Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Four: The Better Bargain [2.11]

by Jack Seabrook

A beautiful blonde meets her lover at the zoo and they drive to a nearby motel to spend the afternoon together in private, unaware that they are under surveillance. The woman refuses to tell the man her name, cautioning him that if he learned who she was, their affair would be over. She returns to the home of her husband, "King Louis" Indelicato, a gangster who listens to his investigator's report on her activities and soon welcomes Harry Silver, "free-lance killer," into his office.

King Louis hires the red-haired assassin to murder his wife Marion and her lover, giving him an envelope with a picture of his bride. Louis agrees to pay Silver's price of $20,000 and Silver leaves after studying the photo. Moments later, the killer returns and tells King Louis that he has "figured out a better bargain," since Marion will be a rich widow after Silver kills her husband. He recognized Marion's picture as that of his own lover, and King Louis's investigator had "neglected to mention that his wife's lover had red hair."

"The Better Bargain" was
first published here
Richard Deming's story "The Better Bargain" was published in the April 1956 issue of Manhunt and quickly sold to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where it was adapted for the small screen by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and aired on CBS on Sunday, December 9, 1956. The story depends on the withholding of key information until the end, allowing for the surprise revelation that the hired killer is the gang boss's rival for Marion's affections. When the tale was reprinted in the collection, Hitchcock in Prime Time, editor Francis M. Nevins commented in a note that he wondered how the writer of the TV show managed to avoid giving away the twist.

This is accomplished by removing the first scene of the story, so that the TV show takes place entirely in the office of King Louis and the waiting room attached to it. Schoenfeld's script is a model of structure, using only five characters in alternating scenes to present an entertaining story that improves on its source. The show opens on Baldy, Louis's assistant, a middle-aged man in a suit who is building a model ship at his office desk. A smiling private detective named Cutter enters and is ushered into Louis's office; Baldy is more interested in his model ship than his office duties.

King Louis is a physically imposing man but, as events will show, he is a paper tiger. He insults Baldy yet Baldy is unperturbed; he insults Cutter but the man continues to smile, well aware that Louis's rude words carry no menace. King stops Cutter in the middle of his description of Marion's lover, thus missing out on information that could later save his life. Louis appears nervous despite his bluster, and for good reason, since no one seems to respect or fear him. From what Cutter tells him, it is clear that Marion is cheating on him, but the King tries to rationalize her behavior.

Robert Middleton as King Louis
Unlike the short story, Marion enters the office at this point in the show. Young and beautiful, she mentions her past life in show business and wears a hat that makes her appear birdlike; in the prior scene, Louis had mentioned that she liked birds. She lies to him about planning to visit a friend in Cleveland for the weekend and, when he kisses her passionately, she pulls away. He puts his hand on her throat in a threatening manner but she ignores it--once again, his power is ineffectual. After she leaves, Louis has another scene with Baldy, again insulting his assistant and again being ignored. Even Baldy, whose main interest is in his model ship, understands what is going on with Louis's wife and displays a modicum of sympathy and understanding.

King tells Baldy to contact Silver and there is a dissolve to the next scene, where Silver is already in Louis's inner office. Silver is quite relaxed and makes it clear that he does not need the work; once again, the seemingly powerful mobster is placed in a subordinate position in regard to someone who should be below him in the pecking order. Silver tells King that "I never bargain," though he will later demonstrate that this is not true, and when he compliments Louis on his weight the King tells him that "I go to the gym a lot," suggesting that he is concerned with his appearance. With a wife half his age, he should be! The term bargain is used again when Silver quotes his fee: $20,000 is "a real bargain."

Henry Silva as
Harry Silver
Another dissolve finds Cutter returning with bad news: Marion did not go to Cleveland. No one is terribly concerned with King Louis's crumbling marriage, however, as Baldy continues to pay attention to his model ship and Cutter grins his way through his devastating report. He describes Marion's lover as poetic and surmises that he teaches English literature at the state college; at this point, Cutter relates the scene that takes place at the start of Deming's short story, where the lovers meet at the zoo. He tells Louis that Marion's lover quotes the first lines of Shelley's poem, "Love's Philosophy": "the fountains mingle with the river . . .," and we see that Marion's beau is a more romantic and cerebral man than her husband. Cutter also mentions that Marion refers to her husband as her father: he is old enough to be her parent and in their scenes together she does treat him more like a father than a husband. After Cutter gives his report, Louis discharges him and calls Silver, intending to have both wife and lover killed.

Silver returns to the office, as Baldy continues to tinker with his model ship, and this time when the killer enters he finds King Louis looking at birds in a birdcage, a present for his wife. The bird also represents Marion, who is in a marriage that seems more like a cage. Marion enters and, for the first time in the TV version, shares the screen with Silver, her secret lover. She is momentarily surprised to see him in the company of her husband but she instantly recovers her composure and Louis is none the wiser. Louis lies about the birdcage and says it is a present for "Baldy's kid," suggesting to the viewer and to Silver that his feelings for his wife have changed. She asks for a new car and interacts with Louis like a daughter with a father rather than a wife with a husband.

Kathleen Hughes as Marion
She leaves, and for the first time the camera is positioned below, looking up at both King and Harry in solo shots. The lighting is suddenly more noirish and this moment represents a moral decision point for Louis, one not present in Deming's short story. Shaken by Marion's youth and beauty, King changes his mind and instructs Silver not to kill her, just her lover. They agree on a reduced price of $10,000 and one wonders if this is a bridge too far for Silver, who said before that he never bargains.

Silver leaves, and in one of the few wide shots in the episode we see Louis walk around and settle in behind his desk. He calls a car dealer and orders the sports car that Marion wants, seemingly resolved to be happy with his lot in life, when Silver re-enters the room. Though Silver is clear about not wanting to kill himself, Louis is slow to understand what is happening. Silver waxes poetic about women, quoting Byron's poem from 1813, "She walks in beauty like the night," and telling the King that "The only two things that a man should die for or live for are a poem or a woman like Marion." The truth dawns on Louis, who tries to summon Baldy, but Silver tells him that Baldy is dead--"no charge." Silver then mentions the poet (and killer) Francois Villon, quoting from his 1533 poem that includes the famous line, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

At this point, the shift in the balance of power is complete, as the camera looks up at Silver and down at Louis, who is now in a subordinate position. Louis thought he was a king and sat in his "throne room," allowing four people to visit him on and off. Yet they are more colorful and alive than he: Baldy, with his model ship; Marion, beautiful lover of birds; Silver, quoting poetry; even Cutter, the smiling private eye. They all ignore and tolerate his abuse until he is no longer useful, at which point he is eliminated. In the final shots, Silver advances toward Louis with a knife and the King shrinks back in his chair, trying to make himself smaller as the screen fades to black.

Don Hamner as Cutter
"The Better Bargain" is a fine example of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents where a run of the mill short story serves as the basis for something much deeper and more effective, much as Cornell Woolrich's slam-bang story, "It Had to Be Murder," was reimagined as the brilliant film, Rear Window. The acting is uniformly strong, the direction well-conceived, and the script by Bernard C. Schoenfeld is carefully structured and efficient, solving the problem posed by Nevins and creating a more evocative tale.

Richard Deming (1915-1983), who wrote the story, wrote numerous crime short stories from 1948 to 1984, mostly for the digests. He wrote quite a few novels between 1952 and 1971, including ghost-writing a series of Ellery Queen books from 1962 to 1970. Deming also used the pseudonym Max Franklin in the 1950s, when his short story output was prolific, and he wrote the story that served as the basis for a haunting episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour called "The Second Wife," as well as the story that was adapted into the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Bad Actor."

Jack Lambert as Baldy
"The Better Bargain" was directed by Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), who began his career as a dialogue director and actor in bit parts before switching gears in 1952 and embarking on a 23-year career as a director of episodic TV and a handful of films. He directed no less than 27 episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "The Blessington Method," as well as 16 episodes of Thriller. There is a charming biographical note about him here.

Starring as King Louis is Robert Middleton (1911-1977), a formidable presence on TV and in film from 1951 to 1977. Born Samuel Messer, he was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Crack of Doom," and he was on Thriller twice.

Henry Silva (1928- ) plays the poetry-loving hit man, Harry Silver. Born in Brooklyn and trained at the Actor's Studio, he had a long career on TV and film from 1950 to 2001 but only appeared on the Hitchcock show twice. He was also seen on Thriller, The Outer Limits, and Night Gallery, and he had a role in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Louis tries to menace Marion
The three smaller roles:
  • Don Hamner (1919-2003) as Cutter, the smiling private eye; he was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee," and his career on screen lasted from 1944 to 1991.
  • Kathleen Hughes (1928- ) as Marion; born Elizabeth Margaret von Gerkan, she was active on screen from 1949 to 1984 and has made a few appearances since then; her most famous role was in It Came from Outer Space (1953) and she was on one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Jack Lambert (1920-2002) as Baldy; he played many tough guys in a screen career that lasted from 1942 to 1970 and he was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times.
"The Better Bargain" is available on DVD here or may be viewed free online here.

Baldy with his model ship
"The Better Bargain." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 11, CBS, 9 Dec. 1956.
Deming, Richard. "The Better Bargain." Hitchcock in Prime Time, edited by Francis M. Nevins and Martin Harry Greenberg. NY: Avon, 1985. 77-87.
"Deming, Richard." Gadetection / Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction,
The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Turner Classic Movies,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: "Vicious Circle," starring Dick York!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 139: July 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Luis Dominguez
Weird War Tales 15

"'Ace' King Just Flew in from Hell"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Don Perlin

"The Survivor"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Ultimate Weapon"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Like every ten-year-old, Tommy King has a hero. The difference is, this one isn't a singing purple dinosaur, this one is his dead grandfather, "Ace" King, a World War I hero who died in action two months after Tommy's father was born. Tommy's dad worries about the boy's obsession with a dead war hero, but what's a father to do? Then one night, "Ace" appears, grabs his grandson, pops him into his plane, and shows him how "cool" war is. After defeating two Fokkers, "Ace" is done in by the third and he and Tommy head down fast. Tommy wakes up in his bed, decides war isn't that cool, and grabs his baseball mitt to join the other kids outside.

"'Ace' King Just Flew in from Hell"
Obviously an anti-war story (which is the goal of most of these Weird War Tales), but a bit vague in its delivery, "'Ace' King Just Flew in From Hell" (great title that one!) succeeds with its message that war isn't really something we should be celebrating. But is "Ace" summoned by Tommy, his father, or just a grandfatherly sense of putting this kid straight? Though the art is weak (especially for a title that almost screams "Great Art Every Issue!"), I would say it's about the best Perlin I've ever seen (especially when compared to the loathsome work he did on Werewolf By Night and Ghost Rider for Marvel in the mid-1970s.

A ship full of Vikings is chased to a remote island by a horde of sea monsters commanded by the sorceress, Throna. There the Vikings must face even deadlier creatures before Throna calls a truce and offers the men their fill of drinking from the "Spring of Knowledge." Parched, the men agree, but soon find the sorceress has not finished her evil game. "The Survivor" is a lot like a Ray Harryhausen film from the 1960s (I'm thinking here, specifically, of Jason and the Argonauts): cool monsters but not much in the way of a plot. The climax, after the men drink from the spring and are either transformed into thought or monkeys, is ultra-confusing to this small mind. Talaoc's art is perfect for this genre.

The stylish Talaoc
The sword of King Richard has somehow come into the possession of Sir Harry Anders and the heartless knight and his men rape and pillage every village they enter. Then, one day, he comes across  a small village led by a magic man named Malik Al Kamil. Having stolen all he could from the small town, Sir Harry orders his men to kill all the villagers. Kamil begs the knight to show mercy and, as a reward, he will grant Anders the gift of "The Ultimate Weapon," foresight, before a feather can touch the ground. Sir Harry scoffs and runs the old man through but, as he turns and sees small skulls appear on the faces of two of his men, he wonders if the man might have had powers after all. Several battles ensue and Sir Harry manages to win all of them but the illusion of the skull appears on many of the men and those men do indeed die.

Simply the best . . .
Chased into the desert by Saracens, Harry stops at an oasis and drinks from the water, only to see his skull-tattooed reflection stare back at him. Shortly after, Sir Harry finally loses a battle and is killed by a sword mightier than his. His men look down at him, puzzled, and Kamil explains, as the feather touches the floor, that illusion is a deadlier force than steel in the East. The best story of the issue, "The Ultimate Weapon" features a clever twist that I didn't see coming and work by my favorite horror artist of the 1970s. Alfredo's pencils drip atmosphere, especially in his battle scenes.

Jack: I thought the Alcala story was only fair but I agree that the art is terrific. I expected the twist to be that Sir Harry saw the skull on his own face, but Oleck did me one better and had another twist at the end that made me rethink the rest of the story. The viking story seemed out of place in this comic even though Talaoc gave it his all, as usual. I really like the title design in the "Ace" King story and I agree that Perlin's art was better than expected, but that's a pretty low standard. The whole thing came off as a heavy-handed attempt at moralizing.

Our Fighting Forces 143

"Diamonds Are for Never!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The Losers are sent on a "milk run" to the African Diamond Coast, where Nazis control a mine and harvest precious jewels to use in their tool dies. Without the super-hard diamonds to cut tools, the Nazi arms output will be stalled! The Losers are supposed to locate the mine and set off an explosion that blocks the entrance, preventing the Nazis from getting inside. When the Losers arrive, they find that the Nazis are already in the cave, so our heroes enter the mine and decide to set off some TNT and trap themselves inside with the Nazis!

The Losers quickly find an alternate way out and kill some Nazis, only to discover that the ones who have the diamonds have already left. Nazis are discovered at a mountain pass, but when the Losers kill them they see that they do not have the diamonds. More Nazis are found in a jungle and the Losers kill them as well, but the diamonds fall to the ground and are snatched up by some local monkeys, who run off with the jewels. The Losers share a big laugh.

"Diamonds Are for Never!"

John Severin's art is very nice, but Kanigher's script is ridiculous. First of all, I can't figure out why the Losers felt the need to blow up the mine entrance with themselves inside. Why not walk back out and blow it up to trap the Nazis inside? If the baddies crawled out of the same hole the Losers found, they would be easy targets. "Diamonds Are for Never!" is a particularly dumb title, playing off the James Bond film that had been released two years before the comic came out. The whole story is basically a series of vignettes where the Losers find Nazis, kill them, and discover they don't have the diamonds. It's disappointing.

A couple of sailors on shore leave in war-torn Manila split up and head for the USO by separate routes. One of them is hit over the head by a thief, who quickly and efficiently checks him for valuables before the other sailor comes along and scares the thief away. Good thing the victim was wearing his "Tailor-Mades" and that his uniform had a hidden pocket where he kept his wallet and all his money!

Not a bad little four-pager by Glanzman, who is at his best writing and drawing human interest stories. Here, the sailor observes the poverty and desperation of the people before one of them attacks and tries to rob him. The surprise ending, where he had a hidden pocket in back under his collar, works well.

Peter: "Diamonds Are For Never" is an amusing bit of fluff, notable for John Severin's striking artwork. It must have taken Severin a whole lot of time to draw this strip (or any strip, for that matter) since he ignored the shortcuts so many weaker artists took and filled his backgrounds with detail. His scenes just come alive. Is it me or is Cloud beginning to morph into Robert Shaw? And, now that I think about it, what ever happened to Cloud's cloud warriors? He doesn't seem to draw from his background anymore, does he?

"Eleven hundred men went into the water . . ."

G.I. Combat 162

"The Final Victor!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"May Day!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia

Peter: Continuing the twin battles from last issue (the ghostly General vs. the demon Alaric and Jeb Stuart vs. a possessed von Todstrom), we find the Haunted Tank buried under tons of rubble, with our heroes presumably about to join the General in ghost heaven. Luckily, Arch managed to jump free before the landslide occurred and he's bent on avenging his "dead" buddies.  Meanwhile, the boys in the Jeb discover the cannon breech is open and allowing air to flow into the buried tank so Jeb (the commander) gets a bright idea and orders Rick to repeatedly fire the cannon. The explosions unbury the tank but the concussion causes it to tumble down the hill, coming to a rest hundreds of feet below.

"The Final Victor!"

"The Final Victor!"
Again, Arch believes his comrades dead and goes nuts, blowing away von Todstrom's guards and forcing the Nazi to turn his attention from the crippled tank to the sole soldier. The boys, down below, are fine and take notice of their buddy in peril, firing a shot at von Todstrom's Panther. As the tank erupts in flames, von Todstrom ruminates on the futility of vengeance and seems about to give up when the demon Alaric (who's been fighting the General all this time) controls the Nazi's mind and forces him to propel his Panther down the canyon wall towards the Jeb. Arch leaps aboard the tank as it speeds by and he's able to get inside and divert its path from the Haunted Tank but he's killed during his act of bravery. With his earthly subject dead, Alaric weakens and is defeated by the General.

The first part of this epic was pretty darned good but part two is a wall-to-wall auctioneer, a nail-biter with an actual honest-to-gosh fatality to its credit. I don't see Arch coming back from the grave a la Captain Storm. Yes, Sam Glanzman's art is still really rough but the script moves so fast from peril to peril that we don't really have time to dwell on the visuals. Archie Goodwin is delivering exactly what he promised when he inherited the editor's (and more importantly, the writer's) hat: an exciting, well-told story in a universe where war has consequences. "The Final Victor!" is the best Tank story in years!

"The Final Victor!"
Lt. Roy Harris commands a bombing run over the Pacific and everything seems to be going okay until the bomber is attacked by Zeros. The ship disabled and heading for the sea, Harris calls "May Day!" and then parachutes to safety, where he's picked up shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, none of his men got out of the plane and that fact haunts him right into his next bombing run. The same thing happens again, but this time Harris calls "May Day," watches as his men parachute, and then decides to stay with his dying co-pilot. Another strong entry in what is turning out to be one hell of a sub-series, "Gallery of War," stories that are darker and don't necessarily have that happy ending Big Bob usually delivered. The only downside to "May Day!" is the awful Mike Sekowsky art. I'm trying to survive Sekowsky's contributions to early Marvel/Atlas horror anthologies right now on the Journey Into Strange Tales blog but, believe me, it's rough going. Sekowsky was born to draw DC superheroes with their bug eyes and always-open mouths. There's a missive on the letters page from Craig Ledbetter, who published the excellent horror fanzine, European Trash Cinema, for several years out of Texas.

"May Day!"
Jack: I'm with you on the art in both stories dragging down the writing, which is the opposite of what we're used to. The battle scenes between General Stuart and Alaric are cool and the Alaric character seems more Marvel than DC to me, but Glanzman's sketchy panels really hurt. I get why it's notable that one of the Haunted Tank's crew was killed off, but who was Arch anyway? Over the (many) years of this series, the guys in the tank other than Jeb were indistinguishable from each other, so losing one of them doesn't mean anything to me. It's not like Ice Cream Soldier got killed! As for "May Day!," the gritty finish does go some of the way toward redeeming a fairly run of the mill story, but that Sekowsky art is something I have a hard time enjoying as an adult. It did not bother me as a kid.

Our Army at War 258

"The Survivor!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Kiyi"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Alone on a raft in the South Pacific, Rock struggles to maintain life and sanity. Birds circling overhead look like attack planes and he recalls Easy Co. being attacked by German aircraft at a river before they stormed a Nazi pillbox. Rock's raft washes up on an island where the only inhabitants are three Japanese soldiers; he kills two of them in battle before reaching a standoff with the third. The two sergeants agree to a truce and set off on a raft together; Rock saves his enemy from drowning when a wave knocks the man overboard.

Soon, a boat appears on the horizon and the Japanese sergeant tells Rock that the truce is over. They fight, the Japanese sergeant is killed, and before he expires he thanks Rock for allowing him to die with honor. Ironically, "The Survivor!" finds that the Allied boat is an abandoned P.T. and Rock sets off for home, leaving the dead Japanese sergeant tied to the raft.

"The Survivor!"

Whew! Although the premise seems familiar, I can't put my finger on when we've read this scenario before. For once (and this may be a first), I think Heath's interiors surpass Kubert's cover. The story is exciting and moves quickly from one episode to another, never lingering too long on any one event. The two sergeants treat each other fairly and it's conceivable that things could've turned out differently. I love that we're in the midst of a continuing Sgt. Rock saga; the multi-issue arcs we're seeing in these war comics are most enjoyable.

"The Kiyi"
As the U.S.S. Stevens blows away an enemy gun emplacement, sailor John Douglas keeps reading "The Kiyi," a telegram he has received reporting that his son was killed in action. Soon, Douglas is reported missing and it appears he committed suicide by jumping ship.

That was depressing! Just the thing for young readers in 1973. On the letters page, there is a missive from Robert Guinan, who writes directly to Sgt. Rock as if he's a real person. Editorial assistant Allan Asherman comments that he hopes the letter is a put-on, since the main purpose of DC War comics is "to show how terrible the face of war is!"

Is it my imagination or does
this Heath guy just get better and better?
This, in a nutshell, is the difference between DC War comics of the late 1950s and early 1960s and those of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They have grown up to a certain extent and reflect the zeitgeist of the time. We've come full circle, back to the grim, adult-oriented war stories Harvey Kurtzman wrote for EC during and just after the Korean War.

Peter: Another stop on what may be a long tour of the Pacific for Sgt. Rock. The longer, the better, I says. I like the pace and so does Big Bob, it seems, as though he's been released from shackles and is free to let his imagination wander. His dialogue sometimes resorts to that silly GI gibberish ("Looks like that flyin' swastika is goin' to put us in the ice-box--with a TNT iceberg!") but he more than makes up for it with something a little more deep, as when the Japanese Sgt. tells Rock, "I wonder what you left out . . . to make that long story so short, Sergeant?"

Star Spangled War Stories 171

"Appointment in Prague!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jack Sparling

"Who to Believe!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is given a mission he'd rather not complete: find Anton Vladchek and kill him. Who is Anton Vladchek, you ask. Good question. Turns out Anton is the actor who fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and went to work for the American government teaching secret agents everything they need to know about "becoming" the perfect spy. Vladchek's son and daughter-in-law were murdered by Nazis but his young grandson was captured and forced to live with a German family. Anton swears to get him back and, years later, learns that young Josef has escaped his foster family and is in hiding. The actor heads home and is captured by the Gestapo, necessitating the Unknown Soldier's orders since the Allies don't want their secrets divulged under torture. US disguises himself as a Gestapo chief and manages to rescue Anton but it's not long before the Nazis get wind of the trick and corner them in a small village where Anton used to have his theater.

"Appointment in Prague!"
The Soldier and Vladchek hide out in the bombed-out auditorium until the old man hears a familiar voice beckoning him outside. Fearing a trap, US has a look and discovers young Josef in the snow, calling his grandfather. But the shadow of three Nazi soldiers standing on the roof above him warns the US that the innocent scenario before him isn't what it seems to be. Soldiers dispatched, US brings the boy inside to meet with his gramps, only to witness an ugly display: the boy confesses it was he who sold out his father and mother and brought the soldiers here to kill his traitor grandfather. The boy whips out a potato masher and proclaims his loyalty to Adolf Hitler before he goes up in a puff of smoke. Anton is injured and decides he doesn't want to make the trip back to America, instead using the Soldier's pistol to off himself.

Wow, talk about a dark and depressing story! I love it! I also love how, even after 20+ installments in the Unknown Soldier series, Archie doesn't think it too late to fill in some of the blanks in US's origin story. Between this title and G.I. Combat, Archie Goodwin is turning the DC war titles on their heads and delivering powerful and, more important, exciting scripts to his artists. What they do with those scintillating instructions is another matter altogether, since we're saddled with Sam Glanzman and Jack Sparling for visualists rather than Kubert and Heath. But, as with the G.I. Combat story, I was too busy enjoying the words to care about the pitchers. Two Sam Glanzman vignettes (one a USS Stevens installment, the other a short on soldier John Stock) close this issue; neither struck my fancy. I'd just as soon see a bad eight-pager with a bit of character development than two four-pagers that are nothing more than snippets of war life.

Jack: I like the photo-collage splash pages that open the Unknown Soldier stories; Kirby pioneered the technique and this is the only comic we're reading that makes use of it on a regular basis. I enjoyed reading the Unknown Soldier's "secret origin" and was interested to see the reason for his mission and the background of his training. It's a great premise: rescue or kill the old man who trained you--just make sure he doesn't spill his secrets. At first I thought it was a cheat to have the grandson turn out to be an impostor, but the final panel shows he was the real deal and bravely gave his life. I'm sorry Goodwin is turning the writing duties over to Frank Robbins with the next issue. As for the two back up stories, Sam Glanzman has become the king of filler for the DC War line, churning out short stories, dioramas, etc. to fill the pages of these comics. I guess it's better than reprints of stories by Jerry Grandenetti.

G.I. War Tales 2

"The Killing Ground!"
(reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #134, September 1967)

"Suicide Volunteer"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #133, January 1969)

Jack: Looking back at our earlier posts, I was impressed by the art on both stories that are reprinted in this issue. I had forgotten that Neal Adams drew a War That Time Forgot story and it's always great to see his early work. The Kubert story is a reminder of those glory days when Joe was doing more than covers, and Heath's cover (from the same comic that had the Adams story) is a winner.

Next Week in EC #67 . . .
Doctor Jack once again plumbs the depths
of Coloproctology!

From Weird War Tales 15

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales: Marvel/ Atlas Horror! Issue 17

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Two
November 1949-May 1950
Narrated by Peter Enfantino

Sol Brodsky
Marvel Tales #94 (November 1949)

“A Night in Hangman’s House” (a: Gene Colan) 
“Spectacles of Doom!” (a: Bill Everett) 
“Hands of Horror!”  
“The Haunted Love!” (a: Gene Colan)   

Duncan and Laura get caught in a storm and must take shelter in a creepy farmhouse owned by a weird old man who tells them the story of the original proprietor of the house, a homicidal maniac who “hung everybody he could lay his hands on!” The nervous couple discover that the hangman’s noose is still very much alive and prowling the house. The randy rope murders the old man and only Duncan’s quick reflexes with a handy hatchet rescue the terrified lovers. Uniquely, the murderer’s ghost never puts in an appearance, leaving the dirty work up to his length of rope (the sequence with Duncan chopping at the writhing fibers is pretty amusing). More scratchy and undistinguished doodles from Gentleman Gene

Bill Everett’s art saves "Spectacles of Doom," a so-so tale of a miserly old geezer (think, oh, I don’t know, Ebenezer Scrooge) who receives a pair of new spectacles and promptly falls in love with a gorgeous gal named Miriam. After marrying the young woman, his glasses are removed and he discovers that he’s been the butt of a very nasty trick. The climax is a bit on the misogynistic side (a mite?--Miriam is a dead ringer for one of Basil Wolverton's MAD fans!) but the visuals are dazzling (the double-wide title panel is unlike anything we’ve seen so far in the Atlas horror comics).

WANTED: More Readers Like Miriam!

"Hands of Horror"
Carnival attraction Samson has mighty hands but little control over what they do. When Samson’s “friend,” Morty, gets wind that the big guy has got a big bundle of cash stashed in his tent, he enlists the aid of the lovely Zorina, another carnival attraction who has caught the eye of Samson. Zorina takes the big lug out to the cinema while Morty ransacks the tent. Too late, Morty realizes that it’s something in Samson’s living quarters that produces out-of-control limbs and he strangles himself to death. At least, I think that’s what happens since there’s no real explanation for the phenomena. Ugly artwork and a boring script spell doom for the “Hands of Horror!”

A beat cop notices the light on in the Penner residence every night and gets curious. The Penners invite the patrolman in and relate a terrifying story of  inherited farms and ghosts and, very soon, the cop knows why the lights stay on. Over-written in both the caption (As patrolman O’Leary, tough city cop, listened to the narrative of John Penner, his flesh slowly began to crawl with a sense of the unknown! For the story he heard was a macabre history of the other world…) and dialogue (“I’ve got to tell someone… about why we’re afraid… and of how she got that streak of white in her hair… and of why neither of us can stand it to be alone again… and why we live in the city amongst crowds of people…”) departments, “The Haunted Love!” is indicative of this embryonic stage of the Atlas horror titles, with a plot that seems extremely familiar and crude, almost amateurish artwork,

"Haunted Love"

Gene Colan
Captain America’s Weird Tales #75  (February 1950)

“Hoof Prints of Doom!” (a: Gene Colan) 1/2 
“Thing in the Chest”  
“The Bat” 1/2

The experiment at an end, the good Captain waves so-long to a brief dip into the horror pool and then watches the world pass him by for four years. Unlike the previous issue, this one doesn't even contain a Cap story and skimps on the horror with only three tales.

In an Algiers port, sailors Mac and Harris come across a strange old fakir who predicts Harris’ death. Appalled, Harris kills the fakir and the men are stalked by an invisible hoofed demon. "Hoof Prints of Doom" is probably the best story this issue and that's not saying much. Gene Colan is still stuck in his early-days rut of see-sawing art quality but it doesn't help that the scripter gives Gentleman Gene nothing to work with.

"Thufferin' Thukatash!"
In “Thing in the Chest," a playwright fashions his latest masterpiece around the myth of Pandora’s Box but, when the curtain rises, he finds the box is no myth, As portrayed by our uncredited artist, the demons that rise from the chest (see above) resemble something out of a Looney Tunes short. And, finally, Fernando de Toledano, Duke of Guadalajara, fears his wife, the gorgeous Countess Dolores Ibanez of Portugal, is a bloodthirsty vampire in "The Bat." Too late, he discovers her preferred meal is the Duke’s blood!

"The Bat"

Marvel Tales #95 (March 1950)

“The Living Death!” 
“The Gypsy’s Curse!” 
“Trapped in Time!” 

If only "The Living Death" had lived up to the promise of its spectacularly wild cover! Alas... A spaceship lands in the Polish town of Zillow and the population dwindles. Turns out a crew of aliens leaves the ship nightly to suck the entire insides out of the town folk in order to survive Earth’s atmosphere. Not a bad little thriller but a whole lot of the dialogue is pretty dismal (“Tell the people anything! Tell them it is a secret government experiment… or a comet on a rampage! Stress to them that it is harmless!”). Curiously, other than a quick glance at a caped and hooded shadow, the aliens are never shown.

In "The Gypsy's Curse!," Philip, Lord of Mac Arnish castle, is tortured by the singing voice of Lorelei, his gypsy wife, whom he betrayed and murdered for riches, years before. Overlong at ten pages, but some nice, atmospheric art (looks a lot like Gene Colan but GCD doesn't give a credit). And "Trapped in Time!" is a silly time travel short-short about a scientist who murders his future self during an experiment. This sort of story would be done to death (and better) by Feldstein and Gaines in the Weird Fantasy/Weird Science double-bill.

"The Gypsy's Curse"

Suspense #3 (May 1950)

“The Man Who Lost His Head!”  
“The Black Pit” (a: Sol Brodsky)   
“The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!” 
“The Forbidden Room!” 

Devised as a tie-in to the long-running radio mystery show of the same name, Suspense existed, for its first two issues at least, to serve up adaptations of creaky John Dickson Carr radio scripts like "The Body Snatchers" (adapted as "The Graveyard Ghouls" in issue #1), "Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer," and "The Bride Vanishes." The "Suspense" radio tie-in identifier on the cover would remain until the 11th issue, but the insides veered more towards the horror genre than thriller. Suspense would last 29 issues with the first eight being jumbo 52-page sized before reverting to the standard 36 with issue #9.

One of the best stories we've encountered yet on our journey is "The Man Who Lost His Head!" World-famous explorer and author, Kirk Hudson, runs up against a brick wall for the first time in his diamond-studded lifetime. His publisher has rejected the manuscript for Kirk’s latest masterpiece, a study of Jivaro head-shrinking techniques. But “Mr. Lee,” publisher of Marvel Books explains that the book is incomplete, lacking a final chapter describing the rituals themselves. Harrumphing but admitting Lee is probably right, Hudson heads to the Amazon in an attempt to witness head-shrinking in all its glory. The explorer finds it hard to hire a guide until a “sickly, dried-up prune” named Haro accepts the high-paying job. Hudson treats his guide like a slave and brutally beats him the entire way through the forests but, in a nice twist, discovers that it is Haro himself who is the “master head-shrinker.” Nice, creepy art highlights a pretty violent and mean-spirited script (which, of course, is welcome in a horror story). Hudson uses long, adjective-filled expletives to describe his Man Friday (“You stunted son of a two-headed monkey…”) and our uncredited scripter goes into great detail when describing the head-shrinking ritual (“River sand, roasted hot as sun in clay pot, is poured into head! Slowly skin dries and shrivels as sand is heated…”). A nice surprise.

No surprises will be found in the very silly and lackadaisical "The Black Pit," wherein a mine foreman is trapped by a cave-in but a lovely ghost comes to his rescue. Somewhat better (and at least three times more enjoyable) is "The Creature Who Didn't Exist!" Genius scientist Charles Cavanaugh invents a mechanical brain for the benefit of mankind but then goes off the rails when he catches his gorgeous wife conducting illicit experiments with Cavanaugh’s lab assistant. Suddenly, mankind is forgotten and murder is the scientist’s number one goal. To reach that goal, the nutty professor creates a synthetic man (who wears a shirtless vest in some sort of bold fashion statement) and then orders his creation to murder the adulterous pair. Stories like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist” (and “The Forbidden Room,” as well) are best enjoyed inebriated and lying on a couch. Fabulous dialogue and writing abound:

The shock of seeing his beloved wife in the arms of his trusted assistant drained the blood from his body…

His brilliant brain, once dedicated to science and humanity, became so corroded with the green slime of hate and vengeance that it rotted in its own bubbling cauldron of beastly cunning!

“…You are dead… dead… struck down by the instrument I fashioned and I shall be free to savor my revenge down through the years! Ah, the bell… the police! Now begins the final act in this comedy of confusion!”

…from his neck a rope ascended upward and his face was canted to one side in an awful travesty of listening…

Last up is “The Forbidden Room!”  Determined real estate agent, Sandor Dvorgny, gets private intel that a railroad has been proposed to run through an isolated castle atop a craggy mountain near the small village of Koztarsag. Smelling millions, Sandor races to the little town and arranges a meeting with the owner of the castle, Count Honved, a loony old man who’s been accused by villagers of being a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire! The Count won’t sell but Sandor is not one to take no for an answer and he begins a smear campaign (spreading gossip about an accused werewolf takes some doing but…) to drive the old man away. Admitting defeat, Honved sells out but cautions the realtor not to investigate the locked room found at the top of the stairs. Uh oh! Like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!,” “The Forbidden Room” exists only to fill space in a 52-page funny book but it does have its charms. Why a railroad would run atop a narrow, isolated cliff (rather than, say, around it) is a question only a comic book writer could answer, but he’s not talking. Dvorgny’s plot to tarnish Honved’s “good name” is a hoot; the con man goes so far as to tell one villager that he’s seen the Count “sticking pins into a small stuffed pig!”

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