two Tony awards and an Oscar. His TV career began in 1950 and his movie career followed in 1955. He appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents but he will always be remembered for his comedic film roles, especially The Odd Couple (1968) and The Bad News Bears (1976).

The camera at the far end of the stockroom
Glenn Cannon (1932-2013) played Davy. He also appeared on Broadway, on TV starting in 1956 and in movies starting in 1961. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. He moved to Hawaii in the late 1960s and never left. He taught acting at the University of Hawaii for decades and made many appearances on TV shows based in the islands, including Hawaii Five-O and Magnum P.I.

The woman who is murdered by Phil was played by Carol Grace (1924-2003), who was married to Walter Matthau from 1959 to 2000. She had been married previously to playwright William Saroyan and there is speculation that she was the illegitimate daughter of British actor Leslie Howard. More information about her and her more famous husband may be found on the Matthau family website here.

Matthau and Robert Reiner
Bernard Fein (1926-1980) plays the small role of Marty Hirsch, from whom Phil gets the policeman's uniform. Fein was co-creator of the TV show Hogan's Heroes.

One of the policemen who haplessly guards the woman's apartment is played by an actor named Robert Reiner; he is not the Rob Reiner who co-starred on All in the Family.

"Cop For a Day" is not yet available on DVD and I have not been able to find a source to view it online.

"Cop For a Day." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 31 Oct. 1961. Television.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
The Matthau Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Cop For a Day." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon Book Division, 1962. 80-87. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.