Pulp Fiction


W. C. TUTTLE – Straws in the Wind. Hillman #26, paperback, no date stated [1949?]. Hardcover edition: Houghton Mifflin, February 1948. First published as a 38 page story in Short Stories, July 10, 1938.

W. C. TUTTLE Straws in the Wind

   I remember reading a lot of Tuttle’s work back when I first started reading paperback westerns in the late 1950s: Luke Short, Max Brand and so on, the early Gold Medal’s, westerns published by Popular Library and lots and lots of Dell’s by authors no one but me would me would remember, and me only barely.

   I also remember listening to the Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens radio show on Mutual, two of Tuttle’s most famous characters — a pair of cattlemen’s detectives, as I recall, whose adventures took them all over the Old West.

   Not too many collectors of old time radio shows know about the program, by the way, and as far as I know, only two of the programs still exist, both badly trimmed to fit into the Armed Forces redistribution format. I remember the program distinctly, however, surprisingly so, given my extreme youth at the time. As a matter of fact, it was Tuttle himself who appeared and introduced each episode on the air – but I digress.

   In any case, when I started Straws in the Wind, it had been a long time since I’d read anything at all by Tuttle, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect — you can’t always go back to old favorites and expect them to be new favorites all over again — but as soon as I started reading it – see if this makes sense – it was exactly as I expected.

   That’s from the very first paragraph on. See what you think:

   No one seemed to know the exact age of Granny Miles. Over a hundred, they said. She was a small, antiquated morsel of humanity, her little face etched with a million fine lines which seemed multiplied around her eyes, which were clear and still very blue. She carried a gnarled stick in lieu of a cane, and thumped herself around with an alacrity seldom seen in one of her age.

   Granny, as it happens, is an oracle of sorts, forecasting to Donna Weir as soon as the book begins that trouble is coming. If Tuttle is not exactly a teller of tall tales, he comes awfully close – a yarn spinner of some magnitude. The usual kind of opening that almost every western begins with comes at the start of Chapter Two:

   Jack Dean drew rein at the top of the grade and looked back at the long slope, where the dirt road twisted over the hills out of the haze of the distance. The old road looked like broken bits of dirty-yellow ribbon, stretched over the hills out of the haze.

   Ahead of him the road ran through a natural cut in the hills, after which it sloped sharply into Council Valley.

   At the age of 22, Dean is returning to the valley after an absence of twelve years. His father, Wolf Dean, had ruled Council Valley for 25 years, and Jack assumes that the reason the telegram had requested his return was that his father was dead. Which is true. The older man had been murdered, shot through a window in his home, and the killer has not been found.

   Confronting one of the residents of Lost Horse, a moonshiners’ settlement in the other end of the valley, here’s Jack Dean in action (pages 26-27 of the Hillman edition):

   Jack’s left hand flashed out, his fingers hooking into the collar of Sol Feeney’s shirt. Then he fairly lifted Feeney off his feet and pulled him so close that their noses almost touched. Feeney struggled for a moment, but realized he was no match for this hard-muscled young man.

   “You and your dirty gang of murderers killed my father,” said Jack quietly, “and you’ve got the gall to threaten me. Feeney, I’m not afraid of you and your killers, and you can pack that word to them. You’ll find that Wolf Pup can cut and slash as hard as the Old Wolf. You killed him, hoping that I wouldn’t come back. Well, I’m back – so make the most of it.”

W. C. TUTTLE Straws in the Wind

   I would imagine that those paragraphs would constitute a review in themselves, if the purpose of a review is allow you to decide whether a given book is one that you’d care to read, or not.

   There is a girl, of course, if you’ll allow me to keep on talking anyway. We met Donna in Chapter One, and of course she lives in the wrong end of the valley. She favors Jack, however, and she is willing to risk the wrath of her father by giving Jack a heads-up warning when she knows he is about to get into trouble. In return, her father is determined to marry her off to someone else, and she is made a prisoner in her own home, all the way up to her wedding day.

   Jack is asked to take his father’s place on the local ruling Council – Lost Horse having no representation, to their continuing and growing irritation – but he is not sure that the Council really wants anything to do with his new ideas, most of which would mean their giving up some of the power they are used to having.

   With an open seat at stake, the whole valley is about to explode. It’s about as stable as – a straw in the wind, you might say – and Jack Dean is at the center of it. Another straw is Donna’s grandmother, who just might be able to say who her granddaughter should be marrying, and that does not mean the intellectually challenged Len McFee, the fellow chosen by her father.

   There is more than a modicum of gunfire in this book, as you can tell from the cover, but I don’t imagine that I am giving anything away when I say that in spite of the obstacles in their way, good hearts do prevail. It all turns out well, in other words, especially when you consider how much (or how little) of the valley is left standing when everything is over. Whatever anyone might say, they certainly don’t write them very much like this any more.

   And all seriousness aside — keeping in mind that I mentioned Tuttle as very much a teller of tall tales, didn’t I? — there are also parts of Straws in the Wind that tickled my funny bone considerably, this way and the other, and the book just might affect you that way, too.

— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
    2005 (considerably shortened and revised).


[UPDATE] 02-28-14. A chunk of the earlier version of this review contained a checklist of all of Tuttle’s fiction that ever appeared in paperback, along with some comments and other discussion of his overall body of work by me. I’ll not include the commentary here, as much of it is out of date, but I see no reason why the checklist should not be included here.

   I have made no attempt to expand or update this list, so please take this as a work in progress. Whitledge-Clark refers to a mimeographed checklist of all of Tuttle’s western fiction, not just that which appeared in paperback. Said I at the time:

    “… someone offered for sale on eBay [and I won] a complete checklist of Tuttle’s works – a fanzine titled The Hitching Rail, published by Fred C. Whitledge and William J. Clark.
    “This issue, done in mimeo, is Volume 2, #1, and it came out ‘Sometime in 1975.’”

     ● Indicates a title not listed in Whitledge-Clark.
     ●● Indicates a title listed in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Second Edition, but for which no further confirmation of its existence has been discovered.

● The Devil’s Payday. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, October 10, 1922.
● The Law of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? Found on ABE only in a hardcover four-in-one edition with three other authors.
● Powder Law. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
●● Sad Sontag Plays His Hunch. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, —? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
● Sontag of Sundown. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, July 10, 1922.
● Spawn of the Desert. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, May 10, 1922.
● Straight Shooting. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, August 10, 1924. No copies found on ABE.
● Tramps of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
The Mystery of the Red Triangle, Avon #53, 1944.
● Blind Trail at Sunrise, Royce Quick Reader #148, small-sized (approx. 3″ x 5″), 1945. NOTE: A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, April 10, 1933.
Bluffer’s Luck, Western Novel of the Month #27, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #5, 1948
Tumbling River Range, Western Novel of the Month ##33, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #2, 1948.
The Keeper of Red Horse Pass, Western Novel of the Month #41, digest-sized, 1945.
The Tin God of Twisted River, Western Novel of the Month #46, digest-sized, 1945.
The Dead-Line, Western Novel of the Month #50, digest-sized, 1945.
Hashknife of the Double Bar 8. Western Novel of the Month #55, digest-sized, 1945.
Singing River, Popular Library #96, 1946.
● The Vultures of Vacaville, Western Novel of the Month #108, digest-sized, 1946. No prior appearance of a Tuttle story by this name is known.
Hidden Blood, Popular Library #149, 1948.
Valley of Vanishing Herds, Popular Library #165, 1948.
Straws in the Wind, Hillman #26, 1949.
The Redhead from Sun Dog, Hillman #28, 1949.
Trouble at the JHC, Hillman #40, 1949. Original title: The Mystery at the JHC Ranch.
Wild Horse Valley, Popular Library #203, 1949.
Twisted Trails, Popular Library #249, 1950. Original title: The Santa Dolores Stage (Houghton Mifflin, 1934). NOTE: There is some confusion about this attribution. According to some sources, the hardcover edition of this book was The Valley of the Twisted Trails (Houghton Mifflin, 1931), but this assertion does not appear to be substantiated.
Hashknife of Stormy River, Hillman #37, 1950.
Shotgun Gold, Popular Library #297, Dec 1950.
The Trouble Trailer, Popular Library #330, Apr 1951.
Gun Feud, Popular Library #354, July 1951. Abridged edition. Original title: Wandering Dogies.
Thunderbird Range, Pyramid #370, 1958.
● The Redhead of Aztec Wells [+] Trouble at War Eagle, Tor Western Double #14, Jan 1991. Book #1 appeared in West, August 1946. Book #2 has a 1950 copyright date, but where it first appeared, no one seems to know.

THE SERIES CHARACTERS FROM
DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY
by Monte Herridge


        #17. OLD CALAMITY, by Joseph Fulling Fishman.

   Joseph Fulling Fishman created the prison series (ran 1928-1939) for Detective Fiction Weekly about the jailer Old Calamity, making use of his knowledge of crime and prisons. In fact, Fishman wrote more nonfiction articles on these subjects from 1925-1942 for Detective Fiction Weekly than stories in the fiction series.

   He also wrote articles for other magazines such as Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Evening Post, and books about crime and prisons. Fishman was a 1931 choice for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded a grant for being chosen. According to Wikipedia, the Fellowships “have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those ‘who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.’ ”

   The name Old Calamity is what the three thousand inmates of the state prison at Cosmopolis call him. The guards and other personnel call him Ole Dep Fletch out of his hearing. His real name is Deputy Warden Fletcher, and even though there is a warden who is a political appointee, Fletcher is really the one running the prison.

   The wardens of the prison were all political appointees, but Fletcher was a professional jailer. The wardens were appointed by the state governor, but the governor on one occasion said: “You know, Fletcher. You’re really the one I should appoint warden, but of course there’s politics . . .” (Old Calamity’s Stick-up)

   “Thirty years of combating the plots and counterplots and the intrigues and chicanery of thousands of inmates of every degree of criminality and cunning and viciousness . . . had sharpened the perceptions of the Deputy Warden.” (Old Calamity Starts a Fight)

   This long experience gave Old Calamity an advantage when dealing with the many problems that he came across in his job. He knew just about every trick the convicts tried, and how to deal with them. He enjoys his work, and at one point turns down a job offer from a rich businessman with the comment “I’m afraid not, thank you,” Old Calamity replied. “I’m doing the kind of work I like and that’s worth more than money.” (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)

OLD CALAMITY

   He usually went to work in the prison at seven in the morning, and had a regular routine except when emergencies or problems interrupted. His usual morning routine was “supervising the count, reading his mail, making assignments of new prisoners, and so on, . . .” (By a Nose)

   He doesn’t let the routine of everyday work get himself in a rut where he overlooks things; he notices the smallest detail of what may turn out to be very important to him and the prison. Probably why he has lasted so long in his job.

   The stories are basically all about Old Calamity, with very few appearances by a regular cast of characters. One regular is Croaker Engle, the “brusque old prison doctor.” His appearances in the stories are usually very short. Before him, a Doctor Cosgrove made a single appearance in the story “Fine Feathers.”

   The prison warden is mentioned in the stories, but plays very little part in the stories. An exception to this are the stories “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” and “Between the Lines,” where part of the story takes place around the warden. The warden of the prison is replaced at one point in the series. The warden and Old Calamity both have homes right next to the prison grounds.

   The stories usually involve murder in the prison by inmates murdering other inmates, for various motives. Prison breaks and conspiracies aimed at escaping prison are also elements in the stories. Fletcher has to break up the escapes, which sometimes are very cleverly planned.

   In the story “Old Calamity Scores Twice,” he not only has to foil a planned escape, but solve a clever locked cell murder made to look like suicide. In “Between the Lines,” he literally has to read between the lines of a prisoner’s book reading material to discover a plot to escape using explosives.

OLD CALAMITY

   The earliest story in the series, “By a Nose,” involves uncovering a murder by bomb and finding the culprit. His investigations of various kinds involve him acting more as a detail-oriented detective than as a deputy warden.

   Another concern of prison authorities is the use of illegal drugs by the inmates. The story “Fine Feathers” relates the attempt of Old Calamity to stop the flow of drugs into the prison, and in a later story, “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” the problem of drug usage is also the main theme. This is certainly based on situations in real prisons at the time. Morphine is the drug mentioned in these stories.

   “Fine Feathers” relates some of the problems that drug usage by inmates causes – aggressiveness and fighting by prisoners, and other irrational behavior. One prisoner high on drugs even set his cell on fire.

   One story showed Old Calamity on vacation, enjoying relaxing fishing. However, the local law enforcement find out he is there and enlist his aid in solving a series of inexplicable burglaries. (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)

   This use of Old Calamity’s talents outside his own prison was not the only time this occurred. It appears that he was available for aid at other prisons having problems. In the story “The Suicides in Cell 32,” he travels to Milford State Prison to help investigate a series of murders made to look like suicides.

OLD CALAMITY

   Warden Olmstead of the prison knew of his reputation and had requested his help. In less than twelve hours Old Calamity has solved the mystery and was on his way back to his own prison. He noted: “I guess that some of the birds up at my place will be sorry it didn’t take me several weeks. I’m afraid they won’t be any too glad to see me back in the morning.”

   In “Old Calamity Lays the Ghost,” he travels to another prison in Springdale in response to another request for help. Warden Armitage of the prison has a mystery for him to solve: twice men in their cells have been stabbed and nearly killed. In both instances knives were found in the cells, but no evidence was found as to how the men could have been stabbed inside of locked cells.

   Old Calamity finds an ingenious method has been employed in the stabbings. It took him a few days to resolve this one, but he had developed the patience to wait for the right time. “He had often waited weeks and sometimes months for the development of a prison plot. He knew it was something that could not be hurried, . . .”

   The series is very good in its story telling and relation of the various mysteries Old Calamity is involved in. Altogether, Fishman’s descriptions of prison life and the psychological aspects of the stories seem to be very convincing, and made the stories more than mere sensationalistic prison stories such as other pulp writers wrote.

       The “Old Calamity” series by Joseph Fulling Fishman:

By a Nose October 27, 1928
Fine Feathers February 2, 1929
The Yawn March 2, 1929
Old Calamity Stages an Act April 6, 1929
Old Calamity Lays the Ghost April 9, 1932
Old Calamity Holds the Wire July 23, 1932
Old Calamity Starts a Fight September 17, 1932
Old Calamity Scores Twice February 11, 1933
The Suicides in Cell Thirty-Two June 17, 1933
Between the Lines September 9, 1933
Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue April 7, 1934
Old Calamity Cleans Up May 19, 1934
Old Calamity’s Stick-up June 23, 1934
Old Calamity Stops a Leak June 5, 1937
Honor of Thieves March 18, 1939

    Previously in this series:

1. SHAMUS MAGUIRE, by Stanley Day.
2. HAPPY McGONIGLE, by Paul Allenby.
3. ARTY BEELE, by Ruth & Alexander Wilson.
4. COLIN HAIG, by H. Bedford-Jones.
5. SECRET AGENT GEORGE DEVRITE, by Tom Curry.
6. BATTLE McKIM, by Edward Parrish Ware.
7. TUG NORTON by Edward Parrish Ware.
8. CANDID JONES by Richard Sale.
9. THE PATENT LEATHER KID, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
10. OSCAR VAN DUYVEN & PIERRE LEMASSE, by Robert Brennan.
11. INSPECTOR FRAYNE, by Harold de Polo.
12. INDIAN JOHN SEATTLE, by Charles Alexander.
13. HUGO OAKES, LAWYER-DETECTIVE, by J. Lane Linklater.
14. HANIGAN & IRVING, by Roger Torrey.
15. SENOR ARNAZ DE LOBO, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
16. DETECTIVE X. CROOK, by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


WILLIAM P. McGIVERN But Death Runs Faster

  WILLIAM P. McGIVERN – But Death Runs Faster. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1948; Pocket #693, 1950, as The Whispering Corpse. Berkley, paperback, 1988, under original title.

   Tone-Bailey Publishing Company hires Steve Blake, mystery writer and author of Nor Live So Long among other novels, to edit a new pulp magazine, Modern Detective. (Little did they know that the handwriting was on the wall and that it approximated mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.)

   Blake lacks editing experience, so he hires as assistant editor Byron Crofield, a young man who has editing experience and who has written some not-very-good books. Crofield turns out to be an absolute bounder, who probably also has no talent. Crofield dabbles in blackmail for the pleasure of distressing people, and he takes great delight in antagonizing his co-workers, including his employer.

   When Crofield is murdered after a party to which he has invited all those who had reason to thoroughly dislike him, the suspects are not scarce.

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN But Death Runs Faster

   Blake’s secretary, a young lady who was raped when very young and is both shy and fearful of men, receives a calI from Crofield short!y before his death telling her that Blake is at Crofield’s apartment, is drunk, and is threatening him with bodily harm. She then hears Crofield say, “Christ, Steve, don’t,” followed by two shots. Of course, this very timorous person immediate!y rushes to the apartment and finds Crofield dead.

   If you can tolerate that extreme unlikelihood, all else should be acceptable, including Blake’s blurting out over the phone without being aware to whom he was talking information that causes another killing.

   Blake, in my opinion, shares some of the less pleasant aspects of the murdered bounder, although he is not aware of it and I doubt that the author intended it. Thus, he is not a particularly sympathetic character. On the other hand, the information about pulp magazines, along with some of the discussions by pulp writers, whom McGivern does not treat very kindly, makes this an interesting novel from that aspect.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.


COLLECTING PULPS: A MEMOIR, PART TEN –
What To Do With Our Collections As We Get Older
by Walker Martin


   Recently, once again, the old question came up about why wives often hate book and pulp collections and what should be done as the collector gets older.

   I can only speak about my own wife and collection but I have heard that many other pulp and book collectors suffer from the hatred of the non-collector. I stress the word “non-collector” because I really have found out during a half century of collecting that the non-collector does not understand the collector at all. I am not talking about a nice little collection of books in dust jackets that sort of look nice in the den.

   No, I am talking about filling a house full of books, pulps, vintage paperbacks, DVDs, and original art. My house is a 5 bedroom house with a full basement and a two car garage that I converted into a library. All the rooms have books in them except for my son’s room and the dining room. The family room, the living room, the bedrooms, the basement, are all stuffed with my collection which I have happily accumulated since 1956.

   I have found out that it is not reasonable to expect a non-collector to understand the joy and fun such a collection gives to the collector. Most non-collectors see such a large collection as clutter, a hoarder’s sickness, a mess, a waste of money.

   If you tell a non-collector that something is worth a thousand dollars, they will say “great, sell it and buy a sofa” or something. I once did a series of posts on PulpMags called “The Loneliness of the Pulp Collector.” I tried to do it with a sense of humor but many other collectors saw my point about being alone with no one to talk to about what you are reading or collecting. My neighbors, my relatives, my co workers, all do not understand me or why I have such a large amount of books and pulps. They think my original cover paintings from the pulps and paperbacks are trash or offensive because most show women in peril or distress being threatened by insane cretins.

   I am now 71 and don’t think about getting rid of my collection or selling it or what will happen after I’m gone. It’s been my life for so many years that I cannot imagine being without it. I keep telling myself that I should slow down and maybe stop but I’m still going strong and spending thousands on rare cover art and sets of magazines. I’m not rich but my one vice is I love reading and collecting books and pulps.

   To give you an idea of the way I think as a collector, when I was discharged from the army I was so happy that I had survived, that I wrote out some life goals for myself to follow. The first two were to collect complete sets of Weird Tales and Black Mask. Which I managed to do in the 1970′s. In other words my goals were not the usual ones of getting a good job and starting a career, getting married and starting a family, buying a nice car house, etc.

   True, I did all these things but my main goals have always revolved around reading and collecting books, pulps, paperbacks, and original art. Speaking of original art, I’ve been trying to stop buying it because I’ve filled up all the wall space and since I’m getting older, why keep buying, etc. But here is another example, recently while at the Windy City Pulp convention in Chicago I saw a beautiful and amazing piece of art, quite large, by Howard Wandrei. It is an unpublished work and cost more than I like to spend but it was so impressive and bizarre that I had to buy it.

   Maybe you get my point by now. I’m a collector first and foremost and intend to keep at it until I die. I also happen to be a father, husband, retired from a responsible job, etc. But these are things that billions of other people have also done. Being a collector and reader is something special and unusual especially in these times of electronic gadgets, facebook, and twitter.

   So, right now I’m doing nothing about my books except reading them. After I’m gone someone else will read and enjoy them.

   OK, enough, I have to tell my wife that I just bought another set of Planet Stories, even though I have the Frank Robinson set already. See, his set is too nice to read and ….

Reviewed by
CAPTAIN FRANK CUNNINGHAM:


A. E. DINGLE Gold out of Celebes

CAPTAIN A. E. DINGLE – Gold Out of Celebes. Little Brown and Co, US, hardcover, 1920. Previously serialized in The Argosy, October 5 through November 2, 1918. Several POD editions are currently available, as well as a free download from Project Gutenberg.

   Jack Barry, a seaman stranded in Batavia, and Tom Little, an enthusiastic salesman lusting for adventure, join forces in the employment of one Cornelius Houton, the owner of various interests in the island of Celebes. Thither the two men journey in a boat provided by Houten and commanded by Barry to investigate an agent of whose honesty Houten has become suspicious.

   On their arrival the two quickly proceed to concern themselves with an effort to save a fair young missionary from the evil intentions of another agent. Things happen quickly to the two young men, not always pleasantly, and Little’s thirst for action is fully gratified, while the perplexing attitude of the charming missionary, who apparently does not wish to be saved, reduces Barry to desperation.

   Bewilderment succeeds bewilderment in their minds as they pass from one puzzling circumstance to another, but doggedly they hold to their purpose. Not until the very close of the story do the incidents link up and the mystery unfold itself to the two adventurous spirits.

– Reprinted from Black Mask magazine, August 1920.


A. E. DINGLE Gold out of Celebes

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

GAMBLING SHIP. Paramount, 1933. Cary Grant, Benita Hume, Jack La Rue, Roscoe Karns, Glenda Farrell, Arthur Vinton, Marc Lawerence. Screenplay: Max Marcin, Seton I. Miller. Adaptation: Claude Binyon. Based on the serial “Fast One” appearing in Black Mask magazine by Paul Cain (Peter Ruric). Directors: Louis Gasnier and Max Marcin.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   He said: “I’m going to reopen the Joanna D. — Doc Haardt and I are going to run it together — his boat, my bankroll.” Kells said: “Uh huh.” He stared steadily at the electric fan, without movement or change of expression. Rose cleared his throat, went on: “The Joanna used to be the only gambling barge on the Coast, but Fay moved in with the Eaglet, and then Max Hesse promoted a two-hundred-and-fifty-foot yacht and took the play away from both of them.” Rose paused to remove a fleck of cigaret paper from his lower lip. “About three months ago, Fay and Doc got together and chased Hesse. According to the story, one of the players left a box of candy on the Monte Carlo — that’s Hesse’s boat — and along about two in the morning it exploded.”

   That passage from the Paul Cain novel is as close as this movie gets to the hardboiled classic it was based on, Fast One, though more than a bit of the basic plot is used — just not to the same effect as in the book.

   How Fast One, a novel that was so terse and stacatto it made Hammett read like a Victorian triple decker, became this romantic dramedy with Cary Grant and Benita Hume is one of those mysteries only a Hollywood producer could explain — or justify — but that’s what happened on the classic Black Mask serial’s way to the big screen as Gambling Ship.

PAUL CAIN Fast One

   Gone are Gerry Kells, the tough as nails gambler and gunman, and Grandquist (Kells looked at the woman. She was blonde — but darkly, warmly. Her mouth was very red without a great deal of rouge, and her eyes were shadowed and deep. She was a tall woman with very interesting curves. Fay said: “This is Miss Granquist.”), a femme fatale so fatal and tough she could give lessons to Hammett’s Diana Brand and Brigid O’Shaunessy as well as Chandler’s Velma, and in their place we have a tough but much smoother Cary Grant as Ace Corbin (replete with gray at the temples and a streak in his wavy dark hair), a New York gambler finding it hard to go straight and Benita Hume as the most lady like (if not entirely wholesome) moll you can imagine (well kept too, her apartment in Los Angeles has a bathroom the size of most bedrooms).

   Gambling Ship opens in New York where the newspaper boys are hawking the extra that gambler Ace Corbin has just been acquitted of a murder charge, a fact that seems to amuse police and public alike:

   Woman: “I saw him at the Bijou once, gee but he was handsome.”

   Second Woman: “Yeah, but he kills people.”

   First woman: “So does rheumatism.”

   Kells has similar problems in the book:

    “I happened to be too close to a couple of front-page kills,” Kells went on. “There was a lot of dumb sleuthing and a lot of dumb talk. It got so, finally, when the New York police couldn’t figure a shooting any other way, I was it.” Granquist was silent, smiling. “They got tired trying to hang them on me after the first three but the whisper went on. It got to be known as the Kells Inside….”

    “And at heart you’re just a big, sympathetic boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

    “Uh, huh.” He nodded his head slowly, emphatically. His face was expressionless.

    “Me — I’m Napoleon.” Granquist took a powder puff out of the bag and rubbed it over her nose.

PAUL CAIN Fast One

   That pretty much sums up this semi-tough film that might be a dress rehearsal for one of Cary Grant’s later iconic roles as gambler Mr. Lucky. Here Ace Corbin is sick of New York and the rackets, and having walked from a frame set up by hood Pete Manning (Jack La Rue), all Corbin wants is to head to the coast and take a vacation.

   Not so easy, as flunky Marc Lawerence points out when one of Ace’s men tosses Ace’s shoulder holster and gun in his bag: “Sometimes even a good man has to blast his way loose.”

   It’s hard to imagine Kells having to be persuaded to “blast his way loose”:

   Then Beery said, “Look out!” and something dull and terrible crashed against the back of Kells’ head, there was dull and terrible blackness. It was filled with thunder and smothering blue, something hot and alive pulsed in Kells’ hand. He fell.

   On the train to the coast Ace meets beautiful society girl Eleanor Kiniston and a romance blossoms, Ace introducing himself as Bruce Grahame. Ace isn’t the only one with a secret. Eleanor is really Eleanor La Vere, girlfriend of Joe Burke (Arthur Vinton), a west coast gambler who runs an off shore casino.

   Burke’s in a bind for money, thanks to his chief competitor hijacking his customers for his own ship, Pete Manning’s Paradise. Once home Eleanor finds out what a bind Burke is in, and being to noble to walk out on him drops Bruce.

   Eleanor: “I couldn’t walk out on Joe when he’s down and out.

   Eleanor’s friend Jennie Sands (Glenda Farrell): “That’s the time to walk out.”

   Meanwhile Burke’s henchman Blooey (Roscoe Karns) is an old friend of Ace, and tries to convince Ace to go in with Burke, a chance to buy into a good deal and take revenge on Manning, but Ace is in love and wants none of it.

   Burke to Ace sarcastically: “Everybody knows what a forgiving nature you have.”

   Blooey: “Yeah, Ace always sends flowers.”

   But Manning won’t leave Ace alone so he agrees to go in with Burke. and starts by hijacking back all the players Manning hijacked in the first place.

   Ace: “Sometimes even a good man has to blast his way out … I’m gonna have that vacation even if I have to kill a few people.”

GAMBLING SHIP

   That does sound like Kells.

   Again, this hews close to the novel:

    “Now I’ll tell you one, Jakie. You’d like to have me on the Joanna because I look like the highest-powered protection at this end of the country. You’d like to carry that eighteen-carat reputation of mine around with you so you could wave it and scare all the bad little boys away.”

   His first night on the ship Eleanor shows up and finds out he’s Corbin, but he still thinks she’s a classy society woman, an illusion that will have to stay in place when Manning fire bombs the ship.

   The ending is well done and exciting, and being pre-Code, neither Ace nor Eleanor have to repent or suffer for the error of their ways. A clinch, a kiss, and Ace is ready to turn that vacation into a honeymoon, assuming he still has marriage on his mind after finding out who she is. This being the pre-Code era, happily ever after didn’t always need a license and a justice of the peace. It’s a very different ending than Fast One.

   Gambling Ship has a bad reputation among fans largely because it is based on Fast One, the legendary hardboiled extravagansa of flying bullets and McGuffey’s reader prose by screen writer Peter Ruric (The Black Cat, The Raven, Grand Central Murder …) writing as Paul Cain.

GAMBLING SHIP

   Granted it would have been nice to see his novel get the pre-Code treatment with Grant as tough-as-nails lethal gambler gunman Kells (though reading the book I always have Alan Ladd in mind), but that aside this isn’t a bad little film and like any decent pre-Code film (or is that indecent?) it’s interesting to note the little touches like the teasing dialogue bordering on double entendre, the suggestion of nudity (Hume outlined fairly clearly in a pebbled glass shower), skimpy lingerie (and not a lot of it), and a cavalier attitude to sex, without moralizing or due punishment, that could only be hinted at in later films.

   To be fair, any movie that has both a journey on a train and a gambling ship can’t be all bad.

   It’s interesting to note as well just how much of the Grant persona and the familiar gestures and slow takes are already established even at this point. It’s not hard to see watching this how Leslie Charteris and Raymond Chandler both could envision the Saint and Philip Marlowe as played by Grant (who was also a pick to play James Bond). He dominates every scene without doing much of anything but being Cary Grant, and for an actor at this early stage in his film career that’s no mean feat.

   Gambling Ship is no masterpiece, but it is a swift moving well done film with crisp direction, a smart script filled with clever quips, a first class cast, and an exciting finale, as well as good camera work by Charles Lang.

GAMBLING SHIP

   If you can manage to forget what it might have been considering its source you will likely enjoy it. And it’s not like Hollywood reserved this treatment for Ruric’s book, or have we forgotten Satan Met a Lady, the second version of The Maltese Falcon?

   That said, once or twice toward the end of the film you get a glimpse of how Grant might have played Kells, and you have to at least think about what might have been, Fast One is a very violent book that reads more like it was written with a tommy gun than a typewriter.

   Kells turned and spoke sharply to Granquist: “Lie down on the seat.” She muttered something unintelligible and lay down on her side across the back seat.

   They turned swiftly down Cherokee and a spurt of flame came out of a parked, close curtained limousine to meet them, lead thudded, bit into the side of the car. Borg stepped on the throttle, they plunged forward, past. Kells looked back at Granquist. She was lying with her eyes tightly closed and her face was very white. He put one arm back toward her and she rose suddenly to her knees, put her hands on his shoulder.

   He smiled. “We’re all right, baby,” he said softly. “They build these cars in Detroit — that’s machine-gun country.”

   Machine gun country is where Ruric’s book would feel at home, if not the film based on it.

GAMBLING SHIP



Note: The novel Fast One has been reviewed by Bill Pronzini some time back on this blog. Check it out here. And both the novel and the author are discussed in depth by Walker Martin in his review of The Complete Slayers, by Paul Cain. It’s worth your reading again, or for the first time, if you haven’t already.

REVIEWED BY WALKER MARTIN:


GRINDSHOW: The Selected Writings of William Lindsay Gresham. Edited and with a biographical essay by Bret Wood. Centipede Press hardcover. June 2013.

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   There are some authors that are known by only one book. Perhaps it really is the only book that they wrote, or the book just stands out above everything else that they did. In other words it is so excellent and powerful that when you think of the author, you just think of the one book.

   Well known examples are TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee and GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell. In the crime novel field NIGHTMARE ALLEY by William Lindsay Gresham would be a good example. Usually when we discuss Gresham, the topic is NIGHTMARE ALLEY, a very powerful and nourish crime novel told from the viewpoint of the criminal. Carnival life plays a big role in the story which is a fascinating tale of the rise and fall of a con man.

   I’ve always been fascinated by carnivals and NIGHTMARE ALLEY is one of the best known novels about carny life. Other examples are MADBALL by Fred Brown, THE DREAMING JEWELS by Theodore Sturgeon, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury, and CARNY KILL by Robert Edmond Alter.

   Like many readers and lovers of carnivals, I first became aware of them as a child when the carnival would come to town. During my teenage years the schools would let us out early to attend the New Jersey State Fair. The Fair would last a couple weeks during the summer and in the Trenton area was an enormous undertaking. I would get off the bus and it would take me an hour to stroll from one end to the other. It had something for everyone: car races, 4H livestock shows, all sorts of food stands, varied items for sale, clothes for sale, rides for the kids, etc.

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   But the main draw for me was the long row of tents and stands that made up the carnival and freak show exhibit. I have a confession to make. As many times as I tried to win a prize, not once was I successful. I attended the girly shows, always hoping to see something sexy. Nope, just a bunch of tired, worn out, jaded, and surly carny girls, many who had seen their best days a long time ago. The freak shows were always a ripoff and I never did see an impressive freak. Sure there were plenty of fat and bearded ladies, tallest man in the world, strongest this and that, and pickled things in jars. But nothing really of note.

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   But this didn’t stop me from coming back year after year until I finally grew up and realized the carny life was not for me. The workers seem to be living lives of quiet desperation and often looked like they were drunk or stoned. Everything was a con to separate cash from the townies, and I always had the strong feeling that the carnies felt nothing but scorn and disgust for us. Easy marks indeed.

   But all the above didn’t stop me from thinking that NIGHTMARE ALLEY was one hell of a read and a fine tough, hardboiled crime novel. One of the best and the same applies to the film starring Tyrone Power. Despite the cop out ending, the movie is in the running for top ten film noirs.

   So for over 50 years, that is all I really knew about William Lindsay Gresham. The novel was so impressive that it overshadowed everything else the man ever did. In 1949 he published his second and last novel, LIMBO TOWER, about life in a city hospital. It was not a success and I will soon read it to see why.

   Then in the early 1950′s he wrote a non fiction book called MONSTER MIDWAY. The title says it all and it never appeared in paperback. His fourth book was a biography of Houdini and finally a last book just before his death in 1962. It was about body building and weight lifting.

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   So there we have it, five books with one great one standing above all the rest. That is until now. Evidently Gresham had an extensive career writing short fiction and articles during 1945-1962. There are over 80 that we know about and this is how he mainly earned his living during the last years of his life.

   He died at age 53 in 1962, a suicide in a hotel room. He had been diagnosed with cancer and was supposed to see a specialist but instead took his own life with an overdose. Gresham had lived a life straight out of a film noir movie. For awhile he was a drunk but he finally stopped drinking. Though he tried for another success on the level of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, it was not to be. His second wife even left him for another man. Talk about cold blooded plans, she developed a liking for the books of C.S. Lewis, so she planned to go to England and seduce him. Which she did, meanwhile divorcing Gresham and marrying Lewis. Then the final straw was the cancer.

   All the above and more is discussed in a new book published by Centipede Press. GRINDSHOW reprints 24 pieces that Gresham did for various magazines, mostly fiction. The collection shows there was more to Gresham than just NIGHTMARE ALLEY. The first few stories are about carny life and the rest are a mixture of SF, crime and detective fiction. There are a few factual articles (“King of the Spook Workers”) and even a piece from a true crime magazine (Master Detective).

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   As a magazine collector, I was impressed by the range of the markets that Gresham wrote for. At first, because of the success of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, it looks like he was writing for the high paying slick magazine markets. Magazines like THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, ESQUIRE, ATLANTIC MONTHLY, and REDBOOK.

   However he also wrote for the pulps (Doc Savage and Bluebook), the SF digests (Fantastic, F&SF, Satellite), the crime digests (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and Manhunt), the true crime magazines like Master Detective, the men’s adventure magazines like Saga and Argosy, and the girly magazines like Dude and Rogue.

   All the above markets are represented within the 397 pages of this collection. The biographical essay is a valuable piece of research and 30 pages in length. The dust jacket is by David Ho and quite impressive, showing a skeleton carny barker.

   The stories vary in quality, but overall I’m very glad I bought the collection. My favorites are the first seven stories about carny life and the detective stories “Don’t Believe a Word She Says” and “The Corpse From Nowhere”. If you don’t buy this collection, check out “Don’t Believe a Word She Says” in the August 1956 issue of EQMM. It is an excellent hardboiled, private eye story.

WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM gRINDSHOW

   You might note that I say above, “If you don’t buy this collection…” I say this because Centipede Press only publishes small print run books that immediately become collector’s items. When I say small print run, I mean like 200 or 300 copies. The books are well made with interesting essays and often reprint fiction that is not available except in hard to find back issues. The artwork is outstanding also. The series “Masters of the Weird Tales” reprints authors in editions of hundreds of pages (900) and cost hundreds of dollars.

   However GRINDSHOW costs $75 and like the Paul Cain collection, THE COMPLETE SLAYERS, which I reviewed here, once it goes out of print the price will start rising.

   This book has a companion volume, also priced at $75. It is of course the Centipede Press edition of NIGHTMARE ALLEY. It has another nice introduction by Bret Wood, the novel, and five interesting essays about carnival life. If you have the money, I recommend both books.

   And if you want to watch some films about carny life, in addition to NIGHTMARE ALLEY, I recommend FREAKS (1932), CARNY (1980), and the HBO series CARNIVALE, which ran for 24 episodes and is available as a box set DVD.

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