Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Sixteen: The Schartz-Metterklume Method [5.35]

by Jack Seabrook

The last episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by Marian Cockrell is one of her best! Based on Saki's short story, "The Schartz-Metterklume Method," the TV show takes a classic tale and expands it, maintaining the qualities that make it a great reading experience and adding new ones that make it a delight to watch.

The original story begins as Lady Carlotta, having stepped off of a train for a moment, strides into a roadway to speak to a man whose horse is struggling with an excessive load. The train goes on without her and she is approached by Mrs. Quabarl, a well-dressed woman who assumes that Lady Carlotta is Miss Hope, the new governess for her children.

Hermione Gingold as Lady Charlotte
Lady Carlotta goes along with Mrs. Quabarl, assuming the role of Miss Hope and learning that she is to instruct the four Quabarl children, whose mother wants to be sure that their history lessons come alive. Lady Carlotta astonishes the parents at dinner that evening with her remarks and, the next day, Mrs. Quabarl is shocked to see that her children are re-enacting the founding of Rome, with the lodge-keeper's daughters unwillingly forced into the role of the Sabine Women. Mrs. Quabarl dismisses Lady Carlotta. When the real Miss Hope arrives, the family is both chagrined and relieved; Lady Carlotta reaches her destination by train and remarks that her unplanned overnight stay was far from tiresome.

Elspeth March as Mrs. Wellington
Saki's story is a delightful and very short comedy, with nary a murder nor a crime in sight! A careful reader will see right away that Lady Carlotta is not Miss Hope. She did not intend to make this stopover and leaves out important details about herself; when Mrs. Quabarl says, "You must be Miss Hope, the governess I've come to meet," she replies, "Very well, if I must I must." Lady Carlotta enjoys herself and easily pokes fun at the self-important Quabarls. When Mr. Quabarl says she came highly recommended by Canon Teep, she comments, "Drinks like a fish and beats his wife, otherwise a very lovable character." Best of all is the children's playful re-enactment of the story of the founding of Rome; they mis-hear "Sabine Women" and think they are kidnapping the "shabby women." Lady Carlotta gives the Quabarl parents exactly what they ask for, ascribing her techniques to the "Schartz-Metterklume method" of teaching, using a couple of invented names to give the exercise a pompous pedigree that the parents are too cowed to question. All in all, a delightful story, and a surprising choice to adapt for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Not surprising is the choice of Marian Cockrell to write the screenplay, since she had already shown herself adept at telling stories of independent or eccentric women. "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" bears a copyright date of 1959 but was not broadcast on CBS until Sunday, June 12, 1960, making it one of the last new episodes of the show's five-year run on that network. Cockrell's teleplay is a model of structure, where incidents are introduced and then returned to later on to provide satisfying closure.

Noel Drayton as Ben Huggins
In the first scene, Saki's brief narrative of Lady Carlotta interfering with the man and his horse is turned into an entertaining dialogue, as her initial admonitions to the carter lead to her buying the horse from him for ten pounds and instructing him to keep it and care for it on her behalf. Unlike the short story, where Saki refers to the woman as Lady Carlotta, Cockrell's teleplay does not have anyone call her by name until the very last scene, leaving the viewer to infer that she is wealthy enough to make an impulse purchase costing ten pounds, which hardly seems within the financial means of a governess.

The time period during which the show is set begins to become apparent when Mrs. Wellington (Mrs. Quabarl has been renamed) arrives, driven by a chauffeur in an open car that suggests the turn of the twentieth century, a date that appears consistent with the women's clothing. Instead of responding "if I must I must" to Mrs. Wellington's assertion that she is Miss Hope, Lady Charlotte (as she will later be called in the TV show) merely reacts with facial expressions. After the women's ride to the Wellington mansion, the sight of the large, neo-Gothic structure provokes one of Cockrell's best lines. When the women arrive, Mrs. Wellington remarks that she is proud of her home, which was designed by Sir Cecil Pack in 1783. Lady Charlotte looks at the Rococo facade and comments, "His mother must have been frightened by a cathedral!" (The house is the same one used by Hitchcock in Psycho, released three months after this episode aired.)

Patricia Hitchcock as Rose
Inside the house, the Wellington children are introduced and the dirty-faced offspring of Simpson, the chauffeur, are sent home. Cockrell cleverly shows the viewer the other children, who will later be the subject of the pretend kidnapping during Lady Charlotte's history lesson. More humor comes when Lady Charlotte is led up a dark staircase to her room and the time period is again clarified by the fact that the house is lit by gas. The room is little more than a garret and Lady Charlotte insists that the pictures hung on the wall of the room be taken down at once. She mentions the Governess's Revolt to Mrs. Wellington, saying that it is to take place two weeks from tomorrow and then chiding herself for revealing this secret!

Throughout the episode, Cockrell's skill at turning a story's narration into witty dialogue is on display. This is especially true in the dinner scene, where she uses dialogue from Saki's story and supplements it with dialogue of her own. In order to lengthen the tale to the necessary duration for a half-hour TV show, Cockrell has Lady Charlotte stay for two days; the subject of her first day's instruction is announced at dinner to be biology. After dinner, she utters another great line: "Will someone give me a light, or am I supposed to feel my way up to this black hole?" Back in her garret, she uses one of the night-clothes given to her by a maid to cover a framed painting of a stag.

Harold Innocent as the vicar
The next morning, Mrs. Wellington is distressed by the children's absence. She and her husband have lunch with a visiting vicar and Lady Charlotte chooses this inopportune moment to return with her charges, all of them covered in dirt and carrying jars of tadpoles and frogs, which they proudly display to their parents and the vicar. Lady Charlotte tells the vicar that the children will learn about the reproductive system of the frog, which will lead "quite naturally to the higher forms of life." The viewer knows that Lady Charlotte is goading the Wellington parents by suggesting that she will give sex education to their children, something that was taboo during the Edwardian period when the story is set.

After Lady Charlotte takes her afternoon nap, things only get worse. She joins the Wellington family for tea and the children, their imaginations fired up by their morning of biological investigation, question their new governess about the topic. Lady Charlotte tells the children that some animals have babies but pay little heed to them; the implication being that she is obliquely criticizing the Wellington parents and their relationship with their own offspring. The parents grow increasingly uncomfortable as the children's questions get closer and closer to the topic of reproduction; Wilfred, the oldest boy, asks if cows lay eggs and Lady Charlotte is about to explain when Mrs. Wellington puts a stop to the conversation.

Tom Conway as Mr. Wellington
The next morning, Mr. Wellington sits tying flies when his wife approaches him to discuss the problem of the new governess. The children again are not underfoot and Mrs. Wellington ventures outside to look for them. She finds them re-enacting the story of Rome, as in Saki's original tale. The boys arrive with the Simpson children in tow and Lady Charlotte is dismissed. In the story, she tells Mrs. Quabarl to send along her luggage when it arrives and remarks that one of the items to expect is a  leopard cub that has "rather left off being a cub." In the show, the animal is a cheetah. Cockrell will display this animal in the show's final scene.

Mollie Glessing as Miss Hope
Lady Charlotte walks back to the train station and the show's first scene is recalled in a nice bit of closure as she again encounters the carter, who now treats his horse with kindness. The real Miss Hope gets off the train and Lady Charlotte advises her to "hire a conveyance of some sort and drive out to the house" since, as we know, Mrs. Wellington thinks she has dismissed Miss Hope from her employment and thus will not be at the station to meet her.

The show's final scene finds Lady Charlotte at a lawn party thrown by a wealthy woman. In Saki's story, Lady Carlotta's arrival at her original destination and her comment about the experience not being tiresome "for me" take but three lines; there is no lawn party and the reader learns nothing whatsoever about the main character or her circle of acquaintances. In the show, however, Marian Cockrell uses the visual medium to tell us in a short scene that Lady Charlotte is wealthy and that she is comfortable and welcome in upper class society. A game of croquet is in progress and, most surprisingly, the cheetah to which she referred when departing from Mrs. Wellington is a real pet, lounging on the manicured lawn. Lady Charlotte refers to the animal as "Rover" and the fact that it is not one of her flights of fancy puts a different cast on the entire episode: how much of what seemed to be coming from her imagination was real? Will the governesses revolt in two weeks? We shall never know.

Norma Varden as the hostess
With "The Schartz-Metterklume Method," Marian Cockrell takes a classic short story and turns it into a wonderfully comedic half hour of television. The show would not be such a success, however, without the work of its director, Richard Dunlap, or its star, Hermione Gingold.

Richard Dunlap (1923-2004) only directed this one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He began his career as a child actor and later commanded a ship in the South Pacific during WWII. He began directing for television in 1952 and is said to have directed over 1000 TV shows episodes in his thirty-year career. He worked in live TV drama in the 1950s and later directed children's shows, variety shows, and soap operas. He also directed the annual Academy Awards telecast from 1963 to 1971.

Hermione Gingold (1897-1987) was born in London and began as a child actress, later working on stage and radio before starting her film career in 1931. Her first TV appearance was in 1958. This was her only role on the Hitchcock TV show but she makes the most of it and her performance is superb. Among her many films were Bell Book and Candle (1958) with Jimmy Stewart and The Music Man (1962).

Playing the rather clueless Mrs. Wellington is Elspeth March (1911-1999), who was born Jean Elspeth Mackenzie in London. She was on stage as well as film and TV, and her career onscreen spanned the years from 1939 to 1993. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

The credits for "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" may have been partially cut for the version of the show currently in circulation, since there is just one card listing the first five cast members and it omits much of the cast, including those with speaking roles. Among the excellent supporting players:
  • Doris Lloyd (1896-1968) as Nanny; born in Liverpool, she was on stage from 1916 and her screen career ran from 1920 to 1967. A busy character actress, she was seen on the Hitchcock show nine times.
Doris Lloyd
  • Patricia Hitchcock (1928- ) as Rose, a maid; she was in some of her father's films, appeared on screen from 1950 to 1978, and was seen in ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Cuckoo Clock." "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" marks her last appearance on the TV series.
  • Noel Drayton (1913-1981) as Ben Huggins, the carter who beats his horse; born in South Africa, he was on screen from 1950 to 1974 and also appeared in the hour-long episode, "Murder Case."
  • Angela Cartwright (1952- ) as Viola, the younger of the two Wellington daughters; born in England, her screen career began in 1956. While this was her only role on the Hitchcock TV show, she had an extensive television career, with a regular role on Make Room for Daddy (1957-1964) and another on Lost in Space (1966-1968), as Penny Robinson. She also played one of the von Trapp children in The Sound of Music (1965). Cartwright maintains a website here. There are stills from this episode on her site, as well as a photo of a copy of the script inscribed to her and her sister by the show's director.
Angela Cartwright
  • Veronica Cartwright (1949- ), Angela's older sister, as Irene, the older Wellington daughter; her screen career began in 1958 and she is still acting in films today. This was one of two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes for her, and later film roles included Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Alien (1979).
Veronica Cartwright
  • Tom Conway (1904-1967) as John Wellington; he was born Thomas Charles Sanders in Russia and was the brother of screen actor George Sanders. His screen career lasted from 1940 to 1964 and he starred in a series of films as the Falcon and appeared in some of producer Val Lewton's atmospheric films. His three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents also included "Relative Value."
  • Harold Innocent (1933-1993) as the vicar; he had a long career on TV in Britain and also appeared on The Avengers; this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Norma Varden (1898-1989) as the woman who hosts the lawn party at the end of the show; she was a British actress whose screen career lasted from 1922 to 1969. She had a role in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and appeared on Batman.
Finally, the author of the short story, Saki, was the pseudonym of H.H. Munro (1870-1916), a writer who was born in Burma, the son of a British Inspector General. Munro began writing in 1896 after a failed attempt to follow in his father's footsteps as a policeman in Burma. His first short story was published in 1899. He also worked as a foreign correspondent, witnessing the Russian Revolution in 1905. "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" was first published on October 14, 1911, in a newspaper called The Westminster Gazette, and it was later collected in Saki's book, Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914). Munro volunteered to serve in WWI and rose through the ranks but was killed by a German sniper's bullet in November 1916. His stories have been adapted for stage, film, and TV, but this is the only one that was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The story has also been adapted recently. On May 3, 2005, it was presented on BBC Radio as part of the series, Claw Marks on the Curtain. This version ran fifteen minutes. The story was then made into at least two short films that are available for viewing on YouTube.

Saki's original story is available to read for free online here. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version may be viewed for free online here and is available on DVD here.

Angela-Cartwright - Home,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Munro, H. H. “The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Beasts and Super-Beasts, by Saki : The Schartz-Metterklume Method,
“The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 35, CBS, 12 June 1960.
“The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Literawiki,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Mar. 2018,

Next week: An overview of the contributions of Francis Cockrell and Marian Cockrell to Alfred Hitchcock Presents!

In two weeks: Our series on Stanley Ellin stories adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents begins with "The Festive Season," starring Carmen Mathews!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 126: May 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 162

"Take My Coward's Hand"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #91, February 1960;
original title: "No Answer from Sarge!")

"The Ace of Sudden Death!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #113, February 1966)

"Back of Beyond!"
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by John Severin

Peter: DC was milking their war fans for every red cent they could with these (mostly) reprint issues (and, in the case of Weird War, reprint title); it's one thing to present a package of reprints but a whole 'nother thing to deceive the reader by disguising an old story as something new, which is what's going on with the lead-off story in this issue. "Take My Coward's Hand" is a Sgt. Rock tale we reviewed way back in Issue #9 (now a rare, sought-after collector's item that we may reprint some day). Well, we reviewed the first version, not this reboot. Joe has drawn a wrap-around that finds the Unknown Soldier pensive before his brother's grave in Arlington in 1942. We then follow him to his boss's office, where US is ordered to assimilate himself into the Army's basic training course and bring back a full report on how the recruits are handling the pressure. What follows is a slightly redrawn, slightly re-written reboot of "No Answer From Sarge!" Rock has become "Sgt. Theo Jonas" (actually the Unknown Soldier in disguise), but the impact of the story is still there; both Kubert and Kanigher shine on this one. No such mumbo-jumbo is foisted upon the other reprint, a rousing Balloon Buster saga with fabulous Heath art.

The only new material this issue, then, is the DeFuccio/Severin collaboration known as "Back of Beyond!," an enjoyable recruit story about two Brits on the run from the law at the turn of the 20th Century who decide to take a chance and enlist in Her Majesty's fighting forces. Promised the sky, they are, of course, given a boot in the arse and a tongue-lashing upon enlisting. I wonder if this was a script that DeFuccio had lying around since the days he was pumping out this type of story for EC's Two-Fisted Tales with Severin providing the art. Though seventeen years had passed, the journey was seamless and Jerry shows he still has a way with realistic dialogue. Makes me want to pop in my Blu-ray of Zulu.

Jack: I was reading "Back of Beyond!" and enjoying it when all of a sudden the name "Sgt. Tubridy" appeared. Lo and behold, this is a character DeFuccio and Severin used back in their EC War stories! I love seeing this connection between our 1950s EC blog and our 1970s DC blog. The new story is entertaining but you can keep the reprints.

Our Army at War 245

"The Prisoner"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Goliath and the Little Tub"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Unknown Squad"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #61, September 1958)

"Get the Carriers"
(reprinted from G.I. Combat #77, October 1959)

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock is kidnapped from a foxhole one night and taken to a hidden Nazi encampment, where he is interrogated by a slick Nazi named Major Zinnser, who has trained a canary to eat food from his tongue. "The Prisoner" won't give anything but his name, rank, and serial number. Major Zinnser goes to shoot Rock point blank, but Rock overpowers him and the major accidentally kills himself with the shot. Rock escapes and makes his way back to Easy Company safely.

Bob Kanigher is credited as writer here, but this story has all the hallmarks of a Russ Heath production, with many evocative, wordless panels. It's definitely creepy to see the Nazi major stick out his tongue and let the canary peck bits of birdseed from it; I guess this is meant to show the major's perversity and corruption. I am never very pleased to see a successful Gun Jump, as Rock executes here, but poetic license is allowed when you're dealing with Nazis. The men of Easy Co. appear to get wiped out by Nazi machine guns when they try to follow Rock, but by the end of the story they're all hale and hearty. They must be indestructible.

In late 1864, a Confederate Ironclad ship named the Albemarle is doing a lot of damage in North Carolina. The Union leaders don't have a good option, so young Lt. Cushing is allowed to try a daring plan to take a small craft right up to the Albemarle and blow it up with a mine placed underneath its wooden bottom. The plan works and the ship is destroyed, along with all but two of the men on the Union craft.

"Goliath and the Little Tub" works up a real head of steam in only four pages, as writer and artist Norman Maurer tells a tale of an unlikely success during the Civil War. The story is interesting enough to overcome the limitations of his art.

Nice work by Mort Drucker
A Marine and his buddies hit the beach and suddenly he doesn't recognize them--they are all transformed by battle. In the end, he doesn't even recognize his own reflection in a pool of water. "The Unknown Squad" suffers a bit from the repetition of the soldier not recognizing one after another of his buddies, but Mort Drucker's photo-realistic art, which always makes me think he's looking at photos of movie character actors as he draws his soldiers, is superb.

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!" finds the U.S.S. Stevens accidentally reported as having been sunk. As a result, they can't get supplies and are forced to trade canned salmon for fresh mutton, which turns bad when the cooling system breaks down. Things are straightened out after a while but no sailor on the ship ever wants to hear about mutton again.

Sam Glanzman's "art"
This is a funny little story but I think Sam Glanzman's art verges on kindergarten scribbling in some of the panels.

Peter: A really good Rock installment this time out, with some dazzling Heath visuals. The only false note, to me, is the scene where it seems as though the rest of Easy is riddled with machine gun fire but, magically, the whole lot show up at the climax with nary a leaky hole amongst them. The whole point of "The Unknown Squad" relies on a throwaway line in the last panel, but I enjoyed the story anyway and it's always great seeing MAD's Mort Drucker on the battlefield.

G.I. Combat 153

"The Armored Ark"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

"The Lost Battalion"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Last Flight!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #66, November 1958)

"Straighten That Line!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #19, March 1957)

"Mail Call"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Could this story get any more childish?
Peter: The General says war is Hell and the only way to win a war is to "stop for no one," so that's just what Jeb and the men of the Jeb Stuart set out to do. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Every time the boys seem to get the Haunted Tank sped up, a cute, adorable little animal gets in their way. Not wanting to abandon the piglets, puppies, and ducklings they nearly grind into the dust, our heroes make the Jeb into "The Armored Ark"! But not all of the hitchhikers are furry little pets, as the last to board the Ark is a family of three, whose wagon has been destroyed by the Nazis. All set to take the wanderers to the next town, the crew of the Jeb are forced to destroy a castle, used as a base for the Germans. Luckily, the Jeb Stuart emerges victorious and its precious cargo is delivered safely.

Just about the flimsiest and most unenjoyable Haunted Tank story I've read, seemingly written for the lucrative pre-teen war market, with cutesy-pie dialogue and silly plot devices. Doug Wildey's art, while not hideous, is going to take some getting used to. His crew members look nothing like Russ's; in fact, they all look alike. It's a moot point and, by next issue, I might be wishing Wildey was a regular on the strip since Sam Glanzman will settle in for a run on "Tank" that will last into the 1980s (that's not good news, by the way). I'm assuming that the General in this story is supposed to be Patton, though he's never called by name.

Why, yes it can!

"The Lost Battalion" tells the story of five men (and a pigeon) surrounded by the enemy in a French forest who beat the odds and live to tell their tale. Seriously, I take no pleasure in taking swipes at an artist but Norman Maurer's art is hard to look at; it's hard to imagine Joe Kubert finding anything remotely professional about this chicken scratch. It looks as though Maurer has taken his inspiration for character Major Whittlesey from John Lennon in How I Won the War. Sam Glanzman's best attribute may be his ability to take aspects of the war that haven't really been explored before and give them a spotlight. In "Mail Call," he shows the importance of letters to and from home and what happens when those treasures are threatened.

This special issue of G.I. Animal Combat continues . . .

Of the reprints, "Straighten That Line!" is the more enjoyable (but just by that much); its title is used approximately 300 times and the climax is predictable but Kubert's art pushes it into thumbs-up territory. "The Last Flight!" is another in the seemingly endless narratives from a vehicle, this time out a bomber named "Tin Goose." The plane crows on about keeping its crew safe from harm but if it was me I'd be forcing myself back onto the runway and eluding damage to body parts!

Jack: As I read "The Armored Ark," I wondered about the smell inside the Haunted Tank, what with a pig, a dog, and a chicken along for the ride. I was glad Jeb decided to take the humans along, too. I enjoyed the story's depiction of how kindness and gentleness have a place in war and how help can come from unexpected places. "The Lost Battalion" tells a heroic, exciting story and shows the utter confusion of battle during WWI. I wonder if having a character exclaim, "He is so right" is an anachronism. "The Last Flight!" is a dull story where a plane narrates and Mort Drucker gets to draw almost no people. Joe Kubert contributes outstanding art to "Straighten That Line!" and, though I agree that the title phrase is over-used, it's a good story with a prototype for Sgt. Rock leading a raw group of Marines. Finally, Glanzman's "Mail Call" is an interesting look at priorities, where sailors are upset at a ship's destruction if it means they don't get their letters from home. Once again, Glanzman writes from the perspective of someone who was really there.

Yes! Years before Hogan's Heroes made it fashionable . . .
MAD Magazine showed how
a prisoner of war camp could be fun!
We'll give you our thoughts next week.

Monday, March 19, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 53

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  53: November 1954 Part II

Shock SuspenStories #17

"4-Sided Triangle" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"In Character" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Assassin" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Operation" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Old Farmer Abner has taken a shine to how well his “half-witted” housekeeper Annie has developed into a young woman, but Abner’s crotchety wife Hester always pops in at the most inopportune moments to dampen his flames of passion. Besides, as Annie explains to both of them, she has a boyfriend that she sees on the regular, which burns Abner up in whole 'nother way. But he soon discovers upon following Annie out of the house on one of her nocturnal trysts that her “boyfriend” is none other than the scarecrow overlooking the wheat fields. Reasoning with Annie does nothing to break her from her fixation; she tells Abner that she is convinced the straw-man is alive and will one fateful day prove his love to her. With libido raging like a mighty river, Abner decides to take matters (and more besides) into his own hands when he hunts Annie down again in the fields one night. Back at the farm Hester smells adultery and storms out with pitchfork in hand. She finds Annie lying next to her boyfriend, spent from a glorious moment of passion. Just to prove to the girl her romance is an illusion, Hester takes the pitchfork to the straw-man, unknowingly impaling her husband in disguise.

A "hot and heavy" kiss as depicted
by Jack Kamen.
("4-Sided Triangle")
There’s no question that following the Congressional hearings that Bill Gaines attended in 1954 that his publishing house essentially adopted a “screw it, we’re sunk anyway” attitude toward the New Trend content that remained for that year. Over the last few issues we’ve reviewed we’ve not only seen gradually escalating levels of rampant cartoon violence (not enough for the poor sap in “Forever Ambergris” to devolve into a rotting mess, but he’s gotta get sliced in half to boot) but a surprising frankness towards sexuality. As Peter so aptly highlights below, Carl Wessler took the Puritan-by-comparison “spent” metaphors that Al Feldstein had previously used mainly in the SF yarns and turned them up to 11 with “4-Sided Triangle.” The entire emotional thrust (sorry) of the story is Abner’s unchecked lust for his nubile victim, and were it not for Jack Kamen’s starchy illustrations, this story could very well have delved into pornography under the lascivious pen of a more adventurous artist. Coital relations aside, “4-Sided Triangle” is easily one of Wessler’s best scripts and is made such by the perversity at the heart of its central conceit. We all know what generous lovers scarecrows can be.

Horror actor Bela Kardiff is being given an honorary dinner and award for his years of thespian service in Hollywood with all of his favorite people in attendance. There’s his agent Don, who wrangled Bela into his career-defining role as Frankenstein’s monster; Lawrence, the president of the film studio who told Bela to check his actorly ambitions at the door; Marcel, the makeup artist who designed a suitably horrible visage for Bela; George, the PR man who schemed to make the monster the star of the picture; and finally Sidney, the studio’s treasurer who watched all the money from the movie pour in. They’re all very “good friends” of Bela; Bela the horror star who was eventually left penniless and begging for jobs and being scolded by mothers of frightened children. So tonight at this dinner Bela has decided to prove to the gang that despite his initial reservations, he’s warmed up to the idea of being the great horror villain everyone seems to think he is. You see, Bela has poisoned everyone’s glasses of celebratory champagne.

Jack and Peter assess Jose after
his first 4 months of fatherhood.
("In Character")
If it weren’t for the occasional and passably cute wink to the career of cinematic terror-king Boris Karloff (including a nod to his role as “editor” of some literary horror anthologies), “In Character” would be a complete waste of time. As it stands, it uses the biographical details of Karloff’s life—aside from the plague of being typecast as a monster, there really isn’t too much resemblance to the history of the character’s other namesake, Bela Lugosi—to tell a plodding story of revenge that you know precisely how it will end the minute Kardiff starts pouring the drinks. And I’m not sure what comic book Peter and Jack have been reading, but I don’t see “stunning” or “solid” work from Reed Crandall here by a long shot. Quit drinking that bubbly, fellas!

A rainy night, a loaded heater and a moving target exiting stage right from a ritzy hotel: “The Assassin” is on the hunt! The hired killer tracks his prey through the streets with the patience and perseverance of an old pro, but eventually the wary would-be victim gets the hint and tries giving his pursuer the slip through darkened alleys and bustling subway trains. But still the assassin follows on, even taking to the rooftops to snub out his prey with one well-aimed shot from his gun. Finally, the killer corners his target in a shadowy hovel and plugs him good. Suddenly, lights flash on and screams ring throughout the room. Turns out the assassin has performed the dirty deed onstage in front of 500 shocked theatre-goers.

I do *not* remember this number from Cats.
("The Assassin")
Plot-wise, there’s not much to encapsulate with “The Assassin,” which is fine with me because stories of its type are too rare here in the annals of ECdom. A real-time tale of a cat-and-mouse chase through gritty urban streets to a satisfyingly earned twist ending offers a kind of streamlined, no-frills approach to storytelling that we don’t see here too often what with subplots concerning So-and-So sleeping with XYZ Lover and plotting the murder of their spouse/neighbor/house pet, etc. Evans, as always, gets his noir groove on and frames a number of lovely panels, especially ones that show the assassin’s gloved hand looming in the foreground with his heater at the ready. Ka-pow!

“No honor among thieves” couldn’t be closer to the truth than in relation to the criminal ring made up of diamond mules Allie and Bimmy and their main man Doc Slater. The doc has concocted a particularly ingenious way of sneaking the precious gems past the customs offices that is full-proof: simply perform surgery on the mule and sew the goods inside them like a human purse. (“Rocks in His Head”, anyone?) Their scheme has gone beautifully for several thefts without a hitch, and when Doc Slater gets a lead on some wondrous 92-carat stones being housed at a local shop, Allie and Bimmy do their blasting stuff and snatch them up. To make things “fair” and ensure that the mule chosen to house the goods doesn’t split town, Doc puts both of his henchman under anesthesia and secretly operates on only one of them. But suspicion and greed gets the better of the two goons and they decide to settle their differences with a gentlemanly KNIFE MASSACRE. Doc Slater is a bit miffed at the carpet in his apartment getting so tarnished, but otherwise he’s happy as a clam since he in fact hid the jewels inside *himself* and had orchestrated his partners into cutting themselves out of the deal from the start. Too bad for Slater all the diamonds were phonies, and the residual paste from which they were made poisons the doc and kills him.

My upholstery! *Choke*
("The Operation")

I can’t remember which of my blogging compadres said it (that’s old age for ya), but at one point one of those geniuses made the assertion that bad art in a comic book could sink even the best script. I now submit Exhibit A: “The Operation,” very finely and wittily written by returning sensei Al Feldstein and nearly killed dead in the water by the leaden pencils of Joe Orlando. Orlando’s devolution from one of the company’s most exciting and interesting new artists to Rudy Palais on a bad day is utterly mystifying. What happened? Was Orlando gradually becoming less enthused over his work for EC due to the increasing social backlash the publisher was receiving in the wake of the Congressional hearings? Has what we’ve seen over the last few months been indicative of his desire to distance himself from Bill and Al’s New Trend? It’s been a while since I read my EC history books, but I vaguely recall some anecdotes regarding the shame Orlando’s family felt over his choice of employer. Or is this all just some hot air being expounded by an Internet know-nothing? I’ll leave all of that for the actual experts out there to hash out, but suffice to say “The Operation” could have easily been a much more remarkable story had it been drawn by the Joe Orlando that first showed up at the 225 Lafayette offices. --Jose

Peter: There's a sleaziness to "4-Sided Triangle" that won't be found in too many above-ground funny books; a middle finger to the Senate while the ship was sinking. The story itself is no great shakes--we've seen the horny older man lusting after the gorgeous and nubile young girl countless times just on this journey, never mind in all the other pre-code horror funny books--but it has enough moxie to it for me to classify this as one of the last greats of the New Trend years. It's not enough we witness feeble-minded Annie lusting for a scarecrow ("He can help me! He will! Someday! Someday . . .") but then we're voyeurs while the virgin gets her first taste of life's "little" pleasures (How long would this unwilling creature deprive her? How long this cruel neglect? How long? The answer came suddenly . . . startlingly . . . shockingly. No longer! Now! Now! This was her lover! How true her lover! How good her lover! The straw man . . . the stick and rag man . . . was hers at last!). Was there a more overtly sexual strip, even before the talons of the code? Of course, I've got problems with Jack Kamen's art, but Annie's so damn sexy it's hard to protest too much.

It's hard to see what Bela Kardiff is whining about so much; he's made lots of money off these monster flicks, but that's not enough? And, I get that he's bitter, but did he really have to dispatch the cinematographer, ferchrissakes? Seems a bit extreme. Even though the script may be a tad . . . oh, um, weak . . . at least we get some more stunning Reed Crandall work. "The Assassin" gives us a glimpse of what's to come when the New Trend exits stage left and the Picto-Fiction line begins. No dialogue save the requisite "Choke" and "Good Lord," and the prose is on the cliff looking into Purple Canyon, but the tale is an entertaining one and the twist is solid. Jack is on the money below when he mentions that this would be a good fit for Bernie Krigstein; it feels like a script tailored for BK. Finally, "The Operation" is filled with good and bad: the good being the very clever double-twist in its tail and the bad being the Sheldon Leonard-esque intelligent goon-speak that slows the pace down to a crawl and the really awful Orlando art. Joe was sticking out like a sore thumb among the class of Crandall, Ingels, and Krigstein by this time.

Jack: This is an outstanding comic! "4-Sided Triangle" is a very good story, but why assign it to Jack Kamen? Is he the only one who can draw sexy gals? The cover gives away the ending but it's satisfying nonetheless. I wonder what Johnny Craig would have done with this. I love the idea behind "In Character" but the ending is a letdown, despite solid work by Crandall. "The Assassin" features great noir narration and I love the fact that it's all captions and pictures and no dialogue. This would've been a good choice for Bernie Krigstein. Last of all is "The Operation," with Runyonesque dialogue and a clever but not great plot that ends with one twist too many. Shock SuspenStories was one of my favorite EC comics and, with one issue to go, it's still hitting the high notes.

Tales from the Crypt #44

"Forever Ambergris" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Burial at Sea" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Proposal" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Sliceman Cometh" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Forever Ambergris"
As Captain Matt Starke waits for his beautiful girlfriend Eileen to emerge from her room, where she's slipping into something comfortable, he thinks back on how they met and fell in love. Eileen was the wife of Starke's first mate, Ben Harper, but when she met Matt, sparks flew. Matt hatches a plan to get rid of Ben and, at the end of a long voyage through the islands of East Asia, Matt sends Ben alone on an errand to one particular island. Ben comes back aboard ship and soon shows signs of having contracted Bubonic plague. He is isolated in his cabin and at the same time a large sperm whale begins to follow the ship, gulping down rotten meat and garbage thrown overboard by the crew.

Eventually, the plague takes Ben's life and he falls overboard, little more than a pile of rotten meat. The next day, the sperm whale vomits up a large amount of valuable ambergris. Starke has his crew collect it and he sells it for a pretty penny when his ship reaches port. The perfume maker sends Starke a bottle of the rare scent made from the whale vomit. He gives Eileen the perfume to put on and, when she emerges from her room, he sees that she is now a rotting corpse, infected with the Bubonic plague. It seems the whale had swallowed Ben's corpse and the disease had passed through to the perfume.

This panel is hard not to like!
("Forever Ambergris")

Despite the overly convoluted plot, a hallmark of Carl Wessler's writing at EC, "Forever Ambergris" is an entertaining story, mainly for the rotting corpse depictions by Jack Davis. If Ben's corpse isn't bad enough--and it is cut in half by the ship's railing as he falls overboard--the final sight of Eileen as a rotting corpse in a tight red dress, her hair put back in a blonde ponytail, is really over the top. It's impressive that putting on plague-contaminated perfume could work its magic so quickly and that she would be so unaware of her condition and appearance as to stand in the doorway, hand on hip in a seductive pose!

"Burial at Sea"
Barney Hoag is enjoying his time as a solitary surf-fisherman in the Florida Keys until he is interrupted by a decrepit old man who tells him to get off his property. Barney, being a level-headed sort of chap, decides to burn down the old ship in which the man lives on the beach, but when he finds a gold coin in the sand, dollar signs dance in his eyes. He murders the old man, finds a treasure map, gets himself rigged up with a deep-sea diving outfit, and heads under the water, looking for the rest of the hoard of gold coins. Instead, he finds a large stone marker with his name and dates of birth and death carved on it; of course, the marker falls on him and pins him to the ocean floor, where he will remain.

If "Forever Ambergris" managed to hold together despite some convoluted plotting, "Burial at Sea" just falls apart. Barney's bizarre reaction to the old man is one thing, but the pre-fabricated grave marker underwater is quite another. Wessler tries to put forth a weak explanation by having the old man remark that he was prepared for Barney's visit, but this just seems loopy. Reed Crandall, usually so dependable, turns in seven pages of art that looks hurried in spots.

("The Proposal")
Pearl Drake is a gold-digger whose latest sugar daddy has left her, so she sets her sights on Howard Ellis, the wealthy, middle-aged bachelor across the hall. Pearl uses her feminine charms on poor Howard so well that soon he surprises her with "The Proposal," telling her "I want you for my wife." Flattered, Pearl heads back to Howard's apartment with him, where he introduces her to Esther, his vampire spouse, who gets right down to having dinner. See, "I want you for my wife" didn't mean he wanted to marry her . . .

The obligatory Kamen story this time out has the usual cheesecake benefits but is otherwise tiresome, though I'll admit I let out a guffaw when the punning meaning of Howard's statement became clear. That alone earned an extra half a star.

Good old Ghastly!
("The Sliceman Cometh")
It's 1793, and the Reign of Terror is in full swing in Paris. Andre Vache, the executioner, makes a deal with the treacherous Jean Courbeau to falsely accuse his brother Claude and execute him. The reward? A thousand gold Louis! Andre accuses Claude, Marat sentences him to death, and Andre lops Claude's head off at the guillotine. And that's when Andre's problems begin. That darn head just won't stay away! Andre tries to dispose of it here, there, and everywhere, but it keeps coming back. Finally, sick of the darn thing, Andre takes a cleaver and chops the head to bits. Bad timing! An hour later, Claude's headless corpse comes looking for his head and, finding it unavailable, he takes Andre's instead.

Ghastly gives it his all here, and the French Revolution setting is welcome, but Wessler once again drops the ball at the goal line. The head coming back over and over is funny but the shambling, headless corpse seeking its head and settling for that of Andre is nothing new.--Jack

Peter: There's not a whole lot to like here. "Forever Ambergris" is no classic, but at least it delivers enough sick twists to sate the appetite. The same cannot be said for the other three sub-par "terror-tales." "Burial" has a reveal that makes no sense whatsoever (how did the old man know Barney's name? Are we supposed to intuit that the codger broke into Barney's car and had a look at the registration, or is he a seer?) but some nice Crandall art. Ditto "The Proposal" (minus the nice art part). "Sliceman" sees the return of classic Ghastly art but bottoms out in the end with a twist we all saw coming. Perhaps the workload was getting to Carl Wessler.

MAD #17

"Bringing Back Father!" ★ 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder and Bernie Krigstein

"What's My Shine!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Meet Miss Potgold" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Basil Wolverton

"Julius Caesar!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Mr. Jiggie doesn’t have the life of Riley by a long stretch: his business is in upheaval, there’s some bratty orphan claiming he’s her Daddy Warbucks, and worst of all poor Jiggie can’t get out of the house for five seconds to attend a corned-beef and cabbage party at his pal Dinty’s place without his bully-shrew of a wife Maggs tearing into him with screams and blows alike. Just to show the reader how serious the damage his wife inflicts is, Jiggie occasionally switches the illustrations over from Bill Elder’s happy-go-lucky Sunday fare to the brutally honest and expressionistic veneer of Bernie Krigstein. His points regarding the sanitized depiction of violence in comics clearly made, Jiggie does what any self-respecting husband and father would do and hires a trio of cutthroat thugs from Krigstein’s side of the fence to victimize his family into cutting him a break.

("Bringing Back Father!")
“Bringing Back Father” isn’t your grandmother’s Kurtzman/Elder collaboration, as it literally introduces a third creative force into the fray that turns the whole dynamic on its head. Jack uses the word “jarring” below to describe the effect, and he isn’t wrong: the switching from Elder to Krigstein really takes you for a spin, especially after reading so many Elder parodies for so long that their goofy aesthetic has kind of seeped into you by now. Krigstein’s depiction of physical mutilation feels so out of place and shocking—think of the “hot and cold shower” effect of the Grand Guignol—that it leaves one almost kind of puzzled how to feel about the story in the end. It *is* funny to a point, but as Peter says the humor is so pitch dark in those moments that you kind of have to wonder about saying if the story was any good or not.

There’s a new game show premiering on the boob tube, and it goes by the name of “What’s My Shine!” Actually, it’s not really a game show at all but a thinly concealed (or not really concealed at all) send-up of the Congressional hearings complete with caricatures of Estes Kefauver and Joseph McCarthy. There’s a panelist named Lana Cheesecake, a kerfuffle made over a doctored picture depicting a “redskin” in action, and a commercial for some crap called “Pow.” Reading “What’s My Shine!” is akin to attending the dinner party of a married couple that decides to passive-aggressively work through their hang-ups right in the middle of appetizers: if only you could find some way to leave. Seeing EC by way of Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis taking their fight to the pages of their own parody book on the one hand seems like a reasonable reaction (that married couple really *does* need to talk about their problems), but on the other hand it seems like the wrong time and place to have that reaction (couldn’t the guys have just kept their response in the editorial?). In the end, “What’s My Shine!” is too butt-hurt to come across as genuinely funny.

It's topical!
("What's My Shine!")

Basil Wolverton comes swooping in to save the day (again) by lending the profiles of some of his indelibly hideous ladies to a vote-in contest to name the next spokesperson for Potgold, the dry-dry-DRY beer that gets you blitzed in record time. As much as I enjoy Wolverton’s overall aesthetic, the heavy reliance on his goofy drawings in "Meet Miss Potgold" feels like the cheap filler that this entry is, and I actually enjoyed the jokes written in the bookending “photo ads” even better than the fugly women. Is that Bill Gaines yukking it up in the background of those shots?

"Julius Caesar!"
Comic book parodies (or are they parody comic books?) are so rampant these days that in the short amount of time they’ve existed they have already accumulated a silo’s worth of repetitive tropes and clichés that invariably pop up in every strip. “Julius Caesar” seeks to educate us on the various tools of the trade, including never-ending streams of background fodder or “chicken fat”, anachronistic props and references, guest appearances by detectives and Hollywood cheesecake, and, of course, “DOMM DA DOM DOMM!” After laying waste to each other with tommy guns, army tanks, and finally atom bombs, the friends, Romans, and countrymen that make up the cast enter the tent of Brutus to find the lead conspirator uproariously laughing over an issue of MAD.

Capping off a resoundingly average issue, “Julius Caesar” pulls some funny moves and enters a whole ‘nother level of metatextuality by parodying itself and all its half-bred imitators by pointing out the things that made this publication funny in the first place. The effect is not so very different from reading “Bringing Back Father”: the things that are being said are funny, but the manner in which they’re being said requires a deeper level of thinking than what one might be accustomed to. One thing is for certain though: no one can claim that this publication isn’t 100% full-proof NUTS. --Jose

Melvin Enfantino: Though parodies like "Starchie" highlighted the lack of reality in comic strips, "Bringing Back Father" may be the first of its kind to literally pummel its reader over the head with the fact. Could "Father" be the birth of black humor in funny books? Elder's picture-perfect send-up of George McManus's simplistic art gives way to the brutally-beaten Jiggie and overbearing shrew, Maggs, by the brilliant Bernie Krigstein. If we weren't so startled by the domestic violence, we'd be in tears larfing at Jiggie's perplexed one-liners (after Maggs's dog is killed by a flying plate, Jiggie allows how "in this serious atmosphere, that dog died from being too skinny!"). While "What's My Shine!" and "Meet Miss Potgold" did nothing for me (the former is yet another dig at the witch hunt and the latter is just more of Basil Wolverton's goofy people profiles), "Julius Caesar!" is another winner. Harvey finally focuses the parody microscope on himself and the MAD rip-offs and does a brilliant job pointing out the standbys (bandages and toilet plungers!) and the essentials (Marilyn!) before winding it all up with a hilarious non-ending. Reading the damned thing upside down, though, was a literal pain in the neck. What I won't do for this blog.

Jack:  Another issue of Mad  that didn't make me laugh. Not even a little bit. The switching back and forth between Elder and Krigstein in "Bringing Back Father!" is jarring and the Krigstein pages are painful. What could be more dated than a spoof of the Senate hearings? Lana Cheesecake is the one and only highlight of "What's My Shine!" I love Basil Wolverton, so "Meet Miss Potgold" is welcome, despite the lack of a narrative. "Julius Caesar!" is pretty good in its investigation of lampoon cliches and Wood's art is, as always, spot on, but the whole issue is not much fun to read.

Our kind of party!
("Meet Miss Potgold")

Next Week!