MAX EHRLICH – Spin the Glass Web. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1952. Bantam #1096, paperback, 1953.

Filmed as The Glass Web. Universal International, 1953. Edward G. Robinson, John Forsythe, Kathleen Hughes, Marcia Henderson, Richard Denning, Hugh Sanders. Screenplay: Robert Blees & Leonard Lee. Director: Jack Arnold.

MAX EHRLICH Spin the Glass Web

   Max Ehrlich started writing for newspapers, moved on to Radio in the late ’30s and Television in the ’50s. In between times he wrote a few books, including Spin the Glass Web (Harper, 1952) which draws on his experience in live TV to craft a neat tale of a not-quite-innocent screen-writer caught up in murder.

   The story opens on Don Newell, head writer of a TV show of rather questionable taste but undoubted allure — they dramatize recent crimes as sensationally as possible. Don is married and blessed with children, and the story starts as he decides to buy off his mercenary mistress Paula — or kill her, depending on the moment.

   As he makes his way to her apartment, we flashback to their meeting, his seduction and attendant complications, including blackmail. The third-person narrative unfolds a bit further and we find Paula has a criminal husband knocking around somewhere, and another TV writer on the string: Henry Hinge, a pudgy, detail-obsessed, technical advisor with ambitions of getting Newell’s job.

   Flashbacks and unfolding done with, Don turns up at Paula’s apartment, finds her already murdered, and slowly realizes his problems are only beginning.

   Spin never generates much mystery; it’s pretty clear early on who the killer is and how he’s going to trip himself up, but the momentum of the tale comes from Newell’s frantic efforts to get out from under Hinge’s compulsive poking around into the details of the case, and the effort of trying to act natural around his increasingly suspicious wife.

MAX EHRLICH Spin the Glass Web

   Ehrlich spins this out rather effectively, using as a backdrop the producer’s decision to dramatize Paula’s murder for the show Don has to write: the closer the show comes to air time, the tighter the web Hinge spins around the hapless, haunted Newell.

SPOILER ALERT: I have to mention here that although, as I said, the killer and his undoing are telegraphed early on, Ehrlich finishes the book by cranking up the old deus ex machina and taking it out for a spin.

   The result is dramatically satisfying but hardly convincing as the getting-away-with-it killer is gunned down by a passing policeman who sees him running in the night.

   Now when I was a kid, you could get shot and killed for running away from a cop and not stopping when he ordered you to. I mean, I never tried it myself, but I saw it on the News a few times, and it was featured in a couple of movies, most notably The Prowler and Woman in the Window.

   By the time I was wearing a badge and gun, the rules had tightened up a bit, but I still had the chance once to legally shoot a fleeing felon in the back; couldn’t do it, though.

   When it came right down to it and I was squeezing the trigger, I suddenly said to myself, “No, you better hadn’t,”and stopped. (I ended up catching the burglar when he ran into a chicken-wire fence.) Anyway, whenever I see this bit in a book or movie, I always recall that moment and wonder how often it happened in what we call Real Life.

   Getting back to Ehrlich’s book, it was filmed the next year as The Glass Web “in Amazing 3-D” at Universal by the redoubtable Jack Arnold, who also brought the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the screen and detailed the domestic life of the Incredible Shrinking Man.

MAX EHRLICH Spin the Glass Web

   It’s a solid job of film-making, with John Forsythe suitably harried as the philandering writer, Edward G. Robinson (recalling his role in Double Indemnity) playing the obsessed Hinge, and a very effective Kathleen Hughes as the predatory Paula, whom the writers contrive to kill at the start of the movie and kill again later on.

   There’s a wonderful scene early in the film, well-played and tightly-written, between Robinson and Hughes that sketches their pathetic relationship perfectly. And if the wrap-up goes a bit over the top, it at least makes for fun watching.

Editorial Comment:   You can’t make it out it, I’m sure, but on the front cover of the Harper hardcover edition up above, it reads: “Your Money Back If You Can Resist Breaking The Seal.”

   Which makes this a Harper Sealed Mystery that was missed in Victor Berch’s checklist of the same. The previous series ended in 1934, some 18 years earlier. Are there any others that came along later? We’ll find out.

MAX EHRLICH Spin the Glass Web