A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Max Allan Collins:

HARRY GREY – The Hoods. Crown, hardcover, 1952. Paperback reprint: Signet Giant S999, 1953; several later printings. Film: 1984, as Once Upon a Time in America. Director: Sergio Leone.


   This sprawling novel chronicles the career of a mob of Jewish gangsters from New York’s Lower East Side, from their beginnings as a kid gang to their rise in the world of big-time organized crime.

   The narrator is Noodles the Shiv, whose intelligence and sensitivity outdistance his compatriots Maxie, Patsy, Dominick, and Cockeye, but whose deeds are every bit as cold-blooded.

   Grey’s novel is exciting, with various heists and gang-war incidents vividly portrayed, and his portraits of mobsters are believable, backing up the author’s claim to be “an ex-hood himself,” as Mickey Spillane’s cover blurb on the 1953 Signet paperback edition puts it. But the episodic nature of the book makes The Hoods a fast-moving novel that lacks narrative drive.

   The Hoods was a paperback best seller, going through several editions and many printings, but its latter-day claim to fame is as the source for Italian director Sergio Leone’s controversial film Once Upon A Time in America, the screenplay of which was largely written by American mystery writer Stuart Kaminsky.

   Leone’s magnificent gangster epic (starring Robert DeNiro as Noodles — released in a restructured, truncated version as well as in its full 277 minutes of running time) seems destined to be the subject of discussion among film buffs for decades to come.

   Inexplicably, the “movie tie-in” edition published by New American Library was a novelization of the film, rather than a reissue of Grey’s original novel.

   Grey’s other two novels, Call Me Duke (1955) and Portrait of a Mobster (1958), are also gangster tales, the latter novel a fictionalized autobiography of Dutch Schultz.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.