Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Six: Father and Son [2.36]

by Jack Seabrook

Edmund Gwenn as Joe Saunders
Edmund Gwenn made his last screen appearance in "Father and Son," a moving episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1957 that is based on a short story by the English author, Thomas Burke, that first appeared in the August 1934 issue of Vanity Fair.

The story, just a page long in the magazine, concerns a 17-year-old named Sam Swote, who needs money and who looks for an easy way to get it. His father, Joe, has become "reluctant in handing out shillings" in the belief that it is time for his son to start earning a living. Sam thinks about the illegal tobacco sales occurring in the neighborhood and the police's interest in finding the man responsible. Wanting to "do his duty as a citizen" and perhaps earn a small reward to spend on a girl, Sam visits the police station, makes his report, and receives a reward.

"Father and Son" was first published here
The next evening, he is summoned to the police station to identify the man he had reported. He identifies Joe Swote, his own father, as the criminal, after which the police dismiss him and he senses that others look on him with disdain. As Sam slouches out of the police station, he trips and falls down the steps. His father leaps up and runs to the doorway, calling down to ask if his son is hurt.

Burke uses few words and little dialogue to draw a clear portrait of two characters whose relationship is tragic: the loving father who indulges his son, and the ne'er-do-well son who takes advantage of his father. The concern shown by Joe at the end when Sam falls, even after the betrayal, is heartbreaking and true to life. Each character's personality is consistent throughout the story: Sam is selfish to the end, while his father is compassionate. Thomas Burke holds back the identity of the tobacco seller and reveals it subtly, as Sam goes to the police station and sees what are described as two civilians and "a third civilian, his father ..." This withholding of the identity of the illegal tobacco seller creates suspense and allows Burke to surprise the reader; to this point in the story, there was no suggestion that the person Sam planned to turn in to the police was his own father.

The story's brevity and lack of dialogue presented a challenge to James P. Cavanagh when he adapted it for the small screen; the show was first broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 2, 1957, and it is a model of adaptation in which the themes of the story are enhanced.

Charles Davis as Sam Saunders
The show begins with establishing shots: first, a foggy London street with a superimposed title card that reads, "London 1912"; next, the familiar three-ball symbol of a pawn shop. We then see a display case of rings on the pawn shop counter before the camera pulls back to reveal Sam and Joe Saunders, the father and son of the story. Joe owns the pawn shop and Sam asks him for money, but he refuses. Right away, we see that Sam is considerably older than the 17-year-old of Burke's story--Charles Davis, the actor playing Sam, was born in 1925, making him about 32 at the time of the TV show, though the character is revealed through dialogue to be 35. His father is played by the 79-year-old Edmund Gwenn. By aging both characters significantly, Cavanagh deepens the pathos of the situation, since it is one that must have been playing out over and over for many years.

Joe blames himself for helping Sam along so that Sam cannot hold a job; the dialogue establishes their history and their relationship and we learn that Joe has a drinking problem. After Joe refuses to give Sam two pounds, Sam says that Joe might not like what Sam has to do to get the money: this foreshadows the later betrayal at the police station.  Joe walks out of the shop and into the London fog and, moments later, a new character, Gus Harrison, enters the shop and collapses.

Pamela Light as Mae
In a pub, we see Sam talk to a pretty singer named Mae, who tells him that she is leaving the next day for a holiday in Brighton. Sam desperately wants her to stay with him and tells her he will get money, even offering to marry her, but she dismisses him until he has cash in hand. Sam tries to borrow fifty pounds from a man named Schiller, who refuses the loan. Schiller knows that Sam is harmless and when Sam picks up a heavy object with which to hit Schiller from behind, the lender's assessment of the young man proves true when Sam decides to replace the object on Schiller's desk.

The scene shifts back to Joe's home, where he and Gus sit at the kitchen table. Gus, a character not in the short story, is starving, after having been trying "to keep one jump ahead of the police," since he has been wrongly accused of murder. Joe and Gus are old friends and Gus reveals that there is a fifty-pound reward for his arrest; he is unaware that Sam has entered the pawn shop and stands listening behind the curtain that separates the shop from Joe's residence. Joe sends Gus to the cellar to hide and then goes to the front door of the shop to let in Sam, who had snuck out and who pretended to arrive just then. Sam spins a story to Joe about a business opportunity, claiming that he needs fifty pounds that night to buy in, but Joe does not believe him and refuses to lend him the money. Sam says he will do anything to get the cash and leaves, going back to the pub, where he tells Mae that he plans to turn Gus in to the police to collect the reward. As Sam leaves the pub, Mae picks up a telephone to make a call.

Frederic Worlock as Gus Harrison
The show's final scene takes place at the police station. Sam has already told the desk sergeant where to find Gus and is waiting for the fugitive to be brought in before he can collect his reward. Instead of Gus, the police bring in Joe, Sam's father, who looks distraught, especially after his son identifies him as the man who was hiding Gus. Gus escaped before the police arrived and the sergeant, clearly disgusted by Sam's behavior, reluctantly gives him the reward money after Joe admits that Sam was telling the truth and that he had been harboring the fugitive. Joe tells the sergeant that Mae, the singer at the pub, telephoned him to tip him off that Sam was going to tell the police about Gus. Sam takes the money and looks at Joe, who is crying. Sam rushes outside and falls down the stairs in front of the station, at which point Joe follows him out and calls down to ask if his son has hurt himself.

James P. Cavanagh's teleplay for "Father and Son" is a model of how to adapt a short, nearly dialogue-free story into a longer, dialogue-driven television show. Instead of having the story revolve around Sam and only introducing the father in the final scene, Cavanagh makes the father a central character, whose differences with his son are on display from the start. The girl referred to in the story becomes Mae, a character who serves as a tangible motivation for Sam's behavior, yet whose unexpected call to Joe allows Gus to escape. It is ironic that Sam's act of telling the police the truth about where to find a man thought to be a murderer seems to be the most unsavory act in the episode; Joe, Mae, and Gus all stick together on the wrong side of the law, yet their loyalty to each other seems more admirable than Sam's selfishly motivated adherence to the law.

Dan Sheridan as Schiller
Unlike Burke's story, where Joe is engaged in an illegal enterprise, Cavanagh is careful to make the old man's transgressions less egregious: he shows loyalty to an old friend who says he has been wrongfully accused. Finally, in the TV version, there is no surprise when Sam turns his father in to the police; in Burke's story, this is a shocking moment, since the author had not to that point revealed the identity of the seller of black-market tobacco.

"Father and Son" is brought to the small screen by the talented Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), a director who worked almost exclusively in television from 1952 to 1975. He directed 27 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Cavanagh's "Fog Closing In," and he also directed sixteen episodes of Thriller.

Starring as Joe Saunders is the great Edmund Gwenn (1877-1959), who was born Edmund Kellaway in London and who began acting on stage in 1895. He served in World War One and began his film career in 1918. Gwenn appeared in many classic movies, including four directed by Alfred Hitchcock: The Skin Game (1931), Waltzes From Vienna (1934), Foreign Correspondent (1940), and The Trouble With Harry (1955). His most famous role was as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. "Father and Son" was his last screen credit before he died two years later.

John Trayne (?)
Charles Davis (1925-2009) plays Sam, Joe's son. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Davis had a long career on stage in Ireland and on Broadway and appeared on large and small screens from 1951 to 1987. He was on Night Gallery twice and he appeared in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the three-part "I Killed the Count."

Gus Harrison, on the lam for a murder that he says he did not commit, is played by Frederic Worlock (1886-1973), a British actor who was on stage in London and New York from 1906 to 1954. His first film was in 1914 and he was seen on screens large and small up to 1970. Worlock was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents four times, including "The Crocodile Case."

In smaller roles:
  • Pamela Light as Mae; she had a short career on TV and film from 1956 to 1966 and this was her only role on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • George Pelling (1914-2008) as a policeman; he was on screen from 1946 to 1966 and he was in eight episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "I Killed the Count"; he was also seen on Thriller and The Outer Limits.
  • John Trayne (1918-2004) as a policeman; he was seen mostly on TV from 1956 to 1973 and he was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole."
  • Dan Sheridan (1916-1983) as Schiller; born in Ireland, he was a busy character actor from 1945 to 1963 and he was also seen in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Crocodile Case."
George Pelling (?)
Thomas Burke (1886-1945), who wrote the short story, "Father and Son," was an English author of short stories, novels, poems and essays; he became famous due to his 1916 book Limehouse Nights, which featured stories set in the working-class Limehouse District of London, where many Chinese immigrants lived. Only a handful of films and TV shows have been made from his works, but one of them was D.W. Griffith's famous silent feature, Broken Blossoms (1919), adapted from Burke's story, "The Chink and the Child." Three of his stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the famous tale, "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole," which was voted the best mystery story of all time in 1949. A 1950 collection entitled The Best Stories of Thomas Burke was published in London and included "Ottermole" and "Father and Son." "Father and Son" was also collected in Burke's Night-Pieces (1935), which was reprinted in 2016 and is available in print or on Kindle.

Read "Father and Son" for free online here or watch the TV version for free online here. It is also available on DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Burke, Thomas. “Father and Son.” Vanity Fair, Aug. 1934, p. 21.
“Father and Son.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 36, CBS, 2 June 1957.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Sylvia, starring Ann Todd and John McIntire!

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 4: Eerie Debuts! September 1965-February 1966

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Jack Davis
Eerie #1 (September 1965)
(Ashcan Edition)

"Image of Bluebeard!"
Story by Bill Pearson
Art by Joe Orlando

"Death Plane" ★1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by George Evans

"The Invitation" ★1/2
Story by Larry Engleheart
Art by Manny Stallman

So, what exactly is an ashcan edition? Well, I'm glad you asked. Back in 1965, James Warren decided Creepy was doing well enough to introduce a companion title. An ad was run in Creepy #6  (see way below) and Eerie #1 was scheduled for a late 1965 release, but James Warren got word that an upstart company was about to release an Eerie #1 as well. In order to convince his distributor (which was also the distributor for the new publisher) that Warren had claim to the title Eerie, he had Archie Goodwin cobble together three stories that were scheduled to drop in the next couple of Creepys and print 200 copies (in an odd digest size), to be dumped at the newsstand just outside the distributor's office (a better worded and more detailed synopsis can be found in The Warren Companion).

"Image of Bluebeard!"
That rival publisher became Eerie Publications, which flooded the stands with titles such as Tales from the Tomb, Witches' Tales, and Tales of Voodoo, filled with gorier versions of 1950s' pre-code horror comics (and, yes, I'd love to cover those one of these days before I die). The "ashcan" became a highly-prized and over-priced "collector's item" over the years (I've seen "legit" copies selling for over a grand) and pirated several times (if you look on eBay right now, there's one of those pirates selling a photocopy for about twenty a pop) but, luckily for all of us, the insides were reprinted very quickly (especially since the printing job was rushed and the reproduction was ugly!).

So, what did this "ashcan" serve up?

"Death Plane"
Mousy and homely Monica knows no man will come within spitting distance of her and time is growing short. She'll be an old maid before she knows it. Therefore, accepting a proposal from a man she doesn't love seems to be the smartest thing to do. That man happens to be Brian Cerulean, a brutish and elderly bearded gentleman who proposes to Monica and, after the wedding, brings her back to his isolated home in the forest. After only a few weeks, Monica begins complaining that she has nothing to do and too much time to do it. Brian promises she'll have company soon. Bored, Monica wanders into Brian's library and finds a book on Bluebeard. Reading a few chapters, the girl comes to the conclusion that her new husband is the one and only Bluebeard! When Brian begins spending a lot of time in his workshop, Monica spies him using a giant ax and naturally fears the worst. The next day, after a long drive into town, Brian comes back home and is greeted with a blade in the gut from his petrified wife. Calling the police, Monica confesses her fears but, once the workshop is opened, she discovers that Brian had been making cages for the forest animals he'd trapped to be her companions.

Stallman splash
Eerie #1
"Image of Bluebeard!" is nothing special, merely another variation on the "paranoid wife" hook. Orlando's art is muddy and amateurish. Interestingly enough, no effort is made to cover up the identity of Uncle Creepy in the pro- and epi-logues of "Image of Bluebeard!" but in the other stories, his profile is whited out. Also, I assume the production for the ashcan was based on photocopies rather than original art, as this story is very dark and "Death Plane" is very light.

During World War I, a "mystery ace" is shooting down planes from both sides, evading any attempts to shoot it down. In a rare moment of cooperation between the Allies and the Germans, both sides team up to exterminate the threat. One American pilot gets close enough to the enemy's cockpit before he's shot down in flames and discovers the eerie secret behind the "mystery ace."

As noted above, "Death Plane" has a very light printing tone and that doesn't help George Evans's delicate penciling one bit. If you take a look at the Eerie #1 version and then the version printed in Creepy #8, there's no comparison in quality. Evans's wonderful pencil strokes disappear in a shock of white. As far as the script goes, Larry Ivie generates healthy suspense before laying an egg with a head-scratching expository in the climax. An interesting concept but one not played out to a satisfactory conclusion.

Stallman splash
Creepy #8
Baron von Renfield's coach loses a wheel on his way home to his remote chateau and he comes face to face with a merry band of vampires. About to become dinner, von Renfield promises the blood-suckers he'll deliver four of his friends for their dining pleasure if they'll spare him. The vampires agree and the Baron heads back to his chateau, where he quickly sends out invitations to people who have wronged him in the past. Three entrees are served up to the vampires but von Renfield finds it hard to find a fourth. The vampires are not happy. A very confusing finale and a really dumb and predictable twist sink this one but I must say that Manny Stallman's pencils are a delight. His splash for "The Invitation" is exquisitely detailed (but most of that detail is, again, lost in the muddy photocopying) and his vampires very Bernie Krigstein-esque (a good thing). Stallman was a heavy-hitter in the Atlas horror title bullpen in the 1950s but only contributed to three stories for Warren.-Peter

Jack: I enjoyed this short magazine! Too bad Monica never looked in a dictionary for the definition of her husband's surname. I actually thought the poor reproduction improved the look of Joe Orlando's art and I enjoyed the surprise ending to 'Image of Bluebeard!" If it's a story about WWI planes, call George Evans! "Death Plane" has an unfinished look and a weak ending. That full-page splash on "The Invitation" is impressive and I thought the art, and especially the layouts, were reminiscent of Alex Toth. Midway through the story, though, the words overwhelm the pictures and the conclusion was just silly.

Blazing Combat #2 (January 1966)

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"MiG Alley"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al McWilliams

"Face to Face!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

"Kasserine Pass!"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres & Al Williamson

"Lone Hawk"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Holding Action"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Severin

An old Vietnamese rice paddy farmer named Luong watches as guerrillas free his village and murder the former leaders. Luong's son is recruited as a guerrilla, but the old man just wants to be left alone to farm. American soldiers take the village from the Viet-Cong, then the North Vietnamese recapture it; each time, there is bloodshed and Luong doesn't see any improvement in his daily life. In the final attack, he is shot through the heart and his rice paddies are torched. The troops march off, unaware of the personal tragedy they leave behind.

Perhaps this anti-war tale was more effective when it hit the stands in late 1965, but today "Landscape!" seems trite and obvious. Joe Orlando does nothing special to elevate the narrative and Archie Goodwin's script tells a story that's been told many times before. War is futile and the little guy gets hurt. We get it. I suppose it was more surprising in the early days of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, when anti-war sentiment was not yet widespread. Still, it's nothing we didn't see at EC during the Korean War.

It's October 1777, and the colonial forces under General Gates are bored and restless until battle erupts at "Saratoga." Gates has his men stuck in a position and they're getting hammered until a different general rides up and urges them on to attack the British. The frontal assault is a success and, ten days later, the British surrender. Who was the brash young general who changed the tide of battle? None other than Benedict Arnold, future traitor to the American cause!

It's not enough to have Reed Crandall's gorgeous, almost woodcut-like art to enjoy, but this story is a pip! I had no idea the young general was Benedict Arnold and now want to learn more about him and the Battle of Saratoga. This is what a good war comic story should do!

"MiG Alley"
"Pappy" Rice and his wingman had flown numerous missions in "MiG Alley" over Korea when Pappy was finally shot down, though he was able to eject safely before the plane hit the ground. Once he's back in the air on his next mission, Pappy is much more cautious than he used to be, and his wingman is worried. Pappy's landing gear is damaged from an enemy attack, and when he tries to land his jet too quickly it blows up and he is killed.

Al McWilliams does a terrific job with this fast-moving piece about jet fighting in Korea, and both story and art reminded me of classic DC War comic stories from the late '50s and early '60s, when MiG battles were a regular feature. I am really impressed by McWilliams's mastery of faces and planes and look forward to seeing more of his art.

The men who flocked to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War in 1898 did not have much experience in combat, and when Trooper Halpern is complimented for continuing up the hill after being shot in the arm, he thinks war is pretty cool. Sent back down the hill to deliver a message, he encounters a lone Spanish soldier, who tries to take his gun away. Vicious, hand to hand combat ensues and, after Halpern kills the enemy soldier with repeated blows to the head from a rock, he suddenly does not think war is quite so cool anymore.

"Face to Face!"

If I thought "Landscape!" was heavy-handed, the second story this issue by Goodwin and Orlando lands with an obvious thud. I don't understand why we have to put up with two stories by Joe Orlando when there were so many other great artists working for Warren. I also find it hard to work up much enthusiasm about the Spanish-American War.

"Kasserine Pass!"
A Sherman Tank operated by confident American soldiers rumbles across the North African desert, looking for any remnants of Rommel's Afrika Corps. At the "Kasserine Pass!" they are attacked by a German tank but return fire and make a direct hit--or so they think. Riding up to investigate, they come upon two German tanks in an ambush. The American tank is caught in a crossfire and everyone on board is killed.

The story's not bad and the art is above average, but I've seen better from both McWilliams and Torres. One thing is for sure: it beats the Haunted Tank!

Here's the WWI Flying Ace, "Lone Hawk" William A. "Billy" Bishop in his Sopwith Camel Nieuport, zooming through the skies above France and Germany, shooting enemy planes out of the clouds while other pilots are dropping like flies. In the course of the war, he shoots down 72 planes and, to everyone's surprise, lives to tell the tale.

"Lone Hawk"
What starts out as a bit of a boring story about WWI fighter planes gradually sneaks up on you and delivers a surprisingly effective ending, in which the hero does not die on his last day out! Alex Toth's draftsmanship is excellent, but so many of the panels just feature planes in flight that he's not able to do as much as usual. Still, it's an unusual story and a pleasure to read.

The Korean War is nearly at an end, but new replacement soldiers arrive, including Stewart, who is scared and tries to run the first time he's fired upon. His tough sergeant insists that he grab his gun and start shooting enemy soldiers, but Stewart gets a little too wrapped up in his job. When a cease fire is declared, he is at loose ends and has to be dragged away from the battlefield.

"Holding Action" ends this issue on a strong note, as Goodwin's script is brought vividly to life by the great John Severin, an artist I've grown to appreciate more and more as we've worked our way through these blogs. Some of his individual tricks are on display here, including the wordless panel with one character glaring at another, and the multi-panel sequence where only small details change but have a big effect. He was an extraordinary comic artist and he seems to have excelled at war stories.-Jack
Severin's wordless glare
("Holding Action")

I've never read any of the Blazing Combat stories prior to working on this blog and if I hadn't just absorbed all of Harvey Kurtzman's EC war stories recently, I might have thought some of these were pretty powerful. "MiG Alley" and "Landscape" certainly have their powerful moments but, overall, I have to say I'm disappointed in the title so far. Yep, most of the art is top-notch, but a lot of the scripting is obvious and Goodwin seems to be going for the easy moral. "Holding Action," in particular, seems cliched and predictable. But that may be due to my Kurtzman overload. Archie was influenced by Harvey's writing, that's clear to see, but most of his scripts are reading like homage rather than building on any inspiration. "Landscape" is the infamous anti-war story that pretty much killed Blazing Combat, as detailed in an interview with Archie Goodwin's widow, Anne T. Murphy (who would also contribute to Warren Publishing), in The Warren Companion. Milton Caniff, creator of the "Steve Canyon" comic strip, writes in to praise issue #1. Archie blushes with pride but the gremlins misspell Caniff's first name!

Creepy #7 (February 1966)

"The Duel of the Monsters!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Image of Bluebeard!"
(see Eerie #1 above)

"Rude Awakening!"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Drink Deep!"★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by John Severin

"The Body-Snatcher!"★★★1/2
Story by Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Blood of Krylon!"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"Hot Spell!"★★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Duel of the Monsters!"
Murder! In a small village in Spain in the Year of Our Lord 1811, Sgt. Vega's reaction to the bloody murder of one of the town's residents is unexpected--he is frustrated that the violent deed will have an adverse effect on his way of life! Vega realizes right away that this is the work of a werewolf, and he discovers that the hairy beast also found Vega's sleeping coffin and ruined it by placing a cross inside. Vega, you see, is a vampire, and he does not like the idea of another monster eating up the tasty local populace. The sergeant suspects Alphonso, the night watchman at the cemetery, of being the werewolf, and goes to his home one night to confront him. The werewolf attacks and "The Duel of the Monsters!" ensues but, once both vampire and werewolf have inflicted fatal wounds on each other, the werewolf turns out to be Vega's colleague, Corporal Ruiz, and Alphonso turns out to be a ghoul who set up the battle in order to feed his own unholy appetite.

"Rude Awakening!"
Whew! That's a lot of plot for such a lousy story. The "old Spain" setting never interests me much and the final showdown is a real letdown. Having the night watchman turn out to be a ghoul is the corny icing on the cake. The Torres art is okay but can't hold a candle to Frazetta's cover, which purports to illustrate a scene from this story.

"Image of Bluebeard!" follows, with much better reproduction quality than we saw in Eerie #1. The art by Orlando isn't half bad, for Orlando, but I kind of liked the xerox-quality heavy blacks in the Eerie version.

Mr. Asher has a recurring nightmare in which he is held down by hooded figures while a man in glasses plunges a knife into his chest. He wakes up in the morning from the dream, has it again on the subway on his way to work, and still again in the elevator at work. Lying down at the office, he has the nightmare again, but this time he wakes up and falls backwards out of a third-story window. He is rushed by ambulance to the hospital and the last thing he sees in the operating room is the man with glasses approaching him with a scalpel.

"Drink Deep!"
"Rude Awakening!" reminds me of a DC horror comic story in that the writing is lamebrained but the art (and layout) is excellent. I wonder if Archie Goodwin was recalling the "Perchance to Dream" episode of The Twilight Zone from back in 1959. Toth's work continues to impress me.

Reggie Beardsley may be rich and have his own yacht, The Golden Galleon, but he treats its crew terribly. The Beardsley family fortune can be traced back to pirate Black Beardsley who, two centuries before, scuttled ships across the Caribbean in order to build up his own pile of gold. Reggie's crew quits in disgust, so he hires new men and sails off to the spot where his ancestor had scuttled his last ship. Late one night, his crew deteriorates into rotting corpses or skeletons that drag him onto the wreck of the old ship that had risen up for the occasion; once Reggie is aboard, it sinks again and he dies, after having to "Drink Deep!" of the briny water.

Not one of Severin's best efforts, but passably good, this waterlogged tale is dragged toward the bottom of the Creepy ocean by a predictable plot.

"The Body-Snatcher!"
Dr. MacFarlane, professor of anatomy at the Edinburgh Medical School, depends on the services of "The Body-Snatcher!" named Gray, who provides fresh corpses for the students to dissect. His new assistant, Fettes, is aghast when Gray brings in the body of a young flower girl, since Fettes realizes she must have been murdered rather than taken from her grave. MacFarlane is content to look the other way until Gray becomes too much trouble; at that point, MacFarlane kills Gray and the former body snatcher becomes the latest body to be cut up. One rainy night, Gray and Fettes head off to the graveyard and dig up the corpse of a young woman. They transport the body back in the front seat of the carriage between them, but when the horse bolts, a flash of lightning appears to reveal that the corpse is actually that of Gray!

"Blood of Krylon!"
The end doesn't seem to make sense, so I looked up the plot of the short story on Wikipedia and it seems to be the same as that of the comic adaptation. I vaguely recall the wonderful film with Karloff and Lugosi and the classic horror scene in the coach, but for some reason I thought it was a guilty imagination at work. Whatever the point of it all, Crandall's art is again superb and the mid-nineteenth century London setting really fits his style.

Frustrated by the poor prospects on Earth, a vampire named Remick rides a spaceship to a planet named Krylon, where he hopes to feast on the inhabitants. Arriving and anxious to taste the "Blood of Krylon!," Remick flies toward a city and sees a yummy fellow below. Just as he's about to start dining, the sun comes up and fries him; it seems night are shorter on this planet and poor Remick did not account for that.

Sometimes the dumbest stories are the most fun! Gray Morrow's art looks like he used some kind of wash or water color technique, if not paint, and it's really cool. The concept reminds me of the Atlas comic series from the '70s, Planet of the Vampires, though that was kind of the opposite situation.

Tied to the stake and burned as a warlock in 17th-century New England, Rapher Grundy curses the people of Warrenville and their descendants. Three hundred years later, a series of folks have died in accidental burnings and suspicion falls on an artist, new to the village and a dead-ringer for Frank Frazetta. The dimwitted townsfolk burn down his house with his young wife inside, then beat him to death. Just then, the spirit of Rapher Grundy rises and drags the four evil townsfolk down to Hell!

As Creepy develops issue by issue, we're seeing flashes of brilliance along with selective instances of increased gore and violence. "Hot Spell!" is outstanding in story and art, but it makes me wonder why editor Goodwin saved the best story in the magazine for the last position? Why not lead off with this?-Jack

Peter: The two high points here are "Hot Spell!" and "The Body-Snatcher!" Archie's adaptation is the best one thus far (and I'm not the biggest fan of these "Creepy Classics") and Crandall's art on both stories is as great as it was in the EC days, with that "Hot Spell!" splash a stunner. "The Duel of the Monsters!" is a silly monster mash-up that contains not one iota of the excitement promised by Frazetta's cover. Overall, it's still the art that makes us turn those pages as most of the the scripts seem like warmed-over EC but, ohhhhh, that art!

Next Week...
Jack and Peter decide that, yes,
they'll see this through to December 1976

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 30

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 15
February 1952 Part II

 Suspense #14

"Death and Doctor Parker" (a: Russ Heath) 
"We Meet at Midnight" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"The Last Man" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2
"The Hide-Out" (a: George Klein) 
"Out of This World" (a: Joe Certa) 

Dr. Parker kills his mentor, the great bio-chemist Crandall Hart, and steals Hart's serum of eternal life. Injecting himself with the formula, Parker destroys all of the older scientist's notes and then settles back to enjoy a long and leisurely life. Unfortunately, the cops arrest Parker for Hart's murder and sentence him to 99 years but the Doc's jailhouse rants convince them the con is insane and he's committed to an asylum. Parker escapes en route and begins a life on the run, visiting exotic countries and devising his plan for world domination. Nuclear war wipes out most of mankind, leaving only savages, and Parker is forced to hide in alleys and beg for food.

Ten centuries pass and our dopey villain (still wearing the same pants he wore in the 1950s!) has grown weary of life, wishing he could curtail his existence, but mutants capture him and place him on exhibit in a freak museum. War between the planets breaks out and Dr. Parker's cage is vaporized, leaving him a free man once more, but he becomes king of an empty world. As even more time passes, the world becomes overgrown with jungles and insects grow to a massive size. A swarm of giant wasps tears Dr. Parker from limb to limb, eating his skin and leaving only his bones, his head, and a heart. The head giggles and the heart beats.

If Atlas veers from suspenseful horror and tame monster yarns into the much more sleazy and gory offerings that would become a standard for Harvey, EC, and Master (publisher of the infamous Dark Mysteries), then I would point to "Death and Doctor Parker" as the moment the worm turned. Deliciously delineated by the master, Russ Heath, "Doctor Parker" not only winds its way through several wonky scripted twists and turns but also holds so many visual surprises as well. Parker grows old with the years (but, since his body doesn't fall apart despite being viable for over one thousand years, I would say he ages in "reverse dog" years) and we see his body fall into decay, his exposed chest mere ribs and scant flesh. His journey is wrought with distractions and obstacles that would have a normal man on his knees in tears but Parker just shrugs at his 99 years sentence and exclaims, "you have no idea how humorous that is, judge!" The final panels, of Parker being ripped to shreds by mutated insects, are sheer genius and our last glance at the fragments is laugh-out loud funny and chilling at the same time.

The crazed finale of "Death and Doctor Parker"

Alas, the rest of the material this issue is not even close to the standard set by "Death and Dr. Parker." The plot of "We Meet at Midnight" (man in a car wreck visits a house, meets death, discovers he's really dead, wakes up at crash scene thinking he's had a dream, visits a house...) is taken whole from "Reflection of Death!" (Tales from the Crypt #23, May 1951) and the art by Allen Bellman isn't nearly as stylish as Al Feldstein's.

"The Last Man" has an intriguing premise: Jimmy builds a fallout shelter for him and his girl, Pam, but said dame wants to die with everyone else when the big one falls. As they're arguing, the attack occurs and Jimmy hightails it into his vault, which is equipped to keep Jimmy safe from radiation and giant wasp mutations for forty years. When the time expires, Jimmy (now an old man) rises from his tomb to explore what he believes will be a vast wasteland, only to discover gorgeous, gleaming skyscrapers and flying cars, along with a still-young and gorgeous Pam, tending to her multitude of children. Seems as though the big attack wasn't so big after all and humanity has discovered the secret to happiness and eternal youth while Jimmy has been moldering in his underground hole with his Ritz crackers and old Playboys. Depressed, he heads back to his fallout shelter to die alone. A very thoughtful, deep script (with some silliness, yes) that almost seems to demonize Jimmy for his zeal to remain alive through a holocaust. It is amazing that Pam never thought to knock on Jimmy's iron door and let him know everything was ok (perhaps she thought he was a dingbat and que, sera, sera) and that the developing committee that erected all those skyscrapers around Jimmy's mountainside tomb never thought to level the nuisance.

"The Hide-Out" is three pages of fluff about a crook who takes refuge in a department store and discovers a party going on. Turns out the mannequins come to life at night and celebrate life; the thug's rude interruption dooms him to a life of wearing bad clothes in a Macy's window. I'll say this though: reading these quick three pages beats the hell out of watching Mannequin. Finally, Kupert Boggs III, the rich SOB of "Out of This World" wants to conquer space and he'll spend every dollar he's amassed to secure that feat, but flying to Saturn is a difficult task and even Earth's greatest brains are failing to find a solution. Finally, a small man enters Boggs' office and tells him he's got a rocket warmed up and ready to go; the duo blast off into space but halfway through the trip, the little man doffs his disguise and allows how he's a man from Saturn and Boggs is his trophy. The final panel shows the disgruntled billionaire in a cage at a Saturnian zoo. That's a final image that's been used quite a few times over the decades. I love how these space explorers in Atlas comics never seem to have to notify their government that they'll be lifting off in a rocket to outer space.

 Strange Tales #5

"The Room Without a Door" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #16)
"Little Man Who Was There" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #16)
"The Trap" (a: Manny Stallman) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #14)
"My Brother Harry" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #17)

Obsessed with time travel, nutty Professor Wilkins has turned his back on science and instead seeks the "truth" through black magic. His colleagues all plead with him to stop the madness but Wilkins won't listen. One day, he sees an article in the newspaper about the relative of Roxanna Narrse, a famous witch who was burned at the stake in 1692. The old woman, Albitra Narrse lives in an old house that, she claims, contains a "Room Without a Door," and Wilkins makes it his goal to attain the old house. He pays the back taxes owed on the rickety mansion and has Albitra tossed out on her ancient behind. Wilkins tears the house apart until he finds the fabled "room without a door," a small box covered with wallpaper. He breaks the box open and is transported back in time just as he always had hoped. Unfortunately for the professor, he ends up in 1692 and he's burned at the stake as a witch. Nonsensical and clumsy but enjoyable nonetheless if only for Joe Maneely's art. Albitra Narrse is about as crone-ish as you can get.

Dennis Ames has a shadow, a ghoulish figure, that follows him everywhere and leaves death and destruction in their wake. During the war, Dennis encounters the man in his foxhole and, after he flees, the hole is bombed. Encountering the figure on a train, Ames gets the willies and disembarks, watching as the departing train crashes in flames. And so on and so on. Dennis grows weary of the mounting death toll and drifts around the country, trying to shake the man but he finally decides to come home. Hitching a ride on a truck, Dennis sees his wraith along the side of the road and, as the driver is pulling over, Ames grabs the wheel and crashes the truck. On the operating table, Ames opens his eye to see the surgeon is... yep, Dr. Spectre! "The Little Man Who Was There" is another of those quickies that makes absolutely no sense (why is this figure following Dennis and what exactly does the final operating table scene mean?) and makes no apology for the shortcomings. How did Stan keep track of these titles so as not to use them over and over?

Equally baffling is "The Trap"about a man, named Kane, stuck on a flight that heads into outer space. The man parachutes to Earth (!) and finds his life a jumble. Kane knows people he's never met before and can anticipate events before they happen which is great but that's not really what the story is about. This guy is a gambler, he embezzles funds from his company and when his boss finds out, Kane murders him, is executed in the electric chair, and wakes to find it's all a dream. Well, sorta. It's all done in Tarantino-esque non-linear fashion, which would be a dazzling effect if the story was any good.

Space travel becomes so much easier in "The Trap"

In the last story this issue, "My Brother Harry," Phil has had enough of his wife, Margie, and her nutty brother, Harry, who has a bit of a wild imagination. Every night, Harry sits on the sofa and talks to his dead mother's ghost, a ritual that has Phil tearing out his own hair and beating his lovely wife. One night, after tea, Phil and Margie have a particularly nasty spat and Phil heads down to the local dance parlor, where he meets up with his regular squeeze, Lola. While on the dance floor, Phil doubles up and collapses. When he awakens, he hears the doctor tell Lola that Phil has been poisoned. Enraged, Phil bolts out of the bed and heads out the door without so much as a by your leave, racing home to even the score with Margie but, once he gets there, Margie won't give him the time of day. Harry, though, tells Phil he hears him perfectly. A nice little final snippet of dialogue saves "My Brother Harry" from being a total waste of time. We never do find out who poisoned Phil's tea (though Margie does tell Harry that "Phil's not coming back!") and, oddly, Harry's mother never makes an appearance.

 Venus #18

"The Little Man" (a: Manny Stallman) 

Ex- WWII pilot Ryan thinks he's tough stuff so he accepts a job from Anything Inc. to find “The Little Man” for the richest man in the world. Seems this billionaire saw the smallest man in the world years before in the jungles of Africa and really must add the freak to his collection of oddities. Things go south for Ryan when he discovers that the witch doctor in Bali Bali must have a blond man to make a little guy and Ryan is the only blond around! For a four-pager, “The Little Man” is a lot of fun and I really didn’t see the twist coming ’til it was right on top of me. Even better is the lead-off “Venus” story, “The Sealed Specters,” wherein the titular goddess contends with a Tunnel of Love packed-full of demons. Some jaw-dropping art from Bill Everett on this one. That cover reminds me of Amando de Ossorio's Templar Knights in Tombs of the Blind Dead.

Just a taste of the Everett goodies found in Venus #18

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #9

"The People Who Couldn't Exist!" 
(a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"The Spaceman" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"Don't Kill Me Twice!" (a: Werner Roth) 
"Beyond Time!" (a: Pete Morisi) ★1/2
"The Four Walls" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2

The first manned expedition to Pluto expects to land on a deserted barren landscape but, instead, they find a town just like "back home," populated with very familiar faces. Dead wives, children, and mothers run from houses to greet the explorers; when prompted, the relatives just shrug and give no explanations, simply inviting their loved ones in for endless nights of partying. The space travelers get used to the cozy atmosphere very quick until they start becoming ill, as if they hadn't had a meal in weeks, and a terrified voice over the phone sends the Captain racing to the local hospital. One of the crew, Benson, has gone blind and has discovered the secret of Pluto: the planet itself has hypnotized the crew into thinking they've landed in paradise. As his men die around him, the Captain heads for the rocket ship to warn the oncoming second expedition of the danger but only a nonsensical message is received by the nearing ship.

The truly awful splash
"The People Who Couldn't Exist" is a perfect example of the highs and lows of Atlas science-fiction. Though the completist in me forces coverage of the SF titles, I'm  not ignorant of the fact that it was in the horror tales that the company excelled. Still, "The People..." is a hoot from beginning to end and I sure wish I could ask the writer a few things about the script (not that he'd remember). First of all, how is it that the men suddenly find it safe to remove their helmets and spacesuits on a planet that, according to scientists, falls to almost 400 degrees below zero on a warm summer day? What is the planet's motive for fooling and, ultimately, killing these space travelers? How could you not realize, until it's far too late, that you're starving and severely dehydrated? Most important of all, should we care about my nitpicks as funny book fans? That last one is easy. Nope, not at all. Not when you've got a wonderfully entertaining and loony yarn such as "The People...," so entertaining in fact, that I barely realized I was wading through Sekowsky-Swamp. Loaded with choice dialogue and amusing captions ("We were all overjoyed to see our loved ones... but still a little worried... The men began to relax a little... after they got used to the idea of dining with the dead") and graced with one of the funniest final panels I've yet read on this journey.

The rip-snortin' finish to "The People Who Couldn't Exist!"

Reynolds, "The Spaceman," accepts a secret space trip on the "Stardust" for a whole lot of money, but then regrets his decision when he discovers the ship is aimed at Betelgeuse II, a star that would take 35 years to reach. When he confronts the Captain, he's told that the trip will only take a matter of months since the ship is taking a convenient "time warp" short cut (see handy scientific explanation reprinted here) and our hero goes back to counting his money. But it turns out the Captain wasn't entirely forthcoming when Reynolds lands back on Earth and finds that, though he's only aged 6 months, Earth has seen 70 years go by; Reynolds' love, Joan, is a 95-year-old grandmother! Despondent, Reynolds heads back to the "Stardust"for another run. Though Allen Bellman delivers the most amateurish art this side of Manny Stallman, "The Spaceman" does contain a few moments of genuine pathos, as when our spaceman faces what once was the apple of his eye and then heads back to port with his head hung low. But, my goodness, Speedos in space?

Four people are all snatched from the moment of death but then reappear on a future Earth with no answers and a feeling of constant dread. Then, one by one, they begin to die in the same manner they passed the first time around. The answer comes too late and only one "survivor" is graced with the explanation: scientists from the future were monkeying with a time machine and accidentally teleported the four doomed individuals to the future but now, to insure that nothing disrupts the space/time continuum (or something along those lines), the eggheads must rectify their mistake. "Don't Kill Me Twice" starts out as your average, cliched "I beat death" yarn but veers into a different playground altogether with its surprise revelation. It doesn't all come together cleanly in the end but the finale is effective and downbeat.

Two quickies round out the package this time out: "Beyond Time!" has very nice Heath-esque illustrations by Pete Morisi and tells the tale of a scourge that winds its way across the Universe, snuffing out planets, stars, and suns for nourishment. The last planet standing, Excto, manages to capture its combined knowledge and condense it into a very small ball and then eject it far into space. That ball becomes... Earth. Pretty risqué for a 1950s funny book to turn its nose up at Creation and offer up its own (admittedly reasonable) explanation for how we got the ball rolling. Unless I'm mistaken (which happens frequently around here), this only the second time we've seen art from Morisi (the first being "The Waiting Grave," back in Suspense #6, March 1951) and I'm looking forward to more from the artist (next up: Strange Tales #6 next month), but it looks like the bulk of Pete's work appeared in the Charlton horror titles (a company that I will get around to some day!) according to this (incomplete) checklist. "The Four Walls" also contains some dazzling art, this time by future Marvel superstar Joe Sinnott, and has a very Bradbury-esque flavor to its script about a man trapped on mars who finds a house that adapts to his needs... or so he thinks. Nice twist in the tail I never saw coming. Not a bad issue of Journey Into  Unknown Worlds!

The shocking climax of "The Four Walls"

In Two Weeks...
Peter wonders just how much madness he can take
as Marvel adds two more genre titles!