JO PAGANO – The Condemned. Prentice-Hall, hardcover, 1947. Perma Star, paperback, March 1954/ Also published as: Die Screaming (Zenith, paperback, 1958).

THE SOUND OF FURY. United Artists, 1950. Re-released as Try and Get Me!. Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, Richard Carlson, Lloyd Bridges, Katherine Locke. Adele Jergens. Screenplay by Jo Pagano, based on his novel The Condemned. Director: Cyril Endfield.

   Philosophers and scientists posit the existence of a Life-Force, an energy behind the existence (and persistence) of life under the most adverse and unlikely conditions throughout the- world, and perhaps the universe. Well, I’ve come to suspect the existence of a Pulp-force, an irresistible pressure. that takes profound ideas and classic works of art, music and literature, vulgarizes them (This is not always a bad thing.) and turns them into Pop Art. So we get rock songs based on themes from classical music, Classics Illustrated comic books, and films like ROMEO AND JULIET (1996) and WAR AND PEACE (1956) with Henry Fonda as a Russian aristocrat.

   Case in point is a novel written by Jo Pagano in 1947, THE CONDEMNED. It opens with a taut, engrossing kidnap-and-murder, then flashes back to the events and social conditions that led Howard Tyler, veteran and family man, to hook up with sociopath Jerry Slocum for a series of petty robberies that culminate in tragedy. Pagano handles the action well enough – even memorably sometimes — and ratchets up the suspense quite well toward the middle, as a drunken and remorseful Howard tries to keep a grip on reality, but CONDEMNED is also bulked up with pages (And pages. And more pages.) of psychosociological ramblings, as if Pagano were determined to write an “important” book, and it stows up the momentum of what could have been a very fine read, in the Jim Thompson vein. There’s also a coda in the narrative (Based on a true story) that could have had dandy dramatic impact, but here seems merely moralizing.

   THE CONDEMNED was turned into a movie in 1950, released as THE SOUND OF FURY, directed by Cyril Endfield (Better known for epics like ZULU and SANDS OF THE KALAHARI) and adapted by the author, whose screen credits also include JUNGLE MOON MEN. It’s a creditable effort, with effective performances from Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges (Not usually the most evocative actors in the business) and truly moving turns by Kathteen Ryan as Howard’s worried wife, and Katherine Locke as a pathetic floozie. And I mean they take stock parts and really make them live, helped considerably by Pagano’s writing and Endfield’s feel for character. There are also some effective stylistic flourishes — swiped from other B-movies, but useful nonetheless — like a drunken binge filmed entirely in tilted camera angles, or a robbery shot in one take from inside the getaway car.

   But there are also Important Messages to contend with, and the notion that this movie has to Say Something. So a handful of well-meaning characters try to tell us moviegoers the Meaning of All This, and they get awfully tiresome in the process. Not enough to completely kill the film, but they cripple it up pretty bad.

   And then the Pulp Force began working: SOUND OF FURY (Geeze, what a pretentious title!) was released with all due self-importance — The San Francisco Chronicle made it their “Premier of the Week” — and promptly died a dog’s death at the box office. Nothing daunted, the producers re-titled it TRY AND GET ME! and re-released it with lurid ads to play up its trashy aspects, and a few months after SOUND OF FURY made its pretentious debut, TRY AND GET ME –· the same film in a different wrapper — was unreeling at grind houses and burlesque shows.

   As for the source novel, THE CONDEMNED re-surfaced years later in drug stores and bus-stations as DIE SCREAMING.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #40, September 2005.