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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Ken Shannon, Private Eye, in "The Playful PIckpocket" by REED CRANDALL (1951)

Reed Crandall provides the pencils for this second adventure of Ken Shannon, Crimebusting Private Eye. It's from his first issue, from Oct. 1951, shared on comicbookplus by "Tigger."