Monday, November 13, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 117: April/May 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 231

"My Brother's Keeper"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"In the Frying Pan!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: A group of young, new replacement soldiers join up with Easy Co. and Rock takes Private Danny Anderson under his wing because the young man reminds him of his kid brother Eddie. After their father died, Rock looked after Eddie, who wasn't much good at sports but took up with a motorcycle gang and died in an accident during a rally at Devil's Ridge. Seeing Eddie in Danny, Rock tries to protect the soldier from harm until Easy Co. has to clear a bombed-out building in a ruined town. Trying to stop an anti-tank gun on his own, Danny is killed and Rock tells the dead young man that he is proud of him.

"My Brother's Keeper"
When I see a three-plus page long flashback in the middle of a fourteen-page story, I take notice. "My Brother's Keeper" is most interesting when looking back at Rock's younger years, when he had to be the man of the house after his father died in a mine accident. What's really strange to me is the one-panel mention of Rock's other brother, who was a high school football star. We get a lot about Rock looking after young Eddie but next to nothing about the third Rock. He seems to have dark hair but wait--wasn't Rock's brother Larry Rock, the Fighting Devil Dog, who saw red due to shrapnel in his head? A quick look online tells me that Kanigher screwed up Rock's chronology more than once and some kind and dedicated young readers tried to make it all work out. We do not take that approach here! We pride ourselves on Gotcha! moments.

The U.S.S. Stevens sets out for its first voyage in 1943 and reaches Pearl Harbor, where the sailors are immediately thrown "In the Frying Pan!" Planes fly off on a bombing mission and return in various states of disrepair, giving the new men on the Stevens their first taste of the ravages of war. This is a middling entry in the Stevens saga, with Glanzman doing nice work to show the effect that initial exposure to battle can have on new sailors. The most interesting part of this series is the sense that it's more reporting than fiction, as lived by the creator.

"In the Frying Pan!"

Peter: Another month, another sea of green replacements, but at least this entry in the Rock saga comes with some of the Sarge's back story, bits of which we've seen glimpses of in the past. So, Rock was a miner and had two brothers. Let's add that to the biography notes we've taken and see if, years later, Big Bob doesn't report that Rock was an orphan. Russ's art is dazzling as usual; I've run out of exclamations for Heath's work so will just let the evidence speak for itself. "Frying Pan" is another interesting U.S.S. Stevens vignette but I'd prefer it if, now and then, Sam would have written a larger piece with an actual plot.

G.I. Combat 147

"Rebel Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Sniper's Roost!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

"Tin Pot Listening Post!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #70, June 1959)

"Broomstick Pilot!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #69, April 1958)

"Battle Window!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #36, August 1956)

"Target for an Ammo Boy!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

Peter: After a particularly grueling tank battle, in which the men of the Jeb Stuart watch their C.O. lose his life, the ghost of General Jeb Stuart appears before his descendant and vows, before the day is over, that the young man will be fighting on the same side as the spook. Though the message is, as usual, nonsensical when delivered, the gist of the warning becomes clear before too long when the boys run across the tank commanded by Major Bragg, a nut who still believes the South's Gonna Rise Again and that Jeb Stuart is a yellow-belly who let his commander die and stole his name from a Rebel legend. Bragg immediately assigns the boys of the Jeb to what amounts to K-P duty, running errands and rearming the other tanks "after the shootin's over." But, as we all know, Jeb Stuart and his men are made of sterner stuff and it's not long before they're saving Bragg's bacon and completely changing the Major's attitude about "damn yankees." A whole lot of nothin' goin' on here, as Major Bragg might say. Yes, we have Russ's fabulous imaginings to keep us entertained through "Rebel Tank," but the script smells awfully tired. The idea that a nut like Bragg is in command isn't exactly new (and it would reach its peak several years later in Apocalypse Now) but Bragg seems nothing more than a cliche and his 180 degree turnaround at the climax is one of Big Bob's oldest and moldiest tricks.

When we were kids, we dug dug dug these sixty-eight page "giants" and, to an extent, we still do, but what a racket this package was. Original page count plummets to fourteen, yet the cover touts this as "Two Magazines in One!" Be that as it may, the reprint selection this issue isn't that bad. Two of the golden oldies, "Sniper's Roost!" and "Target for an Ammo Boy!" received high marks from Jack and me way back when we covered them. "Broomstick Pilot!," about a stubborn pilot who bucks his C.O. and flies his fort very close to the ground to avoid flak, suffers from too much inking over Severin's work. I swear there are panels (such as the one reprinted to the right) here that look like Howard Chaykin's work. There's not much of John to be discerned here. "Battle Window!" is another of Bog Bob's run-that-phrase-right-into-the-ground time-wasters with typically amateurish work from Andru and Esposito. Though I will say that I thought A/E used an interesting perspective to get their idea across in the panels below. Nice break from the monotony.

Jack: I could not decide whether the artwork on that page was creative or just cheating! This issue is one of the weaker ones we've seen in quite a while, with 14 pages of new story and the rest reprints. I did not know our Jeb Stuart was a Yankee but it's ridiculous that a Southern commander would strip him of his command. There is also a one-panel cameo by Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. that serves no purpose. Kanigher's story lacks interest and Heath's art is uninspired. I agree with you about Severin's art on "Broomstick Pilot!" being far from his best work--we've seen enough of his efforts in the E.C. comics to know that he could do better than this, and this story was from 1958, not long after the EC stories we've been reading. In "Battle Window!" the first look we get at our hero makes him look like a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra and I wondered whether there is any profession that Kanigher has not used to tell a war story--this guy's a window washer who's sick of windows and, wouldn't you know it, he sees plenty of windows when he goes to war. Yawn.

Our Fighting Forces 130

"Nameless Target"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Three Graves to Eternity"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gets on the radio and challenges the Allies to attack Rouen Beach in France, certain that the invasion will fail. He does not know about the planned attack at Normandy, so the Losers are given the task of acting as decoys, flying a bomber that is towing a series of empty gliders toward Rouen. The Nazis must be distracted from the area of Normandy, where commando frogmen will sneak ashore to chart enemy defenses before the real invasion.

Of course, things don't go well for the Losers. The Nazis shoot down the bomber and the Losers are captured and taken aboard a Nazi ship for questioning. They manage to set fire to the ship and take it over briefly, but it is soon torpedoed and they reach land, where they sneak into a small village. This "Nameless Target" turns out to be a camouflaged supply town, and when a warehouse full of arms blows up the Losers are able to get away with some help from French resistance fighters. Back in England, they are told that their diversion worked and the scouting of Normandy was a success.

Looks like Kubert drew Capt. Storm in this panel
Joe Kubert lends a big hand to Ross and Mike in this installment and it definitely helps the artwork, but Kanigher's story is all over the place, seeming to trade any sort of characterization or plot for a series of quick battles and explosions. One thing troubles me: the Losers' mission succeeds, but by the end of the story they're still whining about being losers! Their big complaint is that they don't know the name of the town where the arms blew up. Who cares? Mission accomplished! Cheer up, guys!

In the North African desert during WWII, the men of Dog Company come upon the graves of three soldiers. Who were they? In a flashback, we see that they were the three Anderson brothers, who were making their way toward Dog Company as replacement soldiers. Inseparable since their youth, the brothers are killed one by one fighting off Nazi advances and keeping the enemy from reaching Dog Company. Red is killed first and buried by his brothers. Hank follows, and Rooster buries him, then digs his own grave and stands in it until he, too, is killed.

Russ Heath's art is very strong in "Three Graves to Eternity" and helps take a run of the mill Kanigher plot and elevate it to make an entertaining work. One question, though--who filled in Rooster's grave? He dies standing in it but when Dog Company arrives it's been covered over. Was it the work of sympathetic Nazis?

Nice work by Heath!
In the letters column, editor Kubert remarks that Pooch enlisted at age 17 and is now taking a well-deserved rest, presumably due to old age. The Kubert cover is very sharp and is yet another good example of the late '60s/early '70s DC cover style where a person or a group of people think they are safe and don't realize that they are about to face something awful.

Peter: Yet another ridiculous installment in what's shaping up to be the worst DC war series we've had to endure on this long journey (yes, even worse than Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch!), complete with bad one-liners, endless reminders of the group's moniker, and the requisite shot of Captain Storm taking lead in his wooden leg. Wouldn't machine gun fire blow his timber into so much balsa wood? Oh, and let's not forget the contribution of Andru and Esposito. Second thought, let's forget it. At least we have something to look forward to (hopefully) when John Severin begins his long association with "The Losers" next issue. In his excellent overview of Severin's non-EC work (in Squa Tront #11), writer John Garcia comments that "The Losers" series has "a feel for visual storytelling (if not plausibility)" and promises that the upcoming run is "Severin at his peak." I'm intrigued. With "Three Graves to Eternity," Big Bob takes one of the oldest DC War plots (the brothers who are all assigned to the same company) and caps it with a poignant final scene, rescuing the story from sliding into the same old cliche and, instead, tugging at the heart strings. I would question whether a hail of bullets would have covered Rooster with a layer of soil but . . .

Star Spangled War Stories 156

Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"A Dream Came True!"
(Original Title: "Slowpoke Spad"
Reprinted from Our Army at War #154, May 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is assigned to his most difficult masquerade ever: Adolf Hitler! US is told of an "Assassination" plot from within the Reich, so he dons a mask of downed Luftwaffe pilot Helmut Knauss and infiltrates the Wolf's Lair, where (he's been told) a super-secret meeting between Hitler and his top brass will take place. When he gets to the bunker, our hero discards the Knauss and pops on his Hitler disguise, easily fooling the guards. Once inside the Lair, US plants a bomb but, unfortunately, his plans go awry when the real Hitler shows up and discovers there's an impersonator in the ranks. Meanwhile, Col. Von Stauffenberg, one of "Germany's military aristocracy," plants his bomb and makes a quick getaway. Now back in his Knauss get-up, the Soldier also tries to make a quick exit but is stopped at the gate by a clever guard who never saw Knauss enter the compound! One of the bombs blows and the Soldier is able to escape. Hitler is understandably upset and orders the execution of everyone he suspects of having had a hand in the plot, including Von Stauffenberg. Disguised as an old woman, the Unknown Soldier slips across the border to safety.

Melding real-life intrigue and espionage with a little super-hero melodrama, "Assassination" is a fun little dive into history. Of course, I'm constantly wondering how US can make such incredible latex head pieces that everyone around him is fooled but if you don't go with the flow, there's no show. I like that the Unknown Soldier strip, like the much-missed Enemy Ace before it, highlights the "darker aspects" of war, such as Hitler's mad, murderous, paranoid cleansing spree, killing off his most trusted men (most of whom were still loyal to the nut) while searching for the traitor. The panel of the hanged "traitors" is pretty dark stuff. A variation of this story (sans the Unknown Soldier, of course), is the film, Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. I am digging this series.

Jack: Me too! The story has a very good opening sequence, where US's contact is killed in a London bombing, and I love the bandaged-face look that Kubert has settled on now that the series is really underway. The story is only 11 pages long and seems to be wrapped up too abruptly but I enjoyed US's multiple disguises.

Our Army at War 232

"3 Men in a Tub!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Marching through southern Italy, Easy Co. is attacked by a jeep driven by what are surely Nazis. Yet when Rock and his men destroy the vehicle with a well-placed shot from a bazooka, they discover that the three riders are actually Italian soldiers who claim that they were forced to fight alongside the Nazis and now want to join up with the Americans.

The Italians turn out to have surprising talents. One is a former shoemaker and he fixes Bulldozer's shoe. Another is a chef and he makes a tasty meal for the troops. The third keeps insisting that they are all good soldiers, too, despite what everyone thinks. These "3 Men in a Tub!" help Rock sneak into Cortina Castle and seem to turn on him before switching sides once again and machine gunning every Nazi they see. As the foursome goes up in an elevator, they blow away Nazis on every level until they reach the castle's roof, where the entire pile blows sky high. Fortunately, Rock and the Italians are safe on a tower and the third man finally reveals his special talent, singing an aria into the night as the flames crackle around him.

"3 Men in a Tub!" shoot a lot of Nazis!

An above-average Easy Co. story with above-average art, this is a rare tale where the guest stars are not replacement soldiers or boyhood pals. The three Italians are something new and Kanigher's treatment of them is both sensitive and entertaining.

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!" is what the Doc on the U.S.S. Stevens says when the title sailor fashions himself a long knife and begins to assume the personality of Captain Bligh. After some hi jinks, he is discharged as a nut. Sam Glanzman is at his best here, and his art is better than usual, especially in the large face of Buck Taylor reproduced here.

Buck Taylor can't fool us either!
Peter: Both stories this issue have a humorous side to them. "3 Men in a Tub!" could be a Three Stooges skit if not for the deadly Nazi menace. Incredible that Big Bob resisted using the old Eye-Talian accent for his three dopes ("Im-a cook-a. I like-a de spicee meataballas!") but anyone could see the "surprise" ending coming. "Buck Taylor" is one of my favorite U.S.S. Stevens entries yet and I can't tell you why. Captain Bligh is a little crazier than Corporal Klinger and you have to wonder why they kept a possible powder keg aboard for so long.

And . . . it's that time of the year again when we present and discuss circulation figures, those fabulously fascinating numbers that spell doom for comic books. The news was no better for 1970 than it was for 1969 as all four titles showed significant drops (the worst being Star Spangled, which plummeted a whopping ten per cent in copies sold). Don't hold your breath hoping the trend is bucked when the figures are in for the new "Giant" packages.

                                                                   1970               1969     
G.I. COMBAT                                          178,363          186,264      
OUR ARMY AT WAR                             171,510          180,137
OUR FIGHTING FORCES                    139,770          133,154
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES      136,204          149,170

Next Week . . .
More Family Fun
As the Golden Age of EC Begins to Wind Down

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Six: You Got to Have Luck [1.16]

by Jack Seabrook

When does a physical disability become beneficial? When it helps one to avoid harm at the hands of an escaped convict, that's when! This unexpected situation plays out beautifully in "You Got To Have Luck," a short story by S.R. Ross that was first published in the October 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

The five-page tale begins as escaped murderer Sam Cobbett enters a farmhouse and menaces a young woman named Mary and her baby. Though she tells him that her husband will be back soon, Sam knows that she is lying and insists that she prepare food for him. He hears the prison siren sound, alerting the community of his escape, and he has Mary turn on the radio; he is gratified to hear that the police do not know which way he went. After about an hour, Sam demands to be given some of Mary's husband's clothes and is about to get them when the telephone rings. Sam makes Mary answer it and tells her what to say to her mother, who is on the other end of the line. After the phone call ends, Sam goes to don some of Mary's husband's clothes. Half an hour later, he returns to the kitchen to find the sheriff waiting for him with a gun. When Sam asks the sheriff how he knew where he was, the sheriff tells him that Mary is deaf but can read lips; the fact that she answered the ringing telephone and carried on a conversation alerted her mother to danger.

Sam menaces Mary as she speaks to her
neighbor through the screen door
"You Got to Have Luck" is a well-written little crime drama with an unforgettable twist ending. Once you know it, you can go back through the story and find numerous clues to Mary's deafness. She does not hear the screen door bang shut when Sam first enters the house. She does not react to her baby's scream. She only realizes that Sam is present when she sees his reflection in the glass door of a kitchen cupboard. When Mary does speak, her voice is too loud and has a hollow ring. When she turns on the radio the volume is too high, and she fails to answer the telephone when it rings. Her voice is "high pitched and clear" when she speaks on the telephone and when Sam speaks to her from behind, she does not respond. These clues are subtle and one does not notice them individually or in the aggregate while reading the story, but in retrospect they clearly portray a woman who is deaf.

Sam repeats to himself the title phrase, "you got to have luck," at a few points during the story, thinking he has been fortunate in his successful escape yet, ironically, he chooses the wrong hiding place. Sam is described as smiling only with his mouth, while his eyes remain "gray pebbles." He is said to have a "rat face" and a "rat mouth." Like a rodent, he scurries into Mary's home and threatens her; he does not realize that his own attempt at cleverness--having her take the telephone call--seals his doom. He thinks of Mary as "mousy," in contrast to his own description as rat-like, and when he is caught he whines.

John Cassavetes as Sam right after
he first enters Mary's home
"You Got to Have Luck" appears in the Department of First Stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and the introduction states that the author, S.R. Ross, is a woman in her early twenties and that this is her first story. It appears to have been her last story as well, since I have been unable to find any biographical information about Ms. Ross or any evidence that she ever had another story published anywhere. It may be tempting to equate the S.R. Ross of this story with Stanley Ralph Ross, the prolific television writer, but there are problems: he was a man, he would have been sixteen years old when this story was written, and his first TV credit does not appear for over a decade.

What we do know for certain is that "You Got to Have Luck" was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents by brothers Eustace Cockrell and Francis Cockrell and that it was the second and last of their collaborations for the series, the first having been the teleplay for "A Bullet for Baldwin." The teleplay is a fascinating re-imagining of the short story and demonstrates how a wisp of a tale can be broadened and expanded into a strong half hour of television.

Marisa Pavan as Mary
As so often happens on the Hitchcock show, the writers start by adding an opening sequence that dramatizes events that occurred before the beginning of the short story. Here, the show opens on a close up of a prison siren being cranked and emitting a loud squeal. There is a dissolve to the interior of the warden's office, where the warden and another man discuss Cobbet's escape and take a sarcastic question by telephone from a reporter for the local newspaper. They call a man in a helicopter and there is then an exterior shot of a helicopter flying over rocky ground. The scene cuts to the interior of the helicopter's cockpit, where the pilot and another man scan the ground below as the passenger speaks to the warden by radio and listens to an all points bulletin that gives the viewer details about the escaped convict: he is serving four consecutive 99-year terms for robbery, assault, and murder and he has the letters "MA" tattooed on the back of his right hand.

Following this opening sequence, there is a dissolve to the interior of the farmhouse, but the Cockrells' script is not yet ready to join up with the opening of S.R. Ross's story; Mary's husband David (he was Vic in the story) lets their dog outside and the dog barks at something before disappearing and emitting a pathetic whine. David and Mary do not hear it but we suspect that Cobbett is on the premises and has silenced the dog. The scene cuts to the interior of the farmhouse, where David and Mary share breakfast at the table before he finishes and leaves for the day. At this point, the teleplay picks up where the short story begins, but with a significant change: there is no baby and Mary is alone in the small house.

Sam after he dons David's clothes
Director Robert Stevens uses a medium closeup to show Mary cutting excess crust off of a pie with a sharp knife that she then lays down on the kitchen table. There is a close up of a hand with the word "MA" tattooed on its back and we know that Sam has arrived because we learned about the tattoo during the scene in the helicopter. The hand locks the kitchen door and takes the knife from the table. Mary turns and sees Sam standing by the table, admiring the knife, and John Cassavetes, as Sam, is a magnetic presence right from this first shot. Mary asks him what he wants and he implies that he would like to have sex with her but is in too much of a hurry. The threat of sexual violence looms over the entire episode but is completely absent from the source story.

Sam turns on the radio and the hall telephone rings, but it is a party line and the ring pattern reveals that the call is not for Mary. The Cockrells are fond of adding details like this to familiarize the viewer with an object that will be important in a later scene. Sam grabs Mary and tells her that he has "been in stir for three years," again raising the specter of rape as he struggles to kiss her, but he is distracted by the news of his escape over the radio and the imminent threat of sexual assault is broken.

Sam looms large and powerful in the foreground
of this mirror shot while Mary sits
small and powerless in the distance
Unlike the short story, there is little to suggest that Mary is deaf: she seems to converse with Sam easily and there are no obvious sounds that she ignores, like the slamming door, the baby screaming, or the radio blasting. There is bit of symbolism as Sam asks Mary if she understands that he can receive no greater punishment for hurting her than he is already facing; as he says this, she breaks an egg on the side of a bowl, symbolizing both her own fragility and what she thinks could happen to Sam.

Since a dramatic show cannot use narrative to explain Sam's method of escape, unless voice over is utilized, Sam explains his escape to Mary in dialogue. He begins to threaten her again and the sexual tension increases until she notices the tattoo on his hand and remarks, "You must like your mother very much." This mention of his absent parent once again breaks the spell and he looks at his hand and says, "Yeah, that's why I got it there, so I can look at her all the time." John Cassavetes is such a good actor that this line is filled with meaning, even though he mumbles it. Does he really love his mother and want to remember her fondly, or does the tattoo remind him of a woman he hates so much that he can't forget how she treated him? We will never know, but either explanation is plausible.

Bob Patten as Willis
The threat of sexual assault is like a dance between Sam and Mary, with her fortunate that he is distracted twice when he begins to approach her in this way. As Mary goes to get coffee for Sam, the scene dissolves to an exterior shot of the helicopter over land, still looking for the escaped convict; there is a cut to the interior of the cockpit and then a point of view shot of the land below. This break in the action reminds the viewer that the search for Sam continues in the outside world even as his tense standoff with Mary is occurring in the confined space of her home.

The scene dissolves back to the interior of Mary's house, where Sam demands a gun. Mary says that she and her husband are against killing and have no gun and Sam seems to feel the need to defend his past actions when he says that, "When a fat bank guard draws down on you, then its different. It's him or you." This fills in more of Sam's history through the use of dialogue, and Cassavetes once again shows his skill by making the cruel murderer seem like a complex human being who thinks he must rationalize his violent acts. Sam wants money but Mary has very little; he thinks that he is lucky but everything that happens to him shows otherwise--he fails in his efforts to have Mary provide sex, a gun, or cash.

Vivi Janiss as Mary's neighbor Maude,
seen through the screen door
The telephone rings again and this time, as in the story, Mary does not react, but Sam recognizes her ring pattern on the party line and knows that the call is for her. The phone call with her mother proceeds as it does in the story but is followed by another new scene that suggests that the outside world is closing in on Sam. Mary's neighbor and self-proclaimed "best friend" Maude pulls up in her car with her young daughter in the passenger seat. Mary is rude at Sam's prompting and won't let Maude into the house; there is a tense moment where Sam hides next to the door, menacing Mary and urging her to get rid of the visitor. After Maude drives off, Sam rushes out onto the porch to watch her go and Mary locks the screen door in a futile attempt to keep him out, but he takes the knife and slices violently downward through the screen in a symbolic gesture of rape and violation.

Mary tries to lock herself in the bedroom but he forces his way in and demands clothes. Director Robert Stevens sets the camera in the back of the closet looking out as Sam goes through the clothes on hangers, then there is a mirror shot as Sam changes into clean clothes. The mirror shot shows him, large and looming in the foreground and holding all of the power, and her, small and seated in the distance, seemingly helpless. There is then a dissolve to the interior of the warden's office, to once again remind the viewer that the search continues. The warden and his men still cannot find Sam and look vainly at a map of the area. The scene dissolves back to the mirror shot and Sam has finished dressing; another clue to her deafness is provided when she does not respond to Sam when he speaks to her while facing the other way. Not realizing how close he is to the truth, he asks her, "What's the matter? Are you deaf?" He means that she is not listening to him, but he does not understand that she is unable to do so.

Ray Teal as the warden
Sam hears a car go by and tells Mary that she is coming with him because no one will be looking for a couple. They exit onto the porch and he is immediately apprehended and handcuffed. The warden speaks to Mary like she is deaf, facing her, speaking slowly and loudly, and enunciating his words clearly. Sam asks how they knew he was there, the warden explains, and the episode ends with the revelation of the woman's unexpected disability.

"You Got to Have Luck" is an excellent half hour of television in which the Cockrells expand and deepen the meaning of a short story that was more straightforward and focused on a twist ending. Robert Stevens does a fine job of directing, creating and releasing tension and using a variety of shots and locations to show the parallel stories that are unfolding inside the house and outside in the larger world. John Cassavetes is outstanding as Sam and creates a fully realized character with a complex past who is not merely the violent animal he is made out to be. Marisa Pavan is good as the deaf Mary, though there are far fewer clues to her disability in the TV show than in the story. The only area of the show that is not a success is the use of stock music cues which, as sometimes happens in first-season episodes, do not entirely match the action on screen.

John Cassavetes (1929-1989) was born in New York City and had a three-decade career as an actor and as a director of independent films. He starred in Rosemary's Baby (1968) and in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Water's Edge" and "Murder Case."

Lamont Johnson as
Mary's husband David
Marisa Pavan (1932- ) was born in Italy and emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 with her twin sister, actress Pier Angeli. Pavan took her acting surname from the name of a Jewish officer her family hid in their home during World War Two. She was on screen from 1952 to 1992 and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She has a website here.

In small roles:

*Lamont Johnson (1922-2010) plays David, Mary's husband, who appears briefly in an early scene. As an actor, Johnson was on screen from the early 1950s until 1980, but he made his mark as a director of episodic TV from the mid-1950s to 2000. He directed eight episodes of The Twilight Zone and later won two Emmy Awards.

*Ray Teal plays the warden. A busy character actor, first on film from 1937 and later on TV from 1953, he was on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and he had a recurring role on Bonanza from 1960 to 1972. He appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents eight times, including a role in "Revenge."

Hal K. Dawson
*Vivi Janiss (1911-1988) plays Maude, the visiting neighbor. Born Vivian Jacobsen, she was married first to Bob Cummings and later to John Larch. She was on TV from 1949 to 1979 and appeared in a few films; she was on The Twilight Zone twice, Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice, and she was the voice of Daisy Duck for Disney.

*Hal K. Dawson (1896-1987) appears in the scenes in the warden's office as the other man with the warden. He was also a busy character actor, appearing in film from 1930 to 1977 and on TV from 1950 to 1980. He was on The Twilight Zone and Batman, and he made two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

*Bob Patten (1925-2001) plays Willis, who speaks on the radio to the warden from the helicopter. He was on screen from 1947 to 1993 and also appeared in "A Bullet for Baldwin."

Finally, Wendy Winkelman (1948- ) has a small part as Maude's daughter; she sits in the car and never speaks. She had a brief career on screen from 1955 to 1966 and appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Older Sister" and "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid."

The 1956 dramatization for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was not the first time S.R. Ross's story was adapted. In issue number 18 of the EC comic book Crime SuspenStories, with a cover date of August-September 1953, there is an uncredited adaptation drawn by Reed Crandall titled "From Here to Insanity" that is discussed here.

"You Got to Have Luck" was later remade for the 1980s' color version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Retitled "Prisoners," it aired on December 8, 1985. It may be viewed here and here.

Watch "You Got to Have Luck" online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the original short story!

The FictionMags Index. 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
Ross, S.R. "You Got to Have Luck." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1952): 91-95.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
"You Got to Have Luck." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 15 Jan. 1956. Television.
In two weeks: "There Was an Old Woman," starring Estelle Winwood and Charles Bronson!

Monday, November 6, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 44

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  44: April 1954

Mad #10

"G.I. Schmoe!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Sane!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"The Face Upon the Floor!" ★ 1/2
Story by H. Antoine D'Arcy
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton

"Woman Wonder!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

"G.I. Schmoe!"
"G.I. Schmoe!" and his pal Sergeant Squirt fight over a beautiful foreign woman, but when Joe wins her she only asks, "Hey, Joe! You got chewing gum?" Joe and Sgt. Squirt battle a massive enemy division and Joe manages to defeat them all by bashing them over the head with his rifle butt. Captured by their leader, another gorgeous gal who just wants chewing gum, Joe and Sgt. Squirt are thrown in prison with a beautiful blonde who happens to be a U.N. agent, also looking for chewing gum. Joe and Sgt. Squirt escape but the enemy army advances and turns out to be made up of--you guessed it--scads of stunning women, all hunting chewing gum. The only people able to stand up to the feminine onslaught are a division of WACS, whose leader celebrates her victory by asking Joe if he has chewing gum.

Wally Wood's incredible talent for drawing beautiful women with magnificent figures is on display in this story, over and over, and it saves the day. Kurtzman's story is racist and sexist but it's also enjoyable as all get out. I know nothing about G.I. Joe in the comics, so I did some quick online research and discovered that it was a comic book published during the Korean War that seems to have been ripe for ridicule. The few issues I looked at had great painted covers by Norman Saunders, though.

A stoic cowboy by the name of "Sane!" rides into town and faces off with a gunman in black hired by the cattlemen. Sane wins a showdown and rides off into the sunset. John Severin was the wrong choice to draw this parody of the classic Alan Ladd/Jack Palance film, since his interpretations of the actors barely resemble them. Kurtzman's story is not very funny. I think Jack Davis might have been able to do something with this, but not much.

A poor drunk tells his friends at the bar about the days when he was famous, rich, and loved; his downfall began when the woman he loved died. D'Arcy's 1887 poem was famous once but is forgotten today. Jack Davis does what he can with "The Face Upon the Floor!" but it's not very interesting or funny. What is interesting is the final panel, drawn by Basil Wolverton. I think this is our first glimpse of his work in an EC comic and the girl he draws looks just like his work almost twenty years later at DC for Plop!

"The Face Upon the Floor!"
Diana Banana is making out in the moonlight with her boyfriend Steve Adore when she receives an urgent message from Nivlem (read it backwards) to come to Ko-Nee Island and stop a monstrous plot from being hatched. After changing into her costume as "Woman Wonder!" she flies in her invisible glass plane to the island, where she confronts Nivlem (dressed like a seedy version of Batman). After he beats her to a pulp he reveals that he is really Steve Adore, and she ends up married to him and slaving over a hot stove while their brats terrorize the household.

Will Elder may not have Wally Wood's ability to draw gorgeous women, but his version of Woman Wonder is truly a wonder! In every issue of Mad, I wait for the Will Elder story, and this one is great. Kurtzman and Elder parody the characters and situations quite well, though I can't help but wonder what it might have looked like had Wally Wood drawn this and included a visit to Amazon Island. Hoo-hah!--Jack

Melvin Enfantino: I could waste time commenting on how unfunny Harvey’s scripts for “G.I. Schmoe!” and “Sane!” are (at least “Schmoe” comes wrapped in a pretty Woody package) or how “The Face Upon the Floor!” is the weakest entry yet in the “Poetry Dept.” Instead, I’ll accentuate the positive and exclaim that “Woman Wonder!” is the best comic strip parody yet (but even stronger material in said department is just over the horizon)! The Kurtzman/Elder team can seemingly do no wrong. I about died larfing when Nivlem questioned the plausibility of Wonder's special bracelets and literally stepped out of the strip until "the story makes more sense!" Diana Banana's escalating oaths ("Neptune's beach litter baskets!") had me in stitches.

"Woman Wonder!"

The Haunt of Fear #24

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes . . ." ★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Graham Ingels

". . . Only Sin Deep" ★★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Secret" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"Head-Room!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes..."
Hillbilly Jake Watson can be a real monster to his wife, Bethy, when he's had too much moonshine (and he always has too much moonshine) but Jake becomes a real monster when Bethy and her boyfriend, Clem (who supplies Jake with his rotgut), decide to off the old codger. The lovers lure Jake up to Clem's still and then toss him into a vat and pour lye on him. The dirty deed done, the couple hightail it to Bethy's shack, where they tie a few on and get to know each other. But . . . back at the vat, the goo that used to be Jake drips out of the still and oozes its way back home, where Clem and Bethy welcome it with less than open arms. Clem is absorbed into the Blob and the muck turns its attention towards its former bride. Bethy is a little upset about her lover's demise but figures there are other fish in the ocean and sets to shoring up her sanctuary, surviving the night none the worse. Realizing now would be the time for a good bath (when is it not in the backwoods?), Bethy pumps the water from the well but, too late, discovers that Jake the Blob is two steps ahead of her. The best thing about this Heap variation (a plot already parodied in Mad!) is the title, "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes . . ." (the title of which belongs to a very old song covered by a multitude of artists including Johnny Cash) and that's about it. By now, Graham gets all the icky gooey stories so this one's a natural (could you imagine Kamen drawing a bubbly, pulsating mass with eyeballs?). Bethy is the typical backwoods she-demon, pushed a bit too far and the claws come out, and by the time Jake hits the vat you know just what's coming down the pike. And, hey, after a long night of fighting back a demonic glob by covering every single crack in the shed, one would naturally pump water from outside and take a bath, right? Otto Binder would go on to write much better horror stories in the next couple of decades.

"Only Sin Deep..."
If there's one thing Lorna Vanson loves, it's money. And Lorna knows how to get it, using every little bit of her beauty to take advantage of any poor sod who'll throw cash her way. But Lorna becomes tired of the low stakes and wants to strike it rich so she rolls a poor dope and steals his watch to pawn. When the girl gets to the pawn shop, the owner tells her the watch is worthless but he'll give Lorna a cool grand for her beauty. Thinking the old crow a fool, she quickly agrees and the man takes a life mask of her and sends her on her way with a pawn ticket good for one year. Laughing all the way to the beauty parlor, Lorna soon gets her make-over and lands the perfect(ly rich) chump of her dreams. Married and living in splendor, Lorna is happy beyond her dreams until, one day, she notices wrinkles appearing on her face. Terrified she's become an old woman at the ripe age of 22, Lorna sees a dermatologist who tells her that, sure enough, her facial skin is dying. Knowing that her hubby won't stand for being married to an old maid and putting two and two together, Lorna heads for the pawn shop, where the proprietor informs her that she can have her beauty back for a hundred grand. Lorna concocts a hare-brained scheme of selling off her own jewelry and valuables and claiming she was robbed, but is caught in the act by her husband who doesn't recognize the aged biddy. Putting her looks before love, she whacks her old man to death and escapes. Unfortunately, the servants see her exiting (under a veil) and positively identify her to police as the Mrs. If Lorna doesn't want to enter the gas chamber, she'll  be stuck with her decrepit looks for the rest of her life. Though it's a Kamen-illustrated story, I liked ". . . Only Sin Deep" for its supremely ironic climax. EC characters can certainly make life-changing decisions and turn on a dime on a whim. Lorna bashes hubby in the skull, all the while thinking she can get herself another roommate, but her looks are her bread winner. The HBO version of this was not too bad, as I recall, starring Lea Thompson as the icy princess (rebooted as a prostitute, of course) and aired in the first season.

"The Secret"
Poor little Theodore is trapped in the orphanage and treated quite badly by the orphanage matrons, who lock him in his room when he's hungry and talk behind his back about his secret. Theodore sometimes escapes his prison by climbing out the window and disappearing in the night but he always makes his way back to the orphanage by dawn. One day, Theodore is adopted by a nice couple, the Colberts, and taken with them to live his life like an ordinary boy. But his new life may be worse than the old; Theodore is locked in a room with bars on the window and stuffed full of food daily. To what end? A month passes and the Colberts finally decide to tell their new boy their secret: they're vampires and they adopted little Teddy to fatten him up for food! But, just in time, Theodore discovers his own secret: he's a werewolf! Groan. If you're a vampire, why would you go to the trouble of adopting a kid and leaving a paper trail? Silly question? Perhaps. Silly story. Indubitably. You can almost hear George Evans (who swings for the fences with his dark and stylish art) sigh as he reads each page of Carl Wessler's inane script for "The Secret" while he hunches over a drawing board at two in the morning, thinking that advertising has got to be a better way to make a living. If EC had lasted years longer, might we not be focusing on just how bad a lot of these stories were?

Lola rents out her extra room to the shy Otto and quickly falls for him, hinting at passionate trysts and even marriage, but Otto wants nothing of it, seemingly content to lug his sample cases up and down the stairs every day. Otto even suggests that Lola rent his room out during the day when he's not around to cut costs. One day, the frustrated old maid looks up from her register and sees a brutish, ugly man requesting a room to rent. Afraid to say no, she gives him the spare key to Otto's room and insists he must be out during the night. The brute agrees and, that night, just as promised, he exits the building. Coincidentally, a wave of brutal decapitations rocks the city and Lola puts two and two together and they equal  her new tenant. After the man leaves for the night, Lola enters the room and finds a plethora of heads hanging in the closet. She faints and comes to in the arms of Otto, who comforts her and tells her everything will be all right just before he morphs into the brute and severs Lola's head. Though "Head-Room!" is no classic (it's not even all that good), it's entertaining and humorous where it should be. Interesting that Wessler doesn't spend the time to explain how Otto becomes his monstrous alter ego a la Jekyll and Hyde but perhaps that's for the best. No other artist could have been assigned this one; it screams "Jack Davis!" --Peter

Jack: As we've read our way through the New Trend, issue by issue and month by month, I've been surprised to find that I enjoy the horror comics least of all the EC genres. Before we started this blog, I naturally associated EC with horror comics and assumed that they were the best of what the company had to offer. Yet I've discovered that I prefer the crime comics and think that the horror comics are, all things considered, probably the least impressive of the lot. Of course, reading an issue made up of two stories by Otto Binder and two by Carl Wessler makes me pine for the good old days of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein taking on the plotting and scripting chores. I thought the Ingels story was derivative, the Kamen story just plain bad, the Evans story boring and obvious, and the Davis story clunky with uninspired art. The worst issue of an EC comic we've read yet? It's certainly in the running for that dubious award.


Two-Fisted Tales #37

"Action!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Warrior!" ★★★
Story by Colin Dawkins and John Severin
Art by John Severin

"Homemade Blitz!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Showdown!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

As the most “dangerous man” in the world, Ruby Ed Coffey finds himself embroiled in another plot of intrigue set amidst the drama-filled era of Prohibition. This time out the salt-and-pepper heartthrob receives word that one of the Reds’ “top trouble shooters” Georgi Capek has smuggled his way into Canada with a mysterious female in tow. Coffey smells espionage and with his band of merry men seek to intercept Capek at the docks, but the refugee’s brawny, shifty-eyed escorts make them reconsider an open attack. Turns out the two “apes” aren’t Mounties as previously suspected but a pair of “Red torpedoes,” and Coffey’s gang find them with broken necks back at Capek’s place after their target flees the scene. Capek shows just as much determination to remain left alone when he Tommy-guns a car pursuing his own later on the road. Finally cornering Capek in a boarding room, Coffey discovers the affair: the Russians want Capek dead for his knowledge of their activities, and the mysterious woman is Capek’s pregnant wife. Intervention from Coffey’s gang brings everything to a head of gunfire as the Americans provide the Russian cover and transport to a hospital across the border in New York. Capek is happy to pay for his crimes against the country now that his son has been born an official citizen of the United States.

The guys at bare*bones e-zine are not
in the mood for your crap today.
Just like “Dangerous Man” before it, “Action!” continues the saga of meat-and-potatoes hero Ruby Ed Coffey. Like my own comrades allude to below, the Coffey stories—and much of the output from new EC staff writer Colin Dawkins in general—smack of older, time-honored (and some might say timeworn) narratives, the stuff of pulp magazines, radio serials, and even the seemingly immortal plainclothes heroes that frequented the pages of comic books during the Golden Age. So depending on the cut of your jib you’re likely to dig the mothball-scented adventurism of these stories or find them hopelessly boring. Taken on its own terms, I find Dawkins’s work to be quite a bit of fun, even for all the over-familiarity. “Action!” has a drawn-out gunfight to boast as its climax, but it’s nowhere near the camp thrills of the gentleman’s sword fight that caps “Dangerous Man.”

As the white man ceaselessly robs more land and resources from the Native Americans, the Shoshoni tribe grows restless with mutterings of war and retaliation. But the wise and aged warrior Washakie warns his fellows that “never again does red man beat white man!” Regardless of this sage advice, hot-heads in the group, led by the blustery White Horse, challenge Washakie’s authority and claim that battle is the only way to go, not retreating to a new reservation across the river. The angered natives take to riding into settlements and slaughtering every pale face they see, but their victory is short-lived when the white man retaliates with intervention from the Longknives. Still Washakie’s bravery and nerve are challenged, so just to shut everyone the hell up Washakie dons his war paint and feathered headdress and goes into the woods to scare up some scalps from one of the Shoshoni’s dread enemies, the Sioux. Returning to the tribe with his staff of bloody prizes, Washakie earns the respect of White Horse and then leads his people to the new reservation.

Great splash courtesy of J. Severin.

“Warrior” appears at first to be a simple story well-told, but there are currents of complexity running under its surface, most prominently the divisive nature of the Shoshoni’s methods of dealing with the invasive white settlers. On the one hand, repaying their oppressors with the wanton slaughter of people who may very well have never had a direct hand in their extermination seems a bit misdirected, to put it lightly, but then Washakie’s comments about how well they’ve been treated by the white man and what a nice reservation they’ve had set up for them can’t help but ring as grimly ironic to contemporary ears. John Severin gets to show off his skills more here than perhaps anywhere in the issue, particularly in the tense scenes of hand-to-hand combat.

Terrorize this!
("Homemade Blitz!")
Detective-Inspector Noel Bews, like everyone else in 1939 London, has just about had it up to here with all the rampant bombings engineered by the Irish that have been occurring throughout the metropolis. What with the threat of a second world war on the horizon, the last thing anyone needs is another case of domestic terrorism blowing up in their face. After catching sight of a conspicuous-looking package at the site of an earlier explosion and expertly defusing the sticks of gelignite within, Bews takes the fight to the Irish’s doorstep when he infiltrates the boarding room of a ring of conspirators and engages them in a constructive, rehabilitative dialogue using his fists. King George VI himself gives the detective-inspector a lovely new brooch for his efforts, and even the criminals of the British underworld are so relieved by the cutback in the blitz that they throw Bews a surprise party in a pub and award him with their own medal.

Believe it or not, it’s true! (Apparently.) “Homemade Blitz,” as the brief endnote informs us, is in fact taken from historical record and only changed the names of the parties involved in its adaptation to graphic form. Say what you will about how generally ho-hum the story might be, but Dawkins definitely employs a lighter touch in the Fact Dumping Dept. than Kurtzman did 90% of the time and actually makes a genuine (and most appreciated) effort to build this chronicle of a hero’s exploits into a worthy and organic drama. After suffering reading through the last batch of 8th grade history essays that Kurtzman was passing off as stories of ace fighter pilots, “Homemade Blitz” feels positively like a breath of fresh air.

In Smoky Ford, Texas, young “tinhorn” Webb Young knocks noted gunslinger Whip Creed into the dust after Creed makes a few impolite remarks towards a young woman.  Creed tells Webb to get himself a six-shooter because he’ll be gunning for him soon. The young woman, a Miss Terrell, is not exactly flattered by Webb’s display of chivalry, and when Webb refuses to take her advice to leave town she has a pair of goons wrestle the whippersnapper to her place so that the young buck may learn to properly fend for his life. Webb falls under the tutelage of Jingle Bob, an old-timer who teaches the boy everything there is to know about a gun. While out herding cattle one day, a band of rustlers breaks into camp under cover of nightfall. Webb is able to gun one of the owlhoots down, but Jingle Bob loses his life in the crossfire, a rowel in his clenched fist the only clue as to who pulled the trigger. When Webb returns to Smoky Ford, Whip Creed is there to call him out, and when Webb notes the missing rowel on one of Creed’s boots the young man ably applies the lessons of his teacher and shoots the bad hombre down.

Johnny Severin, who knew you had it in you?
Yeah, “Showdown” is just about as old hat as you can possibly get, but it must be the youthful exuberance that Dawkins brings to the material that must make it feel so pure-hearted to me. This feels more like the eagerness of a young writer trying to form his own voice while honoring all the stories he grew up on rather than the tired, cynical, and lazy retreads of a seasoned veteran just grasping at anything that comes his way to fill the issue. That doesn’t make “Showdown” great, mind you, but nevertheless it’s a solid and endearing seven pages of entertainment. --Jose

Peter: I am just not warming up to the New Two-Fisted Tales as the stories found within are nothing but the same old thing. Ruby Ed Coffey (of "Action!") and DI Bews are one-dimensional he-men who eat lightning and crap thunder and have all the answers in the palm of their hands. Colin Dawkins's wild, wild west of "Showdown!" resembles nothing more than a Grade-B Universal-International pic with its strong but supple female co-lead, its stampedes and, most glaring of all, the innocent who masters the firearm and out shoots his opponents by the seventh page (or the final reel). Though EC seldom bowed to its competitors in terms of quality, I'd argue that the Atlas westerns were loads more exciting and interesting than the scant number of EC oaters we've been subjected to. "Warrior!" is the closest in spirit to what Harvey used to accomplish with his little history lessons, save the tacked-on "foot note" (sic) from Dawkins claiming that the Native-Americans led by Washakie got a pretty good deal from the American government. Tell that to them. A whole issue of Severin is way too much and bits here and there (especially in "Showdown!") look rushed and incomplete, lacking the fine detail usually found in a Severin job.

Jack: I was thinking the same thing. John Severin is not among my favorite EC artists and a whole issue of his art is way too much. The cover is sharp and I think the last two stories are better than the first two, but overall it's mundane. "Action!" reminds me of a run-of-the-mill pulp adventure yarn, while "Warrior!" has some nice hand to hand combat but not much else. "Homemade Blitz!" is a somewhat entertaining look at the Irish problem during the Blitz and "Showdown!" has a nice, wordless sequence where the hero learns how to draw and shoot. I thought it was unusual to see the captions below the panels in this story rather than in their usual spot above them.

Well, what are you waiting for?
Oh . . . um . . . next week, of course!