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"