A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Richard Diamond, Private Eye – The Betty Moran Case

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Richard Diamond, Private Eye – The Betty Moran Case

Diamond_PowellGregg“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era termsp for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

The Betty Moran Case (Click here to listen to it before reading the essay) aired on May 26, 1949. It was the fourth episode, and it opened up with the typical PI voice-over, in what is one big info dump. Richard Diamond is in his one-room office on Broadway, explaining that he does just enough work to pay the bills and take his (rich) girlfriend, Helen Asher, out once in awhile. Diamond, who was in the military, and was also a New York City cop, works hard for his clients, but doesn’t want to work too hard, or too often. Quite a few episodes begin with Powell in his office, bored, when a client comes in. Sometimes, it’s a thug with a warning.

In February of 1945, the film Murder My Sweet transformed song and dance man Dick Powell into a hardboiled tough guy. That summer, he starred as a radio detective in Rogue’s Gallery. He stayed in the part for two more runs, though 1946, then left the show, while hardboiled/noir films continued in 1947 and 1948. That second year, he also recorded an audition episode for a new radio series, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. It went on to a long run as a show about a free-lance insurance investigator. Bob Bailey became the most successful actor in the role, which Powell passed on. He had something else in mind.

April 24, 1949, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, aired over NBC radio. Powell largely recreated his Richard Rogue character, adding in a song every episode. But the new show dropped the part where he got knocked out and talked to his subconscious, helping solve the case. That (odd) bit was at the heart of Richard Rogue. Powell recorded somewhere around 150 shows as Richard Diamond, and it’s just about my favorite series. He later produced a television version, starring David Jansen. It was sorely lacking the humor of the radio show.

This episode opens with a woman being visited by the guy who is blackmailing her. She’s had enough, and fortified by liquor, blasts him with a gun. Then, she takes a drink, says “Here’s to nothing” and we hear another gunshot. Her name is Betty Moran, and she’s front page news. Literally, as a seedy-sounding character buys a paper on the street and, talking to himself (a lot of that in radio shows), says that her husband is ripe for more blackmailing.

William Moran, said husband, comes to Dollar’s office, where the PI has his laundry hanging on lines strung across the office. He deadpans to the puzzled client, that the soap is free this way. When the man compliments him on a pair of argyle socks – presumably hanging on a line, – Dollar says they were sent down to him by a former client: from Sing Sing (a prison, ‘up the river’).

Diamond makes a couple of rude quips, which Moran ignores. The police are convinced it’s a murder/suicide, and the case is closed. Someone (who we can assume is the newspaper reader), called Moran that morning and told him that the blackmail would continue. Moran knows there are some letters from before he married his wife that were being used against her. He’s been to the police, who are content with the suicide solution. He wants Diamond to get the people who drive his wife to kill herself. The ‘friend of Mack Grayson’ surely played a part, and Moran wants him caught. Presumably it would help with blackmail problem as well.

This is going to be a good-paying case, as the client tells him that money is no object, and he gets started by leaving a message with Helen’s butler. He might be late for their date. Diamond missing dates, or being pretty late, with Helen because he’s on a case, is a common event. More on the two of them later.

Diamond heads down to the local police station, where his old friend, Lieutenant Walt Levinson, who he was on the force with, is a regular fixture. Levinson was originally played by Ed Begley (the elder), and he’s terrific – a real highlight of the show. Fortunately, he has a significant role throughout the episodes.

The other regular cop is his assistant, Sergeant Otis. He’s a dumber version of Nigel Bruce’s Doctor Watson. He is consistently stupid, whines if Diamond picks on him too much, and always want to turn the siren on when he rides in the police car. Otis does get in a dig at Diamond once in awhile, but he is doomed to lose the exchange. He’s such a doofus that even Levinson picks on him. He is behind a desk as Diamond goes to Levinson’s office. He fires the first salvo.

“Tell me shamus, how does one get to be a great, big, private detective? Saving box tops?”

“You have to observe things, Otis my boy. For instance, one look at your shirt, and I can tell you’ve been eating well for a week. Why don’t you either get it cleaned, or stick it in a pressure cooker?”

Diamond goes in, and greets Levinson, who immediately gets worried. Any time Diamond shows up, or even calls him at work, the lieutenant’s stomach gets upset. He is constantly referencing the need for his bicarbonate (soda), which is baking soda, and was used for stomach pains.

“Now wait a minute. If you’ve got a body somewhere, take it to another precinct.”

“I’m a little short right now, but maybe I can dig one up. Hoo hoo hoo.”

It’s rare for Diamond to acknowledge his quips. He just tosses them out in a steady stream.

Levinson says that the two bodies found “were as dead as Otis on a double date.” Poor Otis. Wilms Herbert plays both Otis and Francis, Helen’s elderly butler.

Diamond heads off to a bar to see a Skid Row wino named Wilber Truett, who was Grayson’s only known friend (which seems odd). He’s an erudite drunk, and entertaining, though his speeches seem a little long. He drinks so much that his DTs have hallucinations. With the promise of a bottle of wine, Diamond gets Truett to tell him where Grayson’s friend, Leo Fink, lives. Now, Levinson had told Diamond that Truett was Grayson’s only friend. Bit of an error there. But we move along regardless!

There’s a car out front of Fink’s place, and when Diamond knocks on the door, Otis opens it. Here we go again.

“Well good afternoon Sergeant, I’m taking a census. How long ago did you die?”

Levinson calls out from inside, “Otis, who is that?”

“Diamond, who else?”

“I didn’t ask for a quick quiz on well-known> personalities. Let him in.”

Truly, Ed Begley as Levinson is an absolute treat in this show. I think he’s the second-best part of the series. He supports Diamond, but he also gives him grief. Sometimes he tosses off his own quips at Diamond’s expense. His interactions with Otis range from frustrated to kind. And his exasperation with the private eye enhance the stories. He’s honest, and not dumb. Just a great police character for a PI series.

Diamond and Levinson have the kind of exchange that makes this such a fun PI show:

Diamond: “I’ll bet he’s dead.”

Levinson: “You’ll bet who’s dead?”

Diamond: “You know who’s dead.”

Levinson: “Sure I know who’s dead. Who do you think is dead?”

Diamond: “The guy I came up to see.”

Levinson: “Well, who did you come up to see?”

Diamond: “I think it’s the guy who’s dead.”

Levinson: “Don’t you know?”

Diamond: “No, I asked you.”

Levinson: “Well, I’m telling you.”

Diamond: “You told me nothing.”

Levinson: “Look, why are you up here?”

Diamond: “Because I’m looking for a guy.”

Levinson: “What guy?”

Diamond: “I think it’s the guy who’s dead?”

Levinson: “Who’s dead.”

Diamond: “Ah, he’s on third. Don’t you know.”

Otis: “I think I know, Lieutenant.”

Levinson: (To Otis) “You shut up.” (Back to Diamond) “Of course I know.”

Diamond: “All right, all right. If you’re gonna hold out on your old pal…”

Levinson: “Now wait a minute, wait a minute, how did we get into this thing? Otis.”

Otis: “Here’s your bicarbonate, all mixed.”

Levinson: “All right now, let’s start again.”

Diamond: “Walt, who’s dead.”

Levinson: “Ohhh, let’s not have two bodies up here.”

Diamond_OTRCartoonLove it!! Blake Edwards wrote many of the early episodes of this show, and Edwards, who later became famous for The Pink Panther movies, knew humor. For me, Richard Diamond is the most entertaining, ‘witty’ PI of that era. I much prefer this humor to Howard Duff’s in The New Adventures of Sam Spade. Powell is the perfect choice for this kind of character. I like his hardboiled/noir movies, but I’ve commented that when he’s being overly serious, he makes a face like he’s got diarrhea. And his lines are delivered very clipped. He gets to breathe in Richard Diamond, and his tough guy humor is just right, without being too much.

This Abbot and Costello scene comes to an end when Levinson tells Diamond that the body is that of Leo Fink, who has been dead for about ten minutes, shot in the head twice from a Luger.

Diamond asks if Levinson checked the prints on the highball glass to see if they were from Betty Moran’s right or left hand. The lieutenant asks why it matters. Diamond is cryptic and heads off to talk to Truett again.

Down on the street, a man puts a gun in Diamond’s back. Getting picked up by gunmen is not a rarity in his life. And it’s the voice of the guy who read the newspaper on the street. Diamond grabs the gun and gains the advantage. And it’s a Luger. He starts asking questions of the recalcitrant crook. Diamond usually gets smacked around in every episode. But he’s also more than willing to beat up a bad guy, either for information, or for what he’s done (one man smacks around Helen, which was a bad idea).

“Who sent you after me?”

“I don’t know.” Diamond punches him.

Same thing again.

The crook gives him a name, but he admits he knows it’s a phony.

When Diamond asks where he’s to collect his payment for the job, the guy doesn’t respond.

“I thought you’d gotten over that stubborn streak.” Punch. He tells him now.

He finally clams up when Diamond asks him who killed Leo Fink. He says he’ll take the beating instead of talking. Diamond gets in one more punch when he says he doesn’t want to go up to Fink’s apartment to be turned over to the police. He leaves him handcuffed to Otis, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

Diamond makes a quick stop at the Homicide division to get answer about the fingerprints on the highball glass. We still don’t know what that’s about.

And now we head down the closing stretch, and business is about to pick up. The crook (whose name we still don’t know) was going to get paid off on a ferry as it crossed the river. I’d be suspicious the payoff would be a bullet and a permanent swim, myself. Diamond gets on the ferry and waits to be approached at a railing on the deck. He is approached by a guy needing a match, but he assesses his work clothes and dismisses him. Nice bit of detective work there.

He decides to go looking for the contact, but “..finding a killer in that fog was like trying to find your car keys in a mine shaft.” He pulls his hat down low and sidles up next to a man at the rail. It’s William Moran, his employer. Diamond discovers the gunman is named Louie Osgood, and he tells Moran that he implicated Moran, who trips himself up. Diamond has outsmarted him.

The fingerprint angle that Diamond had been chasing is finally brought to light. Betty Moran had fired the gun with her right hand. And the fingerprints on the glass were from the same hand. Which means after she killed Grayson, somebody else shot her. She couldn’t hold the glass and shot herself at the same time.

And he tells him that if Louie Osgood didn’t shoot her, the only suspect left is Moran. Who makes a break for it and takes a shot at Diamond, running off into the fog. Instead of jumping overboard, he stays on the ship. Diamond sees him from the light of an open door and shoots him, though Moran staggers away. Diamond cautiously follows and sees a trail of blood heading down into the ship’s machinery.

Using an old trick, he tosses a metal wrench down some stairs and identifies Moran’s position from the flashes of the gunshots. Diamond quietly crawls along a catwalk until he’s directly above Moran, who is bleeding heavily. I’m continually amazed how good guys creep along metal catwalks without making any noise whatsoever. It’s like a superhero power.

He calls out, gunshots sound, and Powell climbs down and confronts the dying Moran. Of course, he confesses that he came back home as his wife was taking that drink. He picked the gun up off of the floor and shot her, and put her prints on the gun to make it look like suicide.

He hated his wife. And he wanted her money. He gave the incriminating letters to Grayson to drive her to drink enough that Moran could have her committed to a sanitarium. He took advantage of the situation he walked into, to put in place a suicide frame. But when Fink put the bite on him, he hired Diamond to find Fink for him. Then he hired Osgood to kill Fink, and then Diamond.

 Diamond_PowellSuitMoran dies as Diamond was recounting this convoluted plot, but we don’t doubt he’s got it all correct.

It was a pretty good case for Diamond. He captured one killer, killed a murderer, and proved that a suicide was a murder, by finding a clue that the police had, but didn’t figure out. And he roughed up a bad guy who was going to kill him. All while trading witty comments with Levinson and Otis.

There was only one thing left to do. A vast majority of the shows closed with Diamond and Helen together. She usually wants him to sing ‘nicely,’ and he usually responds with something silly at first, but gives in. The ones where the neighbor upstairs complains about Diamond’s singing are fun.

She’s sore he’s so late for their evening, but as she always does, warms up to him when he turns on the charm. When she says he smells nice and asks what cologne he’s wearing, he says, “Gunpowder – 38.”

As she does sometimes, she says they should get married. Diamond mentioned in the first episode that he’s dumb for not tying the knot with her. But he changes the subject instantly when she brings it up, as he does here.

She gets mad again, but he canoodles with her and she gets over it. He sings again, and there’s more canoodling. The episode ends with Frances walking in on them, which he does periodically. He’s always flustered to discover them fooling around. Helen was played perfectly by Virginia Gregg.

I like almost every episode of this show. And it’s guaranteed I’ll do a post on To Guard A Seal, which is probably the most memorable episode of the entire series. But I think this is a great episode. The characters are true to form, the dialogue is strong, the plot is a good one, with an ‘obvious situation’ at the beginning, which isn’t the case. This is a pretty good example of a typical Richard Diamond episode, and that’s a compliment. You can find this episode, and about a hundred more, here.

And just this past Saturday, my Old Time Radio buddy Dave Truesdale, did a post on the very same episode! How about that?

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2020 Series (11)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled May on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Some Hardboiled streaming options
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled June on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bullets or Ballots (Humphrey Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Phililp Marlowe – Private Eye (Powers Boothe)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Cool and Lam
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: All Through the Night (Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled July on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: YTJD – The Emily Braddock Matter (John Lund)


A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2019 Series (15)
Back Deck Pulp Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on Doc Savage
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Paul Bishop on Lance Spearman
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: A Man Called Spade
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hard Boiled Holmes
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon on Montreal Noir
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on The Bad Guys of Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on The Spider
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John D. MacDonald & Mickey Spillane
A (Black Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bill Crider on The Brass Cupcake

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2018 Series (31)
Diamond_RecordWith a (Black) Gat: George Harmon Coxe
With a (Black) Gat: Raoul Whitfield
With a (Black) Gat: Some Hard Boiled Anthologies
With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935
A (Black) Gat in the hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D.L. Champion’s Rex Sackler
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – October, 1933
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – Spring, 2017
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & The Hard Boiled Hero’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam From Hard Case Crime
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: MORE Cool & Lam!!!!
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part Two)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Maynard’s ‘The Yellow Peril’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew P Salmon’s ‘Frederick C. Davis’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Rory Gallagher’s ‘Continental Op’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #3
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #4
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #5
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw on Writing
A (Black) Gat in Hand: Back Deck Pulp #6
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Black Mask Dinner

Bob_Houston_HatCroppedBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. It returned in June, 2020.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV,  V, VI and XXI.

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That was a fun episode, thanks for highlighting it!

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