RARA-AVIS: Still in the 50s

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 01 Feb 2003

I actually kicked the month off at the very beginning with a review of Spillane's VENGEANCE IS MINE but since then I have not been able to finish a 50s hardboiled or noir novel. I faltered 2/3rds of the way through a Gil Brewer and it was my fault. Great novel and I will finish it soon and report. I tried to regress to the 1940s with Manly Wellman's FIND MY KILLER and it opened nicely and I cruised along but then by the wayside it fell.

The closest I came to finishing a suitable story from the 1950s was John Cheever's THE HOUSEBREAKER OF SHADY HILL but although features a crime and had moments of high suspense, it does not belong on this list.

At last, near the end of the month, I picked up Bernard Wolfe's THE GREAT PRINCE DIED from 1959 and was swept away by a fine writer and a so-far great novel. But not time yet to finish it. I promise a later report.

Meanwhile the mention of THE LONG GOODBYE by Chandler reminds me of his wonderful rif in that novel that begins "There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays." I thought recently that one of the classic moments in any hardboiled novel is the entrance of "Her," the beauty who will be at the center of the story, the one who can cause old Moby to stir from the depths. Damn near every classic HB tail has that description. I should go back to Cain and the others and check them out. It is a moment that inspires the best in a writer.

And thanks miker for the Al Conroy quotes. I don't have that one but Marv Albert clearly had a focus upstairs when he wrote that one.

I am looking forward to the latest version of "Dragnet" on Sunday. The NY Times gave it a great review and compared it favorably to the competing
"Kingpin". The Washington Post gave it grudging compliments with negative comparisons to Webb's original.

This morning on a cable channel I tuned into a 1955 Columbia movie "The Night Holds Terror" which fits the police procedural format including a voice over that features an announcer who comes close to the "voice of God" sound that was so admired back in my days in radio. The film makes great use of locations. In fact, it all looks to be shot on location in LA and out in the desert. The plot is a gang on the run takes over a house and eventually leaves with the husband as a hostage to make certain the wife will not call the police. They discover he is the son of a wealthy man and decide to seek a ransom. The cast was wonderful for a low budget film. The ring leader of the gang is John Cassavetes in what has to be one of his earliest roles. His acting has that natural, improvisational look even in what had to be a scripted film. The screen crackles with his heat. With him, however, is Vince Edwards who with his smoldering, dark intensity matches Cassavetes with cool to hot. The viewer's eye hops from one to the other when they are both on screen. The kidnapped husband is played by Jack Kelly, latter to be on TV's "Maverick" and the supporting cast includes Jonathan Hale and Jack Kruschen (who I think was now and then on Jack Webb's radio "Dragnet." The most interesting scenes for me were those showing telephone workers trying to trace the calls in that pre-transitor and pre-computer age. The relays were all mechanical and workers raced from bank to bank of the clicking walls of relays to track down each digit of the telephone number and then checking paper card index files for the address. The suspense remains to this day but I had to think that someone may one day want to check it out as a record of a technology of historical interest.

Richard Moore

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