Saturday, April 4, 2020

NERO WOLFE Comic Strip - The FOURTH Sunday Adventure (1957)

 Once again (and sadly, for the last time) we are indebted to Mr. Ger Apeldoorn for the color Sundays presented here. Also sadly, some of the black and white reproductions found in newspaper archives are of lousy quality. If anyone out there can offer better replacements, I'd be mighty pleased to post them here.

May 12, 1957

 May 19, 1957

May 26, 1957

June 2, 1957

June 9, 1957

June 16, 1957

June 23, 1957

June 30, 1957

July 7, 1957

Next Saturday: Another Daily case begins

Friday, April 3, 2020

WATCH IT HERE! A Forgotten Book on Film: MEET NERO WOLFE / FER-DE-LANCE (1936)

As of this posting, I have not yet seen this film. I've been saving it so I can watch it along with you. I had a chance at the 1982 Bouchercon in San Francisco, but missed it because I was either jawing with William Campbell Gault or chasing Robert B. Parker for an autograph. In any case, I never got another chance, and that movie poster above has been hanging on my wall for nearly forty years, just taunting me.  

By all accounts, the film is no great shakes. Cap'n Bob Napier gives it a resounding two thumbs down, with his third hand busy plugging his nose. But hey, this was the very first attempt to get the big guy on film, making it a genuine historical artyfact. I'm looking forward to seeing it, warts and all. 

Legend has it that Rex Stout wanted Charles Laughton to play Wolfe, but Columbia got Edward Arnold instead. At the time, no more than three novels had been published. (The third, The Red Box, appeared in 1936, but whether before or after this filming I don't know.) This one was based on the first book, Fer-de-lance

Later that year, the same studio filmed The League of Frightened Men, with Walter Connolly waddling into the Wolfe role. (Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, I'll have that one posted to YouTube and featured here next week.) 

So how does Meet Nero Wolfe compare with the book?  Noted Wolfean (and part-time rock 'n' roll idol) Tough Jim Gaston will share his notions on that subject down below, so after the movie you can see if his thoughts jive with your own. 

Okay, done watching? Tough Jim, who's read the Wolfe series so many times it runs through his veins, offered the following liberally edited observations:

Well, the start of the movie is more or less on the money, but it gives away some of the main mysteries of the novel. Mainly, where did Bartstow get the driver he was playing with, and how was the poison delivered? 

While Edward Arnold spouts Wolfe-like philosophy now and again, he does way too much laughing. He'd be good in a series called "the laughing detective," but for god's sake, Nero Wolfe? And Lionel Stander is just awful. He should be shown the electric chair.

About halfway through, the plotline takes a sharp left turn and abandons the book. It seems to forget all about Wolfe and Archie. Ellen Barstow's mother blames Barstow's death on some South American mystic named Hamansa. What? Where did that come from? And this golf pro - where in the book does he appear? Nowhere. The goofy chick named Maisy who wants to marry Archie is another addition. Fritz the cook was renamed Olaf, and looks like he belongs in a soup kitchen. Meanwhile, Lt. O'Grady's presence is actually correct, because Inspector Cramer did not appear in this book. 

With fifteen minutes to go, I just had to keep watching, because I had no idea where it was going. Certainly not where Fer-de-lance ends up. At the very least, I had to find out who this mystic dude Hamansa was. But the end didn't tell me. And what was Ellen Barstow's place in all this? And where did they come up with Maisy, whom Archie actually marries at the end? 

Bottom line, it's not a bad detective film, but Arnold is just not Nero Wolfe. Maybe if I put the idea of Wolfe aside and watch it again someday, I'll figure out what it's all about. Or maybe not.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

SECRET AGENT X-9 on BBC Radio: Episode 4 "You're the Top" (1994) The End!

Yep, this is our thrilling conclusion. Did the BBC adapt any other Hammett stuff? I suppose I should find out. Hammett lasted less than a year and a half on the strip, and was reportedly canned for missing deadlines. He was no doubt happy about it, though. The Thin Man movie was such a hit that it put him in high demand, and studios were throwing big bucks at him. He did write screen treatments for the second and third flicks in the series, but unfortunately not much else.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

SECRET AGENT X-9 on BBC Radio: Episode 3 "The Powers That Be" (1994)

Here's Part 3 of 4. Diane Johnson's book Dashiell Hammett: A Life has some interesting letters between agents of the Division of Investigation (the pre-1935 name for the FBI) asking who the heck was this guy writing the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip. Apparently they were trying to figure out if he was a former agent who might give away their secrets of spycraft. 

Tomorrow: Episode 4 "You're the Top." THE END

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SECRET AGENT X-9 on BBC Radio: Episode 2 "Carnage at Sea" (1994)

Our 1994 BBC dramatization continues. X-9 was born when William Randolph Hearst wanted a strip to rival Dick Tracy, and chose Hammett to create it. Hammett then reportedly raked in $500 a week to script it. Since his scripts averaged less than 500 words a week, that was a mighty good rate!

Tomorrow: Episode 3 "The Powers That Be"

Monday, March 30, 2020

SECRET AGENT X-9 on BBC Radio: Episode 1 "Murder Mansion" (1994)

Back in 1994, BBC Radio aired a four-part adaptation of the first continuity of this Dashiell Hammett/Alex Raymond comic strip. Near as I can discover, Hammett actually wrote the story and the script. This story, originally untitled, was christened "You're the Top" in one of the later reprint collections. It ran from January 22 to September 11, 1934. Give a listen.

Tomorrow: Episode 2 "Carnage at Sea"

Friday, March 27, 2020

Forgotten Books: THE WHITE CIRCLE by Carroll John Daly (1926)

I read this book again this week because I'm putting together an Introduction for a soon-to-be-published collection of Daly's Terry Mack stories for Steeger Books/Altus Press. It'll be one of a series of many devoted to the great series characters of Black Mask.

Last time I read The White Circle, nine years ago, I yapped about it here in Forgotten Books. Most of my thoughts were the same, and are repeated below, but I had a few new ones too. 

This book saw birth as a four-part serial called "The White Champion," beginning in the August 15, 1925 issue of Flynn's. It was Daly's third book-length work. The first, co-authored with C.C. Waddell, was the contemporary Western Two-Gun Gerta, which had been serialized in People's Story Magazine in 1923. This one came hard on the heels of Daly's first (I think) solo serial, "The Man With the Twisted Face," in July 1925 issues of Western Story

At the time, Race Williams was going strong in Black Mask, but because the editors did not like serials, Daly had to stretch his writing legs elsewhere. The first Race serial, "The Snarl of the Beast," did not run until 1927. 

"The White Champion" came from the same roots as Daly's earliest hardboiled writings for MaskOur hero here is a two-fisted, two-gunned adventurer named Stacey Lee who has traveled the world and sown his oats, finally settling down to a respectable life in the second echelon of New York society. The only difference between him and Daly's other early heroes (who made their living preying on criminals and blackmailers) is that he was for several years a success in the stock market. Then, as the story opens, he has lost that fortune. Facing ruin, he's about to skip town and revert to his old adventuring ways.

But, just in the nick of time, he’s approached by an old man calling himself The White Circle. The old man offers to restore Stacey’s riches if he agrees to don the white mask and do battle with the blackmailing scoundrel known as The Black Circle. Stacey agrees, and finds his old lifestyle has equipped him well to play masked avenger. 

I don’t know who the should get the credit for being fiction’s first masked do-gooder. Some folks say it’s the Scarlet Pimpernel, who was in the masked hero business as early as 1903. Zorro entered the ranks in 1919, and I’m guessing there were other modern-day crime fighters using the gimmick prior to 1926. I just haven't met any of them.

To add to the fun, Stacey is provided with a bunch of little White Circle stickers that he can paste one on the body of every bad guy he shoots. This sort of advertising gimmick, too, had been used by the Pimpernel and Zorro, but it's interesting to see Stacey employing it long before guys like The Phantom and The Spider. 

The mask worn by Daly’s hero in The White Circle is not described in detail, but I got the impression it either covers his whole head, or hangs down to completely conceal his face. The same can be said of the mask worn by the hero’s arch-villain, known as The Black Circle.

As is typical of Daly’s early work, the plot is creaky and melodramatic, and there are always curtains handy for someone, good or bad, to hide behind with a gun. But Daly’s prose was actually pretty good, except for his abominable habit of leaving thoughts and sentence unfinished, or loading his paragraphs with so many M-dashes that they became nearly incomprehensible.

Here’s the opening of the book, an example of Daly at his smoothest:

I went to sleep broke—as free from money as a bluefish is from wings. And I went to sleep sober, without a care or worry. It wasn’t in me to drown my sorrow. I felt none—when a man comes back, he fights his way—not slops it. My life had been chuck full of adventure: South America, the gay boulevards of Paris, the shining steel in the hand of a vicious Arab in that romantic, forbidden section of the old hillside city of Algiers. Even the deadly, biting stillness of the jungle night in the sweating tropical climate of Africa was not unfamiliar to me.

In New York I turned a little bank account into a fortune; the instinct to take chances made me in Wall Street, and that instinct wiped me out. There was no kick. For two years I had lived, but there was nothing of romance in the city—that uncertainty of lurking foes, that living, breathing closeness to death that had ever been in my nostrils. 

Not bad, eh?
But here’s a sample of the choppy stuff:

“Take off your coat,” I told him. “Sling it about your head—you know the house—is there a way down the back?—but lead, you must—I’d be lost out there.”

He nodded, his head wagging grotesquely through the haze—just a head, nothing more—the thick, seeping, clutching, stifling vapor pierced through the nostrils and into the base of the brain.

Coats over our heads—both at the door—Bert nearest the exit, we flung it open again. A burst of smoke again—a white, drifting wave that vanished almost at once—fire, just a raging fire—lay without, leaping from below—above the dark banister that guarded the stairs. 

I know one other die-hard Daly fan (his initials are S.M.) who finds this early stuff unreadable. Me, I enjoy it anyway, but I’m hard put not to whip out a pen and edit as I read.

Still, it's all good fun, and Daly brings it to a satisfying (if somewhat implausible) finish. Here's hoping the book will soon be on the reprint schedule of the very busy Mr. Matt Moring.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Forgotten Film: THE GLASS KEY on Westinghouse Studio One (1949)

While visiting NYC a few years back, I made a special trip to the Paley Center Museum of Broadcasting to watch this live TV broadcast. Donald Briggs was no George Raft or Alan Ladd, but Hammett is Hammett, so it's still worth watching. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

HAMMETT HERALD-TRIBUNE: The Glass Key Casting Merry-go-round (1931-34)

Napa Journal, May 9, 1931

Brooklyn Standard Union, May 18, 1931

Akron Beacon Journal, May 30, 1931

Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 23, 1931

San Bernadino County Sun, Sept. 13, 1931

Minneapolis Star, Sept. 23, 1931

Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 25, 1931

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 23, 1932

Edmonton Journal, Feb. 4, 1932

Napa Journal, Oct. 12, 1932

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 28, 1934

Akron Beacon Journal, Mar. 7, 1935