Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Seven: Little White Frock [3.39]

by Jack Seabrook

Stacy Aumonier's short story, "Little White Frock," was first published in the British magazine, The Story-Teller, in November 1920. The tale is told in the first person by a narrator who recalls meeting an old actor named Colin Brancker. After the two run into each other a number of times, Brancker invites the narrator over to dinner, where the narrator meets Mrs. Windsor, the middle-aged woman who takes care of the old actor. There are souvenirs and signed photographs scattered around the house and the narrator begins to enjoy visiting every Thursday for dinner, when the old actor would regale him with tales connected to his various keepsakes.

"Little White Frock"
was first published here
On one visit, the narrator finds a child's little white frock, but Brancker's reaction to being asked about it is one of "utter dejection and remorse." The next night, the narrator brings his young wife, Alice, to dinner at the home of the old actor, and the two hit it off famously. Alice asks to see the frock and to hear the story behind it. Brancker recalls his old friend and fellow actor, Terry O'Bane, with whom he toured the provinces. They both fell in love with a beautiful actress named Sophie Wiles, who seemed to favor O'Bane over Brancker. However, when O'Bane inherited a fortune, Wiles refused to marry him for fear that she would be thought to have done it only for the money. O'Bane married another woman and she bore him a child named Lucy; unexpectedly, Wiles became devoted to that child and Brancker became devoted to Wiles. O'Bane died tragically and Lucy grew up to be a spoiled young woman, for whom Sophie made many frocks. One year, as the Christmas season approached, ten-year-old Lucy wrote to Sophie asking her to make a special frock that she could wear to a Christmas Eve ball. Sophie sewed a plain, white frock, intending that Lucy should stand out among the other gaudily-dressed girls at the ball in her lovely simplicity. Sophie took ill but worked to finish the frock in time.

Herbert Marshall as Colin Brancker
The narrator and Sophie arrived in London on Christmas Eve and Sophie, sick as she was, completed the frock early that evening. The narrator rushed out and delivered it to Lucy, who scorned it. The narrator left Lucy's house and suddenly realized that he did not know the address where Sophie was staying. He reasoned that it was better that he not find her, instead allowing her to die in the belief that Lucy had been delighted with her gift.

Brancker ends his story with a sob and, just then, Mrs. Windsor enters and asks if he has seen that little white frock she made for her niece the week before. Later that night, back at home, the narrator's wife calls him a "'boob'" and suggests that she knew all along that the old actor was pulling their legs.

Tom Helmore as Adam Longsworth
"Little White Frock" is a delightful story of performance, told in the first person by an unnamed man but dominated by the tale told by the old actor, Colin Brancker. Published in 1920, it shares characteristics with two famous stories by Charles Dickens from the mid-nineteenth century: A Christmas Carol (the climax on Christmas Eve) and Great Expectations (the sudden and unexpected inheritance of a fortune from a man in Australia). It is not surprising that Aumonier, the story's author, should look to Dickens for inspiration, since the main character in the short story is an aging actor, who surely was familiar with the works of the British writer.

Julie Adams as Carol Longsworth
The story depends on the believability of Brancker's tale, which captivates the narrator and his wife, and upon the discovery that it was all a performance, something that seems clear to the reader in retrospect. The narrator describes his wife as "younger than I ... less critical and introspective ... out to have a good time." Is this why she seems to see through the old actor's tale? In the story's final paragraphs, Aumonier has the narrator suggest that his wife realized all along that not only was Brancker's story a fabrication, but many of his keepsakes were invented as well. The narrator asks, rhetorically, "'what is the line of demarcation between what we call reality and what we call imagination ... What is reality? Indeed, what is life?'" His wife, discounting his high-minded speech, replies, "'I don't know what life is ... But I know what you are. You're a dear old--perfect old--BOOB!'" Her amused mockery of her husband also pokes fun at the readers of the story who were taken in by Brancker's performance.

Jacqueline Mayo as Lila Gordon
in a flashback, playing Desdemona
Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928) was a British author best known for his short stories. He began writing them in 1915 and served in WWI briefly in 1917-18 when he was 40 years old; he later developed tuberculosis and died at the relatively young age of 51. A handful of short films and a few television shows have been adapted from his stories; among them are three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the delightful, "Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty."

When Stirling Silliphant was given Aumonier's story to adapt for the small screen, he had several challenges. Should he update the story from 1920, when it was published, to 1958, when it first aired on CBS on Sunday, June 29, as the final episode of the third season? And what to do with the structure, where an unnamed narrator relates a tale told by an old actor, who relates events supposedly from the past? Working with director Herschel Daugherty and the superb actor, Herbert Marshall, Silliphant succeeded in transforming the short story from the page to television in thoroughly entertaining fashion.

Roy Dean as Terry O'Bane
The first scene takes place in a theater, as Adam Longsworth (the name given to the character who narrates the short story) and a colleague named Robinson sit alone in the audience watching as an old actor gives a halting audition on stage. The speech the actor reads is one in which an aging character talks of expecting gratitude from one's children when one has grown old; this reflects the episode's theme, that of old people trying to gain the respect of the young. The lines the actor reads are supposedly lines from a play that Adam has written; he has a week to finish assembling a cast.

The second scene takes place at "the club," where Brancker approaches Longsworth and Robinson. The playwright recognizes the old thespian and remarks, "'I saw you play Othello when I was a kid.'" Brancker returns the compliment by calling Longsworth "'the most brilliant young playwright of this new generation.'" Brancker asks Longsworth to dine with him but Longsworth dodges the invitation by saying that his wife handles his social affairs. Silliphant thus compresses the events in the story's opening pages, where the narrator tells how he met and became acquainted with the old actor. The teleplay gives the narrator a name, changes the narration from first-person to third-person, updates the time to the present, and moves the location from London to New York City. After Brancker walks away, Longsworth and Robinson discuss the faded star's transparent effort to secure a role in the new play, continuing the theme of age discrimination.

In scene three, Adam returns home to his modern apartment and his beautiful, young wife, Carol, who tells him that they are dining with Brancker the next evening. Longsworth laments that the old actor's "'style is passé, you just can't believe him anymore.'" Longsworth is more cynical than his counterpart in the short story, who is not a playwright and who thus holds no economic power over the old actor. The show's first three scenes quickly set the stage for the visit to Brancker's home, which comprises the rest of the episode.

Bartlett Robinson as Robinson
The Longsworths are next seen at Brancker's dinner table, where he offers a heartfelt toast to forgotten actors after telling his guests that he started acting before they were born. Carol is forthright, making no secret of her recent good fortune and her husband's newfound success, and when she starts to pick up her dinner plate to clear it away, Brancker tells her that he has a woman who cleans up and who will arrive soon, thus setting up the maid's unexpected entrance at the end of his tale. Brancker denies wanting a part in Longsworth's new play and instead says he is leaving the theater. He wants to leave his collection of theatrical souvenirs to Longsworth, who can appreciate their importance. Carol points out the little white frock and Brancker begins to tell his story.

Sophie Wiles of the short story is renamed Lila Gordon and Brancker recalls that she joined the touring company of which he was a part when he and Terry O'Bane were alternating roles as Othello and Iago in Buffalo. In retrospect, knowing how the episode ends, one can surmise that the wily old actor intentionally chose the play Othello as the background for his story, since Longsworth had said at the club that he saw Brancker perform the role decades before. In the first of three flashbacks, we see Lila as Desdemona and Terry as Iago, both shown from Brancker's point of view, but we do not yet see Brancker as he would have appeared 40 years before.

Edwin Jerome as Andrews
By this point, Herbert Marshall, as Colin Brancker, has taken over the show completely, telling the story with his magnificent voice as his two guests look on, captivated. Years later, Julie Adams, who plays Carol, recalled that "'I think I did make real tears ... Herbert Marshall was an utterly charming man.'" He continues to tell the story while sitting in his chair, and there is a second flashback, which again begins from Brancker's point of view as he watches an old stagehand deliver a telegram to O'Bane in his dressing room. Brancker enters and sits next to Terry and we see them in the mirror. Colin Brancker as a man 40 years younger is played by none other than 68-year-old Herbert Marshall, in makeup as Othello. The makeup somewhat hides his obvious age and we can also accept this choice as portraying the way the old actor recalls the scene in his memory; additional distance from reality is provided by the fact that the scene between Brancker and O'Bane plays out in reverse, as reflected in the large, dressing-room mirror.

Otto Waldis as Koslov
In a slight change from the short story, Brancker relates that Lila accepts O'Bane's marriage proposal, though they never get married because he falls in with "'loose characters'" in New York (the way Marshall pauses between "loose" and "characters" is wonderful). The tale continues as it does in Aumonier's story, with Lucy's name changed to Jeanine, and concludes in a third flashback. This time, Brancker tells his listeners that he had just opened on Broadway in The Slap, a fictional play that recalls a real play, He Who Gets Slapped, that ran on Broadway in 1922 and that was made into a film starring Lon Chaney in 1924. As in the Chaney film, we see Brancker in flashback in his dressing room after a performance, dressed as a clown/tramp, with clown face paint and a bald cap; once again, we see him reflected in a mirror. He is called to see Lila on an urgent basis; he finds her ill and looking older and the face paint he still wears from his stage role in The Slap underscores the tragedy of the events that unfold, since he has tears painted below each of his eyes.

Kitty Kelly as Marie
Lila gives him the frock to take to the child and, in another slight change to the short story, he tells the Longsworths that he returned to find her dead, eliminating the needlessly complicated and rather incredible business of his not knowing her address and being unable to find his way back to her. The surprise of the maid's entrance is the same as in the short story, though on screen we get the benefit of seeing the shocked looks on the faces of the Longsworths and the look of mild embarrassment on the face of Brancker. Rather than end the trio's interaction there, however, as in Aumonier's story, Silliphant extends the final scene and has Longsworth confront the old actor. Was it "'All an act?'" he asks, and Brancker admits that this was the only way he could think of to audition for the playwright. In response, Longsworth admits he was wrong and asks the thespian to be at the theater at eleven o'clock the next morning.

"Little White Frock" ends happily, with no crime or murder in sight. Yet one question remains: did Colin Brancker plan the maid's sudden entrance as part of his performance? It seems that this must be the case, since had she not come in and revealed the artifice of his tale, how would Longsworth have known that it was all an audition conducted for his benefit? What in the short story was presented as an embarrassing surprise has become, in Silliphant's adaptation, the final piece of a puzzle carefully constructed to demonstrate Brancker's skill to the upstart playwright.

Joe Hamilton as the stage hand
"Little White Frock" is a superb episode, where a skilled translation of the story from page to small screen is brought to life by a great performance by the lead actor, solid supporting performances, effective direction, and appropriate lighting.

The great Herbert Marshall (1890-1966) plays Colin Brancker. Born in London and the child of two stage actors, Marshall fought in the trenches in WWI and lost his right leg after being shot in the knee in 1917. His long stage career had begun back in 1909 and he overcame his disability to become a respected and beloved actor on film, starting in 1927, on radio, starting in 1936, and on television, starting in 1950. His many film roles included Hitchcock's Murder! (1930), Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940), Crack-Up (1946), which was based in part on a Fredric Brown novelette, and The Fly (1958). "Little White Frock" was one of his two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The other was "A Bottle of Wine," also with a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant.

Olan Soulé
Perhaps a bit long in the tooth to be playing brilliant young playwright Adam Longsworth is Tom Helmore (1904-1995) who, like Herbert Marshall, was born in London and whose career on screen lasted from 1927 to 1972. He also appeared on Broadway from the 1940s to the 1960s. Helmore was in three Hitchcock films: The Ring (1927), Secret Agent (1936), and Vertigo (1958), in which he played a key role in Hitchcock's masterpiece that was released the month before "Little White Frock" aired. Helmore was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he also appeared on Thriller and on Night Gallery, which was his last credit.

Julie Adams (1926-2019) is lovely as Carol Longsworth; she was on screen from 1949 to 2018 and her most famous role was in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). She was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of Night Gallery and The Night Stalker. There is a website devoted to her here.

In supporting roles:
  • Jacqueline Mayo (1933- ) as Lila Gordon in the flashbacks; resembling Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow, she had a short career on TV from 1958 to 1969 and was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Deadly."
  • Roy Dean (1925-2002) as Terry O'Bane, Brancker's fellow thespian in the flashbacks; he was on TV from 1947 to 1972 and had bit parts in films; he was also a successful athlete, photographer, and writer. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Bartlett Robinson (1912-1986) as Robinson, who joins Longsworth in the early scenes; his long career included a stint in the 1940s as Perry Mason on radio, stage work from the 1930s to the 1950s, TV roles from 1949 to 1982, film work from 1956 to 1973, parts on The Twilight Zone and Thriller, and eleven appearances on the Hitchcock show, including "Bad Actor."
  • Edwin Jerome (1885-1959) as Andrews, the old actor who auditions in the show's opening scene; born Edwin Jerome Rath, he was on screen from 1929 to 1959 and he was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His wife Helene was the victim in a celebrated murder case in 1958.
  • Otto Waldis (1901-1974) as Koslov, who speaks to Longsworth and Robinson at the club in the show's second scene; born Otto Glucksmann-Blum in Vienna, he was in Fritz Lang's M (1931) and had many other roles on film and television from 1947 to 1970; he was also in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Lamb to the Slaughter."
  • Kitty Kelly (1902-1968) as Marie, the maid; born Sue O'Neil, she was a member of the Ziegfeld Follies and had parts on screen from 1925 to 1968. She was also in "Listen, Listen.....!" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Joe Hamilton (1929-1991) as the stage hand who delivers the telegram in the second flashback; his brief screen career lasted from 1954 to 1965 but in that time he appeared on The Twilight Zone and in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Five-Forty-Eight."
  • Olan Soulé (1909-1994) can be glimpsed briefly in an uncredited role in the show's first scene as the man sitting at the table on the right side of the stage, presumably feeding lines to Andrews, who gives the audition; he had a long career: on radio from the 1920s to the 1940s and on screen from 1949 to 1991, he was on The Twilight Zone and in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee." 
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 "The Return of the Hero," from a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant.

Read "Little White Frock" for free online here or watch the TV adaptation here. Order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Aumonier, Stacy. "Little White Frock." The Golden Windmill and Other Stories, Macmillan, 1921, pp. 109-133.
The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"Little White Frock." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 39, CBS, 29 June 1958.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: "The Crystal Trench," directed by Alfred Hitchcock!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 175: August 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Blitzkrieg 4

"The Tourists"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

"The Souvenir!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: German soldiers Bruno, Hugo, and Franz would like to be "The Tourists" and see the sights in occupied Paris, but attacks by French resistance fighters keep getting in the way. An S.S. officer is shot by a sniper and falls off of the Eiffel Tower. An older Frenchman is taken in for questioning and throws himself out of a window in Nazi headquarters. Even when the trio of soldiers sit at an outdoor cafe with some French girls, a cyclist with a gun shoots his own sister and another German soldier.

"The Tourists"
When the soldiers check out the Place des Vosges, a Jewish girl throws a booby-trapped loaf of bread at them. They chase her into the underground Metro but, when cornered, she throws herself in front of a train rather than be captured. There's even an explosion at the Arc de Triomphe! The German soldiers observe a French flag flying on the arch and realize that, to convince the French citizens to stop fighting back, they will first need to convince them they have been defeated.

If Ric Estrada's art were a little better, I'd give this story four stars! As it is, I like to see the events of WWII through the eyes of German soldiers and I appreciate Kanigher's unusual choice to have the same three keep returning from issue to issue. The Paris setting is well done and the repeated sacrifices of the French resistance fighters and average citizens are powerful.

In the North African desert, German soldiers battle Allied soldiers and Emil Wasser searches among the dead for souvenirs to send home to his wife, Hilda. A watch he removes from the arm of a dead man isn't special enough, so he keeps looking for just the right gift. Delighted by the irony of finding a framed picture of Winston Churchill in a bombed-out building, Emil realizes too late that it is a booby-trap, and the grenade taped to the back of the photo ends his life and his hunt for "The Souvenir!"

"The Souvenir!"
Five pages isn't enough space to tell much of a story, but Kanigher and Estrada manage to create an interesting character who scavenges among corpses for presents for his spouse back home. The end is not surprising but it is satisfying.

Peter: Though I think both stories in this issue are strong, much stronger than any of the back-ups in the other titles, I'm not sure what Big Bob was trying to say with "The Tourists." That the Nazis were sadistic pigs? We all knew that. That the French were a brave and proud society? Maybe, but history really hasn't been kind to them, has it? So the short vignettes of rebel activity and German attitudes about their dominance are stitched together into something powerful but unfocused. "The Souvenir!" retells a story we've read before (no, I can't find the exact story, but I'll bet you remember it) but maybe I'm just so jazzed about the adult nature of this title, I can excuse the self-plagiarism on Kanigher's part.

G.I. Combat 193

"The War That Had to Wait"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Naked Code"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: When a farmhouse fires on the Haunted Tank, the crew have no choice but to blow it to hell. When the dust settles, a lone farmer emerges from the wreckage and explains to the boys that his wife has been killed in the battle and his son is locked in the barn. As he lays dying, the farmer gets the crew to agree to adopt the boy and the farmer's livestock and see they get to safer ground. The journey begins and the Jeb Stuart crew discover that not only is the boy an orphan but he's also blind! The tin can has to avoid many obstacles but they finally deliver little farmer Eric and his Noah's ark to the Red Cross for handling.

"The War That Had to Wait"
Well, first gorillas, now a little kid, chickens, pigs, and cows as well. Have we reached the bottom? Like that earlier gorilla adventure, "The War That Had to Wait" is lazy and light, just the ticket if you're a five-year-old DC war fan, I guess. Hilarious that the dying farmer doesn't even think to add "Oh and, by the way, the kid's blind!" There's all kinds of silly nonsense going on in this sitcom--the kid wanders from the Tank into a mine field but, since he's blind, he's blessed with "an acute sense of touch." Big Bob doesn't mention how the kid figured out he was in a mine field in the first place! I want to see the follow-up, where Jeb and the gang are court-martialed for wandering all over Germany (ostensibly veering off the path they were ordered to take) with a tank full of poultry.

"The Naked Code"
In the second installment of "OSS," a female agent is sent undercover into a German concentration camp in order to discover where the Nazis are hiding their new killer jets. Her mission is to meet up with Emil, a freedom fighter also undercover in the camp, a man who knows just where the jets are stashed. But when she arrives, she makes contact with Emil but he turns her in as a spy to the commandant, who decides to make her that evening's "entertainment." He orders Emil to take the girl to his private quarters and, once they get there, he disrobes her. Later, while driving the commandant and the pretty spy, Emil hijacks the car and makes a getaway with his passengers still in tow. Emil and the Nazi are killed in a gunfight but the OSS agent escapes, making it back to base, where she discovers why Emil was so hot to get her clothes off. He tattooed a map of the jet location on her back.

Much more lightweight and sillier than the previous installment pf "OSS," "The Naked Code" is a big disappointment; it has the vibe of one of those really bad Batgirl back-ups we covered in Detective Comics years ago (and Fred Carrillo's pedestrian art doubles that vibe). So much here is laughable: why wouldn't Emil let the girl know what he was doing rather than let her think he's a skeezy traitor out to get his jollies? And how long did this intricate tattoo take to draw on (I'm going to assume Emil didn't permanently etch the map on the girl) and why couldn't she tell what he was doing? And why does it seem like Hogan's Heroes got it right with these can't-shoot-straight-dopey-lovable Nazis?

Jack: Only four more issues. Only four more issues. Just keep repeating that to yourself. In answer to Peter's question from a prior post, Gus does remember seeing the ghost of Jeb Stuart, so that was a surprise. I wondered as I read "The War That Had to Wait" if Kanigher was thinking of Blitzkrieg when he depicted a German soldier sympathetically in this story. I thought the story was fairly good, despite Glanzman's art. "The Naked Code" has better art but the story is weak and that's some fast-healing tattoo work! I've never had one, but I think they scab over first, right?

Our Army at War 295

"The Devil in Paradise"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Sgt York"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: Easy Co. is sent in to mop up a town after it's been shelled by Allied artillery. After wiping out a group of German snipers on a rooftop, Rock needs some air and walks out of town, finding himself in a bucolic setting. His reverie is soon shattered by "The Devil in Paradise," a German sergeant who marches Rock at gunpoint deeper into the woods for interrogation. Rock turns the tables and soon the two battle until Rock kills his enemy counterpart. He heads back to town, discouraged by the conversion of the lovely woods into a place of death.

Kanigher's tale reminded me of three things. The first was the butterfly ending to All Quiet on the Western Front (watch a clip here), which is recalled when Rock catches a butterfly only to be hit by the butt of a German gun moments later. The second was the scene in The Bridge on the River Kwai when the Japanese commander throws the Geneva Convention book to the ground (clip here); this is recalled when Rock gives his name, rank, and serial number and refers to the Geneva Convention, only to have the German sergeant sneer at it. Finally, the third thing was the former practice in DC War Comics of ending the stories with a badge or banner reading, "Make War No More." If ever a story called out for it, this one does! However, by 1976, the Vietnam War was over and perhaps the DC War Comics editors felt the message was no longer necessary.

Make War No More!
("The Devil in Paradise")

"Sgt. York"
Sergeant Alvin York was a conscientious objector who overcame his objections and became a hero near the end of WWI when he almost single-handedly stopped a German attack and captured 132 enemy soldiers. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I've never seen the Gary Cooper biopic but this story is so amazing it makes me want to watch it. A quick bit of internet research supports Maurer's telling of the tale, which is almost harder to believe than some of the Sgt. Rock stories we've read. York sure overcame his misgivings about war, since later in life he was in favor of dropping the atom bomb on Russia as a first strike!

Peter: Very good Rock drama this issue, with some stellar pencil work by Redondo. It's nice to see Big Bob didn't make the "new kid" the focus and, instead, made it about Rock's fight for survival. The back-up is a badly-illustrated history piece; if I were a kid, I'd have skipped this one.

Our Fighting Forces 168

"A Cold Day to Die"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Death Knocks 5 Times"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: Captured by Nazis, the four Losers are about to be hanged when they notice five nooses. Whose pretty neck is scheduled for the fifth noose? None other than the Losers' old friend, Ona! In the snowy landscape, it may be "A Cold Day to Die," but that doesn't stop cool customer Captain Storm from making a last request to smoke one of the cigarettes from his personal case. As he puffs away, he recalls how the Losers found themselves in this predicament.

Ona's back!
("A Cold Day to Die")
Parachuting into Norway, they were immediately attacked by Nazis on skis, but it didn't take long to wipe out the enemy. Suddenly, who should appear but their contact from the Norwegian Underground: Ona! Driving a sleigh pulled by two reindeer, she comforts Gunner, who was shot in the shoulder during the parachute drop, and snuggles up with him in the sleigh so he doesn't go into shock. The Losers reach their target, which is a Nazi plant where they are conducting heavy water experiments. They sneak in and hide charges to blow the place up but are caught and about to be hanged when Captain Storm pretends to scratch his wooden leg and pushes a button to set off the charges. In the ensuing chaos, the Losers and Ona leap off of a cliff and land safely in a river, where they will float downstream and be picked up by members of the Underground so that they can be flown safely back to England.

Well, that was fun! I had just about given up hope of ever seeing Ona again, but here she is right smack in the middle of the action! I hope she sticks around for the last couple of issues we plan to review. I enjoy Evans's artwork but the cover is even sharper, despite the fact that it hides Ona's identity and does not exactly match up with the gallows scene in the interior story.

Johnny Cloud meets a pilot named Ben, who expires just as he lands his plane. A German fighter plane attacks and Johnny leaps into action, joining Ben's corpse in the cockpit and taking to the skies, guns blazing. Cloud shoots down the enemy plane but is surprised to see another German fighter bearing down on him. This time, the German gets the upper hand and shoots down the plane that Cloud is in; the Navajo Ace parachutes out, only to find the German plane's guns targeting his silk. As if taking vengeance from beyond the grave, Ben's dead hand clutches his plane's stick and it crashes into the second German plane, allowing Cloud to float safely to Earth while wreckage falls all around him.

"Ex-Lieut. Bart Regan" (Bob Kanigher) writes a quick and dirty short story with "Death Knocks 5 Times" that is basically a series of air battles. E.R. Cruz's art is some of the smoothest we're seeing in the 1976 DC War Comics, probably only second to that of Gerry Talaoc over in Star Spangled War Stories.

Peter: The Losers' latest is outlandish but distracting James Bond-esque fun, but Big Bob missed the boat with his rushed explanation of Ona's return. I need more details on where this girl has been (unless he's got something else up his sleeve for the future) and why the boys had no idea she was still alive. The back-up is just goofy; is Kanigher putting a supernatural bent on a Johnny Cloud strip? And what exactly does "You can only kill the dead--once!" mean? I think I'd be easier on this one if RK hadn't used the "dead men can fly" hook so many times before.

Weird War Tales 47

"Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Day After Doomsday"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Paul Kirchner & Tex Blaisdell

"The Warrior"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

Peter: In a future world ravaged by atomic war, a self-appointed "General" discovers that his son has the power to predict how battles will be won by playing with his toy soldiers. The General's right-hand men decide this is a good time to overthrow the tyrant. After the men rearrange the boy's soldiers and the real-life battle goes against him, the General takes the defeat out on his boy, tossing his own little General statue in the fire. Bad decision. "Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers" is a really wild and weird ride, veering off its main road a couple times and emerging a better story for the detours. I've read literally dozens of stories concerning killer toy soldiers but writer Kashdan shares a different angle to the cliche. Ruben Yandoc's art is fantastic; though it's set in the future it almost looks as though it takes place in the past.

"Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers"

"The Warrior"
The two-page "The Day After Doomsday" is just as inane and page-wasting as its predecessors. This one concerns a guy who hears a woman's voice buried under rubble so he digs "her" out only to discover it's a tape recording. He gets so angry he beats the recorder to bits against a wall, which falls on him and buries him. There's a message in this somewhere but all I can draw forth is that batteries in the future last a heck of a long time.

The fade-out, "The Warrior," sees cowardly Eric the Viking (son of Brave Ottar) seeking a backbone and finding it through the shield given to him by wise Holgar, a shield once owned by Thor himself! Well, not really, we come to find out when Eric dies in battle and ol' Holgar lets on that the shield was more of a placebo to give the kid some nerve. I get the skewed message (it's better to die bravely in battle than to be a sissy, I think) but what about this story besides that moral is weird?

Jack: Yandoc's art improves Kashdan's story in "Toy Soldiers" and the depiction of the melting general at the end is great. Who thought "The Day After Doomsday" was a series that should continue? I think it's been going on for five or six years, intermittently. Time to stop! There were no surprises in "The Warrior" but it's a unique tale set in viking times.

Next Week...
Warren is growing up!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 54

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 39
March 1953 Part II

Harry Anderson
 Strange Tales #16

"You Can't Kill Me!" (a: Harry Anderson) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #21)
"The Man in the Mud" (a: Sy Barry) ★1/2
"The Sissy!" (a: Bob Brown) ★1/2
"Suicide!" (a: Louis Zansky) ★1/2
"They Made Me a Ghost" (a: Mike Sekowsky)
(r: Tomb of Darkness #22) 

French Professor Pierre Duval seemingly has everything: his beautiful daughter Suzanne, a huge brain, and a new formula he's devised that allows headless chickens to come back to life. Well, he severs the heads and then sews them back on. I know what you're thinking: what possible reason could a scientist have for creating a serum that allows chickens to be reunited with their noggins? Well, as every mad doctor will tell you, it's for the benefit of mankind. In the words of Dr. Duval, "what I did for this chicken, I can do for human beings as well!"

Into Professor Duval's idyllic existence crawls Suzanne's new beau, a scoundrel by the name of Henri Lebret, a murderer and a thief looking for one more angle. That angle comes in the form of Duval's new play toy. Captured by the police after a robbery-murder, Lebret is sentenced to death by guillotine. See where this is going? Yep, knowing he cannot be sentenced to death twice for the same crime, the knave talks Suzanne into convincing her daddy that Lebret is a perfect test subject. The Professor promises to sew the dead man's head back on to his body and resuscitate him after he's been executed but pulls a rabbit out of his hat, hoping the new Henri Lebret won't be as enticing to Suzanne as the old one. Don't stop to ask silly questions like "How would this guy talk when his vocal chords are now at the top of his head?" Just enjoy it for what it is, a goofy escape. This one looks and feels just like an EC story, complete with an art job by Harry Anderson very reminiscent of "Ghastly" Graham Ingels. I love Anderson's gothic alleyways. Bring me some more of this guy quick!

"The Sissy!"
"The Man in the Mud" is an amusing short-short about an arrogant pick-pocket who gets his comeuppance at just the wrong time. Aunty is turning poor little Stephen into "The Sissy!," denying him the childhood of most pre-teen boys but a chance trip into town (where Stephen stumbles into the local "Black Magic Bookstore!") turns Stephen into the coolest kid on the block. If Anderson is the Atlas nod to Ghastly, Bob Brown wears the Kamen crown. About as generic and plain as it gets. Jenks has had enough of his miserable life but several attempts at suicide have left him alive and kicking. Just as things can't get worse, a lawyer shows up at his dingy apartment to inform Jenks his uncle died and left him a million dollars. Jenks is so elated he trips down the stairs and dies of a broken neck. The delicious irony of "Suicide!" is quite muted by the scratchy graphics of Louis Zansky.

While convict Blackie Droome has resigned himself to an execution by hanging he has a little unfinished business he'd like to take care of in the after-life: he really really really wants to haunt the judge who sentenced him! So when Blackie gets a new cellmate who admits to a fondness for the black arts, the none-too-bright short-timer enlists the man's aid to summon Satan. When the devil appears, he listens to Blackie's story and giggles, informing Blackie that his soul is already bound for hell. But, in the interest of novelty, ol' Scratch agrees to send Blackie, post-hanging, back to Earth for a haunt. As promised, the now-dead dope finds his astral projection in the judge's house but unable to make contact. In fact, the breeze blows Blackie's specter higher and higher until he's alone in outer space. A very clever Stan Lee script that takes the usual "devil's pact" and adds a humorous slant. Sekowsky's art is pleasing to the eye.


Uncanny Tales #6

"He Lurks in the Shadows" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #16)
"The Man Who Changed" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)
"I Was a Vampire" (a: Matt Fox) ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)
"The Stooge" (a: Martin Thall) 
(r: Creatures on the Loose #33)
"The Mark of Death" (a: John Forte) 
(r: Vault of Evil #17)

Mark is a mugger but his girl, Claudia, has expensive tastes so his life of crime goes on. With every mugging, Mark swears it's his last but then Claudia amps up her wants and desires. When Mark pops the question and Claudia decides a honeymoon in Paris is the way to go, our hapless mugger knows he has to hit the big time. After a particularly large haul, Mark vows to never steal again but, as he's walking home, he himself is stabbed and robbed. As he lies dying in the street, Claudia, his assailant cries out that she only wanted to bring Mark nice things! Though the pay-off of "He Lurks in the Shadows" is all but forecast from the get-go, that final panel is delivered (literally) sharply! The splash is unique as well, with Kweskin shunting aside the usual three or four-panel presentation and delivering a large splash where four actions melt into one.

Luther has long resigned himself to being a very ugly man but a chance encounter with Dorothy outside a nightclub gives him home that true love exists. After a whirlwind romance, Dorothy and Luther are married but there's still that nagging doubt at the back of Luther's brain. Why would such a lovely girl marry the Phantom of the Opera?" Back from the honeymoon in Bermuda, Luther decides he's finally going to change his appearance but says nothing to Dorothy about his trip to the plastic surgeon. A few days later, he pops up at the house to show his wife his handsome new face only to discover she's seen a surgeon as well.. and made herself, well, a bit plainer shall we say? The set-up for "The Man Who Changed" has a lot going for it; you're girding yourself for the obvious (Dorothy's actually a witch... Dorothy has a guy on the side and married Luther for his dough... Dorothy is an alien from Mars where men like Luther are handsome... etc.) but then when writer Carl Wessler lowers the boom, we're actually disappointed this couldn't have had a happier ending. "Love conquers all" and all that. But, who's to say this isn't a happy ending, right?

Count Kronin the Vampire has fallen in love with Mara, the most exquisite blonde in Europe, but he's convinced no human bombshell will interested in a guy with wings and fangs. Luckily, he remembers an article he read about Professor Malleck, a scientist perfecting a cure for vampirism (!), and pays the egghead a visit. After some coaxing, the Count downs the formula and heads for the nearest mirror. Eureka! He's cured. Humanity now reclaimed, the Count woos the beauty and the two are wed. On their wedding night, Kronin pops the bubbly and Mara pops his bubble: she doesn't drink... wine. It's a silly story with a cliched climax, yes, but I've got a feeling that's what our uncredited scripter had in mind. There's a delightful panel where Count Kronin sifts through a mountain of clippings back in his crypt to find the article on Malleck. What vampire spends his idle time clipping news items? What scientist feels the need to find a cure for vampirism in a world that doesn't believe in vampires? The best kind of funny book script: funny. Matt Fox's art is, as usual, unique and dynamic; his vampires is evil incarnate... with breasts and a sharp blonde mane.

"The Stooge" is only three pages long and hasn't much of a hook: carnival fat lady nags her husband until he chops her into pieces and the last panel reveals he's got six arms. Martin Thall (aka Martin Rose & Martin Rosnthal), a protege of Wally Wood, had a fabulous style (very much like that of Bill Benulis) and a too short career with Atlas (only four stories placed with the horror titles). His abstract style, especially on the splash, makes one forget the script's shortcomings. Last up is "The Mark of Death," a snoozer about a nephew who's waiting for (what else) his rich aunt to die and leave him all her dough. The old bat is obsessed with palm readers so he decides to become a swami and deliver her such bad news it'll stop her heart. Good try.

 Spellbound #13

"The Dead Men" (a: Fred Kida)
(r: Dracula Lives #2)
"The Death of a Puppet!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #11)
"Let's Face It!" 
(r: Vault of Evil #10)
"The Pitchman!" (a: Bob Brown) 
(r: Vault of Evil #10)
"A Sight for Sore Eyes!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #6)

"Honest" Harry Snide canvasses the local cemetery, copying the names off gravestones, and then uses his information to bribe hoboes to vote for him (under the names of "The Dead Men") for mayor. Once he wins the election, he uses his power to stab his loyal cronies in the backs and isolates himself as the most powerful man in town. One night, he gets a call from the "Graveyard Society," asking him to come out to the town cemetery and "attend their next meeting." Only "Honest" Harry Snide would be dumb enough to accept the invite. A very, very bad story that pushes two or three of the most over-used plot devices to the max on the way to a completely predictable finale.

The Great Zaroso, puppet-master, is thrown into a whirlpool of horror when the violent acts he puts his marionettes through come to life in the streets outside the theater. Who's responsible? Don't ask. Regardless of its inane plot and bewildering climax, "Death of a Puppet" has some strong Jim Mooney visuals. Aging movie idol Roger Brent has spent zillions on fake wrinkle creams, mud packs, and beeswax to turn back the hands of time. Nothing works. Then Roger gets some 411 on an old man who's working on a brand new formula that will turn the old young again. But he's only half-finished with the serum when Roger downs it. "Let's Face It," this is one you can skip.

Herman Hunkle, the world's most gullible man, meets "The Pitchman" on the street, a huckster just dying to meet a mark like Herman. The con takes Hunkle for a fin when he sells him a gen-u-wine 5-carat diamond ring but Herman is so impressed he comes back the following day to dump even more on three "17-jewel" Swiss watches. Not settling for the small con, the pitchman sells Herman the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge for thirteen bucks. The next day, the swindler is laughing it up with the boys at the bar when he's told to head to the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been named Hunkle's Bridge and is charging a fifty-cent toll. I'm not sure what "The Pitchman" is doing in Spellbound rather than Crazy but it's a funny little strip with equally smile-inducing art by Bob Brown. I kept waiting for the inevitable panel where Herman makes the pitchman's intestines into watches or uses his eyeballs for rings but perhaps Stan and the Gang decided a little levity between ghouls and puppet-killers was just the ticket. It was.

Real estate agent/miser Luther Cain is losing his vision and he'd do just about anything for better eyeballs. When Cain visits Caleb and Em Randall's place to foreclose, Caleb tells him about a old doctor deep in the hills who can restore sight to a blind man. Luther promises he'll forgive Caleb's debt if he takes him to the old man (even while his word balloon swears otherwise) and the two men head to the shack. The operation is a success until Luther takes off the bandages and discovers the man's odd technique for restoring vision.

 Suspense #28

"With Intent to Kill!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Two Hands!" (a: Chuck Winter) 
"He Walks With a Ghost" (a: Al Hartley) 
"You've Got to Kill Me!" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Poor Fish!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

Hunk Lucas checks in to his new job: helping an old wheelchair-bound geezer named Spencer Creeze get around his mansion comfortably. It's not long before Hunk's real aim becomes clear, that of relieving Specer of his hidden fortune. Problem is, the old goat isn't coming clean with the info so Hunk has to get tough. Bad idea. Stan revives another of his stale plots but has the sense to assign the dead fish to someone who can illustrate the heck out of it.

"Two Hands!" is a silly short-short about a man who sees the "perfect statue" inside an antique shop window. When he gets inside the store, however, he notices that the figure has no hands. He tells the shop owner that if he can locate the same figure in a complete state he'll give hi ten grand. The guy telephones all the dealers he knows but can't find a statue with hands so he chooses the only option open to him: he chops of his own hands. No, really!

Even though they're partners in crime, Joe treats Al like a dog. Al's got the brains but Joe's the tough guy. One night, after a job, Al steps out in front of a car and ends up a ghost. Putting his new lot in life to a good purpose, he haunts Joe until the big goon is killed by a falling hunk of concrete. Joe then becomes part of the spirit world and goes back to picking on Al. Promised he'll die a painful death thanks to a rare disease, Ed Hurley hires a hitman to off him in a quick, painless fashion. Just as the hour is approaching, Ed's doctor calls to confess there's been a screw-up down at the lab and Ed isn't dying after all! The hitman shows up and Ed tries to talk him out of his job but the tough isn't buying it, giving Ed only a few hours to get ahold of his doctor to confirm his story. The hour of doom arrives, the hitman murders Ed and then answers the ringing phone. It's Ed's doctor, calling to confirm the error, explaining that Ed's files were mixed up with those of one John Barton. In shock, the hitman, John Barton, slams the phone in its cradle. "You've Got to Kill Me!" isn't just saddled with a preposterous climx, it's also got a plot that had already been used several times in movies and
novels. Still, it's a fun read with some nice visuals (in particular, Ed's last hours are filled with sweat and grimaces).

Sadistic Ronald liked nothing more than to catch fish and watch them suffocate on land. Not a good dude. The game warden catches Ronald in the act and threatens to cart him off to the big house but Ronald chokes the life out of the lawman and buries him in the woods. Then Ronnie heads home to torture his goldfish but, while getting his rocks off, the goofball is thrown across the room by a terrible explosion. Picking himself up and heading out his shack's front door, Ronald is bewildered to see that a spaceship has crashed in his yard. The aliens, identifying themselves as Martians, explain that they're here on Earth to capture specimens of human life to study back on their planet. Unfortunately, the goofy ETs hadn't reckoned on the fact that Earthfolk need air and Ronald suffocates... just like on of his fish. Oh, the irony! "The Poor Fish!" is a fabulously-illustrated hunk of nothing, the type of fiction starring a uber-sadistic animal torturer that popped up in pre-code horror funny books just about monthly (and that includes in the ECs as well for those of you who thought the Gold Standard of Comic Books held its head higher than that). Ronald looks just like Bluto, which makes me wonder why Bill Everett never illustrated Popeye -- a natural if there ever was one.

 Mystery Tales #9

"The Specimen!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #18)
"Hunger" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #22)
"Ashes to Ashes!" (a: Al Eadeh) 1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #21)
"The Man in the Morgue" (a: Vic Dowling) 
(r: Vault of Evil #23)
"Lost!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 
(r: Vault of Evil #22)

Ichthyologist Carl Melton gets the surprise of his life one day when he answers the buzzer at his door. A gorgeous fellow Ichthy, Miriam, gifts the professor with a new species of fish found in deep water, never before seen by mankind. Overcome by Miriam's beauty and the rarity of his new prize, Carl begs Miriam to stay on as his assistant at his aquarium. Melton becomes frustrated that the creatures hide in a cave within the tank but Miriam assures him that they'll come out sooner or later. Then one night, Carl slips into the aquarium and beholds an eerie scene: the fish have finally ventured out of their hiding spot and reveal themselves to be half-man, half-fish. The professor gets a second shock when he spies Miriam leaning into the tank, seemingly communicating with the monsters. The woman reveals that she's a survivor of Atlantis (complete with a set of gills!); the specimens are her fellow Atlanteans, who have been brought to the surface world to study humans.

Miriam explains that she and her pals have to go but Carl, realizing he's got the discovery of a century right here in his home, convinces Miriam he's in love with her (He clutched her to him... and disguised his nausea at the fish-like odor she exuded...) and she must stay. Seeing the couple embrace, the fish-men become enraged and break out of their tank, chasing Miriam and Carl to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. As the couple fall into the sea, the blonde fish-girl explains to Carl she's taking him back to Atlantis to study; he's "The Specimen!" A wacky and thoroughly enjoyable fable with drop-dead graphics by Maneely. Carl Melton's character runs the gamut from obsessed scientist to romantic to scoundrel to selfish bastard all in a six-page span.

Hendler and Hoffman together form one of the most successful meat packing partnerships in the entire Atlas universe but Hoffman has had enough of Hendler selling their meat under the table and pocketing the profits for himself. Hendler leaves in a huff but swears he'll get his revenge so, that night, the hothead returns to the store front and poisons an entire locker full of sausages. Later, after reveling in his glory, he suddenly wonders if he's left behind some evidence that can be used against him and returns to the scene of his crime. The dope accidentally locks himself into the locker and, ironically, dies of "Hunger"... tons of meat within his grasp. After Hoffman discovers the body, he wonders aloud why Hendler didn't simply eat the meat in the locker. It was, after all, a fresh batch he'd just put in for storage. The final contribution (of seven) to the Atlas horror pre-codes by the tag-team of Ben Brown and David Gantz (Brown would go solo and head over to Toby and Morse to pencil even more horror stories), "Hunger" is too quick to establish anything more than a rudimentary explanation for the dissolution of the partnership and a bit too outlandish in its finale (it boggles the mind that Hensler was in the locker so long that he died of starvation before hypothermia!) to satisfy.

But the climax of "hunger" is nothing compared to the ludicrosity found in the final panels of "Ashes to Ashes!" Stop me if you've heard this before ("I can name that plot in two words..."): Helen has been waiting on her rich dying uncle (who made his millions off making maps), changing his bed sheets, cooking his porridge, etc. but the old buzzard just won't die so Helen and her dopey hubby, George, decide to accelerate the process. Helen tells George to go into town and bribe her Uncle's lawyer to find out how much they're getting when the old goat croaks; meanwhile she'll poison Uncle. But the nasty old coot has overheard the two conspirators and he assures Helen she and George will get nothing. Helen flips and burns the house to the ground, with Uncle still in bed. George pulls up and explains to Helen they're inheriting everything but the old nut never trusted banks so buried his fortune on a deserted island (!). The kicker is he had the map tattooed on his back! Hilariously dark comedy with a rare climax where the guilty parties go free (well, they're broke... but they're not in jail) and some startling work by Al Eadah. Old Uncle Scrooge resembles a vampire in a couple panels.

Neither "The Man in the Morgue" nor "Lost!" merit discussion. The former concerns a hood who never has good luck (and climaxes with another eye=rolling twist) while the latter chronicles a hood who hides his loot in a haunted cave.

Mystic #18

"In Old Bagdad" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
"The Drowning Man" (a: Vic Carrabotta)  
"Tom-Tom!" (a: Al Eadeh)  
"Charley's Crime" (a: Jack Abel)  
"The Russian Devil" (a: Tony DiPreta) 

Niema may be a slave girl but she's ambitious. The gorgeous gal manages to kill and cavort her way right up to the top man himself: the Sultan of Bagdad! Just when she thinks she's on top of the world, Niema's new hubby dies and we all know what happens to the widow of a Sultan. Yep, fed alive to the lions! Most of the time I prattle on about how Stan and Co. find "inspiration" from EC but from "In Old Bagdad," I get a Harvey vibe. It's got that free-wheelie' fractured fable structure and some dynamite Woromay visuals.

"The Drowning Man" is a mercifully short tale of a thief washed overboard in the middle of the ocean who finds a raft to hold on to, only to discover it's actually a whale. Offensively ugly artwork from Carrabotta. A sadistic plantation owner (one of many in the Atlas Universe) gets his comeuppance when the natives skin him and use his hide for a drum. After reading "Ashes to Ashes!" and now "Tom-Tom!," I'm convinced Al Eadah believes fangs on a character is perfectly natural. Charley has the perfect heist plan but, as all Atlas plans go, the unexpected happens. A guard interrupts the blowing of the vault and Charley ventilates the guy. His partners get cold feet and exit pronto. The cops are waiting outside and Charley is gunned down in a hail of bullets. But that doesn't stop Charley and, later that night, his ghost finishes the job. Unfortunately, the bank guard's ghost arrives to spoil the day. "Charley's Crime"is an immensely silly fantasy that anticipates the post-code era when most Atlas/Marvel horror stories will be tame and insipid.

Some rare Atlas cheesecake courtesy
Larry Woromay

Ivan Petroff, "The Russian Devil," is the most sadistic man on Earth. Happily, for Ivan, he's assigned to a Russian prison camp, where he's allowed free rein to stack bodies like cords of wood. When Petroff suffers a massive heart attack, he tells his doctor on his death-bed that he welcomes the peace after a lifetime of ethnic cleansing. Alas, Petroff's rest doesn't last long as Death pulls the Russian Devil from his grave to become his right-hand man. Despite the red-baiting cliches, this is an entertaining story with a genuinely effective twist (Petroff isn't so much punished for his life of atrocity as he is annoyed). Tony DiPreta once again proves to me that he is an unheralded master of the pre-code horror art.

In Two Weeks!
At Last...
The Long-Awaited Return of
Gentleman Gene Colan!