Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Victor Wolfson Part One: The Perfect Murder [1.24]

by Jack Seabrook

In the first five seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Victor Wolfson (1909-1990) wrote or co-wrote the teleplays for six episodes, always adapting works by other writers. Said to have begun his "professional career organizing acting clubs for striking coal miners in West Virginia," Wolfson's Broadway credits began in 1926, when he acted in a play called Mixed Bill. By 1935, he was writing plays produced on Broadway, and by 1943 he had begun to write short fiction pieces for magazines such as The New Yorker.

He began writing for television in 1951 and his credits include 14 episodes of Suspense and at least five episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse, the series produced by Joan Harrison not long before the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. When the Hitchcock show started, Wolfson may have been assigned scripts by Harrison once again, since he wrote two teleplays for the first season.

Victor Wolfson
After his work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Victor Wolfson won an Emmy for writing the first episode of a documentary series called Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years in 1960. He wrote the screenplay for a documentary film in 1966 and then appears to have retired.

*   *   *   *   *

Victor Wolfson's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "The Perfect Murder," a superb adaptation of a classic crime story by the French writer Stacey Aumonier that was first published in the October 1926 issue of The Strand Magazine.

"The Perfect Murder"
first appeared here
In a Parisian cafe one November evening, two brothers, Paul and Henri Denoyel, discuss murder. Both men are always in need of money and their only other relatives are an aunt and uncle named Taillandier, who are "fairly well off." Uncle Robert dies the following February and, when his will is read, the brothers learn that he left a sum in trust for his wife; when she dies, "a portion of the interest was to be divided between Henri and Paul..." Aunt Rosalie is 82 and frail. The brothers attempt to borrow money from their aunt, with little success.

After two years, they begin to despair that she will not die soon. Another year passes and, when Paul faints while once again trying to borrow money, Aunt Rosalie insists that he move into her villa. Over time, the older woman grows attached to her nephew and Henri becomes jealous. Eventually, though, Paul's dissolute behavior puts him in such desperate straits that he appeals to his brother for a loan. On a rainy November evening, the brothers sit in a cafe and Henri suddenly recalls their conversation about murder years ago. Henri suggests that Paul murder his aunt.

Hurd Hatfield as Paul
Paul soon devises a plan: his aunt eats a souffle made with two eggs every other night and the maid always beats the eggs and leaves them in a basin after lunch. Paul asks Henri to "'grind up a piece of glass'" to sprinkle in the basin. The next day, the deed is done, and Henri spends the rest of the day agonizing over the murder that he believes is about to take place. The following morning, he rises late and buys a newspaper, which features the story of Paul Denoyel, who died in "great agony" after eating an omelet. Henri later learns that Aunt Rosalie had insisted that it was not the day for eggs and so, not wanting to waste food, the maid later prepared an omelet for Paul.

In her introduction to The Third Omnibus of Crime, a 1935 collection where this story was reprinted, Dorothy L. Sayers writes that "In the selection of stories for the first part of this volume, ingenuity in discovering new tricks has been allowed to count equally with literary merit; the two do not always go together. When they do, as in... Stacy Aumonier's The Perfect Murder, the reader's satisfaction is, naturally, all the greater."

Mildred Natwick as Aunt Rosalie
Aumonier's story is delightful and it was a perfect choice for adaptation to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Victor Wolfson's teleplay follows the story closely and demonstrates his skill at turning narrative into dialogue. He deletes the story's opening scene where the brothers discuss murder as an abstract concept and the TV show opens with the reading of the will. There is on and off voiceover narration by Henri, who introduces the main characters right away, and the events of the TV show are compressed in time, occurring more rapidly than those in the story, where they play out over several years.

The mix of humor and horror in "The Perfect Murder" makes it quintessential Hitchcock; the dialogue between Rosalie and Paul is playful and his faint is theatrical; Rosalie seems to realize that her handsome nephew is not always on the level, but she is charmed and flattered by his attentions and happy to have a younger man around the house. Later events are foreshadowed when Paul has a conversation with the maid in the kitchen and there is an excellent scene in which Rosalie and Paul speak the truth about each other, seemingly in jest. Paul holds Rosalie by the hands and nearly lets her fall backward before steadying her--she laughs but there is uncertainty and fear in her eyes.

Philip Coolidge as Henri
One night, Paul catches Henri stealing a silver picture frame from Rosalie's house to pawn for money; it is then that Paul first suggests killing his aunt. The brothers walk outside, where Paul plucks a flower and says: "'It's withered. I despise decaying things.'" The inference is that the honeysuckle blossom represents his aunt. The brothers are opposites: Paul is young, handsome, single, and confident, while Henri is older, plain, married, and uncertain. A closeup of Henri grinding up a wine glass with a mortar and pestle is horrible since the viewer knows the plan for its use. When Henri hands Paul the vial of ground glass, Paul remarks: "'It will be an ambrosia, fit for the angels, and when Aunt Rosalie tastes it, she'll become one of them.'"

Gladys Hurlbut as Ernestine
At lunch, before Paul puts the glass in the eggs, he gets his aunt tipsy with wine and tells her that dinner will be a surprise: "'souffle a la glace,'" he calls it. This is a clever bit of wordplay for English-speaking viewers that makes no sense in French and is absent in Aumonier's short story. The phrase "a la glace" means "with ice cream," which is nonsense when referring to a souffle. However, the viewer, aware that Paul plans to put ground glass in Aunt Rosalie's souffle, understands the double meaning of the homophones "glace" and "glass." The black humor in Wolfson's script is delicious!

Walter Kingsford as
Dr. Poncet
Paul openly flirts with Rosalie not long before he tries to kill her, calling her "'my love,'" a term of endearment that she pretends to bristle at but that clearly pleases her. There is then another horrible closeup of Paul sprinkling the ground glass in the eggs and mixing it in. The next morning, Henri narrates once again as he waits for news. Instead of reading about Paul's death in the paper, he learns what happened in a telephone call, but the surprise is held back from the viewer, who cannot hear what Henri hears. At Rosalie's house, Ernestine, the maid, explains what happened. The camera focuses on her, then on Henri, and finally pans over to show Rosalie, alive and well. Rosalie tells Henri of Paul's death and of his last words, which were "'omelet a la glace,'" which she calls "'a joke we had.'" Rosalie suggests that Henri have something to eat, "'an omelet, perhaps?'" and he leaps up and rushes out of the room, ending the episode.

Percy Helton as the lawyer
"The Perfect Murder" is an exemplary short film that follows its source story closely while adding small touches that make it even more entertaining. The show moves quickly from start to finish and benefits from strong performances and brisk direction.

Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928), who wrote the short story upon which the TV show was based, was a British writer best known for his short stories. He served in World War One and died at a fairly young age of tuberculosis; he was praised by such contemporary writers as John Galsworthy, James Hilton, and Rebecca West. IMDb lists a handful of films and TV shows adapted from his stories, including two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, one of which was "Little White Frock."

Hope Summers as Marie
"The Perfect Murder" was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who worked in television from 1948 to 1987 and directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye." He also directed 105 episodes of Suspense in the early 1950s.

Top billing goes to Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998) as Paul. Born William Rukard Hurd Hatfield in New York City, he moved to London after college and began appearing on stage. He returned to the U.S. and was seen on Broadway from 1941 to 1958, but his film and TV career lasted longer, from 1944 to 1991. Best known for his starring role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Hatfield also appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "None Are So Blind."

Jack Chefe as the waiter
Mildred Natwick (1905-1994) plays Aunt Rosalie with her usual mix of intelligence and acerbic wit. On Broadway from 1932 to 1979 and on screen from 1940 to 1988, she appeared in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and won an Emmy in 1974 for a series of TV movies about "The Snoop Sisters," where she played one of the title crime solvers. Natwick also starred in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty," which was also adapted from a story by Stacy Aumonier.

Philip Coolidge (1908-1967) is perfect as the timid, uncertain brother, Henri; a radio announcer turned stage actor, he was on screen from 1947 to 1968, appeared in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959), and was seen in seven episodes of the Hitchcock TV series, including "Whodunit." He was also on The Twilight Zone.

In smaller roles:
  • Gladys Hurlbut (1898-1988) as Ernestine, the maid; she worked on Broadway from 1920 to 1949 as both actor and playwright before starting a screen career that lasted from 1951 to 1961. She was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Walter Kingsford (1882-1958) as Dr. Poncet; born Walter Pearce in England, he appeared on the London stage and then on Broadway from 1912 to 1946. His screen career lasted from 1922 to 1958 and he was in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body."
  • Percy Helton (1894-1971) as the lawyer who reads the will; he was in vaudeville from age two and served in the Army in World War One. He damaged his voice permanently while yelling in a stage play and thus had a distinctively squeaky way of talking for much of his career. He was on screen from 1915 to 1978 and appeared in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Creeper"; he was also in the classic episode of Bus Stop, "I Kiss Your Shadow," as well as on The Twilight Zone and Batman.
  • Hope Summers (1902-1979) as Marie, Henri's wife; on screen from 1950 to 1987, she appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The End of Indian Summer," had recurring roles on The Rifleman and The Andy Griffith Show, played one of the Satanists in Rosemary's Baby (1968), and appeared on Night Gallery.
  • Jack Chefe (1894-1975) as the waiter; born in Russia, he played hundreds of bit parts in a screen career that lasted from 1928 to 1963; he also appears in two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Specialty of the House," co-written by Victor Wolfson.
"The Perfect Murder" first aired on CBS on Sunday, March 11, 1956. Read the short story online here; buy the DVD here; or watch it online here.


Aumonier, Stacy. "The Perfect Murder." The Third Omnibus of Crime, edited by Dorothy L. Sayers. Blue Ribbon Books, 1935.


Galactic Central, 

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



Lane, Christina. Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman behind Hitchcock. Chicago Review Press, 2021. 

Norris, J F. "Moonlighters: Victor Wolfson - a Playwright Dabbles in Gothic Dread." MOONLIGHTERS: Victor Wolfson - A Playwright Dabbles in Gothic Dread, 25 June 2021, 

"The Perfect Murder." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 24, CBS, 11 Mar. 1956. 

Sayers, Dorothy L. "Introduction." The Third Omnibus of Crime, p. 3. 


In two weeks: Our coverage of Victor Wolfson continues with "Malice Domestic," starring Ralph Meeker and Phyllis Thaxter!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Perfect Murder" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Legacy" here!

Monday, June 27, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 56: August/September 1985


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

Batman #386

"Black Mask: Losing Face"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

When the doctor who delivered baby Roman Sionis dropped the infant in the delivery room, it was a bad sign. Despite being the heir to his father's cosmetics empire, Roman grew up unhappy, especially when he was bitten by a raccoon on a family vacation. Soon after his 21st birthday, Roman was made vice president of his father's company and he quickly hooked up with a gorgeous redheaded model who called herself Circe.

When his parents didn't approve, Roman set fire to their home, killing them. Roman became president of the company and, though he tried to interest the public in face-paint cosmetics, all he did was nearly run the organization into the ground. When he offered a big bonus for a revolutionary new makeup, Roman ignored his own scientist's warnings about side effects and put water-insoluble makeup on the market. Widespread injuries and lawsuits followed. Finally, the only hope for Janus Cosmetics was a bailout from the Wayne Foundation; it seems Bruce Wayne's father had been friends with Roman's late father.

Bitter at being forced out of his own company, Roman visited his parents' crypt one stormy night and lost his mind, transforming his face into something that had to be covered with a black mask. He began gathering small-time criminals to form the False Face Society of Gotham, a gang that carried out numerous thefts. Batman was soon on his trail and, when Black Mask (as Roman began calling himself) murdered the new chairman of the board of Janus Cosmetics, Batman knew who was to blame. What the Dark Knight didn't know was that Black Mask's next target was Bruce Wayne!

Peter: Hot on the heels of Calendar Man, we get another villain tied in with the early days of Bruce Wayne. It's a radical experiment for Doug to write a full-length origin story for an untested bad guy. Though the origin itself lacks originality, the story is entertaining and fast-paced. The art is dreadful; Mandrake's work looks like the sub-par penciling we'd find in the later-years DC mystery comics. In the years that followed, Black Mask would become one of the mid-level-tier villains, used quite a bit in comics and animation.

Jack: I agree with you that this is a half-decent story with poor art. Is Black Mask supposed to be similar to False Face, who I remember from the 1960s TV show? It's unclear exactly what happens in the crypt, when Roman pushes some sort of wooden fragment into his face for five hours. I guess we'll get a big reveal of his hideous face in an upcoming issue. We do get one panel with a long-distance shot of Circe, topless, with her back turned, wearing nothing but some skimpy undies. I know it's not much, but I was surprised to see that panel in a DC comic, even in 1985.

Detective Comics #553

"The False Face Society of Gotham"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Black Mask continues his killing spree, murdering executives of the company he once owned, Janus Cosmetics. His next target: Bruce Wayne! Our billionaire/favorite alter ego receives a call from an alarmed Lucius Fox, who fears the recent killings will cause Wayne stocks to plummet. Fox suggests that Bruce attend the following evening's benefit for Ethiopia to stem the tide of concern. Bruce agrees.

The next night, Wayne arrives at the function with the beautiful and multi-surnamed reporter Julia on his arm. Of course, he notices the car across the street occupied by Black Mask's hoods but concentrates on enjoying his thousand-buck dinner. 

Meanwhile, across town, Black Mask kidnaps super-model Circe and takes her to his super-secret hideout. The next night, he gives her the deadly mask treatment but adjusts the dosage in order to take away her beauty but not her life. Black Mask offers Circe the choice of receiving the full fatal facial or becoming his new "queen" and ruling beside him. Circe opts for royalty. 

At the same time, Batman and Robin are mopping the floor with Black Mask's hired goons, who can offer no help as to the whereabouts of their boss. Looks like the boys are going to have to roll up their gloves and do a little detective work!

Peter: The Black Mask saga is a decent time-waster but Doug seems to be taking it a lot more seriously than I do. Pert near every line the new villain recites seems to have been written for some low-budget opera rather than a tights 'n' capes funny book: "You may enter, initiates... enter--to join the swelling ranks of the faceless..." I dare anyone to read Black Mask's monologue on the title page and not giggle at least once. Of course, I'll add the obligatory Having said that... and say that I dig psycho bad guys. There's a Tim Burton's Joker vibe to Black Mask, like he's capable of doing anything at a moment's notice, that makes the story hum. Shakespearean dialogue aside, Moench pens a really good, unpredictable crime drama here and Klaus puts a very nice cinematic sheen to it. Please don't let me down with the finale, Doug.

Jack: After two Black Mask stories I remain confused. Black Mask made a mask from his father's coffin lid and it has spirit power? I did not get that from the first story, perhaps due to the poor artwork. Now it seems that putting on a mask with poisoned cosmetics smeared on the inside can not only kill a person in 30 seconds but also leave their face looking like a skull. I like the way Doug uses the double meaning of "losing face" and I like Janson's art better than Mandrake's, although it's still not great.

"Crazy From the Heat
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow and the Black Canary attempt to extinguish a fire at an abandoned building. Well, they think it's abandoned until they hear a series of shrieks emanating from within. Ollie shoots a series of foam arrows into the blaze while Canary enters. She finds and rescues a woman and her child and then heads further into the inferno, where she comes face to face with the X-Men's Storm the newest tenth-tier villain to hit Star City, Bonfire. The arsonist gets the better of the Canary and then hoofs it, leaving our heroine to suffocate or burn to death. Arrow arrives just in time to save his best girl.

Outside, Green Arrow has words for the fire chief, who arrives once the action is over. Arrow is convinced that the owners of the building had it torched so that they could simultaneously get rid of squatters and make way for rebuilding. Later, while recovering in bed, Dinah looks at an old photo of her mother, the original Black Canary, and makes a startling discovery. To be continued.

Peter: You don't get much of a look at DC's daring new villain, Bonfire, but you can tell right off the bat that, like most of these short-term criminals, not much thought was given to design. She's a chick who starts fires. What else do you need to know? Joey Cavalieri continues checking off boxes on his list of "Societal Woes" by turning the spotlight on the very real problem of the homeless and squatter's rights. Trouble is, Joey doesn't have the space to craft a solid story around these threads.

Jack: It was nice to see Black Canary take a central role and I liked Green Arrow's brief return to social commentary. What bugged me was the fact that Black Canary has a perm on page six but nowhere else in the story. Moore & Patterson's art is not bad here; in fact, it's better than Janson's work on the lead story.

Batman #387

"Ebon Masquery"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Batman knows that Black Mask can't resist a masked ball, so he invites the villain to attend a get together at Wayne Manor. At the party, Alfred narrows the suspects to six attendees and begins to winnow them down to one, but Black Mask tricks Bruce Wayne and they end up alone in the conservatory.

Bruce manages to fight off Black Mask, who makes a run for it. Robin tails him to the Sionis family crypt and summons Batman, but when the Caped Crusader arrives, the Dynamic Duo find themselves outnumbered by masked members of the False Face Society. After mopping up the first batch of baddies, Batman and Robin follow Black Mask, who again manages to escape.

They track him to the Sionis estate, where countless members of the False Face Society try to defeat Batman and Robin while Black Mask stands in his childhood bedroom, talking to his toys. Eventually, Batman and Robin catch up to him, but not before he has set the room on fire with himself in it. Batman rescues Black Mask, whose face is permanently charred black by the flames. Circe remains at large and, a month later, she visits Arkham Asylum, where Black Mask now resides, and leaves him her mask.

Vicki Vale lets Bruce know what he's been
missing in the three days since he last saw her!

Oh Doug, you did it to me again! Whereas the previous chapter in this arc seemed edgy, the climax is like a script from the 1966 show. This is not the first time that I've felt Doug writes to the standards of his art crew. Janson is the new wave, while Mandrake is tantamount to Mike Sekowsky. There's little to no choreography, the action is unexciting, and our heroes might as well be Colorform figures. The party dialogue is like a series of unconnected one-liners and the climax makes no sense. Biggest laugh of the year: Vicki Vale flaunting her new Jamie Lee Curtis-inspired body at the party. What a feeling! What a letdown.

Jack: In spite of the uninspired art, I enjoyed it! Moench sets up interesting parallels between Black Mask and Bruce Wayne, and the fight/chase/fight structure of the story kept me turning pages. Like other artists we've seen at DC and Warren, Mandrake is challenged by human faces, so when many of the characters wear masks, he is able to execute better panels. I also laughed at the new, buff Vicki Vale! I would love to have seen what Colan would have done with this story.

Guess which one of us liked Colorforms.

Detective Comics #554

"Port Passed"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Harvey Bullock investigates trouble down at Gotham Harbor. An Italian freighter has refused customs inspection and is being escorted to the docks. At the last moment, a source informs the police that the freighter may be carrying explosives. As Bullock is comparing notes with the beat cops, a man emerges from the water, blurts out the word "Frog--" and then croaks, a stiletto lodged in his back.

Batman and Robin arrive at the dock, summoned by the Bat-Signal, and a plan is quickly formed. The Dark Knight believes the dead man may have been trying to say "," which would signal an underwater as well as onboard threat. Robin and Bullock will approach and board the ship to investigate the explosives threat while Batman will sniff out any below-surface danger.

Robin and Bullock sneak aboard the ship; they fail to find any TNT, but there are two would-be terrorists waiting for them. They make quick work of one but the other, in scuba gear, dives over the side with a spear gun. Batman picks up the man's "trail" and deduces that the explosives are in the gun. The two grapple underwater and the spear gun goes off, blowing a hole in the freighter. The two bad guys are rounded up and a waterproof box is found. Gordon opens it, expecting to find drugs, and discovers a passport for nefarious Italian mobster Joseph Torelli and an airline ticket from Gotham to Naples. Ironically, Gordon reveals to his audience, Torelli was set to be deported back the next day to Naples on that very freighter!

Peter: One-offs usually don't float my boat (pun intended), but "Port Passed" is a fun romp with some great visuals. The dialogue between Robin and Bullock as they're speeding out to the freighter is hilarious. Bullock trying to get answers from Robin about his partnership with Batman, and Bullock's nagging feeling this is not the same Robin they've been dealing with all these years ("I always thought Robin was bigger... and older too!") bring up something I'd never thought about: the general public has no idea this is Robin Mach II! I've never understood underwater action scenes in funny books. Batman is clocked with a spear gun he "never saw coming." How do you effectively deliver a stunning blow underwater? 

Jack: In slow motion, of course! I really enjoyed this fun story and appreciated the dynamic art. It amused me that Bruce and Jason were playing chess by the fire and Jason wanted to play a video game. Isn't it about time to redecorate the Batcave and get rid of that giant penny?

"Crazy From the Heat II: The Past is Prologue"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Tired of living in the shadow (both physically and mentally) of her famous superheroine mother, the Black Canary tosses her old uni in the trash and gets herself a new sexy, fireproof Danskin. All dressed up, she heads out to the abandoned buildings where she last saw Bonfire and the two engage in a brief tussle before Diana uses her "Canary Cry" to debilitate the super-arsonist. Green Arrow shows up in time to watch the end credits and give Diana a hard time about her new look.

Peter: The back story of Black Canary is confusing to the Nth, even after I spent several seconds skimming her Wiki page. I believe this is the first we've seen Diana use her "Canary Cry" weapon (essentially a low-grade "Black Bolt Bellow"), but it makes me wonder why she didn't simply use it when confronted by Bonfire last issue. If I didn't know better, I'd say Diana decided to retire and it's Vicki Vale who emerges as the new Canary. Cavalieri leaves the social commentary out this time (all the better, that) and the Moore/Patterson team do an aces job visualizing the words on the paper. All in all, not a bad little story but odd that the powers-that-be chose to spotlight the Canary's new look rather than what was going on in the lead feature.

Jack: I like that the cover is an homage to Carmine Infantino's 1948 cover for Flash 92, though I have to say I prefer the earlier version. Black Canary does bring much needed new blood to this series, but her new uniform is a definite no. One question: I thought Golden Age super-heroes were supposed to be from Earth Two, not the parents of Bronze Age superheroes. Can someone help me out? How is the 1940s Black Canary the mother of the 1980s Black Canary? Who is the father? And why isn't Golden Age Batman the father of Bronze Age Batman?

Next Week...
Corben's back!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 63


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 48
August 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #22

“The Mad Beasts” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

“Son of a Freak” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“In One Ear…” (a: Joe Maneely) ★

“I Can’t Close My Eyes!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Built Another Rat-Trap!” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★

Moto, the world’s only two-headed man, is tired of being gaped at and ridiculed but then what do you expect, since Moto’s the lead act in a freak show? One night, by chance, he’s told by a man that his sister has two heads. Overjoyed, Moto meets and courts Emma, the world’s only two-headed woman. The two (four?) are married but, quickly, Moto realizes that Emma is a bit bi-polar, pinballing between just fine and eating the family cat. Moto realizes that a regular family life is now out of the question but, just as he’s about to give up, Emma becomes pregnant. All hopes for a “normal” child are dashed when the baby is born with one head but two bodies!

“Son of a Freak” is a nasty, mean-spirited piece of WTF?, but it’s undeniably entertaining in a squirmy kind of way. Some of the captions are wink-wink hilarious (Visions of what his children would look like formed inside both of Moto’s heads…) as is the transformation Emma undergoes after her wedding. When Moto and Emma had a chance to consummate their nuptials is anyone’s guess since the poor guy is tossing chains around his bride right out of the gate. Reinman’s art is perfectly sleazy, very rough around the edges, with the whole thing resembling a very low-budget exploitation flick from the 1960s. Dangerous and subversive!

Equally head-scratching is the Stan Lee’-scripted “In One Ear…,” wherein Gilby Crumshaw confounds those around him by wearing a heavy scarf around his neck even when it’s a sweltering day. Turns out Gilby’s hiding an extra pair of ears on his neck (no, seriously!). Now, Gilby’s intending to do something about this and to that end, he robs and murders innocent folk in an effort to save money for an operation. Once he gets enough in the piggy bank, he takes the dough to the renowned ear-neck surgeon, Dr. Leopold Neisen, who assures him that the amount is just right. Noticing the black armband around the Doc’s arm, Gilby (who has, remember, spent the last who-knows-how-long murdering innocent folk) gives the man his condolences and is assured the death in the family will not affect the operation. Gilby goes under but, while the Doc is prepping, he’s approached by a ghost who whispers in his ear. Gilby wakes up and discovers the Doc has removed his regular set of ears and left his lower pair. Turns out the ghost was the Doc’s brother, you guessed it, murdered by Gilby the week before. By this time in the Atlas history, Stan was clearly running out of inspiration and was going back to the “extra set of…” well two or three too many times. 

“The Mad Beasts,” despite its obvious highlight of Heath art, is the confusing, weakly plotted story of a prison warden who keeps his worst convicts in cages and, of course, the punishment is reversed by the climax of the story. In “I Can’t Close My Eyes!,” a sadistic Baron can’t get to sleep at night and offers a reward to the man who makes the perfect bed. The woodworkers all fail and they are put to death. Later, their spirits arise and the trio make a bed of nails sure to put the Baron to sleep. 

Wanna-be hunter, Hugo Hardy, has tons of mounted heads in his den but not the courage to actually earn those trophies. He buys them. Then the rats begin to show up around Hugo’s estate and the lightbulb goes on over Hugo’s head. At first he shoots them with his pistol but that fast becomes boring so Hugo begins fashioning torture traps such as guillotines and nooses. His collection of rat-tails, mounted on the den wall, soon number in the hundreds. The little mongrels suddenly disappear and Hugo suspects he’s killed them all. Little does he know, the giant rodents are holding secret meetings and crafting their own torture devices, soon to be put to the test.

In the vein of “Son of a Freak…,” but not nearly as much fun, is “Built Another Rat-Trap!,” which wastes its first three pages with unnecessary expository and cliched motivations but turns up the wack-factor to ten with its depictions of the rats building a giant cage in which to trap their own prey. Out-loud laughter was ignited by the panel of a particularly industrious vermin laboring over the trap door to Hugo’s cage!

Adventures into Weird Worlds #21

“What Happened in the Cave?” (a: Myron Fass) ★★★

“The Devil to Pay!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

“The Plunderer!” (a: John Romita) ★★

“The Little Soldiers” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Romanoff’s Rumor!” (a: John Forte & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Something is killing the good people of a small mountain town, something that craves the warmth and just wants to get out of the cold. The sheriff has gotten together a posse after the Petersons, God-fearin’ old folk, are found “mashed and battered” in their little house. The trail of footprints leads right to a dark cave and, before the sheriff can do anything more, a panicked posse member tosses dynamite in the cave and blows it to hell. The sheriff opines that whoever was in the cave “is finished.” Not so, says the giant green bug man who climbs out of a hole within the cave.

An honest-to-goodness low-budget monster movie done the Atlas way. I kept waiting for the reveal to be a bear or an escaped mental patient or a Commie but no, our uncredited scripter saves the day by making the killer an antenna-headed BEM, one of a race of such creatures living in the core of the Earth. “What Happened in the Cave?” generates a good amount of legitimate suspense in the same way some of those aforementioned low-budget drive-in flicks of the 1950s managed to wrassle up.

Adolf Hitler goes to hell and the devil tells him he has a special temperature just waiting for him. Hitler insists he doesn’t belong here as he did many good deeds on Earth but no one alive on Earth will stand up for him because “they have it out for” the poor guy. Satan agrees to Hitler’s terms: if he can find one man in history that will vouch for him, Hitler goes free. Hitler climbs a long ladder and, along the way, runs into Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Napoleon, but none of them will give ‘dolf the time of day. Exasperated, the former German hero claims there is one person still on Earth that knows he’s a good guy. But when Adolf Hitler calls for Joe Stalin, he’s told Joe has left the building. The devil laughs and asks Hitler, “Who you think you been talking to?”  

“The Devil to Pay!” is like a long, elaborate joke that would be lost on just about anyone today but must have been a real hoot to the young boys and girls of 1953. Odd that Carl Wessler wrote this one, rather than Commie-baiting Stan, but I assume the “Joe Stalin in Hell” stories should start appearing regularly very soon. I like the Kweskin art, even if it is scratchy and rough; seems to favor this type of tale.

"The Plunderer"
Zor, “The Plunderer,” and his crew land on what appears to be a deserted planet full of uranium. The men begin to dig but quickly discover that the planet is far from desolate. At only three pages, “The Plunderer” doesn’t do much harm and has a nice sheen attached to it thanks to Mr. Romita. In “The Little Soldiers,” a grunt working with molten lead shoves his troublesome supervisor in a vat of the stuff and then molds the infected lead into toy soldiers. The little warriors rise up for revenge. Awful, awful art and an unimaginative script make this the worst story of the month.

Igor Romanoff tries his darnedest but he can’t get any Americans to buy into Communism, so he and his pinko friends decide to start a rumor that Earth will be invaded by Mars. Their (skewed) reasoning is that Americans will turn against their way of life if they feel threatened. Igor begins whispering in strange ears on the subway, the street corner, in the diner, anywhere he can, but the result is always the same: laughter or general indifference. When the Commie Club reconvenes, the Reds compare notes but are interrupted when Igor begins to crumble into sand. His buddies and their headquarters follow. Outside the city limits, the Martians discuss the good work they did, squelching the invasion talk and then head back to Mars to prepare for the real deal. The twist is a good one and the Forte/Fox art is ideal but the script for “Romanoff’s Rumor” is yet another tiring commie tirade. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, blind them with Bolshevik.

Astonishing #26

“I Died Too Often” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“As Different as Day and Night” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“Monkey Face!” (a: Sid Greene) ★

“Scared Out of His Shadow!” (a: Louis Ravelli) ★1/2

“Come In and Meet the Folks!” (a: John Forte) ★★★

“I Died Too Often” is badly-written nonsense about a man who witnesses a cat’s death and learns he’s inherited the feline’s remaining eight lives. When he decides to use one of those lives to kill his boss, he’s transformed into a cat and attacked by the boss’s hound. There’s no reasoning given for the twist but then the out-of-left-field revelation is on par with the bland build-up. Bob Fujitani seems to have taken little inspiration from the script.

To make a couple extra bucks, rooming house landlady Emma Higgins rents one of her rooms to two men, the creepy Mr. Jellicoe during the day and the handsome Mr. Bancroft at night. When Ms. Higgins finds blood in the room, she naturally suspects Jellicoe is the dastardly fiend who’s murdered six women, but it turns out Mr. Bancroft has been reading Robert Louis Stevenson in his spare time. “As Different as Day and Night” is capped by a predictable finale, but I find Chuck Winters’s art so unsettling that the script becomes almost irrelevant. “Monkey Face!” is a lame three-pager about a hood cursed with a simian’s features. After a botched bank robbery, the mutt makes a deal with Satan to change his looks and the devil, always the joker, gives him an ape’s body.

Poor meek Percy Merriweather notices his shadow begins acting independently and, very soon, Percy finds himself witness to murder. “Scared Out of Hs Shadow!” is built on a too-familiar plot device but if there’s a saving grace, it’s the work of artist Louis Ravielli who, like Chuck Winter, almost seems to be a man two decades before his time with his scratchy, underground style. This was the first of only five Atlas horror appearances by Ravielli, after which he worked primarily for I.W. and Avon.

As he carries his wife’s corpse into the bathroom, Mark remembers how he came to meet the lovely Dolores and how mysterious she was about her family. Denying Mark the chance to meet them until after they were married, Dolores builds suspicion in her betrothed until one night, it all explodes. Mark witnesses his wife with a broom and a cauldron and suddenly believes he’s married into a coven. He beats Dolores to death with a candlestick and then swallows poison to avoid the inevitable witch’s curse. After Mark slumps to the floor, the in-laws enter the house and we discover they’re actually hillbillies. Hilarious, and entirely unexpected (especially after the brutal splash), the finale for “Come In and Meet the Folks!” saves what otherwise would have been a sub-par issue of Astonishing

Journey into Mystery #11

“The Hidden Vampires” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“The New Look” (a: Dan Loprino) ★★

(r: Monsters on the Prowl #18)

“If the Coat Fits” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★★

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“Meet the Dead” (a: Don Perlin) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #15)

“The Other Face” (r: George Tuska) ★

(r: Vault of Evil #6)

"The Hidden Vampires"
The small Hungarian village of Rovato has become plagued by vampires but no one seems to know how to root the creatures out. Rovato’s mayor calls for the help of super vampire-hunter Jan Mazerok, but when the would-be Van Helsing arrives, the townsfolk complain that he’s a bit old and weak. Nevertheless, the wizened Mazerok unleashes a secret weapon from his black case and the starved mosquitoes head right for the blood-rich vampires. Granted, the twist is silly but there are a few interesting flourishes here and there in “The Hidden Vampires.” The family of blood-suckers hides in plain sight amongst the population, disguised as villagers, and discuss their plight at the dinner table! DiPreta’s vampires hardly bare their fangs and have wonderful cat’s eyes.

In the three-page “The New Look,” homely Eric goes to Nina the Witch for a handsome face. Nina calls on Satan, who grants Eric his wish but, as with most devilish bargains, Eric doesn’t emerge a happy man even with his new face. Some nice, Ghastly-esque pencils from Dan Loprino. The other short-short this issue (a 4-pager), “Meet the Dead” is a routine fortune teller thriller about a man who tracks his wife to a seance and then breaks it up just when the spooky stuff is starting. The surprising finale and some good Perlin graphics make this an easy read. The final story this issue, “The Other Face,” is a really bad revenge drama about a man who finds out his wife is having an affair with a plastic surgeon. The couple plan to murder him but he gets the upper hand first. A really dumb climax, lots of cornball dialogue, and some dreadful Tuska art easily make this the worst of the issue.

People all around the globe are mysteriously disappearing into thin air. Professor Kester believes there is a alternate dimension where people exactly like those on our Earth are trying to port themselves over into our world. When the vanished appear, perfectly healthy but not forthcoming on their whereabouts during their disappearance, Kester’s theory is that the beings from Earth-B are replacing us one by one. Harry, owner of a new and used clothing store has a strange visitor one night, who asks if he can pawn a coat of his for a short time. Harry quickly agrees, despite the warnings of wife Sarah, and the stranger’s parting words are a warning not to try the coat on. 

Harry, knowing a good set of threads when he sees it, promptly slides the coat on and disappears right before his wife’s astonished eyes. Seconds later, Harry returns and convinces his wife to try on the coat. The next day, Harry and Sarah open up the shop just like normal but things really aren’t normal anymore. The knee-jerk reaction to “If the Coat Fits” is that it’s a well-written rip-off of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers but, believe it or not, that classic wouldn’t be published until the following year. I’m not sure writer Jack Oleck was going for the same “Red Scare” analogy Finney had in mind for the victims of his pod people but it can certainly be inferred. Pushing aside the subtle undertones for a moment, “If the Coat Fits”  succeeds as a very tense and intelligent terror tale, with gorgeous work by Russ Heath.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #21

“The Most Hated Man in the World” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“What’s Going On Here?” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Someone Isn’t There” (a: Bob McCarty) ★★

“Modern Art” (a: Don Rico) ★1/2

“The Dead of Winter” (a: Mike Sekowsky & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Who is Galen Tor? He’s “The Most Hated Man in the World?” To discover why there is a statue erected in every city on Earth in the year 2160, we’d have to go back 200 years to a time when the world was on the brink of global war. Every nation built up its arms and the United States was no different. For a bomb that could destroy all of America’s enemies, the military turned to scientist Galen Tor, who had perfected an explosive “100 times more powerful than the biggest hydrogen bomb!” All that was needed to trigger the device was an infra-red beam. 

"Someone Isn't There"
Galen stalls the army but, in the meantime, Earth is invaded by Martians, hoping to find a nice world to vacation on. Earth’s nations become allies but still Galen will not turn over his bomb. Instead, he offers it to the aliens, who jump at the chance to take it back to Mars to study. Galen boards the ship, leaving behind a population screaming for his hide, and then detonates the bomb when the UFO is deep into space. No one on Earth knows the true events and Galen becomes the Benedict Arnold of the 22nd Century. Joe Sinnott immediately makes every story 100% better but “The Most Hated…” also has a sly sense of humor and is immensely entertaining.

In “What’s Going On Here?,” a family is terrorized by a giant outside their home. The giant attempts to feed them with a big spoon, takes their clothes off, and tucks them into bed. I’m asking “What’s Going On Here?” that a two-panel joke somehow got stretched into four pages of tedium. Equally silly is the issue’s other short-short, “Modern Art.” Museum trustee Jason Peters is outraged when he discovers a wall of abstract art in a building associated with Rembrandts and Gainsboroughs. When he confronts the curator with his complaints, he’s told the museum is only changing with the times and then shows Turner his third eye. 

"The Dead of Winter"
A trio of adventurers decide they’re going to climb the infamous Changura mountain and no “holy season” will stop them. They ventilate the monk who guards the sacred path to the mountain but then encounter a vengeful spirit halfway up the climb. One by one, the murderers are dealt with. We’ve seen the plot of “Someone Isn’t There” before but Bob McCarty has a blast visualizing the events (McCarty’s style is very similar to that of Jack Davis) and the sadism of the men is almost amusing. 

There’s some kind of story hiding in “The Dead of Winter” but don’t strain yourself. A thief stumbles onto a town with a deep, dark secret. Something about ages-old people kept on ice and resurrected every so often, but never mind that. Matt Fox is involved with the visuals and Fox can make even the most indecipherable mess at least interesting. His style melded with the blandness of Mike Sekowsky’s is truly an odd soufflé. For instance, in the splash, our main protagonist’s body seems to be heading towards us but his legs are going in the opposite direction.

Marvel Tales #117

“Terror in the North!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” (a: Gil Kane) ★1/2

(r: Uncanny Tales #5)

“Red Tape!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“Uncle Gideon’s Gold” (a: Louis Ravielli) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #10)

“Jerry’s New Job” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

"I Wait in the Dungeon"
A small French village is terrorized by a killer wolf. Some of the townsfolk claim the animal is a werewolf but hunter Marsh is no superstitious fool. He claims the beast is a simple timber wolf, protecting its cubs and he’s the man to kill it. By the end of the journey, when Marsh faces the wolf, he’s both right and wrong. There’s some nice Don Perlin artwork (very reminiscent of that of Russ Heath) on “Terror in the North,” but the script is very slow and never really works up the suspense a terror tale needs to succeed.

Dentist Simon Tulliver refuses to use ether on his patients because, after all, “A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” His wife Martha, who doubles as his assistant, constantly pesters Simon to show pity on his patients but a penny saved… One night, Simon arrives home and catches Martha with her old friend (and brain surgeon) John Bainbridge in the parlor; John is attempting a coup on Simon’s “property” and Simon will have none of it. The enraged tooth-man knocks Bainbridge to the floor and attempts to strangle him but is stricken by one of his occasional fainting spells and passes out. Simon awakens on an operating table, with Bainbridge assuring him everything will be just fine as soon as he removes the small clot on the brain that’s causing Simon’s spells. But one thing… John doesn’t use anesthesia… after all…

“Red Tape” is a silly and unfocused “red menace” tale set in a prison camp that is partially redeemed by its jolting Sam Kweskin visuals. Louis Ravielli’s work on “Uncle Gideon’s Gold” is equally stark and creepy but the script, alas, is just as disappointing as “Red Tape.” Bert Rogan wants all his Uncle Gideon’s gold but the miser ain’t talking as to the whereabouts of said stash, so Bert is forced to torture him until he’s forthcoming. Bert gets his answer but it proves to be his downfall. 

Jerry Johnson lands a swell new job, one that pays a fortune to do pert near nothing. All he has to do is a bit of gophering for his boss, Mr. Eblis, but after a while Jerry grows suspicious of the company he works for. What exactly does this business export? And why do they write up million-dollar contracts for only seven years of service? Jerry overhears a conversation between Eblis and one of his underlings and convinces himself he’s working for the Russians. Rather than present his case to the police, Jerry decides to confront Eblis with his suspicions and blackmail the man for a cool million. Eblis laughs the story off and tells Jerry he’s sorry but he’s going to have to get rid of him. Eblis isn’t a Russian spy, he’s the devil! A very cute idea, with a surprise twist you may see coming if you pay attention to the clues, with some typically fanciful DiPreta art. “Jerry’s New Job” marked Tony DiPreta’s 50th contribution to the Atlas pre-codes.

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The Fabulous Mr. Fox!