Monday, February 26, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 124: March 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 243

"24 Hour Pass!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Visit to a Small War!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Mort Drucker
(reprinted from G.I. Combat #62, July 1958)

"Rita, A Truck!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Last Shot of the Triggerfish!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #98, September 1961)

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"24 Hour Pass!"
Jack: Sgt. Rock is ordered to head back to a town that Easy Co. recently passed and wait for top-secret orders, even if he has to wait a full day. The town seems too good to be true and it looks like Rock has a "24 Hour Pass!" to enjoy the friendly Middle European villagers and their town that seems to have felt no effects of the war. Rock thinks he sees some Nazis sneaking through the woods outside a toy factory, but when he tries to follow them they disappear. He sits down under a tree and takes a short nap, but is awakened when an arrow from a crossbow nearly misses his head. The townsfolk insist he was dreaming and he is comforted by a pretty young woman who offers to help him forget his loneliness.

Who is this actor?
("Visit to a Small War!")
Rock survives an attack by a man who tries to garrote him, and he heads back to the toy factory, where he discovers that the seemingly gentle townsfolk are secretly assembling rocket parts stuffed with high explosives. He defeats the Nazi guards and blows up the factory before returning to Easy Co. and announcing that the town was peaceful and quiet.

Almost a solo Sgt. Rock adventure, "24 Hour Pass!" is one of the most successful Easy Co. tales in recent memory. There are no new recruits to kill off and no annoying phrases to repeat. Heath does a nice job of depicting the idyllic small town and the incident with the pretty young lass is drawn with few words. The gal almost looks like she stepped out of a DC Romance comic!

"Rita, a Truck!"
Jim is a soldier on the front lines in WWII fighting the Big War, but when he gets a furlough he pays a "Visit to a Small War!" and sees that his kid brother has just as much fighting to do, even though it's on a different scale. Bill Finger's script is exciting and Mort Drucker provides gritty, realistic art to go along with it. I can't put my finger on the actor whose face must have served as the model for Jim.

Near the end of WWII, an American supply truck needs to reach the front lines and leaves a convoy of trucks to try and forge its own route. Nazi guns cause a flat tire and a broken fan belt, but eventually the supplies get through. Eight pages of dreadful Andru and Esposito visuals don't help this tepid tale, and "Rita, a Truck!" is a real letdown after the first two stories in this issue. Rita, of course, refers to a cheesecake painting of Rita Hayworth on one of the fenders.

"Communications!" are important in wartime, from something as simple as a walkie-talkie to something as complex as the language used by Navajo code talkers. What starts out as a dull litany of communications methods takes a left turn near the end and becomes a paean to an Indian tribe! Sam Glanzman tries his hand at drawing Sgt. Rock, who narrates the piece.

Peter: "24-Hour Pass!" has some great visuals but a pretty dumb script. Seems a very elaborate ruse to fool . . . whom? Any ol' Sarge who would come wandering in to the village? Why not just blow away anyone who came into town? "Visit to a Small War!" is a real hoot, just about the best reprint we've had in these parts for some time. Of course, it's got Mort Drucker art and that's a big plus. I'm usually the first to jump all over the "tepid" Andru and Esposito doodles but that's not the weakest aspect of "Rita, A Truck!" That would be the tedious and overlong script which bounces from one AAA mishap to another.

Star Spangled War Stories 161

"The Long Jump"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Doug Wildey and Joe Kubert

"The Slayers and the Slain!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #138, May 1968)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must parachute into a tiny village in Nazi-occupied France, where he'll scout for a landing area for ten thousand paratroopers. Once he's made "The Long Jump," US must convince village leader, Herr Voss, that the upcoming drop is good for France, but the stubborn old man is convinced the Nazis have been treating his people well and refuses to enlist the help of his fellow villagers. But once the man discovers that the Nazis plan to bomb the nearby dike in order to flood the landing area, he quickly helps the Unknown Soldier quash the evil  campaign. The paratroopers land safely and the Unknown Soldier is victorious again.

We've come to a major crossroads in the saga of the Unknown Soldier with this issue; Joe Kubert's juggling of editorial duties and illustrating war stories has obviously become too much and something's got to give. This is the first US story sans Kubert art and, unfortunately, it won't be the last. Joe will return to the art chores for the next two issues and then leave altogether. A few guest artists will fill in until (gulp!) Jack Sparling takes over for good with #165. Doug Wildey does not plumb the depths of Grandenetti, Andru, or Esposito, but neither does he ascend to the heights of Kubert or Heath. It's somewhere right down that middle between good and not-so-good. The story's pretty weak as well; the old man's reason for sitting out the rebellion (he's pretty darn happy that the Ratzis will allow him his white blossoms) is dopey. Voss won't even acquiesce when his daughter is taken hostage. A definite step down from the previous chapter.

Jack: I was about to complain about Doug Wildey's art until I read the Wikipedia page about his career and discovered that it was long and fairly illustrious. I guess this story isn't a good example. Haney's plot is entertaining but the art is so weak when compared to Kubert that it's distracting. The cover is great, though. As for the reprint, it's a great story but it's not even five years old!

G.I. Combat 152

"Decoy Tank"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #97, January 1963)

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Flying Tigers"
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by John Severin

"The Psalm of the K Ration"
Story and Art by Jon L. Blummer
(Reprinted from Comic Cavalcade #8, Fall 1944)

"The War Comes to Matt Dobbs!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Frank Thorne

A sample of some of Jerry DeFuccio's exemplary
writing from "The Flying Tigers."
Peter: A blacksmith comes to an ironic end during the Civil War in "The War Comes to Matt Dobbs!," a strong anti-war tale that succeeds despite the chicken scratchings of Frank Thorne, an artist I still have not acquired a taste for.  If "The Flying Tigers" resembles the closest thing we've come to an EC war story since Two-Fisted Tales shut its doors in 1955, that's due to the partnership of artist John Severin and writer Jerry DeFuccio, who actually did work together on that classic title. DeFuccio hits all the right buttons with "Tigers," giving us a tutorial and interesting characters at the same time. Watch for this to land at or near the top of my annual Best-Of list. Unfortunately, Sam Glanzman's latest chapter of the USS Stevens saga, "Dreams," is a disjointed affair with very weak art.

Jack: Drawing people is not Sam Glanzman's strong suit, so "Dreams" falls flat for most of its short length. I did like the stoner's psychedelic reverie, though. John Severin contributes some sharp art to "The Flying Tigers," which has a good story and a character who resembles Clark Gable. "The Psalm of the K Ration" has great, Golden Age art and is almost certainly the only pre-1950 DC War story we've seen in 124 issues of this blog, which leads to a question: how many DC War stories were published before 1950 anyway? I liked the use of the Psalm and its application to the wartime story. Finally, "The War Comes to Matt Dobbs!" is a '70s morality play inside a Civil War tale, with appealingly scratchy art by Frank Thorne. For all the reprints, including the lead story, this is a pretty enjoyable issue.

Arrrr! Avast ye landlubbers.
The bosuns and I welcome
Piracy to the bloody waters off EC Bay!
Next Week in Issue 52!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) Criterion Blu Ray Review

by John Scoleri

As a lifelong fan of George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I was thrilled when the announcement was made that Criterion would be releasing the Museum of Modern Art's 4k restoration of the film on Blu Ray and DVD in time for the film's 50th anniversary. The new restoration also allowed for Image Ten (the creators of and investors in the original film) to secure a copyright to the what is now the only version of the film worth owning. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here talking about the film itself, beyond stating my opinion that it’s the greatest horror film of all time, bar none. If you’ve never seen it, rest assured there is no better time, nor edition, with which to familiarize yourself with this classic film. The purpose of this review is to provide detailed information on this new Blu Ray release, comparing how the transfer stacks up to prior releases, and detailing the numerous extras to be found on the two-disc Blu Ray set.

I almost envy those of you who have previously only seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in poor quality versions, as the comparison to the restoration will be revelatory. Yes, it’s cliché to say that the film has never looked this good before on home video, but it’s undeniably true. If you’re familiar with the Japanese Happinet Blu Ray (without a doubt the best release prior to this one), you’ll already know that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD can look good in HD. While at first glance you might not recognize the difference in video quality between the Japanese disc and the Criterion release (ignoring the poor quality Mill Creek 'anniversary' Blu Ray rushed out last fall to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the film's restoration and theatrical rerelease), it doesn't take long to see just how significant an improvement the new restoration is over the Japanese disc. Contrast is greatly improved—very noticeably in some of the darker basement scenes, where blacks are crushed and whites tend to bloom on the Japanese release. Additionally, prior releases were very tightly cropped, whereas the film is presented here in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, frequently with additional information on all edges of the frame. I cannot stress enough just how much of an improvement this new edition is over every other release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to date. And short of Criterion getting into the 4K/UHD market, this will be the only version of this film worth watching for years to come.

As if the finest presentation of the film itself were not enough, Criterion is to be praised for assembling an amazing selection of new and previously created special features to make this the ultimate edition of the film. Here are my thought on those:

NIGHT OF ANUBIS, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film. Introduced by producer Russ Streiner.
Streiner discusses how George Romero and his colleagues at The Latent Image edited their films on 16mm reductions of 35mm footage, and this version of the film represents the cut that George assembled by hand. Despite a) some missing footage (Tom and Harry first coming upstairs from the basement, and Bill Cardille interviewing Sheriff McClelland), b) not having the original dialog track present (the audio from the release print has been married to the work print), and c) having been cut to conform with the length of the release print (meaning the portion of the basement scene cut for time that resulted in a jump cut in the finished film remains lost to the ages), the work print contains two particularly wonderful treats for fans. First, the ability to see the NIGHT OF ANUBIS title card on an actual print of the film. Until a few years ago, most fans (this one included) had no idea that any print existed with the ANUBIS title, so it was extremely cool to see that represented herein. Second, and even more exciting, is a day-for-night shot of the ghouls in the field approaching the house. This shot was replaced in the finished film with an alternate take of ghouls feasting on the remains of Tom and Judy (it can be seen right after Harry Cooper looks out the window and says, “Good Lord!”). Thankfully for us, the change didn’t require an adjustment to the dialogue track or overall running time, so the scene was not replaced when the work print was edited to conform to the release print. Criterion was kind enough to place a chapter stop right before the shot, for those not interested in viewing the work print in its entirety. Another side benefit of the inclusion of the work print is that it provides a great frame of reference with which to compare how a well-worn, 16mm reduction of the film compares to the all-new 4K restoration.

Light in the Darkness: The Impact of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
I really enjoyed listening to Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez discuss the film; particularly Darabont and del Toro, as their love for NIGHT really shines through as they describe the impact it had on them as horror fans and filmmakers. And kudos to Darabont for identifying some of the specific elements of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend that Romero drew upon in crafting the story.

Dead Relics - Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel, introduced by Gary Streiner
Any disappointment in the absence of the lost basement footage is quickly forgotten when you get to this treasure trove of dailies (a portion of which were flopped at some point, as Gary Streiner explains in his introduction). Included in the 18 minutes of footage are multiple takes of the posse and ghouls outside the house, Ben and Harry’s confrontation, Karen attacking Ben, the ghouls closing in on the cellar door, and even several takes of the zoom in to the skull at the top of the stairs.

Learning from Scratch: The Latent Image and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
John Russo provides a nice overview of Image Ten and the work the team was doing before they made the decision to mount a feature film. The featurette includes several of the Latent Image commercials they worked on, including some not released with previous editions of the film.

Limitations into Virtues
An interesting analysis of the making of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. While this type of thing can easily come off as scholarly and pretentious, and some of the suggestions made seem to be a bit o a stretch, there’s still plenty of interesting food for thought here.

Tones of Terror: The  NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Score
I can’t imagine there’s anyone out there who knows more about the library music used in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD than Jim Cirronella, who in 2010 produced THEY WON’T STAY DEAD—the definitive CD collection of Capitol Hi-Q library cues used in the film (watch for an expanded vinyl release of cues from Waxworks Records later this year). Cirronella narrates this featurette, providing an excellent analysis of how Romero used the library music throughout the film, and highlights several scenes where it is clear that George was cutting the film to match the existing cues.

Walking Like the Dead
This featurette re-purposes some of the interview footage shot for Jeff Carney and Jim Cirronella’s excellent 2009 documentary AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD, enhanced herein by the inclusion of numerous rare behind the scenes photographs of ghouls. I highly recommend the full documentary if you enjoy this brief featurette.

There’s a 45m interview/Q&A with George from the Toronto International Film Festival. While I had previously seen this online, it's a welcome addition to provide a more recent interview with Romero.

A 1979 episode of Tomorrow with Tom Snyder
The episode features George and PHANTASM director Don Coscarelli as guests,  talking about their newly released films (DAWN OF THE DEAD in George’s case). I was initially surprised that Don seemed so comfortable being paired with George; I would have expected any young horror filmmaker to defer to the master in a scenario like that. But Don comes across as very confident, and it’s easy to forget that PHANTASM was his third film, so he wasn't a brand new filmmaker at this point in his career.

A few minutes of silent footage shot when Bill Cardille and his WIIC cameraman Steve Hutsko visited the set to shoot their scenes for the film are included from the only extant VHS source. As this is the only behind the scenes footage that exists from the making of the film, it’s another welcome addition—in any quality.

An amusing Venus Probe newsreel from the period is also included.

Rounding things out are vintage and contemporary Trailers, a TV spot, and radio spots from 1968 as well as from the 70s, after the film was recognized as a horror classic.

Legacy features:
- Two audio commentaries from 1994 featuring Romero and members of the cast and crew
- 1987 audio interview with Duane Jones
- 1994 video interview with Judith Ridley
These features, several of which have appeared on multiple DVD releases throughout the years, allow fans to hear from many of the original cast and crew members who worked on the film. It's particularly nice to have those who are no longer with us represented on what is now the gold standard release of the film. I revisited several of these features for the first time since they appeared on the 1994 Elite LaserDisc release for the purpose of this review, and they all held up well. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Duane Jones interview contained material not included in earlier presentations, along with several great photos of Duane. So don’t skip it just because you think you’ve heard it all before!


A bare bones HD release of this restoration would have earned a must-buy recommendation from me. Considering the wealth of supplementary materials that are included, there's no excuse not to add this two-disc set to your library.

With NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD now in the Criterion Collection, those who might have previously written it off as just a cult film can no longer deny it the classic status it so richly deserves.

Monday, February 19, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 51

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  51: October 1954

MAD #16

"Shermlock Shomes in the Hound of the Basketballs!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Newspapers!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Restaurant!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Wreck of the Hesperus" ★ 1/2
Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Just as arch-nemesis Arty Morty blows another dozen bullet holes through Shermlock Shomes, the master detective is called upon by the ravishing Prudence Basketball. It seems Basketball Hall has been plagued by the ghostly presence of a demon hound, leading Pru’s uncle Coolidge to recently die of fright. Reporting to the estate on the moors, Shomes quickly hightails it out of the story to leave Pru under the protection (and gropey hands) of his trusted companion Dr. Whatsit. Sensing the devilish dog closing in on them through the fog, Whatsit gives the beast a good thrashing before realizing that it’s Shomes, returned with a weighty accusation in his pocket as he fingers Pru as the real cause of her uncle’s death. But, as it turns out, supernatural shenanigans abound as Shomes and Whatsit bump into a very real devil upon the moor.

Say "uncle"!
("Shermlock Shomes in The Hound of the Basketballs!")
While it’s not quite as snappy as the first Shomes story, “Hound of the Basketballs” still has a good number of gags, like when Shomes and Whatsit hide under the nearest furniture after Pru regales them with her ghost stories. Elder’s art is also lacking somewhat in its usual fire; this is confirmed by holding up this story to Will’s other assignment in this issue, “Restaurant.” The reader can discern fairly clearly which of the two the artist was having a better time with.

Did you know, faithful comic book reader, that the material you love so dearly but that is denigrated by your so-called “wise” elders is actually the stuff of tame fantasies compared to the sensationalistic utter drivel called “Newspapers” that those janitors of morality are constantly poring over? It’s true! Just take a look at the blood-soaked exposes on the riots and meat grinder murders that fill its turgid pages, or any one of the columns relating the latest bit of Hollywood gossip to a smut-hungry readership (“Googie With Foofoo While Boobie Vacations”). Not to mention all the shyster ad space and frothing letters section and trashy movie previews… You want to know the real menace to society? Just check out that *other* area of your local newsstand!

Black and white and red all over, indeed.

Like “Movie… Ads” before it, Kurtzman teams up with Davis yet again to train their creative crosshairs on a medium that prefers to trade in the coarse rather than the cultured, contrary to popular perception. “Newspapers” benefits by not suffering from the redundancy virus that plagued the former story, here offering up something a little bit different than what came before it as we are taken through each of the daily edition’s skeezy sections. What this one *does* have working against it is an overabundance of tiny text crowding around the major images that leads to a bit of sensory overload. While this “prose” is frequently humorous as Peter points out below, the overall package leaves one wanting to just scan for the major points and then move on with their lives, at least on that first read.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and all the Sturdleys would like is a nice lunch together as a family at the local chow-mein restaurant. Fat chance! From the dirty dishes and the maddening crowd to the inattentive wait staff and the lavatorial demands of the baby, this supposedly idyllic excursion resembles nothing so much as a battle to swim up Niagara Falls. But even as the brat kids toss radios at heads and the Sturdleys are unceremoniously kicked out of their booth the second their meal is over, the stupid intrepid family knows that they’ll be back same time next week for another lovely afternoon out.

Fine dining at its finest.

In its depiction of the drudgeries of everyday life, when even a trip out to eat is riddled with heartache, “Restaurant” cuts closer to the bone than any number of goofy parodies could hope to achieve. What makes this particular “story” so funny is that we can relate to the escapades that the Sturdleys undertake within the six pages. We’ve all been there before, and while of course mundane annoyances are heightened here for comedic effect, the jabbering hellscape that Elder depicts with his pencil and pen resembles the emotional impression that all of our own special restaurant trips left on us. If this is an indication of Mad’s new direction, I’m all eyes!

You remember that long fellow what wrote the pretty poems you were forced to read in high school? Well, Mad does! In “Wreck of the Hesperus”, Harvey Kurtzman dons his adapter cap as he did before for “Casey at the Bat” and “The Face Upon the Floor” and the results… are pretty much the same. Wally Wood is the artist on tap this time out to provide risible illustrations for the straight-laced rhymes, but just as before the effect left me more or less cold. Barring a surprise cameo from Popeye, I found Wood’s art here mostly incomprehensible; he seems to be going for a goofy Jack Davis vibe, especially in his depiction of the captain’s daughter, that is just not a good fit for his style. --Jose

"Wreck of the Hesperus"
Melvin Enfantino: "Hound of the Basketballs," while pretty amusing, is nowhere near as funny as the first Holmes parody. "Newspapers!" and "Restaurant!" are windows into the future of Mad Magazine, a future where the editors will balance film parodies with barbed commentary on the absurdities of everyday life. "Newspapers!" almost has too much information (a lot of it hilarious) and threatens sensory overload, while "Restaurant!" reminds me of the kind of incidents that Larry David uses to prop up Curb Your Enthusiasm. A double shot of Will Elder is always welcome. "Wreck of the Hesperus" has some really oddball Wood art (at times this looks nothing like the work of Woody) and some very funny bits (I laughed out loud at the panel reprinted at left); not bad for a poem adaptation.

Jack: This is a very disappointing issue of Mad. The Holmes parody is a retread of something they've done better before and I have to wonder if the over-writing and overly-long word balloons are a sly nod to Al Feldstein's tendency to crowd out the art with words. "Newspapers!" continues the trend of whining about how it's not fair that comic books are being targeted. The point is made in a page or two and the whole thing seems designed to be flipped through rather than read carefully. "Restaurant!" is less a story than a drawn-out incident, while "Wreck of the Hesperus" wastes the talents of Wally Wood, who seems to give up on page six and just use white panels with sound effects.

The Haunt of Fear #27

"About Face" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Game Washed Out!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Silent Treatment" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Swamped" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

Back in 1886, Jeff Lorimer's wife, Amy, gives birth to twins but makes him promise to never try to see the ugly one named Olga. The pretty one named Penny grows up happy but, when she's 15, her mother dies. His wife dead, Jeff insists on meeting Olga and she turns out to be as ugly as promised. She's so ugly that when he walks down the street with her by his side, passers-by turn and vomit. Jeff decides the best thing to do is to kill her, so he shoots her, only to discover that she and Penny are the same person and Olga's hideous face grew out of the back of Penny's head.

"About Face"

Ghastly's artwork is suitably hideous in "About Face," but I guessed what was going on right from the start. The whole thing makes little sense and requires Penny to flip her blond hair over so that her Olga face is in front. But what about the rest of her body? Wouldn't her feet point the other way? I don't get it.

John Talbot and Becky Ames are a couple of horny Puritans having an extra-marital affair in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John's wife Priscilla catches him and threatens to tell the Council, so he kills her with a fireplace poker and throws her body in the local pond. When Becky's husband Calvin comes home early and catches his wife in the arms of her lover, Becky pretends she was forced into it, and the Council sentences John to be ducked three times in the pond by means of the ducking stool. As John is lowered into the pond, he sees Priscilla's corpse under the water; each times he goes under she gets closer to him, until at last she wraps her dead arms around his neck and pulls him down into the depths along with her.

"Game Washed Out!"

Despite the awful title, "Game Washed Out!" is a creative and original take on the "dead wife gets revenge" EC tale. George Evans's art is perfect for the 17th-century setting, since it can tend to seem a bit stiff, and the plotting is done well enough that I did not see what was coming until near the end. Extra points are awarded for having the Vault Keeper reading a copy of Seduction of the Innocent in the final panel.

A king who likes to party loud and hearty does not hear his daughter's cries for help when she topples out of a high window while trying to rescue her cat. She falls to her death and he institutes "The Silent Treatment" in his kingdom, ordering all sound quashed because he is haunted by what happened. Eventually, the peasants revolt and sew a metronome inside of him so that he goes bonkers and leaps off a cliff to his death.

"The Silent Treatment"

This story has so much going against it. I don't like Grim Fairy Tales and I don't like the Kamen art. Yet somehow, by the bottom of page five, it starts to get interesting, as the peasants approach the king with ill intent. On page six, suspense grows as the reader wonders what has been done to the king. A spider lowers itself closer and closer to the king, who lies immobile on a bed. And then, guess what? They blow the ending with a dumb twist involving sewing a metronome inside his body. Too bad! They had a shot at a good finish.

A ghoul builds a shack in the middle of a quicksand swamp and lures hunters to their deaths, eating their flesh and dumping their bones beneath the rickety structure. Eventually, the roiling mix of bones and mud causes the shack to collapse and the ghoul to fall prey to the bones of his victims.


"Swamped" doesn't sound like much when summed up, and the fact that the shack narrates the story is not a plus, but Reed Crandall's work really shines through the muck. There are so many fine panels that it's hard to choose just one to reproduce!--Jack

"Yeah, yeah, and then what happened . . ."
drooled the councilman!
("Game Washed Out!")
Peter: Please don't ask me to dig through my stack of notes but I know I've seen the punchline of "About Face" before. Tell me how Jeff could have gone through the years without once seeing the back of his pretty daughter's head. The 15th (and final) Grim Fairy Tale, "The Silent Treatment," isn't really as bad as I expected it to be (usually, this feature is pretty bad) but, and I'm beating a dead horse yet again, you can really tell why Feldstein would hand these softies over to Kamen. Jack's visuals are as exciting as watching grass grow. "Swamped" seemed to be a tale headed for something special but, by the time the cliched finale rolls around, not even Crandall's graphic graphics can save it from mediocrity. By default, "Game Washed Out!" is the issue's best tale, thanks mostly to George Evans's art and some unintentional humor from the councilmen (at least, I think it's unintentional). Gotta admit though, we've seen that climax one too many times (in fact, it's a variation on the final panels of "Swamped"), haven't we?

Two-Fisted Tales #39

"Uranium Valley!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Oregon Trail!" ★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"The Secret!" ★★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by Gene Colan and John Severin

"Slaughter!"  ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

The fabulous Ruby Ed Coffey leads his merry band of raiders through a canyon above the Urubamba River, where the boys discover a cave containing the mummified remains of an Incan king and a secret passageway to the fabled "Uranium Valley!" Ed and Cannon decide to take a swim (Fred Wertham had always suspected Ed of favoring manly flesh) and, while investigating a mysterious underwater cavern, Cannon is kidnapped by a band of savage Incans and taken to the ruler of the valley, a king seated on a golden throne. The king orders that Cannon be thrown into a pit with "the monster" and the beleaguered but muscular adventurer is charged by a giant with a mean streak. Cannon uses his wits and vastly superior knowledge of fighting skills to break the gargantuan's neck but the king deems our hero "the new monster" and sets his guards on Cannon. Just in the nick of time, Indiana Coffey arrives with plenty of bullets and saves the day. I haven't been a big fan of Ed Coffey's exploits to this point but, of the four (and "Uranium Valley!" is Ed's final voyage), this is the best. Ironically, it's the Coffey adventure that, for the most part, ignores its star and focuses on supporting character Cannon. The final panels have a nice irony to them in that both sides see the other as the hostile race. Well, the script is the tightest of the quartet but Severin's art is scratchy and almost unfinished in spots (in particular, during Cannon's battle with "the monster"), nowhere near the detailed and stylish Severin work we've become accustomed to.

During the American Indian Wars, scout Simon Chuter is taken prisoner by a band of Cheyenne led by Cheyenne Hawk. Hawk explains to Chuter that the Sioux will be ambushing Chuter's troop farther up the "Oregon Trail!" and offers the help of his party to defeat the Sioux. When Chuter returns to camp and reports the news, his Lieutenant scoffs and informs his scout that they'll be just fine without the help of the enemy. Realizing the troop has ignored his offer of help, Hawk cooks up a deception and tricks the army men into teaming up to defeat the Sioux. Slow-moving and a tad confusing, "Oregon Trail!" just didn't do much for me in either the script or art department. As with his art on  "Uranium Valley!," Severin's work here seems rushed and incomplete. Evidently, Cheyenne Hawk was being test-driven as another continuing character in the TFT stable (a "more about Cheyenne Hawk in the next issue" tag appears in the final panel) but no further adventures were chronicled. It's just as well as it seems the story was pretty much told.

Dermot Wilson has a plan for the ultimate weapon so he goes to his old friend, Nick, a senator who has the ear of the President. Nick gets Dermot in to see the Prez and, with an audience of only one, "The Secret!" is spilled. Word gets out that a weapon to end all wars has been developed and is ready for testing and the dirty Commie rats send word to their "insiders" that the formula must be stolen at all costs. Test day comes and a battleship is vaporized in the Atlantic; the Russkies now order their agents to kidnap Dermot. By all appearances a meek scientist, Dermot Wilson was wrestling champion in college and a student of Judo. The Red hitmen are arrested and the Soviets are forced to sit down and discuss peace with the President. Years later, Nick has become President and looks forward to learning exactly what Dermot's secret weapon is. Much to his surprise, Wilson opens his attache to reveal . . . nothing! A little psychological warfare has led to peace. A nice, surprising little tale with a brilliant twist. Though sole art credit is given to Severin, "The Secret!" is unmistakably the work of Gentleman Gene Colan (whose tenure at EC ends after a too-short term of two strips, but don't feel bad as Colan's later contributions to Atlas's horror comics were amazing!). Severin, no doubt, inked the finished pencils but, curiously, Gene isn't credited. That may have led to Colan's bad memory when it came to his brief stint at EC; interviewed for the Colan biography, Secrets in the Shadows (written by Tom Fields and Gene Colan, Twomorrows, 2005), the artist explained how he had done a "try-out story" for Harvey Kurtzman ("Wake," Two-Fisted #30), only to be disappointed when Kurtzman "didn't think (Colan) had hit the mark." So, at some point Gene must have been invited back by new editor Colin Dawkins; how else to explain this second story?

Ranch owner Cal Barron has a rustling problem so he sends for the famous Black Jack "Slaughter!" The tall, handsome gunslinger arrives at Barron's spread and quickly takes charge, looking for clues in the mountains around Barron's land and keeping one eye open at all times. While in town, Slaughter recognizes wanted steer rustler, Waco Bill, and informs the fugitive he'll be runnin' him in. Waco ain't amenable to that but the two men strike a bargain: whoever loses their shootout pays for beans and coffee. Slaughter outduels Waco, ventilating his non-shooting arm, and a friendship is born. Waco agrees to be taken in to the nearest marshall but, on the way, the men are ambushed by Cal Barron's ranch foreman (the man responsible for the rustlin'!). Waco proves himself a true pardner when he blasts the ornery foreman and saves the day. A partnership is born. As cliched as "Slaughter!" is (the town's name is a cliche . . . the land baron's name is a cliche . . . our hero's name is a cliche . . . even the freakin' horse's name is a cliche!), I enjoyed the heck out of it, dopeyness and all. Black Jack Slaughter's initial adventure reads like a condensed version of a George Appell novel (Google him); Dawkins barely scratches his main plot hook of cattle rustling when he takes us down a different dusty trail and introduces Black Jack's future pardner. The wrap-up, the reveal of Hank Heeley as the mystery rustler, almost seems like an afterthought and, to tell the truth, I'd forgotten the main plot point anyway. "Slaughter!" is almost a template for 1950s western funny books. Further adventures of Waco and Slaughter were promised but, like Cheyenne Hawk, never materialized, probably due to the end of the Dawkins/Severin run on Two-Fisted.--Peter

Jack: "Uranium Valley!" is very much like an old Sunday newspaper comic in story and art style; Severin sticks almost exclusively to rectangular panels and the unfinished feeling you noted reminded me of classic newspaper strip art. "Oregon Trail!" is an excellent western with a nuanced portrayal of two tribes and how they relate to white men. It's surprising that "The Secret!" is credited only to Severin since it's so obviously Colan's work; Severin's inks tighten up Colan's pencils and remove some of the shadows we know so well. "Slaughter!" is a fun western but there's nothing new in the plot. The art in all four stories this issue is very impressive.

Next Issue . . .
Will Jack and Peter sing the praises of
John Severin's Flying Tigers?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Classic TV Villain Blogathon-The Cybernauts


Was The Avengers the best TV series ever? Was Diana Rigg the coolest heroine ever? If you answered yes to both, you would have plenty of evidence to support your case. Submitted for your approval (to borrow a phrase from another contender for best TV series ever): the Cybernauts, who have the distinction of being the only villains to appear in the black and white/Emma Peel Avengers, the color/Emma Peel Avengers, and The New Avengers with (gulp!) Gambit and Purdey!

PART ONE: THE CYBERNAUTS (Season 4, episode 3, first aired 16 October 1965)

Written by Philip Levene
Directed by Sidney Hayers

What could have done this?
We get right down to it with the teaser, in which a man in a bathrobe is menaced by a mysterious someone. Bullets don't stop it! We see a gloved fist punch a hole through a wooden door but we don't see the killer. Soon, John Steed and Emma Peel are on the case, investigating the scene of the crime. Steed examines a rifle that has been bent into a curve and we learn that this man is the third victim, each of them rich and powerful. Another murder follows quickly on the heels of the first, and this time we see more of the figure of the killer but we still don't get a good look. Steed and Mrs. Peel again make the scene and we learn that the victims all had business with the Harachi Corp.

Mrs. Peel suspects that an expert karate blow was used, so she visits a karate school, where it looks like one of the students could be a suspect. Mrs. Peel shows off her skills by beating the school's female champion and the sensei remarks that Emma "has the skill of a man." Meanwhile, Steed visits the Harachi Corp. itself, were he secretly photographs documents with a camera hidden in his umbrella! Emma pays a visit to a toymaker and sees a demonstration of a toy robot. Soon, she has enrolled as a student at the karate school and witnesses a demonstration by the top student, a man named Oyama, who happens to be the same man she met at the toy company!

On the trail!
Steed meets Dr. Armstrong at United Automation. Dr. Armstrong is played by the wonderful Hammer Films veteran Michael Gough and he rides around in a motorized wheelchair, telling Steed that machines and computers will be able to do anything humans can. A mysterious man wearing glasses tips off Dr. Armstrong that Steed may not be all that he seems. By the time Steed leaves United Automation, we know who the villains are, but who is the killer?

Yet another murder occurs practically under the noses of our hero and heroine, and this time the victim is a karate expert, effectively eliminating as suspects the students at the karate school. It turns out that Dr. Armstrong is wiping out all of the competing bidders for a new product from the Harachi company. Steed returns to Armstrong's office and breaks in; he finds a mechanical man sitting immobile. Steed hides as Dr. Armstrong and his assistant Benson (the man in glasses) admire the robot and we finally have the solution to the mystery of who (or what) has been doing the killing. The Cybernaut follows a radio signal sent from a fountain pen given to each of the victims, and now he's activated to home in on Steed's location!

Dr. Armstrong
Unfortunately, it's not Steed who has the pen. It's Mrs. Peel! The Cybernaut heads after her and Steed tries to escape from Dr. Armstrong's factory in time. Fortunately for the male viewers, Mrs. Peel happens to be dressed all in black leather. Suspense builds as this damsel in distress waits unaware of the danger coming toward her. But Emma Peel is no weak female! Can her martial arts skill match the strength of a Cybernaut? She leaves home before the Cybernaut arrives, so the answer will have to wait, but meanwhile, Steed has been knocked out by a blow from another Cybernaut who was programmed to capture, not to kill.

Emma drives to Dr. Armstrong's factory and Steed makes his escape. The Cybernaut finds her and things look bleak until Steed saves the day by pitting one Cybernaut against another. One prevails and goes dormant after disabling the other.

A Cybernaut!
"The Cybernauts" is an exciting start to the saga of the mechanical men, with great music and a wonderful use of sound. When the Cybernauts slash their arms down in a karate chopping motion, there is a loud sound of a whip that will be associated with them in each of the two episodes that follow. The style and humor of the show make it a highly entertaining hour, and the gorgeous black and white photography adds immeasurably to the look of the program. The Cybernauts are frightening due to their power, their inhumanity, and their relentless pursuit of their victims. The special effects are primitive but this is overcome by sharp camerawork and a thrilling story. The word Cybernaut is only used once, in the final scene, as Steed fills in a crossword puzzle and Mrs. Peel gives their adversaries a name. The real villain of the piece is Dr. Armstrong and the Cybernauts are his weapons of choice; his memory will continue to cast a shadow over the Avengers when the Cybernauts return.

PART TWO: RETURN OF THE CYBERNAUTS (Season 6, episode 1, first aired 30 September 1967)

Written by Philip Levene
Directed by Robert Day

A Cybernaut in color!
Holy vibrant colors, Batman! The Cybernauts are back and in vivid, living color! There's not much better than watching a TV show from the Batman era, when TV shows discovered all the colors of the rainbow in a big way.

We all know what's coming when a fist is seen breaking down doors and we hear that familiar whip sound. While the Cybernauts were kept off screen in their first appearance, the cat is out of the bag now so there's no reason to hide then on the occasion of their return. This time, they're not killing people but rather knocking them out and kidnapping them. First comes a man in a mansion. Meanwhile, Steed and Peel visit their friend Paul Beresford, played by another great veteran of Hammer Films, Peter Cushing! Two scientists have disappeared and, after Steed and Mrs. Peel leave, a Cybernaut delivers the latest missing person to Beresford, who is both a big flirt when Mrs. Peel is present and also secretly a villain bent on doing away with her and her partner. There's no mystery about the bad guy this time around, especially since his assistant is Benson, the same man in glasses who helped out Dr. Armstrong last time we saw the Cybernauts!

Paul Beresford
A third scientist is kidnapped and brought to Beresford's home after a good session of breaking things and making whipping sounds. The Cybernauts may amble along as slow as zombies, but like Canadian Mounties they always get their man. The color photography in this episode is stunning and director Robert Day makes the most of his opportunity by having a Cybernaut walk though a beautiful green field. Just as the mechanical man brings the latest victim to Beresford, Steed and Mrs. Peel return unexpectedly. They suspect that the Cybernauts are back but they know that Dr. Armstrong, their creator, is dead. In a fun bit of self-reference, Beresford gathers his scientist-prisoners together and shows them black and white clips of John Steed and Emma Peel from "The Cybernauts." It turns out that Paul Beresford is the brother of the late Dr. Armstrong, and he offers a hundred thousand in cash to each scientist who will help him get revenge on the duo that he holds responsible for the death of his beloved sibling. One of the three refuses, so naturally Beresford has a Cybernaut do away with him. He shows the remaining two scientists more black and white clips of Steed and Mrs. Peel in action so they will know their targets.

Mrs. Peel under Beresford's control!
Steed and Mrs. Peel make another visit to Beresford's home, but this time they are being watched by the trio of scientists from behind a two-way mirror. Steed reveals that he is tracking down the late Dr. Armstrong's next of kin, which worries Beresford enough that he dispatches a Cybernaut to kill Armstrong's lawyer. Steed arrives soon after the murder and is himself knocked out by the Cybernaut. Meanwhile, the scientists work from their jail cells until one escapes and seeks refuge with Mrs. Peel. A Cybernaut tracks him down, knocks out Mrs. Peel, and captures the rogue scientist. The two remaining scientists draw up plans for perpetual torture. Steed and Mrs. Peel think they are getting closer to their objective when Beresford calls and offers information on Dr. Armstrong, but the scientists have invented a wristwatch that will turn our heroes into human Cybernauts!

Beresford gives Mrs. Peel one of the watches as a gift and asks her to wear it the next day, while his assistant breaks into Steed's office and replaces a watch with a deadly counterfeit. The next day, Mrs. Peel dons the watch and Beresford activates it by remote control. She immediately turns into a human Cybernaut and drives to Beresford's home, followed closely by Steed, who fortunately forget to wear his watch. At the Beresford estate, Paul toys with Emma until Steed arrives, then he sends her outside to take care of her partner. Mrs. Peels knocks out Steed and when he awakens he is inside the home, where Paul reveals his true identity.

Steed in a thoughtful moment.
The bumbling scientists try to put a watch on Steed so that he will also become a human Cybernaut, but they mistakenly put it on a Cybernaut, which runs amok. Steed frees Mrs. Peel and the Cybernaut attacks Beresford. In the end, Mrs. Peel crushes the remote control device and the Cybernaut goes dormant, allowing Steed to push it over with a finger.

"Return of the Cybernauts" is a delightful sequel, in which the colors explode off the screen and Peter Cushing makes a worthy successor to his fictional brother and fellow Hammer Films veteran, Michael Gough. The use of the black and white clips from the prior episode is a clever way to remind viewers of what has gone before, and The Avengers, as always, has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and does not shy away from self-referential humor.

PART THREE: THE LAST OF THE CYBERNAUTS . . . ? (The New Avengers, Season 1, episode 3, first aired 31 October 1976)

Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Sidney Hayers

When in his wheelchair, Felix Kane dresses
like he's in a British Invasion band.
Alas, nothing lasts forever, except maybe the Cybernauts! Mrs. Peel was long gone and Tara King was as good as forgotten when the Avengers returned in the fall of 1976. Steed's new partners were Mike Gambit, a James Bond type, and Purdey, who was to be saddled with some of the most embarrassing outfits in the history of fashion. A birthday party for Steed is interrupted when a dying agent staggers in to say that a double agent has been identified as Felix Kane. The next day, Steed watches from his car as Kane meets his contact in a parking lot. A car chase follows and Kane appears to die in a fiery crash.

A year passes and it's another birthday party for Steed, who stoically recalls what happened to Kane the year before. Meanwhile, a man named Frank Goff is released from prison and immediately kidnapped and taken to the lair of a mysterious, masked man in a wheelchair, who is obsessed with killing Steed and his new partners. Goff once worked with Dr. Armstrong, who created the Cybernauts, and the masked man wants to know the location of a storehouse of Cybernauts that Dr. Armstrong hid before he died. Goff leads the way to the hidden storehouse and we learn that Goff built the mechanical men to Dr. Armstrong's specifications. Bit by bit, Steed learns that Goff was let out of prison and has disappeared; as soon as a Cybernaut is up and running, the masked man has the Cybernaut kill Goff, whom he plans to replace with a genius. It seems the masked man wants to take the Cybernauts further than they have been taken before!

When fitted with Cybernaut parts,
Kane favors a Chairman Mao look.
After Steed learns of Goff's death, a Cybernaut captures Professor Mason, who has been experimenting with cybernetics, and threatens harm to his daughter unless the professor helps with his dastardly plan. Steed investigates the professor's disappearance and confirms his suspicions: that familiar, whip-like sound, the inefficacy of bullets, the mangled iron gates all suggest that the Cybernauts have returned! Steed's new partners have read the old files and comment that Steed, who never worries, is worried. Scenes alternate between the masked man and Professor Mason working on their secret plan and Steed and his partners piecing together what is going on. Steed visits Mason's lab and is knocked out by a Cybernaut that has come to take a key piece of equipment.

Gambit and Purdey head for the location of a man named Foster, who knows why Goff was released from prison a day early, but they arrive too late and see that a Cybernaut has already killed the man. A thrilling battle on a long and winding staircase ensues and Gambit and Purdey succeed in destroying the Cybernaut by knocking it over a railing. It falls a long way to the landing and loses its mechanical head. Steed examines the severed head and an agent brings shocking news: a fingerprint recovered from the noggin belongs to the late double agent, Felix Kane!

Is this really the last of the Cybernauts?
Two weeks later, Professor Mason has finished his work and outfits the masked man, whom we now know is the very much alive but horribly scarred Felix Kane, with Cybernaut legs, an arm, and torso-covering armor, making him the first Cybernaut-human hybrid! He dons a purple suit and cap over his metal parts, making him resemble a cross between Chairman Mao and Prince, and heads for Purdey's home. Professor Mason manages to warn Steed, and he races to Purdey's house as she battles the Kane-bernaut in a thrilling exchange of karate blows in the confined space of her living room. Kane is more mobile than the typical Cybernaut and Purdey can't escape, so it's a good thing Steed and Gambit arrive with handy aerosol cans of Plastic Skin, which they spray liberally over Kane and soon render him immobile, in what is a rather silly and sad finish to the last of the Cybernauts.

Despite the less than stirring color, in comparison to that used in "Return of the Cybernauts," Purdey's embarrassing outfits, and her forced attempts at witty banter, "The Last of the Cybernauts . . .?" is a worthy conclusion to the Cybernaut trilogy.


Steed is on the case!
The three episodes of The Avengers to feature the Cybernauts form one long, continued story. In the first part, Dr. Armstrong uses the mechanical men to try to enrich himself, but his plans are foiled by John Steed and Emma Peel. In the second, Dr. Armstrong's brother seeks revenge on the duo because he holds them responsible for the death of his sibling. In the third, Felix Kane blames Steed and his partners for his horrible injuries and wants to use Cybernauts to exact his own vengeance. The two Diana Rigg episodes are the strongest and they are aided in large measure by the presence of Michael Gough and Peter Cushing. The 1976 episode is enjoyable, but Purdey is no match for Mrs. Peel.

The best TV series ever? The coolest heroine ever? Oh yes, and the best and scariest robots ever? You bet!

Watch "The Cybernauts" online here. Watch "Return of the Cybernauts" here. "The Last of the Cybernauts . . . ?" is not available online but is on DVD. Thanks to The Complete Avengers by Dave Rogers (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1989) for confirming air dates.

Be sure to check out our blogathon's promotional video here and to look for other participants in the Classic TV Villain blogathon listed here.

--Jack Seabrook

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Thirteen: Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty [3.18]

by Jack Seabrook

Millicent Bracegirdle leaves the safety of home in Easingstoke, England, and travels alone to a hotel in Bordeaux, France, to meet her sister-in-law, who is arriving from South America. She arrives late in the evening and ventures down the hall for a bath but accidentally returns to the wrong room and finds herself locked in when the doorknob comes off in her hand. To make matters worse, there is a strange man asleep in the bed! She spends a terrible night in silence, afraid of waking the man and afraid of scandal, but eventually discovers that the man is dead. A bit of ingenuity allows her to escape before the maid arrives in the morning and, in the end, no one but she knows of her night of terror. When she learns that the dead man was wanted for murder, she is not afraid and is glad that she was able to kneel and pray at his bedside.

This is a tremendous short story in which the title character is at all times focused on doing her duty. Her name, Bracegirdle, fits her, suggesting that she is constrained and rigid in her outlook. She has left a very ordered life with her brother, an Anglican priest, to travel outside her own country for the first time in order to meet her relative by marriage. "It was customary . . . ," the narrator writes, "for everyone to lead simple, self-denying lives . . ." Miss Bracegirdle overcomes her "horror of travel" and journeys, a woman alone, to a foreign country.

When she finds herself trapped in the wrong room, it is duty again that guides her thoughts and actions. She fears that, if discovered, she will be suspected of "breaking every one of the ten commandments," and remains quiet for hours in the darkness, much of the time hidden in the narrow, dusty space under the bed. Her duty to say her nightly prayers leads her to ponder the importance of kneeling and to come to the realization that " 'it isn't the attitude which matters--it is that which occurs deep down in us.' "

Mildred Natwick as Millicent Bracegirdle
The story is filled with gentle humor that flows from the absurdity of the situation and, after Millicent discovers that the man is dead, she is concerned that she might be accused of murder and sent to the guillotine. "It was her duty not to have her head chopped off if it could possibly be avoided," she thinks.

Her final act of duty comes from her decision to spare her brother the knowledge of her ordeal. She writes a letter to him and mentions all of the small events that occurred on her trip to France but leaves out the most shocking one--that she spent a night alone in a hotel room with the corpse of a man wanted for murder. "It was her duty not to tell"--it is as simple as that.

A cynical reader might wonder if Miss Bracegirdle uses duty as an excuse to protect herself, but it seems clear that in her mind she is protecting everyone else and resisting the temptation to tell a story that would make her the center of attention. In the end, Millicent is a strong, thoughtful woman who rises to the occasion and handles a situation that would challenge most people.

Gavin Muir as the Dean
"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" was written by Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928), a British writer best known for his short stories. He served in World War One and died at a fairly young age of tuberculosis; he was praised by such contemporary writers as John Galsworthy, James Hilton, and Rebecca West. IMDb lists a handful of films and TV shows adapted from his stories. This particular tale was first published in September 1922 and appears to have appeared contemporaneously in The Strand Magazine in England and in Pictorial Review in the United States. A reprint in the November issue of Current Opinion may be read here; there are charming illustrations and a photograph of the author.

The story was filmed as early as 1926; IMDb lists a short film version of the story with this date and credits Aumonier with the screenplay. It was filmed again in England in 1936 and starred Elsa Lanchester as the title character; Aumonier is again credited with the screenplay. He died eight years before, so this could be an error. Even if he did write the screenplay for the 1926 film, which may or may not be true, that version was surely silent and the 1936 version almost certainly had dialogue.

Tita Purdom as Maude
Aumonier's story was filmed a third time and aired on CBS on Sunday, February 2, 1958, as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. The task of adapting the story for the small screen was assigned to Marian Cockrell, who seems to have been the producer's first choice for stories involving eccentric older women. Cockrell uses tried and true methods to bring the story alive, adding an opening scene at Miss Bracegirdle's home at the Deanery in Easingstoke. The short story begins as she arrives at her hotel room in Bordeaux, but the TV version starts earlier and dramatizes a scene that was referred to as having occurred in the past in the story's narrative. This is followed by a stock shot of the Eiffel Tower and a superimposed title that reads, "Paris 1907," putting a specific date on the events that was absent in the original. There is a dissolve to Miss Bracegirdle arriving at her hotel room and it becomes evident that Cockrell has relocated the story from Bordeaux to Paris. Miss Bracegirdle explains to the maid that the train was delayed, so her late-night arrival is in the City of Lights rather than the port city in southwestern France.

After the maid leaves the room, voice over narration begins and subsequently dominates the episode. This allows Miss Bracegirdle to express her thoughts while alone, as Cockrell takes the narrative of the story and turns it into speech delivered by the main character. The character is a bit more playful and spunky than she is in the short story; she undresses for her bath and imitates the pose of a can-can dancer that she sees in a picture on the wall. In the bathroom, we observe her bathing and a towel is carefully placed on the edge of the tub to prevent embarrassment. Back in the wrong hotel room, the man in the bed is obviously dead from the first time he is shown, though Miss Bracegirdle does not notice. She first hides in the wardrobe but quickly moves to the space under the bed.

Albert Carrier as the waiter
The biggest problem with this episode is the unrelentingly cheerful stock music, which puts a comic spin on everything that happens. Miss Bracegirdle's is an absurd and amusing situation, but better use of music would have given the show a more appropriate mood to match that of the story. In the first important change to the tale, Millicent has returned to the dead man's room to fetch her towel when a waiter enters to bring morning coffee. She dives under the bed and remains there until he leaves, after having discovered the corpse. When she returns to her room and the maid comes in to tell her what has happened in the room next door, there is no mention of the man's death being thought a possible suicide, as there is in the story, and this was surely a deletion made for the censors.

The most surprising change comes at the end of the show, where Cockrell rewrites the conclusion of the story. Miss Bracegirdle does not pen a letter to her brother, nor does she leave the hotel and decide to keep what happened to herself. Instead, the waiter enters her room with morning tea. As she thinks in voice over how indecorous it is for a man to enter her room, he asks: "Does Madame require anything more?" He then reaches into his vest and pulls out one of her stockings, which she must have left in the dead man's room. Having found and returned it, he matches it to her other stocking hanging on the foot of her bed, gives her a conspiratorial wink, and exits the room, leaving her stunned!

The dead man (uncredited)
This surprising change completely alters the story's conclusion and is in keeping with the show's light tone. Her secret is known and misunderstood but no one thinks the worse of her. Cockrell's ending is clever and dramatic, but it ends the show by making a very different point than is made in Aumonier's story.

"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" is directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989) with his characteristic flair. The bathtub scene is cleverly shot, avoiding nudity in an amusing way, and Stevens works well in tight spaces, especially when Miss Bracegirdle hides inside the wardrobe and under the bed. He uses two mirror shots toward the end of the episode and keeps the story moving at a rapid clip from start to finish. Stevens directed 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series and won an Emmy for his work on "The Glass Eye."

Mildred Natwick (1905-1994) gives a strong performance as Millicent Bracegirdle. Born in Baltimore, she began appearing on stage at age 21 and debuted on Broadway in 1932. She was on screen from 1940 to 1988 and appeared in John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952) and Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955). She was one of The Snoop Sisters in a series of TV movies in the early 1970s, and she appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice.

A Robert Stevens mirror shot
The rest of the actors in this show all have small parts, since the majority of it involves Miss Bracegirdle on her own. Gavin Muir (1900-1972) plays her brother, Dean Septimus Bracegirdle, in the opening scene. He was born in Chicago and appeared on screen from 1932 to 1965. This was one of his three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; another was in "Back for Christmas."

Tita Purdom plays Maude, one of the women sitting with Miss Bracegirdle in the opening scene. Purdom was born Anita Phillips and was a ballet dancer who had a brief career on screen in the 1950s. She also appeared in the Hitchcock-directed episode, "Wet Saturday."

The sly waiter in the last scene is played by Albert Carrier (1919-2002), who was born Alberto Carrieri in Quebec and who was on screen from 1950 to 1984. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.


Aumonier, Stacy. “Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty.” Sept. 1922.,
The FictionMags Index, 6 Feb. 2018,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb,, 6 Feb. 2018,
“Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 18, CBS, 2 Feb. 1958.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. “Galactic Central.” Galactic Central, 6 Feb. 2018,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Feb. 2018,

In two weeks: The Impromptu Murder, starring Hume Cronyn!