Saturday, May 30, 2020

bare•bones #2 is now shipping!

bare•bones is back IN PRINT — and better than ever!

Inside our second big issue, you will find:
    • Paul M. Riordan’s long-lost bare•bones interview with Richard Matheson on his Westerns
    • Matthew R. Bradley’s detailed look at Richard Matheson’s “Fort College” stories
    • Gilbert Colon on “Book One” of Lin Carter’s “People of the Dragon” saga
    • Richard Krauss digs into crime digests
    • writer/director S. Craig Zahler on The Spider
    • the latest installment of David J. Schow’s R&D column
    • The Sharpshooter
    • Shock Mystery Tales
    • Soy Leyenda: the Spanish adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend
    • Sleaze paperbacks of the 60s and 70s
    • DC Comics’ Captain Action comic series

    Order your copy today!

    Monday, May 25, 2020

    The Warren Report Issue 34: February/March 1972

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

    Ken Kelly
    Eerie #38 (February 1972)

    "Stake in the Game"
    Story by Doug Moench
    Art by Jose Gual

    "The Carrier of the Serpent"
    Story by T. Casey Brennan
    Art by Jerry Grandenetti

    "A Stranger in Hell"★1/2
    Story by T. Casey Brennan
    Art by Esteban Maroto

    "The Night the Snow Spilled Blood!"
    Story by Don McGregor
    Art by Tom Sutton

    Photographer John Edwards has the rather odd assignment of doing a study in pictures of the blood bank manned by Drs. Sarno and Hauser. Rumors of missing blood turn out to be due to the fact that Hauser is a lazy vampire who likes to chug from a bottle of plasma when Sarno heads to the cafeteria for his nocturnal coffee break. After photographing his model/girlfriend Pam the next day, Edwards makes a startling discovery: Dr. Hauser does not show up in the photo he develops! The photographer puts two and two together and deduces that the doctor is a vampire; he then comes up with a nutty plan to pour some silver nitrate into a bottle of plasma and kill the bloodsucker by tricking him into drinking the fatal and precious metal.

    Jose Gual must not have read the script carefully,
    because that hair is nowhere near that bosom.
    Back at the blood bank, Sarno observes Edwards pouring the silver nitrate into the bottle and realizes what's going on so, being a nasty vampire, he hotfoots it over to Pam's apartment and puts the bite on the beautiful blonde, who is surprised to realize that she enjoys the experience. Edwards is soon awakened by a telephone call telling him that Pam is at the hospital undergoing a blood transfusion. He races to her side but--wouldn't you know it?--they happened to infuse the bottle of plasma mixed with silver nitrate, killing the patient.

    The final battle recalls a similar scene in Horror of Dracula.
    Edwards goes to Hauser's home, hoping to stake the vampire, but finds him gone, so the photographer decides to wait at home, armed with a stake, garlic, a cross, etc. Sarno eventually shows up and a battle is waged, with Edwards snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by means of a hastily-made stake through the heart. Later, when the authorities don't believe his story, Edwards visits Sarno at the blood bank to tell him about Hauser, only to learn that Sarno is a vampire, too!

    "Stake in the Game" is one of the longest stories we've read so far in the Warren mags. At 21 pages, it rivals some of Vampirella's recent epic adventures. Unfortunately, Doug Moench's script, while reasonably entertaining and a fairly breezy read, drags every last vampire cliche out into the daylight and doesn't do very much new with any of them. Jose Gual's artwork matches Moench's storytelling: it's good enough to avoid mockery but not good enough to be remarkable. The story has the odd distinction of being split in two parts; the first ten pages lead off the issue and the last eleven pages finish it. I was wavering between two and two and a half stars until the epilogue, which caused a half star to be deducted due to the completely unnecessary revelation that the other doctor was also a vampire.

    Clad only in a loincloth, a musclebound gent by the name of Thogar sets off along the road called Agarra-Zin to visit his beloved in the land of Ra-Noon. After Thogar is beaten and left for dead, he is nearly eaten by a huge serpent. When the snake sees that Thogar is alive, he proposes a deal: if Thogar becomes "The Carrier of the Serpent" all the way to Ra-Noon, the serpent will scare off any more bad guys. Thogar accepts and soon discovers the seeming wisdom of the snake's plan. However, Thogar begins to be troubled by some of the acts the snake encourages him to carry out: he kills a gentle beast for food and robs and kills a kindly old man.

    Thogar sees his own reflection in a pool of water and notices a change in his appearance. As he and the serpent approach Ra-Noon, all whom they meet flee at the sight of them. Thogar parts company with the snake and enters the home of his beloved, but she is repelled by the sight of him and he attacks her. Rejoining the snake, Thogar learns that "he who carries a serpent becomes a serpent."

    T. Casey Brennan's morality play did not look promising at first, what with the hyphenated names and the preachy tone. I was also not expecting to like Grandenetti's art, especially based on the murky early pages. But, against my better judgment, I somewhat enjoyed this story, which tells of the dangers of compromising one's principles for expediency. As with the Moench story that precedes it, there's nothing particularly spectacular or surprising, but it is a decent read and Grandenetti's unusual page designs can be eye-catching.

    "A Stranger in Hell"
    A man throws himself in front of a speeding train but does not die. A mysterious, beautiful, scantily-clad woman appears and offers to give him death if he accompanies her. Claiming she is the messenger of death, she points him to the sewers but, though he descends among the hungry rats, he still fails to expire. On they proceed until he meets Death himself, whose son Thanatos attacks the man with a hatchet, yet he lives on. Death explains to the man that he is "A Stranger in Hell," doomed to live on endlessly for the amusement of Death.

    I really have no idea what the heck T. Casey Brennan was getting at here, but Esteban Maroto sure can draw. In my little logbook, I rated this story one star for the writing and four for the art. Maroto's depictions of Death and his minions are stunning. Too bad the prose gets in the way.

    It's Christmas Eve 1976 and the carolers are on the city streets, but Anthony Crane's mission to kill Wendell Bourque is not dimmed by the spirit of the season. Crane goes to Bourque's apartment and murders the man, who was his wife's lover, but the act gives him no peace; as soon as Crane walks outside, he begins to find himself covered in a familiar red liquid. On "The Night the Snow Spilled Blood!" it is Wendell Crane who suffers the torment of the damned.

    "The Night the Snow Spilled Blood!"
    Blood everywhere! Like a modern-day "Tell-Tale Heart," Crane is tormented by the sight of blood wherever he goes. Meanwhile, his wife Claire discovers the corpse of her lover and calls the cops, who respond to the scene. They bring Claire home and, when Wendell arrives, he opens fire on the police and they return a hail of bullets. A chase ensues and Crane is captured, only to sit in the back of the police car and hear a report on the radio that the attempt to manufacture snow for the holiday went horribly wrong and resulted in a bloody snowfall.

    Well, this was a preachy issue of Eerie, wasn't it? Don McGregor follows Doug Moench and T. Casey Brennan with a tale that has bits and pieces of Eisner and Poe, all mixed up with a heaping helping of late-Vietnam War angst and cynicism. Tom Sutton has been absent too often in the pages of Warren lately, so it's great to see him back again and, at twelve-page length, there's plenty of fine, black-heavy art to enjoy. I wasn't that impressed by the tale until the ending, which took me by surprise. Bloody snow falling from the heavens explains why Crane saw everything covered in the red stuff, but it hardly explains why the carolers resemble ghouls!-Jack

    Peter-Doug Moench abandons politics and racism for vampires and... Doug probably should have stuck to the other stuff. My first thought after finishing "Stake in the Game" is who thought it was a good idea to hand over 21 pages to a bad vampire script? Comparisons to The Night Stalker would seem obvious but, to be fair, the movie wasn't aired until just after this issue hit the stands, so it's just coincidence. "The Carrier of the Serpent" is another weak sword and sorcery tale; never mind it's written by my least favorite Warren scribe. Brennan tries to throw in a deep proverb at the end ("He who carries a serpent becomes a serpent"--very deep), but this is just fantasy trash indistinguishable from the stuff Gardner Fox keeps pumping out. "Serpent" is not among Jerry Grandenetti's best work, but there are flashes of Good Jerry here and there (like when he uses the snake to border the action).

    I didn't hate "A Stranger in Hell"; in fact, I spotted glimpses of good writing buried under the usual pomposity of TCB's sermonizing. The moral, that Death is the greatest gift to man, actually makes some sense once you sit down, after rolling a few fat ones, and get lit. Easily, Brennan's most successful script yet but, yep, that's a sideways compliment. Then there's Maroto, who floors me every time he puts pencil to paper. Yes, a lot of Esteban's work has that posed look to it (the whole "gorgeous babe reclining with her ass in the air while looking over her shoulder" thing that Warren excelled at in the '70s), but it's so visually stunning. "How does he come up with this stuff?" I says to myself. It's a perfect warm-up for what Maroto is about to do next issue with a certain warrior named Dax.

    Overlong and over-written, "The Night the Snow Spilled Blood!" still wins best of issue thanks entirely to the skills of Tom Sutton (who's actually only warming up to what I consider the apex next issue). The story is a meandering, bloated mess with McGregor's usual eco-friendly dialogue and convoluted events. The discussion between the two detectives in the car is equal parts pretentious and ludicrous, with the cops transforming the Charlie Brown Christmas Special into Freud ("It's the atmosphere. The small, vulnerable voice in the huge amphitheatre.") in one frame and then stumbling over the word "symbolic" in the next. But Sutton's stark, at times almost noir, visual style elevates Crane's madness from silly to disturbing.

    Vincente Segrelles
    Creepy #44 (March 1972)

    "With Silver Bells, Cockle Shells And..." 
    Story by F. Paul Wilson
    Art by Irv Docktor

    "Something to Remember Me By!!" ★1/2
    Story and Art by Tom Sutton

    "A Certain Innocence" 
    Story by Steve Skeates
    Art by Nebot

    "The Last Days of Hans Bruder" 
    Story by T. Casey Brennan
    Art by Frank Bolle

    "Like a Phone Booth, Long and Narrow" 
    Story by Jan Strnad
    Art by Jose Bea

    "The Ultimate High!" 
    Story by Steve Skeates
    Art by Martin Salvador

    "Dorian Gray: 2001" ★1/2
    Story by Al Hewetson
    Art by Bill Barry

    Story by Kevin Pagan
    Art by Mike Ploog

    "With Silver Bells, Cockle Shells And..."
    Creepy #44 sees a raise in the rent by fifteen cents but we get eight more pages for that extra coin. Even better, we seem to have received better content. Creepy's sister pubs will follow suit (in size, if not in quality) soon.

    Ex-con Bill Carey is looking for the next big score, but the heat is on in the form of cop Kevin Mathis, who's itching to put Carey back in stir. Seems Carey got a very light sentence on a murder rap and that didn't sit well with the detective. Carey stumbles into a bar and meets Professor Storch, an old man who can't hold his liquor and who catches Carey's attention with his boasts of grandeur.

    "With Silver Bells, Cockle Shells And"
    Carey invites the old man to his house, but when the Prof. won't show him the green, the bad guy belts him with a bottle, accidentally killing him. Carey turns out the old man's pockets but all he finds is a packet of seeds. He buries Storch in the back yard with his seeds and hits the sack. The next morning, Detective Mathis shows up at the door, explaining that Storch is missing and was last seen in the bar with Carey. Seems the Professor was a botanist working on "a new seed that copies the genetic code from the wastes of other plants." Plant the seed with an old corn husk and up pops corn. Carey insists that he never met Storch and the cop can look around as much as he likes. Meanwhile, in the garden, Storch-head plants are popping up everywhere.

    "Something to Remember Me By!!"
    Definitely a case of style over substance, "With Silver Bells, Cockle Shells And..." doesn't have much of a story and too much of it is contrived (how quickly that cop shows up at Carey's door the next morning!), but Irv Doktor's art (delivered, according to the letters page, in "black and white oils") is stark and almost unsettling. That final panel, in different hands (let's say, Jack Sparling, for instance), would elicit guffaws rather than gooseflesh. This was F. Paul Wilson's second and final Warren contribution and, to me, it has the feel of a good episode of Night Gallery.

    Paul Hardwick, eldest of the cursed Hardwick clan, is absolutely certain his wife Helene means to dispatch him with black magic. Several of his ancestors died strange deaths (burned alive, chopped into tiny pieces, eaten away in minutes by plague, all in front of a live audience), and he's paranoid Helene has consulted some of his occult tomes for a recipe. Helene has taken a lover and she's well aware of Paul's fears, so she goads him, telling him she's taken a lock of hair and placed it in his mother's antique locket for safe keeping.

    "Something to Remember Me By!!"
    One night, while traipsing through the family cemetery, Paul stumbles across a gravestone, etched with his name and that day's date. Two ghosts surround him, beckoning him to join them, and he keels over, dead of a heart attack. Helene and her beau, Clint, doff their costumes, bury Paul in his new home, and celebrate their new wealth. While drinking it up, Clint peruses the black magic book Helene took her instructions from and notes that the lock of hair must be buried with the dead or "the victim will return to recover it." A loud bang and shadow at the door turn out to be a tree branch in the wind but it successfully unnerves Helene and she talks Clint into going with her to bury the locket with Paul.

    They open the coffin to find the rotting corpse reaching out to them and don't notice when lightning strikes Paul's tombstone. The marker crushes both of them and all three die happily ever after. There are inconsistencies and silliness to be sure (it's noted that Paul's doomed ancestors had "pieces" such as fingernails or a scrap of skin missing from their dead bodies even though they were burned, chopped, and rotten--tough to find evidence of that even with the high level of CSI they had in the 18th century!) but this is a Tom Sutton love fest for me. There were times when it seemed like Sutton was involved in the scripts he was given to illustrate and... times when he wasn't. "Something to Remember Me By!!" is clearly in the "involved" category. All the supporting props (the gnarled trees, the graveyard, the house which seems to have been built on the side of a crooked hill, etc.) are atmospheric and chilling; Paul's desiccated corpse (which somehow rotted down to the bone in a matter of hours!), with its upthrust hand, is a Sutton masterpiece. I'm not sure why Warren didn't just reproduce the panel rather than pay Segrelles to trace it.

    "A Certain Innocence"
    A rock band, The Screaming Turkeys, "hides" a "secret message" on their album cover (visible only under a black light) that triggers a transformation in sexually active teenagers, turning them into giant, tusked beasts who seek out and kill other sexually active teenagers. The "secret message" becomes the new rage. Steve Skeates, doubtlessly searching for a good idea one day at the Warren offices, looks over at T. Casey Brennan's desk and sees his 1971 Warren Bowling Trophy for whatever gawdawful story he wrote that year and figures, "Hey, I can write a story just as muddled!," and then does so.

    There's so much wrong with "A Certain Innocence." First, the script seems... a bit sketchy and meandering. Skeates wants to satirize the music industry with his phony band names (The Automatic Snails, The Dog-Eared Pigeons, etc.) and his vast knowledge of music trivia (such as the "Paul is Dead" fad, here credited by Skeates to the Beatles themselves), but comes off more like a seventy-year-old man who knows nothing about the music biz other than what Paul Harvey had to say that morning. The climax makes no sense whatsoever, but then neither do the preceding incidents. Nebot again proves he's at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the new wave of Spaniards arriving on the shores of Warren Publishing, mixing elements of innocuous GGA and Frallarico-inspired tusk-monsters and concocting a visual wasteland that perfectly meshes with the lame script.

    "The Last Days of Hans Bruder"
    Dr. Hans Bruder refuses, on a moral basis, to test his anti-cancer vaccine on convicts. He doesn't believe humans should be used as guinea pigs. In a rage, he injects himself with the serum and crashes through a window, disappearing. The police are notified, the radio issues very detailed reports (laughably so, in fact), but only fellow research scientist (and busty babe) Karen locates Hans lying in a park nearby. Karen calls an ambulance, but Hans feels the need to unload his story on her.

    It seems that, back in World War II, Hans Bruder was a German doctor stationed at Buchenwald concentration camp, and he witnessed atrocities committed by fellow medics. Trying hard to stay the course, Hans managed to help his patients rather than perform sadistic experiments. One night, Hans was ordered by guards to give a young girl a complete physical before she becomes the commandant's "play thing."

    "The Last Days of Hans Bruder"
    Hans enters the room to discover the girl is none other than his sweetheart, Sonya, who joined the underground and was caught by the Ratzis. She only joined the freedom fighters "to build a better world, a world with peace and hope" for her and Hans. Knowing that his love will be used by the commandant and his men and then tortured, Hans stabs Sonya to death and is thrown in with the other prisoners to rot. When the Allies liberate Buchenwald, Hans is rescued with the others and reboots his life. Story done, Hans dies peacefully and Karen muses that Hans and Sonya "dreamed of a world of peace. Where they could find the love that was denied them. Perhaps he's found that world at last."

    "The Last Days of Hans Bruder"
    Ethereal worlds and abstract gods behind him, T. Casey Brennan turns his golden Smith-Corona toward inner peace and self-forgiveness in a world so full of evil. Unlike "On the Wings of a Bird" and "Escape From Nowhere World," "The Last Days of Hans Bruder" (I want to type Hans Gruber!) at least kept my eyes open for its entire soap-opera-filled, eight-page length. Make no mistake, this one is monumentally bad, but at least I didn't roll my eyes (well, at least not more than three or four times) or stick my swizzle stick down my throat. "Hans Bruder" is entertaining in the same way Othello performed by fourth-graders would be; it's amazing just how cheesy this thing is. From the start, I'm a bit confused. We open with Hans mid-tantrum, swearing that, by all that is holy, experimenting on cons goes against all he stands for, but the context here is that he's been doing it for a while. Why the sudden upswing in moral values? When he injects himself, he makes a very dramatic exit, but then he goes and hangs out at the park. Why the theatrics?

    Then there's the generic Sunday-strip art of Frank Bolle, with very little dynamic or thought to choreography. The action just lies there dead in each panel. All of Bolle's faces look exactly the same; he's Warren's answer to Jack Kamen! That final page is the pits; I'd even take the Frallarico twins over this boring, milquetoast crap. Even in the WTF? world of Warren Publishing, I don't see T. Casey Brennan winning any awards for this.

    "Like a Phone Booth, Long and Narrow"
    Harry's wife Delores was a worrier, but she had reason to be. Catalepsy runs in the family and she's not feeling well. Delores makes Harry promise he'll have the mortician install a landline into her coffin and, if she needs anything, she'll call Harry. Inevitably, Delores passes and Harry follows her wishes to a T. Problem is, Harry's an alcoholic. After tying one more on down at Morgan's, the newly widowed drunkard passes out on his bed and can't quite make it to the phone when it rings.

    A stunner, "Like a Phone Booth, Long and Narrow" is, as I recall, the first time I became aware of the power of Jose Bea. It was his first appearance outside Vampirella (a title I did not purchase at the time, since horror stories about girls were yeccchhhy) and, even at the age of ten, I thought this art was scary. You could say there might have been more elegant or clean pencillers around the Warren building (Wood, Crandall, and Gonzalez come to mind), but scary? Nope. Tom Sutton and Pat Boyette had unnerving styles, but they showed you all the horrors; Bea hinted at what might be terrifying in all those long, dark hallways and still creeped you out. For a designer to have that effect on a pre-teen, without showing the boogeyman, is quite an achievement.

    "Like a Phone Booth, Long and Narrow"
    Then you've got the script which, admittedly, borrows elements from Poe, by Jan Strnad (in his Warren debut). Sentimental, not maudlin; I feel as though Harry really does miss his wife. There's no hidden agenda, no life insurance policy, no secret lover. Just a couple of losers shambling through life. Harry's dialogues with Morgan the bartender and Delores sound real rather than forced or pretentious and the finale, despite the spoiler from Uncle Creepy, is unnervingly foggy. Is it really Delores at the end of the line? Strnad won't be around here much (he drops a few more scripts in the next couple months and then pops back in for a brief stay with Richard Corben in the Dark Ages II era), but he definitely leaves his mark.

    John, an entitled young American, hears through well-placed sources that a group of priests living in a Tibetan monastery have perfected a drug that grants the user "The Ultimate High!" When he confronts their leader, the priest tells him that the drug is free but comes with a high price--the user will "waste his whole life upon it." Undeterred by the warning, John swallows the liquid and, indeed, receives the best trip he's ever taken. Coming down, he finds himself transformed into an old man, having literally wasted his life away on the drug. Steve Skeates finally comes up with a winner, a cautionary drug tale that actually avoids the preachy messages and concentrates on delivering an effective twist ending. John's only crime is arrogance, believing it's his right to have a good time, no matter what the cost. We're all guilty of that at one time or another.

    "The Ultimate High!"
    "The Ultimate High!" sees the debut of artist Martin Salvador, another of the Spaniards who sailed in and saved Jim Warren's ass in the early 1970s. Salvador's work can be flat and lack style and imagination at times but, for the most part, he gets his message across just fine; he sits comfortably between the ultimate high of a Bea and the dreaded low of a Nebot.

    The final two stories this issue return us to mediocrity. "Dorian Gray: 2001" is a "futuristic" (funny just how far the writers of 1972 thought we'd get in just thirty years!) bit of nonsense about a vampire who's discovered the perfect subterfuge, living the life of a playboy zillionaire while draining the city dry. The script, by Al Hewteson, resembles one of those patchwork everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stories Skywald is famous for. Of course, it's no coincidence that Al Hewetson was already, at this time, Skywald's number one scribe. "Dorian Gray: 2001" was Bill Barry's sole contribution to Warren; no loss there, as Barry's style is bland and his characters look cookie-cutter, with odd angles to their heads and bodies. If I didn't see a credit on this, I'd have been sure it was Ernie Colon. "Sleep" is equally dismal, save Mike Ploog's drippy and atmospheric art. Two thieves discover the perfect tool for robbing rich mansions. When lighting fire to a finger on a dismembered hand, a spell puts the occupants into a deep sleep. It works really well until they get to a house owned by... (surprise!) vampires! The script, the first in a couple years by Kevin Pagan, is a mish-mash of "The Body Snatchers" and Lovecraft, with a climax everyone saw coming. With half the stories in Creepy #44 receiving three stars or higher, this is the best Warren publication in at least half a decade!-Peter

    "Like a Phone Booth..."
    Jack-I'm glad you liked it, Peter, but I thought it was nothing special, not as good as the issue of Eerie we read this time out and not even close to a typical issue of Vampirella. I liked Sutton's work in "Something to Remember Me By!!" and I really enjoyed Ploog's art in "Sleep," but the rest of the stories seemed mediocre at best. I think Irv Docktor's art on "With Silver Bells" is barely competent and the story is a tired twist on Little Shop of Horrors. I don't mind Frank Bolle's art, so I did not dislike "Hans Bruder" but, again, it was nothing special. "Like a Phone Booth" seemed derivative, pulling heavily from "The Premature Burial" and perhaps from "Long Distance Call" on The Twilight Zone, and I was disappointed in Bea's work and think we've seen better from him elsewhere.

    I don't get your enthusiasm for "The Ultimate High," which seems to me to be just another trippy, early '70s misfire. Tied for worst are "A Certain Innocence," which continues the string of weak stories by Skeates, and "Dorian Gray: 2001," which at least has a decent last page, however random it seems in the context of the rest of the tale. Sutton and Ploog plus a heck of a cover make the issue passable but no more. By the way, there's a story by David Michelinie on the Creepy Fan Page.

    Next Week!
    The return of everyone's
    favorite lunatic!

    From Creepy #44

    From Eerie #38

    Thursday, May 21, 2020

    The Hitchcock Project-Morton Fine and David Friedkin Part Four: Thou Still Unravished Bride [10.22]

    by Jack Seabrook

    In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," John Keats wrote: "Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness..." The Romantic poem tells of figures on an ancient urn, including a woman who is being chased, always running but never caught. For their fourth teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Morton Fine and David Friedkin adapted a short story by Avram Davidson titled "Thou Still Unravished Bride," which had been published in the October 1958 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

    While the story is well written and ends with, in the words of Richard Lupoff, "at least two startling twists," the televised version is not entirely successful, mainly due to the authors' decision to add a serial killer to the mix and to pad the short story to fit the show's running time.

    Sally Kellerman as Sally Benner
    Davidson's story begins as Sally Benner, age 30, awakens on the morning of her wedding and joins her parents for breakfast. Her parents bicker good-naturedly as they discuss her fiancee, Bob Mantin and, by 10 a.m., Sally is dressed and announces her plan to go out to pick up a few things from the store. Leaving her family at home to continue wedding preparations, Sally walks off and runs into her fiancee, awkwardly exchanging pleasantries.

    When Sally has not returned by noon, her family begins to look for her. By 2:30 p.m., they call the police. The wedding is called off and Detectives Bonn and Steinberg investigate, but no one has seen Sally since she stopped in the drugstore just after 10 a.m. The area is searched but no one can explain the disappearance. The next day, someone suggests dragging the river for her body. Sally's mother and her friends appeal on television for information and begin to receive letters and phone calls from people who claim to have seen her. The detectives check the bars and are intrigued when a man named Oscar Portlin suggests dragging the river. They realize that he was at the Benners' house the day before and made the same suggestion.

    Ron Randell as Tommy Bonn
    Pretending to be reporters, the detectives take Portlin to the river's edge and he suggests that the woman could have accidentally fallen in the water. He admits to a previous incident where he was accused of statutory rape and they reveal that they are police detectives. Mrs. Benner is interviewed by a reporter and reveals Sally's love of poetry, especially that of Keats, with a favorite quotation being "Thou still unravished bride of quietness..."

    Meanwhile, Bonn and Steinberg continue to question Portlin, who admits to having been charged with rape in the past. They press him to admit what happened to Sally and he agrees that she fell and hit her head. When he saw she was dead, he threw her in the river. The detectives resolve to drag the river and Bonn drives to the Benner house to break the news. He is shocked to find that Sally has returned! Uncertain about her impending wedding, she took a bus to the station and a train to Chicago, where she saw the story about herself being missing. She took the train back home and is ashamed to have caused four days of distress.

    David Carradine as Edward Clarke
    Bonn calls Steinberg to tell him to call off dragging the river, only to learn that a different girl's body has been found.

    Avram Davidson (1923-1993) was born in Yonkers, New York, and served in the Navy in World War Two in the Far East. He went on to fight in the Israeli Army in the 1948 War of Independence. His first short story was published circa 1947 and, from 1954 until his death, he wrote over 200 short stories and at least 15 novels. He was prolific in science fiction and detective fiction and ghost-wrote two novels featuring Ellery Queen. He won a Hugo Award in 1958, an Edgar Award in 1962, and World Fantasy Awards in 1976 and 1979. He also edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1962 to 1964. There is a website about him here.

    Michael Pate as Stephen Leslie
    Morton Fine and David Friedkin wrote and produced the television adaptation of Davidson's story, which was directed by Friedkin and which premiered on NBC on Monday, March 22, 1965. From the first shot of the episode, it is apparent that the writers decided to make significant changes to the short story, though these alterations do not improve upon the original. A title card superimposed over a shot of the Thames River establishes the location as "London," and there is a dissolve to a street scene, where police surround the body of a woman lying in the street. Detective Thomas Bonn unties a silk stocking from around her neck and his fellow detective, Stephen Leslie, comments on the grim nature of Bonn's welcome back from a holiday spent in New York.

    Kent Smith as Mr. Benner
    Leslie remarks that this is the fourth woman of about age 30 to be strangled with a silk stocking; all of the murders occurred while Bonn was away. A young man, who will later be identified as Edward Clarke, tries to get a closer look at the body but is prevented by a policeman. Out of nowhere, Leslie wishes Bonn a happy wedding day, and we learn that Tommy met his fiance on board ship, presumably during the voyage from New York to London; she and her family were traveling to Europe to see the sights. He describes her as lovely inside and out and remarks that she is a lover of Romantic poetry.

    Their wedding must occur today because her parents "'are sailing tomorrow to continue the cruise.'" Like the victims of the strangler in London, Sally is about thirty years old. This odd first scene sets up the show's dichotomy between the serial killer on the loose in London, strangling women with a silk stocking, and the detective investigating the crimes, who has just returned and who has a wedding that day to a woman who fits the profile of the victims. In Davidson's short story, the murder is not revealed until the very end, and the fact that the woman whose body is found is not the woman who is to be wed represents the tale's biggest surprise. By starting off the TV show with the discovery of a murder, Fine and Friedkin remove much of the suspense from the plot, and by making Sally's fiancee a detective, they add an odd element that never really works.

    Edith Atwater as Mrs. Benner
    Tommy and Sally chat at a London landmark said to be famous for its association with Romantic poets. She admits her uncertainty about their impending nuptials and he presses her to confess her love for him. This scene parallels the one in the story where Sally and Bob meet awkwardly on the morning of their wedding right after she leaves home to go for a walk. Here, the repeated mentions of Romantic poets don't seem to amount to much.

    At her parents' hotel room, Sally's mother and father prepare for the wedding. Fine and Friedkin chose to move this scene later in the narrative in order to focus on the murder first; Sally admits to feeling "'terror'" when Tommy wanted to touch her that afternoon and she plans to go for a walk. Three more characters are added to the mix as another family--father, mother, and grown son--arrive at the hotel room. They are the Setlins; the two families met on board ship and the Benners invited the Setlins to the abrupt wedding. The son, Elliot, exhibits an unhealthy interest in the murders. The Setlins seem to have been added to the story to pad the running time and to give the Benners people to talk to besides each other.

    Virginia Gregg as Mrs. Setlin
    For much of the rest of the episode, the scenes alternate between Sally, exploring the streets of London, and her parents and their friends, growing increasingly worried about her failure to return. In the short story, Sally leaves in the morning and is not seen or heard from again until she returns at the end, having taken a train trip to Chicago and back. In the TV show, the camera follows her as she walks from place to place and, admittedly, these are the most interesting and atmospheric scenes in the show. However, the fact that we see what she is doing while her family worries about her disappearance means that we do not share their concern, at least not until very near the end.

    Sally visits a drugstore, as she does in the story, and a young man emerges from inside and follows her. Is he the strangler? He is only the first man in the TV show about whom we will ask this question. The next time we see Sally, an ominous pop song plays from what appears to be a speaker outside a store, and the lyrics warn women not to be out at night. Back at the hotel, the two families are joined by Myrna, an attractive young woman who was the social director on board ship; she plans to serve as Sally's maid of honor, thus reinforcing the sudden and unplanned nature of the wedding.

    Richard Lupino as Guerny Jr.
    Sally then visits a used book store, where the old, bearded owner reads poetry to her and she buys a rare book. She meets a prostitute on the sidewalk and the young woman mistakes Sally for a fellow streetwalker, counseling the rather dimwitted bride-to-be about the value of safety in numbers with a strangler on the loose. Sally naively remarks that her guidebook states that Percy Shelley once walked where they are standing.

    Finally, at the hotel, Detective Tommy telephones, learns that Sally is gone, and arrives on the scene with his partner. Meanwhile, Sally enters a  bar, where Edward Clarke, whom we recall from the first scene, stares at her, making her uncomfortable. Finally, the investigation begins, and from this point on we don't see Sally again until she reappears in her parents' hotel room. The camera follows the two detectives as they walk the dark streets of London and revisit each of the places Sally was seen. At the drugstore, the older druggist provides information while his son, whom we saw earlier exit the store and follow Sally, exhibits odd personality traits and admits to having followed the young woman, making us wonder once again if he is the killer.

    Ben Wright as Sutherland, the bookstore proprietor
    The detectives interview the bookstore proprietor, who admits to having felt a stirring when Sally asked him to read poetry to her and who comments on how she fits the pattern of the strangler's victims. He tells the detectives that he read to her the Keats poem whose first line supplies the episode's title. Finally, they visit the bar, where they meet and interview Clarke, who corresponds to the short story's Oscar. Like the other men in London, he exhibits bizarre behavior, claiming that he and Sally had a drink together and went for a walk before he returned alone. He suggests dragging the river and takes the detectives to a bridge on the Thames.

    Howard Caine as Mr. Setlin
    Clarke says that he and Sally sat on a bench and talked, and the detectives come right out and ask him if he strangled her. His reactions are odd and he has a dreamy affect to him, claiming that he is a hunter of people. He admits to his criminal history with women and, when Tommy accuses him of killing Sally, he says that it could have been an accident. He shows them the spot where he threw her in and they arrange to have the river dragged. Steve tells Tommy to go back to the hotel. There is then a sudden cut to Sally, alive and well in the hotel room. This is where the episode fails badly, especially in comparison to the short story. Sally's appearance should elicit shock and relief, but it only creates confusion in the viewer's mind. Had Fine and Friedkin not gone to such lengths to set up the strangler on the loose and make it clear that murders were happening in London, we might think that the entire idea that Sally had met with a violent end was misguided. As it is, her decision to go for a walk seems to be of little concern. The teleplay twists itself into a pretzel to try to create suspense: the wedding has to be today, it's set for the unusual hour of 8 p.m., and the guests and wedding party are strangers to the bride's family. In the story, Sally is gone for four days and the length of her disappearance is explained by her trip to Chicago. In the show, she is gone for a few hours at most and, were it not for the strange urgency to have the wedding to avoid the need for her parents to change their travel plans, the time would not be very concerning.

    Ted Bessell as Elliot Setlin
    In any case, Sally and Tommy reconcile, both admitting to having had (understandable) jitters and both pledging their love to each other. Tommy announces that the wedding is still on for that night, despite the lateness of the hour, and calls Scotland Yard to report that his fiance is safe and sound. There is a cut back to the bridge, where Steve looks at a woman's body that has been recovered from the river. Clarke smiles and says, "'I told you I killed her. But not like you said. I ran after her, yes. But after that, it was different.'" The ending is satisfying in that the serial killer has been apprehended, but the shock of there being a dead woman who is not Sally is completely deflated by the viewer's knowledge that, all along, women were being murdered in London.

    The episode has a couple of tangential connections with Hitchcock's work: in 1972, Frenzy was released, directed by Hitchcock and based on a 1966 novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. The film deals with a serial strangler of women in London. The other connection is some of the episode's music, which is comprised of pieces of themes written by Bernard Herrmann for other episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, though Herrmann is not credited in this case.

    Alan Napier as Guerny
    Detective Tommy Bonn is played by 45-year-old Ron Randell (1918-2005), who appears rather old for the role of Sally's fiancee. Born in Sydney, Australia, Randell began acting as a teenager, served in World War Two, and had a film and TV career from 1942 to 1983 in which he bounced back and forth among the United States, England, and Australia for roles. He hosted a British TV series called The Vise (1954-55) and starred in another British TV series called O.S.S. (1957-58). He appeared on The Outer Limits and this was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

    Sally Kellerman (1937- ), on the other hand, was 27 years old when this episode was filmed, a bit young for the thirtyish Sally Benner, whose parents are worried that she remains unmarried at such an advanced age, and certainly too young for Ron Randell! Kellerman's career on screen stretched from 1957 to 2017 and her most famous role was as Hot Lips Houlihan in the 1970 film, M*A*S*H. She appeared on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek, but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

    Receiving second billing for an early role in his career is David Carradine (1936-2009) as Edward Clarke, the dreamy killer. Born John Arthur Carradine, son of John Carradine and brother of Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine, David had a long screen career, from 1963 to his death in 2009, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is his second appearance on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the first was in "Ten Minutes from Now." He appeared in many films, such as Death Race 2000 (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), and Kill Bill (2003-04), but he will always be best known for his starring role as Caine in the TV series, Kung Fu (1972-75). There is website devoted to him here.

    Betty Harford as the prostitute
    Detective Stephen Leslie is played by Australian actor Michael Pate (1920-2008), which means that both London detectives are portrayed by Aussies! Pate worked Down Under in the late 1930s as a radio broadcaster and writer before serving in the Australian Army in WWII. He acted on the radio after the war prior to coming to America for TV and film roles from 1950 to 1968. He then returned to Australia and continued his career, doing some voiceover work in his later years. He appeared on Thriller and Batman and he was in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "The McGregor Affair," which also features a script by Fine and Friedkin.

    Kent Smith (1907-1985) plays Sally's father. He had a long career on screen from 1936 to 1978 and appeared in such films as Cat People (1942) and Curse of the Cat People (1944). On television, he was on The Outer Limits and Night Gallery and he was a regular on Peyton Place (1964-66). He was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A True Account."

    Smith's wife in real life, Edith Atwater (1911-1986), plays his wife in this episode. She was on screen from 1936 to 1985 and also played Smith's character's wife on Peyton Place (1964-65). In addition, she was in The Body Snatcher (1945) and Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976).

     In smaller roles:
    • Virginia Gregg (1916-1986) as Mrs. Setlin; a busy actress on radio, film and TV, she was one of three actors to voice Mrs. Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and she was on the Hitchcock TV show seven times, including "Nightmare in 4-D." She was also seen on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Night Stalker. There is a website about her here.
    • Howard Caine (1926-1993) as Mr. Setlin; born Howard Cohen, he was on screen from 1953 to 1988. He had a recurring role as a Nazi on Hogan's Heroes and was seen on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. His three appearances on the Hitchcock TV show included "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat."
    • Ben Wright (1915-1989) as Sutherland, the bookstore owner; born in London, he was on screen from 1936 to 1989, played roles on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and was in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Murder Case." He is best-remembered as Herr Zeller in The Sound of Music (1965).
    • Richard Lupino (1929-2005) as Guerny Jr., the odd young man who works at the drugstore; Ida Lupino's cousin, he was on screen from 1943 to 1985 and he was seen on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Hero."
    • Betty Harford as the prostitute who chats with Sally on the street; on screen from 1951 to 1991, she was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Manacled," as well as being a regular on The Paper Chase (1978-79, 1983-86).
    • Ted Bessell (1935-1996) as Elliot Setlin; he was in front of the camera from 1955 to 1985 and behind it from 1987 to 1995. His most famous role was as Marlo Thomas's boyfriend on the series, That Girl (1965-71).
    • Alan Napier (1903-1988) as Guerny Sr., the older druggist; he was a busy actor on film and television from 1930 to 1981 and will forever be remembered as Alfred the butler on Batman (1966-68). He was in eight episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Whodunit."
    Read "Thou Still Unravished Bride" for free online here or watch the TV show here. It is not yet available on DVD in the U.S. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!

    "The Avram Davidson Website." The Avram Davidson Website,
    Bernard Herrmann Music - Television Music,
    Davidson, Avram. "Thou Still Unravished Bride." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Oct. 1958, pp. 119–130.
    The FictionMags Index,
    Galactic Central,
    Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
    Lupoff, Richard A. "Avram Davidson, My Friend, This Stranger." The Investigations of Avram Davidson, St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 1–12.
    Lupoff, Richard A. "Introduction to 'Thou Still Unravished Bride.'" The Investigations of Avram Davidson, St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 27–28.
    "Thou Still Unravished Bride." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 22, NBC, 22 Mar. 1965.
    Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

    In two weeks: Our series on Morton Fine and David Friedkin concludes with a look at "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling"!

    Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Dip in the Pool" here!

    Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Place of Shadows" here!

    Monday, May 18, 2020

    Batman in the 1980s Issue 2: February 1980

    The Dark Knight in the 1980s
    by Jack Seabrook &
    Peter Enfantino

    Batman #320

    "The Curse of the Inquisitor!"
    Story by Denny O'Neil
    Art by Irv Novick & Bob Smith

    A strange double murder in Spain intrigues Batman, who heads off to Europe to investigate the deaths of two priests: one covered in bronze and the other found hanging in a meat locker. Arriving in a small town in the foothills, Bruce Wayne happens upon Cardinal Ramirez, preaching outdoors about the sin of modern life, and Father Pinto, a younger priest who believes that one cannot turn back the clock. That night, as Batman approaches the priest's residence, he is shot at with a bolt from a crossbow. In trying to chase the shooter, he comes upon two men with guns and, after knocking them down, they reveal that they are policemen protecting Father Pinto.

    Batman visits the young priest, who is shot with a crossbow just as he is about to tell Batman his suspicions regarding the murders. The Dark Knight again gives chase and finds himself in an old chapel, where a dwarf with a crossbow takes shots at him and where he meets a hooded man who calls himself the Inquisitor. Batman narrowly escapes being impaled by spikes when he falls through a trap door; he manages to knock out the crossbow-wielding dwarf before he falls victim to "The Curse of the Inquisitor!" and races to the police station, where he learns that Lt. Sanchez is not around.

    A pose like one Frank Robbins might draw!
    On a hunch, Batman heads for the nearest bank, where it so happens that Lt. Sanchez, dressed in a monk's robe, is about to lock a young priest in the vault, where he will suffocate. Batman appears and explains that Lt. Sanchez is the Inquisitor, and that his murders represent manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins: bronze for pride, the food locker for gluttony and, just now, the bank vault for greed. A pitched battle ensues until the dwarf with the crossbow accidentally shoots his master, the Inquisitor, in the back. Batman visits Cardinal Ramirez and breaks the news about Lt. Sanchez, who happens to be the cardinal's son.

    JS: A fairly run-of-the-mill issue of Batman, with some fun elements, such as the dwarf and the trap door, and a fair amount of nonsense. I could not figure out how Batman knew it was time to head to the bank until I realized he must have cracked the code of the Seven Deadly Sins and determined that the next one in line was greed. Good thing there was only one bank in the area, or things could've gone horribly wrong. A note in the letters column of Batman 325 says that the cover was bought by Julius Schwartz and held until it was needed. It's dated 1972, so I have to wonder: did Berni draw a cover with a crossbow-wielding dwarf and, eight years later, Denny O'Neil took a look at it and wrote a story around it? Or did Denny write a story with a crossbow-wielding dwarf and Julie just happened to find a cover that fit? My money is on the first scenario.

    PE: There are some interesting tidbits thrown into this story (the crossbow-bearing dwarf, for one), but not enough to keep my interest. The Inquisitor feels like yet another one of those disposable, shudder-pulp-inspired villains that pop up for an issue or two and then disappear without leaving a trace in the reader's memory. Same with the script; Lt. Sanchez certainly goes to a lot of trouble to get his point across, and I'm really not sure what the point was in the first place. The art is inconsistent. Bruce/Bats looks like he's on a crash diet in the panel on page three and I can't tell the difference between Bruce and Father Pinto, other than the clerical collar.

    The Brave and the Bold #159

    "The Crystal Armageddon!"
    Story by Denny O'Neil
    Art by Jim Aparo

    Professor Elias Hatter has whipped up a formula that turns anything it touches into glass: water, land, animals, humans, even, ostensibly, glass! When Hatter's brother is kidnapped and the Professor disappears, Ra's al Ghul reaches out to Batman and convinces him they should partner up to find the egghead before the potion can be put to use in a dastardly way.

    Before the pair (now joined by Talia, daughter of Ra's and ex-squeeze of Batman) can hit the road, Ra's dies. Talia explains that her old man does that now and then and must be brought to the Lazarus Pit for regeneration. Meanwhile, Hatter finds his brother in the clutches of the League of Assassins aboard a ship just outside Hong Kong. A brawl ensues and Hatter's brother is killed; despondent, the professor wanders the streets of Hong Kong before deciding this would be a good time for the world to end. He heads back to the ship belonging to the League.

    Ra's reborn, the villain and his wary partner arrive in Hong Kong and defeat the League of Assassins aboard the boat. Batman confronts Hatter and asks him to surrender the formula. The Professor, instead, douses himself with the liquid, giving everything around him a shiny finish. The Dark Knight barely makes it off the ship just in time and must swim to shore when ex-partner Ra's zooms away in his biplane, swearing he'll be back to kill the Batman someday.

    PE: All-in-all, an exciting, well-written adventure featuring two very unlikely compadres, but I'd have preferred a little more time with these guys. Seventeen pages just wasn't enough to give weight to the "Crystal Armageddon" that could have befallen the world. And I'm a bit confused as to why the glass stopped spreading so fast when Hatter assured us his baby would enfold the world. Jim Aparo gives us dynamic, well-choreographed scenes (Novick and Smith could learn a few tricks from Jim), very much inspired by Neal Adams, I'd lay money. As with the glass formula outcome, I remain a bit hazy as to the relationship between Ra's and the League of Assassins. Maybe I need to do a little homework, but isn't Ghul the Big Kahuna of the League? Couldn't he simply get on the horn and tell his guys to stand down? I'm sure someone out there can fill me in.

    JS: I'm a little fuzzy on the League as well and vaguely recall it from the '70s as an unfocused concept. I think it's neat that Ra's knows Batman's secret identity and Bats is OK with that. Ra's is a great character and I also love the Aparo visuals; O'Neil's story (he wrote both comics this month) is solid. Happily, the gorgeous Talia remains tangentially involved.

    Next Week...
    At least one half of the crew
    thinks this is a Warren classic!