Monday, October 26, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 45: August/September 1973

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

Eerie #50 (August 1973)

"The Mind Within"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jaime Brocal

"This Evil Must Die"★1/2
Story by Al Milgrom
Art by Martin Salvador

"Genesis of Depravity!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Monarch's Return"
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Paul Neary

"Lord's Wrath"★1/2
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Aldoma

"The Disciple"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Isidro Mones

"The Secret of Pursiahz"★1/2
Story and Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Mind Within"
As the mummy strangles a woman, he notices that the man with her is Doug, brother of the mummy's fiance. Worried that Doug heard the woman call him Jerome, the mummy kills Doug as well. The mummy returns to the museum, where "The Mind Within" of Jerome Curry returns to his own body. Wandering around early 1900s' Boston, Jerome remembers his studies of Ancient Egypt and his discovery of an amulet that allows him to transfer his mind into the body of the mummy. He used the mummy's body to murder women who had spurned him, but he fell hard for Suzanne Hindley and asked her to be his wife. Doug's funeral makes Suzanne feel the need for Jerome to comfort her in the bedroom, and he nearly strangles her without thinking, since he's gotten so used to doing that to ladies when he's in the mummy's body. He transfers his mind back into the mummy's form once again and kills a prostitute, but while he's out having fun a couple of crooks break into the museum and make off with various treasures, including the amulet. The mummy returns to the museum and Jerome discovers that his mind is stuck in the ancient body!

Finally, a mummy story that makes sense! I can't imagine why Skeates thought it a good idea to spend the first couple of stories in the series having the mummy run rampant without really explaining what was going on, but this story is a much-needed clarification. Jaime Brocal's art continues to shine. The need for the mummy to strangle a pretty girl every few pages demonstrates some level of sexism and sensationalism, but then this is a Warren horror comic, so I guess we get what we pay for.

"This Evil Must Die"
On a street in Dwarves Bay, a man in a top hat uses his silver cane to battle a werewolf but, when a group of townsfolk arrive, the furry fiend makes his escape. The man in the top hat is Master Goodman Blacker, who has been summoned to help stop the string of recent murders. Insisting that "This Evil Must Die," Blacker says he's a man of god and that the werewolf is a creature of the devil. He promises to destroy the creature that night. The townsfolk get plenty of silver ready, while Blacker heads off alone to the woods and casts a devilish spell in order to discover the werewolf's human identity. The full moon rises and Arthur Lemming transforms into a werewolf. He heads for the woods, pursued by villagers, but when he gets there he knocks over Blacker's cauldron of magic water just before the warlock discovers who the werewolf is. Lemming escapes into the woods but Blacker is not so lucky--the townsfolk see he's a conjurer and kill him.

I prefer Salvador's art to that of Buckler, who drew earlier entries in this series, because Salvador's work looks more like it belongs in a Warren horror magazine. The story is mediocre, and the fact that the werewolf knocks over the cauldron by mistake just in the nick of time is kind of silly, but the whole thing has a feeling like one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's tales and there is a particularly nice page with no dialogue at all.

"Genesis of Depravity!"
A woman summons up Satan and he basically talks her to death, explaining that he's making her the first vampire. Eventually, she seduces and bites a certain count and he turns into a vampire himself named--wait for it--Dracula.

Doug Moench tries to bludgeon the reader with words from the very tiresome figure of Satan, who (for some reason) selects this dull woman to make a "Genesis of Depravity!" Ramon Torrents contributes art that looks rather like the work of Maroto, though one panel in particular looks (to me) an awful lot like a swipe of an Ingrid Pitt vampire movie still.

Archaeology student Jason Talbot stumbles upon an ancient building in Greece and meets Sebastian, a servant, and his mistress, an old woman who thinks that Talbot is her husband Agamemnon, just back from ten years of fighting the Trojan War. Unfortunately, Talbot is perhaps the most ignorant archaeology student in Greece (he prefers Harold Robbins to the classics) and fails to realize what Clytemnestra did when her hubby came home. As in the old story, this gal murders Talbot--with an axe.

"Monarch's Return"
Knowing the end of "Monarch's Return" from the first page doesn't help make this story any more interesting, and Paul Neary's art varies wildly from pretty cool to barely competent. He especially seems to have trouble drawing faces, which may be why so many of his characters wear glasses. The final killing is shown reflected in a mirror, which has a nice subtlety to it, but (again) Neary's pages are too cluttered.

In a small German village in the year 1650, cruel Baron Odolf despises the local people and doesn't care when his speeding carriage runs over a little girl. Father Martin tries to mediate but gets an invitation to dine with the Baron that night, something that usually ends in poison and death for the guest. Knowing that the villagers resent him for trying to talk to the Baron and the Baron wants to kill him, Father Martin turns to the local sorcerer, who gives him a snake ring with poisoned fangs that will put the Baron to sleep when they shake hands. At the Baron's castle, Father Martin's handshake is declined so he grabs the Baron by the throat, causing the man to pass out on the floor. The Baron awakens in his own dungeon and heads outside, where he hops in his carriage and heads for the village. On the way, he sees workmen digging and is killed when a modern-day train runs over his carriage, which is parked on the tracks.

"Lord's Wrath"
"Lord's Wrath" was chugging along pretty well until the ending came out of left field. You know it's bad when Cousin Eerie has to explain what happened: "'Apparently the Baron slept far longer than he realized,'" quips our host. That begs the question of how his body remained unchanged over three centuries, how the castle remained unchanged, how his horse-drawn carriage remained unchanged...oh, I give up. Artur Aldoma Puig signs his work "Aldoma" and contributes decent art; nothing special, but not bad, either. It's a shame John Jacobson couldn't come up with a more sensible finish.

Easily the coolest thing in "The Disciple,"
this nightmare creature has
nothing to do with the story.
A square named George notices hippie after hippie wandering in a daze into a building and follows them to see what's up. He discovers a cult leader taking over their minds. Resisting mind control, George bonks the leader over the head with a bottle and suddenly realizes the hippies now listen to his own thoughts. "The Disciple" likes the idea of being a cult leader and takes over.

Another poorly-thought out story by Steve Skeates, this one has art by Munes that is average at best. Once again, the premise is somewhat intriguing and we readers wonder what all the hippies are up to. We follow George in and wonder why the mind-controlling cult leader wants all of these scraggly folk to meld their thoughts with his. That's fine, but then the story goes off the rails and ends with no explanation and a "twist" ending that is unsatisfying. I don't know if these writers had to crank this stuff out so fast that they didn't bother to think it through, but that's sure how it seems.

Dax meets yet another wise old man with a long beard who tells him "The Secret of Pursiahz," a beautiful young man whose wings petered out when he failed to listen to the gods and flew too close to the ground. His winged girlfriend had it worse: she got stuck in a giant spider web! Dax ventures out, sword in hand, and finds the girl, but she's dead. He kills the giant spider and meets a bunch more of the winged gals, who tell him all is forgiven and Pursiahz can come back. Dax returns to deliver the news and heads off to look for some beautiful girls to sleep with, something he missed out on this time. The young man has the old man fashion some makeshift wings, flies too close to the sun, and crashes to Earth, where he will be remembered as... Perseus.

Dax manages a rare story without sex.
Huh? Perseus? Shouldn't that be Icarus? I even Googled Perseus to be sure but I couldn't find anything about him with wings flying too close to the sun. Am I nuts here? The story should've been called "The Secret of Icaruhz." No one would have guessed the end! Maroto's art is just the same as in every other Dax story, with lots of willowy folks looking perfect. This particular entry is duller than usual.-Jack

Peter-For the first time in... well, it's been some time, I have to disagree with you, Jack. It's about "The Mind Within," which I consider to be just as dumb (if not dumber) than the previous two chapters of the Mummy. At what point did Skeates suddenly think, "Hang on a second, I think I may have forgotten to explain myself..." and concocted the biggest backpedal in flashback history? When the "mountain of mail" came flowing in? I'd prefer to be left in the dark if this is what we get. Seems to me to the flimsiest of excuses to enjoy a bit of brain-changing. As much as I thought Rich Buckler was the wrong artist for the Werewolf series, I think Marty Salvador's generic guy-with-fur look is worse. The script is awful as well. Neither the Mummy nor the Werewolf series has any kind of compass as of yet.

That other Satana
If anyone is keeping score, Warren's Satanna predates Marvel's Satana Hellstrom by a whopping two months (Hellstrom's first appearance coming in Vampire Tales #2), but Marvel's lawyers obviously thought they had a case for plagiarism and threatened Warren Publishing with a lawsuit. Evidently, the case was settled out of court (perhaps Jim Warren sent Forry Ackerman over to write pun-filled captions for Marvel's upcoming zine, Monsters of the Movies as recompense?), as this was the one and only appearance of Satanna in a Warren zine. To make matters even more confusing, Marvel introduced Lilith, Daughter of Dracula, who wears a costume similar to Satana. You can read about the incident in Rocket's Blast Comic Collector #103 (October 1973). All I got out of "Genesis of Depravity!" (a typically Moenchian title that) was that Satan sure talks a lot but doesn't actually say anything (typically Moenchian that). Let's count our lucky stars that Marvel put the stake through the heart of a second Warren female vampire series. Though "The Secret of Pursiahz" makes very little sense, I found it to be the most entertaining Dax entry I've read in quite some time. 

Not one of the non-series stories did a thing for me (outside of that very brief Curse of the Demon-esque sequence Jack mentioned in "The Disciple." Bad plots, mediocre art, and lots and lots of words sink all three. Is it my imagination, or did Neary use Harlan Ellison as a model for Jason Talbot? Aldoma, who appeared only twice, has a generic style that harkens back to the bad old "Dark Ages" days of Tony Williamsune. Overall, a very weak issue.

Enrich Torres
Vampirella #27 (September 1973)

"Wolf Hunt"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #14)

"Welcome to the Witches' Coven"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #15)

"Quavering Shadows"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #15)

"The Frog Prince"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #13)

"Return Trip" ★1/2
Story by Jose Toutain
Art by Jose Gonzalez

(Reprinted from Vampirella #16)

(Reprinted from Vampirella #12)

"War of the Wizards"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #10)

Since this is, effectively, the 1974 Yearbook, we get a boatload of reprints and only one original story, but that's more than what's offered up with the Creepy and Eerie Yearbooks, so just smile. That one original, "Return Trip," is the latest installment in the Vampirella saga. This time, Pendragon's ex-wife, Rose, teams up with a new character named "the Dreamer" to eliminate Vampirella and her drunken ex. The plot unravels when the Dreamer (who can enter his victim's minds and manipulate their dreams and, thus, their real-life actions) can't force Vampi to kill Pendragon. Frustrated, Dreamer pulls a dagger and is about to slice up Vampi's best bud when Patrick, the youngest of the Pendragon clan, shoots the man dead. Vampi wakes from her dream-state and hustles Pen out the door. 

The script is nothing special, more of a vignette compared to what we're used to seeing, length-wise, from a Vampi chapter, but the art is superb as usual and the color is fantastic. It ain't Corben Color but it's still miles above the muddy junk or washed-out tones we've had foisted on us already. The rest of the supporting cast was given the issue off; I suppose any more characters stuffed in this 8-pager would have been too much. Surprisingly, Warren decides not to give over the color section to the title's star from here on out. Big mistake, methinks. As for the reprint, for the most part this is a good selection. "Cilia" is the only out-and-out dog.-Peter

Jack-Meh. I thought the color in the Vampi story was up and down from panel to panel: the bright panels look good but the dark ones are muddy. I had to laugh when the gals on the beach were admiring Vampirella's stylish "bathing suit," but I question the moral at the end of the young boy shooting and killing the bad guy in order to show that there's too much hate and vengeance in the world. It might have been better to shoot him in the leg!

As for the reprints, I rated "Wolf Hunt" and "War of the Wizards" highly the first time around, but the rest were not very good. All of the reprints come from issues 10 through 15, which represent the period from March 1971 to April 1972. That means less reliance on former EC artists and more reliance on the new, Spanish artists, yet the Wally Wood story still stands out.

Creepy #56 (September 1973)

"In My Father's House!" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Innsmouth Festival" 
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Consumed by Ambition" 
Story by Jack Butterworth
Art by Martin Salvador

Story and Art by Richard Corben

"The Way of All Flesh" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jose Bea

"The Bell of Kuang Sai" ★1/2
Story by George Henderson
Art by Isidro Mones

"In My Father's House!"
A no-nonsense cop named Caulk investigates the murder of a rich man named Emil Strand. The killing has obvious roots in devil worship but interviews with Strand's lady friends (who have all gone insane and reside in mental institutions) drum up no clues. Finally, something one of the girls says spurs Caulk to visit a local church, where he discovers a secret society literally raising the Devil in the basement. Showing a little spunk to the demon called up, Caulk becomes the high priest of the coven, but his tenure comes to in an end when he gets too comfortable.

"In My Father's House" contains another really bad Doug Moench script, one that makes little sense, obviously inspired by hardboiled dicks like Mike Hammer and Lew Archer. Moench tries to make his dialogue come off just as tough as those arm-breakers, but it just sounds silly and contrived. Auraleon's art is not very good here; his old priest looks just like every other old guy he's drawn before. The twist climax is anything but surprising. Why is the demon, confined to a pentagram earlier in the story, free to pop up in the crowd (and in a robe, no less, like he's hiding) in the final panel. Makes no sense = Doug Moench.

"Innsmouth Festival"
Just another day at the office for Harrison Farnsworth, editor at a "true stories of the supernatural"-type magazine, with Farnsworth interviewing a barber who claims to have cut the hair of a mermaid, a woman who has captured the ghost of Marilyn Monroe on film, and an old woman who claims three men in black are following her, waiting for their chance to silence her. She's stumbled on the secret plot "of the cosmic conspiracy to overpower Earth and make us all slaves to their godless master." The old woman has proof of her crazy story as she pulls a strange-looking weapon from her purse and hands it to Harrison, claiming it's a "supper (sic)-secret ray gun" dropped from one of the "scout saucers." Smelling a really juicy story for his rag, Farnsworth begins to dig deeper until he's called into the office of his editor, who gives him a more pressing assignment: travel to Innsmouth and investigate a cult that practices human sacrifice. Harrison dutifully hops in his car and starts driving.

"Innsmouth Festival"
When he arrives in Innsmouth, he is startled by the apish appearance of the inhabitants but chalks it up to water pollution. Tracking down the two sisters who wrote to the magazine proves to be a chore as no one will speak to him. With a little help from a local lad, Harrison finally knocks on the door of the Gilman sisters and is pleasantly surprised to discover they are both quite beautiful, lacking all the brutish qualities of their neighbors. The sisters explain that they are share a different world view than the other inhabitants of Innsmouth, who perform human sacrifices to a god of the sea named Cthulhu, who "lies dreaming in the sunken city of R'lyeh, waiting for the proper time to return." The women explain that they believe in Hastur, Lord the Air, and are hoping their loving God shows up well before Cthulhu. As the Gilmans explain that there is a sacrifice planned for that evening, Harrison feels oddly drowsy and passes out.

He awakens to find himself alone and heads for the waterfront, where he finds the Gilman sisters tied to a pier and several of the brutish Innsmouthites standing guard. Using his noggin, Harrison wades out under the pier and unties the gorgeous gals--just in time it turns out--as a giant, tentacled creature rises from the sea and heads for land. The trio flee for town but a mad mob stops them and the giant creature approaches from the rear. Seeing the ray-gun given to him by the old woman fall out of his pocket, Harrison watches in awe as one of the sisters scoops it up, points it, and blasts the creature to atoms. Returning to the home of the sisters, Harrison gladly accepts their invitation to stay the night, hoping there might be some hanky-panky in the works. The girls disrobe but, before Farnsworth can get more than a few moments into his fantasy, he notices they both have wings. "Don't worry about us," says one of the Hasturians, "we'll be very comfortable hanging from the rafters!"

"Innsmouth Festival"
John Jacobson borrows heavily (actually cut and pasting a few lines here and there) from 'ol HPL, but that's all right by me; I'd much rather have a Cthulhuian fantasy than yet another werewolf who's actually a vampire. Jacobson gets the tone and atmosphere spot on right from panel one, where we're informed that Harrison Farnsworth (himself a nod to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright) is trapped in this nowhere job, interviewing loonies who see Churchill in their corn flakes, and yet somehow sees the positive side. Every crackpot who walks into his office could conceivably be the next cover story. Using the actual names of the deities is a plus as well (except in the case of the "Esoteric Order of Dagon," which inexplicably gets retitled "Dragon"); why steal from HPL and then hide the theft by summoning up "Cthon?" The final reveal is cute, as is the sub-plot of the old lady and her ray-gun. We're left to ponder her fate when Harrison calls in and discovers that the woman was last seen "driving away from the city... in the company of three men in black...!" This is the best Adolfo Abellan art we've seen so far. The villagers are suitably Lovecraftian, as is the octopoid monster, and the Gilman girls are an eyeful in the buff. More Lovecraft please!

A carnival owner travels to the Rain Forest to buy two skeletons alleged to be vampires. When he gets there, he sees one with a stake in its ribcage and the other... no stake. Angered at what he perceives to be a rip-off (you know, cuz any skeleton with a stake in its ribs must be a vampire!), the man questions the seller, who tells him the long and sordid story of Count Yaroslav, a vampire fleeing from Europe and hoping for a more peaceful clime in which he can rip some throats out. In the guise of an explorer, Yaroslav tries to slide easily into the neighborhood, but a yen for fresh blood sees him attacking a young villager named Pedro. 

Now that Pedro is a vampire, Yaroslav teaches the boy how to ensure that his victims don't come back from the dead and create an overpopulation of blood-suckers in the area. But Pedro has other ideas and, once the sun comes up, he stakes Yaroslav in his casket and becomes king vampire. He tells the chief of the local tribe that he expects a sacrifice each night, but when the tribe offers up a goat, Pedro hits the roof and attacks a pretty young girl, draining her of blood but getting a knife wound in the bargain. The young vampire heads back to his casket to mend but the blood trail attracts a swarm of vicious soldier ants and they pick Pedro's flesh clean from the bone. As the salesman finished his story, he adds that, though he's clean of flesh, Pedro still lives on.

"Consumed by Ambition" has a few good points to recommend, chief Amon them the twist halfway through when Pedro retires his maker and gleefully looks forward to eternal life as a killing machine. Off the top of my head, I think I consider this my favorite Martin Salvador work, but that might change. Salvador's never been one of my top Spanish artists, though; his style is just a little too formulaic and there's no real dynamic to his presentation. Salvador's art never seems to tell us more than what we read in the caption.

Lawrence Cardiff travels miles to visit the castle of Baron Talbot when he hears the Baron has a werewolf problem. Cardiff has concocted a very original means of killing lycanthropes... with a silver-fanged flea, attracted only to werewolves. After a young girl is viciously slaughtered, the Baron feels he has no choice but to take a chance on Cardiff's offbeat solution, but Talbot is a greedy SOB, so he ties Cardiff to a tree as bait for the wolfman. Still in his human guise, the werewolf approaches Cardiff and tells the man to ready himself for death. But the salesman has another pitch up his sleeve. 

I usually can't be bothered about spoiling the twist in these things but "Lycanklutz" is a different story altogether. Its reveal should lead to at least a loud chuckle. Hands down, the most fun I ever had reading a Warren story. Didn't say this was the best Warren story of all time (I've already gone on record on that one), but you tell me what was more fun. Corben the writer is every bit as important as Corben the artist here. His one-liners are spot-on, as are his nods to the past (I'm not sure how he snuck the whole poem from The Wolf Man in without some repercussions). The color is gorgeous and the breasts are huge. And, yep, there's that finale! I think this was the first time I ever noticed Corben (and the way he drew breasts). It made quite the impression on me. In fact... (oh gosh, this is tough to admit) a friend of mine and I made a short film based on "Lycanklutz" for film class in eighth grade on a budget of about ten bucks. Werewolf was nothing but a shadow (and our eighth-grade maiden didn't even have breasts yet, as I recall) but it didn't turn out too bad, if I do say. Don't look for it anytime soon on YouTube, however, as the film is as lost as London After Midnight. The age of Corben Color starts now.

"The Way of All Flesh"
An aging, blind vicar tries to drum up business in his small village, but something sinister is killing the young people off. After Alex loses his wife, Margaret, in this deadly purge, he turns to Satan to return her (and the other townsfolk) to him. The dead do indeed rise (or, rather, dig their way free) and congregate at the blind vicar's church. His mission accomplished (or so he thinks since he can't exactly see what's shambled into his place of business), the vicar dies a peaceful, happy death and Alex becomes a believer in the Lord. What a dumb and confusing tale. Why would Alex believe in God? Wasn't it his incantation that brought the corpses out of the grave? And what was killing the people off? Was Doug Moench's point that God was trying to make a point to Alex by offing forty of his children? And, if it was Alex that filled that church, how was the vicar the triumphant one? And why did the new parishioners disappear when the holy man expired? I had hopes, in the beginning, that "The Way of All Flesh" could soar above Moench's previous stabs at literature but this, like all the rest, gets bogged down in the mire of pretension. And, hey Doug, can you find another exclamation than " God!" Three or four times per story may be above the limit.

"The Bell of Kuang Sai"
Kublai Khan demands that his greatest metal-man create him a bell for all times and Kuang Sai gets to work. But after dozens of attempts, Kuang just can't seem to get it right; the bells always have a long crack marring their beauty. Khan tells Kuang he has three more tries before he gives him the "death by a thousand slices" treatment (akin to listening to Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits), so Kuang visits an old wizard, who calls out to all the gods to find out which one has it in for the master metal man. All available gods exhausted, the Lord of the Bells is called on (who'da thunk?) and tells Kuang that he must sacrifice his most precious treasure. Knowing he only has one more try before he goes down in history as the worst bell-maker, Kuang tosses his precious daughter, Fen, into the molten steel and a perfect bell for Kublai Khan is crafted. Well, almost perfect. Every time the bell is rung, it sounds like a young girl screaming. 

Not a bad little story at all and Mones does a decent job illustrating (except for that hilarious Lord of the Bells, a demon that looks more comical than evil) the otherworldly aspects of the script. The credits mention that George Henderson is adapting "The Bells of Kuang Sai" but what he was adapting no one seems to know. I'd have liked a stronger ending; the narrative just sputters out and leaves us with a final "shock" that is anything but.-Peter

Jack- Corben's art looks like nothing else at Warren and "Lycanklutz" is a winner! Horror, humor, and gorgeous color--what more do we need? The twist ending is clever, as well, and I can only hope that this story is a sign of things to come in the Warren mags. The rest of this issue was pretty good; I gave 2 1/2 stars to every story except "Cursed By Ambition," which is unfocused and takes a weird left turn halfway through. The rest of the stories all suffer from endings that are a letdown. I kind of liked "In My Father's House" for the way Moench tried to mix horror and noir, and I thought "Innsmouth Festival" got off to a good, funny start and had some above-average plotting. Abellan's art is still too scratchy for me.

"The Way of All Flesh" is overwritten in that special Moench fashion but has a likably gloomy atmosphere and Bea's art fits it to a T. "The Bell of Kuang Sai" is surprisingly good until the flat finale. This issue is easily the best of the three we read this time out.

Next Week...
Gerry Conway has a whole
lot of 'splaining to do!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Alfred Hayes Part One: A Piece of the Action [8.1]

by Jack Seabrook

Alfred Hayes (1911-1985) was born in London, but his family moved to the U.S. when he was only three years old. He grew up to become a writer, both as a newspaper reporter in the 1930s and as an author of novels, poems, short stories, and scripts for film and television. After serving in the Second World War, he wrote novels from 1946 to 1973, film scripts from 1946 to 1976, and TV scripts from 1961 to 1981. Among his screenplays were those for two Fritz Lang dramas, Clash by Night (1952) and Human Desire (1954). He also wrote seven teleplays for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

* * * * *

The paperback tie-in
"A Piece of the Action" was the first teleplay by Alfred Hayes to be broadcast on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and it was also the first episode of the hour-long series, premiering on CBS on Thursday, September 20, 1962. The teleplay was based on the screenplay for a 1930 film titled Street of Chance which, in turn, was partly based on the real-life gambler and criminal, Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein (1882-1928) was a lifelong gambler, a bootlegger, a drug dealer, and the head of a large criminal organization in Manhattan in the 1920s who was killed after he refused to pay a large debt that he incurred in a rigged poker game. He would not identify his killer on his deathbed. Fifteen months after he died, the film Street of Chance was released, and contemporary critics like Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times noted the resemblance of the main character, Natural Davis, to Rothstein.

The film is a Depression-era delight, running a crisp 75 minutes and featuring a winning performance by William Powell as Davis. The story takes place on Broadway, the street of the title, in and around the Flatiron District. Davis, a successful gambler, hears of a big dice game coming up that night from a bootlegger named Dorgan who is visiting from Detroit. A one-armed newsboy named Tony spreads the  word about the game. Natural Davis is really bond broker John B. Marsden, whose ne'er-do-well little brother, Babe, lives in San Francisco and has just married a woman named Judith. Marsden has spent a considerable amount of money trying to keep Babe away from gambling, even though Marsden himself has made his fortune playing dice and cards.

Gig Young as Duke Marsden

Not all is well in Marsden's life, however: his wife Alma has him served with separation papers. His kind heart is revealed when he shows pity on a woman who claims to be the distraught wife of a gambler named Mastick who lost a large sum of money to Natural, but Davis hedges his bet by marking some of the bills. After Marsden appeals to his own wife to reconcile, he attends the big dice game that night with Dorgan, and Mastick shows up with the marked money Davis refunded to his wife. Natural wins back some of the money and throws Mastick out; after the unlucky gambler sits in a bar boasting about how he put one over on Natural, two goons follow him. Despite apologizing to Natural and giving him back the rest of his money, Mastick is shot and killed by gangsters not long after. Natural is questioned about the killing but the case is dropped.

Martha Hyer as Alice Marsden

Marsden's brother Babe arrives in New York City by train with his new wife and immediately heads out to find a game of chance in order to raise money to buy into a partnership. Meanwhile, Marsden appeals to his wife to save his own marriage, agreeing to give up gambling and promising to quit that night if she will leave town with him the next morning. Unfortunately, Babe insists on joining a big game that night, unaware that his brother John is the big-time gambler known as Natural Davis. After making Babe promise to give up gambling and leave town once he loses all of his money, Marsden arranges with Dorgan to clean Babe out at the card table and leave him flat broke. Marsden quietly visits Babe's wife and gives her $10,000 he took back from her husband in order to make sure they leave Manhattan no worse off than they were before.

Gene Evans as Ed Krutcher

Unexpectedly, Babe is a big winner at the card table that night, which makes Dorgan think he has been set up. He summons Natural to join the game, and Natural has to come, breaking his promise to his wife and revealing his secret to his brother. Dorgan suspects a double-cross by the brothers and Natural plays the game, eventually throwing it by letting himself get caught cheating. Dorgan insists that Natural will pay the same price Mastick did for his dishonesty at the card table. Babe and his wife leave town by train and we see that his gambling problem is cured. Marsden, however, is not so fortunate. His wife learns that he is in danger and frantically searches for him, but he is fatally shot and refuses to identify his killer as he dies in the back of an ambulance.

The Rothstein connection is clear from Natural Davis's status as a big-time gambler, his refusal to pay off what he lost in the big game, and his refusal to identify his killer before he dies. The writing credits at the start of the film state that the story and dialogue are by Oliver H.P. Garrett (1894-1952) and that the scenario is by Howard Estabrook. Garrett fought in the First World War and was a newspaperman who wrote stories for magazines before going to Hollywood in 1927 to become a screenwriter. He wrote film scripts from 1928 to 1951. A paperback tie-in to Street of Chance was published in 1930, but it is unclear if Garrett wrote the book version.

Robert Redford as Chuck Marsden

Street of Chance was remade in 1937 as Her Husband's Lies, then again as "A Piece of the Action" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962. The 1942 film titled Street of Chance is not a remake of the 1930 film, but instead the screen version of Cornell Woolrich's novel, The Black Curtain, which itself was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and aired two months after "A Piece of the Action."

Running 45 minutes, the Hitchcock version by Alfred Hayes is a successful updating of the 1930 film. Hayes updates the setting to 1962 and moves the events from the Depression-era streets of New York to sunny California. Featuring a jazzy score by Lynn Murray, the show opens in the middle of the card game where Allie Saxon (Mastick in the movie) is caught dealing from the bottom of the deck and punished for it. By putting this scene first, Hayes keeps the viewer off guard: who are these people and why are they doing these things? Duke, as Natural Davis has been renamed, is driven home by his chauffeur, a man in a neck brace who replaces the one-armed newsboy of the film.

Nick Dennis as Danny

The following scene provides exposition found in the early scenes of the film; we learn that Marsden is an investment counselor whose wife is packing for Reno, according to a note in the newspaper's society column. Marsden's generosity to his younger brother is also shown, though the character of Judith, Babe's wife in the movie, has been eliminated entirely in the TV version. Marsden then goes home and charms his wife by the pool. They are rich and the sunny, outdoor setting contrasts with the urban setting and hotel rooms of the 1930 film. As before, Duke promises to quit gambling and go away with his wife, this time to Hawaii, but when he meets Ed Krutcher (Dorgan in the film), he agrees to play a final game of craps the next day.

Raymond Bailey as Allie Saxon

We learn of Saxon's death and right away Duke's brother, renamed Chuck, shows up looking to join a big game. Duke is surprised to find his brother waiting for him at home, and the young man signals his own reckless nature when he walks, fully-clothed, out to the end of the swimming pool's diving board and bounces up and down above the water. One small psychological note has been added to the 1962 teleplay that is not found in the 1930 film: Duke mentions his father, a gambler who died when he and his brother were still boys. Duke had a shoeshine box at age ten and Chuck never really knew his father. This bit of added background suggests that the brothers' addiction to gambling is inherited and that their different personalities are in some way related to the loss of their father when they were young.

Duke promises to go away with his wife that Friday and asks Krutcher to clean out his brother in a game of cards. As in the film, Chuck unexpectedly begins to win big and Duke is summoned to the card game by Ed, who threatens to harm Chuck. Duke arrives and Chuck realizes the truth about his older brother. The game continues and is the centerpiece of the episode; here, unlike in the film, Duke wins and cleans out Chuck, who leaves in disgust. Only then is it revealed that Duke was cheating, when one of the other card players discovers that he was using a marked deck. At the end, Duke returns home to his wife and dies with his head in her lap.

Roger DeKoven as Nate

"A Piece of the Action" is an excellent adaptation of Street of Chance, removing one important character, updating and relocating the story, and rearranging some of the events in order to maximize suspense. The show is directed by Bernard Girard (1918-1997), born Bernard Goldstein, who wrote for film and television from 1948 to 1965 and who directed for both from 1951 to 1974, though the majority of his directing jobs were for TV. He directed 12 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Matched Pearl."

Starring as Duke Marsden is Gig Young (1913-1978), who plays the main character as more laid back than does William Powell in the film version. Born Byron Barr, Young was on screen from 1940 to 1978 and on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s. He appeared on the classic Twilight Zone episode, "Walking Distance," and he was a regular on the TV series, The Rogues, in 1964-65. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1969). After struggling with alcoholism for many years, Young was found dead in 1978, having murdered his fifth wife and then committed suicide.

Kreg Martin as Smiley

The ravishing Martha Hyer (1924-2014) plays his wife, Alice, and her figure is on display in a couple of revealing outfits. Hyer was on screen from 1946 to 1974, wrote an autobiography, and authored the screenplay for the 1975 John Wayne film, Rooster Cogburn, after she had retired from acting. She appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Crimson Witness."

Gene Evans (1922-1998) is appropriately tough and unpolished as Ed Krutcher, the violent and dangerous gambler. He played many similar roles in a screen career that spanned the years from 1947 to 1989 and he also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Kerry Blue."

Dee J. Thompson as Kelly

In one of his early roles, Robert Redford (1936- ) plays Chuck. On screen since 1960, Redford is one of the biggest stars of his generation, appearing in such hits as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), and All the President's Men (1976). He is also a director, and he won a Best Director Oscar for the film Ordinary People (1980). Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2002. In his early years on screen, he appeared on The Twilight Zone and in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Right Kind of Medicine."

In smaller roles:

  • Nick Dennis (1904-1980) as Danny, the chauffeur in a neck brace; born in Greece, he had a screen career that lasted from 1947 to 1978. He had small roles in such classic films as East of Eden (1955) and Spartacus (1960).
  • Raymond Bailey (1904-1980) as Allie Saxon, the gambler who cheats and is killed; he had a busy career on screen from 1939 to 1975 and is best-remembered as banker Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies from 1962 to 1971. He was on no less than eleven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Where Beauty Lies."
  • Roger De Koven (1907-1988) as Nate, the gambler who discovers that Duke was using a marked deck; he was on screen from 1943 to 1986 and also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life." He was a regular on the TV soap opera, Days of Our Lives, from 1968 to 1986.
  • Kreg Martin as the gambler with the glasses; he had a brief screen career from 1962 to 1963 but managed to appear on The Twilight Zone and in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Maria."
  • Dee J. Thompson as Kelly, Marsden's secretary; she was on screen from 1949 to 1967, mostly on TV, and she appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Test."
"A Piece of the Action" is not available on U.S. DVD but may be viewed for free online here.


Cromwell, John, director. Street of Chance. 1930. 

The FictionMags Index, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 

Hall, Mordaunt. "THE SCREEN; A Rothstein Shadow. She Loves Him Not, She Loves Him. A Prince on the Hop. Other Photoplays." The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Feb. 1930, 


"A Piece of the Action." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 8, episode 1, CBS, 20 Sept. 1962. 


In two weeks: "Bonfire," starring Peter Falk!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 13: January 1981

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

The Brave and the Bold #170

"...If Justice Be Blind!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jim Aparo

A man is shot to death on the steps of Police Headquarters! Batman visits Commissioner Gordon and says that this man is the fourth victim of a hired killer named Danny Krebs. He also mentions that Nemesis is in Gotham and there's a price on his head. Are the two things connected? Batman goes looking for Krebs and finds Nemesis, holding a .45 and standing over a dead man.

Nemesis reveals that he's looking for the Head and that the same killer must be behind the four murders, since he's having men who could give Nemesis clues to the Head's whereabouts rubbed out. Agreeing to work together, Batman and Nemesis quickly locate Krebs but fail to keep him from being eliminated by a sniper. The duo go to the Batcave and decide to look for Dr. Von Riebling, the ex-Nazi responsible for brainwashing Nemesis's brother and causing him to murder Ben Marshall, who had supported Batman years before.

Nemesis impersonates Von Riebling's brother at an auction of WWII memorabilia and hooks up with a crook named Krispen, who takes him to see the elderly Nazi. Von Riebling sees right through Nemesis's disguise, however, and escapes before he can be captured. Days later, the Head has Ben Marshall's widow kidnapped and offers to spare her life if Nemesis surrenders. Nemesis agrees and discovers that the Head is a crime boss who is confined to an iron lung and who blames Marshall for his fate. Batman saves the day and Nemesis does the right thing and avoids murdering the Head. However, Von Riebling kills the incapacitated crime boss and then keels over dead himself.

Jack: "...If Justice Be Blind!" is way too long, at 25 pages, and seems very padded. After a few weak backup stories, I don't think Nemesis was ready to team up with the Dark Knight. Aparo's art is by the numbers and contains no surprises. Burkett's story isn't surprising either, with a few fistfights and the usual rises and falls of suspense necessary to stretch a story to this length. I was hoping this might be the big finish for Nemesis, but the coming attractions tell us that he'll be back next issue, again in his rightful place in the back of the book.

Peter: Giving us a 25-page epic co-starring a "hero" who's only been around a few months seems a bit of a force-feed but, for the most part, "...If Justice Be Blind!" is a success. Could be the pulpy elements (Nazis, quick-change make-up kits, a mob boss stuck in an iron lung...) or maybe just Aparo's snazzy graphics. I love a boss nicknamed "the Head" because it leads to dialogue like "He could be traced back to the Head!" There's also a quick appearance of what we used to call the "Marvel Misunderstanding" when our two protagonists duke it out for three panels before saner heads prevail. Hopefully, now that Nemesis has seen his brother's killer meet justice, he can get onto other, more interesting, exploits.

Detective Comics #498

"Night of the Savage"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Since no reader who has a life will remember a fourth-tier villain named Blockbuster, we're treated to a short prologue featuring Batman and Commissioner Gordon searching the "ice floes" off Gotham for the aforementioned bad guy, who had been tussling with the Dark Knight and who sunk below the murky depths. Satisfied that Blockbuster is dead, the two men head back to Gotham, not noticing the figure who pulls himself up onto the shores somewhere near West Virginia, droning "Find Batman, kill Batman!" Blockbuster (a/k/a Mark Desmond) is a childlike creature (imagine, oh I don't know, a salmon-colored Hulk in every way possible), who finds his way to nearby Bleak Rock and interrupts a beatdown on a man named Willie Macon.

Turns out Macon has run afoul of a local mobster (yes, even the small towns of the DC Universe have mafia dons!), "Boss" Dooley, who's running for president of the miner's union in Bleak Rock. Macon is so grateful for Blockbuster's intervention that he takes him home and makes him part of the family. Months later, a string of "smash and grabs" catches the attention of the Caped Crusader, who decides, out of the blue, that the culprit must be the believed-dead Blockbuster. Luckily, our hero is able to interrupt one of these heists in person, at a Gotham electronics store, and nabs the perp, a strongman named Ajax. In another of those strange, true-to-life coincidences, Batman's attention is drawn to a nearby TV set, which is running the news of a "reform committee" formed to run against "Boss" Dooley. There, in the background of the photo shown, is Blockbuster!

Bats hops in the Batmobile and heads to Bleak Rock to investigate but runs into the strong arm of "Boss" Dooley, whose men get the drop on a heretofore undroppable Batman. Dooley and his men throw Bats down a mine shaft, unaware that Macon and his new Lennie are working overtime. As the Batman's body drops, Macon orders Blockbuster to catch him and, as he lies inert in the big man's arms, he does not hear the menacing drone of "Find Batman, kill Batman!"

Peter: A very disappointing and weakly scripted episode, "Night of the Savage" comes off as bad as one of Len's or Marv's latest. To start with, we're handed a bottom-rung villain (I had to look him up in Wikipedia to discover I'd already written about him years ago in Batman #309), a monster who has no real purpose other than to elicit the semi-sympathy of the reader (much like the Hulk or Steinbeck's Lennie) and fill pages. The plot, David v. Goliath, is stale and the action is paltry. The string of coincidences is laughable but consistent with funny book scripting. There is only one villain to concentrate on at one time, so it's no wonder Batman just happens to be thinking of Blockbuster when he shows up. Why in the world would Bats connect a string of store robberies to a guy he thought was long dead? The robberies themselves make no sense. Why would this Ajax guy enter a store when it's filled with customers, destroy merchandise, and then hope to escape without being ID'd? The whopper, of course, is seeing Blockbuster's pic on TV moments after establishing that the giant was not responsible for the "smash and grabs!" Thank goodness that TV set was tuned in to the right station. Gerry, you're capable of so much better.

Jack: I know it's rare, but I completely disagree with you. I liked the touch of humor when the beachcombers first come upon the body of Blockbuster washed up on the sand, and I was genuinely surprised when the smash-and-grabber turned out not to be Blockbuster. I felt nostalgia at the scene in the record store (remember those?) and liked the giant record player whose arm Batman uses to knock out Ajax. There's continuity as well, with Batman still recovering from his gunshot wound, and a good cliffhanger that makes me want to read the next story. Best of all is the usual superb art by Newton and Adkins. I thoroughly enjoyed this story!

"The Tightening Web!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Rotting in a stinking cell for at least ten minutes, Babs Gordon gets some good news: thanks to the fact that she's an ex-politician and the daughter of a police commissioner, bail has been granted and she is remanded to the custody of her Pop. Knowing that, if she sees trial, she'll have to spill her guts on what she does to get her kit off at night or face perjury charges, Babs gets into her tight spandex and swings over to assistant D.A. Dover's office to listen in on some secret conversations. Babs learns that the prosecution has gotten hold of a document with Barbara Gordon's signature, an order for the same poison that killed Congressman Scanlon. The only way Ms. Gordon's sig could be on that paper is if her personal assistant, Doreen Gray, snuck into a pile of Babs's personal correspondence! Batgirl wings her way over to Doreen's flat, just as the woman is having a conversation with her blackmailer. Doreen explains to Batgirl that her brother is in prison and if she frames Barbara Gordon, the man will go free. Just then, three goons enter the apartment, clock Batgirl, and kidnap both women.

Peter: "The Tightening Web" is the exact opposite of "Night of the Savage": an enjoyable (though, admittedly, 100% predictable) story with barely professional graphics. This whole "Babs Gordon: Murderess" arc is a nod to 1940s crime radio dramas (at least, I think it is), with pertinent plot points being delivered at just the right moments and peril popping up approximately every three minutes. I'm certainly not saying that this Batgirl strip is award-worthy, but it's readable and, compared to the tripe being foisted in the Batman title, pleasurable.

Jack: Again, we disagree! I thought this was bottom-of-the barrel stuff, not just in terms of the art. Delbo and Giella's work recalls the worst of Heck and Calnan and I could not work up the slightest interest in the story. And I like Batgirl!

Batman #331

"Closed Circuit!"
Story by Marv Wolfman & Michael Fleisher
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Who is the shadowy figure skulking around Gotham and killing criminals by electrocuting them with his gloved hands? Even though the victims were on Death Row, they were released on technicalities and found death outside the prison walls. Batman catches up with the vigilante but falls victim to one of his electric hands. Meanwhile Dick Grayson is nagging Bruce Wayne to chat about the young man's decision to drop out of college. Bruce is too busy, so Robin follows the trial of the wayward son of Lucius Fox in order to find out what's really going on.

Batman intercepts the shadowy figure once again and discovers that he calls himself the Electrocutioner; back at Bruce Wayne's office, the millionaire playboy sees a newspaper headline announcing that he is a slumlord. Batman runs into the Electrocutioner again as the vigilante attempts to kill another Death Row inmate let out on a technicality, but the bad guy's attempt to make a "Closed Circuit!" and destroy Batman ends in him being knocked out a window and landing in the water below. At home, Batman discovers that Talia al'Ghul wants to move in with him. The mere idea makes Robin split the scene.

The grown-ups argue about silly stuff
while the babe stands by, dressed in her nightgown.

Jack: A poor effort all around, which is a shame after the terrific Aparo cover. The Electrocutioner never seems particularly menacing, and Batman somehow knows where he will be at all times. We never get an explanation of why this villain wants to right the wrongs of the court system, and the constant interruptions with subplots are annoying. Novick's art is not at its strongest with McLaughlin inking.

Peter: I think the real story here, one neglected by Marv and Mike, is how every crook on Death Row seems to be released on a technicality. That's a story Mike Fleisher would normally explore: the villain who's initiating the con's release so he can fry him. The Electrocutioner (or Electroutioner if you believe the cover blurb) is a fourth-tier amalgam of Marvel's Punisher and Electro, hardly worth the paper he's printed on. I clap my hands courteously for the editors of DC who decided to inject continuity into their strips by introducing those "background sub-plots" that Marvel made famous in the 1970s, but I'd applaud vigorously if the threads were of substance. The similarities between Lucius's problems with his son and that of Bruce and Dick are delivered with the subtlety of a jack-hammer. The dialogue is atrocious (Innocent Bystander: Eeeek! His hands are crackling with electricity! Batman: You don't know the half of it, lady!) and the art, as we've noted before, is not up to the quality of Detective. It's only right that the final page twist is right out of the blue and designed to initiate tension between Bats and Robin for a few issues. Despite the pedigrees of all involved, this is amateur hour.

"Wolf in the Fold"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Don Newton & Steve Mitchell

Batman impersonates a cop named Al Nelson in order to track down a "Wolf in the Fold," an undercover cop named Mark Rearden who has not been seen in days. Commissioner Gordon sees right through the disguise and together they track down the crooked cop.

Jack: It's striking how much better Dan Adkins is at inking Don Newton's pencils. Newton is still the most exciting artist drawing the Dark Knight at this point (Aparo is solid and reliable but his work is rarely unpredictable), and even a throwaway story like this one has moments of excitement almost solely due to the illustrations. The plot is uninspired.

Peter: Though I wouldn't classify it as art, "Wolf in the Fold" is much better than the opener, especially in the art department. I'm not sure why Bats felt the need to keep the Commish out of the loop, but the panel where he slips up and mentions Gordon's cabin is a hoot. World's greatest detective?

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