Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Twenty-One: "The Equalizer" [3.19]

by Jack Seabrook

After a close study of the first twenty-one episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with teleplays by Robert C. Dennis, I have determined that a particular strength of his was his ability to take a short story and tighten its structure, adding or consolidating scenes as needed to reinforce key themes and strengthening the plot. A good example of this is "The Equalizer."

The story upon which this episode is based is also titled "The Equalizer," written by C.B. Gilford and published under the pen name Roy Carroll (a house pseudonym used by other authors as well) in the October 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Gilford has another short story in the same issue, which is surely why this one was published under a pseudonym.

"The Equalizer" was first published here
In bed on a Saturday night after a party, Eldon Marsh accuses his wife Louise of having paid too much attention to Wayne Major, a salesman who works with Eldon at the Kay Corporation. Though Louise denies liking Major, Eldon is concerned. On Monday morning, Major visits Eldon at the office and asks about Louise. Eldon is a small man, an accountant and the assistant treasurer at the company, while Wayne is a big, graceful bachelor. Eldon accuses Wayne of finding Louise attractive and Wayne taunts Eldon about his lack of trust in his colleague. Wayne calls Eldon "the damnedest fool I've ever met" and Eldon warns Wayne not to speak to Louise again.

On Thursday afternoon, Wayne does not show up for an office meeting and Eldon feels sick, certain that the man is with Louise. Eldon telephones home but gets no answer. He leaves work early and visits a bar, then goes home at the usual time; Louise claims to have been at home all day.

On Saturday night, Eldon and Louise attend the weekly party at the country club. Eldon watches from the bar as Louise slips outside and Wayne follows soon after. When Major returns, Eldon throws a drink in his face and challenges him to a fight. Major refuses and Eldon is fired. An attempt at a punch ends in Eldon being knocked out. At home, Louise chastises her husband and admits to an affair with Wayne; she is upset that Eldon has ruined things between her and her lover and she walks out.

Martin Balsam as Eldon
Two weeks later, Eldon returns to the country club and confronts Wayne. He insists on a fight, saying that a duel with weapons is the only way to even the odds. Eldon is ejected from the club but later badgers Wayne until he agrees to a duel, with the weapon and place left to Major to choose. One night, Eldon goes to a hotel roof, where Wayne suddenly shoots from a hiding place. Two bullets hit Eldon: "he knew he was dying, and he wanted to die. He'd lost his job. He'd lost Louise. So dying was easy. But Major had so much yet to lose . . ." As Eldon is dying, he hears the police arrive. Major tells them that he fired in self defense but the police angrily reply that Eldon "wasn't even carrying a gun."

In the opening paragraphs of the story, Gilford traces "the principle of the equalizer" through history, from the stone-tipped spear in the primeval jungle to the atomic bomb in WWII. The real equalizer of the story, however, turns out not to be a gun but rather Eldon's cunning, which allows him to exact revenge on his more physically powerful adversary.

Charles Bernard Gilford (1920-2010) was born in Kansas City, MO, and had early success as an author when his novelette "The Liquid Man" was published as the cover story in the September 1941 issue of Fantastic Adventures (read the story here). After this auspicious beginning, Gilford's name disappears from the lists of story credits until 1953; he was graduated from college in 1942 and served in the Air Force from 1942 to 1945. He began work as a college teacher in 1947 and would continue teaching speech, English, drama, theatre, and creative writing for the rest of his career. He married and had four children.

Norma Crane as Louise
After earning an M.A. in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1952, he became a prolific writer of short stories, with one source claiming that he wrote over 200 of them; publication dates for the short stories seem to have been concentrated in the years between 1953 and 1961. In addition to his own name, C.B. Gilford used pseudonyms such as Donald Campbell, Elizabeth Gregory and Douglass Farr. He also wrote at least 11 short plays between 1957 and 1969, and at least four novels between 1961 and 1969. A handful of his works were adapted for television, including four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. His short stories often have been anthologized, though I have not been able to find a reprint source for "The Equalizer." He told Contemporary Authors that play writing was his first love and that, while he enjoyed writing short stories and novels, "they seem to be harder work, more words have to be gotten on paper. I have no great messages to communicate; just believe in a well-plotted story."

As much as Gilford may have focused on plot, Robert C. Dennis knew how to improve on his sources. His teleplay for "The Equalizer" is directed by James Neilson and features Martin Balsam as Eldon and Leif Erickson as Wayne; the episode was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, February 9, 1958.

Leif Erickson as Wayne
The first two scenes of the show are new to the story, serving to set the background for what follows and to portray events that were only mentioned in Gilford's work. Scene one takes place in the country club locker room, as Eldon boasts to a colleague of having beaten the boss, Harvey Sloan, at golf. Eldon credits his golf club, which he calls "the old equalizer"--Dennis introduces the term early in the show and shows the first of the tools that will allow a weaker man to beat a stronger one.

Scene two takes place upstairs at the country club, where we see Wayne dancing with Louise as Eldon chats with Sloan at a table. Sloan mentions that he will be playing golf with Wayne soon and Eldon assures him that Sloan will win because Wayne is a salesman, inferring that salesmen let the customer win. "You never play a customer's game, do you, Eldon," replies Sloan, foreshadowing later events. After the music stops and the dance is done, Louise flirts openly with Wayne and visibly is disappointed when he turns his attention to another attractive woman.

Scene three picks up where the short story begins, with Eldon and Louise in their bedroom after the party. Scene four takes place in the office, as Wayne visits Eldon, just as in the story, but scene five replaces the Thursday office meeting with another scene in the country club's locker room, where Wayne has failed to show up for tee time with Sloan. Eldon overhears his colleagues speculating that Wayne is with another man's wife and, as in the story, Eldon calls home.

Eldon on the roof in the last scene
Scene six is in the bar, but instead of Eldon killing time there and then going home, Louise joins her husband for a drink and claims that she was home all day. She says it is Saturday, and later that evening, Eldon remains at the bar, drunk, as Louise slips out the door. Dennis has taken scenes from the story and consolidated them, moving all of the events to the country club by making the bar a room next to the dining room. In the bar, Wayne plays bridge with Sloan and his colleagues and gets up to follow Louise out the door. Later, Wayne returns and Eldon confronts him in a scene that follows the story closely.

In the next scene, Louise leaves Eldon as they talk at home. A new scene is then added, where Eldon is at the office packing up personal items from his desk. Sloan comes in and Eldon comments that Wayne's actions affected Louise and "just made her cheap;" this is the reason Eldon believes he has to fight Wayne. Sloan tells him to stay, keep his job and forget about Wayne and Louise, but Eldon refuses and says that he has to settle with the larger man.

Wayne's gun hand appears
The scene that follows takes place once again in the bar and follows the story closely. Eldon then telephones Wayne; Dennis moves this scene to the locker room rather than having Wayne be at a party, as in the story. The teleplay the adds another aspect to this scene, as Wayne walks out to a patio and Eldon confronts him, calling him either a coward if he will not fight or a bully if he fights and beats up Eldon. "I haven't felt anything since Louise left me," says Eldon, who adds that, while Wayne is afraid to die, Eldon does not "care, so I have nothing to be afraid of. That's the equalizer."

For the second time, Dennis uses the show's title in the dialogue; first, it was the golf club; now, it is the lack of fear of dying. Wayne chooses guns for the upcoming duel and tells Eldon to meet him on the roof of the Kay Corporation building, not a hotel rooftop as in the story.

Wayne on the roof
The final scene is a little bit of noir film making by director Neilson, who uses shadows and light to demonstrate that Eldon, like so many a hero in a noir work, is doomed by the forces that surround him in the unfeeling city. Eldon emerges from a doorway onto the building's rooftop, where we see that it is night and that there are tall buildings all around, their windows alight. A roof vent in the foreground tells us right away where we are and a neon light from somewhere off screen blinks on and off, putting Eldon in light and shadow alternatively. He turns his back and leans against the waist-high wall, looking out over the city.

From the shadows, a hand emerges holding a gun. Wayne steps out of the shadows and Eldon turns, sees him, and is shot twice. Later, Wayne brings the police to the roof. Wayne's claim of self defense is belied by Eldon's lack of a gun, and in the final shot we see Eldon lying dead on the rooftop, blood on his shirt from the fatal bullet wound in his chest.

"The Equalizer" improves on its source story because Robert C. Dennis tightens up the structure, limits the number of scene changes, and compresses the time span of events. There is increased focus on "the equalizer"of the title; it is the golf club, the lack of fear, the gun, and--finally--Eldon's cunning plan and understanding of his opponent's cowardice. The final scene, especially, benefits from good direction, lighting and staging, and there are strong performances by everyone in the cast. In the end, Eldon Marsh is more concerned with honor than with material success; he defends his wife's honor and his own by sacrificing his life on a lonely rooftop.

Dudley Manlove as Harris
Director James Neilson (1909-1979) directed quite a few television shows from 1953 to 1973, as well as a number of movies in the 1960s. He directed twelve episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last one reviewed in this series was "Mail Order Prophet," for which Robert C. Dennis also wrote the teleplay.

Top billing in the cast goes to Leif Erickson (1911-1986) as Wayne Phillips (Wayne Major in the story). Born William Anderson, he began his career as a singer and trombone player before trying vaudeville and ending up in Hollywood. His movie career began in 1933. He first appeared on TV in 1949 but remained busier in movies until 1957, when he began to take regular roles on TV. In addition to "The Equalizer," he was seen on two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He was on Night Gallery twice and his TV career ended in 1984.

The last shot, with Eldon
Martin Balsam (1919-1996) plays Eldon. Born in the Bronx, Balsam's early stage career was interrupted by a stint in the Air Force during WWII. He then joined the Actors Studio in 1948 and began appearing on TV in 1949. His big break came when he played Juror #1 in the film Twelve Angry Men (1957); this led Hitchcock to cast him as Arbogast in Psycho (1960), where he makes the memorable backward fall down the stairs of the Bates house before he is murdered by Norman in drag. "The Equalizer" is one of his two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He also appeared on The Twilight Zone and many other TV shows. By the early 1970s, he was appearing mostly in movies. He later was a regular on Archie Bunker's Place, the sequel to All in the Family, and continued to make regular appearances on TV and in the movies until his death. He won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for A Thousand Clowns (1966).

Eldon's unfaithful wife is played by Norma Crane (1928-1973), who was born Norma Zuckerman in New York City. Also in the Actors Studio, her screen career began with a TV appearance in 1951. She was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also appeared on Thriller, as well as many other TV shows. Her most visible role was as Golde in the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof. She died of cancer at age 44.

Robert Riordan as Sloan
The unusually-named actor Dudley Manlove (1914-1996) plays Harris, one of Eldon's co-workers; Manlove started as a child actor in vaudeville and became a radio announcer after a serious car accident. His part in this show is small but his obituary is rather interesting; read it here.

Eldon's sympathetic boss, Harvey Sloan, is played by Robert Riordan (1911-1968), whose movie career began in 1947 and who started showing up on TV in 1957. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

"The Equalizer" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read a humorous review of the episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a scan of the original story.

"C(harles) B(ernard) Gilford." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2002. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
"The Equalizer." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 9 Feb. 1958. Television.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.
Gilford, C. B. "The Equalizer." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Oct. 1957: 19-24. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

In two weeks: "Guest for Breakfast," starring Joan Tetzel (who?)!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 77: October 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Showcase 58

Enemy Ace in
"The Hunters--and the Hunted!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: Rittmeister Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, continues to fly the unfriendly skies of World War I, dropping the French and German pilots expertly but he's not above having his troubles. Thanks to his finely-honed skills, the Ace manages to get himself out of several scrapes and rule the sky, the enemy of all fighter pilots.

Spoiled by the insanely high quality of the first four Enemy Ace sagas, I was naturally looking forward to yet another well-written and finely-illustrated classic but what I got was "more of the same." "The Hunters--and the Hunted!" isn't crafted like the other EA adventures; it's more like a series of vignettes tenuously tied together by well-worn rope. Hans does daring somersaults in mid-air and takes out all pretenders; Hans listens patiently as his servant trumpets his master's kills; Hans overhears his comrades simultaneously diss and admire him for being a cold-blooded "hammer from hell," etc. etc. etc. It's all here--a catalog of greatest hits drawn from a quartet of the best DC war stories ever written. As Mark notes below, the skid was inevitable. Whether it will carry over to the next EA installment (not until May 1968!), only time will tell. Having said all that, there are still some bits here that shine through the haze:

- The Hammer plays possum while, all around him, bullets fly, and his thought is, "I waited for the blow which would split the back of my head open . . ."

- A bizarre 6-panel encounter with a woman in the woods, who recognizes the Ace and wonders what it would be like to be kissed by "the angel of death" and gets her wish. Her verdict? "(Hans's) lips-- are as cold--as death!"

- Fighting a British F.E. 2B Pusher Bi (yep, I knew all about that plane before I read this funny book), a two-seater manned by a pilot and an "observer" (picture an exposed tail-gunner), the Ace first kills the pilot then turns his attention to the second man. When his shots find their mark, von Hammer watches as the man falls from his seat and into thin air "like a high diver." A very powerful image.

So, a weak EA adventure but, by no means, a bad read.

Mark Barsotti: If last issue's installment came close to being a "perfect" war story, "The Hunters and the Hunted," takes a large step backward. This regression is perhaps inevitable, because it involves creators Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert simply doing their job, i.e. creating comic books, and here embracing--rather than struggling against--the expected tropes of the genre.

And K&K jump in the deep end right from the, er, splash page. Pre-zzeennting! An amazing, astonishing, logic-defying escape from death and dismemberment!

Three Spads on Von Hammer's tail present a problem, sure. Maybe he could, I don't know, out-fly them, but then its not like he's an ace or something. So he just lands, see? Then three experienced pilots strafe a stationary target at close range, and no only do they miss Hans with the Hasenpfeffer foot in his pocket, they don't even damage his Fokker!

He then takes off again and shoots 'em all down.

It's exciting stuff, but strictly funnybook as we burst the hooey barrier, trading last month's restrained realism for an almost super-heroic invincibility as, not content with the Spad trio, VH stunt-flies through a barn to shoot down yet another plane on his way back to the Jagsdtaffel, and all before walking away from a crash landing, without so much as hitting his funny bone.

Then he crash lands again a few pages later---albeit with a few boo-boos this time--taking us so deep into cartoon-land that I wouldn't be surprised if his friend the wolf shows up wearing pants and starts talking.

Okay, the last is a slight exaggeration, and I don't mean to suggest that this is a bad comic book. It is, in fact, a good one. The problem, at least for this reader, is that while Kubert and Kanigher would likely have scoffed at such highfalutin pretensions, they've proved themselves capable of producing "graphic literature." So quite the pity if, from here on out, their dour, aristocratic "killing machine" only gets cast in cartoons.

Jack: Like the Hammer of Hell, like the lone grey wolf in the forest, I stand alone in my admiration for this issue of Showcase. On a side note, I read that Kanigher had a hand in some of the panel designs and that, in his scripts, he would indicate to Kubert when to use multiple vertical panels to slow down the action and highlight something that happened quickly. As I read this story, I was reminded once or twice of Kanigher's Johnny Cloud series, especially when the Hammer of Hell salutes his victims and thinks that "the sky is the enemy of us all." The story opens with a long, exciting air battle sequence and then settles into familiar ground briefly, before introducing a German fraulein and--finally--a Sopwith Camel! If only Snoopy were here.

All American Men of War 111

"Jets Never Let Go!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Only One Ace Could Live!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

"Tag--You're Dead!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: Captain Johnny Cloud must fight a deadly game of "Tag--You're Dead!" with a Nazi he had a run-in with back on the reservation years before. The Hitler youth tried to show Johnny the proud brave what a real man is made of but before they could finish their game, the war broke out and both took their places behind a stick. Now, years later, "fate" puts Johnny dead in Eric's sights but Cloud emerges victorious in the end. The once proud Johnny Cloud not only has to face ignorant and pompous Germans and his continued life of sheer coincidence but also sees his strip relegated to the cellar this issue. That's appropriate though since "Tag--You're Dead!" is the weakest story of the trio. I thought the opener, "Jets Never Let Go!" would devolve into one of those "I'm the jet and I can talk" bits of fluff but Kanigher goes in a different direction altogether (albeit through the narrative of the plane) and pulls a downbeat rabbit right out of his gargantuan hat. A fabulous little gem with unforgettable art from the great Russ Heath.

The somber finale of "Jets Never Let Go!"
It's nice to see that "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner" contains a few letters of comment on DC war stories rather than just a litany of "What size bullets does a bazooka shoot?" questions. The "Enemy Ace" strip is the center of attention (as Kanigher would note years later) and the consensus is that the Hammer of Hell should get his own mag. Patience, kids! A couple of trivial notes: Johnny Cloud will  get an extended shore leave pass while Bob K. tries out another war hero and this issue marks the first time since #98 that we're treated to three stories.

Jack: A pretty blah issue overall, despite the welcome return of Russ Heath and some nice work by Irv Novick. The opening story is only four pages long and never really gets going. The second story takes place in WWI and pales in comparison to this month's Enemy Ace entry. The Johnny Cloud story reaches new heights of coincidence when a German tourist who visited Johnny's reservation just prior to the war turns up as Johnny's own personal enemy ace. The Germans must have had early cell phone technology to get the news that war had broken out while they were wandering around the Indian reservation out west.

 Our Army at War 159

"The Blind Gun!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Silent Piper"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(reprinted from Our Army at War #91, February 1960)

Jack: Has the stress of constant combat become too much for Sgt. Rock? He's yelling in his sleep and volunteering for every patrol because he secretly is searching for two Nazis responsible for something terrible. Rock machine guns a group of Nazis and shoots a sniper out of a tree, but the men he seeks are not among his victims and he is blinded when an enemy bullet bounces off his helmet.

Taken to a field hospital, Rock is put in the care of a beautiful nurse named Wendy Winston and he blames himself for the death of her twin sister Wini. It seems that a year before, right after Anzio, Rock and Easy Co. were sent to the town of Deux Cheval to find a nurse named Wini Winston who had been left behind by mistake when the town was evacuated. Shot in the leg by a Nazi, Rock falls down a flight of stairs into a cellar and meets Nurse Winston, who is hiding from the enemy. She tells him about her twin sister and two Nazis throw a potato masher down into the cellar. The nurse throws herself on top of it, sacrificing her life to save Rock. Blaming himself for her death, he goes after the Nazis in Deux Cheval but has to be restrained by his own men for his safety.

A rare full page from Kubert
Back in the present, Rock has bandages over his eyes and becomes "The Blind Gun!" as he is helped along by the other Nurse Winston. He keeps her alive and locates the two Nazis who killed her sister. When the rest of Easy Co. finds him, it's not clear if he has beaten the enemy soldiers to death or if he has just given them a brutal thrashing.

Kanigher's love for flashbacks gets the best of him here, as the first half of the story is very confusing. Why is Rock looking for these two Nazi killers and who is the nurse for whose death he blames himself? The second half of the story is excellent, as we learn what happened and come back to present day to witness Rock's revenge, but the story as a whole could be better structured. Kubert's art is great, of course, and we are treated to a rare, full-page panel right before the end of the tale.

Peter: “The Blind Gun” is built around two outlandish coincidences —the first, that the Sarge would run across these two cold-blooded killers once again (in a war populated by hundreds of thousands) and the second (a real whopper), that Rock would be cared for by the twin sister of the nurse who died the year before. I’m not buying it. I’m also not buying that the prior incident has weighed so heavily on Rock’s mind that he’s constantly thinking about it and yet it’s never been mentioned in prior stories. Yes, it’s only a funny book but these speed bumps bother me. Nurse Wini and the two Nazis just happen to be the focus of Rock’s attention days before the inevitable showdown. Oh, and I’m really surprised Kanigher didn’t go with “Cold, Fish-Eyed Killers” as his title.

Our Fighting Forces 95

"Lt. Rock, the Fighting Devil-Dog!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Foul-Ball Frogmen!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Sgt. Rock's brother Larry is a marine fighting in the Pacific who has a problem--massive headaches that make him see red! During intense fighting on Corregidor, Larry was injured and ended up carrying a steel splinter in his head. A pretty nurse named Suzie helped ease the pain during recovery and Larry refused to go home, instead insisting on staying active as a Gyrene.

He K.O.'s his sergeant, Lennie, and climbs down a steep cliff face to avoid being sent home. Lennie follows "Lt. Rock, the Fighting Devil-Dog!" and when Rock saves him from drowning, Lennie agrees to keep Rock's injury secret. Rock's head starts pounding during his first assault on a beach, and he and Lennie wipe out a Japanese pillbox on the beach as the rest of the Marines are killed.

An exciting introduction to a new character benefits from solid art by Irv Novick and a "throw in everything but the kitchen sink" approach to story telling by Kanigher. We recently saw another Rock brother die in Our Army at War, so there must have been at least three in the family. This story does not compare well to those in the Sgt. Rock series but it's a welcome replacement for Gunner and Sarge.

Peter: The initial chapter in the saga of the “Fightin’ Devil Dog” is a decent one but would, obviously, have benefited greatly from a Joe Kubert embellishment. Novick is a decent artist but he excelled at air battle rather than the hand-to-hand combat stories. Larry Rock will only survive four issues but perhaps that’s for the best as the gimmicky series always ran out of gas before too long. How many stirring adventures could be plotted around a guy who constantly complains about headaches and sees the war around him as if he was on The Angry Red Planet? After Rock is booted from OFF, he’ll make an appearance in Captain Storm #13 (June 1966) and then go AWOL until Steve Skeates resurrects him in Unknown Soldier #205 (May 1977). Speaking of Captain Storm, the one-legged salty sea dog makes a cameo in “…Devil Dog,” rescuing Larry and Lennie from the drink. The PT boat skipper’s solo title managed eighteen issues from 1964-67. As with most recent Chapman scripts, it’s best to ignore the lettering and, instead, focus on the lovely art. Since this is my job and I take pride in reading every word so that you don’t have to, I’ll just say it’s yet another “brothers-in-arms” yawner. You’ve been warned.

Next Week!
We welcome Two-Fisted Tales to the EC Universe
Manly tales of war, espionage, and piracy!

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's An Entertaining Comic! Part Four: November 1950

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
4: November 1950

Johnny Craig
Tales from the Crypt #20

"The Thing from the Sea!"
Story by Art by Al Feldstein

"A Fatal Caper!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Rx . . . Death!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Impending Doom!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig

One lovely spring day, an artist named Ted Warren draws the face of a frightened man with an oval around it. Why? He has no idea! He goes for a long walk and happens upon the home of Alex Kordova, a stone cutter who is carving Ted’s name on a new tombstone with the date of death as that very day! Why? He has no idea! Coincidentally, the frightened man drawn by Ted happens to be Kordova! Neither man thinks that these events signal “Impending Doom!” but when Ted realizes that Kordova’s wife is none other than Ted's old flame Ellen, it’s not long before the two are back in each other’s arms. Kordova beats Ted to death for kissing his wife and both prophecies come true—Ted dies that day and Kordova meets the hangman, demonstrating that the oval around his face in Ted’s drawing represented a noose.

Craig can do so much with wordless panels.
The GCD credits the story to Feldstein but I’ll bet that this is all Craig. The story is decent enough but, once again, Craig blends art and story to make the whole more than the sum of its parts.

“Rx . . . Death!” shows that Ingels couldn’t draw normal people on a dare. The story is an uncredited adaptation of Arthur Machen’s “The Novel of the White Powder,” and here a man takes an unknown drug from an old pharmacist and finds his entire body digesting itself.

Jack Kamen’s Archie Andrews-like art makes “A Fatal Caper!” even weirder than it might have been in other hands, as two couples seem to play around with a book of spells but end up finding out that it’s not a good idea to mess with a corpse.

The weakest of the bunch is Feldstein’s “The Thing from the Sea!” which opens the comic. Art is more wooden than usual and the story is standard fare, as a murdered man returns from the depths of the sea and frightens his killer to death.-Jack

Peter: The indispensable Tales of Terror: The EC Companion by Fred von Bernowitz and Grant Geissman informs me that "Rx . . . Death" was inspired by Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder," and Wikipedia tells me ". . .White Powder" inspired H.P. Lovecraft. Not having read any Machen, I naturally assumed "Rx . . . Death" was an homage to Lovecraft. Not a very good one, though. Ghastly's art hits both highs and lows (his two main male protagonists seem to switch faces halfway through the story) and the whole thing doesn't so much end as run out of panels. I didn't need Mssrs. Geissman and von Bernowitz to tell me that "Impending Doom" was based on W.F. Harvey's "August Heat," as I've heard the classic 1945 Suspense radio adaptation (starring Ronald Colman) numerous times over the years. The first two stories this issue are instantly forgettable, with "A Fatal Caper" at least supplying a few (I assume) unintentional laughs. The list of ingredients for Marylyn's brew is hilarious. Where, in a time before Wal-Mart, would one shop for "moss from a dead man's grave" (as opposed to a live man's grave), "the hair of a baby mouse," and "nails of a dog born dead?"

Jack: Didn't we read "August Heat" in one of the DC horror comics, with art by Alcala?

Peter: Good catch, Jack. We did. It was in Secrets of Sinister House #12 (July 1973).

Oops! Never mess with a corpse that has the plague.
Jose: “Rx… Death” and “Impending Doom” are the standouts here, but it’s an only-just likable issue all around. The former seems like it’s just picking up a head of steam before it wraps up what could’ve been a goopy corker of an ending in a single panel, and Craig puts his economical style to good use, though some may find the story a little too reliant on coincidence and speedy in its developments. “The Thing from the Sea” isn’t too bad on a narrative level (F. Marion Crawford should know, as it’s based on his “The Upper Berth”), but Jack is right: Feldstein’s art is too static to generate much excitement. “A Fatal Caper” certainly isn’t a fatal bore, but it is pretty damn goofy, though this is the first time we’ve gotten to see Kamen step outside his comfort zone and play around with some supernatural batshittery.

John: “Rx . . . Death" is my favorite pick of the litter for this month, thanks to the shadowy, digested creature Gregg evolves into. I thought it a uniquely creepy look. I thought "A Fatal Caper" was okay, with a nice ending living up to the EC tradition. The forgettable “The Thing from the Sea” lumbers along at the pace of the monster (that could have inspired the characters in "Something To Tide You Over" in Creepshow), and I thought “Impending Doom” was too silly when it was all said and done. Perhaps if Alex had hammered Ellen as well . . .

Johnny Craig
Crime SuspenStories #1

"Murder May Boomerang" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Death's Double-Cross" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"A Snapshot of Death!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"High Tide!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

Four men board a mail boat bound for the mainland from the gloomy façade of Mephisto Prison. Only a few miles out, a special broadcast crackles over the airwaves: a deranged killer has made his escape from the island prison, and his only means of egress is the little mail boat. With the utterance of this proclamation, suspicion immediately rises in each man. Who is the killer? The mousy bookkeeper? The bulldog attorney? The young skipper? The gentleman visiting his convict brother?

Action! a la Kurtzman.
Apprehension is high when both the boat’s motor and radio are sabotaged in the confusion. A shotgun is discovered, its shells kept separately for everyone’s interest, nocturnal watches put in place. The bookkeeper makes a break across the sandbar where they’re moored, only to be gunned down by the attorney. He and the gentleman begin to scuffle and, when the latter comes out the victor, he meets the sight of two barrels pointed at him by the sparkling-eyed skipper. Gloating over his deceit, the murderous “skipper” heads out into the low tide for the shore. But it’s still two miles out, and when the moon begins to rise, so does the sea level, and guess who can’t swim?

“High Tide” is a short, tense nail-biter that brings the first issue of Crime SuspenStories to a satisfying close. Kurtzman feels more in his element here than in the horror mags we’ve seen him work in previously, the isolated setting giving his story just the right amount of salty bite. His heavy line work and deft skill at creating unique characters is almost similar to Jack Davis at times who, come to think of it, could have probably drawn this story just as well as Harvey. His action scenes have a great, natural fluidity, and his ability to inspire thrills and chills when least expected is one of his most endearing qualities. (Scroll to the end of the post for an example.)

I liked Craig’s “Murder May Boomerang” better when it was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “Revenge” kept things far more precise and was the better story for it. Craig, in attempting to distance himself from Samuel Blas’s original for obvious legal reasons, unintentionally makes the central relationship (husband and wife in Blas’s, here father and son) a bit of an overwrought parody. Our hero and his father love each other… a lot. This wouldn’t be so bad, would be pretty heartbreaking if handled right, if the two of them didn’t burst into tears almost every time one of them shows kindness and weren't constantly saying how much they care for each other. A different time with different sensibilities, perhaps, but these guys are too sugary-sweet to be taken seriously as humans, let alone characters. Craig also writes himself into a corner when he makes his attacker a vicious, well-known criminal who disguises himself in the son’s very own hunting clothes to escape. So we’re forced to believe that in the son’s rage he did not A) listen to the radio broadcast’s physical description of the convict or B) know what his own wardrobe looked like. Either of these would have helped him greatly in not killing an innocent man, but then we wouldn’t have had a story.

“Death’s Double-Cross” also seems a little overly-complicated. Wouldn’t it seem much more natural for Ronnie to kill his identical twin John and then proceed to live his brother’s life, enjoying the spoils of his wealth and the woman he left years before, instead of reemerging after a respectable period of mourning to wed his brother’s widow? Doesn’t that seem the more suspicious thing to do? The only thing crossed here were my eyes, though Wood shows with this story that his art is really starting to come into its own.

“A Snapshot of Death” promises that Ingels may have a flair for the suspense titles as well. The artist has a wonderful talent for the human face that gets realized here in some nice panels, but this story made me aware of some of his weaknesses for the first time, such as his seeming inability to keep the same face on a character and the weird posturing he sometimes makes them take on. Feldstein’s script is particularly on point, drawing a fine line between the criminal seediness of a hitman’s imminent arrival and the emotional drama of a woman facing the reality of her fatal illness (and later foreseeable cure) without going overboard in either direction. -Jose

Good Ingels

Peter: In the grand scheme of things, Crime SuspenStories falls somewhere in the middle of the EC line as far as quality goes but somewhere near the bottom of the heap of the core titles in terms of respect. There aren’t many essays written fondly recalling CSS; most critics (and readers, for that matter) prefer its vastly superior sister title, Shock SuspenStories. That could be because most of the issues of CSS seem, at times, to be slapped together in a hodgepodge of artists and sub par storytelling. As with the other EC titles, the CSS writers enjoyed “dipping into other sources,” which led to borrowing liberally from such stories as Samuel Blas’s “Revenge” (morphed into this issue's “Murder May Boomerang” ). Thankfully, Bill and Al ignored the "True Crime" craze that had enabled titles such as Crime Does Not Pay and Justice Traps the Guilty to sell millions of copies a month and focused on literary bloodshed. Doubtless, Johnny Craig was confident his audience had no knowledge of the Blas story (and its true ascendancy to classic status would not occur until half a decade later when it became the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and could pull a fast one without anyone noticing. It wasn't the last time "Revenge" would be adapted for the pre-codes; the October 1953 issue of Harvey's Witches Tales featured a grimmer and more violent version, one that pushed the envelope further than "Boomerang." If there's one major complaint I have with "Boomerang," it's that Johnny doesn't know when to let go. Whereas the original source material also ended with the realization that an innocent man had been murdered, the reader (and later viewer) was left to ponder the incident; Johnny feels the need to tack on a wordy expository spelling out just what happened in case we don't get it. "High Tide," with its stark, sometimes cartoony Kurtzman graphics, is easily the high point of the issue. The smile on the Skipper's face as he unloads both barrels into the surviving hood is truly chilling.

Weird Ingels...

Jack: “High Tide!” is my favorite, both for Kurtzman’s wildly inventive art and the suspense that builds as we wonder which man is the killer. “Murder May Boomerang” gradually revealed its source as I read it, though I haven’t yet read the original story and only know the TV version from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Wally Wood’s art is a joy to behold on “Death’s Double-Cross,” but the lack of any real ending felt like a cop out. It’s odd to see Ingels draw a non-horror story, but “A Snapshot of Death!” builds suspense nicely and features a great half-splash of a skull. Good work all around on this debut issue.

John: I enjoyed “Murder May Boomerang,” and while I'm sure I've seen that episode of AHP (as the story rang a familiar chord once I hit the twist), I had since forgotten it until reading this tale. Clearly I'm not as well versed in the show as my fellow EC brethren. “Death’s Double-Cross” suffers from the cardinal sin of failing to provide an ending (I double-checked to confirm there wasn't a printing error in my Archive edition). What's funny about that one is I was quite prepared for John's shambling corpse to return to take revenge. At least that's how it would have gone down in one of CS's companion books. Right up to the ending—shoddy artwork and all—I thought “A Snapshot of Death” was going to be my favorite story in the issue, but Feldstein pulled his punch and let Jean live. Boo! I've yet to really warm up to Kurtzman; I thought "High Tide!" was just okay. The in-fighting aboard the ship played out as I had expected, though I have to give him credit for serving up an ending I wasn't anticipating (sometimes it helps to not pay attention to the story titles).

Johnny Craig
The Vault of Horror #15

"Horror House!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Terror in the Swamp!" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"Report From the Grave" 
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Kamen

"Buried Alive!" 
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

Horror writer Henry Davidson finds it extremely hard to find the peace and quiet to write his tales when his friends won't stop partying at his place 'til dawn. Henry gets the bright idea of buying a haunted house in the countryside, a place none of his friends will find. That's the plan, anyway, but very shortly after setting up shop, Henry's buddies come a-callin'. Disgusted, the writer heads off, and his crew gets a bright idea: if it's a haunted house Henry wants, it's a haunted house he'll get. They rig up speakers around the house and then hide. When Henry gets home, they start their act; the ruse works and the terrified man runs form the house, straight to the police. Unfortunately for Henry's chums, the real ghosts decide to put in an appearance and they're not amused by the parlor tricks. Henry returns with the authorities to find corpses and insanity. Henry decides to head back to his old pad. Johnny Craig's "Horror House," though similar in some ways to "Television Terror" (Haunt of Fear #17), is a fabulous little yarn that strolls along at an almost jovial pace and then lowers the boom with a climax that is momentarily grim and then humorous again. Craig loves his cigarette-smoking men, doesn't he? As in "Television Terror," the spectres are left to the imagination of the reader; only the after-effects are witnessed.

"Horror House"
A science experiment goes horribly wrong and a very hungry blob emerges from the wreckage. If Al Feldstein's "Terror in the Swamp" sounds familiar, that's because it's a retitling of "The Thing in the Swamp!" presented in Haunt of Fear #15 (published only six months prior!), with a new intro and outro from The Old Witch. How many little kids read this and didn't even realize it was a rerun?

"Report from the Grave" is an awful, quasi-supernatural tale with a lame, Scooby-Doo expository. If Warren Lake wants to join "The Vault-Keeper's Club," he'll have to dig up the body of the recently-deceased Willy Balm, his predecessor in the club. The head honcho of the vault-keepers, Fred Coombes (who is also an undertaker!), set a time on Willy's watch and Warren must bring back the exact time in order to gain access to this kooky bunch. When he digs up the grave (in a three-piece suit, yet!) and opens the coffin, he finds nothing but bones, decomposition not usually found in a body only buried recently. Turns out fellow member Vardy poisoned poor Willy for stealing his girlfriend and ruining his life. He buried Willy somewhere else in the graveyard. At that moment, one of the graves gives off a puff of smoke and Vardy is hauled away for murder. When his fellow members ask what's up with the sign from the grave, Coombes allows as how he might not have cut enough holes in the coffin and the natural gases blew the lid off the coffin! Now, I'm no scientist but would there really be a blowhole tantamount to Old Faithful from some natural gases released from a corpse? Regardless, this dreadful drudge is probably never mentioned when talking about the great old days of EC.

"Terror in the Swamp!"

"Buried Alive"
Sam (a/k/a "The Great Zobo") is a carnival man who can hold his breath for quite a long time during his "Buried Alive" show. This particular asset comes in handy when Sam and his gorgeous assistant/squeeze, Rita, turn the screws on Paul, a rich sap who's convinced he's killed Sam during a tryst with Rita. The pair bury Sam and Rita decides she wants to be a one-person team; there will be no exhumation. Fortunately for the Great Zobo, a worker on Paul's estate witnesses the burial and decides he'll run a blackmail of his own. He digs up Sam but then runs screaming when the corpse is anything but cold. Enraged, Sam nabs Rita, seals her in a coffin, and dumps her in the swamp, but the dope has nailed his coat to the coffin and the quicksand sucks them both down. Once again, Ghastly transcends the average script and transforms "Buried Alive" into something infinitely more readable than if it had been drawn by Jack Kamen or Johnny Craig (no offense to Craig). It's odd that the character Paul is left unharmed and pretty much forgotten in the end. -Peter 

Jack: Once I got over the shock of the reprint from five months before, I was able to sit back and enjoy “Buried Alive!” which is my favorite Ghastly story to date. It has three things I like to see in a horror tale: a carnival setting, quicksand, and someone getting buried alive. What’s not to like? The Kamen story is below average even for him, while the Craig story is nothing new from the plot standpoint but features especially sharp art.

"Return from the Grave"

"Horror House"
Jose: Like Peter, I also enjoyed the lighthearted nature of “Horror House” and think it worked greatly in the tale’s favor when it took a hard left turn into grimmer territory. “Buried Alive” was a harmless affair, but I recall that the tropes that Jack enjoyed so much were put to better use in later stories. “Report from the Grave,” with its gassy corpse blowing up the cemetery, has a climax worthy of its overall quality. “Terror in the Swamp” seems familiar. I think I might have read it before.

John: I think the readers are asked to accept an unbelievable premise in "Horror House." Since when can someone writing horror stories as a career afford to buy a new house on a whim? While it was a fun story overall, and the fate of the pranksters was pretty cool, I can't help but feel that we were short-changed. Sure, we're told the house is haunted, but we don't see Henry experience anything before his friends start playing tricks on him. So we're left with no explanation for the grisly shape his comrades are left in. The most interesting story plays out off-screen. Here's what I said about "The Thing in the Swamp" a few months back: I had higher hopes for "The Thing in the Swamp," but that's my fault for expecting more Heap/Swamp Thing/Man-Thing than Blob. Hey, if they can crib prior issues, I figure I should be able to as well. "Report from a Grave" starts off with a great premise, but sadly, as Peter points out, goes the Scooby-Doo route. Fortunately, ending with an exploding corpse will lift any story up a few notches. I think I would have appreciated "Buried Alive" more if I wasn't asked to believe that a nail through a jacket wouldn't rip before pulling a grown man into quicksand.

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