Monday, June 30, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty: November 1972

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

Nick Cardy
The House of Mystery 208

"The Creator of Evil!"
Story by John Albano
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Day the Clock Stopped?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Why are seemingly sane men flipping out and committing unspeakable acts like patricide, uxoricide, and reading Ghosts? That's just what reporter (and snazzy dresser) Phil Butler wants to find out. With the help of his father (the newspaper's owner), Phil connects the dots and discovers that all three murderers have one thing in common: they participated in the manslaughter trial of Boris Illytch. Smelling a Pulitzer, Phil heads to the prison where, miraculously, he's led into Boris' cell and left to speak to "The Creator of Evil." There, Boris confesses he's controlling the minds of the men who put him away with his super-telepathic powers. He's on a maniacal mission to destroy everyone who put him away and he's only just begun.

"The Creator of Evil!"
Knowing the only way he can shut down the psychopath is to fight fire with fire, the genius reporter heads to the sanctum sanctorum of Stephen Strange Professor Phi, an "expert in the field of extrasensory perception." A battle between Phi and Illytch leaves the con with a brain full of mush and the professor contemplating what he'll do next with his power. A very fun read from start to finish, throwing all kinds of curveballs at ya' with every page turned. I was sure this would turn into just another demon story but Albano had me fooled! There are some legitimately nasty bits here, as when a man admits to locking his family inside the burning house he just escaped. Yeah, I'll admit that Professor Phi is a little too Strange for my tastes but the final panel, where the newly-minted most powerful brain in the world wonders if he should use his powers for good or not, is a humdinger of a pessimistic ending.

Jack: I think Prof. Psi turned YOUR brains to mush! This was terrible! Albano's script is dopey from start to finish and ER Cruz's art is bland. I had to laugh when Boris said he was killing off the jurors alphabetically--if I were Zeke Zithers, I'd feel pretty good about that! Prof. Psi comments that "Fundamentally, good and evil stem from the same source." Since when? And what source is that? This is a very disappointing way to begin what is usually the best comic of the month. Oh, and I had to look up the meaning of "uxoricide," smart guy!

"The Day the Clock Stopped?"
Peter: If I can force you to pick up your dictionary (or at least search Google) one time each week, then I've done my job, Jack. Mortician Adam Sneal is the town's best friend because he can make their dead appear alive just once more before being lowered. But when lightning strikes and the sick stop dying. Sneal faces "The Day the Clock Stopped?" His true colors come to the surface and the town suddenly realizes that the undertaker loves his work a bit too much. Driven mad by the lack of work, Sneal goes on a "mercy mission," attempting (and failing) to snuff out hospital patients. Unfortunately, the only thing that gets the clock moving again is when Adam Sneal accidentally falls to his death. How big is this town that people are dropping like flies every day and keeping the only mortician fat and happy? And, if there was so much business, how come no competition? A deadly dull story filled with really silly bits. Sneal sniffs at "the pungent scents of shimmering embalming fluids with rare relish..." like a drunk enjoying his first beer in weeks. Ostensibly, all the terminal patients in the town hospital are hooked up to one machine with an on/off switch and, in the same hospital, the head nurse calls the town's mortician daily to let him know "none of the terminal patients are dying" (a contradictory statement if I ever heard one). The only thing that saves this from one-star purgatory is the really nice art of Ruben Yandoc, an artist who will illustrate much better Kanigher scripts in the future, I'm sure.

Jack: I didn't think much of Yandoc's art in this story, especially the awkward panel where a kid is hit by a car and goes flying. Did you notice that the clock is located at the corner of Burke and Hare? I kind of like the idea of a mortician sneaking around killing people, but we've seen this story before, where people stop dying all at once. Whenever lightning hits a clock tower I can't help but wonder if Marty McFly is nearby.

Mike Kaluta
The House of Secrets 102

"Make a Wish"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by E. R. Cruz

"The Loser"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Quico Redondo and Abe Ocampo

"A Lonely Monstrosity"
Story by John Albano
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: Poor sweet little Jeff really believes that there is a world of elves and fairies on the other side of his orphanage wall, despite what the teachers and doctors tell him. With a little bit of hypnosis, Jeff finally sees the world for what it is: a land without hope and dreams. Wow! What a downer "Make a Wish" is, not just because it deals with the death of childhood dreams but because it's so blah. One of the most anticlimactic climaxes I've ever read but that may be as a result of reading so many of these stories where, in the end, the elves come back, eat the teachers, and save the day. There's no payoff, just an obvious moral (perhaps a thinly veiled slam at Oleck's audience?). The art by the usually reliable Cruz doesn't help either; little Jeff looks like a short man throughout, as though he's actually in the Academy of Stunted Growth.

"Make a Wish"
Jack: That was depressing! I was afraid the kid would turn out to be dead at the end, but that would have been a better ending than this one! I don't need any lessons in growing up. I grew up. We read comics every week because no one ever hypnotized us into thinking there weren't any elves!

Peter: Poor henpecked Anthony can't do anything right. As far as his wife, Edith, is concerned, he'll always be "The Loser." After ten years of ruined dreams and failed expectations, Anthony is left with nothing but a bloated wife and a lay-off slip. Edith pushes him too far one time too many and it's Anthony doing the pushing, shoving his beloved down the cellar steps. But, as he gloats to his wife's coffin, the balding accountant learns to his shock and chagrin that he can't even commit murder without pulling a boner. His wife reminds him of that as she tells his ghost he was the one who fell down the stairs and the numbskull has been talking to his own corpse. Cute little yarn with a genuinely surprising ending. I would question why Edith is so calm while berating Anthony's spectre but some women are just tough.

Jack: Great ending to a dumb story. We've seen the shrewish wife and henpecked husband so many times that I found myself reading along thinking, "here we go again." But having the body fall down the stairs in shadow was a clue I should have picked up on, because--like you--I was surprised to find that Anthony was the ghost!

"The Loser"

Choreography Hollywood could only dream of!
Peter: Miss Drake is, like, totally smitten for Ralphie but the dope has no money. Fortunately for the two swingers, their landlord, Toro, a misshapen hunchback, has the hots for the young cutie and Ralph intends to use that shine to his advantage when he finds out the hunchback is loaded. Though Toro is happy enough to hand over 500 big ones to the swingin' Ms. Drake (we never do learn her first name), Ralphie wants the whole pot so the deadly duo attempt to strangle Toro. That scheme goes up in smoke when Ralph bungles the job and ends up dead. His honey is no better off when a broken pipe blasts, scalding steam into her once-gorgeous face. There's a happy ending though and the former Ms. Drake becomes Mrs. Toro. John Albano was half a century old when he wrote "A Lonely Monstrosity" in 1972 and his hip ding-dong-daddy-o dialogue wouldn't have seemed fresh in an EC Comic:

Drake: And dig this! I've heard he's got a big bundle of bread stashed away somewhere in his basement apartment!
Ralph: A dodo like him with heavy green? You're putting me on!

Those cringe-worthy lines are attached to one of the oldest plots in history so the only saving grace then becomes the laugh-out-loud climactic battle between Toro and Ralphie. And, I'm sympathetic to people battling back pain but, seriously, aside from Quasimodo, has there ever been someone with as big a hunch?

Jack: Can this really be by Nestor Redondo? It's signed "N. Redondo," but was there a "Nicky" Redondo in the family? This story has very little of the atmosphere we've come to expect from Nestor and the first few pages reminded me more of the work of John Calnan. That's not a good thing. The scene where Ralph throttles Toro is kind of gruesome, and I'll never get enough of the early '70s mini-skirts and boots, but this story was a disappointment.

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 141

"Just What Did Eric See?"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"A Change for the Hearse"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Coffin Came on Time"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Carrillo

"A Madman's Loose Among Us!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: One night, while it "slithered through the indigo blue waters off the California coast," the Sea Sprite hits something and Vance rushes in to tell Eric he heard a thud and a cry of pain. Eric dives into the water and rescues a beautiful young woman. Eric refuses to take her to a doctor and instead takes her home, nursing her to health and marrying her in a private ceremony, even though she never speaks or leaves her wheelchair. Vance may be right to wonder "Just What Did Eric See?" in this girl, whose happiest moments are spent cavorting with Eric in his backyard pool in the moonlight. One night, she returns to the sea, and Eric shows Vance the baby they had together--a mermaid, the image of her mother. Although Eric tells Vance it was "unexpected," the ending was telegraphed a mile away. Talaoc's art is the best I've seen so far this month. The Cardy cover alone would make me plunk down 20 cents for this comic!

What grown-ups did in the '70s while we
were riding our bikes to the comic shop

Peter: Vance was the only one in the world to be surprised by the little nipper's tail. I think this might have been more effective had the "surprise" been revealed towards the front end of the story rather than the final panel. You can almost imagine Murray sweating at the typewriter trying to figure out different ways of concealing the bottom half of his feminine character.

Early plastic surgery
Jack: Gus Petrie is a bum who can't even get a free meal at the front door of wealthy Mr. Rollins. After the butler departs to attend to the sick old man, Gus sneaks in and overhears some startling news--Rollins wants his son found right away! Coincidentally, Gus is a dead ringer for the lost young man except for a broken nose. He has a plastic surgeon fix that defect and he shows up the the Rollins mansion, only to have Rollins knock him down the stairs and kill him. It seems Rollins was angry at his son and wanted him found so he could exact his revenge. Wasn't that an UNEXPECTED "Change for the Hearse?" No? How about when the real son arrives in the next to last panel--and he has a broken nose? Still not surprised? Neither was I. Once again, art is much better than story.

Peter: We don't get enough pages for us to involve ourselves in the back story of Mr. Rollins and the busted relationship with son, Bart, so his reaction to seeing his "son" at last after five years may come off a bit... harsh.

Jack: Everyone on the train avoids the creepy old man who is traveling as escort to a coffin. Happily, when the train reaches its destination, "The Coffin Came on Time" and the old man hops in, announcing that his life is over. At two pages, this story is too short to be anything but a quick joke.

Peter: Two pages too long.

Never hide in the
iron  maiden!
Jack: Quentin and Carlotta share a lonely manor on the moors, so they are surprised one night to find a young vagrant hiding in their wine cellar. Carlotta insists on cleaning him up and hiring him to help around the house, and Quentin soon warms to young Alan. Alan makes the mistake of spurning Carlotta's advances and she wants to kick him out, but as he is leaving they hear a report on the wireless telling them that "A Madman's Loose Among Us!" It seems someone has escaped from the local asylum, and Quentin and Carlotta assume it's Alan, so Quentin takes him down to the sub-basement to show off their collection of old torture devices. Suddenly, the real lunatic shows up and knocks Quentin into an Iron Maiden. Unfortunately, Alan was hiding inside, and when Quentin hits it it closes, impaling poor Alan. The young man's death wail alerts the police, who were upstairs, and they race down to the rescue. Quentin laments that Alan had to die for their lives to be saved. That was a lot of plot to fit into ten pages! I'm not a big fan of Lee Elias but his art here is nice.

Peter: Every story in this issue makes me think that Joe Orlando wrote down the ten most cliched horror plot lines, cut them in little slices, put them in a hat, and passed them around to his bullpen. Poor Murray got two of the most overused of the chestnuts.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 25

"A Grave Undertaking!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jim Aparo

"Death's Dread Dirge!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Happy Deathday, Sweet 16!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Payne

Jack: Joe and Jessica have serious financial problems, so Jessica enlists her old beau Stan, now a successful mortician, to engage in "A Grave Undertaking!" She and Joe plan to fake Joe's death and cash in his $100,000 life insurance policy, but what Joe doesn't know is that Jessica and Stan have decided that Joe's death will be no fake. When the fateful day comes, Jessica is shocked to discover that Stan is dead and lying in Joe's coffin. Joe caught on to her plan and he and his scheming wife both meet their end in a violent finale. Jim Aparo can always be counted on to elevate even a tired tale like this one.

"A Grave Undertaking!"
Peter: Wow! How many times has this old warhorse been trotted out? Same old substandard double-cross with one-dimensional characters, courtesy of pulp writer Wessler. The only thing spooky about this one is that it made it past editor Boltinoff's desk.

Jack: While fighting the Jerries in North Africa, British Sgt. Bryan Lawlor buys a scarab from an Arab. In the battles that follow, he seems to avoid bullets while other soldiers fall around him to "Death's Dread Dirge." He becomes convinced that he is being protected by his lucky scarab until he discovers that all of his fallen comrades also possessed the same item. He grinds his into the dirt and is promptly machine-gunned to death. Gerry Talaoc has a nice way with horror but he can't draw pretty girls for beans. Cynthia does not look as good as usual!

Peter: Aside from Cynthia's dreadful hip lingo (like, that Arab scarab was groovy, daddy) and the really ugly art, I liked this one. I know that sounds like I've cut the totem pole down to one head and then proclaimed it a work of art but there's a legitimate knock-out punch in the climax and sometimes that's all you need. Having never experienced Gerry Talaoc's work before, I can tell I'm going to have problems when our exploration of DCs war reaches the 1970s and Talaoc becomes a mainstay of those titles. I'd compare it (and not in a favorable way) to Frank Robbins.

Jack: Mindy and Peter fight like typical teenagers. Mindy is about to have her 16th birthday party but Peter just wants to watch horror movies on TV. When Mindy's new boyfriend invites her to his house to celebrate her big day, Peter sneaks along behind to see what all the fuss is about. He sees that Mindy's boyfriend is about to sacrifice sis on the altar to Satan so he can become a full-fledged warlock! Fortunately, this does not become a "Happy Deathday, Sweet 16!" for Mindy, since Peter quickly draws a hex sign that witches fear and sticks it on the window. Wow! Who knew that wasting my time watching horror movies could end up teaching me something I needed to know to save my sister? This is a fun story that has absolutely superb art by Bill Payne. The stories we've seen that have been drawn by him so far have been spooktacular!

Peter: This one was chugging along like the Night Train but it ran out of coal before it got to the station. I love Payne's art, so stylish and life-like, reminding me very much of some of the better artists Warren used in the 70s. Sadly, Bill Payne never worked for that company though he did do one story for Skywald ("A Grave Beneath the Sea," Nightmare 1972 Annual), a publisher that should have taken advantage of Payne's talents to a much greater degree.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 9

"The Curse of the Phantom Prophet!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"The Last Ride of Rosie the Wrecker"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Spectral Shepherd of Dartmoor"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Phantom That Never Was!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Bob Brown and Frank McLaughlin

Jack: India, 1782, and British troops have just quelled a rebellion led by a holy man named Ratta Singh. When the town's rich merchants send their gold and jewels off on a British ship to protect them from the rioters, they also send the Peacock Throne, a sacred symbol and a national treasure. With his dying breath, Singh curses the ship and swears that it will never reach England. Sure enough, "The Curse of the Phantom Prophet!" takes hold mid-voyage, and a terrible storm sinks the ship, leaving the captain's skeleton sitting for eternity on the throne at the bottom of the ocean. This issue of Ghosts opens with standard fare, a dull story by Dorfman and uninspired art by Calnan.

Peter: Reading this was like being forced to watch one of those National Geographic specials when I was in grade school. Only difference is that, with age, I've come to appreciate the National Geographic specials.

What would Alcala have done with
Gunner, Sarge and Pooch?
Jack: It's D-Day and things aren't going so well for our boys on the beaches at Normandy until one special tank leads the way to victory. But who was behind the controls for "The Last Ride of Rosie the Wrecker"? The crew inside Rosie the tank is all dead! Now we know what it would have looked like if Alfred Alcala drew the Haunted Tank!

Peter: Gorgeous Alcala art (and I'm already beginning to sound like a broken MP3) but a stiff read right up to its awkwardly phrased expository:

Dead -- every one of them! Man, this is weird -- did all of 'em die just now... or when they took that direct hit, and the sarge collapsed over his control lever, which kept Rosie running till we reached our CP?

Much like "Death's Dread Dirge" (above), I wonder why this wasn't shuffled over to the latest issue of the recently launched Weird War Tales rather than Ghosts. For those wondering, Jack and I will cover WWT when we reach the 1970s in our coverage of DC's war titles (which, at our current pace, should be somewhere around late 2018).

Jack: When her car breaks down on a lonely English moor one night, Helene Dunn is menaced by a killer but she is rescued by "The Spectral Shepherd of Dartmoor." The shepherd is the ghost of Amos Cullin, a convict from 1850 whose violent tendencies were only calmed when he was around animals. He was assigned to guard a flock of sheep and died protecting them from a pack of wild dogs. The police don't believe Helene's story until they go back to the scene of the crime and find a shepherd's staff on the ground. Who will protect us from Jerry Grandenetti's awful art and Leo Dorfman's dull tales?

Peter: Why would the shepherd's staff be visible? This kind of story makes me not want to believe in Ghosts.

At least there's a sexy librarian!
Jack: For two centuries, people have been seeing "The Phantom That Never Was!" off the coast of Block Island. In 1963, a young couple on vacation witnesses the sinking of the ghost ship Palatine, even though the local librarian explains that no such ship ever sunk. The local old salt tells them that many people have seen the specter. Thank goodness this story is only four pages long, because it makes no sense. How can there he a ghost of something that never was?

Peter: What a goofy story. So let me get this straight. Heaven curses the innocent folk on The Palatine to wreck on the rocks every night to teach a lesson to the bad guys who wrecked her? Oh, but don't worry, The Palatine never existed. It's just a "fake legend" according to the old man who tells the story. Huh? I think, with nine issues and 34 stories under his belt, Leo Dorfman needed a vacation something fierce! I find it curious that Ghosts remains the only mystery title lacking a letters page, instead taking that extra page up with the time-worn "text story" that no one ever read.

Mike Kaluta
Secrets of Sinister House 7

Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Nestor Redondo

"As Long as You Live... Stay Away From Water!"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by June Lofamia

"The Hag's Curse" and "The Hamptons' Revenge!"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: Henry Dewlip, accountant for a mob boss, sees his employer stash a suitcase full of mob money atop one of his ceiling panels and decides he's going to live the good life. As he's searching for the case, two simultaneous events happen to shape the rest of his life: a silent alarm alerts his boss that Henry is on to him and Henry's fairy godmother, in the form of a very young, precocious girl, materializes. The youngster finds the suitcase for Henry just as the mob boss bursts in with a machine gun. With two words, "Get Lost," the fairy makes the bad guy disappear. Smelling an easy out and in a "Panic," Henry asks the girl to "Get Lost" him, too. When he reappears, Henry finds he's on Lost Boulevard, where he runs into the dog and baseball mitt he lost as a youngster. Unfortunately for Henry, his "lost" boss is there as well. A wild and not altogether cohesive fantasy, reminiscent of the mid-70s Marvel work of Steve Gerber, who would throw in wacky elements like talking ducks. Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. Mayer's story has some really good bits to it, especially Lost Boulevard, but the little girl fairy godmother/former wicked witch needed some background detail to make her more interesting. I'm surprised Mayer didn't go with the obvious "Get Lost" as a title rather than the curious "Panic!"


Jack: This story worked for me right up to the last panel, which was a disappointing twist. The idea of the witch/fairy godmother/10-year-old girl is funny, as is poor Henry's lack of understanding of her desire to help him. I especially like Max, the dragon she conjures up out of thin air. In one panel he hovers menacingly over a mob goon; in the next, he sits there and lets out a satisfied "BURP." I like this story's understated tone. It's another winner from the great Sheldon Mayer.

Peter: Horace Brown will never forget the horrible apparitions that he faced that night five years before: a huge ghoul, warning Horace "As Long as You Live... Stay Away From Water!" that the frightened young man assumed was a prank perpetrated by his fraternity brothers. Years later, at a dinner table on a sea cruise, he relates the story and upsets his wife. As he follows her out on deck, we see the name of the ship is the Titanic. Oh, here's a really fresh idea, a story about a guy who's cursed to drown and he's sailing on the Titanic! You can tell Sheldon Mayer did his homework since the life preserver is stamped "U.S.S. Titanic" despite the fact that she was a British ship.

This is what happened in the years before Wikipedia

Jack: OK, maybe Sheldon Mayer didn't hit the bullseye ALL the time. At least we know that June Lofamia was a guy.

Peter: After Basil the Black murders her granddaughter, an old woman places "The Hag's Curse" on him. Should he don his black armor again to fight, he will never be able to take it off. Sure enough, after a jousting match, Basil finds he's trapped in the armor. Nothing will help until he summons his court's magician, who tells his master the only thing he can do is send him into the future. Basil accepts the unknown over a life without bathroom breaks. In a second story, running parallel, the owner of Hampton Castle in 1972  is having monetary problems. The only repeat customer is an old hag. Some newspaper reporters arrive, claiming they've received anonymous phone calls tipping them off that something to do with Basil the Black would be occurring that day. Coincidentally, Basil the Black picks just that moment to materialize into his previously empty suit of armor. Seeing his predicament has continued despite eight centuries of travel, Basil exclaims that he'd rather be dead than trapped as he is. The old woman grants Basil's wish and "The Hamptons' Revenge" reduces the lord to a skeleton. A waste of time and paper, in both script and art, both stories together don't add up to half a good read. Too disjointed and silly, the "concurrent storylines" format is confusing and, eventually, confounding. Like Ruben Yandoc and Gerry Talaoc, Sam Glanzman will do a lot of war stories for DC in the 1970s. I'm hoping his art gets much better over time. In the letters page, Joe Orlando answers a missive from future Marvel artist Duffy Vohland, who begs for a continued series in Sinister House. Joe lets on that planned is "a series idea for Sinister House to be drawn by Redondo. And rather than have it continued forever, it will be several chapters long, and when finished, we will begin another, with new characters, settings, etc. Keep watching." As far as I can tell, that series never saw the light of day.

Jack: I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to read this story, since the two stories run in parallel columns going down each page. By the way, Duffy Vohland also complained that the pre-changeover Sinister House was "a bit too female-oriented."


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Thirty-One: "Burglar Proof" [7.21]

by Jack Seabrook

"Be My Valentine" is the unusual title of a story by Henry Slesar that was published in the January 1962 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Ad man Harrison Fell was on top of his game until he was taken off of the Holdwell Safe account. He pitches a new campaign to his boss, Mr. Bliss: hire Sammy "The Touch" Morrisey, "the hottest safecracker in the business," to prove that the company's new "burglar-proof safe," the 801, lives up to its promotion. Fell visits Sammy on the top floor of a rooming house and makes his pitch, but Sammy argues that "I'm out of that line of work altogether." Fell explains that Sammy will have three hours to crack the 801 in front of a crowd of onlookers. If he fails, he will be paid $1000. If he succeeds, he can keep the $50,000 that he will find in an envelope inside the safe.

Sammy reluctantly agrees and the big day arrives, with a crowd on hand. Fell displays the envelope holding $50,000 and has the guard place it in the safe. Sammy has till midnight to try to open it. He inspects the safe as the crowd holds its breath. He tries various tools to crack the safe but barely makes a dent--even nitroglycerin fails. As midnight approaches, he is still trying in vain. His final effort, using a sledgehammer, comes to naught. Midnight comes and the crowd cheers his efforts. Fell presents Sammy with his $1000 and he leaves. Next morning, Fell is surprised to arrive at the office to an angry telephone call from the ad manager of Holdwell Safe. When the safe's time lock clicked open that morning, they found an envelope inside filled with worthless green paper. Fell realizes that Sammy's new line of work is that of a pickpocket.

The title, "Be My Valentine," refers to Jimmy Valentine, a fictional safecracker in the O. Henry story, "A Retrieved Reformation," which became famous after it was published in the April 1903 issue of Cosmopolitan. Like O. Henry's character, Sammy Morrisey responds to Harrison Fell's call to "Be My Valentine" and open a safe. Slesar's story is a comedy, set (as are so many of his stories) in New York City and concerning the world of advertising, with which Slesar was intimately familiar. Although it has an ironic twist at the end, the buildup is more important than the surprise.

Robert Webber as Fell
Slesar sets up a stark contrast between Fell, the ad man, and Sammy the safecracker. Fell is described as "a large, broad-chested man with shoulders by Brooks Brothers, hair by Brylcreem, skin by Man Tan, and soul by Cadillac." Sammy, on the other hand, is "small and scrawny, devoid of menace, cunning and even character." When Fell visits Sammy, Slesar writes that "He pulled his Jaguar between a meat truck and a vintage Chevy, growled at the mop-haired urchins who eyed its hubcaps and took the worn stairs as nonchalantly as if they had been the steps of the University Club." Later, when Fell speaks to the crowd gathered to watch Sammy try to crack the 801, he sets it up like a prize fight, comparing the safe, at 2370 lbs., with Sammy, at 112 lbs.

"Be My Valentine" recalls Slesar's earlier story, "The Last Escape," in which Joe Ferlini draws a crowd to see him attempt a daring water escape. Both stories include a buildup to an event that fails for an unexpected reason in front of a large group of people.

Paul Hartman as Sammy
In adapting his own short story for television, Slesar changed the title to the less-subtle "Burglar Proof," and the result was broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, February 27, 1962, directed by John Newland and starring Robert Webber as Fell and Paul Hartman as Sammy. The episode begins in Mr. Bliss's office and, with some notable exceptions, follows the print story closely. Bliss and Fell are fast-talking, animated, aggressive advertising men, the 1962 version of today's TV Mad Men. In both story and show, Fell shows how modern he is by repeatedly referring to the space program--he wants to get his new idea "off the launching pad" and he says that the new safe (what a great name for a safe company--Hold Well!) is being put "into orbit."

The first change in the teleplay occurs when Fell visits Sammy. Sammy has a grown daughter, Dorothy, and her presence leads to some nice bits where Sammy tries to keep her from hearing Fell mention his criminal past. The show moves overtly into comedy in the scene where Sammy tries to crack the safe. Sammy tells a reporter a funny story and much of the scene is played without dialogue but with music that is supposed to highlight its humor. The second important addition comes when the guard takes the envelope full of money and is about to walk over to the safe to place it inside. Sammy bumps into him, tripping and righting himself. Watching this scene and knowing the end of the story, it is clear that this is the moment when Sammy switches envelopes.

Whit Bissell as Mr. Bliss
The last big change is the show's final scene. After Bliss and Fell learn that the envelope inside the safe contained blank paper, which is dramatized by an angry visit to their office by the ad manager from Holdwell Safe, rather than by a telephone call, as in the story, there is a new scene in which the ironic twist at the end of the short story is expanded and made more obvious. We see Sammy and his daughter Dorothy in their apartment as Sammy teaches her how to be a pickpocket. He even does the envelope switch on her, adding that he will show her that trick next week!

Why does Sammy steal the money? When Fell proposes the contest to him, he chuckles and assures Fell that no safe is truly burglar proof. By stealing the money, Sammy almost certainly ensures that he will be caught and possibly sent back to prison. Was he not sure that he could crack the safe and so wanted to make certain that he got the money? Was the entire failed attempt to crack the safe an act, a show for Fell and the reporters? Perhaps it does not pay to think too hard about a TV show and short story from over fifty years ago!

"Be My Valentine" is an entertaining story that moves smoothly from start to finish, but "Burglar Proof" falls flat, as do so many attempts at comedy on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Robert Webber's performance as Harrison Fell is corny and he seems like he is trying too hard to be the fast-talking ad man. Paul Hartman is winning as Sammy, doing his best with weak material. John Newland's direction is nothing special, with no remarkable camera work or setups to try to enliven the script. To be fair, it is hard to generate excitement as Sammy spends three hours trying to crack the safe. But I think that Alan Crosland, Jr., or Paul Henreid could have done a better job at staging this story. Not for one moment do we think that Sammy will have a chance at opening the safe, and that is a fatal flaw; Hartman is so nice and mild-mannered that it is hard to accept him as a career criminal.

John Newland (1917-2000) got his start in vaudeville and was an actor before he become a director. He is best known for hosting and directing the TV series One Step Beyond (1959-1961) and its sequel, The Next Step Beyond (1978). Newland directed other classic episodes of favorite TV series, including "I Kiss Your Shadow" on Bus Stop and "Pigeons From Hell" on Thriller. "Burglar Proof" was one of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he directed, including "Bad Actor."

Whit Bissell, Philip Ober and Robert Webber
Paul Hartman (1904-1973) started in vaudeville as a dancer and had a successful career on Broadway, in movies, and on TV. He appeared on Thriller and The Twilight Zone and his five appearances on the Hitchcock series also included "Not the Running Type" (where he played a role similar to the one he played in "Burglar Proof") and "The Magic Shop."

Robert Webber (1924-1989) was a marine in the Pacific Theater in WWII whose movie and TV career began in 1950. He appeared in Twelve Angry Men (1957), in episodes of Thriller and The Outer Limits, and in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Fredric Brown's "A True Account."

Philip Ober (1902-1982) played Wilton Stark, the ad manager at Holdwell Safe. Ober was a real ad exec who switched careers and became an actor, starting his movie career in 1934. He appeared in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959), episodes of Thriller and The Twilight Zone, and two episodes of the Hitchcock series. He was married to I Love Lucy's Ethel (Vivian Vance) from 1941-1959.

Josie Lloyd as Dorothy
Mr. Bliss, Fell's boss, was played by Whit Bissell (1909-1996), who was in movies from 1940 and on TV from 1950. Among his many films are Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). He was a regular on The Time Tunnel (1966-67), appeared on The Outer Limits, and made two appearances on the Hitchcock series.

Finally, Josie Lloyd (1940- ) played Dorothy. She had a brief career on TV from 1960-67 and was on the Hitchcock series six times, including "Coming Home."

"Burglar Proof" is not yet available on DVD, nor may it be viewed for free online. YouTube has removed almost all of the episodes that had been uploaded by users due to copyright infringement complaints.

"Burglar Proof." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 27 Feb. 1962. Television.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 22 June 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Burglar Proof." 1962. A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon, 1962. 150-60. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 June 2014.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 30: November 1961

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

Jerry Grandenetti
Star Spangled War Stories 99

"The Circus of Monsters!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Blind Tank!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"Double Jinx Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The famous acrobatic brothers, The Flying Franks, give their last performance before a live audience (a masterful one, if I do say) and then it's time for the trio to do their magic in army uniforms. Unluckily, the three are assigned to find a lost scouting party on yet another uncharted Pacific island. Once they get there, the Franks discover the island is infested with "The Circus of Monsters!" Henny, Tommy, and Steve make good their acrobatic skills as they must duck, cover, and flip from giant snakes, pterodactyls, brontos, and even a T-Rex before they finally find the men of the scouting party and rescue them in their own showy way. Yep, the ninth chapter in the "War That Time Forgot" saga is just as silly, predictable, and enjoyable as the eighth (and the seventh...). Something about thunder lizards brings out the best in Andru and Esposito and their variety of "prehistoric horrors from a dinosaur age" continues to impress. The idea that the three green recruits, all assigned to the same platoon, would be given the important task of finding the missing men is a little silly but then we are talking about a strip where a sub is picked up by a sea monster, dropped from a great height, and still manages to pull off a rescue mission at story's end. Not to mention the fact that there are so many uncharted island in DC's Pacific that they must overlap at some point!

Jack: I usually can't wait to get to the end of these stories, but for some reason I enjoyed this one. I think it was the novelty of the three circus performer brothers and the fact that the story focused more on them and their personalities than on the usual parade of dinosaurs. Too often, Kanigher just throws a group of random soldiers on an island and has them go through the same series of perils. This series could really take off if it had some continuity, but I doubt that will happen.

Peter: A GI who constantly complains about the amount of walking he does and a tank commander who can't stand the small range of sight he has through his slit team up when both are debilitated. Together they're able to destroy the entire enemy militia. Russ Heath's talent is sadly wasted on this hum-drum script, one that reaches its inevitable conclusion four pages too late. As I complained a few weeks ago, Heath's art needs room to breathe rather than being constricted to small panels of tank battle and "Blind Tank" slaps heavy handcuffs on The Master.

Jack: As I read this story I kept thinking, "This is by Russ Heath?" There are a few panels where his talent shows through but overall it's a weak entry. I did like the detail of the crippled soldier, though--something we haven't seen much of in DC war comics so far.

Peter: With two men experiencing a whole war full of bad luck, they're about to fly as pilot and gunner of a "Double Jinx Fort." Despite what our math teachers proclaim, sometimes two negatives equal a positive and, luckily for our heroes, this is one of those rare times. Even as their bomber is falling to pieces, Wilson and his skipper make the most of their presumed fate and blow every stinkin' Nazi out of the sky. There's a modicum of suspense halfway through this adventure when the plane starts disintegrating in flames and the boys are basically saying their prayers but you have to accept quite a load of horse apples (a whole field of the stuff, actually) when the skipper is able to land a plane that's been reduced to the yoke and a couple of seats. Jack Abel's art is stirring throughout.

Jack: This story featured a surfeit of two things: words and planes! Some of the panels are so crowded with captions and balloons that its a miracle Jack Abel found room to draw. And others are so jammed with planes that it's an impressive feat. In one panel I counted 21 planes! It was not even that big a panel!

Jerry Grandenetti + Jack Adler
G. I. Combat 90

"Tank Raiders!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Patrol in the Parlor!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Flame Fighter!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: One of the biggest no-nos in the World War II arena is to lose your vehicle. To lose your tank is a cardinal sin, but that's exactly what happens to the men of the Jeb Stuart when a band of "Tank Raiders" takes advantage of a nice swim on a hot day. A bit of ingenuity and a daring drive off a cliff manage to reunite men with Haunted Tank. The fourth adventure of the Jeb Stuart is the best so far and a welcome comeback by Russ Heath (after a one issue substitution by Irv Novick). The men steering a jeep over the edge of a cliff into the path of the stolen tank (a la a movie serial) is a fantastic but wholly entertaining sequence as is when our boys get robbed with their literal pants down. Another nice touch is when the men have commandeered the jeep with an injured Nazi in the driver's seat. The GIs leave the man on the side of the road with the sign for "medic needed" (the helmet atop a rifle). Sometimes, it's those small moments that make me admire these DC war writers all the more.

"Tank Raiders"
Jack: Isn't it a treat to have Russ Heath illustrating a lead series? I think the strength of his art lies in the faces of the men that he draws with such humanity. His layouts are never particularly unusual. This story gets back to what works for the Haunted Tank--there is a sequence where the sentient tank takes over the action while Jeb is unconscious and we get the occasional words of wisdom from the ghostly face of the Civil War general whom no one else can see. Despite the humanitarian gesture of leaving the Nazi for the medic, there is one brutal panel where our heroes essentially massacre a group of Nazis who are trapped inside the stolen tank. I guess G.I.s in combat had to leaven cruelty with mercy.

Peter: GI Harper can't seem to find his field of expertise in fighting. He gets seasick, can't handle the heat, starts avalanches in the snow--he's a real mess. That is, until he's sent by his C.O. to recon a deserted castle and starts his "Patrol in the Parlor." Unfortunately for Harper, the castle is anything but deserted but he learns quickly that fighting in close quarters may be his forte. Dreadful Jack Abel art (a term I haven't used in a while) married to a dopey slapstick plot. I suspect Abel was not at his best when his workload was as heavy as it was this month (four of the nine stories were penciled by Abel).

Jack: Is the low point of this story the Abbott and Costello moment where he kneels to tie his shoelace and thus avoids being hit by a barrage of bullets? Or the subsequent panel where he yanks the rug out from under the Nazis? Or is it when he slides down the banister with his Tommy gun blazing? Hard to say, but I thought the Abel art was better than Chapman's story, which features lines like this one: "They started to 'serve' . . and it wasn't Wiener Schnitzel . . ."

Peter: Kirk is afflicted with pyrophobia, a malady that can cause embarrassment in a family of fire fighters. When he grows up and realizes he can't follow in Dad's asbestos shoes, Kirk enlists in the Navy, thinking the water is the best place to hide from the heat. As is often the case with these dramas, poor Kirk finds himself detailed as a "Flame Fighter" aboard a battleship and his fear is put to the test very quickly. Can our young protagonist rise above his irrational fear of being burned to a crisp? Even though it's a given that Kirk will overcome his pyrophobia before the sixth page or Japan's surrender, there seems to be no explanation of just what cures the kid. He simply starts fighting fires after several panels of the poor schmuck getting ill in his asbestos suit. Novick's art here could be mistaken for Jack Abel's. The mediocre Jack Abel.

Jack: The fact that the GCD lists this story as "Nothing on the Nose" and credits it to Chapman and Novick makes me question the credits. I do see some faint flashes of Novick here but the preponderance of characters in fire-fighting suits makes it tough to be sure. Perhaps it's Novick inked by Abel? The last two panels almost look like they're by one of the Superman artists.

"Flame Fighter!"

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 112

"Battle Shadow!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Fighting Blip!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Tell It to the Marines!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co. is trapped by enemy fire while trying to cross a river. To keep his men calm, Sgt. Rock tells the story of Tag-A-Long Thomas, a once-new recruit who followed Rock everywhere and become his "Battle Shadow," helping him out of many jams. When Rock jumped on an enemy tank, so did Tag-A-Long. When Rock dove under a bridge to fight off Nazi frogmen, Tag-A-Long was swimming alongside him. The story holds the men's attention long enough for them to escape danger and Rock leads Easy Co. to another victory as they wipe out the source of Nazi shelling.

Do you recall back when we were commenting that the members of Easy Co. seemed faceless? Not anymore! As this series continues to grow and develop, Kanigher and Kubert have begun to use repeat characters with identifiable faces and personalities. I love this issue's cover, which pulls together the combat-happy Joes into a group, but I don't recall Archie. He may have been in a story a year or two ago.

Peter: I wasn't overly fond of this Sgt. Rock installment. There's nothing new being said and the situation set "in the present" (just before the flashback) is forgotten after Rock tells his story. The usual top-notch Kubert though.

Jack: An American fighter pilot gets lost after dark and is pursued by a Nazi pilot whose radar makes it easy for him to see "The Fighting Blip" and follow the plane in the dark. The U.S. pilot can't see but manages to trick the Nazi and destroy his plane in the end. This is an unusual story in that it is set at night. Jack Abel uses shadows and colors, especially black, to great effect.

Peter: I read this twice and still can't decipher what it's about. Meandering storyline and very un-Jack Abel-ish artwork (almost looks like Will Eisner in spots!). Must have been a fairly easy job for Jack though since most of the panels are taken up with black ink.

Jack: A cynical marine named Nick doesn't want to "Tell it to the Marines" and sing along with his fellow soldiers when they belt out the Marine hymn. As he goes through a battle, he sees things happen that mirror the lines in the song and bit by bit he becomes convinced that it's not the "'flag-waving rah-rah'" he thought it was. By the end of the story, he is singing louder than anyone! I thought this was a terrible story. It represents the sort of "flag-waving rah-rah" that Nick abhorred.

Peter: I'm almost embarrassed to admit I fell for "Tell It to the Marines," a clever though highly predictable recruitment story. Sometimes these things only have to give off the spirit of the time for me to get involved. Yep, I knew from panel one that, by the time the boys hit the Halls of Montezuma, our hero Nick would be front of the choir but it's still a pretty good fable.