Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Six: "Cop For a Day" [7.4]

by Jack Seabrook

The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents reached back into Henry Slesar's catalogue for "Cop For a Day," which had been published in the January 1957 issue of Manhunt. More hardboiled than most of the Slesar stories that had been adapted for the series, this tale begins with Phil Pennick and Davy Wyatt holed up in a "one-room flat that had been their prison for two days." The duo had robbed and shot a bank messenger and got away with $18,000. Despite Davy's worries that he will be seen and arrested, Phil goes out for sandwiches. He buys a newspaper and learns that a woman who witnessed the shooting can identify the criminals. Back at the flat, Phil tells Davy that he has a plan to solve the problem created by Davy's "'jerky trigger finger.'"

Phil goes out again and visits his friend Marty Hirsch, who works in the garment district on Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. Borrowing a policeman's uniform, Phil puts it on in the bathroom at Angie's restaurant and then goes to the apartment house where the witness lives. He talks his way past the policemen guarding her residence, knocks on the door of Apartment 4-E, and tells the woman that he has a photo for her to identify. Once inside the apartment, Phil takes the woman into the bedroom and shoots her, then calmly walks out and takes a taxi back to the tenement where he and Davy are hiding out.

As he opens the door to the flat, Davy shoots him in the stomach and forehead, mistaking him for a real police officer.

"Cop For a Day" has a sudden twist ending that is presented so matter of factly that it falls flat. The most notable feature of Slesar's story is the underworld slang he uses. Women are "dames," the witness is "a honey blonde, with a figure out of 52nd Street," and Phil wonders if she is "cooling her high heels in a police station." Other than these entertaining turns of phrase, the story is not among Slesar's best. Fortunately, by 1961, when he adapted the story for television, Slesar's skill had grown and the teleplay is much stronger than its source. The episode premiered on NBC on Tuesday, October 31, 1961, a fitting day to present an episode that features a character putting on a costume!

Glenn Cannon as Davy
As he did in his adaptation of "The Man With Two Faces," Slesar opens the show by dramatizing the crime that was only discussed in retrospect in the story. Here, we see the robbery take place in an exciting and suspenseful scene. Director Paul Henreid and cameraman John L. Russell work together to make the scene come alive by using a moving camera that follows Phil and Davy as they trail and attack the bank messenger. The selection of stock musical phrases by Joseph E. Romero is also excellent and heightens the tension in the opening scene.

The show then picks up where the story began. There is a real contrast between laconic, experienced Phil, played by Walter Matthau, and jumpy, inexperienced Davy, played by Glenn Cannon. As Phil, Matthau looks like he has seen and done it all before. He has some nice bits of business, such as whistling Mozart while he waits in Marty's vestibule. When Phil is dressed as a cop and loitering across the street from the witness's apartment building, a woman comes up to him and asks for directions to the nearest post office. Matthau directs her to a location about ten blocks away, clearly making it up as he goes along and enjoying himself in his role as a crook impersonating a cop. His loose-limbed, confident stride and smug expression throughout the episode make his sudden death at the conclusion a shock.

Henreid's creative shot selections and camera movement also continue from the first scene to the last. In the deli, as Phil reads the paper, the camera zooms in on the word "Dies" in the headline about the bank messenger's fate--this trick shot recalls a similar one used by Hitchcock in "Back for Christmas." After the death is known, the scenes in the apartment turn darker and more shadowy. Even a simple shot-reverse shot sequence is spiced up by using angles looking up or down, depending on the character's placement in the frame. When Phil enters the woman's apartment building, Henreid places the camera at the top of a staircase so we can watch from above as Phil comes through the door and climbs the stairs. There is similar camera placement when Phil and Marty go into Marty's stock room: the camera is placed at the far end of the room and we look down past a row of coats to see the two men. Henreid's mobile camera, creative shot selection and camera placement make the episode move quickly.

Bernard Fein as Marty
The music is also worth noting, even though it is comprised of stock phrases from the library. When the camera zooms in on the newspaper headline, there is s two-note sting that is repeated to underline the significance of the onscreen word. This is followed by a jazzy, cymbal-based theme that underscores Phil's cool demeanor in the face of danger. The music is also suspenseful as Phil approaches the woman's building, and the murder scene is set to ominous drums.

In addition to the new opening scene, Slesar's teleplay makes several changes to the story. When Phil first comes back from his trip to the deli, there is an impressive scene where Davy waits in the basement apartment, listening to the unknown man come down the stairs. We hear Phil's footsteps on the stairs and outside the door and it is as if we can see him coming closer. This scene foreshadows the conclusion, where Davy shoots Phil as he comes through the door. It has been established that Davy is tense and quick on the trigger, and being left alone in the apartment makes him jumpy and ready for disaster every time the door opens. Slesar's teleplay also simplifies Phil's costume change. In the story, he takes the costume to a restaurant and changes in the bathroom. In the TV show, he picks out the policeman's uniform, which is displayed on a mannequin in Marty's stockroom. He then has Marty help him put it on, adding badges on his shirt and hat as a finishing touch.

Carol Grace
Last of all, the murder scene is streamlined. In the story, Phil tells the woman that he has a photograph for her to identify. In the show, he simply says that he needs to use her telephone and she lets him in. There is then some clever banter between the two of them. She is sarcastic and disrespectful to Phil, and he answers back in a straightforward way until he pulls his gun. The murder itself is fairly graphic, as he puts a pillow over her and shoots her through it while she begs for her life. He leaves her lifeless body on the bed, not quite as horribly displayed as that of Susan Oliver in "Annabel" (also directed by Henreid), but bad enough. The latter seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents show a willingness to display violent acts (recall the concluding murder in "Servant Problem") that had not been present in earlier years.

The show ends with a more extended scene than that in the story; Davy shoots Phil and then approaches the body, turning it over to reveal the face of his partner in crime. While Davy had muttered "You cop, you dirty cop" only moments before, when he sees what he has done he screams "No!" and the episode ends. This slight extension of the scene cures the suddenness with which the story ends and makes the conclusion more satisfying.

"Cop For a Day" is a fine example of how to take a run of the mill story and use a strong teleplay, good acting, creative direction and appropriate music to create a memorable half-hour of TV.

Paul Henreid (1908-1992) directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Landlady." The last Slesar episode he directed prior to "Cop For a Day" was "The Last Escape," with Keenan Wynn.

The camera at the top of the stairs
Playing Phil Pennick is Walter Matthau (1920-2000). Born Walter Matthow in Manhattan, he was a child actor in Yiddish theater who served under Jimmy Stewart in the Air Force in WWII, earning six battle stars. He went on to star on Broadway, then on television, and finally in many films. He won two Tony awards and an Oscar. His TV career began in 1950 and his movie career followed in 1955. He appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents but he will always be remembered for his comedic film roles, especially The Odd Couple (1968) and The Bad News Bears (1976).

The camera at the far end of the stockroom
Glenn Cannon (1932-2013) played Davy. He also appeared on Broadway, on TV starting in 1956 and in movies starting in 1961. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. He moved to Hawaii in the late 1960s and never left. He taught acting at the University of Hawaii for decades and made many appearances on TV shows based in the islands, including Hawaii Five-O and Magnum P.I.

The woman who is murdered by Phil was played by Carol Grace (1924-2003), who was married to Walter Matthau from 1959 to 2000. She had been married previously to playwright William Saroyan and there is speculation that she was the illegitimate daughter of British actor Leslie Howard. More information about her and her more famous husband may be found on the Matthau family website here.

Matthau and Robert Reiner
Bernard Fein (1926-1980) plays the small role of Marty Hirsch, from whom Phil gets the policeman's uniform. Fein was co-creator of the TV show Hogan's Heroes.

One of the policemen who haplessly guards the woman's apartment is played by an actor named Robert Reiner; he is not the Rob Reiner who co-starred on All in the Family.

"Cop For a Day" is not yet available on DVD and I have not been able to find a source to view it online.

"Cop For a Day." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 31 Oct. 1961. Television.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
The Matthau Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Cop For a Day." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon Book Division, 1962. 80-87. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 25: June 1961

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
 All American Men of War 85

"Battle Eagle!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Mission Was Impossible!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Booby-Trap Prize!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: When Johnny Cloud left the reservation to join the U.S. Armed Services as the pilot of a fighter jet, he never expected he'd end up as a "Battle Eagle!" After a successful run in which he destroys a Nazi bomber jet, he meets Billy, the young son of a fellow fighter pilot. Billy is visibly disappointed that Johnny dresses just like the other pilots and is not wearing full Indian garb. When Billy is injured in a bombing raid on London, Johnny visits all of the costume shops, looking for an outfit he can don to lift Billy's spirits, but he finds none available. He heads back into the skies and takes out another Nazi bomber, saving the life of Lord Leslie, whose manor house is below the site of the battle. Leslie is so grateful to Johnny Cloud that he lets him borrow a costume from his collection of battle outfits, and Johnny visits Billy at the hospital in full Indian regalia, much to the boy's delight. This is a corny story that doesn't advance the Johnny Cloud mythology very much, though we do get to see a couple of panels showing Johnny leaving his tribe to enlist.

Peter: This story features the first recap of any of the war series thus far. Was this because Johnny Cloud is such an unmemorable character, Bob Kanigher felt the little nippers needed a reminder? Well, hate to be the bearer of bad news, Bob, but this sappy bit of nothing may just have to be part of the next "Our Story Thus Far" since I've already forgotten what it was about.

Jack: Lt. Thorn's Landing-Ship-Tank boat was useful when tanks needed to be moved, but now it's relegated to moving coal and fish in its massive hatch. Thorn hears about an enemy train carrying secret weapons on a coastal railroad and hatches a plan to carry out a daring raid, even though "The Mission Was Impossible!" He lays track leading to his ship's open hatch, captures the enemy train, and he and his crew battle Korean fighter jets trying to stop them from transferring the train into the ship's hatch. What a cool story! This is one of the most original events I can recall in the DC war books. They should have given a few more pages to this tale and a few less to Johnny Cloud.

"The Mission Was Impossible!"
Peter: It might be cool but it seems a bit far-fetched, doesn't it? I'm no engineer but could you really drive a full-length train into a military sea vessel without mishaps? At least Hank Chapman dispensed with the obligatory repeating of the phrase very early in the story. On the plus side, Jack Abel's art is outstanding.

Jack: When a Japanese battleship captures a U.S. sub, the enemy commander sends a crew of frogmen aboard to search for a time bomb before towing the sub back to base for study. The frogmen find a bomb that is a dud and the sub is towed back to base, where it turns out to be a "Booby-Trap Prize," blowing everything around it sky high. The Japanese did not reckon with a single U.S. frogman who remained aboard the captured sub, hiding in a torpedo tube with a second bomb that he set before making a speedy exit. This is another exciting story featuring the usual dynamite art by Russ Heath!

Peter: Despite the fist-pumping "Up with the Allies" climax, Bob Haney leaves us with the sober reminder that sometimes heroes don't get away. Our frogman swims out to sea and is rescued by a passing PT boat, but his crew members are left behind as POWs--and I don't suspect the Japanese are going to be friendly captors after watching the sinking of their flotilla. Haney's suspenseful script combined with Russ Heath's dazzling visuals make this the winner of Best of the Month prize.

"Booby-Trap Prize!"

Our Fighting Forces 61

"Pass to Peril!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Ace in the Snow!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: After a jungle patrol that finds Gunner and Sarge destroying a nest of snipers hidden in a tree and a tank camouflaged by ferns, the soldiers get a two-day pass to enjoy some rest and relaxation. Things look promising when the plane that picks them up has another passenger, also on 48-hour leave--Nurse Honey! But soon their time off begins to resemble a "Pass to Peril," as a Zero shoots the plane out of the sky and Gunner and Sarge find themselves drifting at sea on a piece of wreckage, with sharks circling the makeshift raft. Good shooting and good luck are required to keep the men alive until they can recuperate in a base hospital under Nurse Honey's supervision. Check out the cover, where our heroes have their nicknames stenciled on the back of their shirts. Seriously?

Gunner bravely throws his body on top of Nurse Honey
Peter: There's quite a lot going on in this story and not much to do with Nurse Honey, who drifts away on a wave fairly quickly. A veritable smorgasbord of terror is directed at our two heroes and they manage to stay alive through even the worst of it. Even if I could enjoy the "suspense" and "action," I can't warm up to this duo of dunderheads and their one-liners, no matter how hard I try. Incredibly, this was the 17th adventure for Gunner and Sarge but perhaps more inexplicably there will be 33 more!

Jack: Frank's plane is shot down over the snow-covered mountains as he photographs a Nazi secret weapon--new rockets that can shoot down Allied planes, including that of Frank's brother, Billy. Frank vows revenge but must escape from a Nazi prison camp and flee like an "Ace in the Snow," pursued by the relentless camp commandant. Frank manages to survive and kill the Nazi, allowing him to return to safety and later bomb the Nazi stronghold into oblivion. This is not the first time we've seen a backup story by Bob Haney outshine the lead story by Bob Kanigher, and I bet it won't be the last. This story reminds me of one of my favorite Nick Cardy covers, which I'll reproduce here.

Peter: Did the Nazis leave the film Frank took of their secret hideaway on the plane or with Frank? Seems mighty sporting of them. This was an excitingly told tale from start to finish so I could check my brain at the door and just enjoy the pace and the nice Jack Abel art. Abel may just win my "Most Improved Artist of All Time" award very soon.

"Ace in the Snow!"

Our Army at War 107

"Doom Over Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Sixty-Second Ace!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Underwater Cowboy!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Everett is a member of Easy Co. who is shell-shocked when he survives a blast. That night, Everett warns Rock not to let fellow soldier Buster stand watch. Rock ignores him and Buster is injured by a blast. The next day, Rock sends the Ice Cream Soldier out on point and Everett warns him against it. Ice Cream Soldier's gunfire warns the rest of Easy Co. of an attack from the air, and he is injured just as Everett predicted. Finally, Everett warns Rock not to go out alone on reconnaissance, predicting that an injured sergeant would surely spell "Doom Over Easy!" Rock heads out alone and is soon joined by Everett himself, who is hurt when he steps on a booby-trap. Rock saves the day and returns to his men with the wounded Everett, whose days as a seer ended with the second blast. A very exciting story with great, gritty art by Kubert. Peter, did you think Buster and Ice Cream Soldier were killed?

You tell 'em, Rock!
Peter: I'd bet my favorite potato masher on it, Jack! Isn't that what's meant by the hanging tin pots? I thought Ice Cream Soldier and Buster were major "supporting characters," but everything points to our heroes being KIA (unless Kanigher is counting on readers with short memories). We'll keep an eye out for return visits but if these two turn up somewhere down the road that would diminish the impact of "Doom Over Easy!" for me. Sgt. Rock always seems to bring out the A-game in Kubert and Kanigher and this installment is no disappointment.

Jack: German WWI flying ace Major Von Ritter is given a watch to commemorate his sixtieth victory. New flier Lt. Bill Davis is also given a watch before his first patrol. Davis becomes "The Sixty-Second Ace!" when he defeats Von Ritter in battle after figuring out that the German is timing his attacks. I am all for WWI stories, especially featuring biplane action, but I found this one a little hard to follow.

"The Sixty-Second Ace!"
Peter: And I found it just a little too boring for my tastes. We've seen several stories already about the green fighter pilot who takes down the veteran ace and this is one of the lesser ones.

Jack: Anxious to put his brand on an enemy sub and destroy it, a frogman becomes an "Underwater Cowboy!" and tracks down the elusive craft. Pardner, this story is about as hokey as it gets! "My blood boiled like a chuckwagon coffee pot" is a representative caption.

Peter: I was about as interested as a gelded calf at a hoedown, Jack. I had to let out a hoot when Cowboy squeezed enough "shiny fish" to draw a bull brand on the side of the sub rather than, say, an X. At least he didn't take the time to scrawl the lyrics of Marty Robbins' "El Paso," right? Perhaps Hank Chapman had written a western and couldn't sell it? Pert near as readable as skywritin' to a near-sighted insurance salesman in a hailstorm is what I says. Regardless of the quality of the writing on the last two stories, Jack Abel's art is as purty as a peach.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Four: May 1972

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 135

"Death, Come Walk With Me!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Art Saaf

"The Corpse Was the Star!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Map of Menace"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Mystery #96, March 1960)

"Fame Comes to Killer Farnum!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Art Saaf

"The Carbon Copy Man"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Papp
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #9, January 1957)

"This Tree Bears Deadly Fruit"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Sparling

Not quite the Phantom Stranger
Jack: As Kroy's wealthy uncle's last seconds tick away, Kroy sees a strangely-garbed man in black hat and cape slip out of the room, clutching a large hourglass. Kroy knows that his uncle cut him out of his will and thus he helped the old man's death along with some poison. Soon after, Kroy sees a man killed in a car accident, and the man with the hourglass is again on the scene. Kroy suspects he is the angel of death and ambushes the man, grabbing the hourglass. Sure enough, the man is an angel of death, who tells Kroy that he must appear with the hourglass when people are dying. Kroy forces the man to do his bidding by threatening to smash the hourglass and insisting that "Death, Come Walk With Me!" Making the man gather the sands of all of the heirs to his uncle's fortune, Kroy takes them all on a yacht to hear the reading of the will. The sands run out and everyone else is killed, leaving Kroy shipwrecked. He washes up on a deserted island, where the angel of death tells him he has many years to live! Where to begin with this terrible story? The angel of death looks like the Phantom Stranger's sickly cousin. The story makes very little sense and Art Saaf's artwork has all of the drawbacks of Golden Age art with none of the charm.

Buckler comes through
Peter: How weak is the angel of death if one buffoon can wrest the sands of time (cue the music for Days of Our Lives!) from his grasp? How smart is Kroy to be on the ship at the same time as all his doomed relatives? How will he live for years to come if he has no food and water? How awful were some of these DC artists?

Jack: An elderly actor begs Mr. Reynolds for a part in his new movie and gets it. The scene requires him to pretend to lie dead in a coffin. After the scene is filmed, the crew discovers that the old man has really died and "The Corpse Was the Star!" The director orders that he be buried in the prop coffin. This three-pager features some decent art by Rich Buckler. I saw the "unexpected" conclusion coming a mile away but it's better than the story that preceded it.

Peter: Um, Jack, I think you're starving for quality material. This ain't it. The art's pretty close to amateurish and the story's deadly dumb. A one-note joke that makes three pages seem long.

Poor Phil Farnum!
Jack: Nobody respects Phil Farnum, not until "Fame Comes to Killer Farnum!" Picked on at work and henpecked at home, poor Phil finally gets some recognition when he is suspected of killing the co-worker who teased him day and night. Phil likes the attention so much, in fact, that when the real killer confesses, Farnum grabs a gun and shoots him to death! Art Saaf's scribblings won't give Neal Adams any competition, but at least this story makes sense and is only four pages long.

Peter: Oh, it makes sense alright. It's a "psychedelic phantasmagoria whirling through my mind." I'm beginning to wonder if Murray Boltinoff came into the DC offices on Monday morning, never mind editing this title.

Jack: Young Arthur likes to play in his backyard treehouse, but one day he learns that "This Tree Bears Deadly Fruit!" A strange and violent man is hiding up there and he makes Arthur bring him food, blankets, and the ledger from the safe in Arthur's house. Arthur does not know that his real father was suspected of being a homicidal maniac and has been presumed dead. When his stepfather finds Arthur in the treehouse and threatens to kill both the boy and the maniac, a fight ensues and lightning destroys the treehouse, killing both men. The ledger reveals that Arthur's father was unjustly accused by his stepfather, and his mother reveals that the man in the treehouse was Arthur's long-lost Pop. I thought it was obvious from the start that the man was Arthur's father but I liked this story, despite an ending that kind of falls apart. Sparling's art continues to grow on me and I'm a sucker for a Great Expectations ripoff.

Pip Arthur and the convict scary treehouse man
Peter: Sparling's art is, indeed, the only highlight of the new material this issue. Sparling's a tough nut to crack as he can be lights out sometimes and pretty doggone bad at others. Here his rough sketches are perfect for the story, one with very few surprises.

Jack: Reprints this issue include "The Map of Menace," in which treasure hunter Jack allows his three comrades to be killed one by one so he can have treasure all to himself. When he is trapped in quicksand, he uses his one and only wish to bring his cohorts back to life so they can save him. Strangely enough, they then find the treasure anyway! I like Nick Cardy's art but this story is run of the mill. "The Carbon Copy Man" is Frank Dorne, who makes a living by seeming to teleport around the world. When his identical twin is killed, Frank thinks the jig is up, until the twin reappears at his next performance! Frank is killed due to his own evil deeds and, as he dies, he learns that he was a triplet, not a twin. Seriously? It's a sad state of affairs when even the reprints are lousy!

Peter: I find, once again, I cannot agree with you, Mr. Seabrook. The reprints this issue are a riot! At least they brought smiles to my face, a reaction not achieved by reading any of the new stories. I loved "The Map of Menace" and its goofy, ironic climax (the greedy explorer accidentally wishes unselfishly!) but then I'm a sucker for these jungle dramas. It sure was lucky for Jack that there weren't more than three partners with him or he'd have run out of traps. "Carbon Copy Man" is so desperate for a twist it had me laugh out loud with its final expository. 1950s parents were abysmal--imagine dumping your new-born triplets at three separate orphanages! There's got to be a really good story behind that.

Michael W. Kaluta
The House of Mystery 202

"The Shearing of a Soul!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia

"A Deal with a Sorcerer!
Story by John Albano
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Stay Away From Me--You Might Die"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gene Colan
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #72, October 1962)

"Trick or Treat"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sid Greene

"The Poster Plague!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Sergio Aragones

"The Phantom on Wheels!"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Prentice
(reprinted from House of Mystery #58, January 1957)

"The Shearing of a Soul!"
Peter: When her husband dies after she gives birth to their son, Mrs. Shrew makes a pact with the devil to house her dead hubby's soul in with that of her newborn. Unfortunately for Carson Shrew, that's one soul too many in one body and he goes insane. There may be a good idea buried somewhere underneath the gobbledegook of "The Shearing of a Soul!" but I'll be darned if I can pinpoint it. Our main protagonist remains a mystery; we learn about his past and, I think, we witness his fate, but we don't actually spend any time with the guy so it's hard to work up any emotion either way. There's just "the moment" and then a flashback and then back to "the moment." A mother so evil that she'd sacrifice her son's life to keep her old man around is stuffed with potential but then she's dispatched so quickly we hardly get to savor the nastiness.  Mike Sekowsky's art resembles Jerry Grandenetti's in several spots (not a good thing). File this one under "Potential Not Achieved." Fantastic intro page courtesy of Mike Kaluta (reprinted far below).

Jack: After a sharp cover by Kaluta and an even better splash page featuring Cain, the first story is marred by muddy art by Sekowsky and Giacoia and an equally muddy script by Gerry Conway. I'm not sure why the demons torture Carson Shrew every night--all I know is that his maid looks like a man in drag and suffers from the same problem that often plagues Sekowsky's stories: all of the characters look pretty much alike.

Peter: Franklin Owen has always been a weak man with a desire to be a strong man. Now, thanks to "A Deal with a Sorcerer," he can have all the power he wants. He just has to control his new-found bag of tricks as he very quickly learns through trial and error. Anything illustrated by Nestor Redondo gets a three-quarters thumbs up from me and the humorous Jack Oleck script provides enough oomph to elevate that score. House of Mystery caretaker Cain cameos as the sorcerer.

Jack: Well, that was a surprise! A funny story with the usual quality art from Nestor Redondo. I like that Cain is the sorcerer with whom Owen makes a pact. For a change, a DC horror story actually has a beginning, middle and end that make sense! I enjoyed this one.

Peter: "Trick or Treat" is a two-page waste of space in which Adolf Hitler is confined to a deserted island (with an unnamed crony), whining about what could have been. Who thought this kind of crap was a good idea? Editor Orlando? What does it even mean? That some secret force rescued Hitler from his bunker and deposited him on this little bit of sand in the middle of the ocean as punishment for his failures? Or are we to imagine this is the Nazi's afterlife?

Jack: Hitler again? The best thing about this short-short is the "Das Ende" balloon at the bottom of the reveal panel.

Peter: Who's behind "The Poster Plague" at Harold University? Why is the campus besieged by posters for events that never happen? One night, students Warren and Debbie decide to get to the bottom of the fanatic who thinks "Klop is Coming" is an important message. They witness a shadowy character plastering his posters all around but, when they give chase, the spectre vanishes in thin air. In the cafeteria next day, they are debating their next move when the earth begins to rumble. Nearby, a large boulder spurts out of a volcano and lands right on top of the school with a thunderous "KLOP!"  Sergio Aragones had been entertaining us with his little bits of wackiness since the Mystery Line fired up but this was his first real shot at fame. Let's not forget Steve Skeates' wacky script, one that leaves us with no questions answered but not really caring a bit. With but a major change (one letter), KLOP soon became PLOP!, DC's answer to Mad, Cracked, and Sick, a comic title that would become famous for its covers featuring morbid, exaggerated-body art by Basil Wolverton (Nooly Nostrildamus and Nails Nittle being only two of the sideshow freaks paraded on the covers) and its darkly humorous horror stories within (many created by Skeates and Aragones). PLOP! lasted 24 glorious issues from October 1973 through December 1976).

Jack: Call me crazy, but this may be my favorite story of 1972! The art by Aragones is so goofy that I loved it, and the story is funny, too. I was swept up in trying to figure out what was going on and laughed out loud at the climax. Maybe Aragones should have done more long-form stories instead of always doing one-panel gags. As Peter notes, this story led to the creation of Plop! the next year, for which I am grateful. I bought and enjoyed every issue of Plop! when they came out.

"The Phantom on Wheels!"
Peter: Reprint Time, boys and girls! A surgeon stops to fix a flat tire, sees a strange rock by the side of the road, picks it up, hears a strange ticking noise and suddenly everyone's yelling at him: "Stay Away From Me --You Might Die!" The ticking rock turns out to be a potent explosive from somewhere in space and if the doc takes his finger away from the "detonator"--KABOOM! (or maybe even KLOP!) With no time to waste (he's got a very important life-or-death operation to perform in only hours), the really bright scientists around him deduct that the bomb is operating on a "gravity detonator" and the only way to diffuse her is to get the good doctor into a rocket and transport the bomb into a nearby capsule. Huge brains and modern technology win out and the brilliant surgeon is relaxed from his burden and even makes it back to the operating room on time! Just enough silliness and great Gene Colan art make this one ultra-enjoyable in a retro-vibe way. Not so good is "The Phantom on Wheels," which serves up two of DC's most overused cliches: the debunker of the supernatural and the old "I know you guys wanted me to dress up as a werewolf and scare Mr. Smith but my truck broke down on I-101 and I couldn't make it. What? There really was a werewolf?" final panel. John Prentice's workmanlike compositions (think Jack Kirby on a bad day) keep the pages turning but there's really nothing to this one.


Jack: As a big fan of Gene Colan's work for Marvel in the '60s and '70s, I was excited to see this story of his from 1962. His art here doesn't look like his art of five to ten years later in that it is not so full of shadows, but it is striking nonetheless. The story is exciting and holds a suspenseful mood from start to finish. I'll forgive the silly bits--did they have rockets just sitting around waiting to be shot into space?--because this one was satisfying from all aspects. As for "The Phantom on Wheels," all I can say is "not again!" Why is it that the folks who are supposed to carry out practical jokes always seem to arrive late?

"Stay Away From Me..."
Peter: We never get to mention the Cain's Mail Room letters page, nor any of the other DC Mystery Line correspondence pages, for the simple fact that not much printed there is worthy of our time or word count. You can just read so many letters that start out with "Oh, Cain, your gargoyle is soooo cute..." or "I think last issue was awesome!" before turning the page and starting the next tale. This issue, editor Joe Orlando stomps his foot in response to letter writer Matt Graham's hearty congratulations to Joe for what he sees as a put-down of the CCA in a previous letters column: "It did my heart good to hear you publicly acknowledge that the Comics Code, that restrictive body of censors, is not going to prevent the heart of EC (Comics) from creating new pieces of wonderment for National (DC)!" Joe huffs and puffs and blows out Matt's enthusiasm: "One sore point of contention--I don't like being quoted out of context. I DO NOT consider the Comics Code to be a group of Hitlerian censors. It is mainly the "fans" (who most probably have not read the Code, nor have to work under its provisions, I find, who are its most "fanatic" detractors. To quote from Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" ... "... A man hears what he wants to hear... and disregards the rest..." Way to win fans, Joe!

Jack Sparling
The House of Secrets 97

"The Curse of Morby Castle"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Sparling

"Divide and Murder"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jim Aparo

"The Tomb of Ramfis"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Prentice
(reprinted from House of Mystery #59, February 1957)

"The Day After Doomsday..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jack Sparling

"Dead Man's Diary"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ralph Mayo
(reprinted from House of Mystery #46, January 1956)

"Domain of the Damned!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jose Delbo

"...and starring Dom DeLuise as The Floating Head."
Peter: Lance Cauldan plans to move his frail wife, Margaret, into Morby Castle, an abode rumored for centuries to be haunted by the ghost of a past tenant. Lance hires Mary, a former servant in the castle who knows the place stem to stern, to help him scare his bride to death. Something goes wrong though and Margaret dies in a fall. When the police investigate they discover traces of rat poison in Margaret's blood. Convinced Lance did the poor woman in, the cops haul him off, never believing his stories of a mysterious woman named Mary. Back at the castle, "Mary," actually the ghost of Lady Morby, awaits Lance's hanging so that she'll be reunited with him. I'm not sure why these "gothic suspense" stories were so popular in the early 1970s but I can't believe the kids would have dug them at all. This one's a crashing bore from panel one. How could Lance not have been hip to the fact that "Mary" never showed him her face and always kept to the shadows? Yeah, I know, forget it and move on.

Jack: Pity the poor hosts of the DC mystery line! From playing a big role in their books only a few years ago to being reduced to a tiny, floating head at the beginning and end of the story, as Abel is here! This story covers the same old ground and Sparling's art is a little more Grandenetti-sloppy than it is in this month's House of Mystery, but he still can drew a pretty girl, which seems to be a specialty of many a comic book artist.

"Divide and Murder"
Peter: Silas Peabody has the goods on John Wilburn, papers that will prevent the up-and-comer from ever climbing the corporate ladder. Wilburn uses his powers as a sorcerer to "Divide and Murder," willing his spirit to leave his body and travel to Peabody's house, where he murders the old man and returns to his body, alibi intact. Unfortunately for John, two spirits can play that game. Peabody's ghost tricks Wilburn into leaving his body and,while the shell is free, the old ghost occupies it and confesses to the police! Steve Skeates plays fast and loose with rules of the astral planes and spirit world but it's all vastly more entertaining than the bilge that opens this issue and the final twist made me smile. With this and "The Poster Plague," Steve is fast becoming a name I'm looking forward to seeing in the credits.

Jack: Now we know that Dr. Strange isn't the only guy who can travel around on the astral plane. But how does Peabody take over Wilburn's body if he's a ghost? It's all a little confusing. Aparo's usual solid art makes it fairly enjoyable, though.

"The Day After Doomsday..."
Peter: On "The Day After Doomsday..." Adam and Gertrude are still looking for food when Gertrude stumbles upon an oddity: a flower. Astounded, the pair aren't paying attention as a nearby building topples, burying them in rubble. Whose idea was this scattershot series? Did Len phone up editor Orlando every six months or so and proclaim a brainstorm? There's literally nothing of substance here (and never has been) but, unfortunately, the chapters will continue periodically. As will my scorn. Thankfully, most of the chapters will shift over to Weird War Tales, a title that skirts our scope (but will be covered in due time in Star Spangled DC War Stories).

Jack: Is this the end of Adam and Gertrude? I certainly hope so! But a note in the letters column suggests there may be another story, so we'll have to wait and see.

Peter: Shipwrecked Dan washes up ashore on the "Domain of the Damned!" an island ruled by malformed freaks (cursed centuries before by a "visiting witch doctor") not keen to visitors. Threatening to feed Dan to their hungry Volcano god, the oogly bunch imprison the man in a hut. When he is visited by Oola, daughter of the native chieftain, Dan quickly surmises this sorry excuse for a woman is his last hope for survival. Oola begs her pop for her man's life and dad tells her she can take Dan, but if they ever come back they'll be fed to the volcano. Once in the jungle, Dan's true colors become apparent when he dumps Oola like a bad habit and heads for the beach. In quick order, Oola is sacrificed to the volcano, said volcano erupts and covers Dan in molten lava, and the now-radically altered young man is picked up by a sickened sea crew. Just once I'd like to see bad things befall someone who's a truly noble character rather than the typical cad Dan transforms into mid-stream. The story's just sick enough to elicit giggles, as are Jose Delbo's amateurish mutations. That ending is telegraphed a few pages prior but the final panel is truly queasy stuff for a CCA-approved funny book. Well done, (uncredited)!

"The Tomb of Ramfis"
Jack: I did see it coming a couple of pages before the end, but I liked it anyway! So much for pretty girls. Oola is UGLY! Jose Delbo's art is not as smooth as that of Nestor Redondo, but he manages to portray the deformed inhabitants of the island effectively. Something about this story appealed to me, as predictable as it was. Maybe it was Dan's moronic behavior?

Peter: Professor Edson Daniels, Egyptology whiz, is accused of forging the document he found in "The Tomb of Ramfis." To vindicate himself, Daniels must use Ramfis' "cryptic formula which, if repeated in the original Egyptian, can transport a man forward or backwards in time!" to travel back to Egypt of the Sixth Dynasty and secure some sort of proof he didn't commit fraud.  But, once there, Daniels discovers, to his amazement, that he himself is actually Ramfis thanks to the space and time continuum theory. Things heat up when the pharaoh discovers Daniels/Ramfis can foretell the future and things stop going the big man's way. Our hero has to hoof it back to the present but he manages to bring ironclad proof that he's on the up-and-up and the museum gives him a hero's welcome. The most astonishing bit of time travel to me is that, despite the story's dates being updated to 1972 by the contemporary letterer, the autos pictured are clearly from the 1950s! A fun time travel yarn but, like most such stories, not one to contemplate for too long lest the threads begin to unravel. "Dead Man's Diary" is a rambling, confusing story of revenge, containing one of my favorite comic book occurrences, the flashback within the flashback. Here, police receive a strange diary written by a man named Conrad Crane who's disguised himself as a food-tester for J.B. Dales, a millionaire who's been receiving death threats. Turns out our guy is the letter sender and he has big plans for the millionaire, who left a very young Crane and his father to die after a boating accident. Now, Crane will go to incredible lengths (putting himself into a coma!) to insure J. B. starves to death just like Conrad's old man did years before. Wacky isn't a strong enough adjective for this classic tale of manipulation and extremes.

"Dead Man's Diary"
Jack: "The Tomb of Ramfis" is a good story with art to match. It is nice and wordy, like many of my favorite stories from the '50s, and I'm always happy to go back to Ancient Egypt. "Dead Man's Diary" is a satisfying tale of revenge with a few twists and turns that are somewhat mystifying. It's well-told, however, with above-average art by Ralph Mayo, who did some awfully nice work in the '40s and '50s.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 20

"Death is a Demon in Disguise"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Beware the 13th Guest"
Story and Art by Howard Purcell
(reprinted from House of Secrets #59, April 1963)

"The Diamond Hands of the Sun God!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Secrets #8, February 1958)

"Never Ride With a Stranger!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Don Heck

"Once Upon a Midnight Dreary"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Elsa is surprised when her husband Walter appears one day after dying. She does not know that "Death is a Demon in Disguise," since the ghostly Walter is actually a crooked mortician named Belding, who uses lifelike rubber masks to impersonate the recently dead in order to bilk their grieving widows out of large amounts of cash. His partner in crime is an old crone named Bridgit. When a man drops dead on the street right outside Belding's funeral parlor, he brings the corpse inside and discovers it's none other than Osmond, a famous fakir and stage magician. Belding makes a rubber mask and plans to impersonate Osmond, but he must first murder Osmond, who has inconveniently returned to consciousness, determined to expose Belding. Belding emerges from his funeral parlor in the Osmond mask but fools no one. He runs away and is killed when he darts in front of a horse-drawn carriage. As he dies, a mirror reveals that the Osmond mask was a failure, having reshaped itself into Belding's features. Why? How? Who knows? There is a lot going on in this story, and Redondo's art is top-notch, but the plot doesn't really hold together. It's nine pages long but I think it would have benefited from being longer.

"Death is a Demon in Disguise"
Peter: I'm so glad you were responsible for writing the synopsis for this confusing bit of dreariness, Jack. Writer Kashdan seems to go from Points A to Z, stopping at every letter in between, never knowing quite what he wants the story to do. In the end, it's a bloody mess.

Jack: Having already picked up a hippie named Luke on his nighttime drive, Harry stops to pick up a pretty young woman named Nicole Wallace. But who will learn that they should "Never Ride With a Stranger"? The trio seeks shelter at an old house in a storm, but Nicole's sleep is interrupted by a figure who resembles the devil. When the figure appears again, Luke and Harry accuse each other, and appear to kill each other, allowing Nicole to reveal that she is the devil and the owner of the house her servant. I think that's what happened, though the script is a bit confusing, especially at the end. I don't think artist Don knew what the Heck was going on either.

"Never Ride With a Stranger!"
Peter: Talk about confusing! I still can't figure out what was going on in the end. I assumed Luke (in his robes and strange hair-do) was going to be revealed to be a religious Yin to Nicole's Yang but, nope, I was fooled.

Jack: Lying helpless on the floor of the cellar of the summer home she rented, writer Jennifer thinks back to how it all started. She is desperate to escape, "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary," because the landlord is digging a grave and intends to put her in it. It seems that Jennifer's little dog dug up the body of the wife whom the landlord murdered. Jennifer uses her wits to turn the tables just in the nick of time and the landlord ends up in the grave he had dug for his tenant. Why is it that the worst stories in these comics often inspire the best covers?

"Once Upon a Midnight Dreary"
Peter: "Dreary" indeed! This one is just plain rotten. Are we to believe that Jennifer, whose wrist and back are so badly damaged she can't move, suddenly found the strength to climb the stairs and tie some yarn across the stairway so that farmer Yost would (hopefully) stumble and break his neck? Why not climb a bit more and just get the hell out of the place? All three original stories this issue feature one quality: lack of clarity. Is it too much to ask of Kashdan, Wessler, and Boltinoff to conjure up tales that can be understood?  The new material in Witching Hour #20 only accentuates how wonderful the reprints are.

"Beware the 13th Guest"
Jack: Jason Bradford gets a fatal diagnosis and tries to gain immortality but learns that the ancient warning to "Beware the 13th Guest" should be taken seriously. Howard Purcell's script and art are fantastic, making this my favorite reprint of the month! The twist ending took me by surprise and put a smile on my face. In "The Diamond Hands of the Sun God," Skleers learns to his dismay that an old Indian curse may have merit. This story is not quite as good as Purcell's, but it still entertains.

Peter: "13th Guest" is the type of story I ate up as a youngster, full of wild fantasy and colorful characters. I loved how Jason managed his juggling trick by placing magnets in his walls "to counteract the unbalancing weights" Zaljaz put in the spheres. Thank goodness Jason is granted a reprieve from death in the end as I'm assuming he'll go on to cure cancer and invent cable TV. The plot of "Diamond Hands" is missing the magic of "13th Guest" but, if anything, the art is even better. I'm not familiar with Bill Ely but his pencils have an almost EC-ish starkness to them (in fact, in several spots, Ely's work resembles that of George Evans), an exciting quality that keeps the eyes interested. 1972 DC artists could have learned quite a bit from Purcell and Ely.

"The Diamond Hands of the Sun God!"

Kaluta intro from HoM 202