Created by Jonathan Latimer (1906-1983)
Jonathan Latimer's first book, 1935's Headed For a Hearse, was one of the first hardboiled screwball comedies, following closely on the heels of the previous year's The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and far surpassing what Hammett had only hinted at.
Like Hammett's Nick and Nora, Latimer's BILL CRANE was a decidedly hedonistic, booze-soaked and possibly inept detective who somehow managed, despite the ponderous and copious intake of a variety of intoxicating substances, to somehow crack the case.
In Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op takes a break from breaking the backs of two rival gangs by swilling a concoction of gin and laudanum, no doubt intended to demonstrate the resolution of the hard-bitten, tough-minded Op's nature, but Crane drank for a much simpler reason: he enjoyed it.
Hoo-boy, did he enjoy it!
In the course of five highly recommended novels in the early thirties, Crane and his fellow ops from Colonel Black's New York-based detective agency (handsome Tom O'Malley, and dapper, distinguished Doc Williams) gulp down just about anything they can get their hands on - including (accidentally) at one point embalming fluid - and spend most of their time either high as a kite or suffering from hangovers.
With The Thin Man, Hammett may have dipped his toe into the screwball pool, but Latimer jumped right in and splashed around to his heart's content. The plots zig and zag, and there are enough screws loose in the various characters to stock a hardware store.
In the thirties, Universal produced three film adaptations, all starring Preston Foster as Crane, as part of their "Crime Club" series. There were reportedly pretty good, for B films, but not good enough to really set the world on fire.
Latimer was also responsible for the dark, hard-boiled classic Solomon's Vineyard, featuring private eye Karl Craven, and later turned to screenwriting (including The Big Clock and The Glass Key). In the sixties, he wrote for the Perry Mason TV show.
"Part of the Crime Club series... this nifty little mystery is often cited as a model of 30s B-movie adeptness. It was directed by the unjustly forgotten Otis Garrett, a former editor who uses flash-pan edits and other visual tricks to maintain a breakneck pace -- so fast that it's pretty difficult to follow the complex plot. Although a bit too reliant on dialog scenes, there are enough effective wisecracks, bizarre demimonde characters (shifty undertakers, dour taxi drivers, carefree taxi dancers) and risquÈ asides (apparently, the production code enforcers often neglected these low budgeters) to raise the quality well above the norm. One side benefit is an appearance by a young Barbara Pepper, sassy and sardonic as ever, but surprisingly lithe and seductive. Soon-to-be-famous Stanley Cortez provided the cinematography"
ALSO OF INTEREST
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Iris Wiederkehr, Latimer's German publisher, for the heads up.
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