Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Stanley Ellin Part Two: The Blessington Method [5.8]

by Jack Seabrook

Stanley Ellin's Edgar-winning short story, "The Blessington Method," is a vastly entertaining look at a problem that confronted middle-aged people in 1956, when the story was first published, and that still confronts us today. The story begins as Mr. Treadwell, a prosperous New York businessman, receives a visitor named Bunce, who represents the Society for Gerontology. Bunce knows a great deal about Treadwell and confronts him with knowledge of a problem: Treadwell's 72-year-old father-in-law, who has moved in with the Treadwells and who is likely to live another 20 years. Bunce explains that the one and only solution to Treadwell's problem is the Blessington Method, which involves killing the aged in a way that looks accidental, thus freeing the family of a burden. Treadwell dismisses Bunce in anger but, in the days that follow, finds himself thinking about the Blessington Method and growing ever more aggravated at the presence of his aging relative.

Henry Jones as Treadwell
He visits Bunce at the modern, busy offices of the Society for Gerontology, where Bunce convinces him to sign a pledge to pay a sum of $2000 in a month in exchange for the elimination of his father-in-law. The aged parent is found drowned off a Long Island pier three weeks later and the death is ruled accidental. Soon, Treadwell visits Bunce and gives him a check. However, Treadwell is troubled by the thought that one day he will be the unwanted elderly relative, destined to be murdered at the behest of younger members of his family. Bunce tells Treadwell to think of his loving daughter and how unlikely she would be to harm him. " 'Hold on to that thought, Mr. Treadwell, cherish it and keep it close at all times. It will be a solace and comfort to the very end.' "

Ellin's story is a model of irony and deservedly won the Edgar for Best Short Story of 1956. Published in the June 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, it proposes murdering the unwanted elderly but couches it in terms that make it seem palatable. Bunce, described as "stout, well-dressed, and imposing," is a master salesman. His target, Treadwell, is described as "a small, likeable man," and he falls prey to a carefully thought out sales pitch. The Blessington Method, founded by J.G. Blessington (the use of initials gives him a brisk, businesslike sound), is presented as a multi-step process, like any number of self-help schemes popular then and now:

Step one: admit there is a problem
Step two: realize that no logical or practical solution exists
Step three: understand that the existence, not the presence, of the aged subject is what creates the problem

Dick York as Bunce
Though Bunce never comes right out and says it, one suspects that step four is the realization that murder for hire is the only solution. Like any good salesman, Bunce has done his research--he knows all about Treadwell's financial status and family life and he has cultivated a relationship with Treadwell's father-in-law by providing a listening ear when the old man spends time in public places. Bunce presents the situation as one with a natural, even an honorable solution, arguing that the aged are neither producers nor consumers, "only barriers to our continued progress." In post-war America, progress was important and anything that stood in the way of success and forward movement was to be shunned. As Bunce explains, the elderly are like worn out parts in the world organism that need to be replaced to maintain societal efficiency. Turning murder for hire into a societal good demonstrates the brilliance of Bunce's sales pitch; he tells Treadwell that by "signing a pledge to our Society a man is truly performing the most noble act of his life." Only then does the appeal for money come, and even that is softened by flattery when Bunce tells Treadwell that his research into the man's financial standing shows that he can afford the $2000 fee.

Elizabeth Patterson as Treadwell's mother-in-law
The story's clever twist finds Treadwell coming to the realization that he someday could be the object of a murder for hire. One again, Bunce, the silver-tongued salesman, comes to the rescue with a combination of sophistry and flattery, comforting and convincing Treadwell that the daughter who loves him could never take the step that he himself has just taken. By convincing Treadwell that he is unique and special, Bunce does his final bit of sleight of hand by distracting Treadwell from recalling that the threat to his future self is likely to come from his son-in-law, not his daughter. The reader sees the irony in Bunce's words but Treadwell, at the end of the story, appears blissfully unaware.

"The Blessington Method" is so smoothly written that one is tempted to gloss over the shocking nature of its premise. Apparently, the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were not so blind when they decided to adapt the story for television in 1959. The author of the teleplay, Halsted Welles, has kept the central premise, characters, and events of the short story intact while making significant changes that probably were enacted in order to make it more palatable to a wide audience watching the show on network television. The show aired on CBS on Sunday, November 15, 1959, less than two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, when families would gather to share a meal with their aging parents and in-laws. It is set 21 years in the future, in 1980, when office doors swing open by themselves and a father says grace at dinner time by intoning, "Our father, who art in space."

Paul E. Burns as the doomed fisherman
The teleplay by Welles opens with a scene not in the short story. We see a young man (whom we will later learn is J.J. Bunce--initials added for TV) in a business suit sitting on a pier. He is joined by an elderly fisherman (he says he's 93 years old), who takes Think-Eze pills to improve his memory and who remarks, "it's a great life if you don't weaken!" The young man encourages the old man to lean over the edge of the pier to see a large fish, then gives the old man a gentle push that causes him to fall into the water, where we assume he drowns. This opening scene is treated as light comedy. Dick York, playing Bunce, looks nonthreatening yet commits cold-blooded murder; the tone helps distract us from the fact that we have just watched a defenseless person being murdered.

Penny Edwards as the receptionist
The next scene begins with a shot of a futuristic clock that has both time and date (July 13, 1980) and the odd reference to Think-Eze pills in the prior scene begins to make sense. By setting "The Blessington Method" 21 years in the future, Welles makes the events seem foreign and thus more acceptable; the audience is given distance from the America where these things take place and is not forced to think about how closely the characters and their problems parallel our own. Bunce arrives in the reception area of a modern office, where the beautiful blond receptionist refuses to speak. Since talking spreads germs, she presses buttons and a speaker on her desk utters prerecorded sentences directed at Bunce. A spherical camera lowers itself from above and Bunce must speak into it; he begins to lose his temper and is allowed to proceed to Treadwell's office.

The TV version briefly picks up where the short story began, as Bunce enters Treadwell's sparsely-furnished modern office and makes his sales pitch. He is a representative of the Society for Experimental Gerology (a made up word to replace the real term, gerontology, used in the short story) and when he tells Treadwell all of the things he knows about the man's life, among them is the fact that his "mother-in-law's face lifting [is] not yet paid for." Welles switches the gender of Treadwell's aged in-law and follows the long comedic tradition of poking fun at a man's mother-in-law. To further make the show seem like a blend of comedy and science fiction (a very successful one, at that), the mother-in-law is said to be 82, and Treadwell says that actuarial tables show that she is likely to live another 32 years! Once Bunce gets to the list of murder methods that look like accidents, he mentions "tumble off a pier," and we realize that what we saw in the show's first scene was an example of Bunce at work, killing the elderly relative of a client. In the TV version, the sales pitch is shortened and Treadwell realizes what's going on quickly.

Vaughn Meadows as Treadwell's son
Stanley Ellin's story uses narrative to tell the reader about Treadwell's subsequent frustration with his aged in-law, but Halsted Welles takes the opportunity to dramatize this in the scenes that follow, and the result is hilarious. At the Treadwell house, the family is gathered around the dinner table when they are interrupted by banging on the ceiling--Mother wants Treadwell to come upstairs and fix her TV set, "or I'll miss the roller derby." After dinner, the Treadwells spend a pleasant evening together as the teenage siblings do their homework at the dining room table and Treadwell examines a graph of population growth according to increased age. He is temperamental and yells at the kids, demanding quiet, but as soon as he goes upstairs the silence is shattered by his mother-in-law, who plays a loud Sousa march on her record player. Treadwell visits her in her room and she hurls insults at him, telling him that his stomach makes him "look like a rumpled pillow" and causing his frustration to grow.

Bunce appears godlike after he kills the mother-in-law
To keep scene changes and sets at a minimum, Welles has Bunce make a return visit to Treadwell's office, rather than having Treadwell visit the offices of Bunce's society. Treadwell agrees to have his mother-in-law killed and, in an ironic twist, Bunce chooses to commit the murder on Sunday morning, while Treadwell's family is in church. On Sunday morning, Treadwell has taken his mother-in-law to the park and returns home to announce that he is not going to church. Instead, he will go fishing. The show's first scene is recalled in the scene that follows, where we see Bunce wheeling Treadwell's mother-in-law out onto a pier (she has a broken leg and is in a wheelchair); he talks to her in a soothing voice about the natural order of things and the importance of death, then he pushes her--wheelchair and all--into the water. There is a shot with the camera looking up at Bunce, godlike, as he looks down at the water, where the woman is surely drowning.

The final scene of the show finds Treadwell out in his fishing boat, Bunce sitting on a nearby pier. Bunce tells Treadwell that the deed is done, and this time the camera looks up at Bunce with the sun behind him. The effect is somehow sinister, as Bunce speaks of the future and the idea of his destiny occurs to Treadwell. Bunce finishes his speech, stands up, dons his hat, and walks off with confidence, leaving Treadwell sitting alone in his boat, looking apprehensive as he ponders the rest of his life and how it is likely to end.

Irene Windust as Treadwell's wife
"The Blessington Method" is a great short story that was adapted into an equally great half hour of television, one which stands as one of the rare forays into science fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The reason for the future setting, however, was surely to make the premise of Stanley Ellin's short story acceptable to viewers in 1959 by making all of the small details surrounding the central conceit seem foreign and thus suggesting that no such thing could happen in 1959 America. Much of the credit for the success of the TV adaptation must go to Halsted Welles (1906-1990), the writer of the teleplay, who worked in live theater in the 1930s and who wrote a handful of screenplays, including the classic western, 3:10 to Yuma (1957). He wrote many episodes for Suspense, in the early days of television, and he wrote a total of six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Among the many other TV shows he wrote for was Night Gallery.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), one of the Hitchcock TV series's most prolific directors, was behind the camera for this episode, and he moves the story along at a rapid pace, successfully lending a humorous tone to the proceedings without sacrificing the core conflicts of the story. Born in Indiana, Daugherty started out as an actor, playing bit parts in films from 1949 to 1951, but achieved success as a director, almost exclusively for TV, from 1952 to 1975. He directed no less than 27 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Cure," and he later directed a couple of episodes of Star Trek, among many other shows.

Top billing goes to Henry Jones (1912-1999), the laconic actor who was born in New Jersey and whose long screen career spanned the years from 1943 to 1995. He was in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The West Warlock Time Capsule," and also appeared on such shows as Thriller, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, in addition to playing a role in Hitchcock's 1958 classic, Vertigo. Jones is perfect as Treadwell, able to demonstrate growing frustration with his mother-in-law and comfortable making the questionable moral leaps required to accept the Blessington Method.

Nancy Kilgas as Treadwell's daughter
Playing the difficult role of Bunce is Dick York (1928-1992). York must be charming and sinister, a master salesman who can make murder for hire seem like the only honorable choice. Like director Daugherty, York was born in Indiana; his screen career lasted from 1953 to 1984. Plagued by terrible back pain caused by an injury sustained on the set of a film, he nevertheless appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, as well as being on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. York's most famous role, however, was as Darrin Stevens on Bewitched, the popular situation comedy where he co-starred with Elizabeth Montgomery from 1964 to 1969, when he quit the show due to his back problems.

Among the supporting cast:
  • Elizabeth Patterson (1874-1966) as Treadwell's mother-in-law; born in Tennessee and on screen from 1926 to 1961, this was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She also had a recurring role on I Love Lucy.
  • Irene Windust (1921-1999) as Treadwell's wife; she had a brief career on screen from 1958 to 1963 but managed to turn up on four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents during that time.
  • Paul E. Burns (1881-1967) as the old fisherman who is killed in the first scene; he played bit parts in film and on TV from 1930 to 1967 and was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one episode of The Twilight Zone.
  • Vaughn Meadows (1944- ) as Treadwell's son; he was in only eight TV episodes from 1956 to 1962 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Nancy Kilgas (1930- ) as Treadwell's daughter; her brief career from 1954 to 1959 included just one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; she also made an uncredited appearance as a dancer in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966).
  • Penny Edwards (1928-1998) as the receptionist at Treadwell's office; she was on screen from 1947 to 1961 and appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
"The Blessington Method" has been collected in two of Stanley Ellin's short story collections and has been reprinted in other volumes. Watch the TV version online for free here or get the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review here. Both the story and the TV show are worth seeking out.

“The Blessington Method.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 8, CBS, 15 Nov. 1959.
Ellin, Stanley. “The Blessington Method.” The Specialty of the House, Mysterious Press, 1979.
The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2018,

In two weeks: Specialty of the House, starring Robert Morley!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 128: July 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 163

"Kill the General!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Dan Spiegle and Joe Kubert

"The Ace Who Died Twice!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #114, April 1966)

"Sgt. Storm Cloud"
Story by David Kahn
Art by Carmine Infantino
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #8, January 1954)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must put the kibosh on a plan to kill Ike in Paris but the Krauts may be just as skilled in deception as our hero. In the end, the Allies use keen war training (a cardboard cut-out of Ike standing in front of the HQ window!) and, of course, masterful make-up and very life-like masks to shut down Der Fuhrer's insane plot.

There seems to be a wild shifting of quality amongst our DC war series every year or so (except for Sgt Rock, which seems to maintain a level of average to high quality month in and out); just when you get used to the Losers being . . . losers, the editors throw a monkey wrench called Severin in. Likewise, the Unknown Soldier which, for its first ten installments, seemed to be a natural replacement for Enemy Ace. Bob Haney, for the most part, has been doing a very good job of fleshing out the character and drawing our interest in much the same way as Kubert and Kanigher enthralled us with the exploits of von Hammer, but "Kill the General!" has a juvenile, almost superhero-ish, quality to its writing. The Soldier's antics have never been what we could describe as "realistic," with his instantly manufactured masks and costumes, but at least the stories kept us involved. Not so here; US is almost a different character and the plot hasn't even been dusted off. The introduction of Dan Spiegle as artist is also a minus (get used to Dan, he'll be around for a while); his work is cartoonish and sketchy, a la Glanzman, Sparling, and Grandenetti. There may be a bit of hope on the horizon, though, in the form of Archie Goodwin.


Fresh off the reservation, "Sgt. Storm Cloud" (no relation to Johnny Cloud) hopes his forest-born skills as a Native American will come in handy against the Nazis. When Cloud and his men are ambushed in the African desert, the sergeant uses all his childhood training to outwit the enemy. Not bad for a mid-'50s war tale and, certainly, much more entertaining than the opener. Again, I must defend the work of Carmine Infantino, whose work here is dazzling and well-choreographed.  This Cloud is a heck of a lot easier to root for than the dour Johnny currently found in the Losers. The issue carries an announcement (reprinted far below) that, beginning next month, the price for a DC comic will drop to 20 cents. Publisher Carmine Infantino explains all the backstage rigmarole and exclaims that "all our magazines will soon contain additional pages of fresh excitement." That remains to be seen.

Jack: After the cool art/photo montage splash page by Kubert opened the Unknown Soldier story, I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Spiegle's art and enjoyed the tale. The Unknown Soldier can impersonate anyone convincingly, from an old man in a wheelchair to a female nurse! I'm with Peter in my admiration for the early '50s work of Carmine Infantino, and "Sgt. Storm Cloud" was an entertaining read and possibly a precursor to the later Johnny Cloud, though this soldier was not a pilot.

Our Army at War 247

"The Vision!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Color Me Brave!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Old Soldiers Never Run!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #91, February 1960)

Jack: Easy Co. is on a mission in France to scout anti-aircraft nests when they are surprised by a spotlight that makes them sitting ducks for a sunken tank turret. Suddenly, resistance fighters join them, led by a beautiful young woman. The tank is destroyed and the young woman reveals that she is Joan of Arc, back from the dead to lead her people to victory against the Nazis. Joan hears voices and awaits "The Vision!" to tell her what her next move will be.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. follow her to a village for some rest. Just before dawn, the soldiers and resistance fighters follow the young woman out of town, where they find the hidden anti-aircraft nest. The allied forces manage to blow up the nest before friendly planes fly overhead into the danger zone, but the young woman is shot and killed in the battle. The villagers gather around her lifeless form and Rock tells his men that he thinks she'll be back the next time she's needed.

Was the young woman really the reincarnation of Joan of Arc? It all depends on what you believe. One thing is for sure--Russ Heath draws her in a skintight outfit with a body like a centerfold model. Kanigher and Heath's latest Easy Co. stories seem straightforward and simple in a good way, allowing the art room to breathe without overloading the panels with type. I like the trend.

After the Japanese planes bombed U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma rolled upside down and began to sink. For the men on board ship, it was chaos. One steward's mate named Mac Stringer knew his way around the ship and risked his life in a heroic rescue of several other men who were trapped in a room and not thinking straight. Mac was commended for his bravery but later remained a steward because he was black.

If Sam Glanzman were a better artist, this would be one of the best stories of 1972. As it is, the tale is powerful and the ending completely unexpected. Glanzman manages to make a point without being heavy-handed, something that wasn't always accomplished in the DC comics of the early 1970s.

Peter: Nothing much to say about "The Vision!," other than it's gorgeously illustrated and the script seems overly familiar. I thought for sure we were seeing the latest adventure from Jack's favorite female freedom fighter, Mlle. Marie, but the climax explained the need for the new heroine. It's almost one of those Big Bob scripts that kinda sorta introduces supernatural undertones but pulls away before making a statement. Did I mention that Russ Heath seemingly can do no wrong? I've neglected commenting on the U.S.S. Stevens entries lately as they've all been pretty much the same thing: insightful script but raggedy art but, while the art remains rough, "Color Me Brave!" is one of Sam's best "scripts" of late, four pages overflowing with suspense and bravery. Nicely done.

G.I. Combat 154

"Battle Prize!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Frogman Battleground!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #59, July 1957)

"Night Attack"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #53, January 1958)

"Count on Me!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #58, June 1958)

The Haunted Tank is captured by the Nazis and Hitler sends the crew of the Jeb on a tour of Germany, pointing out to his lemmings that this "junkyard tank" is "proof that the Allied military are scraping the bottom!!" While on a train bound for the next carnival, freedom fighters save the Jeb and send them on their way. Only problem is that the men find themselves in Russia! There, the boys become allies with Russian rebels camped in the forest and help the fighters win back their village. Casualties are heavy and, in the end, Jeb Stuart wonders how his men and the Haunted Tank will make it back to the front line.


Oh no, no, no, no . . . This will not do. Sam Glanzman may be palatable in small, four-page doses but not in a fourteen-page strip previously illustrated by DC's finest artist, Russ Heath. It's tough to keep the characters sorted out as Sam's sketchy art just blends them all together in a mishmash of pinks and black lines. Gone is the incredible detail and well-staged battle scenes; what we're left with here is what could best be summed up as plastic soldiers in front of a cardboard diorama. Even Dan Spiegle shows more care in his work. Big Bob's patchwork script isn't much better; it bops all around but doesn't seem to get anywhere. I'm not sure I'll survive much more of this.

Double Ugh!

"Frogman Battleground!" details the trials and errors of a newbie fishman trying to avoid, at all costs, that "rock bottom line" frogmen have to be aware of lest they lose their minds and drown. Nice Heath art but the story becomes a little too enamored of the "rock bottom line" (I'm really surprised that this wasn't the title) and our hero becomes a pinball jettisoned from one encounter with the dark deep to another. Much better is the Kanigher/Kubert collab, "Night Attack," which succeeds at illustrating the night fears of a foxholed G.I. and his almost OCD ability to protect his ground from the enemy. "Night Attack" is the best reprint we've had in years. Finally, "Count on Me!" offers up John Severin art that looks nothing like John Severin (uncredited inker?) and a script hanging upon that title.

"Night Attack"

Jack: It's not fair to put a new Sam Glanzman story in the same comic as reprints drawn by Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, and John Severin, even if the Severin story is not an example of his best work. Glanzman's faces are the least successful part of his art, but in a 14-page story that depends on characterization, the inability to draw faces is a big problem. Some of his layouts are passable and the story is more violent than we're used to, but the art is disappointing. There are a few panels where I wonder if he was swiping from Kubert or Heath, because it doesn't look like Kubert the editor redrew them but it also doesn't look like the usual Glanzman faces. I must admit that when mention was made in "Frogman Battleground!" of the aqua lung, my mental jukebox started playing "Sitting on a park bench . . ." "Night Attack" features truly superb work by Kubert. Let's face it, Peter, Kubert is better than Heath. Just admit it.

"We're going to make you love getting less for more!"

Next Week . . .
The purge continues as we take
one last trip down into
the Vault of Horror

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Caroline Munro Archive: Join the Lamb's Navy... Again

by John Scoleri

I'm back again with yet more rarities from my Caroline Munro collection, a continuing series here on bare•bones.

I previously posted a selection of Lamb's Navy Rum beer coasters I procured with shots of Caroline on them. I was excited to find what I thought was another batch of those, only to be pleasantly surprised when the following landed on my doorstep. These were not smaller beer coasters, but in fact larger bar mats (each measuring approximately 11" x 8"). 

This is a great shot from a previously unseen Lamb's Navy Rum photo shoot.

This photo is from the same shoot as this previously posted magazine cover.

This image pairs well with one of the aforementioned beer coasters.

Watch for more Caroline Munro rarities here on bare•bones, and be sure to check out the prior entries in this series!

Monday, April 16, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 55

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  55: January 1955, Part I

Two-Fisted Tales #40

"Dien Bien Phu!" ★★
Story by John Putnam
Art by John Severin

"Flaming Coffins!" ★★ 1/2
Story and Art by George Evans

"The Last of the Mohicans!" ★★
Story by James Fenimore Cooper
Adaptation and Art by Jack Davis

"Sharpshooter!" ★★★
Story and Art by John Severin

War correspondent Jean Duvoisin parachutes into "Dien Bien Phu!" and reports on action behind the lines for the French press. The French are quickly being massacred by the Chinese (who are being supplied by the Russians) and Jean must stand witness to the slaughter before, ultimately, falling before the onslaught himself. Extremely grim, "Dien Bien Phu!," like the best EC war stories, seeks to educate and entertain at the same time. The education part certainly works this time out but I'm not so sure about the entertainment factor. The story is a bit disjointed, seeming to flit here and there without really focusing on the business at hand. Severin's art is sketchy and doesn't contain the gorgeous detail we've come to be spoiled by. This was the first and only writing credit for John Putnam, who was MAD's art director from 1954 through to his death in 1980.

"Dien Bien Phu!"

Lt. Ben Russell is assigned to the 147th Observation Squadron during World War I, a post he is most assuredly not interested in, since Ben is one of the best fighter pilots in the war. When his C.O. explains that the Air Force needs good pilots to map war zones, Russell begrudgingly accepts but his thought balloons let us know he won't go without a fight. And a fight is just what awaits Russell the next day, when he and his partner head up to chart a very important area and the sky is filled with Germans. The bravado-filled lieutenant breaks with the observation and aims his machine guns at the Germans, taking down two of the fighters like fish in a barrel. His partner and C.O. are less impressed with Russell's show of machismo and, the next day, the egotistical ace discovers why the observation detail was so important when 500 soldiers are trapped by Krauts in the area that was supposed to be charted. Seeing the error of his ways, Lt. Russell volunteers to fly in and attempt a rescue of the men. His mission proves fruitful and his heroics earn him the medals he had so craved. "Flaming Coffins!" begins like (forgive the pun) a house on fire but quickly slips into the sort of maudlin hogwash that bedeviled the DC war comics. Russell is a self-centered, dangerous ass until he sees the errors of his ways and makes a U-turn in personality so fast you'd expect artist Evans to portray the Lt. with a broken neck in the ensuing panels. The change is just too fast and broad. While I'm not enamored of Evans the writer, Evans the artist gets high marks for his exciting aerial stunt work and layouts.

In 18th-century New York, the adventurer Hawkeye and Uncas, a Mohican, attempt to save the lives of the kidnapped daughters of a British Colonel. A choppy, confusing truncation of James Fenimore Cooper's famous novel, "The Last of the Mohicans!" is memorable only for its exciting Jack Davis art. New material might have become scarce in the last few days of the New Trend; that's the only explanation I can proffer for this head-scratcher. Also odd is Jack's insistence on interpreting for readers certain Mohican terms while ignoring others.

"The Last of the Adaptations"

Pinned down by a marksman, a group of Confederate soldiers must call on their own "Sharpshooter!" to save their skins. "Dead Eye" Jack Putnam arrives to save the day. As Jack attempts to scope out the Yankee on the other side of the river, he reminisces about how he got so good with a gun and the friend he lost to the politics of the Civil War. Jack's friend, Red Forrest, had become just as good a shot as Jack in his early years but the War (and their Pas) forced them to take opposing sides. Jack finally takes aim and fires at the same time as his opponent and both are killed. Jack and Red are finally reunited. Though the "twist" is hardly a surprise (how could it be when an emphasis is placed on Red's gun skills?), I found the story moving and fairly effective; Severin doesn't feel the need to jackhammer home the point that war destroys everything it touches, even the friendship of two young boys. --Peter

 "Flaming Coffins!" was my favorite story in this issue, mainly due to the superb art, but I also found the plot thrilling. It was interesting to see the French war in Vietnam in the 1950s as depicted in "Dien Bien Phu!," especially with the knowledge of what was to come in the following decade. "Sharpshooter!" reminded me of one of Ambrose Bierce's Civil War short stories, what with the inexorable hand of fate guiding the friends toward their destiny. Despite decent art, "The Last of the Mohicans!" was too wordy and dull for me.

Panic #6

"The Phansom" ★★ 1/2
Story by Nick Meglin and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Executive Seat" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"[Untitled Parody of Comic Advertising]" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Popular Mecpanics Magazine" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"The Phansom"
The Phansom, clad in purple tights and black mask, must rescue his girlfriend Dinah after she is kidnapped and rowed out to a boat moored three miles off shore. While waiting for her rescuer, Dinah tells the story of the Phansom, who is just the latest in a long line of men to wear the purple suit. His tale told, the Phansom swims out to the boat, saves Dinah, and returns to the beach. There, he reveals why he has never proposed marriage: the Phansom is a woman!

I love Bill Elder's work as much as the next guy, but even he has trouble livening up this series of corny jokes. Never a big fan of the Phantom comic strip, I found the parody somewhat lacking in originality. I do like how the Phansom is trapped under the title logo for a couple of pages, though.

Wally being Wally.
("Executive Seat")
Averice Bullhead, boss of a furniture making corporation, drops dead and five vice presidents jockey to fill the "Executive Seat." Will greed triumph over idealism? Will the hunger for money now outweigh the need to plan for the future? No matter: the idealistic scientist wins the day by killing off all of his rivals with poisoned pencils.

Wally Wood is a great artist, but the need to mix his talents with caricatures of actors and actresses from Executive Suite, the latest popular movie to be parodied, waters down the effectiveness of his work. This is another movie I've never seen, and not knowing much about it results in 99% of the jokes being lost on me. If the mark of a good parody is that it is funny even if you haven't seen the work being parodied, then this is a failure. However, it does point toward the direction that MAD magazine would go for the next, oh, sixty years and counting.

Six one-page parody ads follow, pitching such fake products as Ben-Goo (fast relief from aches and pains), a bodybuilding course by Charles Fatless, Neveready batteries, and so on. Joe Orlando's art continues to seem a little weird, but the ads are reasonably funny, kind of like Wacky Packages of the '50s.

Charles Fatless.
"[Untitled Parody of Comic Book Advertising]"

This issue of Panic wraps up with a 7-page parody of Popular Mechanics called, of course, Popular Mecpanics. Lots of ads, a letters to the editor column, and a classified ad page with such small type that only a bored kid would bother reading it, make up this section of "hilarity." I gave up well before the end. Peter does not pay me enough to pore over this stuff. And by the way, a blank cover is not clever--it's a cop-out.--Jack

Order now!
("Popular Mecpanics Magazine")
Peter: If Piracy was the best title EC was publishing in 1955, then Panic is clearly, easily, stupendously, the worst. Very little that appears between its covers is readable. Witness "The Phansom" (hoo hoo, what a clever title, right?), six pages of Will Elder desperately trying to drum up enthusiasm for a funny-as-cancer script and giving up caring half way through (same as I did, actually). My straight face continued through the other three vignettes (Mecpanics instead of Mechanics? Strop, You're Killing Me!) and, I predict, will remain smile-less through the remaining six issues.

Piracy #2

"Sea Food" ★★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Kismet" ★★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Davis

"The Shell Game" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"A Fitting End" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood

A band of ruthless pirates spies a merchant ship weighed down by goodies on the horizon and they promptly board her, pillage her booty, and lay waste to every crew member aboard. The captain has his sights set on selling the merchant ship, so he orders the vessel hitched to their own and all the pirate’s treasures transferred on to it in order to appease his mates who had suspected that their leader might try to cut and run. Running becomes the very next thing on everyone’s minds as a British frigate hones in on the pirate ship, forcing the criminals to cut the merchant ship loose. The British frigate gives chase and engages the pirates in a battle of cannons, losing spectacularly when their gunpowder stockade catches fire and sends the redcoats sky-high. But the pirate ship has taken some mighty blows and is set for sinking until divine intervention arrives: the abandoned merchant ship appears and the cutthroats set out for it. Too bad they didn’t count on the scores of starving ship rats that have made the merchant vessel their home and are delighted by the recent food delivery.

It's raining rats and sea-dogs.
("Sea Food")

Like “The Privateer,” “Sea Food” sets up its central cast of bastards for a cosmic beating with the details of all their rampant, unchecked deviltry, and boy does the anonymous scripter deliver with the surprise appearance of those peckish vermin. It’s an ending of the highest ironic order, and it feels completely justified and earned as the pirates fall victim to their own avarice. Reed Crandall’s artwork is less detailed here than his last few assignments, but paired with the red-blooded narrative of viciousness on the high seas it leaves this reader jolly as a roger.

Bucko Thomas has had to fight to get what he wants, and that’s no truer than when he wrested away command of the Unicorn from Captain Ames with a little foul play. Sailing out to the African coast where Muslim slave trader Amah awaits with his inventory, Bucko conspires with the crew as first mate to overtake the ship even as Ames plans for this to be his final voyage. Expressing his concerns over the lack of gold on the ship to trade slaves with, Bucko is pleased to see that Ames has secreted a store a precious pearls on his person. Ames is quick to make the transaction with Amah before heading out to sea again, and their haste is only compounded by the sight of a British cutter closing in on them, forcing them to dump their entire slave inventory into the ocean via a horrifying death-chain tied to the ship’s anchor. Incensed by the wasted trip and his desire for power, Bucko knifes Ames in the back and turns the Unicorn around after the British cutter leaves to return to Amah’s hold for another sale. Bucko paddles out to the fortress alone only to see the Unicorn blasted away by Amah’s cannonfire. Showering Bucko with the pleasures of his stronghold before ordering his execution by strangulation, Amah tells the sailor that his fate had been decided for him the moment Ames tried to pass off worthless globes of paste as pearls.

Jack calmly asks Jose to turn in his assigned reviews.
Told in a wraparound sequence that cleverly convinces us that Bucko is in store for a much different fate using a choice play on words, “Kismet” is one of most spritely plotted and relentlessly grim yarns I’ve read during this marathon. It’s not quite at a level of soul-crushing despair, but its coda of men being unable to escape the machinations of fate seems to reverberate throughout in the best tradition of noir. That this seafaring tale still manages to maintain its identity as a salty, bare-knuckled story of Piracy is quite the accomplishment, too. Though it admittedly didn’t wow me right after my first reading of it, I’ve found myself thinking of “Kismet” again and again.

The rumors of a sunken Spanish ship buried amidst the coral off the Florida Keys is too tempting for John Ordway to resist, and when he confirms the presence of treasure through library research and primary sources, he gets bitten by the hunting bug good. But the boat and equipment rentals are too much for John to manage with his meager salary, so he lifts $15,000 from the firm’s safe and juggles the books until he can return from his vacation and pay his loan back. A series of unfortunate events and the treacherousness of “Razor Reef” leave John with only a small window of opportunity, but after many unsuccessful trials he finally comes across the wreckage deep within the coral. There’s a chest full of priceless treasure, but there’s another surprise waiting for John too: namely a giant sea clam that clamps down on John’s legs. Pulling on his life-line, the crew of the rental ship yank (most of) him loose, and when his torn corpse is brought aboard they notice eight doubloons—roughly $15,000—clutched in his fist.

Peter surveys the royalties from his bare*bones pieces.
("The Shell Game")
Though this one is operating on a much more modest wavelength than “Kismet,” “The Shell Game” is still delightful as a simply- but well-told escapade with a nasty finish that would have been right at home in one of the horror mags (and probably would have made for a better ending to “Pearly to Dead” [TFTC 40], as a matter of fact). Williamson and Torres go for a more sleek, modern look with their artwork, and the final panels draw on insinuation and leave the grisliest bits to our overactive imaginations.

Veteran sea-dog Jack Roark has just about had it up to *here* with Captain Edmund Drummond’s incessant ordering of the crew (namely him) and his haughty airs. A fellow sailor comments on Roark’s black attitude toward the sea, so Roark treats him to an extended flashback where he provides context for his grouchy behavior. Seems that as a boy, Jack’s father had given him and his brother Charles two halves of a gold crown to wear about their necks so that they will always know each other should anything ever happen to them. The powerful metaphor barely leaves the old man’s lips when the ship is set upon by pirates, and Pops is killed in the fray while Charles is taken prisoner by the heathens as Jack hides on the ship. Ever since that day Jack has remained pissed at the ocean and desperate to find his long-lost brother. Drummond breaks the reminiscence up and provokes Roark to sock him a good one. Swearing to punish the entire crew for Roark’s insolence, Drummond instead invokes a full-on mutiny that leaves many dead and dying. As the mutinous crew hightails it when a British vessel appears in the distance, Roark decides at the last minute to stay and meet his punishment at the hangman’s rope: he’s finally found the twin of his half gold crown around the neck of the slain Captain Drummond.

Son... I think I hired the wrong birthday performers!
("A Fitting End")
Break out the Kleenex and the citrus, because this story has got tear-jerking moments as well as scurvy. “A Fitting End” is one of those yarns that ends up being disserviced by its short length, as Captain Drummond is really the only other character that Roark has any kind of interaction with, so the story is essentially left with no choice than to make him the brother. Wood works in some cool layouts, like the intro/outro flashback panels, so reading this final story becomes an exercise in watching him do his thing as the narrative merrily rolls along to its foregone conclusion.--Jose

Peter: Avast, ye lubbers! In my comments for Piracy #1, I wondered if editor Feldstein could keep stocking this title with quality pirate stories or if bilge water would fill the cargo and sink the shiny new vessel. So far, so good, if "Kismet" is any indication. We whine and moan about the predictable climaxes and awful Jack Kamen art that we have to snooze through (at least I do), but when I run across a script so well-written and full of nuance and surprises, it makes me realize just how spoiled the EC Comics have made me (though the scripter is uncredited, I'd put money on Al himself). You won't find dialogue this sophisticated nor plotting so well-thought out over at Harvey or ACG; it's as though Al and his comrades took their jobs too seriously and were hell-bent on delivering more than they had to. Even when the script doesn't gel (as in "Sea Food" where seven and a half pages spent on banal cannon-fire and pirate talk are wrapped up with a WTF? final panel), we're treated to the best illustrations in funny books at the time (Davis! Williamson! Wood! Crandall!). But, yes, I do question whether a couple thousand rats would have hardened pirates leaping into shark-infested waters or why Roark would suddenly search his dead captain's body for the half-crown. Despite the occasional silliness, Piracy is now EC's best title.

Jack: After all of the research that was done on EC for so many years by stalwarts like Russ Cochran, how is it that the first three stories in this issue remain uncredited on the GCD? Does anyone know who wrote them? "Sea Food" has excellent art by Crandall depicting an exciting story and a surprise ending that is pure horror and completely unexpected. In "Kismet," we have a classic EC twist ending suggesting that, at least for now, Piracy is carrying on the EC storytelling tradition in the wake of the death of the horror mags. "The Shell Game" shows that the quality of art in this comic is up to that of the EC science fiction line and the story is another thriller that builds to a great finish. I saw the end coming a mile away in "A Fitting End," but the story is superb and Wood's work is wonderful.

Tales from the Crypt #45

"Telescope" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"The Substitute" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"Murder Dream" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"The Switch" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

Eric Walford is evicted from his ship thanks to a storm at sea, left stranded on a desolate piece of lifeless coral rock with only a huge grey rat leftover from the vessel to keep him company. At the first they grudgingly respect each other, taking comfort in the other’s presence, but then the first pangs of starvation begin to needle them deep in their respective guts. Eric fails both to kill his competitor and to signal the native Polynesian fishers to his aid, but he does finally manage to stone a seagull from the air who just so happened to be in the middle of its own lunch of a fish. The rat beats Eric to the punch and begins gobbling the little gull up, swimming out to sea with meal in tow as Eric gives weak chase. Snatching the vermin up from the surf, the sun-maddened Eric starts to chow down on the live rat when, wouldn’t you know it, a shark sniffs out the commotion and hones in on Eric’s ass. The Polynesian fishers arrive just in time to kill the shark, but when they pull back the fish’s lips they get an eyewitness glimpse to a real-life diorama of the food chain.

EC's entry into geek show territory.
Lone survivor stories have a certain amount of dire suspense that’s intrinsic to their concept, so “Telescope” remains marginally engaging for its short length before Carl Wessler wheels out the grotesque gimmick at the end. It’s not to say that an author can’t think up an ending for their yarn first and then work backwards, but the stretch marks tend to show here; you can almost hear Wessler thinking, “OK, so then I’m gonna have the RAT eat the BIRD and then the GUY eat the RAT…” That said, Jack Davis acquits himself very ably in the art department and gives the assignment more time than it was worth. Eric looks like a hundred other Davis protagonists (but that was true of a lot of EC artists), but the feral desperation of the scenario comes through in Davis' illustrations, and there probably wasn’t anybody at EC who could draw a more vicious-looking rat than him, for whatever that’s worth.

Henri Duval poisoned a romantic rival, so now he’s sweating out his punishment in a French penal colony, clearing paths in the thick jungle overgrowth. Providence smiles upon him one day when he happens across hellebore in the wild, a plant loaded with a powerful toxin. Henri proceeds to sneak the plant and other nefarious tools of his trade back to his bunk, and soon he has fashioned himself a poisoned blow-dart which he proceeds to kill the colony governor with. The murder weapon is found in a fellow prisoner’s bed and the innocent man lashed to death for Henri’s crime. Fortune favors the killer again when he finds himself on coffin-building duty, cleverly boring holes in the casket to accommodate the corpse’s “expanding gases.” But really what Henri has in mind is the ol’ switcheroo, changing clothes with the dead governor, mutilating the corpse’s face, and leaving it behind in his place while Henri gets cozy for an all-expenses-paid boat trip back to Paris. But the one thing Henri didn’t count on was the governor’s wish to have a burial at sea.

("The Substitute")

If you don’t think about it too hard, “The Substitute” looks like a clever little ripper until you realize that an awful amount of luck had to be on Henri’s side for him to get into that coffin, and even when you do afford the intervention of dumb luck this story still pales in comparison to EC’s first go-round with the concept in “Escape”, all the way back in Vault of Horror #16. Jack Kamen’s art… well, look, I think 50+ posts in this EC marathon have made it pretty clear where bare*bones stands on all of that, but let me just say that while I think that ol’ Jack’s art certainly looks crisp, pretty, and even refined not infrequently, the comment that Peter makes below about “bending elbows and popping eyes” certainly sums up the visual motif of “everyone’s unfavorite” EC artist. His characters are like those paper cutout fashion dolls that were all the rage before Barbie came on the scene; very nice to look at, but about as dynamic as the sheets they were printed on. There; I think I’m done.

No matter what Howard does, he is dogged by a horrible nightmare involving his wife being victimized by a mad killer every time he falls asleep. Things seemed so pleasant just a short time ago when he bought the quaint house on the English moor for his wife Catherine, with the added bonus of getting caretaker Claude Grymes bundled with the deal. But the knowledge of his wife being safe back at home doesn’t assuage Howard’s fears as he wrestles with his nocturnal demons while on business in London. The disorienting visions have him barreling through doors and stumbling upon Catherine at the mercy of the axe-wielding Grymes, but the grim dream shows him falling prey to the madman before Grymes turns the blade on Catherine. Sensing that something is terribly amiss, Howard races back to the country estate and finds Catherine weeping over a casket containing… Howard! It seems that Grymes has been suffering from another one of his insane delusions, and after having a brief moment of clarity wherein he realizes that he has already offed Howie, he takes out his ax and finishes the job with Catherine.

Krigstein doin' Krigstein.
("Murder Dream")

I can’t decide if “Murder Dream” is clever or confusing, but if one thing is for certain it’s that Bernie Krigstein was certainly in his wheelhouse here. His discombobulating style manages to sneakily downplay the fact that we never really get a clear shot of “Howard’s” face prior to the climax, but I think that this whole damn affair is so trippy that the character could have been portrayed as the innocent husband without the surprise reveal losing any of its WTF factor. While the three of us have generally agreed on the idea that the EC horror titles were going off the rails and devolving from their previous greatness following the regime change, I think that the majority of the assignments Krigstein undertook were demonstrations of the weird, modern higher ground that the terror mags could have taken.

Dr. Otto Octavius, I presume?
("The Switch")
Carlton Webster might have a checking account fit to bursting, but his life can’t help but feel empty without the companionship of a woman. Thus the millionaire is jubilant to find that young, beautiful Linda Stewart wants him not for his cash (which she has no knowledge of) but for his heart and mind. Linda likes what’s on Webster’s inside, but she’s not too hot about the old, wrinkly outside. Webster is given the name of a blacklisted surgeon by his doctor, and the good Dr. Faulkner tells the old man that he can most assuredly perform an entire facial exchange to the tune of $200,000, 50 g’s for him and the remainder for the young guinea pig whom they’ll need to lift the kisser from. George Booth, said guinea pig, readily consents and the checks are written out. But even with Webster’s new young mug, Linda can’t stand the sight of his withered body, so back he goes to Faulkner and George for a torso swap. Everything’s hunky-dory, until Linda points out Webster’s spindly legs and arms. Wiping out his entire savings to get the limb transfer, a triumphant Webster calls on Linda at her new uptown penthouse only to discover that she’s attracted to personal security more than anything else: she’s just married her millionaire husband, George Booth!

“The Switch” is one of the last gasps of the mordant humor that use to run rampant in the Gaines/Feldstein collaborations before the dawn of the strict gross-out arrived with Carl Wessler. But lo, look who penned this tale but Mr. Wessler his ownself! It’s nice to see Carl dialing back the gag effects here for a story that has no overt and hardly any implicit violence to speak of, instead riding on a morbidly whimsical scenario that delivers a true O. Henry finish. Also stepping back into the light is artist Graham Ingels, probably relieved to be free of the dungeon of walking corpses and mindless maiming that he’d previously been sentenced to. Panels like Webster cradled in the seat of his limo amid clouds of cigar smoke show that Graham had more talent up his sleeve than he might have been credit for, and it’s really a shame that he wasn’t given a chance to stretch more during his tenure with the company. But “The Switch” sure does make a nice parting gift.--Jose

Double-D Dangerous!
("The Switch")
Peter: The obvious winner this issue in both script and art is the (admittedly confusing) "Murder Dream," which kept me guessing right up to its shock finale. Krigstein is really having a boatload of fun in this outing, with his style morphing from panel to panel. That last shot, of Claude about to separate Cathy's head from her body, is a corker. "Telescope" has a fun reveal (and a clever title) but not much else; ditto the obligatory Kamen tale where the protagonists all look alike and rarely engage in any activities other than bending their elbows and popping their eyeballs. "The Switch" occupies the runner-up slot this issue with its genuinely funny finale and grotesque Ghastly artwork (what exactly are Linda's breasts doing in panel five on page 2? Attempting lift off?). This would have been the final issue of Tales from the Crypt had there not been a premiere issue of Crypt of Terror all set to go, but more on that soon.

Jack:  It's too bad movies and TV shows have made EC synonymous with horror, because I think the horror books were consistently the weakest of the line. This issue is a good example of the "good art, bad story" problem that has plagued EC horror comics since Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines stopped writing all the stories. "Telescope" is plain disgusting, especially the red panel where the castaway eats the rat. More gratuitous violence is found in "The Substitute," in which it looks like Jack Kamen has given up trying. At least "Murder Dream" has great Krigstein art, including several examples of his technique of using multiple figures in a single panel to show movement; the color in his stories is always interesting, too--I wonder if Krigstein did it himself (the GCD has no color credit here). Finally, Ghastly has some fun in "The Switch," which was goofy and kind of fun by the end, though I kept wondering why the idiot old man didn't just get a brain transplant.

Next Week . . .
Our feelings about the NEW Unknown Soldier
will be unmasked!