Friday, February 20, 2015

"Out-Hams Hammett"? The Green Shadow (1935), by James Edward Grant

James Edward Grant (1905-1966) is best known today as a Hollywood scriptwriter and member of the inner circle of John Wayne.  He wrote scripts for a dozen Wayne films, including Angel and the Badman (which he also directed), Sands of Iwo Jima, Flying Leathernecks, Big Jim McClain, Hondo, Trouble Along the Way, The Barbarian and the Geisha, The Alamo, The Comancheros, Donovan's Reef, McClintock! and Circus World.

Although now most associated with Westerns and action films, Grant did write some screenplays for crime genre movies, including Miracles for Sale, based on Clayton Rawson's locked room mystery Death from a Top Hat (1939), Johnny Eager (1942), for which Van Heflin won an Oscar, and Ring of Fear, which starred Mickey Spillane as--well, Mickey Spillane (Grant directed that one too). Another crime film, Whipsaw, starring Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, was based on a 1934 Grant short story.  He also was nominated for an Oscar for his script for a Glenn Ford western, The Sheepman.

Far less remembered is what appears to be Grant's solitary crime novel, a very hard-boiled tale called The Green Shadow that was published by The Hartney Press in 1935, the same year the film Whipsaw appeared.  Hartney was a new concern that ambitiously promised to publish four novels monthly, including a mystery, but in the event only seems to have produced, in the mystery line, one additional book, Q. Patrick's excellent, if rather grisly, The Grindle Nightmare (1935), reviewed by John Norris.  An author biography section in The Green Shadow promises readers that Grant was working on a new mystery for Hartney, but it seems never to have appeared (Grant evidently was more interested in working directly in film).

The author bio aimed to assure readers that Grant, like Dashiell Hammett, had an authentic background for writing hard-boiled fiction.  A native Chicagoan and son of a "Chief Investigator for the State Attorney of Illinois," Grant drifted, we are told, "into the newspaper game," where he

became a specialist in rackets and other forms of muscle-and-gun crimes.  He handled the publicity angle of several sensational exposes including the multi-million dollar frauds in the City Sealers Office, and also the trade-union news for a labor magazine during the years that the gangsters were gunning their way into the unions.  His assignments led him into a personal acquaintance with most of Chicago's boom-boom boys.  His syndicated column, "It's a Racket," analyzed some three hundred separate and distinct rackets.  The articles caused such a stir in the Chicago underworld that several prominent mobsters left town.  

The Green Shadow was a success, winning notice--not entirely laudatory--for its extreme hard-boiledness.  The Saturday Review declared that the novel "out-Hams Hammett" and the New York Times avowed of the characters: "Their speech and their actions are completely uninhibited, and the author makes no attempt to tone them down.  If he had, his book could be more warmly and generally recommended."  Despite this admonition, the Times admitted that "James Edward Grant has written a story that will make the other exponents of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction look to their laurels."

The film version of The Green Shadow, Muss 'em Up, appeared the next year.  The film was directed by Charles Vidor and received a rave review from Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times, who interestingly observed:

It is a compliment to James Edward Grant, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, to say that his [sleuth] Tip O'Neil might have been invented by Dashiell Hammett himself.  Tough, witty, eminently practical, Tip (short for Tippecanoe) is a perfect illustration of the modern detective hero. Unless you happen to be a member of the crime trust (fictionally speaking), you may not know that the armchair [sic] detective, best represented by Sherlock Holmes and Philo Vance, has lost his grip. The new generation of mystery story readers wants detectives who can meet criminals on their own ground and plow them under.  Mr. Grant's Tip is not merely willing to meet his opponents on their home ground but to burrow a little.  Which is both unethical and enjoyable.

On the other hand, Bill Pronzini in Gun in Cheek was less enamored with Grant's wisecracking tough guy sleuth Tip O'Neil.  Pronzini deemed the Grant's shamus a typical example of the hard-boiled private eye as mere smart-ass,  "an annoying convention" that lasted for decades.

What did I think of The Green Shadow and Tip O'Neil?  Check in this weekend and see!


  1. RING OF FEAR is a pretty bad movie. With that as an example of Grant's writing I'm not convinced that his first novel is anything noteworthy. I called RING OF FEAR the worst "crime at the circus" movie ever made in a review I wrote on a movie website. The story is dull and the dialogue is wretched. Spillane's role in the movie is pointless. He does nothing! He smokes cigarettes and trades quips with dull policemen who also seem to do nothing. Sean McClory's histrionic performance as the maniacal killer is the movie's only exciting part but not in a good way. He's unintentionally funny.

    Hartney Press went out of business fairly fast. It lasted only one year. And the titles they did publish seem to indicate why. Tough Little Trollop and Raiders of the Tonto Rim say it all, don't they?

    1. Yeah, Ring of Fear sounds pretty dire (naturally it's available on disc). However, he had good films to his credit too!

      Hartney Press seems to have published only two mysteries, Green Shadow and Grindle Nightmare, which I noticed just now you reviewed, so I am adding a link to it above. the books are rather attractively made, with a unique endpaper design. I wish HP had been more successful because the two mysteries they published have interest. They remind me of a less successful version of Claude Kendall's concern, discussed on this blog awhile back.

  2. Sounds good to me. I'll try and track down a copy and maybe the film, too. Thanks.

  3. Grant wrote a lot of solid screenplays but I had no idea he wrote a mystery novel - thanks for the great review Curtis.