Jonathan Latimer

(1906-1983)

"Jonathan Latimer is the best kept secret in noir fiction. One of the great unrecognized masters."

-- Max Allan Collins

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Jonathan Latimer was educated in Arizona and Illinois. He worked as a reporter at the Chicago Herald Examiner for a few years before he started writing fiction. His 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. Like Hammett's Nick and Nora, Latimer's Bill Crane was a booze-soaked, seemingly-inept detective who somehow always managed, despite always being either drunk or hung over, to crack the case, despite the ponderous and copious intake of a variety of intoxicating substances.

Crane appeared in five novels in all. Latimer published at least one more classic, 1941's Solomon's Vineyard, a true hardboiled classic, and pretty hot stuff, evidently, at least in the eyes of the protectors of American decency. Gone are the goofy, good-natured gin-swilling dicks of the Bill Crane series. Instead we have private eye Karl Craven in a tale of "murder, violence, perverse sexuality and twisted religion in a corrupt Midwestern town (that) echoes Hammett...and anticipates the work of both Ross Macdonald and Mickey Spillane," according to William DeAndrea, in his introduction to the first uncensored American edition of the book (in 1988! More than forty years after it had been published in Britain!)

But controvery had always dogged Latimer, and he was often accused of racism, misanthropy and the like. The reason is simple -- he may have come out of the same hard-boiled screwball scene that also included such writers as Norbert Davis, Geoffrey Homes, Cleve Adams, Robert Reeves, Dwight Babcock, Frank Gruber and Robert Leslie Bellem, but Latimer wrote books -- he didn't have to deal with the restrictions placed on periodicals by the United States Postal Service. Thus, he could go further farther than most. And yet it rarely felt gratuitous, but rough and honest. His readers were supposed to be shocked -- and amused. As David L. Vineyard pointed out in an eccellent comment on The Mystery File, "... once upon a time there were writers who dared to dare us -- to shock, titillate, and even challenge us -- and Latimer was one of the best, and did within the framework of some first class detective work too... (like) Chandler, (Latimer) would use a rough rather black and grim humor to color his stories and novels. Both writers wanted the reader to notice "the tarantula on the angel food cake." It's a very American tradition that goes back to Washington Irving and Poe and is notable in Mark Twain. In some ways it is the American literary voice."

By the late thirties, Latimer had begun working as a screenwriter, a profession he continued for several decades. He worked on a lot of B-films, like the Charlie Chan and Lone Wolf series, as well as such classics such as The Glass Key and The Big Clock, and at least one lost treasure, 1953's Plunder of the Sun, based on the P.I. novel of the same name by David Dodge. In the sixties he moved on to television, and became a major contributor to the Perry Mason series.

NOVELS

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FILM

  • THE WESTLAND CASE
    (1937, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Latimer

  • THE LADY IN THE MORGUE
    (1938, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Latimer

  • THE LAST WARNING
    (1938, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Latimer

  • THE LONE WORLD SPY HUNT
    (1939)

  • PHANTOM RAIDERS
    (1940)
    Starring William R. Lipman

  • A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS
    (1941)
    Based on the novel Sing a Song of Homicide by James R. Langham
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by William Clemens
    Starring Preston Foster, Patricia Morison, Albert Dekker

Police lieutenant Steve Abbott investigates a murder case, but all clues point to his wife, Ethel, as the most likely suspect. Langham wrote four novels about detecting duo Ethel and Steve.

  • TOPPER RETURNS
    (1941)
    Starring Gordon Douglas, Paul Gerard Smith

  • THE GLASS KEY ..Buy this video ..Buy the DVD
    (1942, Paramount)
    Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Stuart Heisler
    Starring Alan Ladd as ED BEAUMONT

  • WHISTLING IN DIXIE
    (1942)
    Starring Nat Perrin

  • NOCTURNE
    (1946)
    Starring Frank Fenton, Rowland Brown, Joan Harrison

  • THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME
    (1946)
    Starring Gordon McDonnell

  • THE BIG CLOCK
    (1947)
    Based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing
    Starring Harold Goldman

  • BEYOND GLORY
    (1948)
    Starring Charles Marquis Warren, William Wister Haines

  • THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES
    (1948)
    Starring Barré Lyndon

  • SEALED VERDICT
    (1948)

  • ALIAS NICK BEAL
    (1949)
    Starring Mindret Lord

  • COPPER CANYON
    (1950)
    Starring Richard English

  • THE REDHEAD AND THE COWBOY
    (1950)
    Starring Liam O'Brien, Charles Marquis Warren

  • SUBMARINE COMMAND
    (1951)

  • BOTANY BAY
    (1953)

  • PLUNDER OF THE SUN ...Buy this DVD
    (1953, Warner Brothers)
    Based on the novel by David Dodge
    Directed by John Farrow
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Glenn Ford as AL COLBY

  • BACK FROM ETERNITY
    (1956)
    Starring Richard Carroll

  • THE UNHOLY WIFE
    (1957, RKO)
    Based on the play, "The Prowlers," by William Durkee
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Diana Dors, Rod Steiger, Tom Tryon, Beulah Bondi, Marie Windsor, Arthur Franz, Joe De Santis.

  • THE WHOLE TRUTH
    (1958)

  • NOTE: Latimer also supposedly worked (uncredited) on screenplays for the LONE WOLF and CHARLIE CHAN film series.

TELEVISION

  • CHARLIE CHAN

  • THE LONE WOLF
    (1954)
    Syndicated as Streets of Danger
    39 episodes
    Based on characters created
    by Louis Joseph Vance
    Writers: Jonathan Latimer, others
    Starring Louis Hayward as THE LONE WOLF


  • MARKHAM
    (1959-60, ABC)
    Latimer wrote six episodes of this detective show, created by Sterling Silliphant and Robert C. Dennis, and starring Ray Milland as wealthy attorney who decides to become a private eye.
  • "The Glass Diamond" (June 20, 1959)
  • "Vendetta in Venice" (June 27, 1959)
  • "Candy Store Jungle" (January 9, 1960)
  • "Sing a Song of Murder" (January 16, 1960)
  • "A Coffin for Cinderella" (February 4, 1960)
  • "The Long Search" (March 10, 1960)
  • HONG KONG
    (1960-61, ABC)
    Latimer wrote 3 episodes for this short-lived series starring Rod Taylor as a two-fisted US reporter.
  • "The Jade Empress" (October 26, 1960)
  • "The Dragon Cup" (December 14, 1960)
  • "Murder by Proxy" (March 1, 1961)
  • PERRY MASON
    (1957-66, CBS)
    Latimer wrote 31 episodes, from 1960-65

  • COLUMBO: THE GREENHOUSE JUNGLE
    (1972, NBC)

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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