Friday, April 17, 2020

Watch it Here! THE WESTLAND CASE / HEADED FOR A HEARSE by Jonathan Latimer (1937)

Here's a mystery for you: Why would the studio think a title as bland and generic as THE WESTLAND CASE would fill more seats than HEADED FOR A HEARSE? It's too many for me. 

Breaking with the tradition of the past two weeks (with the showings of MEET NERO WOLFE and THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN), I decided to reread this book before viewing the film, so I could see how they did. And it was mighty interesting. Surprisingly, they did manage to squeeze most of the 302 pages of story into 102 minutes of film.

Much of the action was condensed, of course, with some scenes combined and other eliminated. Some scenes that take several pages literally go by in the blink of an eye. But if you're alert enough to catch the fast-talking dialogue, all the important stuff is there.

Preston Foster does a decent job as Crane, and most of the supporting cast is okay. The major piece of miscasting is Crane's pal Doc Williams. Doc should be a mustachioed lady's man, but actor Frank Jenks here seems to be doing a Lionel Stander impression. Sadly, only half a dozen lines of Latimer dialogue made it directly into the script, but others are at least alluded to. 

Two characters with a fair amount of page time - the two convicts slated to be executed with Westland - are almost absent from the film. And one character - Miss Hogan's scary Aunt Mary - was added. I'm guessing the censors insisted on Mary so viewers wouldn't think Crane and Miss Hogan did any improper canoodling overnight in her apartment. (They didn't anyway.) The public's delicate sensibilities were also protected by changing the name of the lawyer - Finklestein - to Frazee. And the several racial slurs sprinkled through the book were carefully avoided. 

What's really missing, though, is the wacky friendship of Crane and Williams that makes the book so much fun. Only a small portion of it remains. Most of their lechery (also part of the fun) is downplayed, while in scenes with Miss Hogan (here doing her best Mae West impression) it's overplayed for laughs. 

What I'm saying, I guess, is that if you haven't read the book, you oughta. And if you have, you should read it again. This was my third time, at least, and it'll be well worth another. I featured the novel in Forgotten Books a few years back (HERE) with pics of more covers, back covers and extras. You're invited to peek.

Next Friday: Preston Foster and Frank Jenks return in THE LADY IN THE MORGUE.

1 comment:

Angela M. Sanders said...

Perfect Friday night movie! Okay, I preferred the book, but this wasn't bad at all.