Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Five: The Return of the Hero [3.22]

by Jack Seabrook

If "The Return of the Hero" were to be broadcast today, it might be billed as a "Very Special Episode" of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It's not based on a published story, there is no murder or other crime, it takes place in France, features an international cast, and deals with the fallout of a then-current event. As he did at the end of "Never Again," another show with a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant, Alfred Hitchcock eschews his usual cheeky remarks at the end of the story.

"The Return of the Hero" was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, March 2, 1958 and, according to The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, is based on a story idea by Andrew Solt. The teleplay is credited to Solt and Silliphant, which suggests that, once again, Silliphant was brought in to polish up another author's teleplay.

Vladimir Sokoloff
as Uncle Fernand
As the show begins, a man known as Uncle Fernand sits at a table outside Cafe Leon in the French port city of Marseille, drinking wine and telling the cafe's owner that he has no right to force his daughter, Therese, into a marriage she does not want.

At the bar inside the cafe sit two soldiers, Sergeant Andre Daumier and Corporal Marcel Marchand, drinking and talking as a woman sings and plays the accordion. Therese, serving behind the bar, is clearly infatuated with the young and handsome Andre; Marcel announces that they have been given their discharge papers and will soon be going home. A pair of crutches lean against the bar between the soldiers. Marcel adds that he saved Andre's life and tells the younger man that Therese is not like "'those witches in the Algerian desert.'" Both men are to be discharged that night after being given the Croix de Guerre.

Jacques Bergerac
as Andre
Andre is brusque with Therese and Marcel says that his friend is rich and engaged to a Belgian baroness. The duo have spent the last two weeks in Marseille and Andre tells Therese that he told her he planned to leave; he rejects her offer to help him get over his experiences in the war. He has recently been let out of the hospital and and wants to return home to his family and friends at Saint Gervaise.

Therese is engaged to Francois, the local butcher, an overweight man who is older than she. He tells Leon, her father, that the girl has gone "'gaga'"--she was sitting alone in the park that morning in the pouring rain. Francois and Andre have words but when the soldier pulls a knife, the butcher backs down. Marcel brags about Andre's chateau and racehorse and about his mother, the Countess d'Auberge, but Francois does not believe him, so the two men make a 10,000-franc wager. Marcel has Francois telephone the countess to say her son is calling and she accepts the call. Andre reluctantly takes the phone and speaks to his mother, who did not know he was back in France.

Iphigenie Castiglioni
as the Countess d'Auberge
At the chateau, a grand party is underway and Andre tells his mother that he is back from Algiers and has invited a friend, Marcel, to stay at the family home for a while. He speaks with his fiance, Sybil, and with his younger sister, Lili, whom he calls "'the only sane member of our family.'" Andre tells Lili that Marcel has lost a leg in the war and that it is too soon for him to be fitted with an artificial one. Sybil remarks that it is terrible to suggest bringing a "'cripple'" to the chateau because "'he won't fit in.'" The countess says that the family will pay for Marcel's medical care but tells Andre not to bring him home because it would be too depressing.

Andre hangs up and Marcel tells him to go back to his home alone, but Andre replies that he is not going home. He says goodbye to Marcel and tells Therese to marry Francois. He gets up from his bar stool and, from behind, we see Andre, on crutches, walk out of the cafe; his right leg has been amputated above the knee. Therese runs outside to go after him and her father tries to stop her, but Uncle Fernand intervenes and she runs after the soldier.

Susan Kohner
as Therese
The surprise at the end of "The Return of the Hero" is that Andre, not Marcel, is missing a leg and was lying to his family, presumably in order to test how they will react to his disability. For the episode to succeed, it is imperative that the viewer not see or even suspect that Andre is an amputee. There is but one pair of crutches between the two soldiers at the bar, so the viewer can reasonably infer that Marcel is an amputee, especially when Andre tells his family that this is the case. Their cruelty and shallow behavior toward his friend crushes Andre and is hard to watch today, since society's attitudes toward the disabled have progressed a great deal in the sixty years since this episode aired.

Director Herschel Daugherty was faced with a challenge when filming this episode: how to keep the story interesting when the main character cannot get up from his bar stool and the audience cannot see the lower half of his body. He solves the problem by changing scenes occasionally, including the scenes out in front of the cafe with Uncle Fernand and the scenes at the chateau when Andre speaks to his family. The characters and dialogue are also interesting throughout the episode, which distracts the viewer from noticing the oddity of Andre's lack of mobility.

Marcel Dalio
as Marcel
The fact that it is Andre, rather than Marcel, who is the amputee is hinted at midway through the show, when there is a hint at a transference of identities between the two men as Marcel shows Francois a picture of Andre's fiancee that he keeps in his own wallet. Andre is out of place among the denizens of Cafe Leon: the butcher from next door, the cafe owner and his love-struck daughter, the bar girl who stares at Marcel with sultry eyes, and the woman who sings and plays the accordion; he longs to return home to his wealthy family, estate, and horses, but his war wound prevents him from being accepted there.

When Marcel and Andre say that they have just returned from Algiers, they refer to the Algerian War that was raging in 1957. Many French soldiers were injured in the fighting and the war led to a political crisis in France in May 1958, not long after this episode aired. It is unusual that an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents would address something so topical, since the shows usually deal with crime, domestic strife, or events from the past.

Luis van Rooten
as Leon
The title, "The Return of the Hero," is ironic since Andre, the "hero" of the title, cannot return home at all. What lies in store for him? His goodbye to Marcel before he leaves Cafe Leon seems final, yet Therese runs after him. Will she redeem him? I think it is unlikely. She is a young woman, probably still a teenager, and he comes from another stratum of society. Presumably he will return home eventually, after the party season has died down, and his family will learn to accept him in spite of his disability. Therese will marry Francois and life will go on in the port city as if these two soldiers had never been there.

Andrew Solt (1916-1990), who had the idea for the story and who presumably wrote the first draft of the teleplay, was born in Hungary and had some success there as a playwright until he emigrated to the United States in 1939. He landed in New York but headed west to Hollywood the next year to write for the movies. He wrote films from 1942 to 1960 and TV shows from 1954 to 1961. He is credited with teleplays for three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and none of them is based on a published story. His most famous screenplay is for the Bogart film, In a Lonely Place (1950). I have been unable to find any short stories or novels by Solt, so it appears he just wrote for the screen once he came to the U.S.

Michael Granger as Francois
Director Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) worked mostly in television from 1952 to 1975, directing 27 episodes of the Hitchcock show and 16 episodes of Thriller. He also directed "A Bottle of Wine," from a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant.

Sergeant Andre Daumier is played by the French actor Jacques Bergerac (1927-2014), who was recruited by M-G-M when he was a 25-year-old law student in Paris. He was on screen from 1954 to 1969 and appeared in Gigi (1958) as well as three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and episodes of Batman. After retiring from acting, he became an executive at Revlon. He is the only cast member in this episode to appear on the Hitchcock show more than once.

Susan Kohner (1936- ) plays Therese. She had a short career on screen from 1955 to 1964 before retiring to raise a family. She made a name for herself with her Oscar-nominated performance in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959) as a young black woman passing for white.

Karen Scott
as the girl at the bar
Andre's fellow soldier, Marcel, is played by French actor Marcel Dalio (1899-1983), who had an illustrious career on screen from 1931 to 1982. He started out on stage in the 1920s and appeared in Jean Renoir's classic films, Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1938). During WWII, in Occupied France, the Nazis used his face as that of the "typical Jew" on posters. He arrived in Hollywood in 1940 and his career continued to flourish with roles in films such as Casablanca (1942) and To Have and Have Not (1944).

Vladimir Sokoloff (1889-1962) is a familiar face to fans of classic television. Born in Moscow, he acted on the stage there before moving to Berlin in 1923, to Paris in 1932, and to the United States in 1937. He appeared on screen from 1926 to 1962 and may be seen in three films directed by Fritz Lang: Scarlet Street (1945), Cloak and Dagger (1946), and While the City Sleeps (1956). He was also on The Twilight Zone three times and Thriller twice.

In smaller roles:
  • Michael Granger (1923-1981) as Francois, the butcher; he originated the role of Lazar Wolf, another butcher, in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway in 1964 and was on screen from 1952 to 1977, including a role in Lang's The Big Heat (1953).
  • Luis van Rooten (1906-1973) as Therese's father, Leon; born in Mexico City, he specialized in roles requiring foreign dialects and was on screen from 1944 to 1968.
  • Karen Scott as the girl at the bar with Marcel; she had an undistinguished screen career from 1952 to 1964.
  • Victor Varconi (1891-1976) as the Count d'Auberge, Andre's stepfather; born in Austria-Hungary, he was on screen from 1912 to 1959 and appeared in many silent films, a star in Europe who emigrated to the U.S. in 1924.
Victor Varconi
  • Iphigenie Castiglioni (1895-1963) as the Countess d'Auberge, Andre's mother; also from Austria-Hungary, she was on screen from 1936 to 1963, had a role in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), and was on Thriller.
  • Caren (Karen) Lenay as the singer with the accordion; she had a brief career, almost exclusively on TV, from 1954 to 1961.
Caren Lenay
  • Gloria Castillo (1933-1978) as Andre's younger sister, Lili; she was on screen from 1954 to 1967 and had a part in Night of the Hunter (1955).
Gloria Castillo
  • Lilyan Chauvin (1925-2008) as Andre's fiance, Sybil; born in Paris, she emigrated to New York in 1952 and appeared on screen from then until 2008. She was also on Thriller.
Lilyan Chauvin

Buy the DVD of "The Return of the Hero" here or watch it for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"The Return of the Hero." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 22, CBS, 2 March 1958.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: The Canary Sedan starring Jessica Tandy!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 173: June 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Blitzkrieg 3

"The Execution"
"The Partisans"
Stories by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: English bombing raids lead Nazi chief Martin Bormann to order his troops to execute every Allied airman they capture. A week later, on the Normandy coast, Marshal Rommel orders a massive project to lay land mines to prevent the anticipated Allied invasion. Ludwig, Franz, and Hugo, three Nazi soldiers, see an enemy submarine not far from shore and a raft with soldiers paddling toward land. The trio of Nazis blow up the raft with grenades and then shoot and kill the lone survivor.

Another week passes and the same trio are marching behind tanks on the road to Malmedy.  They see Allied paratroopers hanging dead from tree limbs where their parachutes got caught and where they were executed by the S.S. Entering an abandoned town, the Nazi soldiers see an empty carnival and board a carousel for a bit of fun and relaxation. Suddenly, they are shot dead by snipers hiding in nearby houses. Attacking the houses with mortar and tank fire, the Nazis flush out American rangers, who are herded into the woods outside of town, shot to death, and buried. The trio of Nazis march on toward another town, talking of food and women.

"The Execution"
"The Execution" is not really a story, it's more a series of depressing scenes, where one of the trio of Nazi soldiers keeps expressing concern about the legality or morality of the acts they're being told to carry out. Estrada's art is average, but Kubert could have done so much more with this adult theme.

Nazi trio Hugo, Franz, and Ludwig march into Russia, executing "The Partisans" who attack them along the way. Nazi tanks cause widespread destruction but the partisans don't give up, despite being shot and burned at will. Villagers who helped them are hanged. Even children fight and are shot down.

Kanigher once again presents a series of events rather than a story, and this one is even more depressing than the one before it because we get to see the spectacle of children being killed. The end is supposed to be inspiring, as Kanigher writes that there is great strength in resistance, but it would be even better if there were an actual story. The trio in both stories have the names of Franz, Ludwig, and Hugo, but I can't tell if they're supposed to be the same people. If so, they certainly get around!

"The Partisans"
Peter: Blitzkrieg is so obviously more adult, thought-provoking, and hard-hitting than any other DC war title, I'm not sure how Big Bob doffs and dons his different writing caps. How do you write something with such bite and bleakness as "The Execution" and "The Partisans" where, it seems, each line of dialogue is telling a story, and then throw together something as random and disposable as "The Gunner is a Gorilla"? I've proposed before that the darker topics and situations are where Big Bob wanted to spend his time, but the higher-ups pushed for "Sgt. Rock and the Baby Troops of Normandy," thinking that was where the money was. Hard to argue when you consider this top-notch title only has a couple issues left before the axe falls. My highest compliment might be that Ric Estrada elevates his game to B+ with these two latest graphics exhibitions. There are some very subtle touches that only a Heath or Kubert might deliver. Perhaps the hardest-hitting message in Blitzkrieg #3 comes not from Kanigher but from editor Allan Asherman on the op-ed page. There, Asherman speaks of Adolf Eichmann and the resurgence of Nazism in the 1970s.

G.I. Combat 191

"Decoy for Death"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Silent Partner"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by John Calnan

"Sucker's Gamble"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Sparling

Peter: Jeb and his crew are given the duty of marching a troop of captured Nazis to a POW camp. But as is the case with most of the jobs given the crew of the Haunted Tank, something goes wrong and the Germans escape (so which team are the real Losers?!). These Nazis know exactly where they're going... to a remote cave stuffed full of enough arms and explosives to blast our G.I. heroes straight to hell. But a little quick thinking and a whole lotta luck save the day.

"Decoy for Death"
Thank goodness, because I wouldn't know what to do without a monthly dose of G.I. Combat. "Decoy for Death" is a dog. Is it my imagination or is Glanzman's art getting even worse? Check out his battle scenes that climax this "rousing" adventure. The various fighting soldiers look like stick men. "Silent Partner" and "Sucker's Gamble" are both short-shorts with a "message." I got the message from both. Of the two, I prefer the latter if only because of Jack Sparling's goofy art. We've been having a look at the work he did for Warren lately and I gotta say, Jack wasn't one of those rare artists whose art got better. It's still static and eccentric but also annoying.

"Sucker's Gamble"
Jack: The crew of the Haunted Tank demonstrate their stupidity by driving straight into two traps in a row while chasing the escaped prisoners. They find honor in not shooting unarmed soldiers and thus may be contrasted with the Nazi's in Blitzkrieg (above), who do the opposite. However, doing the right thing complicates matters and endangers the crew and others; only a convenient Nazi error solves the problem. "Silent Partner" is a waste of two pages, but at least John Calnan's art looks better than that of Sam Glanzman. In "Sucker's Gamble" we get another variation on the theme of sparing an enemy; however, this time the moral is "'The enemy's never a human being.'" I'm not sure that squares up with the stories by Kanigher.

Our Army at War 293

"It Figures!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Between the Pages"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock is pulled away from Easy Co. and flown to London for a special job, but before he even gets to meet with the folks in charge he is shocked to witness a little girl killed in a bombing raid on a city street. He manages to find a handy machine gun and bring down the Nazi bomber plane, but the child's death haunts him as he is introduced to the British soldiers with whom he will be working.

"It Figures!"
They look down on Rock's rough-and-tumble style, especially when he can't keep up during some quick training maneuvers, but before you know it, Rock and the Brits are flown to Holland and assigned the task of blowing up a windmill that hides a Nazi radar station. The British soldiers fail to carry out the job and it's up to Rock to save the day, which he does by having an uncanny ability to know where various groups of Nazi soldiers are hiding and kill them before they can get off a shot. He also manages to blow up the relocated radar station.

"Between the Pages"
"It Figures!" jumps all over the place and Kanigher shoehorns in some repeated uses of the title phrase. The story starts out with Easy Co. just having blown up a bridge somewhere in Europe, then Rock is flown to London, where an air raid takes place in broad daylight. He goes through a training course at lightning speed and does terribly, but the purpose of the training course is unclear. Off to Holland, where he plays superhero and shows the British soldiers how good old American know-how is better in a pinch than training and preparation. The whole thing is a mess.

During WWII, a soldier/artist named Jerry Boyle keeps a notebook of what he sees during wartime, focusing on day-to-day events and avoiding making a record of violence. Presumably, Jerry Boyle is Sam Glanzman, who has been drawing tales of the U.S.S. Stevens on and off for years in the back of D.C. War Comics. This four-pager does nothing except recreate pages from a journal.

Peter: Another hopelessly predictable Rock adventure. You know what's going to happen right from the moment you meet Rock's prissy comrades. Redondo's work isn't bad but it's not very original either; it's like faded Kubert. This story is just too full of inanities to enjoy. "Between the Pages" is more of a nod to a World War II GI/artist than a "story," and it's a wonder to me that Glanzman was able to sell these "observations" to DC.

Our Fighting Forces 167

"A Front Seat in Hell!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"G.I. on the Bull's-Eye"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: The Losers are sent on a doomed mission, leading a convoy of troop carriers across the English Channel in a test to see what obstacles will arise when trying to land in France. The Germans get advance notice of the small invasion and, when the Allied soldiers arrive, a massacre begins. The Losers manage to capture some oil drums and set off a conflagration that allows the surviving British soldiers to retreat, and the test is deemed a success because now the Allies know what they'll need for D-Day.

"G.I. on the Bull's-Eye"
It's a pleasure to see George Evans illustrate "A Front Seat in Hell!" and the story is reasonably entertaining, though there are moments that stretch credulity, such as when Captain Storm hollers to his fellow Losers to dive underwater. There are so many bombs going off that there's no way anyone could hear him. Also confusing is the hawk that tips off the Nazis to the approaching forces; he flies over the water and returns with a British Navy cap, though whose head it comes from is never made clear.

Sarge is given an important message to hand-deliver to regimental HQ, so off he heads through the woods, pursued by two Nazis with guns. Shot in the arm but unable to return fire, since that would give away his position, Sarge seems done for when he steps in an animal trap, but luckily Gunner was trailing him and manages to kill a Nazi soldier before he can execute Sarge.

"A Front Seat in Hell!"
E.R. Cruz makes "G.I. on the Bull's Eye" more entertaining than it has any right to be. The backup stories featuring members of the Losers don't seem to be lighting any fires, but Cruz's work is impressive.

Peter: It's not quite the big pile of cow manure it was during the Kirby era, but "The Losers" is still not a good book. Its adventures are unnecessarily complicated and its villains cut from the same cloth as Snidely Whiplash (this issue we get Commandant Flucht and his brainy hawk); nothing more than a superhero book with war trappings. Weak George Evans art as well; check out the panel I've reprinted here. Are the boys heading for a waterfall or an inlet? The back-up, starring Gunner and Sarge, at least has much better art.

Weird War Tales 46

"Kill or Be Killed!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"The Voodoo Warrior"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jess Jodloman

"The Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Steve Ditko & Vince Colletta

Peter: Nazi pilot Steiner is shot down over France but saved from the wreckage by the kindly French Count St. Clair who, it seems, collects Nazis in his basement. The Count explains that he's sneaking the Germans back over the border once they've healed from their wounds. Steiner grows antsy, wanting to return to battle, so he escapes the basement and follows the Count into the forest. There he witnesses the Count draw his fangs and bite one of Steiner's comrades in the neck. The Count is a vampire! Steiner manages to kill the Count and head back to the basement to let the rest of his Nazi buddies go free. They don't take the news of St. Clair's death well and they attack the pilot, who suddenly realizes he has super-strength because... he's a vampire too! Shunning any more violence, Steiner walks out into the sunlight and crumbles to dust.

"Kill or Be Killed!"

Just as dumb and cliched as it sounds, "Kill or Be Killed!" really doesn't need a byline. You can sense it's an Oleck story a mile away. Why would a vampire go to such extremes for food? Is he a part-time Freedom Fighter/part-time blood-sucker? The panel where Steiner discovers he's a vampire is handled clumsily enough; we never see St. Clair bite him, so it's right out of left field, losing all its effectiveness.

"El Coronel" is about to lead his troops of Conquistadors against the "insurrectionists," but the enemy has a better game plan. They use voodoo to kill the Colonel and discombobulate his troops. But El Coronel doesn't let death keep him from performing his task and he rises from the grave to lead the charge... or does he? If there's one thing I'll miss about the DC War titles when we abandon them in a few short months, it's this new armada of talent sneaking in here and there. Jess Jodloman would have been right at home in the Warren mags of the mid-1970s but he wasn't snapped up by that company until his best days were in their rear-view. "The Voodoo Warrior" contains some of Jodloman's best graphics yet and a nice double twist courtesy of George Kashdan. The issue is wrapped up with another one of those two-page "Day After Doomsday" vignettes. I have no idea who thought it was a great idea to run little short-shorts under the same title, but I don't recall any of these being worth the read. The short-lived connectivity between installments has been jettisoned so any thought to character development or plot is out the window.

Jack: I thought "Kill or Be Killed!" was an oddly likable story that went on much longer than expected. The Evans art seems unfinished. Jodloman's art on "The Voodoo Warrior" is certainly creepy, but I did not enjoy it. The story is okay but brief. "The Day After Doomsday!" is interesting in that it features country folk who live off the grid and thus survived the nuclear holocaust. Ditko's pencils are almost unrecognizable under Colletta's inks.

Next Week...
Finally, the girl
gets to do her thing!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 52

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 37
February 1953 Part II

 Mystic #17

"The Vampire" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Hate!" (a: Bill Everett)  ★1/2
"Behind Locked Doors" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"Who Am I?" ★1/2
"The Silent Stranger" (a: Tony DiPreta) 

Little Teddy stumbles upon a dead body while he's out playing catch. When the cops arrive, they note how pale the corpse is and Teddy runs home, joyfully proclaiming he's just been witness to the victim of "The Vampire!" His father threatens to whip him but mom prevails and the tyke heads upstairs to bed. Meanwhile, mom and dad recline in their coffins, deciding what to do with their precocious brat. Nothing makes sense here; vampires sleeping at night and a kid who must be ten not knowing his mom and pop are bloodsuckers? And why isn't the kid a vampire? And how do the undead procreate? Oh, my head is hurting. "Hate!" has all the problems "The Vampire" does and more. A man bumps into his next-door neighbor and hates him on sight. Everywhere he turns, the guy is right there. In an effort to clear his mind of stress, the poor guy heads out West to stay at an exclusive hotel only to find his roommate is... you guessed it. Way too many coincidences and, let's face it, four pages does no favors for a scripter who actually wants to tell a story.

Psychiatrist/snob Roger Denby has only one goal in his life: to become an aristocrat. To attain this lofty goal, Roger brownnoses all the elite at the Austrian hotel he lives in. One night he makes acquaintance with a brooding man who claims that, despite his nobility, he will never live up to his father’s legacy. Roger spots an easy mark, so he lures the man back to his place for a session of hypnotherapy. Once the young man exits the hypnosis, his demeanor changes completely and he’s sure he can follow in the footsteps of his father, Count Dracula. "Behind the Locked Doors" has a cute idea for a plot and some nice art by Vic Carrabotta.

Ernie has been waiting hand and foot on old Jacob for over a year, hoping the old man would keel over and leave Ernie his fortune. Now, Ernie’s decided he can’t wait any longer and offs the old codger. The fortune turns out to be five hundred bucks, but Ernie’s never had that kind of dough before, so he's on cloud nine. When the cops show up at his door, Ernie figures the jig’s up and scurries off to a back-alley plastic surgeon for a makeover. When he gets home, he finds the cops at the door again, but this time they catch up to him. Turns out they’re not the fuzz, but PIs, hired by Jacob’s lawyer to find Ernie so he can claim the million bucks the old man left him in his will. Now all he has to do is identify himself! "Who Am I?" has a genuine twist that surprises. The GCD gives no possibles for artist here. The splash sure looks like Everett but the rest of the art is too sloppy for Bill.

The Hungarian village of Borgy is being terrorized by a vampire. The two fattest men have been murdered and the third fattest, Emil Reiner, the town cobbler, is reminded by all his neighbors that he's next on the  buffet. The townsfolk suspect that "The Silent Stranger," a newcomer to Borgy (who walks the streets with a violin case) is the bloodsucker but police have no evidence and will not initiate any action until they do. That night and the next, Emil is stalked by the stranger but manages to get away. Two others are murdered in his place. Finally, the silent stranger catches up to Emil and, try as he might, the poor cobbler cannot get away. The stranger pulls a wooden stake out of his violin case and stakes the real vampire in Borgy: Emil the cobbler! Even though "The Silent Stranger" has a predictable finish, one built upon a boatload of cheats, I semi-sorta liked it and I'm a sucker for the laid-back art of Tony DiPreta.

 Mystery Tales #8

"The Madman!" (a: Tony DiPreta)  ★1/2
"A Killer in the Street" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"This House is Haunted!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Wooden Man" 

No one else on Earth can play Hamlet like thespian George Wright but upstart understudy Henry Roscoe (the producer's cousin, of course) demands that he himself should play lead. When the idea is poo-pooed, Roscoe begins a campaign of terror designed to drive Wright insane, but when Roscoe accidentally kills Wright's wife, the veteran actor actually finds his understudy a part in the play... as Yorick! Extremely ludicrous (how about... even though the director knows Wright has killed Roscoe -- and hidden his head somewhere! -- he feels it safe to let him go on with the performance!!) and cliched, the only thing worth spending time on in "The Madman!" is Tony DiPreta's art.

Detective Steve Braddock is assigned to the mad killer who is stalking the city streets, murdering any fine young woman who happens to be wearing a red dress. When Steve's wife buys a red dress, he begs her to get rid of it for obvious reasons but she refuses so he kills her. Because Steve was the mad killer all along! Utterly predictable bit of idiocy, another of those slapdash scripts that delivers a "twist" built on cheats. Steve narrates "A Killer in the Street," dropping dialogue like "The boys kept turning up leads and we kept following them... but we didn't pick up the killer," observations designed to throw us off the scent but, in hindsight, make very little sense. Even dopier is "This House is Haunted," about four men playing poker in a spooky old house and the man who's coming to take custody of the old place. The "twist" is pretty much given away in the splash and the art is silly and crude. Regardless of their crude styles, Paul Reinman and Ed Winiarski were two of the most utilized artists in the Atlas pre-code era (Reinman edging Winiarski by one with his 47 contributions), I assume because they could whip these babies out fast.

"The Wooden Man" puts a perfect capper on one of the lousiest issues we've yet dissected. Chick Black is a midget/dwarf/insanely tiny man who's discovered the perfect way to get into unwary households and rob them of their valuables: he disguises himself as a ventriloquist dummy and waits for someone to pick him up and take him home. When a caper goes awry, a dying watchman reveals that a little man shot him and the papers scream "Dummy Robber Wanted for Murder!" Aboard a train attempting a getaway, Chick is discovered by a pair of precocious brats who borrow the baggage man's hacksaw to settle a bet. Is this little guy made of sawdust or wood? "The Wooden Man" scales an infinitely high level of ludiocrosity. Nothing about it makes sense. How long would it take for the average-IQ parent to detect a pulse or creating from a wooden dummy? Just how small is Chick Black? I can't tell you since his scale changes from panel to panel. And, to top it al off, who's going to remain quiet while he's cut in half, even to avoid detection by the cops? Sheesh, this is a quartet of losers I'll be happy to forget quickly.

 Spellbound #12

"What Happened to Mister Snively?" 
(a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Vault of Evil #5)
"On the Spot" (a: Paul Reinman) 
(r: Vault of Evil #5)
"The Diet of Donald Moore" (a: Sam Kweskin) 
(r: Vault of Evil #5)
"The Gas Man" (a: Louis Zansky)  
"My Friend the Ghost" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #5)

Mister Snively, the town butcher may seem like a kind-hearted man who will do anything for his customers but, in reality, the portly old codger is hoarding canned food, bought off the black market, and stashing it in his basement. Snively does not intend to be left without provisions when the Russkies finally drop their bombs. When the day comes, and the dirty Reds evade our defenses and Snively's Butcher Shop is a direct hit, the heartless miser is safely ensconced amidst his tons of canned food. A pity he forgot to bring a can opener! "What Happened to Mister Snively?" is another of Stan's red-baiting vignettes (well, Stan never actually labels them Russkies but the jets have a familiar look to them) but at least this one has a humorous bent and that ironic twist had me cracking a really big smile. "Snively" may just be a second cousin to Burgess Meredith's book-loving sociophobe from "Time Enough at Last."

"On the Spot" concerns Lee King, Broadway star and giant ego, who's cheesed at the spotlight man for shining that spot on anything but Lee. After the big-headed star discovers the spot-man is tilling Lee's girlfriend's garden, Lee goes bonkers and kills the man. After he's convicted and sentenced to death, King manages to break out of prison but a lone searchlight (manned by the spot-man's ghost) finds Lee and he's ventilated by the guards. Some nice Reinman art here but the script is lukewarm and the finale's "irony" is "spotted" a mile away.

In the short-short, "The Diet of Donald Moore," the titular pipsqueak (but all-around nice guy) tries everything under the sun to stay healthy; fad diets, weight lifting, and vitamins do nothing for him. Then Donald Moore tries a concentrated intake of chlorophyll with less-than-surprising results. Predictable is the fate of "The Gas Man!" as well. A woman tries to talk her "gas man" boyfriend into killing her rich husband; gas guy says no, so she kills the old man anyway. She gets caught and sentenced to death. Her beau is the man who turns on the gas. Dreadful.

When Kennth Reese is disinherited from his stepdad's millions, he swears to come back and haunt the old man. An odd threat, you might say, but then Kennth proceeds to kill himself in a car crash and come back from the grave to scare pops to death. A straightforward ghost story you're thinking? Think again, as when you get to the final panels you'll discover that Kenneth never really died in that car crash, instead receiving an injection of morphine from his friend, the family doctor, to bring on an "appearance of death" (hey! don't look at me like that! I'm only reporting what I read!). Joke's on Kennth though, when the doc confesses to injecting his buddy with poison. Yep, Kennth is really dead! No wonder he'd been having bad dreams! "My Friend, the Ghost" is the kind of lunacy I love to stumble upon; sure, it ventures into Scooby-Doo territory but the sheer scope of Kenneth Reese's plan alone is enough to make you smile. Then there's Tony DiPreta's art, which perfectly captures the vibe of this low-budget Universal-International spook show.

 Strange Tales #15

"Mary and the Witch!" (a: Bernie Krigstein)  ★1/2
"The Last Word" (a: Larry Woromay)  ★1/2
"Don't Look Down" (a: George Roussos) 
"Afraid!" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2
"He Walked Through the Wall" (a: Vic Dowling & Bob Stuart) ★1/2

Gold-digger Mary Sharp, once one of the most gifts make-up artists in show-business, sinks her claws into the most talented magician on Broadway, Carl Butler, but it's soon evident that it's Carl's mother she needs to befriend. You see, Carl's ma is a witch and Mary wants to master the art of magic in order to fill her own coffers. But Carl's old lady sees right through her son's new flame and warns her to keep away from the black arts. Undeterred, Mary makes herself up to look like the old woman one day while mom is in town in order to fool Carl into spilling the beans. Just then, a group of townsfolk bust down the door and accuse Mary of witchcraft and burn her at the stake.

"Mary and the Witch!" is jumbled (Mary's masquerade makes very little sense nor does Carl's unexplained disappearance mid-way through the narrative) and the climax is a head-scratcher (the setting is contemporary but witches are burnt at the stake?), but this dopey bit of nonsense is entertainment, nonetheless. And it's always a treat to see the Bernie Krigstein magic.

Neither Davis nor Nostrand...
Wilbur only married Minerva for her money; Minerva knows that, but demands her husband stay true no matter what, or he'll be cut off from her fortune. Wilbur's got a chick on the side, gorgeous stripper Gloria, but the dope is convinced the dame is mad for him and not all the extra green he carries. When Minerva finds out about Gloria, the expected fireworks are set off and Wilbur is left penniless, with Minerva promising never to speak to him again. Once he tells his girlfriend the free ride is over,  Gloria's true colors are shown and an enraged Wilbur strangles the hussy. He hoofs it back to Minerva to beg for forgiveness and a few grand for a good lawyer but, true to her word, Minerva remains silent. The police enter and Wilbur confesses, only to be surprised when they tell him they were here to take Minerva's body to the morgue. She'd died hours before! The only aspect worth noting about "The Last Word," a very weak suspenser, is the Jack Davis-inspired Woromay art. Clearly, Howard Nostrand wasn't the only artist who'd been admiring Davis's work over at EC.

Wealthy Mr. Benson is afflicted with a nightmarish case of acrophobia, so extreme that his bed seems to him to be miles above the bedroom floor. The street curb resembles the Grand Canyon, His butler's getting tired of carrying him from room to room and suggests a psychiatrist. The doctor assures Benson that he can't be cured until he faces his fear. To that end, Dr. Enfield places the terrified man in a chair and begins to tip it towards the floor. Ignoring Benson's screams of fear that the floor is miles below, the doctor spills him to the floor. Moments later, Benson's butler and doctor are flabbergasted to discover that he's dead, flattened like a pancake. What happened at the climax of "Don't Look Down?" Who knows? Why did it happen? Who knows? Benson himself tells us he hasn't been that great of a guy to the people around him so I suppose he's being meted out a bit of Twilight Zone-style justice but since we haven't seen any sadism on his part (we're introduced to him mid-terror) it's tough to feel it's a case of just desserts. We're also never told whether this has been an ongoing phobia for the man or it's just recently introduced. And where is his family? A lot of questions unanswered, I know, for a story I'm recommending but the visuals more than make up for the shortcomings of a 4 page story. It's hard not to feel the man's terror when we see his slippers several stories below him on his bedroom floor. To me, all the vagaries only add to the enjoyment of the tale.

The issue ends with the silly short-short "Afraid!," about a monster who enjoys reading horror stories before bedtime, and "He Walked Through the Wall" about a bank robber strong-arming a scientist who's conjured up a gel that allows the applier to walk through solid walls. Only problem is, the crook isn't told the balm has a time limit. 

 Suspense #27

"If!" (a: Fred Kida) 
"Storm Warning!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Terror in the Tropics" (a: Sam Citron) 
"The Man Who Killed Himself!" 
"Hall of Mirrors" (a: Dick Briefer) 

Burt meets a gorgeous dame named Lenore one night while walking home from work and the young lady seems immediately smitten with Burt as well. "If!" Burt had walked Lenore home he would have discovered her father is a werewolf and her mother is a vampire. Which makes Lenore part vampire and makes Burt dinner! But he doesn't walk her home; instead he walks in front of a truck. A really dumb variation on the "choose your path" story that goes nowhere very slowly.

Alex Mugwump is the world's worst weather forecaster. No matter what he predicts, the opposite happens. Tired of being a laughing stock, Alex builds a weather machine and begins changing the climate to fit whatever he forecasts. After an unprecedented string of bullseyes, Alex is the talk of the town; everyone wants to know what Mugwump thinks about the day's weather. But the bloom is soon off the rose, since everyone knows weather is really not that important. In fact, after hearing that exclamation for the umpteenth time, Alex Mugwump loses his temper with the world and begins building an ark. "Storm Warning!" is a change of pace that's good for a few smiles; it's a tale that would fit in nicely with one of the Atlas humor titles of the era (Crazy, Riot, Wild, and Snafu) and features adequate Winiarski visuals.

Since her husband is the only doctor on a plague-ridden island, Hilda Channing must contend with the uncomfortable swelter and the never-ending buzzing of the giant flies that swarm just outside her screened windows. Hilda is going slightly mad. When hubby informs her that he's to be on the island until the disease is wiped out but, on the bright side, he's just taken out a life insurance policy on himself to the tune of 25k, Hilda finally sees a way off the island. She squeezes the arsenic out of the flypaper and serves it to her husband in a salad but (talk about bad timing) a swarm of nasty buzzers breaks through the screen and makes a meal out of Hilda. Abysmal art (some panels almost look pasted together) is not the only problem with "Terror in the Tropics." It's a mass of cliches and ludicrosity (these flies can kill you within minutes!), resembling something from one of the lesser companies.

Just as bad is "The Man Who Killed Himself," about a starving artist on a ledge given a second chance by a fellow painter. The roles soon reverse and we're left with a wholly irrational and head-scratching denouement. Gavin is the best distorted-mirror maker in the land, but he's been making time with Fifi, the carnival owner's girl, so the next mirror will be the last he makes for Arnold's Carnival. Flush with anger, Gavin heads home to his workshop where he whips up a special formula he's "translated from the hieroglyphics on the pyramids of Egypt," and concocts a mirror unlike any he's ever created. Mr. Arnold is impressed too until he experiences the full effect of the new glass. "Hall of Mirrors" is the best story in an otherwise poor issue, mostly because of Dick Briefer's exaggerated and creepy art and the sheer wonk factor of the script. I always love how these laborers always hide a dark secret or nasty hobby. Gavin sure doesn't look like the kind of guy who'd fancy deciphering ancient symbols.

Uncanny Tales #5

"Fear!" (a: George Roussos) 
"I Can't Stop Killing" (a: Sol Brodsky) ★1/2
"Plague" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Both of Me" (a: Vernon Henkel) 
"The Men Who Fly" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 

On the eve of a Soviet military strike, the United Nations gathers its most famous eggheads together and asks what should be done. Professor Sigmond Gnoth raises his meek voice and suggests that the greatest weapon is "Fear!" The next day, the UN drops a bomb on Moscow, but the darn thing just sits there. Russian scientists hypothesize that it's an atomic weapon, it's a germ warfare bomb, yada yada yada. The entire Russian population panics, with thousands committing suicide. Before long, chaos reigns and the Premier blows his own brains out. Moscow sends a telegram to the UN, proclaiming the Cold War over. Back in Washington, Professor Gnoth reveals to his higher-ups that the bomb dropped was an empty cylinder. Fear ended the war! Another Stan Lee essay on just how dumb and vicious the Commies were back in the 1950s; almost laughable in its simplicity. The idea's a good one but, unfortunately, telegraphed early on. That leaves us with George Roussos's by-the-numbers but perfectly adequate art, which makes "Fear!" a perfectly average 1950s horror funny book strip.

Fargo wants to know where the mine is that Laird has been pulling gold from and murder will not stop him, so he heads out to Laird's shack deep in the desert and asks the old man to make him his partner. Laird tells Fargo that he'll consider the prospect (pardon the pun!) after he reads Fargo's palm to discover what kind of man he really is. After the reading, Laird tells Fargo a partnership is not in the works because Fargo will be dead soon. Enraged, Fargo ventilates the old miner and then ransacks the shacks until he finds a map, ostensibly to the gold mine. Fargo heads even deeper into the desert towards the X on the map but must stop first at a small oasis and drink deep. After filling his stomach with the cool water, he notices the rock with the Danger... Don't Drink... This Water is Poisoned message on a nearby boulder. An odd one that pretty much sputters out with a weak twist and some truly awful Sol Brodsky visuals. A shame since it starts out fairly well with an engaging dialogue between Fargo and Laird.

Simple-minded janitor, Jarick, believes the mannikin in the window of the European store he cleans is alive and in love with him. When the city is ravaged with "Plague!" and the streets empty, Jarick tucks his lady love under his arm and flees for safety. Along the way, he falls into a pit dug for plague victims and his wax beauty is stolen by two passers-by who admire the dummy's shiny baubles. Jarick curses the robbers with death and then dies himself, a victim of the plague. Later, when the thieves remove the manikin's jewelry, they discover the tell-tale black spots and realize, with horror, they have caught the plague from a wax dummy. Though the plot is "something borrowed..." it has a certain melancholy to it that I found entrancing, and I can't deny a (very small) lump rose in my throat at the climax.

Two-bit hood Harry Dolan happens onto the perfect alibi for his crimes: Walt Terry, who could be Harry's twin and, as long as he's got a bottle in front of him, happy to go along for the ride. Harry robs shops at night while Walt sits at a bar, witnessed by several upstanding patrons and one unruly bartender. Harry warns Walt to quit elbowing the bartender but Walt is his own man so, one night after a particularly harrowing robbery where the cops have tailed him to the bar, Harry discovers that perfect alibis can sometimes be disastrous. Vern Henkel's rough and scratchy doodles gives Sol Brodsky a run for "Worst Art" award this issue and "The Both of Me" is basically a padded one-liner, but the story has an undeniable charm and a grimly humorous finale.

Would-be scientific genius George has devised a machine that will eliminate gravity and allow man to achieve all kinds of questionable goals: building houses in the sky, flying without the use of planes and, best of all, traveling to other planets (!!!). He excitedly tells his best mate, Hal, that he's about to pull the switch and test his new contraption but he's got a few more wrinkles to iron out. When the big night arrives and George pulls the switch, Hal calls in a panic, telling George he has to postpone the big event. Explaining that it's too late, George listens in horror as Hal reminds him that, without gravity, the Earth will crack like an egg. Which it does!

"The Men Who Fly" is just what we needed right now, a good old-fashioned end of the world story, delivered with a healthy dose of humor and a perfectly wonky art job by Vic Carrabotta. George is not your average Atlas mad scientist; he truly believes he's helping mankind reach that next plateau. Never mind he never thinks to consult with real scientists. At this point, the Atlas artists seem to have fallen into three camps: 1/ the guys who are pumping them out fast and devoid of anything approaching style (Citron, Brodsky, Winiarski); 2/ the crude but efficient and randomly approaching brilliant (Carrabotta, Mooney, Reinman); and 3/ the guys with a style all their own, who make even the lowliest of scripts readable (Everett, Heath, Colan). Regardless of who handles art chores, the majority of Atlas pre-code horror is still head-and-shoulders above the mild-mannered and infantile output of most of the other companies, even on a bad day (Mystery Tales #8 and Suspense #27, please take a bow).

In Two Weeks...
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