Monday, October 31, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 18: January 1952

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
18: January 1952

Tales from the Crypt #27

"Well-Cooked Hams!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Madame Bluebeard" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Horror! Head . . . It Off!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

In Paris, Arthur and Miles are so impressed with the Grand Guignol that they petition M. Matier, the owner, to share his secrets so they can re-create the spectacle in America. He refuses but lets on that the secrets of makeup and gore are written down and kept in his safe. That night, Arthur and Miles return to his office, kill Matier, steal the secrets, and board a plane back to the U.S. They advertise the American premiere of the Grand Guignol, a spectacle in which they will play the starring roles. On opening night, the show is a hit, but these two "Well-Cooked Hams!" kill each other when the special effects turn out to be real. In the audience sits the corpse of Matier, looking on grimly.

"Well-Cooked Hams!"
The Grand Guignol as presented here sure looks like an evening at the theater that Peter and Jose would enjoy! But if I were M. Matier and I knew the secrets to the spectacle, I sure wouldn't blurt out to visitors that they were all written down and locked in my office safe. Feldstein plays with the cliches of the very horror comics we love to read, but the story's ending makes no sense.

Teresa may be a hot little number, but when it comes to men, she's "Madame Bluebeard!" She has just killed her seventh husband and inherited even more dough. It all stems back to her parents--her dad walked out on her when she was a little girl and her mom instilled a hatred of the male gender. One night, Teresa buys seven wreaths to lay on the graves of her dead husbands, but to her surprise their corpses all rise from their graves and assist her in joining them below the ground.

This is a straightforward revenge tale with an almost Woolrichian setup, where a woman kills her husbands annually on the anniversary of her mother's death. The payoff is nicely done and it's great to see Joe Orlando join the ranks of EC's horror artists with some great, 1940s pulp illustration-style art. His Teresa gives Jack Kamen's ladies a run for their money.

Speaking of Jack Kamen, he lays on the Good Girl Art thickly in "Return!" Myra is in love and marries Jim, who wants to start an air freight service with his friend Hal. The business gets off the ground but Jim disappears when he travels to South America. After thirteen months, he suddenly shows up at home, and he and Myra spend a blissful night in bed, but he's gone again in the morning. Three months later, Myra is pregnant and Hal tells her that Jim has been dead for over a year--so how could he have shared Myra's bed months before?

Kamen shows what he can do in this Good Girl Art extravaganza. Forget the story and enjoy Myra in a bathing suit, a nightgown, etc. Hubba hubba!

During the Reign of Terror in Revolutionary France, the Duke de Lugere makes a profit by taking money from other noblemen eager to escape Paris and the guillotine. He then gets paid twice by betraying them to the soldiers of the Republic. Double-crossing the Marquis de Rochemont turns out to be a bad idea, however, since his headless corpse soon returns to frighten the Duke. It turns out that Rochemont's devoted servant was behind the trick and he seems to have chopped off the Duke's head for good measure.

"Horror! Head . . . It Off!" is disappointing. After a great splash page by Ghastly, Feldstein's script is by the numbers, and the conclusion is the sort of silliness that I would not expect in an EC comic. It's never good when the host has to explain what happened after the last panel for us to get the full picture. --Jack

Peter: I like stories that leave a lot to the imagination but "Well-Cooked Hams!" smells like a tale that Al didn't finish. We're to draw our own conclusions as to why the special effects went so terribly wrong for Arthur and Miles. They're bad dudes and that's a good reason, I guess. With a lot of these morality plays, I have a hard time swallowing that these characters will do such rotten things for such small rewards. These two nuts have no idea if this thing will be a hit and they seem to just turn on a dime from interested parties to cold-blooded murderers. I don't buy it. The other three stories this issue are just as lackluster. "Madame Bluebeard" forms its foundation around several idiocies, the major one being that this woman could have gotten away with all these murders on the same day each year! "Madame" shares the same weakness as the successive stories, that being a need to get to the shock with as little thought as possible. "Return!" and "Horror! Head . . . It Off!" may have shock endings but they don't surprise. Ghastly's art in the final tale suffers from too many close-ups though the headless chicken is a classic.

"Madame Bluebeard"
Jose: Jack’s got his finger on my pulse again (I ain’t dead yet, pal!) when he says that the Grand Guignol setting of “Well-Cooked Hams!” would be a major turn-on for me, because it is. I’m an absolute sucker for any tale concerning that ghastly little Parisian chapel-cum-theater, and on a purely superficial level “Hams” does the trick for me. The story has its share of holes, though; other than those already mentioned, I love how Arthur and Miles make a big deal about “learning their lines” when their scene only consists of four snarled curses and the immediate mutual deaths of their characters. Hope you didn’t stay up too late running that blocking, boys! I do actually like the presence of Matier’s revived corpse, as nonsensical as it may be. The concurrent disappearance of his body from the morgue and staging of the Guignol in the States gears the reader up for some ol’ fashioned zombie vengeance, but as it turns out the dead stage manager just wanted to be there for the premiere of the final show. “Madame Bluebeard” fudges the free-throw with the script but sticks the landing with the art. (Those two things are from the same sport, right?) Orlando’s illustrations have been getting more gorgeous with each assignment. The sad thing is Feldstein’s story could’ve fixed up a lot of the reader’s incredulity if it took a cue from the legendary figure its title refers to by setting up Teresa as a powerful aristocrat whose crimes are known within the community but to whom justice is never delivered due to her position, a la Elizabeth Bathory or Gilles de Rais. All the more reason for those too-briefly-glimpsed cadavers to vie for her skin!

Myra again
“Return!” just may be the sappiest and dullest Kamen horror story yet. It can only be recommended to those who enjoy ceaseless panels of rosy-cheeked heroines wondering when their boyfriends will call and fantasizing about jumping into the shelter of their strong, manly arms as a prelude to nice, quiet sex. The only thing fun about it is the Crypt-Keeper’s somewhat uncomfortable pussyfooting around the topic of ghostly pregnancies. I liked “Horror! Head … It Off!” much more than my colleagues (surprise, surprise, the French Revolution is another horror soft-spot!). I think the close-ups are a nice touch as they give Ingels the chance to work on distinguishing his characters (a criticism we’ve lobbed at him before), and I think he does a more than admirable job of it here. This story would’ve been perfectly suited for airing on Inner Sanctum Mysteries or Lights Out! The clump-and-drag of the dead Marquis’s club foot could have made for a tense listen.

John: Thanks to Tom Savini, I was aware of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol at an early age. I was impressed to see an EC comic based around it; making it feel high-brow for a change. Sadly, in "Well-Cooked Hams!" we’re asked to throw logic out the door and appreciate that the dead man’s corpse was in the auditorium watching. Did kids back then truly have such low standards? "Madame Bluebeard" is a bit more fun, as we see the seven ways Teresa’s seven husbands died, followed by the alternate angle showing her involvement in each of their deaths. That said, allocating barely two panels to represent all seven husbands coming back from the grave was disappointing. I enjoyed “Return!” both because Jack Kamen’s art really shines, and because I felt the twist was particularly inspired; it wasn’t just that she had been visited by Jim after he had died, but the fact that she was now pregnant! Of course I'm also a sucker for ceaseless panels of rosy-cheeked heroines wondering when their boyfriends will call and fantasizing about jumping into the shelter of their strong, manly arms as a prelude to nice, quiet sex. But that's just me. As for "Horror! Head . . . It Off!" - there was far too little guillotining in this guillotine tale for my tastes.

 Crime SuspenStories #8

"Out of the Frying Pan . . ." ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"A Trace of Murder!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Escaped Maniac!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Roussos

"Partnership Dissolved!"  
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Laid up in the hospital, old Charlie enjoys telling his bedridden roommates about the lovely day and exploits of locals outside his window. Meanwhile, Hank Bowers catches his old lady gettin’ it on with another guy, loses his temper and chases the guy down an alley. Hank blows the guy away but sustains a minor injury during the fight, leaving him temporarily blind. The police haul him to the hospital and it’s there that Charlie and Hank cross paths. Listening to Charlie’s descriptions of a beautiful park across the street, Hank conjures up the perfect escape once his eyesight begins to return. Unfortunately for Hank, he doesn’t take into account that old Charlie is actually blind and that the non-existent park is actually a brick wall. The six-panel first page (an alternative to the usual splash plus) hints at the goofiness Johnny Craig has in store for us in “Out of the Frying Pan.” The double-sized panel depicting Hank’s five foot flight into the brick wall is priceless and draws as many guffaws as anything EC ran in MAD.

"Out of the Frying Pan . . ."

"A Trace of Murder!"
When his wife, Muriel, threatens to leave him, Irving Fenwick poisons her with arsenic and then commits suicide. Across town, Felix Morley has the exact opposite problem; he's got a gorgeous girlfriend and a shrewish wife, Emma, who happens to be loaded. Felix does a little homework and mixes a non-traceable, toxic cup of coffee for his wife . . . voila, no problem, right? Well . . . the lovebirds let a little time elapse and then elope but when Felix's new wife gets wind of how the first wife really died, she sings to the cops. Meanwhile, in Greentree Cemetery, a couple of boys are having a little fun by switching around headstones; they just happen to be working on the stones belonging to Emma and Muriel when the guard chases them off. Shortly after, the police exhume what they think to be the body of Emma Morley for another autopsy and (since it's actually the body of Muriel Fenwick) find traces of arsenic! It's curtains for Felix Morley. Boy, oh boy, all the mistakes police must have made before the CSI crew came into existence (Mrs. Fenwick has to be at least two decades younger than Mrs. Morley!). Are we to believe that three pre-pubescent brats can lift a headstone and move it to another grave? Though "A Trace of Murder!" ends on a supremely dopey moment (told his wife's body has traces of arsenic, Felix says, "That's impossible! I'm being framed! The poison I used leaves no trace!" Ulp, I mean, that is . . . cue wah wah music), it certainly begins promisingly with two seemingly unrelated events. It's only when Al tries to tie those threads together that the story unravels.

"The Escaped Maniac!"

One dark and stormy night, Bert is out driving in the countryside when he stops for a hitch-hiker. The man is disheveled but friendly enough until the radio broadcasts the news of "The Escaped Maniac!" Suddenly, Bert has every reason to fear his new passenger. Or does he? Right from the get-go, this one is 100% predictable but I do give Al a bit of credit for not cheating . . . much. Readers in 1951 might not have seen that climax coming but we hardened veterans of pre-code horror comics nail the "surprise" a few panels in. The less said about the Roussos art the better.

"Partnership Dissolved"
Meat wholesaler Herman Winkler has seen profits dip low and the end seems near until Dr. Paul Merrick barges into Winkler's office with a wondrous new serum that transforms the toughest meat into tender filet mignon! Doc explains that the formula works in the same way as the human digestive system, breaking down the tissue and leaving it "partially digested." All that Doc asks is fifty percent of all profits and Herman is glad to agree since the serum will reap big rewards for the failing company. But two million dollars is so much more than one and, inevitably, Herman decides he needs the "Partnership Dissolved!" and that his new partner must disappear. He traps Doc in the meat locker until the poor man freezes to death then dumps the body into a vat of the solution, smiling while contemplating even more riches. Back in his office. Herman takes a tumble and his secretary helpfully fetches him a glass of water from the decanter on her boss's desk. Too late, Winkler discovers that he's been given a full glass of the serum and he quickly breaks down into a "dark putrid mass!" The 47th retelling of a partnership gone awry is elevated to "Very Good" status solely by Ghastly's art. Winkler is nothing more than a framework of every other greedy businessman who offed his partner because the stack of cash just wasn't high enough (when will these guys learn?). Highlight panels include Winkler's draining of the liquid after dissolving Doc (we don't see anything suspect but we sure imagine we do!) and, of course, the climactic puddle ("The form of his blackening body dissolved into a dark putrid mass! A foul, rancid odor wafted upward from the quivering, seething pool!"), reminiscent of "Baby . . . It's Cold Inside!" (from Vault #17). --Peter

"Partnership Dissolved!"
Jose: Craig’s somewhat light-hearted approach to the crime story with “Out of the Frying Pan…” is an interesting change of pace if not entirely winning. Pork-faced Hank Bowers is clearly meant to be closer to caricature than character, and I can’t help but detect shades of Cartoon Network’s Johnny Bravo in him. I didn’t really have any problem with either Feldstein’s script or George Roussos’s art in “The Escaped Maniac!” albeit how predictable and square they were. Al had the sense here to stick to his convictions, and I think with a more imaginative artist on hand “Maniac!” could have made for a modest, moody little suspenser. The same cannot be said for “A Trace of Murder!” which only becomes more ludicrous with each successive panel. The 1950s were apparently a very special time, a time when cops were incredibly dumb and children were insanely strong. To have been able to live back then. Ingels pulls through with a tale worthy of his nickname and an ending that holds back no punches. The warring business partners bit might be showing its staleness by this point, but reinvigorating it with meat-eating serums and Ingels’s art at times makes it all feel new again.

"Out of the Frying Pan . . ."
Jack: Craig's story is brilliant and serves as another fine example of how to make story and art so co-dependent that one is incomplete without the other. My favorite moment in the Kamen story is when Feldstein censors the names of the common household ingredients used to make an untraceable poison. It's nice to know that the creators of EC Comics were so concerned about protecting their readers from harm. There are few things that get me more excited than a story setup involving an escaped homicidal maniac in the middle of nowhere, so I did not mind the above-average art from Roussos. The fun part of these stories is all about guessing who the killer really is and this time it was pretty obvious. The Ingels story starts with a setup that is both clever and disgusting and the plot and conclusion are satisfying--not so much a tale of revenge as one of carelessness.

The Vault of Horror #22

"Fountains of Youth!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"The Monster in the Ice!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Graham Ingels

"Gone . . . Fishing!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"What the Dog Dragged In!" 
Story by Al Feldstein, Based on a story by Ray Bradbury
Art by Jack Kamen

There is very little in Betty’s life for her to take comfort in, and perhaps her blindness and invalidity can be viewed as strange mercies that she should not be forced to see the cracked and miserable walls or pace the worn boards of her desolate apartment. The only source of warmth and companionship she has in this world is Jerry, her trusted dog, on whom she literally depends at times to bring her her weekly vittles. It is on just such an errand that the hound is run down by a car driven by philanthropist Roger Cartwright. Roger takes the still-living dog to the vet and then later nurses it back to health. His fondness for the animal is doubled when he returns Jerry to his owner; he is clearly smitten with Betty but fears revealing his full identity lest she think that he merely viewed her as a charity case. Soon the two of them are seeing each other regularly at the prompting of Jerry’s trips to Roger’s house, and on his last visit Roger proposes marriage. Fate rears its ugly maw, though, when a truck hurtles into Roger’s automobile right after his departure. Betty sinks into a deep depression, not knowing what became of her intended, and Jerry’s recurring journeys to Roger’s place from which he returns empty-pawed only sicken both of them even more. Finally Jerry takes off for several days and, just as Betty thinks she is totally alone in life, the dog comes back, his fur heavy with rank graveyard earth. It seems Jerry hasn’t come back empty-pawed this time. Just in the doorway, Roger waits be reunited with his betrothed.

“What the Dog Dragged In!” aims for fairly low-hanging fruit when it comes to gaining the audience’s sympathy—our protagonist is a woman struggling to live on her own who is both blind *and* crippled, with only a lovable pup to call her friend—but it can’t be denied that even obvious heartstring-pluckers such as these can be played with skill, as they are here. Kamen’s art is as nicey-nice as ever, even going so far as to making Betty, a lady who clearly has limited resources in more ways than one, look like all his other fresh-from-the-beauty-parlor heroines when the story heavily implies that Betty likely doesn’t ever leave her tenement, but it’s the emotional strength of Bradbury’s original story and Feldstein’s “adaptation” of it that carries it through. The pain of the final scenes between Betty and Jerry are made palpable through the prose, the dog’s frustration and despair that it can’t get the only thing its master desires a sure-fire throat-clencher. The fact that Jerry does end up fulfilling Betty’s wish in the most horrifying way possible only makes the ending feel that much more scalding to the touch.

"Dammit, did you let him into
our boxes of EC comics again?"
Two geologists stationed out in the “barren frozen waste that is the Arctic” tire of the superstitious claptrap of their Eskimo guide who insists that a certain range of tundra is cursed by the presence of a terrible monster whose gruesome face is said to drive man to madness. Hearing this, the two white guys naturally conclude that it’s something they should most definitely investigate. They stumble upon the monster-cicle and then chip out the hazy block of ice which imprisons it to take back their cabin base. They naturally give the frightened-out-of-his-mind Eskimo guide the task of chiseling the remains out of the ice and, just as they’re musing about the possibility that the Creature which Mary Shelley spoke of her in famous “novel” Frankenstein was actually a living, breathing creation, they are alarmed by the sound of the Eskimo’s delirious screams. Their guide has been reduced to a gibbering mess and the man in the ice—whoever or whatever it was—has headed back into the wild. The geologists spring a fishing hole-trap for it, but one look at the monster’s ghastly (Graham Ingels) face is enough to seal their doom and ensure their own freezing death in the ice before more white guys show up days later and decide they should most definitely investigate. A flimsy if intermittently intriguing narrative provides low-res chills. Ingels admirably takes on the task of re-imagining the Creature for an audience to whom Boris Karloff’s portrayal had been the defining image, and if his stab at Shelley’s misshapen man loses some of its gravitas, it certainly can’t be denied that his version is clock-meltingly ugly.

"Fountains of Youth!"
Johnny Craig is up to his old bag of tricks (which means that they’re all interesting and new tricks) in “Fountains of Youth!,” a sedate, almost Val Lewton-esque “mystery” where the sudden, incredible deaths of young women in the company of a wealthy, veiled madam reveal the latter for the ancient lullaby-singing, vitality-sucking beast that she is. This is one of Craig’s more urbane stories, a tale set in the contemporary here-and-now of 1951 that could have easily been translated to the small screen as an episode of The Twilight Zone. (One could say it was, in a way, in episodes such as “Long Live Walter Jameson” and, especially, “Queen of the Nile.”) I also love Craig’s inventiveness and looseness with his Vault-Keeper, like the shot of V-K casually lounging back as he chortles over the plot’s morbid developments. It’s moments like this, a good deal of them facilitated by Craig, that went a long way in delineating EC’s GhouLunatics from other horror hosts of the era and ingraining them deeper into the social consciousness.

We got chins that could go on for days!
Whereas it’s typically Kamen left with the dog scraps each issue, Jack Davis muddles through the six pages of filler that is “Gone … Fishing!” before delivering us to the bizarre albeit entirely expected punchline. Right from the second that our fish-conscious pal Steve makes his entrance into the story with the line, “I’m opposed to fishing on moral grounds,” we know that our cast of two are here to act only as ciphers rather than fully-rounded characters. There’s none of the nuance here that Feldstein brought to his script for “The Trophy” (TftC #25), a tale that similarly preoccupied itself with Man’s debatable hierarchy in the kingdom of the beasts. Instead we have our enthusiastic sportsman giving us the technical run-downs of the various forms of fishing and our sympathetic dissenter to occasionally comment “Eww, that’s gross” before God or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster sees fit to pass judgment upon the sportsman in the form of hooking him on fishing line apparently being reeled in by Davy Jones. “Gone … Fishing!” could almost pass as EC parodying their own formula. --Jose

The reel lesson? Stop eating candy you found in the freaking sand.

("Fountains of Youth")
Peter: "Gone . . . Fishing!" is the most ludicrous morality tale we've yet discovered on our journey; it's not the sentiment but the execution which makes it so harebrained. Steven objects vehemently to the mistreatment of the fish and yet he accompanies and stays quite a while with sadistic angler, Max. The tale is actually 20% morality tale and 80% an instructive course in Fishing 101. Halfway through, I knew what the twist would be (what idiot wouldn't?) but when it came, I wasn't prepared for the silliness  of the scene. Who hooked Max? Who cares? Feldstein, in his interview in Tales of Terror (Gemstone, 2000), tells a very funny story of attending a theater one night and seeing a short film entitled The Fisherman that ripped off "Gone . . . Fishing!" Ray Bradbury must have smiled when he heard this story.  "Fountains" is an average horror tale, no more or less; a variation on the plot was used to better effect in the Universal-released The Leech Woman (1960). Al's "sequel" to the "Mary Shelly" (sic) novel is an interesting take on the Monster and has the same kind of claustrophobic vibe that enriched Who Goes There? Ghastly's creature is best kept to the shadows though, as when it emerges and gives us a full-facial, I doubt this Monster (with its cumbersome boar-ish tusks) would elicit more than giggles from an Eskimo. Winning the coveted Best-of-Issue this time out is "What the Dog Dragged In!," another of Al's "homages" to Ray Bradbury ("The Emissary" from Dark Carnival, 1947). The remarkable aspect of this shocker is that there's no villain (in fact, Roger's such a saint he tucks hobbled and bandaged Jerry into bed!). What fate awaits Betty when the corpse comes a' callin'? In Bradbury's tale, the main character is a bedridden boy and the climactic visitor is the boy's kindly teacher, who had died sometime before.

Show of hands for those who think Ingels is amazing.
Jack: As usual, the Craig story is my favorite. He really delivers the goods in the shock panel at the end when we finally see the aged Madame Dubois without her veil. Ingels and Kamen switch places in this issue for a change, with Ingels coming second and Kamen coming fourth. Ghastly really excels at splash pages; witness this one, where the Old Witch's cauldron is supported by hands sticking up out of the water. This story features some of the best straightforward artwork I've yet seen by Ingels, though the final shots of the monster's face are disappointing after all of the buildup about how horrible it looked. Davis's story is, as Peter notes, a great primer on surf fishing with a conclusion that is funny but unexplained. Kamen's story adds another disappointing ending, where we get only a tiny glimpse of Roger's decaying corpse. I read that Bradbury's story left this to the imagination, but in a visual medium such as comics we need a little more visual stimulation.

John: Aside from the final panels, I could hardly stand Craig’s artwork in "Fountains of Youth!" For me, the story didn’t make up for the art’s shortcomings, either. "The Monster in the Ice!" earns points for making an effort to teach kids that there was a lot more to the novel Frankenstein than they saw in the Boris Karloff film. While one can pretty much see where "Gone . . . Fishing!" is going from the get-go, it still has some charm. ”What the Dog Dragged In!" delivers more fantastic Kamen art and a fun story, but like "Madame Bluebeard" from this month's TOC discussed above, they should know by now that we're not going to be satisfied with a single (let alone a partial) panel of the decayed corpses coming back for love or revenge. We want our 10¢ worth, dammit!

Next Week!
Jack and Peter take a real hard look
at the Best and Worst of DC War Comics in 1966
Only 12 cents at your local newsstand!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-John Williams Part Four: I Killed the Count [2.25] [2.26] [2.27]

The only multi-part episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was based on Alec Coppel’s I Killed the Count, a play that had its first performance 18 years earlier on December 10, 1937, at the Whitehall Theatre in London. In the brief prologue, a maid named Polly brings morning tea to Count Mattoni at ten a.m. and screams when she finds him dead in his armchair, a single bullet wound in his forehead.

Act One begins an hour later, by which time Inspector Davidson and Detective Raines, both of Scotland Yard, have arrived at Oxley Court to investigate the murder. They speak to Martin, the manager of the apartment building, and question Polly, the maid. Davidson reads a letter from Lord Sorrington and telephones the man to ask him to come for an interview. Louise Rogers, a young woman tenant, tells the investigators that she was asleep all night and never met the count. Renee La Lune, an American showgirl, claims that she came home late and went straight to sleep. Samuel Diamond, an American businessman, reveals that he had to take the stairs when he came home at two a.m. because the elevator was not working, but when he got to the fourth floor he saw that the elevator was there, open and unattended.

John Williams as Davidson
Davidson notices that the door between Mattoni’s apartment and the one next to it is bolted on the other side but not on Mattoni’s. Johnson, one of the elevator operators, says that he brought Mattoni up to his floor around 9:30 p.m. and never left the elevator unattended after that. He mentions having heard of an American whom the count said never to let into his rooms. Davidson begins to suspect that Rupert, a mysterious man who rented the apartment next to Mattoni’s, is the American whom Mattoni feared. A spent cartridge case found on the floor in Rupert’s room adds to his suspicions, as does a letter in Mattoni’s typewriter that implicates another American named Bernard Froy. Mullet, the other elevator operator, claims to know Rupert by sight, and Froy is brought in by a constable.

Roxanne Arlen as La Lune
The first act of I Killed the Count establishes a light, comedic tone while setting up the mystery. Davidson is full of self-importance and Raines is his foil, always ready with a quip when the senior inspector gets too pompous. Polly, the maid, has extensive experience in being interrogated, since corpses keep turning up wherever she works. La Lune’s character is particularly dated; she is a tough-talking American floozy who does not like being addressed by her real name, which is Rosie Lipmann. Diamond is also dated; he is a Jewish businessman who is more interested in money than murder. The first act ends on a suspenseful note, as the audience wonders if Mullet will identify Froy as Rupert.

Act two picks up right where act one ended, as Froy denies having known Mattoni. Johnson, the elevator operator, identifies him as one of the count’s visitors, so Froy must change his story. When confronted with Mattoni’s typed note, Froy explains that the count had been blackmailing him over a gambling debt. He admits visiting Mattoni the night before, seeking a cache of letters. A struggle ensued and he shot and killed the count. Davidson is shocked when Mullet says that Froy is not Rupert. Even more vexing is the fact that important details of Froy’s story do not fit with the evidence found at the scene of the crime.

Alan Napier as Lord Sorrington
Lord Sorrington arrives and, to everyone’s surprise, Mullet identifies him as Rupert! Sorrington is caught in a series of lies. He admits to having killed Count Mattoni, who was his son in law. The count had married Sorrington’s daughter, Helen, and ruined her. Sorrington went to Mattoni’s room and, after a struggle, he shot and killed the count. “And so ends my perfect crime!” he remarks. Davidson and Raines struggle to reconcile the dual confessions. As they review the stories of each person they interviewed, they realize that neither confession entirely fits the physical evidence. They re-interview various people and begin to uncover more lies. Davidson recognizes Mullet as an ex-convict named Lummock and Mullet admits having stolen money from the count’s wallet. When the count caught him, a struggle ensued and he shot and killed the count.

Act two features three confessions to murder, each of which is acted out in flashback onstage. This adds to the excitement of the play by having the actors demonstrate the action rather than describe it. One begins to wonder if Coppel’s play is heading in the direction of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, in which multiple people participate in a murder to prevent discovery of a single culprit.

Charles Davis as Raines
The final act begins as Davidson decides to bring the three men who have confessed to murder together to see if any will try to back away from their stories. He and Raines exit and leave Lord Sorrington, Froy and Mullet alone on the stage. At this point, we learn that they planned the murder in concert, figuring that three imperfect murders would keep the police from deducing the truth. Yet none of them committed the crime, to their great surprise. They all confessed according to plan, not knowing which of them was really guilty.

Louise Rogers is the fourth person to confess to the murder. She reveals that she is Count Mattoni’s widow and Lord Sorrington’s disgraced daughter. She explains how she confronted her husband and, after a struggle, she shot and killed the count. Yet her story also does not fit the physical evidence. Davidson does not know that the actions of the three men to confuse the crime scene served to make Louise’s true story seem impossible. Raines points out a quirk of English law, that “Two or more persons cannot be charged as principals with a crime known to have been committed by only one person.” They realize that they can’t solve the crime and the play ends on a comic note as Diamond rushes in to tell Davidson that he thinks he has killed his business associate.

Louise Rogers, Mullet, Froy, Lord Sorrington
Act three includes one last flashback to the moment when the three conspirators planned the murder of Count Mattoni. I Killed the Count turns on a coincidence that Louise happens to kill her husband on the same night that her father, a man who loves her (Froy) and a man Froy saved in the Great War (Mullet) were going to kill him by means of an elaborate plan to cover up their act. It all works out to be a perfect crime, which is acceptable morally because Mattoni was such an unlikable character. Coppel plays with the conventions of the British murder mystery and, instead of featuring a brilliant detective who unravels the tangled knots of a complex crime, he portrays Davidson, an inspector who is unable to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a coherent way. Instead of the multiple murderers of Christie’s novel, we have multiple confessions, only one of which is true.

Why did Joan Harrison decide to adapt Coppel’s play for Alfred Hitchcock Presents as a three-part episode? According to Patrick McGilligan, Coppel was a member of Hitchcock’s social circle. In late 1956 and early 1957, he was working on a treatment for Vertigo and, during this period, he also wrote the original stories for two other episodes, “The Diplomatic Corpse” and “Together.” I suspect that Hitchcock and Harrison were happy to purchase the rights to Coppel’s first and biggest hit, a play that was a success in London in 1937-38, the last quiet days before storm clouds of war would gather over the city.

The establishing shot of the Thames at daybreak
Francis Cockrell was selected to adapt the play for television. One might suspect that he would take the easy way out and use act one of the play for part one of the show, act two for part two, and act three for part three, but this was not the case. An examination of Cockrell’s script in comparison with Coppel’s play shows that Cockrell made significant changes and used his great skill to maximize the impact of presenting this story in the half-hour television format.

“I Killed the Count” aired on CBS on three successive Sundays in March 1957, on the 17th, 24th and 31st. In addition to Cockrell’s clever reworking of the story, director Robert Stevens uses his considerable talent to open up the action so that the show does not feel like a filmed stage play. The first episode begins with an establishing shot showing Big Ben and the sun rising over the Thames; this immediately tells the viewer that it is early morning in London. The camera dissolves to the prologue, with Hitchcock’s daughter Pat playing Polly, the maid. The next dissolve is to Davidson’s arrival and, in a perfect piece of casting, John Williams plays the senior inspector. The story unfolds in a compressed fashion, with a nice shot early on as high contrast lighting shows Davidson’s face in close-up with Raines behind him in the middle distance. Davidson is bigger and in the upper part of the frame, with Raines smaller and in the lower part, suggesting their relationship as chief and subordinate.

Charles Cooper as Froy
Raines goes over the clues, showing them to Davidson and, by extension, to the viewer. A large chunk of the first act of the play is jettisoned, as Cockrell chooses to omit interviews with Louise Rogers, Renee La Lune, Diamond and Johnson. In fact, Louise, who turns out to be the real killer, is not even introduced until the second episode, and then only in a brief scene. Davidson finds Lord Sorrington’s letter and telephones the man, who is played by Alan Napier, another quintessential TV Brit, who had appeared with John Williams in the first-season episode “Whodunit.” Cockrell’s script is a textbook adaptation for TV, removing unnecessary details, focusing on key events, and building suspense at commercial breaks and the end of the episode. Stevens uses a mobile camera and dissolves to great effect. When Froy arrives, he is played by Charles Cooper as an aggressive, confrontational American. He seems like a transplant from a 1940s movie and does not initially fit well with the rest of the suave British actors who make up the cast.

Stevens continues to set up shots to demonstrate the balance of power between characters: the camera looks up at Davidson in close-up as he looms over the seated Froy, then the camera looks down at Froy, who confesses to murder at the first commercial break. This is quite a departure from the play, in which no confession occurs until the second act. There is no flashback yet to Froy’s version of the killing; this will occur in the second episode. Lord Sorrington arrives and Mullet identifies him as Rupert. Sorrington rapidly confesses to having killed Mattoni and the first episode ends with a close-up of Davidson’s confused face after Sorrington says, “I killed the count.” In short, Cockrell takes the first two confessions and moves them to the first act, using them as cliffhangers at the commercial break and the end of the episode.

If you think this close up is tight . . .
In keeping with the unusual nature of this multi-part episode, part two of “I Killed the Count” begins with Alfred Hitchcock summarizing the first episode and showing clips of the two murder confessions. The episode then picks up with Lord Sorrington explaining his motives, after which his version of the killing is shown in flashback. Robert Stevens uses some tight close-ups to heighten the suspense and Alan Napier provides voice over narration at the beginning and end of the flashback sequence. Davidson then re-interviews Froy, who says that his own love for Mattoni’s wife was his motive for murder. By changing Froy’s motive from one of revenge against a blackmailer to one of love for an unhappily married woman, Cockrell clears up a subtle point in Coppel’s play, since Froy’s relationship with Mattoni’s wife is only mentioned briefly in the play’s third act, during the flashback to the planning of the murder among the three conspirators.

. . . take a look at this one!
Stevens again uses extremely tight close-ups in this exchange, including one that is so close that it shows only about a quarter of John Williams’s face! A second flashback presents Froy’s version of the killing and, once again, Robert Stevens does nice work here. As the flashback begins, we look down the hall where a ceiling light is dark and a window behind it lets in daylight. The shot dissolves to the night before and we see the ceiling light switch on and darkness fall outside the window. The start of the struggle between Froy and Mattoni is filmed with a close-up of both men’s torsos and there is a tricky shot at the conclusion of the flashback: we see Froy exit the room and go down the hall to the left, then the camera pans right as the lights come up and we see Froy in the hall telling the story. There is a very subtle cut as the camera is focused on the door and this is the only way we know how Stevens made it look like Froy exited the screen to the left and then appeared on the right in what looks like a single shot. After this, Raines points out to Davidson that they have too much evidence and there is a break for the first commercial.

Rosemary Harris as Louise
In the second half of this episode, we are finally introduced to Louise Rogers, who denies knowing Mattoni and who says she was asleep in her room all night. By moving her first scene to the mid-point of the trilogy, Cockrell ensures that her character will not be forgotten at the end when she becomes very important. After this, we finally meet La Lune, whose extensive, comic dialogue from the play has been cut almost entirely from the televised version. Unlike the play, where she was a tough-talking showgirl, in the TV show she is soft-spoken and polite, while still quite attractive. The actress who plays her in this short scene is Roxanne Arlen, who was nicknamed “the wiggle” for her physical assets.

Melville Cooper as Mullet
Episode two ends with Mullet’s confession, which dovetails nicely with the end of Act Two in Coppel’s play. Once again, the show ends with Davidson, flustered and angry, unable to accept the situation. Episode three begins with another summary by Hitchcock and clips of the three confessions from the prior episodes. Following these is a flashback to Mullet’s version of the killing, with voice over by the character at the beginning and end and more good camerawork from Stevens. This time, the camera pans down and right from Mullet’s face to the bottom of the connecting door between rooms. A change in the light showing under the door signals that the time has shifted from late morning to two a.m. We see Mullet’s shadow approach under the door and he enters; we see his legs, now clad in the uniform of an elevator operator, and the camera pans back up so we can see his face. After the killing, Mullet exits the room, closes the door, the light again changes to daytime, and the camera pans left back to where Mullet stands in the same place as before, telling his story. If you watch carefully you can see a cut with the door closed, but it looks as if Mullet as exited the room at night and appeared in it by day in one continuous shot. In a sense, Stevens is doing what Hitchcock did in Rope, using tiny cuts at the end of each reel to give the impression of one long shot.

The three conspirators
Cockrell further opens up Coppel’s play near the end of the third episode by having the suspects taken to Scotland Yard for the final confrontation. Similar to the exterior shot of Big Ben at the start of the first episode, the change in locale is signaled by an establishing shot of what is presumably the entrance to Scotland Yard. The camera then dissolves to the interior offices, where Davidson leaves Froy and Mullet alone. They whisper to each other and we learn for the first time that Mullet staged the scene by putting the corpse in the armchair. In an update to make some sense of the timing, Mullet says that Sorrington saved his life in Burma, rather than in the Great War. Burma, which is now Myanmar, had been part of the British Empire since 1886 and was invaded by Japan in December 1941, so we can assume that Mullet and Sorrington were fighting for England there, 16 years before this episode aired in 1957. In another change from the play, Cockrell chooses not to present a flashback to the three men planning the murder of Count Mattoni. Instead, the entire plan is reduced to a comment by Mullet about having drawn the black Ace. The commercial break comes after the three men huddle privately at Scotland Yard and realize that none of them knows who killed the count.

A brief moment of enthusiasm
The final segment of the trilogy finds Louise arriving at Scotland Yard, confessing to the murder and divulging her real identity. Hers is the only version not portrayed in flashback and this gives it a more factual feeling than the three other versions, which seemed more like stories. Her version does not fit the physical evidence because she says that she left the body on the floor and everyone knows it was found in the armchair, so we are faced with a situation where the viewer and the four suspects all know the truth of what happened but the inspector does not. Raines shows the legal point to Davidson and Davidson realizes that the whole thing was a conspiracy. In Coppel’s play, he understands that the crime will go unpunished and then Diamond provides a comic ending with his own confession to a new murder. In the TV version, Raines speaks last and says, “It’s lucky he deserved killing, isn’t it, Sir?” The show ends with a close-up of the exasperated Davidson.

Note the composition and lighting of this shot
Between December 10, 1937, when I Killed the Count premiered on the London stage, and March 17, 24 and 31, 1957, when it appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Coppel's play was a popular story. After 185 performances in London, it opened on Broadway in New York City on August 31, 1942, but this time it was not a hit and ran for only 29 performances. Perhaps the comic murder mystery that worked so well in peacetime London did not translate to wartime New York. Coppel had turned his own play into a novel that was published in 1939, and it was filmed in England in 1939 as well. The film, titled I Killed the Count in the U.K., was re-titled Who Is Guilty? for its release in the U.S. in 1940.

The play was also performed on radio in Australia, Coppel’s native country, in 1941, and it was performed on BBC radio in England in 1945 and again in 1948. It was performed on Britain’s ITV in 1956, before the Hitchcock version was shown in the U.S., and again on Belgian TV in 1959. But it is the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version that has run in syndication for nearly 60 years and which was released on DVD, so that is the version that is most familiar today. The film version is not available and I have not been able to locate any recording of the radio performances or the other TV plays. The novel was never reprinted but can be found on the used book market. The play is still in print and can be purchased from Samuel French, the famous play publishing company; it is possible that some theater group somewhere in the world could even now be considering a revival of Coppel’s play.

"The wiggle"
Alec Coppel (1907-1972) wrote stories that served as the basis for this trilogy and two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. An overview of his career appeared in my review of “The Diplomatic Corpse.”

Francis Cockrell (1906-1987) wrote 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last one I reviewed was “Whodunit,” also starring John Williams.

Director Robert Stevens (1920-1989) put his distinctive stamp on 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including “The Glass Eye” and “Place of Shadows.”

Joining John Williams in the cast is Alan Napier (1903-1988), who was eight episodes of the Hitchcock series. The last one reviewed here was “Whodunit.”

The actor who seems so out of place in the first episode as Froy, the American, is Charles Cooper (1926-2013), whose career on screen stretched from 1950 until his death. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series but he did play a role in The Wrong Man (1956).

Patricia Hitchcock as Polly
Giving a wonderful performance as Mullet, the elevator man with the hangdog face, is Melville Cooper (1896-1973). He started out on stage before fighting in World War I and spending some time as a prisoner of war. He was on screen from 1930 until 1961 and among his many roles were parts in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Sturges’s The Lady Eve (1940). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

Another enjoyable performance is given by Charles Davis (1925-2009) as Raines, the junior inspector who serves as a foil for Davidson. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Davis was a busy stage actor who began appearing on screen in 1951. He appeared in four other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also on Night Gallery.

Anthony Dawson as Count Mattoni
Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia (1928- ) plays Polly, the maid who has seen it all before, with a good comic delivery. She appeared on screen starting in 1949 and was in some of her father’s films and ten episodes of the half-hour TV series.

Poor Anthony Dawson (1916-1992) does a lot of rolling around on the floor (when not replaced by stunt doubles) as Count Mattoni and finds himself shot three times in flashbacks. He was born in Edinburgh and was on screen from 1940 to 1991. He had an important role in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) but this was his only appearance on Hitchcock’s TV show. Other roles included appearances in three James Bond films, twice as Blofeld: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965).

Raines is ever so helpful
The two notable female roles in “I Killed the Count” were played by Rosemary Harris
(1927- ) and Roxanne Arlen (1931-1989). Harris began on stage in 1948 and moved to film and TV in the early 1950s; she was also in “The Glass Eye,” which was directed by Robert Stevens. Her most memorable role in recent years was as Peter Parker’s Aunt May in the three Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire. Arlen was born in Detroit and later was crowned “Miss Detroit”; she was on screen for about ten years from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s. There is a very entertaining overview of her life and career here.

“I Killed the Count” is on DVD here and you can read the GenreSnaps take on these episodes here.

Coppel, Alec. I Killed the Count, a Play in Three Acts. London: William Heinemann, 1938. Print. Reprinted by Samuel French, NY, n.d.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"I Killed the Count." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 17 Mar. 1957. Television.
"I Killed the Count." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 24 Mar. 1957. Television.
"I Killed the Count." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 31 Mar. 1957. Television.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
League, The Broadway. "" IBDB. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. 541-44. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

In two weeks: “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater,” starring John Williams and Barbara Baxley!