Monday, March 30, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Nine: July 1974

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

Cover by Luis Dominguez, Alfredo Alcala,
ER Cruz, Murphy Anderson & Joe Giella
The House of Mystery 225

"The Man Who Died Twice"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Master of the Unknown"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Kirby
(reprinted from House of Secrets #4, June 1957)

"Fireman, Burn My Child!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Frank Thorne

"The Curse of the MacIntyres"
Story by Mary Skrenes
Art by Don Heck
(reprinted from The Sinister House of Secret Love #1, November 1971)

"See No Evil"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

"The Hairy Shadows"
Story by John Broome
Art by Murphy Anderson and Joe Giella
(reprinted from The Phantom Stranger #4, March 1953)

"Shadow Show"
Story by Mark Hanerfeld
Art by Jack Sparling
(reprinted from The Spectre #9, April 1969)

"This One'll Scare You to Death!"
Story by George Kashdan and David Kasakove
Art by E.R. Cruz

Peter: Cobbler Giles Mornay has never been happy with his lot in life; he's convinced he was born to be an aristocrat. He tries on the shoes of a nobleman and buys fancy clothes, but his wife mocks him and tells him to get back to his peasant's life. When Giles attempts to contact Satan through a black arts book he's attained, his wife hits the roof and burns the book. Tired of her constant berating, Giles murders the woman in a fit of anger. Up pops Satan, finally, to tell Giles he's done a great job and maybe they can come to an agreement. If Giles will hand over his soul, Satan will give him the life of an aristocrat he so desires. Giles agrees and Satan lays out the rules: Giles must cop to the murder and take his punishment. One year after his execution, his corpse will rise and Satan will find him a new body/home. Though wary of the bad rep Ol' Sparky has netted in the past, Giles agrees and, sure enough, one year later, his skeleton rises from the grave to seek out Satan. The devil, true to his word, transports Giles into his new body. Unfortunately, while Giles was moldering in his grave, France underwent a revolution and his new vessel is the Marquis de La Marre, an aristocrat about to be beheaded by the same peasants Mornay despised so much. Incredible Alcala art (in particular, Giles' rise from the grave) and a sly Oleck script combine to make "The Man Who Died Twice" one of 1974's high points so far. "Deal with the Devil" stories are a dime a dozen (or a quarter a dozen, thanks to 1974 funny book inflation) but Oleck manages to squeeze just one more surprise twist out of the formula. It's a reveal I never saw coming!

Jack: The extended opening sequence with the skeleton clad in decaying clothes is a tour de force by Alcala. It's a very intriguing set up that made me wonder if the payoff would live up to the opening. Surprisingly, it did, and the clue to the ending was fairly planted early on in the story when a date was provided. Unlike so many stories in Ghosts, where the date is just a historical footnote, it is a key element in this story, also one of my favorites so far for 1974.

Peter: A small Kansas town called Wheatsville finds itself without a fire department but local
businessman Bob Stadtler offers to buy a fire truck and charge a small fee for services. The town happily agrees but then, once Bob gets his truck, he has his hired goons starting fires all over town and he charges the victims exorbitant fees for putting the infernos out. When Bob shows up to a house fire and refuses to extinguish the flames because the owner doesn't have five grand, a little girl dies and the town turns violent. Bob murders his henchmen and then races out of town but doesn't get far when his car smashes into a hill. He's taken to a local hospital and stitched up and presented with the bill once he's recovered. When Bob tells the doctors he can't pay, they reclaim all their work. The next day, two surveyors stand on the hospital site (now an empty parcel of land) and wonder why the town intends to build a hospital way out in the middle of nowhere. They miss the skeleton behind the bushes. I have no idea what the climax of "Fireman, Burn My Child!" is supposed to mean. Are we to assume that ghosts (or demons or something) brought Bob to an imaginary hospital and then killed him when he didn't pay his bill? Then why does Bob's skeleton look as though it's been on that site quite a while? I can picture Michael Fleisher exclaiming "I've got it! He'll be a skeleton at the end! How cool is that?" but not thinking it through. I don't like Frank Thorne's art here, which is strange because I usually like Thorne's work. It almost looks unfinished, like that of another Frank (Robbins).

Jack: Stadtler is such a monster that I was reading this one right from the get go wondering what sort of horrible fate Fleisher had in store for him. What should have been the ending is pretty good, when the doctors tell him that they'll have to repossess his body parts because he can't pay, but the story goes on a page too long and the last page doesn't make much sense. I took it to be a scene from some future date, after his body had decomposed. The skeleton is in a wheelchair, so perhaps he didn't die after all.

"See No Evil"
Peter: Frank Creighton awaits execution on death row but muses he'd sell his soul to the devil if he could only turn invisible, slip out of his cell, and get his hands around the throat of the man who betrayed him. Turns out Ol' Sparky moonlights as a prison guard and, before you can say "not another 'deal with the devil' story, ferchrissakes, that makes two in one issue and I've just about had enough of these cliched story lines," a bargain has been struck. Creighton's a bit nervous though when he takes his place on the gallows and he's just as visible as the executioner standing next to him. The rope goes 'round his neck, the bottom falls out and before you can say "oh no, not another 'homage' to 'Owl Creek Bridge'-- didn't we just have one of these not too long ago or is it that we've seen so many I only think it was last issue?" the rope breaks and Frank hightails it to find the betrayer, who happens to be his dear old dad. When the con gets to pop's house, he's alarmed to see a hearse parked in front. Has pop died and stolen Frank's vengeance from him? Nope, turns out the rope didn't break and it's Frank who's in the coffin. He got half his wish; he's invisible (as in dead). That Satan can be a real SOB sometimes. "Owl Creek" rip-offs come a close second to "Sadistic Jungle Explorers" on our Top Ten List of Cliches for DC Mystery Writers to Fall Back On. The only saving grace to "See No Evil" is Nino's stylish artwork.

Jack: I love Nino's artwork but even he can't save this bag of cliches and retreads.

"This One..."
Peter: Sick of taking care of his wheelchair-bound brother Wilbur, Simon Crowe takes a page from the Book of Cain and scares the weak-hearted man to death. Unluckily for Simon, his brother has been studying the dark arts and now Simon thinks Satan's sent a few demons to collect up the sinner. Turns out it's only Halloween and the demons are neighborhood kids, but Simon has a heart attack before he gets that news. The police muse that it's quite a coincidence that both Crowes died of heart attacks. The most amazing thing about "This One'll Scare You" is that it took two guys (one with an idea and one who could type) to pump out this nonsense. This One'll Put You to Sleep.

Jack: Not a bad story--we've seen much worse. E.R. Cruz seems to get handed a lot of weak scripts and he always turns in artwork that is above average but not brilliant. I figured out what was going on right away.

Peter: "Reprints! We got reprints! Department." A decidedly mixed-bag of reprints this time out. A super-popular TV quiz show attracts the most intelligent contestants in the world. One of those, who calls himself "Master of the Unknown" and dresses head to toe in a Ku Klux Klan-esque robe, seems to know all the mysteries of the unexplained. He pinpoints the location of Excalibur and Atlantis, the whereabouts of the long-vanished mystery ship, the Carla Mona, and the latitude and longitude of the island home of the last-living Cyclops. The genius only slips up when he comes to the studio one day and forgets to cover his hands, which are lion's paws. The mystery man turns out to be... the Sphinx! That final panel, of the golden boy unmasked, is pretty doggone silly but the build-up is intriguing and suspenseful and Kirby's art is as dynamic as the stuff he'd pump out shortly thereafter for Atlas. In fact, this story could be mistaken for a "Tale to Astonish."

Jack: This story plays off of the quiz show fad of the time period and I really liked the twist ending, but I have a question for the Master of the Unknown: where did all my hair get to?

"Master of the Unknown"

Peter: I'm not sure how, but we managed to miss covering "The Curse of the MacIntyres" when it was first published in DC's The Sinister House of Secret Love #1 (which morphed into Secrets of Sinister House). I wouldn't have minded if we'd missed it again this time out. Romance, dwarves, romance, evil children, romance, family curses, romance, axe-wielding old ladies, and Don Heck. Do I need to say more? Well, how about that this funny book equivalent of a Barbara Michaels novel runs an insanely long 25 pages? That's three Johnny Peril adventures we could have read instead. What fan of House of Mystery in 1974 (or any other year, for that matter) read "MacIntyres" and thought "Hmmm, this is my cup of tea!" Not this twelve year-old, that's fer sure.

Don Heck + Gothic Romance = Disaster

Jack: We didn't start covering that comic till the name changed. As I read this story, memories flooded back of 1971 DC comics and lots of art by Don Heck. The Donster sure could draw cheesecake! The story goes on and on and follows the formula of a DC Gothic romance, but I was hoping the midget son of the romantic lead would turn out to be a killer leprechaun. No such luck.

"The Hairy Shadows"
Peter: The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger put in appearances as well. The Spectre's yarn, "Shadow Show," is nothing more than a fragment and features some of the worst Jack Sparling art we've ever seen (and that's pushing the envelope, folks). Check out that poor buck-toothed yahoo below. No wonder he turned to a life of crime. The Phantom Stranger's adventure, "The Hairy Shadows," is a fun trip down memory lane, taking us back to a time when PS wasn't a brooding party-killer and traveled the nation looking for goofball spirits and inter-dimensional screw-ups. The Hairy Shadows are the latter and, might I say, it's refreshing to find out that these are legitimate other-dimensional creeps and not a neighboring farmer who's dressing up in a Charles Bronson mask to scare off the railroad tycoon who plans to run a line through town...?

Jack Sparling.... Yecch

Jack: I always thought the Spectre was a cool character and I liked the ending of the story, where the gigantic Spectre holds the bad guy in his great big, white-gloved hand, but I agree that the art is ugly. The Phantom Stranger story was fun and goofy. I love how PS turns up out of nowhere and says, "Sometimes I'm called the Phantom Stranger." Oh, OK. That explains it. And what are you called the rest of the time? A creepy weirdo who pokes his nose in other people's business? This was an uneven issue where the new stuff edged out the reprints in quality for a change.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 121

"Child's Play"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ramona Fradon

"Corpus Delicti"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Ms. Vampire Killer"
Story by Don Glut
Art by E. R. Cruz

Peter: Old Man Davis is having lots of trouble with those Shaw kids. They're obviously into voodoo and they view him as an old ruddy-duddy who needs a lesson learned. It's "Child's Play" for the demonic duo to terrorize Davis, making him believe sticking a pin in a doll will bring lots of pain and suffering. And then when little Ellen bakes a Mr. Davis gingerbread man and bites its head off... things get complicated. Here's a case of "He Said... They Said" with its dual viewpoint story line running side-by-side. Problem is, the uniqueness of the format wears out its welcome fairly quickly. The climax, with Old Man Davis writing down the details in his journal right up to the point where he gets his head bitten off (well, we assume that's what happens, at least) is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft. At least the old man didn't write "Aargh, my head seems to be separating from my body!!" When I see Ramona Fradon's highly stylized artwork, I can't help but think of Bruce Timm's similar work on Batman: The Animated Series.

Jack: When I read one of these comic book stories where one point of view runs down the left side and another runs down the right side I'm always a little confused about how I'm supposed to read them. Do I read left-right, left-right, etc., or do I read down the left and then down the right? It gets in the way of my enjoyment a little, but it did not mar this terrific story. I am enjoying every opportunity to re-encounter Ramona Fradon's art, which I don't think I fully appreciated 40 years ago. The conclusion is a winner!

Bad horror stories can have
the same effect on Jack
Peter: After but one year of marriage, Arthur Price has had enough, but divorce is not an option so he does what 90% of other husbands in the DC Mystery Universe resort to: murder. Through flashbacks, we discover that his wife, Martha (the number one choice of name for a DC Mystery Universe wife, by the way), has become overbearing and stifling, allowing no ray of sunshine into Arthur's life. At least, that's how Arthur perceives it. So, the widower stuffs his wife's body in a trunk and has a moving company come to haul it up to a vacation cabin (where Arthur and his wife were to spend the following weekend). The plan is to dump the body, trunk and all, into the deep lake near the property. Unfortunately for Arthur, it seems his wife's grasp extends from beyond the grave and the trunk ends up back where it came from, accidentally popping open and spilling its contents all over Arthur's stairway. The police discover a letter from Martha, to the owner of the cabin, canceling the reservation because of her husband's asthma. "Corpus Delicti" is a nicely illustrated little fable with a good, humorous climax. One of the few DC murderers that I sympathize with.

Jack: It's hard to blame Arthur for killing Martha. She gets rid of the furniture he ordered, she throws out the chili he made for breakfast, she dumps his beer and--worst of all--she gives away his dog! Arf!

Peter: Present day Transylvania has the same problem with vampires it's had for centuries but the blood-suckers seem to be getting smarter and avoiding all the traps and pitfalls. Into this unnatural disaster area comes Professor Zarko, a decidedly atypical vampire hunter, geared up in low cut blouses and go-go boots and ready to kick vampire behind. "Ms. Vampire Hunter" puts a stake to the head monster and the villagers welcome peace at last. One man waits behind to put the moves on Zarko and discovers exactly how it was she was able to rid the world of the fanged demon: she's a vampire too and wants to eliminate the competition. Groan. If you've read as many of these snoozers as we have, you can guess the "surprise" the second the babe walks in the door. Don Glut is perhaps best known to horror comics fans as the creator of Gold Key's Doctor Spektor but, to me, he'll always be the guy who write the best non-fiction study of The Frankenstein Monster back in the early 1970s.

Jack: I'm a Don Glut fan from way back for his monster movie writing, but this story landed with a big thud. I did not see the ending coming but when it came I thought, oh no--not again!

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 44

"Color the Dead Black"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

". . . Better Off Dead!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mike Sekowsky

"Kill the Demon Tiger!"
Story by Mike Fleisher
Art by Don Perlin

Jack: In the days of the Black Plague, London was devastated by disease but a small town outside the city has been spared until a family comes along seeking shelter. Soon, people begin dropping left and right and the villagers blame the old woman who came to town with the new family. Just as they are about to execute her for being a witch, along comes the son of the town's leader to tell them that, not only is the old woman not a witch, but her black cat is the only thing saving them from having to "Color the Dead Black." Rats bring the plague and cats kills rats. Though the villagers killed her cat just before the wise young man's return, they discover that it had kittens right before it died and so the village will likely be saved. Yandoc's art evokes the plague times nicely and the unexpectedly happy ending worked for me.

"Color the Dead Black"

Peter: Another history lesson disguised as entertainment. I'm not sure what's worse - a twist that falls flat on its face or the twist that never comes. With the latter, it always feels, to me, as though the story ends uncompleted. That's certainly true with "Color the Dead Black" (yet another really dumb title).

". . . Better off Dead!"
Jack: Pretty Ellen Franklin is barely off the train in New York City when she meets Jack Wallace, manager for Borago, the master hypnotist. Jack asks Ellen if she wants to work for the performer and she jumps at the chance. Borago is a little creepy and she begins to think she'd be ". . . Better off Dead" than to continue working in his act. She runs off and marries Jack, only to discover that he is really Borago and that he hypnotized her into thinking there were two men. She runs off, only to be picked up again at the same train station by an older gentleman. She does not realize that it's Borago again, hypnotizing her anew. Mike Sekowsky's art is certainly an acquired taste; fortunately, it's one I acquired as a child reading the JLA. The story is somewhat confusing but Ellen is cute enough that I'll give it a pass.

Peter: Final panels like the one we get with "Better Off Dead" make me feel like I've missed something (like maybe a page or two?). If Borago is so frightening to Ellen, why is she smiling at us in that last panel? And raise your hand if you thought Jack was really Borago from the start? Yeah, big surprise that, right? If I didn't have the artist credit right here in front of me, I'd swear that Jerry Grandenetti teamed up with Don Heck on this one.

"Kill the
Demon Tiger"
Jack: In Rahjapur many years ago, when India was still a British colony, a native named Sanisn has his teeth filled by a dentist and they discuss the tiger that has been killing people in the area. British hunter Paul Richards arrives with his big gun to "Kill the Demon Tiger." Kitty snatches a young boy from his home and Richards blasts away, but when the late tiger is examined they discover that it has gold fillings in its teeth--just like those the dentist gave Sanisn! Hands down the worst Mike Fleisher story we've read to date, and it's fitting that it's illustrated by Don Perlin, who is down there at the bottom of the barrel of DC horror artists, along with Jerry G and a few others I won't remind you of.

Peter: Just a paycheck this time around for Mike Fleisher (and probably a very small paycheck at that) and, with the quality that Mike pumps out for our entertainment, I think he's allowed that now and then. I was hoping the true identity of the tiger wasn't Sanisn but that trip to the dentist ("Oh my, what large teeth you have!") pretty much telecast it, didn't it? At one point, when the tiger grabs the little kid between its jaws, I thought the real Mike Fleisher might burst forth from this pablum and scream "I am Mike Fleisher and I'm going to show you something reeeeeally nasty!" but no, he's muffled by that happy ending.

Luis Dominguez
Weird Mystery Tales 12

"To Sleep, Perchance to Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Abe Ocampo

"Till Death Do Us Part"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Luis Dominguez

"Time Plug"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Tony deZuniga

Peter: Unable to sleep due to continuing nightmares, Charles Sawyer slips further and further into madness. In his dreams, he sees a shadowy beast stalking him, getting closer with each encounter. Professional help is useless so Sawyer resigns himself to nights with little or no sleep. His wife continually pleads with him to return to his therapy but her concern comes off as nothing but nagging to the haggard Charles. His wife begs one time too many and Sawyer wrings her neck. When he looks up from her corpse, he sees the monster who has been invading his dreams but soon realizes he's looking into a mirror. Oh, I get it! We all have a beast inside of us that we keep at bay but is just that far away from emerging and doing nasty stuff. What a unique idea! "To Sleep..." is terminally dull. I thought for sure Sawyer's wife would rise from the dead after he'd strangled her and say "Doctor Evans--you must go see Doctor Evans just one more time!" She says that phrase so many times throughout the strip you'd think Bob Kanigher wrote the thing.

"To Sleep..."

Jack: Points to Jack Oleck for trying something a little different, but this psychological horror story falls flat. I figured out what was going on about halfway through, so the ending was no surprise. Ocampo's art is strong but can't overcome a weak story.

Peter: Jason Bowers wants to marry heiress Laura for her money rather than for love. She'll have nothing to do with him until Jason visits a local voodoo practitioner and buys a love potion. Bewitched Laura firmly in the bag, Jason gets his wife and his money, too. Laura plays the doting wife and does her knitting and reads about exotic hobbies while Jason spends all the money. Once the well is dry, the con man announces his intention of leaving Laura and heading for a warmer climate. Years later, after Laura is found dead of old age, it's discovered that one of her exotic hobbies came in handy. Jason is found in perfect condition, a book on taxidermy nearby. That clever climax would have seemed more of a surprise if a variation had not been plastered across the cover. Despite the E. Nelson Bridwell credit on the splash, this is a Jack Oleck script (the mistake is corrected in the letters page of WMT #15) and if I had been Jack, I'd have been pissed. There are a few plot holes I can't get past in this one. When Jason disappears, it's taken for granted he's gone despite the fact that Laura tells those who will listen that her beau is still in the house. Also, why make a big deal out of the voodoo queen and her joy juice when it's quickly dismissed and never addressed again? This is not one of Luis Dominguez's better jobs but the inker or maybe even the colorist might have had something to do with that. Many of his panels appear sketchy at best.

Jack: Now that Dominguez is replacing Nick Cardy as the main cover artist for the DC horror line, I was happy to see some of his work on the pages inside, yet the art in this story is not as good as what is on the cover. Had I not known the ending from the cover I might have enjoyed this story more.

Peter: On the run from the law, two bandits drive into a valley of magic, ruled by an old man with a secret. I can't say much more about "Time Plug" (a really dumb title, by the way), not because I don't want to give anything away but because I'm not sure I understand much of it. There's a time warp (sorta) and an old man who's lived for 200 years because of some crazy Indian magic (I guess) and... Well, that's it. There's some pretty pitchers to look at, though.

"Time Plug"

Jack: For the third time in this issue, the art is much better than the story. Doesn't that kind of sum up the DC horror line? You know a story is bad when Destiny has to come in in the last panel and explain what happened and what the title means. I think what he said is that, by killing the old man, a time plug was pulled and this allowed the last 200 years of progress to come flowing in. Steve Skeates is not impressing me.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 28

"Flight of the Lost Phantom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Don Perlin

"The Corpse in the Cradle"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Specter of the Iron Duchess"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: 1965, Hoboken, NJ--reporter Ralph Kelso visits the WWII aircraft carrier Washington, which is being taken apart. Touring the ship with its old caretaker, he hears and sees a ghostly plane trying to land and learns about the "Flight of the Lost Phantom." During the war, a pilot named Carter was the last to survive a bitter fight with Japanese planes, but when he tried to find his way back to the ship it was blacked out and the captain would not turn on the lights for fear that a submarine would find its target. Lt. Carter was doomed to fly his ghostly plane over the ship for eternity. The captain never recovered from having to make this tough decision, and he ended up as the ship's elderly caretaker.

"Flight of the Lost Phantom"
Suddenly, he hears the plane circling overhead and decides to light some flares to guide it home. He is mowed down as the plane lands but, when the authorities arrive, they find the old man dead of a heart attack. Kelso finds a piece of the plane on the ship's deck, making him wonder if it did land after all. An unexpectedly entertaining start to this issue of Ghosts, marred only by the usual amateurish Perlin art.

Peter: I thought the set-up for "Flight of the Lost Phantom" was intriguing and pretty darn creepy but it eventually devolved into just another Ghosts story.

Jack: On the cold and lonely border where Scotland meets England, hard working farmer Clyde Jameson spares no effort to get things ready for the baby his wife is carrying. Certain that it will be a boy and determined to give him a good start in life, Clyde leaves his pregnant wife to run the farm while he ventures off to make some cash by working on a fishing boat. He returns just in time to fetch the doctor to deliver the baby, and in the nights that follow he enjoys spending time with his wife and new baby. He fails to comprehend that the woman and child died in childbirth, so "The Corpse in the Cradle" and its mother are merely the ghosts of those he once loved. A lovely and elegiac story from Murray Boltinoff, of all people, with illustrations by Alcala that range from very good to masterful. We have watched his progress through the DC horror comics to the point where his human characters are extremely well drawn.

A good example of Alcala's
growing ability to draw a
person who is not a corpse
Peter: I enjoyed the heck out of this one but it seemed a bit truncated, as if my copy was missing a couple pages. We're going in with Clyde to check on Mary and then suddenly she and the baby are ghosts. It's still a sad, and at the same time disquieting, climax. Alcala's art is magnificent and... not one jungle in sight!

Jack: In Communist-era Czechoslovakia, Minister of Transport Jan Rasek takes matters into his own hands to stop another truck from being destroyed on the lonely mountain road that leads to an old stone castle. He does a little research and drives a truck himself, only to come face to face with "The Specter of the Iron Duchess," a ghost who is said to haunt the road as long as the castle stands. Jan convinces the National Council to let him blow up the castle and he drives a truck full of explosives up the road, but the Iron Duchess interferes and he ends up being blown up along with the truck and the castle. His plan worked, and the road is now safe. The first vehicle to pass when the smoke clears is the hearse carrying Jan's body. Danged if this isn't one of the better issues of Ghosts in some time! Grandenetti's art is no worse than Perlin's, but the stories are entertaining.

Peter: There might be the makings of a decent Ghosts story in there but it's buried beneath the tons of rubble known as Grandenetti. Chuckles rather than child are the order of the day. How pathetic a month is it when Ghosts is better than The Witching Hour?

"The Specter of the Iron Duchess"

Nick Cardy
Secrets of Sinister House 18

"The Strange Shop on Demon Street"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by John Calnan

"The Baby Who Had But 'One Year to Die' . . ."
Story by D. W. Holtz (Dave Wood)
Art by Angel B. Luna
(reprinted from Unexpected 111, June 1969)

"The House That Death Built"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Half-Lucky Charm!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #115, June 1953)

"The Strange Shop . . ."
Jack: What lurks within "The Strange Shop on Demon Street"? Why, it's just kindly old woodcarver Titus Farro and his mannequins. People in the neighborhood sometimes see the puppets moving as if they were alive, and local hood Nort Lasher is convinced that Farro has a fortune stashed away somewhere. When Nort and his pals mug the old man it's puppets to the rescue; Nort's cohorts get a beating but he disappears. The world outside never learns Nort's real fate--he is transformed into a puppet and performs with Farro's other creations! Despite a great cover by Cardy, Kashdan and Calnan start off the last issue of Sinister House with a story dreadfully written and drawn.

Peter: "The Strange Shop..." is the pits in both story and art and I have nothing else to say. Bailiff, take this story away, please.

Jack: Satanic schemer Orin Garth was master of "The House That Death Built." His false beacon on the seashore lured many ships to their doom and he profited by combing the wreckage for timbers he could use to build himself a home. He vows that one day his head will lie on a silken pillow. One night, as he is picking through the wreckage of another lost ship, he trips and his head lands on, of all things, a silken pillow. He nods off to sleep, unaware that he is lying in a coffin that washed up near the shore. When a wave takes the box out to sea and slams the lid, Orin is trapped forever but he got his wish. Whenever I find myself trying to be an apologist for Grandenetti, along comes a story like this to remind me why he was one of the worst artists at DC in the 1970s.

How we feel sometimes . . .

Peter: Grandenetti outdoes himself here. What in the world was the scale he was working in on that splash page? The cliff appears to be five times the size of the two figures below. That's either a very tiny cliff or those are very tall men. Which begs the question--how tall are the really big men floating in the sea?

Oh! So that's it!
Jack: The pathetic mess that is this comic is filled out with three reprints. There's the one-page "Mad to Order" (from Unexpected 116, January 1970), "The Baby Who Had But 'One Year to Die' . . ." (from Unexpected 111, March 1969), and "The Half-Locked Charm!" (from Sensation Mystery 115, June 1953). We briefly mentioned "Mad to Order" here. "The Baby"is a silly story in which a baby delivered to an orphanage on New Year's Day grows up rapidly and eventually figures out that he's Father Time, fated to die on New Year's Eve. Finally, "The Half-Lucky Charm!" is an early '50s tale with period-appropriate art by Gil Kane and a story that isn't even half-interesting. Kids who paid 20 cents for this issue were either disappointed or completists. I'm betting it wasn't widely distributed.

Peter: The art in "The Baby . . . ," by Angel Luna, is about as primitive as art gets without resorting to stick figures. The climax made my head hurt really bad. Where do the New Year babies come from? The stork? Do they magically appear before each new Father Time to distribute? Even our '50s reprint, usually the best thing in these titles, blows big time. Aside from the outstanding Nick Cardy cover (which could be one of the ten best DC mystery covers of all time), the final issue of Secrets of Sinister House could be one of the worst issues of the year.

Jack: Amen to that!

Did Mike Sekowsky walk by
Gil Kane's desk and offer to help?

What the--?
The mystery deepens in our next war-torn issue!
On Sale Monday, April 6th!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

COLD PRINT: William Sansom's "A Smell of Fear" and "The Little Room"

by Jose Cruz

The tricky thing about anthologies is that you're never entirely sure what you're going to get with them. Being that individualized reviews for the book's diverse contents are hardly if ever written, this only increases the unpredictability of each story. When I picked up my copy of The Seventh Pan Book of Horror Stories (1966), what I had expected were tales of gangrenous aberrations and loathsome creatures of the night. The collection certainly had given me my share of this with the likes of R. Chetwynd-Hayes' "The Thing" and David Grant's "The Bats" and Martin Waddell's "Cannibals." But when I arrived at the pair of tales written by William Sansom (1912 - 1976), “A Smell of Fear” and "The Little Room," the last thing I imagined I would find was actual horror.

Like many, I'm attracted to the various trappings and aesthetics of the horror genre, even down to the hoariest of settings. Give me a lonely graveyard or a cobweb-strewn hallway and I'll manage to get my buzz. Vampire crawling out of a casket? Even better. Throw in some fog and a waxy full moon and I'll be good until the morning. But I'll be the first to admit that these elements are empty calories. They're fairly useless unless the writer working with them has imbued them with true dread and vibrancy. Of course, one does not need to rely on these conventions to stir up fearful sensations in the reader's mind. Sometimes the most affecting of horror tales have nary a tombstone in sight.

“A Smell of Fear” and “The Little Room” are two such stories. A former firefighter during the London Blitz, Sansom turned to writing everything from romances to supernatural horror after the Second World War, making his biggest impression with collections published in the 40s and 50s. “The Little Room” debuted in his premier anthology, Something Terrible, Something Lovely (1948) while “A Smell of Fear” was an original to Herbert van Thal’s seventh Pan omnibus. Another tale, “The Vertical Ladder,” had been seen in Pan’s second volume of shuddersome stories while what is perhaps his most famous story, “A Woman Seldom Found,” made the paperback anthology rounds, first cropping up in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV (1957) and hopping around Fontana and Hamlyn books before finding its most recent host in the Vandermeer’s doorstopper volume The Weird (2012). A sold-out collection of Sansom's macabre writings from Tartarus Press was released in 2002.

2nd printing, 1980
“A Smell of Fear” is a portrait of urban paranoia that would likely gain the sympathies of Ramsey Campbell. Diana Craig is a young woman living by herself in London, going through the motions of a dreamless existence interrupted only by Diana’s sharp bursts of fear and apprehension at the most innocuous of situations. Sansom displays his canny eye for descriptive detail both mundane and extraordinary in the opening scene that finds Diana cutting her nails over her bathtub. A moment as thunderingly ordinary as this is imbued with slightly sinister portent, as Diana fancies her cut cuticles resembling shellfish:

However white such nails looked on her fingers, they gleamed yellowish against the white enamel. They just looked curled, and wet, like shrimps or sandfleas. And the surface tension of the water gave them a greyish blur of legs and feelers.

Now a big dark drop of blood splashed down among the shrimp pairings, it washed out pale pink and brought her abruptly to her proper senses.

Sansom pairs the wandering mind of the dreamer, imagining pieces of his character’s body taking on animalistic characteristics, with a kitchen-sink, everyday realism that strikes a primal chord in the reader no matter how much we may differ from Diana. Haven’t we all caught ourselves with one of these funny ideas in our heads?

Funny isn’t exactly what Diana makes of it. She scolds herself for her imagination, just like she does when she believes she’s being methodically followed by a limping man with an ugly birthmark on his face. Is he really breathing down her neck in the fish monger’s shop? Does he actually follow her in the streets as she tries to elude him?

Sansom is both delicate and blunt in his depiction of Diana, laying all her insecurities bare for the scrutiny of the reader. His heartbreaking description of Diana's opinion of her looks demonstrates a knowledge of the way that loneliness and the sound of one's own voice can have on our minds:

Sometimes in a double mirror she had caught sight of her profile and had noticed a tone of placidity in the face, as though this profiled stranger were a little too heavy or pallid or something, shapely but overdone, like a Roman bust. Lips – not enough color? Pale eyelashes? Cheeks too full and flat? It could not be exactly said – and she avoided saying it. A mixture of vanity and humility told her that she was a good-looking, unattractive girl. 

The veracity of the narrative is appropriately muddied by Diana’s neuroses. Like the female protagonists of Shirley Jackson, Sansom’s character is one not to be entirely trusted but she is nonetheless someone who inspires our sympathies. Unlike her male counterparts, Diana feels no need or desire to investigate her apprehensions and “get to the bottom of things.” Her womanly intuition tells her everything; she knows that she’s being followed for a fact, no matter how much she chides herself in the other direction. She is the archetype of the “hysterical woman,” but if anything this shows her (and all her other literary ancestors right down from the madwoman in “The Yellow Wallpaper”) to be the more emotionally intelligent of the sexes. When faced with darkness, men are compelled to probe it while woman instinctively know it for what it is. Fittingly in the horror genre neither gender comes out the better in the end.

And that is exactly how Sansom ends it. Diana finds herself walking along the lonely streets at night with her strange watcher tagging behind and, with that growing fear stirring inside her, the one that can be smelt by dogs (and wolves), she contemplates seeking shelter in a bustling pub before she heads off again because of old anxieties cropping back up. What follows is a startling altercation wherein we discover that Diana’s suspicions were right—but for the wrong reasons—and that good deeds performed in the face of mortal danger lead to punishment. Sansom doesn’t resort to a Blochian twist to unsettle our nerves (she was a werewolf the whole time!), but the frankness with which he confronts the final events of the story grimly reinforce that old adage of the genre we mentioned before: no one goes free.

Though the ending of “A Smell of Fear” is retained to allow the reader to have their first-time frissons with the story, the nature of the discussion for Sansom’s second tale under review entails a precise detailing of its climax and aftermath. Consider this ye only warning.

Hogarth Press, 1948
The titular location of “The Little Room” is the apartment of Sister Margherita, a nun who has just been punished by her convent’s order for an unknown offense. Whatever this woman's crime is, her sentence is clear: death. But the sister will not be facing a firing squad or the gallows. She is to be sealed inside her cubicle, bricked in and cut off from any supply of oxygen so that she will eventually--very eventually--perish from asphyxiation.

And that's it. Margherita's last moments on this earth are described in poignant and unflinching detail by Samson. The story is completely at odds with the reputation that the paperback Pan Horror series garnered with their depictions of stinking flesh and human depravity. Not one drop of blood is spilled and yet it completely succeeds in chilling ours.

One of Samson's great assets as a writer is his sharp insight into the workings of the human mind, a trait that is used to devastating effect here. We initially see Margherita accepting her fate with all the patience and open-heartedness of the truly devout; she holds no anger or fear for what is to come. She even begins to become bothered by the presence of the female artisans who busy themselves with creating her artificial tomb. It's a purely human tic that finds expression even in the face of permanent isolation. We wish everyone would just go away until they finally do. Then, like a touch of cold, the loneliness begins to seep in.

Not only that, but Margherita's judges have seen it fit to have a barometer installed in the room so that the prosecuted may see the actual decrease in air as time goes by, a most effective means in promoting penance in the criminal's heart. The barometer is surrounded by a mesh of brass, so that the guilty may clearly see its measurements but refrain from, as Sansom puts it, "injur[ing] the instrument in the belief, perhaps, that it was the agent of death rather than its mentor."

Although Margherita initially takes her sentence in stride, it isn't long before the inevitability of her situation begins to crawl into her mind. The monotony of the room itself, the lack of the ceremonial bread and water the order provides as a final courtesy, the ever-teasing and never-wavering needle of the barometer; all of these begin to impress upon her that most incomprehensible of thoughts that she will not be long for this world.

"This person, this 'me,' that I am, this familiarity of hands and memories and close wishes and dry disgusts, this well-shaped shadow lying about my inner thoughts--all this is going to die. It will cease to be. There will be nothing more of it."

How do you comprehend that? How do you deal with the notion that the very thoughts running through your mind will not exist in the next second? Sansom of course doesn't have any answers. And that's what's so damn terrifying about it. And with the doubt and the terror there comes the regret that we have not fulfilled all the potential dreams of our sorry existence:

Whatever it was, she had left it undone. However much she might have done, she could have done more. However much she had seen, she had not felt deeply enough. However much she had felt, she had not stored those feelings deeply enough.

I don't recall just how I was imagining "The Little Room" would pan out upon my initial reading of it, but for whatever reason I hadn't thought that Sansom would deliver on exactly what he had promised. In a way I became like Margherita, a small flame of hope quivering in my heart for some kind of last-minute intervention or redemption. But it never came, for me or for her. Margherita was sentenced to her fate and no other would be supplied. The throat that had been choked with tears now gasped for air while the barometer--cold, dispassionate, mechanical--reached its final destination.

For a story featured in a series infamous for its gruesomeness, "The Little Room" is the cruelest of the entire lot. It gets to the heart of fear and never blinks an eye the entire time. Death will not sneak in and destroy us in gaudy violence. We'll see it, advancing slowly and assuredly, its course definite and unchanging. It will come and claim us and we won't be able to do a thing about it and, like Margherita, we will eventually stop moving.

Read "A Woman Seldom Found" here.

Read "Various Temptations" here.

NEXT CHAPTER: Poppy Z. Brite

Monday, March 23, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 49: June 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 131

"One Pair of Dogtags--For Sale!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Desert Hotfoot"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Everybody Makes It In Dog Co.!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When Easy Co. is given the task of taking the French village of L'Oisseau, it looks deserted, but Sgt. Rock goes on ahead alone to make sure. He finds a Nazi machine gun nest hidden in the wreckage and manages to destroy it with some well-thrown grenades. Giving the all-clear sign to the rest of Easy Co. turns out to be a mistake, as the weapon from a second Nazi machine gun pins down the men of Easy and knocks Rock off his feet. The sergeant doesn't give up, though, and manages to crawl up under fire and disarm the gun using his helmet. Rock is critically wounded and, when Easy Co. gets him to a doctor in a nearby camp, no one can find a donor with AB negative blood to save the fading hero. Luckily, a nurse lying on a stretcher has the necessary blood type and, one transfusion later, Rock is saved.

As Easy Co. moves on, Rock is troubled by not knowing the name of the nurse who saved him and whom he was not able to thank. He asks after her everywhere but is unable to locate her until she turns up in the middle of another battle. This time, she is wounded, and Rock is able to repay the favor at last with a blood donation of his own. When Kanigher and Kubert are firing on all cylinders, it makes me glad I read comic books. "One Pair of Dogtags--For Sale!" is a terrific story that will be in my top ten of 1963.

Sgt. Rock hallucinates that
Bulldozer is a cute blonde

Peter: A bit of a lightweight entry compared to some of the heavy lifters we've read lately but, make no mistake, still a good read. For some reason, the happy ending doesn't come off as sappy to me. Far from lightweight, though, is the standout sequence where Rock has to improvise or watch his men die; he manages to craft an oven mitt from his tin pot to deflect a cannon from taking out his guys. Fabulously gritty stuff, that!

Not so much
Jack: A soldier with aching feet gets a "Desert Hotfoot!" when his sarge tells him to walk across the desert and bring back a prisoner. He trades his watch for a passing Arab's camel but is quickly thrown from the beast's back. He hitches a ride on a U.S. tank but finds it has been hijacked by Nazis. Finally, he forces a Nazi commander at gunpoint to give him a piggyback ride back to camp. It's discouraging to see such a poor story follow such a great Sgt. Rock story, but at least it was short.

Peter:  Lucky for our lazy soldier that the Nazi tank men speak English and they speak it loud enough to hear through inches of steel! So, the only amusing scene in this tedium was the one you weren't supposed to laugh at.  Nothing worse than a comedy that's not funny.

Jack: A soldier trying to take Dead End Hill is determined not to die and let his dog tags become part of the sergeant's growing collection. He rushes a tank and destroys it by shooting into its view slit, thus saving his company from further carnage. His sarge plants a rifle in the ground at the top of the hill and hangs the dog tags of the men who didn't make it from the butt end, announcing that "Everyone Makes it in Dog Co!" To the top of the hill, that is--eventually. A gritty little four-pager from Kanigher that shows that death and despair are not always the end of the story.

Peter: Write this down: "You're not getting my dog tags, Sarge!" There, you've just written a DC war story.

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 97

"The Ship That Fought In Three Wars!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A 'Target' Called Johnny!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: A World War I pilot suddenly finds himself in "The Ship That Fought in Three Wars!" Unable to impress the British pilots he's been detailed with, Leftenant Brooks, a young American pilot, attempts to win their attention and respect with air tricks but the seasoned aces aren't buying. They want victories, not stunts. So, determined to score a few kills before the sun rises, our hero hits the skies in search of prey and finds a helpless German zeppelin. Shooting the giant balloon down, the pilot heads home convinced he's taken the first step, only to be shot down (pun intended) by his seniors, who demand proof of the victory. Undeterred, our boy heads back out with his comrades but manages to lose himself in a heavy cloud bank. When he comes out the other end, he's attacked by a lone Messerschmitt, a plane that won't even exist for over two decades! Though Brooks shoots the German from the sky, the men are still not convinced and Brooks heads back out the next day with his young mechanic, Albert, in tow. Emerging from the same strange cloud bank, they are fired upon by a commie jet over Korean skies. While filming the phantom jet, Albert takes a bullet for the team just before Brooks blasts it from the sky. Once on the ground, the film is shown to be blank but, just as he's receiving another dressing-down from his Major, a doctor rushes into the viewing room to announce he's just dug a bullet out of young Albert; a bullet of unknown caliber! Enjoyable enough romp, but don't look for any explanations from Bob. How did this pilot fly into a cloud and end up in MIG Alley? Who knows? Another five pages and Leftenant Brooks might have landed on one of those uncharted islands in the Pacific. I'm more interested in why the film was blank.

Jack: H'I found bucktoothed, red-headed H'Albert rather annoying, Guv'nor! Haven't we seen this story before, where an American pilot has to prove himself as the first Yank to fight with the RAF? Like you, I was waiting for him to fly over some dinosaurs after he passed through that cloud, but I guess they're limited to the Pacific Ocean. And how handy is that time-warp cloud? He flies through it unintentionally the first time, yet it's always there when he needs to fly back to 1917. And why is Johnny Cloud relegated to the backup slot in his own book?

Peter: In his 16th adventure, Johnny Cloud is having a tough time convincing a hard-nosed tank sergeant that pilots and tank men can work together to win the war. It's only after Cloud makes himself "A Target Called Johnny" and draws the fire of the enemy that the tank sergeant comes around to our hero's way of thinking. The bottom of the bill in our Kanigher/Novick Double Feature isn't much better than the "prestige picture," but it's not bad for a Johnny Cloud starrer. There's a bit in this story where the tank guys admit they have no idea how to use the clock face to identify where an enemy is. That's hard to imagine, isn't it? There's one word to describe Irv Novick's usually dependable artwork in "A Target Called Johnny": cluttered. Way too much activity going on in every panel to focus; it's as if Novick decided each and every panel had to be filled with military vehicles and gunfire. We get one of those typically sappy climaxes where the antagonist comes around to the way our hero thinks in the space of two or three panels and acknowledges what we already know: Johnny Cloud is a genius. Groan.

Jack: Novick's splash page is exciting, but you're right about the cluttered look to the rest of the story. This tale is nearly non-stop battle with little letup and the premise that tank guys don't know how to direct planes is an interesting one. More interesting than this issue's lead feature, but I think that at this point in the run of All American Bob Kanigher was focused on getting three wars into the mag one way or another.

In Our Next Shape-Changing Issue!
On Sale March 30!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Two: "Dip in the Pool" [3.35]

by Jack Seabrook

The second story by Roald Dahl to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Dip in the Pool," written in the fall of 1951 and first published in the January 19, 1952 issue of The New Yorker. William Botibol, an American on a British ship cruising across the Atlantic, dines with the ship's purser and asks him when the captain usually estimates the distance the ship will cover in the twenty-four hours that began that noon. After a calm start to the day, the sea had grown unexpectedly rough around dinner time, and Botibol imagines that the distance traveled will be less than the captain's estimate. Each evening, the ship's passengers bid at auction on numbers estimating how far the ship will travel in a day, and Botibol thinks that he can win a large sum of money if he secures the "low field' estimate. He uses all the money in his savings to win the low field but awakens the next morning to find that the sea has calmed and the ship is moving fast to make up lost time.

"Dip in the Pool" was first
published in this issue
Botibol decides to leap off the side of the ship and into the ocean, figuring that his rescue will slow the vessel's progress and he will win the money. He finds a solitary woman on deck to witness his plight and call for help, but when he leaps into the water the woman is silent. Unfortunately for Mr. Botibol, the woman's nurse does not believe her story of a man who dived overboard, and he is left to drown as the ship continues on its voyage.

Dahl's story is a witty piece of understated English irony, where the pool of the title represents both the betting pool and the enormous pool of the Atlantic Ocean. Botibol takes a dip in both pools; dip is also slang for a pickpocket, and he tries to pick the pockets of his fellow passengers by attempting to ensure his own victory. Botibol is also a bit of a dip himself, or a loser. The ending is clever, for as the ship moves away from Botibol, a "bobbing black speck," Dahl ignores his plight and focuses instead on the nameless "woman with the fat ankles" who tells her attendant, "Such a nice man . . . he waved to me." The wave, of course, was a desperate signal for help, but to the poor woman it was a sign of friendship.

Once again, Dahl mixes horror and humor in a compact tale. Does Botibol deserve his fate? Of course not, but it does represent an amusing comeuppance for a know it all.

Keenan Wynn as Botibol
The story has been adapted for television three times. The first was for the CBS series Danger; Albert Hubbell wrote the teleplay and Harry Townes starred in a program broadcast on March 21, 1954. Robert C. Dennis next adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958; the episode was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Keenan Wynn as William Botibol. It was rehearsed and filmed on April 15 and 16, 1958, and it aired on CBS on Sunday, June 1, 1958. During filming, Hitchcock's wife Alma was undergoing experimental treatment for cervical cancer and, though the director was an emotional wreck off set, he maintained a calm demeanor during production.

From the introduction to the show
The television show is a triumph of light entertainment, where Dennis's script expands the story and the cast performs to perfection. In the framing sequence, Hitchcock lounges on a deck chair on the S.S. Hitchcock, reading a copy of what close inspection reveals to be the February 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine! During the episode, a character named Renshaw sits at a table in the ship's lounge, reading the very same issue of Hitchcock's magazine. Some writers have called this an example of Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in the episode, much like his famous cameo in Lifeboat in a newspaper ad for weight loss, but I think it is more in the nature of a not so subtle plug for the periodical, which had begun publication with an issue dated December 1956.

Close up
While Botibol travels alone in the story, the show opens with a scene in the cabin shared by him and his wife, Ethel. She reads excitedly from a travel guide about sites to see in Florence while he preens before a mirror; his idea of fun involves gambling casinos, bistros and dancing girls. Ethel remarks that her aunt left the money to her, yet Botibol is brash and boorish, over tipping a steward who brings a cocktail and a bottle of seasickness pills. He wears a loud, plaid dinner jacket that displays his lack of refined taste.

What Alfred is reading
On his way to the lounge, Botibol runs into Emily, a middle-aged woman who finds him charming and tells her companion so; she is the same woman who will fail to raise the alarm in the episode's final scene. Botibol arrives in the lounge and joins Renshaw, another character new to the story; he is a refined Englishman, wealthy and somewhat older than Botibol, who finds the American to be amusing company. Botibol continues to demonstrate his lack of class, over tipping again and pretending to be a seasoned European traveler. Renshaw invites Botibol to the pool after dinner, explaining what it is and how it works for both his companion and the viewer. Renshaw unfavorably compares betting in the pool to investing in the stock market, which represents an investment based on careful research--or, as Botibol understands it, "inside information."

This failure to grasp the difference between a wager and an investment based on detailed research turns out to be Botibol's undoing. He sits with the purser at dinner and grills him about the captain's estimate, in a scene that mirrors the first scene in the short story, then asks a crew member on deck about the ship's speed before turning up at the auction and asking Renshaw for his opinion. Botibol thinks he has done the research needed to make a wise investment, yet--like his over tipping and loud dinner jacket--his actions betray his lack of knowledge. The auction is held and the details are spelled out much more explicitly than in the story. Next morning, Botibol and Ethel greet the calm day in their twin beds (1950s TV at its most censored); he admits to her that he lost money gambling but conceals the real amount, almost $1000 of their $1500 travel budget.

Renshaw is reading it too!
Later that morning, Botibol sees Mr. and Mrs. Renshaw relaxing in deck chairs; Mrs. Renshaw finds him unbearable and quickly excuses herself, allowing the gambler to replace her in the chair next to Renshaw. After Renshaw offers a few less than helpful suggestions of ways that Botibol might still win his bet, he leaves, and Botibol plans his final, desperate leap, his thoughts conveyed in voice over. The voice over continues in his cabin as he dresses and formulates his plan; on deck, he finds Emily, the woman whom he had met earlier, and converses with her. Once again, he is making a feeble attempt to do research and gather information. His brief chat with the woman leads him to conclude: "Hearing good. Eyesight adequate. You're it, lady." As he did the evening before, he thinks that he has gathered enough intelligence to turn a bet into an investment; he believes that his leap into the ocean will result in predictable behavior on the woman's part. However, his shallow investigation failed to reveal that she was not of sound mind, and the lack of that key piece of information means that he loses his bet and his life.

Close up
A vacant-eyed Emily speaks the final lines, as she did in the story, with the camera close up on her face. Donald Spoto noted that, like "Lamb to the Slaughter," "Dip in the Pool" ends with "the stare of madness." Robert C. Dennis's adaptation of Dahl's short story is brilliant; by adding new characters and focusing on Botibol's attempts to turn a bet into an investment, he deepens the meaning of the story without changing its central plot points.

Robert C. Dennis (1915-1983) wrote for radio before moving into TV in 1950. He penned many episodes for TV series over the next 35 years, including 30 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and four episodes of The Outer Limits. Hitchcock teleplays include adapting Henry Slesar's "The Right Kind of House" and co-writing "A True Account" with Fredric Brown.

Keenan Wynn and Louise Platt
Keenan Wynn (1916-1986) stars as Botibol and gives an outstanding, comic performance. The son of vaudeville comic Ed Wynn, he was born Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn! A great character actor on radio, he appeared in movies from the early 1940s to the 1980s and on TV from the mid 1950s till his death. Notable roles included parts in Rod Serling's TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), an episode of The Twilight Zone, two episodes of Night Gallery, and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Henry Slesar's "The Last Escape."

Philip Bourneuf and Fay Wray
The role of Renshaw is played by Philip Bourneuf (1908-1979), a founding member of the Actors Studio who appeared in movies and on TV from the 1940s through the 1970s. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, appeared on Thriller once, and had a role in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Mrs. Renshaw is played by Fay Wray (1907-2004), who starred in King Kong (1933) and many other classic films. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other was in Henry Slesar's "The Morning After." An impressive website dedicated to Ms. Wray may be found here.

"He waved to me!"
Ethel Botibol, William's long-suffering wife, is played by Louise Platt (1915-2003), who is best known for a part in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). She had a handful of parts in movies and on TV, including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but was mostly a stage actress.

Emily, the woman who watches Botibol dive off the side of the ship, is played by Doreen Lang (1915-1999); while this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show, she did have small parts in three Hitchcock films: The Wrong Man (1956), North By Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963).

That speck in the water is Botibol
I was not able to find a source to watch the 1954 adaptation (titled "A Dip in the Pool") on the TV series Danger, but the 1979 adaptation for Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected is available for free online viewing here. The teleplay is by Ronald Harwood and Jack Weston stars as Botibol. In his introduction to the show, Dahl admits to being a "mad gambler" and says that he enjoys writing stories about gamblers because he is interested in how people behave when they make a big wager. This version retains the Renshaw character but leaves out Botibol's wife. It is much more faithful to the original story than was the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version and the half-hour is quite entertaining, mainly due to Weston's performance; he has a much different interpretation of Botibol than does Keenan Wynn. This version aired on May 12, 1979.

Dahls' original story may be read for free here. The Hitchcock version is available on DVD but is not currently available for online viewing.


Dahl, Roald. "Dip in the Pool." 1952. Roald Dahl Collected Stories. Ed. Jeremy Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 284-94. Print.

"Dip in the Pool." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1 June 1958. Television.

"A Dip in the Pool." Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. 12 May 1979. Television.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

IMDb., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. Print.

Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. Print.

Treglown, Jeremy. "Appendix." Roald Dahl Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 850. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

William and Ethel in their cabin

William meets Emily in the corridor
Renshaw is so dapper
The auction
Renshaw has traded in his
magazine for a book
Checking out Emily
Over the side he goes!
She doesn't believe a word of it.