Dave Fenner

Created by James Hadley Chase
(pseud. of Rene Brabazon Raymond; also wrote as Raymond Marshall)

According to legend, James Hadley Chase's first novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) was dashed off by the former door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in just six weekends. His intention was to capitalize on the popularity in Britain of imported American hard-boiled crime fiction and to score some quick bucks.

Suffice it to say he succeeded.

The story, set in those nasty lawless United States of America revolves around the kidnapping of young American heiress Miss Blandish (and her jewelry) by a group of thugs who almost immediately lose her to a larger and better organized gang led by the sadistic, sexually impotent and mother-fixated Slim Grisson. His dear ol' mum suggests that rape might be the answer to his impotence.

Meanwhile, Miss Blandish's father has hired ex-journalist turned private eye DAVE FENNER to rescue his daughter, which Fenner does -- through a combination of bribery, torture and murder. Along the way there are numerous scenes of torture, murder, rape, machine guns and hand grenades, suicide and -- just for good measure -- passing references to Slim's childhood past time of cutting up small living animals with a pair of rusty scissors and another man's face is held over the burner on an electric stove to get him to talk.

Much like Mickey Spillane's similarly controversial I, the Jury which would appear just a few years later, No Orchids for Miss Blandish was a publishing sensation. It sold over half a million copies in Great Britain alone. It may have been deemed vile and sick by some, but the British, then undergoing constant bombardment by the Nazis, lapped it up; a "phenomenon, George Orwell suggested, "brought about by the mingled boredom and brutality of war."

Despite its popularity, the book drew much hostility from critics upon its publication, not just for its violence but for being such a blatant rip-off of William Faulkner's Sanctuary. In fact, charges of plagiarism and lifting passages verbatim or almost verbatim from other writers dogged him throughout his career, eventually prompting Chase (much later in his career) to publicly apologize to Raymond Chandler.

But the book also had its literary defenders, most notably George Orwell, who championed it in his 1944 essay "Raffles and Miss Blandish," in which he examined crime fiction, most notably the violence and brutality of American-style pulp fiction and the growing British appetite for it, calling the book "a brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a wasted word or a jarring note anywhere." Still, he couldn't help but lament the society that would make such a book a best seller and worried aloud that "if such books should definitely acclimatize themselves in England, instead of being merely a half-understood import from America, there would be good grounds for dismay."

The book was deemed so violent at the time as to be considered unfilmable but by 1942 it had already been adapted into a play which successfully toured Britain for several years, and by 1948 had indeed been made into a film, causing much public outrage and drawing criticism from all corners, including from future prime minister Harold Wilson, who memorably got up on his hind legs at a film industry function to declare -- to much applause -- that he was glad there were "no Oscars for Miss Blandish." The brouhaha supposedly killed the career of many of those involved, including beloved actor Linden Travers (who played Miss Blandish) and the director St. John L Clowes. Even now, the film is rarely shown on television, and took years and years to become available on DVD DVD.

The 1971 American remake, The Grissom Gang, starring Kim Darby, was supposedly even slimier, although that version, directed by Robert "Kiss Me Deadly" Aldrich and starring Kim Darby, Irene Dailey, Tony Musante, Connie Stevens, Robert Lansing and Ralph Waite, is a little easier to track down.

Like all Chase's series characters -- none of whom ever appeared in more than two or three novels -- Dave (and his perky, playful secretary Paula) only appeared in one other novel, 1940's Twelve Chinks and a Woman. And there was another sequel to No Orchids for Miss Blandish: The Flash of the Orchid (1940), although it didn't feature Fenner, but followed the nineteen year-old daughter of Slim and Miss Blandish.

But if that still isn't enough Chase for you, the prolific author offered up a slew of other private eyes and the like, including Bart Anderson, Floyd Jackson, Vic Malloy, Nelson Ryan and Dirk Wallace. Almost all of his work was set in the U.S.A., although Chase himself only made two brief visits to that country, and then only relatively late in his career. Instead, he relied on atlases, encyclopedias and slang dictionaries -- as well as other writers' novels.

THE EVIDENCE

  • "Better dead than deflowered."

-- Miss Blandish's father refuses to take his kidnapped daughter back. Talk about tough love.

UNDER OATH

  • "...half-cent pulp writing at its worst...."
    (Raymond Chandler, on No Orchids for Miss Blandish, in a letter to Cleve Adams, September 1948)

  • "It is doubtful if the vile ruthlessness of gangsterism has ever been more vividly presented in fiction. The sufferings and ultimate fate of the kidnapped Miss Blandish leave one gasping..."
    (from the cover blurb of the 1951 Harlequin edition of No Orchids for Miss Blandish).

  • "Once or twice in a generation someone writes a book that establishes a new standard in literature; a book that starts a new trend of fashion; a book that everyone knows and talks about and which several million people read. And one which must certainly be included in that class is the world-famous No Orchids for Miss Blandish."
    (The Sunday Dispatch, as blurb on the back cover of the 1961 Panther edition)

NOVELS

  • No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939; AKA "The Villain and the Virgin").. Buy this book
  • Twelve Chinks and a Woman (1940; AKA "Twelve Chinamen and a Woman" and "The Doll's Bad News) .. Buy this book

OTHER BOOKS OF INTEREST

  • The Flesh of the Orchid (1940) .. Buy this book
    Subtitled "A Continuation of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish," this is indeed the sequel, although it doesn't feature Fenner, but the nineteen year-old daughter of Slim and Miss Blandish.

  • No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1997) .. Buy this book
    The script for the play, first performed at the Glasgow Citizen's Theratre in 1978, by noted playwright/director Robert David MacDonald, based on Chase's novel.

PLAYS

  • NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH
    (1942)
    Based on the novel by James Hadley Chase
    Written by James Hadley Chase and Robert Nesbitt
    Additional dialogue by Val Guest
    Starring Robert Newton, Linden Travers, Hartley Power and Mary Clare.
    This theatrical version toured Britain until 1949.

  • NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH
    (1978, Glasgow Citizens Theatre)
    Based on the novel by James Hadley Chase
    Adapted and directed by Robert David MacDonald
    Designed by Geoff Rose
    Starring David Hayman as FENNER
    With Pauline Moran, Julia Blalock, Garry Cooper, Daffydd Burne-Jones, Paul Dalton, John Breck, Ciaran Hinds, Pierce Brosnan, Robin MacDonald, Peter Jonfield, Sian Thomas
    A very effective play, even prompting the release of the script written by Robert David MacDonald as a paperback.

FILMS

  • NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH. Buy this DVD. Watch it now!
    (1948, Tudor-Alliance)
    Based on the novel by James Hadley Chase
    Screenplay by St. John Legh Clowes
    Directed by St. John L. Clowes
    Produced by St.John L. Clowes
    Executive producer: George Minter
    Associate producer: Oswald Mitchell
    Starring Hugh McDermott as DAVE FENNER
    Also starring Linden Travers, Jack La Rue, Walter Crisham, MacDonald Parke, Lilli Molnar, Percy Marmont, Leslie Bradley, Richard Nelson, Sidney James,

  • THE GRISSOM GANG. Buy this DVD
    (1971)
    Based on the novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase
    Screenplay by Leon Griffiths
    Directed by Robert Aldrich
    Produced by Robert Aldrich
    Starring Robert Lansing as DAVE FENNER
    Also starring Kim Darby, Scott Wilson, Irene Dailey, Tony Musante, Connie Stevens, Robert Lansing, Wesley Addy, Ralph Waite
    They changed Grisson to Grissom, but even more shocking is seeing Pa Walton as a thug..

RELATED LINKS

  • Raffles and Miss Blandish
    The essay by George Orwell that appeared in the Augst 28, 1944 issue of Horizon, wherein Orwell makes the case for No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

  • Some Orchids for James Hadley Chase
    A fascinating and well-researched collection of random thoughts, razor-sharp opinions and background info by John Fraser.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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