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‘Fantasy’ Category

  1. Harryhausen Creature Roll Call for 1961

    September 1, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    All four of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-motion creatures to appear on film in 1961 were modeled on actual animals; living and extinct. Except for size, Harryhausen’s models for Mysterious Island were exacting reproductions of real species. In the film, Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison camp in a  hot-air balloon and end up crash landing near an island where Captain Nemo is performing growth experiments on the local fauna. One by one, the castaways encounter and battle with Nemo’s freakish test subjects.

     

     

     

    The Giant Crab was not only modeled after, but created from, an actual crab. The crab was bought by Harryhausen in Harrods Food Hall and sent to the Natural History Museum in London to be humanely killed. The armature was then designed to fit inside the shells of the crab.  It was fixed to the animation table by wire and was supported on an aerial brace with wires.

    Click image to watch the scene

     

    The Phorusrhacos is one of Harryhausen’s most endearing and goofy creations. Based on an extinct predator also known as a “terror bird” the animal was meant to appear as frightening as the other creatures in the film. The result, however, resembling a giant deranged chicken with mange, provides the film’s one moment of humor. The composer thought the scene was so funny he jokingly threatened producer Harryhausen that he would score it to “Turkey in the Straw”

    Click on image to watch scene (advance to 5:30)

     

    The Giant Bees were a lot more fearsome. Although there seemed to be three giant bees there was only one.  Harryhausen used mattes to make it seem as if there were three. The set design with the giant honeycombs behind the actors did much to convince the viewer that these creatures were enormous.

    Click to watch the scene (advance to 1:45)

     

    The Giant Cephalopod resembling a prehistoric ammonite (or, depending on who you ask, an octopus in a snail-shell) was the final creature featured in Mysterious Island, although the original script also called for a giant man-eating plant.

     

    Click on the image to watch the scene (advance to 4:00)

     

     


  2. Reed Crandall in the Twilight Zone

    August 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although Dell was quick to buy up the comic book rights to The Twilight Zone when the TV show was renewed for a second season in 1960, the first comic book didn’t appear until 1961 when only a single issue was published. Dell would publish three more issues in 1962 before turning the license  over to Gold Key.

    The inaugural issue compensated for its hefty 15-cent price tag with superior artwork and three relatively long stories, each with about a dozen pages. Art duties were shared by EC veterans Reed Crandall and George Evans who had spent the late Fifties collaborating on various editions of Classics Illustrated. The talents of both artists are well represented in this issue although I’m sure they would have been more comfortable drawing a host like the Crypt Keeper rather than Rod Serling.  The writer is not credited but I fancy the idea that these stories were found crumpled up at the bottom of  Serling’s waste-paper basket. The plots are a little predictable but the actual storytelling is impeccable. No crowded expository caption boxes here. These tales are written like teleplays, with the words and actions of the characters propelling the story.

    The first story, “Specter of Youth”  is a beautifully illustrated “Oh, the irony” type story that takes place in modern Greece. The depictions of local dress and antiquities display the kind of research and detail that George Evans usually reserved for his aviation covers for Aces High. Alas, the story itself is one of those where you know from the first page that the greedy antiquities fence will eventually receive a fitting comeuppance.

     

    The remaining two stories are better and appear to be solely the work of Reed Crandall. Below is the issue’s middle story and the one featured on the cover, “The Phantom Lighthouse”. Crandall’s sense of humor is on display in the middle panels of page four. If the hole in the ice outside the shack is for fishing, then the hole in the ice inside the shack must be for something else. Click the images for a reading view.

     


  3. Wedding Bells

    August 30, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     If not for the “Imaginary Story” disclaimer or a last-minute intervention of circumstances, Superman and several of his friends might now be celebrating their 50th anniversary of marital bliss. I’m not simply referring to Superman and Lois Lane (although they were married to each other in a half-dozen or more stories in 1961) but also Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Lana Lang. Even Bizarro-Superman proposed to Lois Lane during one of her freakish physical transformations.

     

     

     In Action Comics #279, Superman decides that the only way Lois Lane and Lana Lang will ever stop pursuing him is if he brings back a couple of hunks from the past to marry them. Traveling through the time barrier, Superman travels to the past and brings Hercules and Samson back to modern-day Metropolis and introduces them to Lois and Lana. In short order Lois and Lana become Mrs. Hercules and Mrs. Samson repectively. Hercules spends his first day as a married man moving the home he and Lois have bought from one spot to another until Lois is finally satisfied. Meanwhile, Lana has Samson running errands like securing a mountain lion as the household pet.  Lois is so  envious of the Samsons’ exotic pet that she dispatches Hercules to the nearest zoo to steal an ostrich. Because the two women love shopping so much Hercules and Samson are each forced to hold down several jobs, none of which go very well. Samson and Hercules finally confront Superman and beg him to return them to the past. 

     

    Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #57 begins with a  splash page showing Jimmy slipping a ring on a beaming Linda (Supergirl) Danvers. As best man Superman tries to restrain his disapproval.  We soon learn that Jimmy has unwittingly beguiled Supergirl’s alter ego with a chunk of red Kryptonite. The red K causes Linda to lose her superpowers and forget she is Supergirl. When Superman returns from a mission in space he finds the two are engaged to be married.   Even though he soon figures out that red K is to blame, Superman can’t bear to break up the happy couple and the marriage goes on as planned. When the red K finally wears off Supergirl is afraid  Jimmy won’t still love her if he finds our she’s Supergirl, so she attempts to woo him as her super personae. After numerous adventures, Supergirl eventually confesses and is delighted that Jimmy has no problem being married to Linda Danvers and Supergirl.

     

    In Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane#25 Superman and Lois are married in secret so Lois won’t become a target of Superman’s enemies. Lois soon tires of this arrangement and insists that they go public. Against his better judgement, Superman agrees and the newlyweds are personally congratulated by President and Mrs. Kennedy. As soon as the couple moves from the Fortress of Solitude to the suburbs, Superman goes to work protecting his bride and new home from his enemies. When a serum to give Lois super powers doesn’t pan out, Superman creates the hilarious bullet-proof vehicle depicted on the cover. Lois soon learns that being Mrs. Superman in public is not all that it’s cracked up to be and admits that Superman was right to want to keep their marriage secret. But the cat was already out of the bag, so she would just have to live with the situation along with her super smug hubby.

     


  4. Mad Monsters

    August 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Charlton Publications was an interesting company. Unlike most magazine publishers and all other comic book publishers, Charlton consolidated the whole process of turning out a periodical into a single vast  factory complex in Derby, CT.  Editorial, printing and distribution were all conducted under the same roof. Not content with the savings from strict vertical integration, Charlton also kept costs low by producing products renowned for their low production values in an industry famous for using cheap materials and presses. The two movie monster publications (i.e. Famous Monsters of Filmland rip-offs) they launched in 1961 were no exception.

    Like other Charlton publications, Horror Monsters and Mad Monsters had thin covers that tore easily and preserved the fingerprints of all who touched them. The interior pages were yellow before they were even run through the presses. The photos inside the magazines were muddy and devoid of any gray-tones. But if you got a chance to see the covers before too many people had handled them, they were quite eye-catching. Only one cover can be credited to a particular artist and only because Steve Ditko bothered to sign his name to the drooling wolf man on the cover of Mad Monsters #1 (1961). None of the writers were credited either and even the editor was anonymous, using the pen names “Sanzar Quasatood” (Horror Monsters) and “Abernathy Farquad” (Mad Monsters)

    Both magazines lasted until 1964. Here are the covers from their inaugural year:

     


  5. Aug. 1961: Mandatory Two Pages of Text

    August 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    An odd feature of early comic books was the mandatory two pages of text required for publications to take advantage of second class mail rates. Until someone stumbled upon the clever substitution of a letters page, every comic book published until the early Sixties had one of these text stories. I’m uncertain what difference it made to the post office. If a comic book without pages of text wasn’t a magazine, what was it? Art? Think of the prestige comic book publishers could have garnered if they’d just spent a few pennies more on stamps!

    This month’s mandatory two pages of text comes from Tales of Suspense # 21.  Author unknown.

     


  6. What do Ghosts Eat for Breakfast?

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spook Stories was a series of trading cards sold in packs with some stale chewing gum by Leaf Candy Company. Leaf had taken a beating a few years earlier in the baseball card biz and apparently decided to forego sports cards completely in 1961 and instead exploit a resurgence in the popularity of old Universal horror films. Merely licensing the images from Universal wasn’t enough, though. Taking a page (several pages, in fact) from Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, each monster card was given a witty caption. But the humor didn’t stop there! On the back of each card was a humourous (I use that word lightly) monster-related riddle.

     


  7. Monster Pants

    August 16, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     

    I’m not sure how Jack Kirby went about creating the monsters he drew for Marvel (nee Atlas) comics in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Did he start with a naked monster and then draw short pants on it or did each new creation start with an empty pair of patented Kirby Speedos? Kirby Speedos date back to the early 1940s when they were sported by Captain America and Bucky over pairs of long pants. The long pants were dispensed with when Jack started drawing monsters. I mean, who ever heard of a giant monster wearing long pants?

    So, crowd around the catwalk for the fashion show and try not to get stepped on by the models!

     

     

     

     

      

     


  8. Coffee Break

    August 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Even monsters deserve a break between scenes of horror and mayhem. Vincent Price in 1961 sucked back an iced coffee a la Nancy Botwin during shooting for Tales of Terror. Boris Karloff took numerous coffee breaks as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Bela Lugosi as Igor joins Karloff and Basil Rathbone for coffee on the set of Son of Frankenstein. (If anybody knows of a photograph showing Dracula sipping a cup, send it my way.) Lon Chaney Jr. takes a nap while awaiting his next scene in one of his Wolf Man movies. And finally, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre take time out to roast marshmallows.

     

     

     

     

     


  9. The Black & White World of Virgil Finlay

    August 12, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I spend a lot of time searching out cover images from 50-year-old magazines, comic books, and paperbacks. Interior art is harder to find on the Internet so I’m always happy when I can find some to compliment a post on an old comic book or pulp magazine. What took me by surprise this week was the discovery of some great black & white artwork printed on the back of Amazing Stories in 1961; all by the great fantasy, science fiction and horror illustrator, Virgil Finlay!

    Although he worked in other media like gouache and oils (one of his color illustrations graced the Oct, 1961 cover of Galaxy), Finlay is best remembered for his detailed pen-and-ink drawings, utilizing meticulous stippling, cross-hatching, and scratch board techniques.

    The gallery below contains illustrations printed on the back cover of Amazing Stories in late 1961 and early 1962. The text is exerted from stories featured in each issue. Click for a larger view.

     

     

     

     


  10. The Pit and the Pendulum: Who’s the Hero?

    August 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending of Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, so for those who think they’ve had better things to do over the last 50 years, please stop reading now and go watch it. It’s on Netflix streaming. I’ll wait. Go!

    Welcome back! Was it worth 80 minutes of your time? I think so.

    The Pit and the Pendulum has a wonderfully streamlined cast of characters. There’s Vincent Price as the grieving widower and don of an old Spanish castle.  His household is made up of two servants, Maria and Maximillian, and his visiting sister, Catherine. I suppose we should also include the “ghost” of the don’s wife, Elizabeth, as another member of the household. A frequent visitor is Doctor Leon who is the don’s friend and family physician. Lastly, we have the character everyone expects should be the hero, Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard, who has traveled all the way from a renfair in London to investigate his sister’s suspicious death.

    So, let’s put these characters in their respective boxes, shall we?

    THE HEAVY: Vincent Price’s Don Medina is a sympathetic character who, despite Barnard’s suspicions, is wholly innocent in the death of his wife. He only becomes the heavy after a psychotic snap brought on by the treachery of the two true villains.

     

     

    THE VILLAINS: Doctor Leon and Elizabeth fake the latter’s death and attempt to drive Don Medina insane. They succeed at this to the point that it costs them their own lives.

     

     

     

    THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: Catherine‘s role as the potential love interest of the hero is never really fulfilled and she joins the servants Maria and Maximillian as mere witnesses to the strange goings on at Castle Medina.

     

     

    THE HERO THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS: Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard spends the first half of the film throwing suspicion upon the innocent Don Medina. His role is entirely to throw red herrings at the audience. Once he comes around to the reality that the don had nothing to do with Elizabeth’s “death” he merely becomes the freshly demented Medina’s victim; subjected to the title torture device. Does he devise a clever escape? Does he succeed in bringing Medina back to his senses? No. He cries to Catherine to come to his rescue! He’s not the hero; he’s Nell from Dudley Do-Right.

     THE HERO: Looks like we have to reconsider the roles of a couple of the innocent bystanders. Catherine makes a valiant attempt to claim the honor of heroine, but, alas,  she is a mere woman after all and must call on the assistance of the butler, Maximillian, who is the one who gains entry into the torture chamber, kills the demented don, and turns off the infernal machine about to bisect the entirely helpless Barnard.

    Yes! Our hero is Maximillian! Not only didn’t the butler do it; but he was the man who saved the day! A character so far down in the credits that I can’t even find a picture of him from the movie. (You’ll have to settle for a picture of actor Patrick Westwood playing a taxi driver in an early episode of The Avengers.)

    Maximillian is one of those unsung heroes in film that I find both baffling and charming. Don’t even get me started on the the Merry-Go-Round operator in Strangers on a Train.