RARA-AVIS: Re: Donald Hamilton revisited

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 07 May 2009

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    Since this topic has come up, it seems like a fortuitous point to mention something I've been meaning to post about for several days.

    Two movies, both based on books written by Hamilton during his western period, have been getting run on the Encore Western Channel and other cable movie channels, a lot recently, and I believe they're scheduled for repeats through the next few weeks. In fact, as I write this, one of them is scheduled to start in just five minutes on Retroplex.

    The films are THE VIOLENT MEN, based on Hamilton's SMOKY VALLEY, and THE BIG COUNTRY, based on his novel of the same name.

    Neither one is, strictly speaking, a crime film (though crime certainly occurs in both of them), and neither, being as they are, wide-screen Technicolor epics, can be classified as noir. But I think most of you Rare Birds will enjoy them.

    THE VIOLENT MEN, in particular, featuring Edward G. Robinson in a supporting role, and Barbara Stanwyck as a faithless wife conspiring with her lover to kill her husband for his wealth, will probably resonate with a lot of you DOUBLE INDEMNITY fans, notwithstanding the fact that, in this case, Robinson plays the betrayed hubby rather than the claims cop who sleuths out the crime. Brian Keith, in an early role, plays Ms. Stanwyck's lover, who is also Robinson's kid brother.

    The hero, John Parrish, played by Glenn Ford, will probably also seem familiar to Helm fans, since Hamilton, rather deliberately I suspect, recycled a lot of Parrish into Helm when he wrote the first (and best, IMHO) Helm novel, DEATH OF A CITIZEN.

    Like Helm, Parrish is a combat veteran of the recent war (Civil in Parrish's case, World II in Helm's), who thinks his violent battle experience is a part of the past he'll never need to retrieve. Like Helm, he is, against his will, thrust into a violent situation that awakens those long-dormant combat skills. And, like Helm, his insistence on ruthlessly facing the violent situation in which he finds himself causes him to lose the woman he loves (Parrish loses his fiance, Helm will lose his wife).

    If anyone is interested, you can read both of Hamilton's novels here:


    along with several of his western short stories (including the Spur-winning "The Guns of William Longley") and commentary on the western genre. This page probably violates a number of copyright laws, so my posting it here doesn't constitute an endorsement. Moreover, you can read both SMOKY VALLEY and THE BIG COUNTRY without violating any copyrights pretty easily.

    However, the versions reproduced here are the magazine serial versions of the two novels (SMOKY VALLEY was serialized in COLLIER'S and THE BIG COUNTRY, under the title, AMBUSH AT BLANCO CANYON, in SATURDAY EVENING POST) and, in addition to being the first published versions, also include some pretty neat illustrations.

    In addition to his western stuff, you can find the serialized versions of his pre-Helm spy novels, THE STEEL MIRROR and NIGHT WALKER (serialized as MASK FOR DANGER, and recently reprinted by Hard Case Crime), and a number of his crime/suspense short stories.

    Just as a piece of shameless self-promotion, my most recent "I Like 'Em Tough" column, "THE (hard-b)O(i)L(e)D WEST," discusses the points of interesection between hard-boiled and noir crime fiction and mentions such practitioners in both genres as Elmore Leonard (who will receive the WWA Owen Wister Award next month), Loren D. Estleman, Bob Randisi, and, of course, Hamilton.

    You can find it here:


    Personally, I think Helm would do fine if anyone would reprint the series. For one thing, spy fiction is making a comeback thanks to the War on Terror. American spy writer Vince Flynn and British spy writer Andy McNab are both best-sellers. Alex Berenson's THE FAITHFUL SPY was an Edgar winner. Veteran Cold War spy writers like David Hagberg and Clive Egleton nimbly adjusted to the change in the political scene and continue to be popular (Hagberg actually wrote a novel, JOSHUA'S HAMMER, in which the villain was real-life terrorist Osama bin Laden, whose evil plan was bringing down one of America's most famous structures, causing thousands of deaths, more than a year before the 9/11 attacks). And characters like Jason Bourne and James Bond continue to be popular in movies.

    There's one stil-unpublished Helm novel out there, THE DOMINATORS, and I'd love to see it published. I think it would sell like a marked-down mink.




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