The morgue attendant jerked the receiver from the telephone, choked off the bell in the middle of a jangling ring.  “Hello,” he said.  Then impatiently: “Hello! Hello! Hello!”  Wan electric light, escaping like Holstein cream from a green-shaded student desk lamp, made the sweat glisten on his lemon-yellow face.  His lips, against the telephone mouthpiece, twitched.  “You want Daisy? Daisy! Daisy who?”
        Elbows leaning hard on the golden-oak rail dividing the morgue office from the waiting room, two newspaper reporters idly stared at the attendant’s white coat.  Their shirts were open at the collar; their arms were bare; their ties, knots loosened, hung limply around their necks; their faces were moist in the heat.  On the wall behind them a clock with a cracked glass indicated it was seventeen minutes of three.
         “Oh, y’ want Miss Daisy Stiff,” said the morgue attendant.  “She told ya to call her here, did she?”  He screwed up one eye at the others.  “Well, she can’t come to the phone.  She’s downstairs with the other girls.”  
        Ballooning dingy curtains, waves of hot night air rolled in through the west windows, rasped the reporters’ faces, made their lungs hot.
        The morgue attendant said, “I don’t care if y’ did have a date with her; she can’t come to the phone.”  He chuckled harshly. “She’s stretched out.”
                                                          –  The opening lines of The Lady in the Morgue (1936).


    Latimer looks better and better as the years go by, at least to those of us who unregenerately revel in thrillers and are grateful for gusto and intelligent humour wherever we find them.

    For a while Latimer was off the map, apart from passing references to “the alcoholic school of detection” and the like, and to come upon his Bill Crane novels in the wholesome Fifties, especially Headed for a Hearse (1935), The Lady in the Morgue (1936), and The Dead Don’t Care (1938), was to feel that one was indulging in guilty pleasures.

    Vast amounts of alcohol are consumed, the rich aren’t pariahs (being rich, as the comedian Joe E. Lewis said, was better than being poor), the guilty, especially the guilty rich, sometimes get off scot-free, there are humorous episodes in defiantly bad taste, such as the transportation of the embalmed body of a dead girl (clothed) through nighttime Chicago in a car, and characters casually use terms like Dago, Nigger, Mick.

    When the editors of Dell’s Great Mystery Library chose Headed for a Hearse in 1957 for inclusion in their prestigious reprint series, they did some substantial PC cutting, including several Catholic bits.  The full version is far superior.  This is 1930s Chicago, for heaven’s sake.   

    It was obvious, too, that The Fifth Grave (dated 1946) is deliberately provocative in its departures from the ethos of Hammett’s Red Harvest.  The bulky, tough (but not invulnerable) private-eye narrator, Karl Craven, has been a strikebreaker, buys girly magazines, likes ’em young, has torrid rough sex with the queen-bee of the pseudo-religious colony (based on one in Michigan that had given Latimer himself the creeps) that he’s trying to liberate a client’s daughter from, and beats an immobilized gangster’s face to a pulp down in the cells.  Bill Pronzini reported tantalizingly that the unexpurgated version, Solomon’s Vineyard, was even stronger; but in fact, when it was reprinted in 1982 (it had briefly surfaced in England in 1941) there wasn’t much difference.

    It was also obvious that Latimer insouciantly borrowed from other writers.  In Lady in the Morgue, there’s a disarming of a “gunsel” that’s a rewriting of the one in The Maltese Falcon, with more Hammett echoes in Solomon’s Vineyard, written around the time Latimer did an – alas – never filmed screenplay for Red Harvest.  From time to time, both in The Lady in the Morgue and The Dead Don’t Care, there are passages of dialogue that are pure Hemingway (as is Latimer’s competent non-thriller African safari novel Dark Memory, 1940).  And the lovingly crafted Fifties novel Sinners and Shrouds (1955) is a redoing and improvement of Kenneth Fearing’s newspaper mystery-thriller The Big Clock, (1946), for John Farrow’s 1948 movie version of which (with Charles Laughton and Ray Milland)  Latimer had written the screenplay.


    But all of this is unabashedly up front and overt, often sportive, in contrast to Ross Macdonald (via Lew Archer) virtually becoming the Chandler of Lady in the Lake in his first Lew Archer book.    Latimer’s books are all distinctively his own, except for the Golden-Age-country-houser The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head (1937, under the name of Peter Coffin) and the straightforward and probably à clef movie-business whodunit Black is the Fashion for Dying (1959).  He is an entertainer, a bravura entertainer, not an overt moralizer like Chandler and the two big Macs, or an explorer of moralities like Hammett.

    Bill Crane and his two fellow operatives from Colonel Black’s New York agency – tall, handsome, dissolute-looking Tom O’Malley, and Doc Williams with the white streak in his hair (relic of a knife wound), dapper waxed moustache, and boot-button eyes – enjoy themselves.  They enjoy drinking hugely, eating well but not snobbishly (one’s mouth waters), staying in good hotels on expense accounts, going to penthouse parties for professional purposes, being guests at the Key West homes (well, one home actually) of the very, very rich.

    They also run risks, particularly in The Lady in the Morgue, where Crane has serious trouble with gangsters, coming close at one point to having a thumbnail ripped out with pliers.

    And Latimer, who had been a reporter with the Chicago Herald Examiner – and had learned, though without being purist about it, from Hammett’s stylistic externality in The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key – has a splendid eye for detail, a pitch-perfect ear for the speech of a broad variety of types, and the ability to set things down in clear and often excellent prose, though admittedly the whodunit details in the Crane books do wear a bit thin, and there are passages the eye slides over on the seventh or eighth rereading.

    Occasionally, too, there are errors that the pedant’s eye notes with amusement or perplexity.  Gangster Frankie French remarks that Crane had cracked two of Frankie’s ribs in a fight, but he’d taken no hits on them.  There is no place on the Michigan Boulevard bridge over the Chicago River, at least that I could see, where the struts are wider apart than elsewhere.  In The Lady in the Morgue there is a scandalous piece of faking with respect to what can and can’t be seen in dim lighting.  There is also a striking implausibility, when you stop to think about it, in the car chase in The Dead Don’t Care, and a couple of other plotting implausibilities in Solomon’s Vineyard.

    But these things don’t matter, partly because of the general sportiveness in the Crane books, partly because there are so many parts that stay good.  The cemetery episode and penthouse party in The Lady in the Morgue and the in-earnest boat sequence off the Florida Keys in the last three chapters of The Dead Don’t Care are especially fine stretches of narrative.


    If Hammett is the Twenties thriller writer and Chandler the Forties one, Latimer in the Crane books is the quintessential Thirties one.  The books have a more-than-movie vividness, and three of them were in fact filmed, with Preston Foster as Crane.  Actual movie stars are mentioned, in contrast to Hammett and Chandler.  In The Lady in the Morgue, Crane and O’Malley go to a movie, and while the trio are doing a spot of grave-robbing, Crane is reminded of a horror movie with mad scientists in it.  Latimer himself wrote a lot of screenplays, including one for Stuart Heisler’s 1942 version of The Glass Key, with Alan Ladd.  There’s some “hot” music, too, and we’re given names – Benny Goodman’s “Swing, Baby, Swing” on the radio, etc. 

    Moreover, the very different things that Latimer does in Solomon’s Vineyard and Sinners and Shrouds (1955) are also done excellently.

    Solomon’s Vineyard is a staccato first-person narrative in which there can scarcely be a sentence more than twenty words long, or a subordinate clause, but which works because Latimer’s camera eye is firmly on the scenes he’s building, and the narrator (more fully characterized than Hammett’s Op) really does act in the spirit of:   

    It all came back to something I’d figured out once about the detective business.  There were two ways to go along: underground or on top.  I never found out which was best.  Underground you had the element of surprise on your side, but it was harder to move around.  On top you went everywhere, taking cracks at everybody, and everybody taking cracks at you.  You had to be tough to play it that way.  Well, I was tough.

    It would have been a great vehicle for Lee Marvin, who could have stepped straight into it from Michael Ritchie’s PRIME CUT (1972).  The wrecking of the brothel lounge was made for him.

    I went to the big radio in the corner, I picked it up, tearing out the plug, and tossed it across the room.  It shattered against the wall.  I kicked over a table with two lamps on it.  I tore some of the fabric off a davenport.  I threw a chair at a big oil painting over the fireplace….  The fat woman and the blonde watched me with eyes like oysters.  I came out into the hall.
    “After this be more civil,” I told the fat woman.

    Contrariwise, the third-person but single p.o.v. Sinners and Shrouds is consistently full, elegant, and dense with characters and incidents, as well as virtuoso-intricate with respect to the plot that gradually gets uncovered by under-suspicion reporter Sam Clay, desperately keeping one step ahead of the cops, with help from the Lincolnesque private investigator Mr. Bundy.  As a light-toned thriller-mystery it has everything.  It is a high spot in the genre, and an even better girder-walker than Robert Kyle’s The Crooked City.

    Some of the many minor pleasure points: Crane and O’Malley sharing the morning bathroom in their hotel suite, Crane bawling out fat corrupt Warden Buckholtz over the phone; a man saying in a washroom, “And with the buck dinner they throw in a glass of wine,” the bantam-like Jewish lawyer Finkelstein coping with a snippy receptionist, Miss Hogan’s excellent breakfast coffee, “as black as tar, as pungent as garlic, as clear as dry sherry, as hot as Bisbee, Arizona.”

    And always, as in The Great Gatsby, the weather, the weather – the gorgeous broiling summer heat of Chicago and downtown Miami, the lovely sun over flowery Key West and the pristine beach and gently welcoming ocean at the Essex estate on Key Largo.

                             – First written 1990, revised October 2004.


    In Headed for a Hearse there’s cold – Chicago in winter – but a comfortable cold, enough to make you glad to be indoors eating chicory as crisp as new currency with the lobster thermidor, or drinking gin rickeys, or taking a hot bath and trying someone else’s bath salts. “It was not so windy outside, and a quiet fall of very dry snow had begun, as though someone was cutting up an ostrich boa with a pair of nail scissors.”

    There are a lot of unfussy, unguilty moments and stretches of physical well-being in the novels.  Also the pleasures of male camaraderie.

    The first Bill Crane novel, Murder in the Madhouse, is lively, with Crane in among a Who’s-Doing-It? group of odd characters in a questionable private sanatorium, but the Doc Williams who makes a few brief appearances has as little connection with his later self as there is between Ted Lewis’s two versions of Peter the Dutchman.

    With Doc fully himself  in Headed for a Hearse,  we’re off and running, though the plot is still driven by the need to figure out how Robert Westland’s wife was shot in their locked  luxury apartment in time to save Westland, immured convincingly in the Cook County death cells with a Catholic labour racketeer and a sex-killer for company, from the chair that awaits them in four days’ time.

    With the entry of Tom O’Malley in The Lady in the Morgue, it’s the three of them, in various combinations, who really matter, an effect that carries over into The Dead Don’t Care even though it’s principally O’Malley now – comfortable conversations in agreeable settings (bars, nightspots, restaurants, beaches), easy deadpan humorousness (feigned ignorance, dismay, indignation), but no problems about Crane being in charge, and no tedious, dated, compulsive wisecracking.  In Red Gardenias, out in the Michigan countryside with colourless girl assistant and future wife Ann Fortune (no Myrna Loy, she) and a tamer Doc, the chemistry has gone.

    Similes (in contrast to Chandler’s and Macdonald’s) are there for their rendering of the physical.  Palm leaves sound like someone folding a newspaper, etc.  Pontillist details of clothing, body English, speech patterns  and pronunciations (“‘Oh, Jake, he wooden lemme go,’ she wailed ”), straightforwardly reveal facets of intelligible character – no pseudo-mysterious alien othernesses, but also no Ross-Thomas topographical  descriptions of faces.  You know what those people are like as individual types – dipsomaniac heavy-set rich widow, slouching Greek cabby, motherly Irish cook, etc.  And you feel that Latimer, good newspaperman, knows plenty more about each of the abundance of locales that he gives us, and could have kept going had he wanted, whereas with Chandler you, or at least I, suspect that he’s given us all he has at every point.  Though you could no more infer the Depression from these books than from the Astaire-Rogers movies, you know that the sights and sounds and smells are what you would have experienced yourself had you been there at the time.

    Sex isn’t problematic in the Crane books.  Crane himself has an enjoyable night (undescribed) with exotic Imago Papago. (“You could tell she wasn’t from Dublin,” O’Malley remarks after her death), but when, nursing a hangover, he tries for lovely lady-of-easy-virtue Myrna Hogan, braless in her lounging pajamas, she chomps down on his lower lip and unfazedly says, “Be careful, Clark Gable, or I’ll spank.”  Egg-yolk-blonde, Minsky’s-type Miss Day is comfortably Pen Essex’s mistress down at the estate, with its cast of interesting house-guests out on the poolside patio.  Sex in the Crane books is principally relationships, sometimes financial ones, rather than hot-breathing carnality, and with no odour of sinfulness.  But it includes the all too real, if normally unmentioned, possibility of rape by kidnappers.  Karl Craven in Solomon’s Vineyard is frankly lecherous, his self-declared favorite activities food, fighting, and … women (plus, he adds, drinking).

    The violences feel real, and can go both ways.  When a hoodlum clips Crane on the head with a gun barrel to make him sit down, it hurts, as it does when another wacks Craven (“The shin hurt like hell.  I rubbed it for awhile.”)  The occasional violences to bad guys are severe, but the bad guys have already aggressed unpleasantly themselves.

    James Hadley Chase took more than a pattern of titles from Latimer (The Dead Stay Dumb and the like).  One of the violences in Chase that George Orwell denounced in “Raffles and Miss Blandish” was lifted from Murder in the Madhouse.  The torture episode in Headed for a Hearse is worse.  Kenneth Millar (Blue City, 1947), Mickey Spillane (I, the Jury, 1947), and Ted Lewis obviously knew The Fifth Grave, if not Solomon’s Vineyard, the unbowdlerized first edition of which was published in England in 1941.  Ted had surely read other Latimers too.  And if his Jack’s Return Home (1970) is in some respects the nearest thing to an English Gatsby (see my  Latimer himself had obviously read and reread Fitzgerald’s so-cinematic masterpiece. 

    I notice that the typescript of Latimer’s unpublished screenplay for Red Harvest is still available through Abebooks for a mere $7500, which seems a pretty good argument for being rich.  (A first edition of The Big Sleep could set you back $17,500.)   

    Did I say that the books are lastingly funny?  They are – the coroner’s inquest in Lady in the Morgue, the double-triple scotches in The Dead Don’t Care, O’Malley’s book of quotations, the – oh, there’s too much to choose from.

    How about a gentler going-away quotation to balance the morgue one which I opened with?

    They waded through the green and silver breakers, digging their feet in the sand against each impact, and swam in the darker water beyond.  The water was luke-cold; the morning sun was warm.  When it was deep there was no surf and the waves came in like great wrinkles in a bedspread, gently lifting them on rounded bulges, then lowering them into hollows.

     That Jonathan Latimer sure could write!

© 2004 by John Fraser.  For more of John Fraser’s on-line commentary on thrillers and thriller writers, go to, where an earlier version of the first part of this overview first appeared.


Based on the listing in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.  Information on later printings was generally gathered from the details of books posted for sale on

JONATHAN (Wyatt) LATIMER (1906-1983).

    Murder in the Madhouse [Bill Crane]
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [The Crime Club], 1935
        Hurst (UK), 1935.
        Sun Dial Press, 1935/1940??
        * The Latimer Big Three [see separate listing below]
        Triangle, 1940.
        Tower, 1940.
             Paperback reprints:
        Popular Library #4, 1943.
        Jonathan Press J-69, 1950s  [digest-sized]
        No Exit Press (UK), 1988.
        IPL [= International Polygonics, Limited], 1989  [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]
        Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Ltd. (Canada), 1989 [trade paperback]
             Magazine appearance:
        Detective Mystery Novel Magazine, Winter 1948-49  [probably abridged]

    Headed for a Hearse  [Bill Crane] 
        Doubleday & Co. [The Crime Club], 1935
        Metheun (UK), 1936
        Sun Dial Press, 1937, as The Westland Case [photoplay edition]  
        Gregg Press, 1980 [Introduction by William L. DeAndrea]
        Oldcastle Books (UK), 1989.
             Paperback reprints:
        Mercury Mystery #38, 1940s, abridged [digest-sized]
        Century #136, 1950
        Jonathan Press Mystery J-84, 1950s,abridged [digest-sized]
        Dell #D196 [Dell Great Mystery Library #6], 1957, abridged
        Pan (UK), 1960
        Macfadden, 1964
        No Exit Press (UK), 1988
        IPL, 1990  [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]

        ● The novel was the basis for the movie THE WESTLAND CASE, Universal, 1937.  Stars: Preston Foster (Bill Crane), Carol Hughes, Barbara Pepper, Frank Jenks (Doc Williams), Astrid Allwyn, George Meeker, Theodore von Eltz.  Director: Christy Cabanne.  Screenwriter: Robertson White.

       The Lady in the Morgue [Bill Crane]
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [The Crime Club], 1936
        Metheum (UK), 1937.
        Sun Dial Press, 1937/1943?
        * The Latimer Big Three [see separate listing below]
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [later printing with cover photos from the movie], 1930s??
        Doubleday [The Crime Club: 25th Anniversary edition], 1953
        Lythway Press (UK), 1973.
           Paperback reprints:
        Pocket Books #246, 1943  [several printings]
        Dell, 1957  [Dell Great Mystery Library]
        Pan (UK), 1959.
        IPL, 1988.   [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]
        No Exit Press (UK), 1988.
           Magazine appearance:
    Triple Detective, Winter,1952  [probably abridged]

        ● The novel was the basis for the movie of the same name, Universal, 1938.  Stars: Preston Foster (Bill Crane), Patricia Ellis, Frank Jenks (Doc Williams), Tom Jackson, Bill (Gordon) Elliott.  Director: Otis Garrett.  Screenwriters: Eric Taylor, Robertson White.

       The Search for My Great-Uncle’s Head, as by Peter Coffin.
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [The Crime Club], 1937
        IPL, 1989, as by Jonathan Latimer  [hardcover]
           Paperback reprints:
        IPL, 1990, as by Jonathan Latimer    [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]

       The Dead Don’t Care  [Bill Crane]               
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [The Crime Club], 1938
        Methuen (UK), 1938.
        Sun Dial Press, 1939.  [May have cover photos from the movie]
        * The Latimer Big Three [see separate listing below]
           Paperback reprints:
        Methuen (UK), 1939.
        Popular Library #16, 1944.
        Mercury Mystery #182, 1950s, abridged.  [digest-sized]
        Macfadden, 1964.
        No Exit Press (UK), 1987.
        IPL, 1991/1993.   [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]
        Riverwood (Canada), 1997.  [trade paperback]
           Magazine appearances:
        Serialized in Collier’s as “A Queen’s Ransom”: dates including Dec 18, Dec 25, 1937; Jan 1, Jan 8, Jan 15, Jan 22, Jan 29, 1938  [condensed]
        Triple Detective, Spring 1950   [probably abridged]

    ● The novel was the basis for the movie THE LAST WARNING, Universal, 1939.  Stars: Preston Foster (Bill Crane), Kay Linaker, Frank Jenks (Doc Williams), E.E. Clive, Joyce Compton, Frances Robinson.  Director: Albert S. Rogell.  Screenwriter: Edmund L. Hartmann.

       Red Gardenias  [Bill Crane]
        Doubleday, Doran & Co. [The Crime Club], 1939               
        Methuen (UK), 1939.
        International Reader’s League, 1939
        Sun Dial Press, 1940.
            Paperback reprints:
        Mercury Mystery #55, 1940s  [digest-sized]
        Century #134,   [digest-sized]
        IPL, 1991  [May have been published as a trade paperback as well as in the smaller standard size.]
        Jonathan Press # J77, 1955, as Some Dames Are Deadly.  [digest-sized]
           Magazine appearance:
    Serialized in Collier’s: June 10, June 17, July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22, July 29, Aug 5, 1939.

        The Latimer Big Three
          Contains:  Murder in The Madhouse; The Lady In The Morgue; The Dead Don't Care  (Sun Dial Press, 1940)

        Dark Memory   [Adventure novel: African safari; borderline crime fiction.]
         Doubleday, Doran & Co. 1940
         Sun Dial Press, 1942.
           Paperback reprints:
         Century #100, 1948  [digest-sized]
         Permabooks P194, 1953.

Comment from John Fraser:  I have found my copy of Dark Memory and gone through it. There are no mystery/thriller/crime fiction aspects to it at all.  Nor is it an adventure novel, if we mean by that an extravagance of incidents, or a general coloration of melodrama.  The last hundred pages or so are for me the best, in which a couple of lovers, lost in the jungle, have to make their way back to safety after their companion dies after being attacked by a leopard, which also injures the man before being killed itself.  But the treatment is naturalistic – no dramatic fights with “natives” and the like.  The purpose of the safari is to kill and bring back some gorillas for, I think, scientific purposes.
    I believe the book might be best characterized, briefly, as a Hemingwayesque African safari novel .  There's a lot of Hemingwayesque stuff in it, though less so in those last hundred pages.

       Solomon’s Vineyard
        Methuen (UK), 1941. 
        Popular Library #301, 1950, paperback, as The Fifth Grave.  [abridged]
        Neville, 1982. [Limited edition, 300 copies, 26 additional bound in leather; first unexpurgated US edition]
        Chivers (UK) [Black Dagger Crime], 1992.
           Paperback reprints:
        Jonathan Press # J65 ,1950s, as The Fifth Grave  [digest-sized; abridged]
        Pan (UK), 1961.
        IPL, 1988.
        Xanadu (UK) [Blue Murder series], 1990.
            Magazine appearance:
        Mystery Book Magazine, August 1946, as The Fifth Grave  [abridged]

Comment from John Fraser:  I recently obtained a copy of the 1982 Neville edition of Solomon’s Graveyard.  In turning to the back I see that the book, one of three hundred, is signed by the author.  I’m not a collector, but it still gives me a thrill to think that he actually held the pen in his hand and maybe even kept the book flat with the other one.


    Sinners and Shrouds
      Simon & Schuster, 1955
      Methuen (UK), 1956
        Paperback reprints:
      Pocket #1336, 1956
      Pan (UK) #436, 1958
        Magazine appearance:
      Serialized in Collier’s: August 19, Sept 2, Sept 16, Sept 30, 1955.

    Black Is the Fashion for Dying
      Random House, 1959
      Methuen (UK), 1960, as The Mink-Lined Coffin
      Chivers (UK) [Black Dagger Crime], 1990.
        Paperback reprints:
      Pocket #6087, 1961
      New English Library (UK), 1963, as The Mink-Lined Coffin

   Jonathan Latimer - Screenplays.

1939    The Lone Wolf Manhunt.  Based on the mystery novel Red Masquerade by Louis Joseph Vance (Doubleday, 1921).  Columbia Pictures.  Stars: William Warren (as Michael Lanyard), Ida Lupino, Rita Hayworth.
1940    Phantom Raiders.  Story by Latimer; screenwriter: William R. Lipman.  MGM.  Stars: Walter Pidgeon (as Nick Carter), Donald Meek, Florence Rice.
1941.    Topper Returns.  Co-screenwriter: Gordon Douglas.  Hal Roach Studios.  Based on the characters created by Thorne Smith.  Stars: Roland Young (as Cosmo Topper), Joan Blondell, Carole Landis.
1942.    A Night in New Orleans.  Based on the mystery novel Sing a Song of Homicide by James R. Langham (Simon & Schuster, 1940).  Paramount.  Stars: Preston Foster (as Police Lt. Steve Abbott), Patricia Morrison, Albert Dekker.
1942.    The Glass Key.  Based on the crime novel by Dashiell Hammett.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Alan Ladd (as Ed Beaumont), Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Bonita Granville.
1942.    Whistling in Dixie.  Screenwriter: Nat Perrin; Latimer, uncredited contributor.  MGM.  Stars: Red Skelton (as Wally “The Fox” Benton, Ann Rutherford, George Bancroft.
1946.    Nocturne.  Co-screenwriter: Joan Harrison.  Story: Rowland Brown & Frank Fenton.  RKO.  Stars: George Raft, Lynn Bari, Virginia Huston.
1947.    They Won’t Believe Me.  Based on the crime novel by Gordon McDonell (Harrap & Co., Ltd., UK, 1947).  RKO.  Stars: Susan Hayward, Robert Young, Jane Greer.
1948.    The Big Clock.  Based on the mystery novel by Kenneth Fearing (Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1946).  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan.
1948.   Beyond Glory.  Co-screenwriters: William Wister Haines, George Marquis Warren.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Alan Ladd, Donna Reed, George Macready, George Coulouris.  [war]
1948.    Night Has a Thousand Eyes.  Co-screenwriter: Barré Lyndon.  Based on the mystery novel by Cornell Woolrich writing as George Hopley (Farrar & Rinehart, 1945).  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Gail Russell, John Lund, Virginia Bruce.
1948.    The Sealed Verdict.  Based on the mystery-adventure novel by Lionel Shapiro (Doubleday & Co., 1947).  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Ray Milland, Florence Marly, John Hoyt.
1949.  Alias Nick Beal.  Story by Mildred (Mindret) Lord.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Ray Milland, Audrey Totter, Thomas Mitchell, George Macready.
1950.    Copper Canyon.  Story by Richard English.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Ray Milland, Hedy Lamarr, Macdonald Carey, Mona Freeman.  [western]
1951.     The Redhead and the Cowboy.  Co-screenwriter: Liam O’Brien; story by Charles Marquis Warren.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Glenn Ford, Edmond O’Brien, Rhonda Fleming.  [Civil War western]
1952.     Submarine Command.  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: William Holden, Nancy Olsen, William Bendix.  [World War II]
1953.    Botany Bay.  Based on the novel by James Norman Hall & Charles Nordhoff (Little, Brown & Co., 1941).  Paramount Pictures.  Stars: Alan Ladd, James Mason, Patricia Medina.  [historical adventure].
1953.    Plunder of the Sun.  Based on the novel by David Dodge.  Wayne-Fellows/Warner Brothers.  Stars: Alan Ladd (as Al Colby), Diana Lynn, Patricia Medina.
1956.    Back from Eternity.  Story by Richard Carroll.  RKO.  Stars: Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger, Phyllis Kirk.  [adventure]
1957.    The Unholy Wife.  Co-screenwriter: William Durkee.  RKO.  Stars: Diana Dors, Rod Steiger, Tom Tryon, Marie Windsor.
1958.    The Whole Truth.  Based on the play by Philip Mackie.  Columbia/Valiant Films.  Stars: Stewart Granger, Donna Reed, George Sanders.

        Based in part from information available at

Comment from John Fraser:  None of the Bill Crane movies seem to be available, which doesn’t surprise me, but ha!, Preston Foster was in THE LAST MILE (1932), which is described as:

    “A gut-wrenching, realistic look at life on death row, based on a play by John Wexley, stars Howard Phillips as a wrongly convicted prisoner awaiting execution, Preston Foster as a hardened criminal and Albert J. Smith as a cruel turnkey.  69 min.”   [Movies Unlimited]

    I betcha Latimer, not yet a screenwriter himself, took elements from that for Headed for a Hearse, with its innocent man, hardened criminal, and unpleasant turnkey.

    Note:  See a later letter from John in which he follows up on this comment.

Addenda:  John also discovered the following available for sale on-line:

    Red Harvest - Original Typescript for the Unpublished Screenplay: [Hammett, Dashiell] Jonathan Latimer.  1941. Original typescript for Jonathan Latimer's unproduced screenplay treatment of Dashiell Hammett's classic first novel.

Jonathan Latimer - television plays (partial).

MARKHAM (CBS; 30 min)
    No further information.  Said to have written 10 episodes in all.

HONG KONG (ABC; 60 min)   Said to have written 5 episodes, including:
    4.    Oct 19, 1960        Freebooter.   [co-writer: Louis Pelletier]
    5.    Oct 26, 1960.        The Jade Empress.
    12.    Dec 14, 1960.        The Dragon Cup.
PERRY MASON  (CBS; 60 min)   See the revised list below.

COLUMBO (NBC; 90 min)
    11.    Oct 15, 1972.        The Greenhouse Jungle

        Based in part from information available at

CLOSING COMMENT: You may have noted that I found some difficulty working out the various Latimer editions put out by IPL, and as a direct result I see the need for a complete checklist of all of the crime fiction that IPL did.  I seem to remember seeing one at one time, but to this point I have not yet tracked it down.  In the likelihood that such a list does not exist, a project that is now is the works is to produce one.  Any assistance would be welcome, including a shove in the right direction toward one that already exists.
    And while the Crime Club series of movies made of Latimer’s early books do not seem to be available on DVD, I have been told that they do exist on video and can be fairly easily obtained.  Any volunteers?  Raise your hands and report back soon.

       The above material first appeared in Mystery*File 46, November 2004.

LETTER FROM MIKE NEVINS [appearing in Mystery*File 47, Feb 2005]

    Back in the late Seventies, when I was a member of the University of California’s Mystery Library Board, and we had an annual meeting at UC’s San Diego campus, I almost had a chance to talk with Jonathan Latimer, who lived in nearby La Jolla and whose phone number I had.  When I called and explained who I was, his wife said that he literally could not speak to me: he had just gotten out of the hospital after after surgery for throat cancer.  He died before I tried to call again.
    My files show that he scripted a total of 31 PERRY MASON episodes, the title and dates of which are as follows, an asterisk meaning the script was based on a Gardner novel.

   10/18/58    *TCOT Curious Bride         [TCOT = The Case of the ... ]
   01/24/59    *TCOT Foot-Loose Doll
   10/24/59    TCOT Blushing Pearls
   10/31/59    TCOT Startled Stallion
   02/27/60    *TCOT Mythical Monkeys
   03/26/60    TCOT Bashful Burro
   04/09/60    TCOT Crying Cherub

   11/19/60    TCOT Nine Dolls
   02/04/61    *TCOT Waylaid Wolf
   04/08/61    TCOT Cowardly Lion
   06/10/61    TCOT Guilty Clients

   09/30/61    TCOT Missing Melody
   11/25/61    TCOT Left-Handed Liar
   04/14/62    TCOT Borrowed Baby

   09/27/62    TCOT Bogus Books
   10/04/62    TCOT Capricious Corpse
   12/06/62    TCOT Lurid Letter
   02/07/63    TCOT Libelous Locket
   03/07/63    TCOT Golden Oranges

   09/26/63    TCOT Nebulous Nephew
   10/03/63    TCOT Deadly Verdict
   10/17/63   *TCOT Drowsy Mosquito
   10/31/63   *TCOT Reluctant Model
   01/16/64    TCOT Capering Camera
   02/27/64    TCOT Frightened Fisherman

   09/24/64    TCOT Missing Button
   10/01/64    TCOT Paper Bullets
   12/10/64    TCOT Wooden Nickels
   02/11/65    TCOT Feather Cloak
   04/08/65    TCOT Gambling Lady

   11/28/65    TCOT Fraudulent Fraulein

    It's been decades since I watched PERRY MASON but I still think “The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll” was one of the finest episodes based on a Gardner novel, and “The Case of the Capricious Corpse” one of the finest originals in the series' 10-year run.  What a shame that I didn't get the chance to tell Latimer so!

LETTER FROM JOHN FRASER  [appearing in Mystery*File 47, Feb 2005]

    As a followup to the Latimer article, I’ve now watched THE LAST MILE, the condemned-cells movie from 1932, with Preston Foster excellent as an unrelentingly tough guy.  Apart from its having condemned men side by side behind bars, one of them innocent (and pretty hysterical about it), I can’t say I was getting fore-flashes of Headed for a Hearse.  But maybe it was the only movie of its kind, so a stimulus for Latimer could have been there
    It was adapted from a stage play, I imagine, since so much of the action takes place in that one large room with its slightly curving row of cells holding seven or eight men, including a black, a hispanic, and, to judge from a couple of unfussy lines of dialogue, a gay.  It was against capital punishment and surprisingly effective, with a pre-Code verisimilitude in the presentation of characters, both prisoners and prison personnel, that got lost in the stereotypings of the post-Code Thirties.


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