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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Carroll John Daly & the Birth of Hardboiled Pulp

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Carroll John Daly & the Birth of Hardboiled Pulp

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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Quiz time: Who invented the hard-boiled school of fiction? And who was the first hard-boiled private eye? Hint – Dashiell Hammett is not part of the answer. Another Hint – if you answered Carroll John Daly and Race Williams, not bad, but you’d only be half right.

In December of 1922, Daly’s “The False Burton Combs” appeared in Black Mask Magazine, and the hard-boiled school was born. Combs is not a private eye, so that’s not the answer. He is ‘a gentleman adventurer’ (though not of the Victorian Era kind) who agrees to take on someone’s identity and then proceeds to ooze toughness all over Nantucket. He is a completely one-dimensional character and it’s B-grade pulp. But it’s the first of its kind.

In April of 1923, “It’s All in the Game” (which I’ve yet to read), with an unnamed protagonist, was printed. And on May 15, 1923, “Three Gun Terry” gave us Three Gun Terry Mack, first of the unnumbered hardboiled private eyes to follow for almost a century.

In June, 1923, the first Race Williams story, “Knights of the Open Palm,” appeared in Black Mask and it is this story which many folks erroneously point to as the first one to feature a hard boiled private eye. In case you’re wondering, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op made his debut in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Yes, Hammett was better. But simply, he wasn’t first.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand is Back!

A (Black) Gat in the Hand is Back!

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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Heading into the summer of 2018, I decided I wanted to write some hard-boiled/pulp essays at Black Gate. I had covered the topic a little during my three year run with the mystery-themed The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes. Black Gate being an award-winning fantasy site, naturally I continue to find mystery subjects to write about. Why do things the easy way?

Initially, I was focusing on stories I liked in Otto Penzler’s Black Lizard Big Book of Pulp Stories, (which I’ll be talking about again next week), and I opened up with a Flash Casey story from George Harmon Coxe. And it ran all the way until December 31, when I finally wrapped up that initial series. I got some friends to help me in the summer of 2019, and there was another run in 2020. So, maybe not-so-surprisingly, it’s back for another summer of essays from the mean streets.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam from Hard Case Crime!

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam from Hard Case Crime!

I say Erle Stanley Gardner, and you say…Ed Jenkins? Lester Leith? Paul Pry? Stop that!! All correct, but we were looking for Perry Mason. Probably the most famous defense lawyer in fiction, Mason made Gardner the best-selling author in the world at the time of his death. Raymond Burr is forever linked in minds as the picture of Mason.

But my favorite books from Gardner are those featuring his duo of Cool and Lam. And Hard Case Crime has released their fourth and final volume featuring the mismatched pair. Top of the Heap, Turn on the Heat, and The Count of 9, were all previously reissued. And as I wrote about here, Hard Case published the previously unreleased second novel, The Knife Slipped. William and Morrow Company had objected to the content and declined to publish it upon completion. Gardner moved right along and wrote Turn on the Heat, which became number two, released in January of 1940. There would be twenty-seven more books, with the final, All Grass Isn’t Green, hitting shelves in 1970. And The Knife Slipped joined the list in 2016.

Kudos to Hard Case for getting some of this series back in print. The paperbacks from Dell and Bantam can be found used, but not always on the cheap. And getting them in good condition can be a bit difficult. I myself don’t even have all 29 yet, and I’m a C&L fanboy. It’s good that Hard Case has made it easy to buy a couple of these books. And of course, it was FANTASTIC to find a lost Cool and Lam title.

If you’ve not read Cool and Lam, the widowed Bertha Cool runs a detective agency, and she hires the disbarred, down on-his-luck Donald Lam: at slave wages. His cunning and sneakiness produce results and he pushes his way into a partnership in book five.

Bertha LOVES money. She basks in the fees that Donald brings in, but she incessantly complains about the razor-thin line he walks with the law. And about his expenses, which are not at all unreasonable. She’s just so cheap she makes Scrooge look generous.

This constant friction makes for an entertaining duo. As Donald writes,

‘At that, our partnership would probably have split up long ago if it hadn’t been so profitable. Money in the bank represented the most persuasive argument in Bertha’s life, and when wit came to a showdown where the dissolution of the partnership was threatened, Bertha could always manage to control her irascible temper.’

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

Dollar_Powell
Powell as Phlip Marlowe

“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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Dick Powell was Johnny Dollar? Well, no, not exactly. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, was a very successful radio show, which ran for over 800 episodes, covering thirteen years. It easily outlasted many competing programs, such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, and The (New) Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Dollar was “the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account,” though he started out as more of a typical private eye. Which can also be said of Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer, Perry Mason.

In December of 1948, Dick Powell auditioned for the new show, recording the episode Milford Brooks III. With movies such as 1944’s Murder My Sweet, and 1947’s Johnny O’Clock, the popular song-and-dance man had carved out a niche as an unlikely hardboiled star. He’s actually my favorite movie Marlowe, and I wrote about Johnny O’Clock here at Black Gate. Here’s the episode, for your listening pleasure.

He had also spent the previous two years as Richard Rogue in the rather unusual PI radio show, Rogue’s Gallery. Like many shows of the time, Rogue’s Gallery had a lack of stability in network, time slot and even renewal, and Powell left after 1947, replaced by Barry Sullivan. This left him available to try out for Johnny Dollar. The original title was Yours Truly, Lloyd London, but was presumably changed to avoid trouble with the well-known insurance company.

However, it appears that Powell decided to pass on the part to pursue a different radio opportunity; Richard Diamond, Private Eye (another of my favorites). So, actor Charles Russell was given the part. This essay is going to talk mostly about Powell’s audition, but will go beyond that focus.

In this earliest incarnation, Powell plays a somewhat light-hearted version of Dollar, though he’s still more of a typical private eye than a distinctive insurance investigator. His witty patter is consistent throughout, and he even hums ‘Slow Boat to China;’ a tip of the fedora to his Hollywood musical background. In fact, Powell comes across as pretty similar to his next part, Richard Diamond.

Early on, a young man he’s dealing with bites him, which later lets Dollar make a cryptic comment that “Let’s just say, he put the bite on me.” That comes just after saying, “That kid’s liquor sure can hold him.” Very much like Diamond, Powell’s Dollar is quick with a quip. Which is fine. But it’s more prevalent here than it would be with other actors in the role.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Philip Marlowe – Private Eye (Boothe)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Philip Marlowe – Private Eye (Boothe)

Marlowe_BootheSuit“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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

In April of 1983, HBO aired the first episode of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye. Powers Boothe played Raymond Chandler’s world weary detective. I am a big fan of the movies which Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet) and Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep) made from Chandler’s novels. But neither man played the character very true to the books.

Picking Iron (trivia) – Powell was a successful song and dance man when he was quite unexpectedly cast in Murder My Sweet. He nailed the part and it was the first of four hardboiled movies out of his next five: all good flicks. It allowed him to recreate his  Hollywood career. It also made him perfect for the light-hearted, singing radio detective, Richard Diamond.

Season one covered five stories: “The Pencil,” “The King in Yellow,” “Finger Man,” “Nevada Gas,” and “Smart Aleck Kill.” Season Two returned in 1986 with six more episodes: “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” “Spanish Blood,” “Pickup on Noon Street,” “Guns at Cyrano’s,” “Trouble is My Business,” and “Red Wind.”

Philip Marlowe made his first appearance in The Big Sleep, which was a novel cobbled together from several existing short stories. Marlowe was really a composite of previous detectives, such as John Dalmas and Carmody. It’s those stories, written mostly for Black Mask and Dime Detective, that were adapted for this series.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bullets or Ballots (Bogart)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bullets or Ballots (Bogart)

Bogart_BulletsLobbyposter“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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Humphrey Bogart worked his way up the ladder at Warner Brothers, frequently playing a bad guy who went up against James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, who were big stars and a part of Warner’s ‘Murderer’s Row.’ I count seven times Bogie was pitted against one or the other, in a supporting actor role. Bogart was the star the eighth time, in Key Largo. It comes as no surprise that Bogart inevitably lost, up to that last time.

Bogart had failed twice in Hollywood before The Petrified Forest gave him the traction to stick on the west coast. He was so grateful to star Leslie Howard, who insisted that Bogart reprise his stage role as Duke Mantee, that Bogie named his daughter after Leslie. Bogart’s first film after that one is my favorite of his gangster flicks, Bullets or Ballots. It’s a typical thirties gangster film from Warners, which is a good thing.

Picking Lead (trivia) – The Petrified Forest was a smash on Broadway, and Warners bought the rights. Howard was the star and signed on to do the film. Warners wanted to use Robinson for the role of Mantee. Howard was determined the part be played by Bogart, saying he wouldn’t do the movie otherwise. Warners blinked and Bogart returned to the west coast, receiving strong reviews.

Picking Lead – Howard was killed in 1942 when the Luftwaffe shot down the Dutch commercial airliner he was flying on. His son, Ronald, also became an actor and starred in a British Sherlock Holmes television series. He played a younger Holmes and it’s an under-appreciated performance: in part because of poor scripts and low production values.

Edward G. Robinson plays Johnny Blake, a pipe-smoking cop finishing his career out-of-favor with the current leadership. He’s from the two-fisted school, and makes bad guys tip their hat to him. When one refuses to do so, Blake punches him out. When the thug takes a swing at him, he throws him through a glass door and has him arrested for destruction of property.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Some Hardboiled Streaming Options

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Some Hardboiled Streaming Options

“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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Today, I’m going to talk about two streaming sites for your hardboiled/noir lock down needs. And then, a third site with a show I really dig. First, up:

WATCH TCM

BrotherOrchid_LobbyCardI have recently spent a lot of time on Watch TCM. It can be streamed free on your PC and Smart TV, and you can download the app for mobile devices.

Most movies running on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), are posted on Watch TCM within several hours of airing. Some which they sell, like Casablanca and Key Largo, are not posted, and movies generally drop off after a week. You can watch any movie listed, as many times as you want, free. If you have TCM through your cable provider, you can watch the east coast and west coast feeds live. So, if you miss something on the east coast, you can still catch it later on the west coast. This is good for the ones that don’t end up posted.

I’m obviously a hardboiled/noir fan, and May’s Star of the Month is Edward G. Robinson. Which has resulted in a plethora of movies in that genre, plus other non-genre movies from stars like Robinson, Bogart, and Ida Lupino.

Thursday is Star of the Month day, and in less than 24 hour period from last Thursday afternoon, the following movies were posted:

All Through the Night (Bogart), The Hard Way (Lupino), The Return of Doctor X (Bogart), The Whole Town’s Talking (Edward G. Robinson), A Slight Case of Murder (Robinson), Larceny, Inc (Robinson), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Robinson, Bogart), and Brother Orchid (Robinson, Bogart).

And the previous Thursday’s haul remained up until Friday, and it had some VERY good stuff as well. Last Monday’s post was about a bunch of the movies showing through the rest of May. Check it out.

Of course, there’s far more than hardboiled/noir, which is my favorite area. As I type this, there are two Marx Brothers movies, and one from The Bowery Boys. They had a musical day, so Yankee Doodle Dandy and several others are up. I will always watch Mister Roberts when I can. There are relatively ‘newer’ classics, such as Network, and Coma, as well. It’s not just all old black and white movies.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled May on TCM

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled May on TCM

EdwardRobinsonSo, Edward G. Robinson is the May Star of the Month on TCM. Every Thursday there is a batch of Robinson movies, as well as some other movies featuring hardboiled stars, like Humphrey Bogart. Things kicked off May 7th with eight Robinson flicks, including two excellent Bogie movies, Key Largo, and Bullets or Ballots. But the past is prologue.

Let’s take a look at some of the films coming up this month, all EST. A note: any movie shown on TCM, which they don’t sell the DVD for, can be viewed on WatchTCM for a week after it airs. So, for example, Bullets or Ballots can be seen right now, but Key Largo can’t.

May 14th

8:15 AM – All Through the Night

This is one of my Top Ten Bogart films – might even be Top Five. Bogart is Gloves Donahue, a NYC gangster. It opened up in January of 1942, in the early stages of the war. Hollywood was shifting from making gangster movies to war films, and this is both! Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser in Casablanca) leads a Nazi spy ring that runs afoul of Bogart’s gang. It’s a comedy-gangster-spy movie, and I think it’s a great watch. There’s a superb supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, William Demarest, Frank McHugh, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, and Barton MacLane! I highly recommend this one.

In Casablanca, when Rick is advising Major Strasser about invading certain parts of New York, that’s an in-joke back to this movie.

4:15 PM – The Return of Doctor X

This is a bad, science fiction/horror movie. It’s a little campy; but mostly just bad. I’ll let Bogie tell you himself how bad it was:

“This is one of those pictures that made me march in to (Warner Brothers boss Jack L. Warner) and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it’d been Jack Warner’s or Harry (Warner’s) blood, I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”

That’s from an essay I wrote about it here at Black Gate. Watch the movie, read my essay. You’ll thank me later.

9:45 PM – A Slight Case of Murder

I’m not crazy about Robinson’s gangster comedies, of which this is one. A gangster goes straight. Much hilarity ensues. Sort of. It does have the always reliable Alan Jenkins, who appeared in lots of Warners crime films.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spillane & John D. MacDonald

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spillane & John D. MacDonald

MacDonald_SpillaneCoverEDITED

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 term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Fans of my writings here at Black Gate (both of you!) know that John D. MacDonald is my favorite author. And I think he’s one of the best in any genre. So today, I’m going to talk a bit about two times that Mickey Spillane, millions-selling author of Mike Hammer, entered into the JDM story.

THE ENDORSEMENT

Especially before the success of his Travis McGee series, MacDonald was “looked down at” during his time because his books were paperback originals. It was rare that he received reviews or high-profile comments. His work sold, but critics ignored it, or dismissed it with a sneer.
Many of his books were published by Fawcett, part of the (still-collectible) Gold Medal paperback line. His first novel, The Brass Cupcake (more on that below) came out in 1950. It was followed in 1951 by Murder for the Bride, Judge Me Not (Hammett-esque and one of my favorites), Weep For Me, and the science fiction novel, Wine of the Dreamers. Which leads us to 1952’s The Damned.

Ralph Daigh, editorial director at Fawcett, let Mickey Spillane read a set of galleys for The Damned. After I, The Jury, in 1947, every other crime writer out there wished he had Spillane’s sales. When the writer came back in to Daigh’s office and returned them, he said, “That’s a good book. I wish I had written it.”

Daigh was a good book man and he wrote it out on a piece of paper and asked Spillane to sign it, which the latter did. And that endorsement was prominently displayed on the cover of the book when it came out.  Spillane’s agent, editor, lawyer (possibly even his pool guy) contacted Gold Medal and said that Spillane didn’t endorse books, and they had to take that quote off of the cover

Unintimidated, Daigh told them all that he had Spillane’s signature, dated, to back it up. They went away. MacDonald remained a fan of Spillane’s.

The book sold two million copies and MacDonald was continuing to hone his novel-writing ability and increasing his sales.  The Damned is as packed full of tension (leading to an explosion) as any book I can remember reading.

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