Mystery plays


ARNOLD RIPLEY The Ghost Train

ARNOLD RIDLEY – The Ghost Train. A mystery thriller in 3 acts. Produced originally at the Eltinge Theatre, New York, 1923. Cast: 7 males, 4 females, 1 interior scene. Modern costumes. Note: For much more about this play, including its many radio, film and audiobook adaptations, see its Wikipedia entry here. Shown is the playbill for the 2012-2013 revival.]

   The story is laid in a peaceful village in Maine where there lives a superstition of twenty years standing about a ghost train which flashes by in the dead of night, swinging the scythe of death. Rumrunners use this superstition to their own advantage in the transportation of liquor from Canada.

   As the night train draws into the small station, some passengers get off and the train moves on. These passengers are compelled to wait all night, for they have missed connections.

   And what a night they spend. When the decrepit old station-master tells them about the terrifying “Ghost Train,” bringing death to all who observe it, they just poo-pooh the idea. But everything happens as forecast.

   The station-master is stricken dead mysteriously. The signal bell rings. The engine whistles. The train roars through the junction and one who rashly gazes upon it apparently succumbs. Lovers of mystery plays will find here a piece to their liking.

Editorial Comment:   Thanks once again to Mike Tooney for finding this short piece while on his never-ending travels through the Internet. (Scroll down a short way.)

REVIEWED BY GEOFF BRADLEY:         


THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Author: Jeremy Paul; based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle. First performed at the Wyndham Theatre, London, in the 1988-1989 season for some two hundred performances. Revived: March 2010, with Peter Egan (Holmes) and Philip Franks (Watson) in the two leading roles.

THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

   This was a touring production of a play that had previously been in the West End, a few years back, with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke as Holmes and Watson. I had seen their performance twice, once in a pre-West End outing in Guildford which was very disappointing since Brett kept stumbling over his lines, and secondly in the West End, near the end of the run, which was much more enjoyable.

   In this present tour Peter Egan was Holmes and Philip Franks was Watson, the same pairing that I had seen a couple of years ago in a tour of The Hound of the Baskervilles. That time I was a little disappointed in the performances but here they seemed much better and were comfortable in their roles.

   In the first part of this two-hander we are treated to the background story with Watson looking for someone to share digs with, meeting Holmes and setting up in 221b. We are taken through certain events, if not the actual cases, so some talk of Irene Adler, Watson’s marriage and eventually Holmes’s clash with Moriarty, and his return as the bookseller. The interval came as Watson collapsed to the floor.

   I enjoyed this part, mainly because writer Jeremy Paul had used the words and phrases from Doyle’s stories, so much of it was very familiar.

   The second part however was rather different. First we had Watson’s recriminations and Holmes’s explanation but then the story branched into something rather different as Holmes appeared to be something of a split personality (if that phrase is stilll used in the psychobabble of today) and eventually confessed to being Moriarty, having invented and portrayed the master criminal to give him some mental stimulation — or maybe he was deluding himself that this was the case. It was not all that clear.

   All in all an enjoyable production but there is no new story and the final fifteen minutes makes little sense.

REVIEWED BY GEOFF BRADLEY:         


THE STRIPPER Richard O'Brien

THE STRIPPER. A musical comedy based on the novel of the same title by Carter Brown. Details below:

   So there I was, browsing through the local weekly free paper when there was an article about Richard O’Brien, songwriter for The Rocky Horror Show, and how he had a musical being performed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

   I idly took in that the production was called The Stripper, and my mind was trying to work out where I had heard that title before as my eyes got to the next bit “based on the book by Carter Brown.”

   Now I have spoken before of my attachment, from a relative early age, to the books of Carter Brown, and I quickly made my way up to the Carter Brown section of the loft where I found the 1961 Signet edition of the book (reviewed here ).

THE STRIPPER Richard O'Brien

   I quickly found the Queen’s Theatre website and booked tickets for the Saturday matinee and then set to re-reading the book. Travel to Hornchurch, about 25 miles away, was very convenient by train so Helen and I had a leisurely journey followed by lunch in Hornchurch and a walk to the theatre.

   I bought a programme and read that Richard O’Brien had read lots of Carter Brown’s books. On entering the theatre, the first thing to see was a large rectangular book-shaped screen with, projected on to it, the Signet cover.

   As the show started the projection changed to the outside of the 15th floor of the hotel with Patty Keller perched on the ledge. From then on the action followed the book faithfully (although Sergeant Polnik is, unfortunately relegated to a walk-on part and, for some reason, Sherry Rand of the book is renamed as Sherry Mendez), with huge chunks of dialogue lifted verbatim until an understandable alteration to the ending that changed setting and timing but not culprits.

   This was interspersed with song whose lyrics would not, perhaps, compete on a Cole Porter level, but worked in the more lowly context of Carter Brown. A six piece band (with trumpet, sax and piano prominent), sited on a raised platform at the back of the stage, were excellent, playing the jazz-tinged score.

THE STRIPPER Richard O'Brien

   Jonathan Wrather was terrific as Al Wheeler and Morgan Deare made a very acceptable Sheriff Lavers. Richard O’Brien, himself, took the role of Arkwright but the stand-out performance was perhaps Jack Edwards as Harvey Stem, in particular when his corpse rose up to sing the contents of his supposed suicide note, “I Confess.”

   Music was written by Richard Hartley, lyrics by Richard O’Brien and Carter Brown was credited, quite rightly, with the book.

   Richard O’Brien says in the programme that he was asked to write a musical for the Sydney Theatre Company back in 1980 and being familiar with the works of Carter Brown, a chance meeting with his daughter, turned his thoughts to using a Brown book as the source material. He originally intended, he says, to write another rock’n’roll musical but came to realise that Brown’s characters were more likely to listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Sinatra.

   After the performance, Helen (on my behalf, I’m a bit shy in that regard) asked if there were any spare posters for the production lying around and eventually a very kind lady produced one for me. At that point she said why don’t you get Richard O’Brien to sign it, he’s just coming down the corridor.

   So as I asked O’Brien to sign my poster, I confessed that I had been a Carter Brown reader since my adolescence. He told me that he had met Brown (Alan Yates) and had got to know his family quite well. Also that it was his copy of The Stripper (Signet, 1961) that had been used on for the pre-show image that was projected on to the book shaped screen.

THE STRIPPER Richard O'Brien

   It wasn’t until I got home that further reading in the programme told me that he owned a lot of “pulp fiction” and he had collected it for years.

   A spot of Googling enabled me to find details of the original production in Sydney with one site listing all the original lyrics (though there had obviously been some revision since Polnik has a song in the original) and another on which the soundtrack LP could be listened to.

   I have to say that the whole production was excellent. The scene changes were smoothly and cleverly done, the cast were excellent, the songs were witty and the music enjoyable. The production, for which the best single word to describe it is perhaps ‘fun,’ was enthusiastically received by the audience and both I, as a Carter Brown veteran wanting a faithful interpretation of the book, and Helen, with no interest in the Brown or the comedy-pulp sub-genre, both thoroughly enjoyed the whole performance.

Editorial Comment: The webpage for the Queen’s Theatre production appears to have been archived, so perhaps the link will stay active for a while.

THE STRIPPER Richard O'Brien

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


SHERLOCK HOLMES. Made for Cable-TV movie: HBO, 15 November 1981. Frank Langella (Holmes), Susan Clark (Madge Larrabee), Stephen Collins (Larabee), Richard Woods (Watson), George Morfogen (Moriarity), Laurie Kennedy (Alice Faulkner), Christian Slater (Billy the Page). Based on the play by William Gillette. Directed by Peter H. Hunt.

SHERLOCK HOLMES Frank Langella

    Supposedly when American actor William Gillette was writing the play which would become his most famous role (his image as iconic as the Sidney paget illustrations from The Strand) he wired Arthur Conan Doyle as to whether it was all right to marry Sherlock Holmes to the heroine at the end of the play. Doyle’s famously terse cable in return was succinct:

    “You may marry him, or murder him.”

    This filmed stage play, which aired on HBO originally, is the version that became a major hit on Broadway (Sherlock’s Last Case) when revised in 1987 with Frank Langella in the lead role (fresh from his hit in the revived John Balderston play of Dracula).

    Played with snap, flare, and a wink and a nod towards the audience, the plot involves Professor Moriarity’s convoluted plot to destroy Sherlock Holmes by drawing him into a complex plot involving the innocent Alice Faulkner, being held virtual prisoner by Moriarity’s cohorts, the Larrabees (Stephen Collins and Susan Clark).

SHERLOCK HOLMES Frank Langella

    Langella and Morfogen have real fun as Holmes and Moriarity, and the highlight of the play is their game of one-upsmanship in a recreation of the famous meeting at Baker Street between the pair from “The Final Problem.” As the table turn from one gambit to the next the two actors show real passion for the performance.

    It’s worth watching the whole production for that scene alone, but fortunately you don’t have to. The old war horse of a play may wheeze a bit here and there, but thanks to a sparkling cast it is tremendous fun as well. Collins and Clark are particularly good as the Larrabees and Woods a stalwart Watson.

    But this is a star turn for the actor playing Holmes, and Langella knows it. He take possession of the stage at every turn, filled with kinetic energy and yet sprawling across the stage in lethargy like a great cat after a big meal at other times. Both Leonard Nimoy and Charlton Heston had some success with the play in other revivals after Langella, but it is hard to imagine anyone having the energy he displays here.

    Director Peter H. Hunt directed a good deal of television and also the film 1776. Clearly he knows how to shoot a film of a stage play with style and creativity.

SHERLOCK HOLMES Frank Langella

    The Gillette play was previously filmed as a silent with John Barrymore in the role of Holmes, Roland Young as Watson, and Gustav Von Seyfertitz as Moriarity. That version is now available on DVD from Kino International.

    The play is very loosely the basis of the Rathbone and Bruce film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 2Oth Century Fox with George Zucco as Moriarity. It was also loosely the basis for the Broadway musical Baker Street with Fritz Weaver and Martin Gabel as Holmes and Moriarity.

    Christian Slater, who plays the page Billy here, was in good company. In the original Gillette production in the West End of London the role was played by young Master Charles Chaplin, age thirteen.

    With Robert Downey Jr. playing a 21st Century take on the great sleuth currently on the big screen, it’s nice to return to this and see this version of the Gillette play showing such vitality.

Editorial Comment: For a delightful two-minute clip from the play on YouTube, go here. While there does not appear to be a commercial DVD of the HBO film, it is usually easily available on the Internet on a collector-to-collector basis.

REVIEWED BY GEOFF BRADLEY:         


THE 39 STEPS

   I have had two (relatively) recent trips to the theatre. First up was a belated visit to the West End to catch up with the award-winning production of The 39 Steps based on the Hitchcock film version rather than the Buchan book version.

   Four actors (strictly three actors and an actress) take on a variety of roles (strictly one actor is Richard Hannay and the others take multiple roles), and the film is recreated rather hammily and for laughs but quite accurately under the circumstances.

   It was a marvelous production and I enjoyed it thoroughly, laughing aloud at times (and I am only rarely a laughing aloud type of person). The production was very similar to the three-man version of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I saw last year but which this production actually preceded (and so should probably take more credit).

   I can heartily recommend it any of you who get a chance to see it.

   The second play I got to see is And Then There Were None, the third from the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. The company tours each year with a new production — last year was The Unexpected Guest, which I saw, and two years ago they did The Hollow which I missed.

And Then There Were None

   Anyway I caught up with And Then There Were None in Norwich and thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s no point my rehashing the plot, but if you are familiar with it you might like to know that the ending of the book was restored, rather than the different ending that Agatha Christie gave to her play version.

   Suffice to say I enjoyed it all. The cast was made up of reasonably well known from television actors including Gerald Harper (bast known as Adam Adamant from the ’60s and Hadleigh from the ’70s), Peter Byrne (best known as Dixon of Dock Green’s son-in-law from the ’50s) and Alex Ferns (best known from Eastenders in the ’00s).

   Throw in Denis Lill who was Inspector Bradstreet in Granada’s Jeremy Brett/Sherlock Holmes series and Mark Wynter ’60s pop singer turned actor, and you had a pretty good cast.

   Next year’s production, which I shall make every effort to see, is Spider’s Web.

— September 2008.



Spider's Web         

REVIEWED BY KEVIN KILLIAN:         


JOHN DICKSON CARR – 13 to the Gallows.

JOHN DICKSON CARR

 Crippen & Landru, hardcover & softcover, September 2008.

   Another splendid volume of discoveries from Crippen & Landru, this time the scripts of four stage plays written by the US-born detective writer John Dickson Carr (1906-1977), two of them written in collaboration with Val Gielgud. It’s the Carr name that’s the attraction here, though for me in equal parts the name of my hero, the British researcher and editor Tony Medawar, on the book’s dust jacket made me put my money down.

   I know next to nothing about Val Gielgud, and I found myself frequently throughout the book wondering what parts of the two full-length pieces Gielgud wrote, and which were Carr’s alone. As with his collaboration with Adrian Conan Doyle, Carr’s presence is so strong it seems the other fellow only occasionally got his hand in, but I may be wrong about that.

   You’d think Gielgud’s background with the BBC must account for the detailed trials and tribulations of a radio program producer during the Second World War, but Car worked there too, and he seemed to do pretty well all by himself in the much later novel The Nine Wrong Answers.

JOHN DICKSON CARR

   But anyone will feel a difference between the tone of the longer plays and the two longish one-acts which make up the rest of the volume: the shorter plays are more serious, they’ve got real feeling behind them, and they’re genuinely spooky and atmospheric.

   The two Carr-Gielgud plays cover much of the same ground, almost as if the second were a reworking of the first. Both take place far from the main BBC studios in London, one in the basement of a confiscated country house estate miles from anywhere, the other in the basement of a converted high school in Barchester, the imaginary cathedral town that Anthony Trollope created and which, at the time Carr and Gielgud were working together, was the setting for a few dozen romance novels by their contemporary Angela Thirkell. I wonder if Carr and Gielgud were sending up Thirkell in some of their situations!

    “Inspector Silence Takes the Air” involves a true crime radio script of a romantic triangle (older man, young woman, young lout) being rehearsed by a crew of actors who eerily replicate their on-air parts with their own backstage drama, much to their discomfort. During the rehearsal, in front of everyone’s eyes, an actor is shot dead, but none of the guns found later during an intensive search match the bullet that killed.

   As Medawar notes, Carr had used a similar problem in his short novel The Third Bullet a few years before, and bringing in Inspector Silence (a character invented by Val Gielgud in a previous play he’d written without Carr) isn’t all that much fun. OK, I take that back, it’s funny when the retired policeman gets nervous as a schoolgirl and dries up his lines when confronted with a microphone.

JOHN DICKSON CARR

   I liked the second play much more. Instead of a lover’s misunderstanding, “13 to the Gallows” takes an unsolved crime of the past as its central feature, as years later the survivors of that crime examine must reestablish their own alibis.

   The protagonist was, years before, acquitted of the crime of pushing his wife from a belltower, and yet popular opinion in Barchester has remained solidly against him, leaving him a social pariah — until one young BBC employee takes a personal interest in him, pleading with her boss to give Wallace Hatfield a new hearing — live, on the radio — during a variety hour that also features a troupe of trained sea lions. The play is suspenseful and fairly clued, though its ending is puzzlingly abrupt, as though Carr and Gielgud just left the room and abandoned their script.

   Two shorter plays, written by Carr alone, are very beautifully done, without the tiresome comedy elements that one hates so much in his work. “Intruding Shadow” reminded me of some of the later stage plays of Agatha Christie, with its cat and mouse playing and its concentration on a tiny cast, and most of all, the sense of menace and doom so palpable in “The Unexpected Guest” or “Verdict.”

   As I had previously never linked Carr and Christie together before, I was curious to see how Carr manages to achieve his effects here. Some of it is in the very shiftiness of the crime itself, because we are never sure what has happened or what is being made to seem happen by some outside, unseen perpetrator (U.N. Owen anyone?)

   The hero is a detective novelist who attempts to use some of his own patented writing tricks to scare off a threat to his own reallife happiness. Unexpected results ensue, including a Grand Guignol sequence in which a corpse seems to speak after death — like the surprising ending of Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Dolls.

JOHN DICKSON CARR

    “She Slept Lightly” (I know — none of these titles is much good, is it?) is a grand old style melodrama set during the Napoleonic end-game of Waterloo, featuring a great part for an elderly actress…

   I would love to see this one staged. As Medawar discusses, the part of Lady Stanhope was taken by an actual acting legend, Irene Vanbrugh, who sounds like she wiped the floor with everyone else.

    Those who are familiar with Carr’s eight-part radio serial, Speak of the Devil, also brilliantly edited for C&L by Tony Medawar, will know the story basically, but here I think Carr has improved on it significantly. (Largely by getting rid of the comedy fops and the comedy country bumpkins and in fact, all the comedy.) What’s left is lean and grand and gorgeous.

   In the limited edition, you get a bonus: a radio play about Inspector Silence solving a crime in the New York subway system. It’s brief, it’s pretty forgettable, it’s okay. I know you want it!

   For those of you wondering why they call this book “13 to the Gallows” and what it means, I can’t reveal that just yet because, as you’ll see, it is like the end of Fog of Doubt, revealed literally in the final words of the piece.

   This is the second in a series of checklists compiled by Victor Berch of turn-of-last-century authors whose careers consisted largely of novelizing plays having varying degrees of criminous content. The first was Helen Burrell Gibson D’Apery, 1842-1915, who wrote as Olive Harper.

   The author of interest this time around is Grace Miller White, 1868-1957, who wrote an even longer list of such novelizations, as you’ll see in a moment, all within the very narrow time frame of 1901 to 1907.

   After 1907 either the market for such novelizations began to dry up or (equally possible) a severe case of fatigue on Ms. White’s part had set in. According to Al Hubin, she wrote four additional novels worthy of inclusion in his bibliography, Crime Fiction IV, as follows. (The dashes indicate marginal crime content.)

      -From the Valley of the Missing (n.) Watt 1911
      -When Tragedy Grins (n.) Watt 1912 [Paris]
      -The Ghost of Glen George (n.) Macaulay 1925
      The Square Mark [with H. L. Deakin] (n.) Dutton 1930 [Academia]

   At the moment, I know nothing more about Grace Miller White’s life. For a short account of the practice of novelizing plays, the introduction to Olive Harper’s entry will have to do for now. (Follow the link above.)

   In the checklist that follows, no dashes are included. By the time this information is incorporated into the online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV, such indications of lesser crime content will have been determined and included.

THE MYSTERY NOVELIZATIONS OF GRACE MILLER WHITE
by Victor A. Berch

  Alone in the World (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

  Another Man’s Wife; or, The Life That Kills (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of 4 act play The Life That Kills, by Walter [W.] Fessler

Another Man's Wife

  Because She Loved (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Reinhart

  Broadway After Dark (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud. of Owen Davis. Silent film: Warner Bros., 1924 (adapt.: Douglas Doty; dir.: Monte Bell)

  A Child of the Slums (Ogilvie,1904. pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by W Howell Poole and Henry Belmar

  The Child Wife (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Charles A[lonzo] Taylor or Hal Reid

  The Confessions of a Wife (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

  Convict 999 (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud. of Owen Davis

Convict 999

  Custer’s Last Fight (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid. Also contains two Sherlock Holmes stories by A. Conan Doyle.

Custer's Last Fight

  Dangers of a Working Girl (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Martin Hurley, pseud of Owen Davis. Originally titled Dealers in White Women.

  Deadwood Dick’s Last Shot (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

Deadwood Dick

  Deserted at the Altar (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Pierce Kingsley

  Driven from Home (Ogilvie,1903, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Arnold Wolford (?) and Owen Davis

Driven from Home

  Edna, the Pretty Typewriter (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud of Owen Davis

  Fallen by the Wayside; or, A Chorus Girl’s Luck (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud. of Owen Davis. Originally titled A Chorus Girl’s Luck in New York

  Fast Life in New York (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer

  From Rags to Riches (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Charles A[lonzo] Taylor

  From Tramp to Millionaire (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis. Originally titled The Power of Money; or, In the Clutches of the Trust

  The Great Express Robbery (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

Great Express Robbery

  Her Mad Marriage (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Frank [Charles] Allen

  The Holy City (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Clarence Bennett

  The House of Mystery (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [Arthur] Langdon McCormick. Originally titled The House of Mystery and the Black Five

House of Mystery

  How Hearts Are Broken (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [Arthur] Langdon McCormick

  Human Hearts (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid. Originally titled Human Hearts; or, Logan’s Luck

Human Hearts

  Lights of Home (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Lottie Blair Parker

  Lured from Home (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid

  A Marked Woman (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis. Silent film: World Film Corp., 1914; (scw: Owen Davis; dir.: O. A. C. Lund) [China]

A Marked Woman

  A Midnight Marriage (Ogilvie,1903, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Walter [W.] Fessler

  Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis. Silent film: Goldwyn Pictures, 1924 (adapt. H. H. Van Loan; dir.: Emmett Flynn)

  No Wedding Bells for Her (Ogilvie,1903, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer

  The Peddler (Ogilvie,1903, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid

  A Prisoner of War (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer.

Prisoner of War

The Queen of the Cowboys (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Joseph B[yron] Totten

  Queen of the White Slaves (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 5 acts by Arthur J[ohn] Lamb

Queen of the White Slaves

  A Race Across the Continent (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud. of Owen Davis

Race Across the Continent

  Rachel Goldstein (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer

  A Ragged Hero (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Maurice J. Fielding

  A Royal Slave (Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Clarence Bennett

  Ruled Off the Turf (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by John Oliver, pseud. of Owen Davis

  Secrets of the Police (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis and Arthur J[ohn] Lamb [Paris, London, New York City]

Secrets of the Police

  Shadows of a Great City (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Livingston Robert Shewell

  Since Nellie Went Away (Ogilvie,1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

Since Nellie Went Away

  Sky Farm (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Edward E. Kidder

  The Street Singer (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid

  Two Little Sailor Boys (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Walter Howard

Two Little Sailor Boys

  Under the North Star (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Clarence Bennett

  The Vacant Chair (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Joseph B[yron] Totten

  The Warning Bell (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts

  Way Back in ’61(Ogilvie,1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Clarence Bennett

  Wedded, But No Wife (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Maurice J. Fielding and Conninghame Price

  When the World Sleeps (Ogilvie,1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [Arthur] Langdon McCormick and Lawrence Marston

When the World Sleeps

  When Women Love (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Abraham A. Spitz

When Women Love

  Why Women Sin (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by William C. Murphy. Silent film: Wistaria Productions, 1920 (scw:Lloyd Lonergan; dir.: Burton King) [New Jersey]

Why Women Sin

  A Wife’s Secret (Ogilvie,1904, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid

   Although I’m not sure what the first book was which “novelized” a movie, I know that it’s not a recent innovation, and in fact the idea is even older than that. Even before movies came along, around the turn of last century, what audiences took a good deal of pleasure in watching were plays in live performance, many of them mysteries, and would you believe, these plays were often novelized.

   This is hardly a formal article on the subject. It’s too early for that. Very little has been written about the novelizations of plays, and it’s obvious a much longer piece is needed to say everything there is to say. From what Victor Berch has told me, though, at the end of the 19th century and into the first part of the next, there were three or four publishing houses that specialized in such works of fiction, and there may have been more. The most prolific of these was the J. S. Ogilvie Publishing Company, of New York. Street & Smith did some, Victor says, and I. & M. Ottenheimer of Philadelphia did some as well.

   One of the authors who specialized herself in turning plays into novels, usually in softcover form, was the pseudonymous Olive Harper, whose entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, Victor has recently revised and which you’ll see below.

   This information will also show up soon in an upcoming Addenda to the Revised CFIV. Victor has sent me cover images for four of this books, and perhaps – just maybe – the titles themselves will be enough to start you off in a new direction for your mystery collecting activities.

   Warning: The books below are not easily found. While not expensive, generally under $20 each, only a handful of the titles below could be found by taking a quick look on www.abebooks.com. A few of the author’s non-mystery novelizations and translations show up also, but at the present time, only four of them are mysteries (not, as I recall, the same four that are shown below).

HARPER, OLIVE, pseud. of HELEN BURRELL GIBSON D’APERY, 1842-1915
Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl (Ogilvie, 1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer [New York City]. Silent film: Fox Film Corp., 1926 (scw: Gertrude Orr; dir.: Irving Cummings)

The Burglar and the Lady (Ogilvie, 1912, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [Arthur] Langdon McCormick. Silent film: Sun Photoplay, 1915 (scw: [Arthur] Langdon McCormick; dir.:Herbert Blache).

*Caught in Mid-Ocean (Ogilvie, 1911, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Arthur J[ohn] Lamb. [London, ship]

*The Chinatown Trunk Mystery (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis. [New York City]

The Convict’s Sweetheart (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [Colorado]

The Convict's Sweetheart

The Creole Slave’s Revenge (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Walter Lawrence, pseud. of Owen Davis [Louisiana]

*The Desperate Chance (Ogilvie, 1903, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer

Fighting Bill, Sheriff of Silver Creek (Ogilvie, 1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts [California]

The Gambler of the West (Ogilvie, 1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis

Gambler of the West

It’s Never Too Late to Mend (Ogilvie, 1907, pb) Novelization of the 4-act play It’s Never Too Late to Mend; or, The Wanderer’s Return by Owen Davis [New York City]

Jack Sheppard, the Bandit King; or, From the Cradle to the Grave (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [California]

Jack Sheppard

King of the Bigamists (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Theodore Kremer

The Millionaire and the Policeman’s Wife (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [New York City]

* A Millionaire’s Revenge (Ogilvie, 1906, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck]
Reid [New York City]

On Trial for His Life (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [West]

The Opium Smugglers of Frisco; or, The Crime of a Beautiful Opium Fiend (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [San Francisco]

The Queen of the Outlaw’s Camp (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Edward M. Simonds [Colorado]

The Queen of the Secret Seven (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Ike Swift, pseudonym of Owen Davis [New York City]

The River Pirates (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Walter Lawrence, pseud. of Owen Davis. [New York City]

Sal, the Circus Gal (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by Owen Davis [Chicago]

Sal, the Circus Gal

The Shadow Behind the Throne (Ogilvie, 1908, pb) Novelization of play in 5 acts by Alicia Ramsay and Rudolph de Cordova

The Shoemaker (Ogilvie, 1907, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid [New York City, Wyoming]

A Slave of the Mill (Ogilvie, 1905, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [James] Hal[leck] Reid and Harry Gordon

Tony, the Bootblack (Ogilvie, 1907, pb) Novelization of the 4 act play Tony the Bootblack; or, Tracking the Black Hand Band by Owen Davis [New York City, Italy]

Wanted by the Police (Ogilvie, 1909, pb) Novelization of play in 4 acts by [Arthur ] Langdon McCormick [New York City]

      * Based on true crimes.

THE BAT, by Mary Roberts Rinehart


   Mary Roberts Rinehart’s character called “The Bat” appeared in many formats over the years. Not only did “The Bat” make a lasting impression and appear in many venues, but Bob Kane, creator of the second most famous comic book character, the Batman, has been quoted as saying that the inspiration for his hero came from “actor Douglas Fairbanks’ movie portrayal of Zorro, and author Mary Rinehart’s mysterious villain ‘The Bat.’”

The Bat

   This post has been put together from a variety of sources, the first being Michael Grost’s Classic Mystery and Detection website, from which is gleaned the following information about the early career of mystery author Mary Roberts Rinehart:

      The Early Novels 1904-1908

   The career of Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1957) can be broken up into a series of phases. The first was her pulp period (1904-1908), where she wrote her first three mystery novels and a mountain of very short stories. These stories have never been collected in book form, and are inaccessible today. The first two novels are classics, however, and are probably her best works in the novel form.

   The Man in Lower Ten (1906) and The Circular Staircase (1907) are the earliest works by any American author to be still in print as works of entertainment, not as “classics” or “literature.” These novels, which combine mystery and adventure, show Rinehart’s tremendously vivid powers as a storyteller.

   From the same page, but skipping over a few sections:

      The Bat

The Bat is a stage adaptation of Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase, written in collaboration with Avery Hopwood, the writer of popular Broadway comedies with whom Rinehart had collaborated before. The Bat introduced some new plot complexities into the original novel, especially a master criminal known as “The Bat.” It also includes plot elements reminiscent of her first Saturday Evening Post story, “The Borrowed House” (1909). The Bat shows Rinehart at the height of her powers, and in fact is her greatest work. A work of great formal complexity, The Bat is one of the few mystery stage plays to have the dense plotting of a Golden Age detective novel. Moreover, the formal properties of the stage medium are completely interwoven with the mystery plot, to form intricate, beautiful patterns of plot and staging of dazzling complexity.

   According to the online Broadway database, The Bat ran for 867 performances between August 23, 1920 and September 1922.

   Film director Roland West next made two versions of the play, a silent film The Bat (1926), and a sound film The Bat Whispers (1930).

   Following the links will lead you to the IMDB pages for each.

Silent

   His discussion is far too lengthy to repeat here, but Mike Grost goes into considerable detail in discussing director Roland West’s cinematic techniques in both of these movies, plus a number of his other films. If you’re interested in the early days of movie making, Mike’s website once again is well worth the visit.

   Returning to the play itself, Mike continues by saying:

   Rinehart and Hopwood’s play can be found in the anthology Famous Plays of Crime and Detection (1946), edited by Van H. Cartmell and Bennett Cerf, along with other outstanding plays of its era. (This book also contains good plays by Roi Cooper Megrue, Elmer Rice, George M. Cohan, and John Willard.) In 1926, a novelization of The Bat appeared, apparently written by poet Stephen Vincent Benét with little input from Rinehart. This novel version usually appears in paperback under Rinehart’s name, without any mention of Hopwood or Benét. I read this novelized version first, and confess I prefer it to the script of the play itself.

   It should also be noted that the play itself was later published by French, in a 1932 softcover edition.

   In 1959 The Bat was once again made into a film, this one starring Vincent Price and Agnes Morehead. Of this version, one viewer says: “I found this to be an inventive and disingenuous endeavor full of red-herrings and wrong turns. Figure this one out for yourself. Puzzle the clues, weed out the characters set here as distractions, look past the deliberate contrivances and solve the mystery on your own.”

Poster

   By total coincidence, the way coincidences happen, as I was in the process of tracking down the details of all these various incarnations of the character, author Mary Reed sent me the following review of The Bat, the novel based on the play. I think it’s great when a plan comes together like this.

      Review of THE BAT: The Novel, by Mary Reed

   Everyone in the city, from millionaires to the shady citizens of the underworld, goes in fear of The Bat, a cold-blooded loner whose crimes range from jewel theft to murder and whose calling card is a drawing or some other form of expression of bathood.

   We meet wealthy, elderly, and independent spinster Miss Cornelia Van Gorder, scion of a noble family and the last of the line. An adventurous spirit, at 65 and comfortably situated, she still longs for a bit of an adventure. It maddens her to think of the sensational experiences she is missing as she contemplates that “…out in the world people were murdering and robbing each other, floating over Niagara Falls in barrels, rescuing children from burning houses, taming tigers, going to Africa to hunt gorillas, doing all sorts of exciting things!” Why, she’d love to have a stab at catching The Bat!

   Her wish is granted when she takes a house in the country for the summer and discovers it is located some twenty miles from an area where The Bat had committed three crimes. She is soon in the thick of mysterious events, including anonymous threatening letters, lights failing, a face at the window, and Lizzie Allen, her personal maid for decades, convinced she saw a strange man on the stairs. Most of the servants decamp, leaving Miss Van Gorder to manage with just a butler and Lizzie.

   More characters appear: Miss Van Gorder’s niece Dale Ogden, Brooks, the new gardener, local medical man Dr Wells, Detective Anderson, and Richard Fleming, nephew of Courtleigh Fleming, deceased owner of the house and once president of a bank which has just failed. There is talk Mr Bailey, its cashier, has stolen over a million dollars. A man is shot and an unknown party is deduced to be hiding somewhere on the rambling premises. More than one person in the house is concealing facts, and the rising storm outside underlines the increasing fear and tension within.

   Who is trying to scare Miss Van Gorder away and why? What if anything did Lizzie see on the staircase? Are any of the strange goings-on connected with the missing money? Who fired the shot? There is much flitting in and out of the doors and windows of a living room lit most of the time only by candle and firelight before everything is cleared up.

   The Bat is an excellent example of an old dark house mystery, with enough obfuscation to keep the reader guessing, although one or two surprises are less well concealed. The menacing atmosphere events create in the house is conveyed and sustained well. I found it a light, diverting read which held the interest without taxing the attention too much. The Bat is an excellent cold-night-outside read, and indeed, although I know whodunit, I would not mind seeing the play!

The Bat

   Etext at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext00/thbat10.txt

   As a followup to my blog entry on Columbo a while back, here’s an email I received today from John Apostolou. On the original M*F website, John is the author of an excellent article on MacKinlay Kantor, which includes a long and complete crime fiction bibliography for him, we believe.

Hi Steve,

   I’m enjoying your new blog.

   Here are a few bits of info about the play “Prescription: Murder.” It opened at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco on January 20, 1962. After a short run, it toured the country, closing in Boston in May of that year. The play never opened on Broadway.

   Thomas Mitchell died in Beverly Hills on December 17, 1962 — not during the tour as sometimes reported.

            Best,

               John Apostolou

>> Thanks, John. What’s reported is not always what’s true, as anyone who’s done any research has quickly found out.