Friday, November 5, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 7

by Peter Enfantino

Continuing an issue by issue examination of the greatest crime digest of all time.

Vol. 1 No. 6 June 1953

Far Cry by Henry Kane
(11,000 words) *
Other than a change of scenery (this bar’s handle is “The Raven”), this is the same ol’ song and dance as Peter Chambers’ last escapade. More sleep-inducing head trauma, bedded broads, and double-crosses than you can shake a shot glass at.

Small Homicide by Evan Hunter
(4000 words) *** illo: J. Q. Farris
The strangled body of a baby girl is found in a church pew. The detectives of the 37th Precinct attempt to track down her killer. Not to be confused with McBain/Hunter's famous 87th Precinct series.

Ybor City by Charles Beckman, Jr.
(4000 words) **
Our nameless protagonist witnesses the murder of a blackmailer and pieces together the whereabouts of his murderers. When we finally find out who our narrator is, it’s not much of a surprise.

The Loyal One by Richard Deming
(4500 words) ***
A mortally wounded racketeer holes up in a snowed-in cabin with his wife Cynthia and their bodyguard. When it becomes apparent the mobster won’t make it, the loyal henchman sees Cynthia in a different light. Nasty climax.

The Faceless Man by Michael Fessier
(4000 words) **
Farmer Henry Rankins hires ex-con Claude Warren to help him tend to the farm. This angers the townspeople and, when Rankins is found dead, they become a brutal mob (the “faceless man” of the title) out for blood. The only thing standing in their way is Sheriff Ben Hodges. Not much in the way of an original plotline. This was Fessier's third and final story to appear in Manhunt, but he didn't stop writing. He turned his attention to writing teleplays, with several dozen produced for such diverse shows as Have Gun, Will Travel, Johnny Stacatto, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The High Chaparral, Mister Ed, and Lost in Space.

The Double Frame by Harold Q. Masur
(4500 words) *1/2
Lawyer Scott Jordan’s third Manhunt adventure finds him stalked and confronted by an ex-con who’s convinced Jordan has stolen his stashed loot. The reader will know the identities of the real looters before it dawns on the slow-witted lawyer.

The Caller by Emmanuel Winters
(5000 words) *** illo: R. Cossette
Some foul-mouthed brute has been calling Miss Turner and reading her the works. Miss Turner, being prim and proper, is properly disgusted and goes to the police to file a complaint. When the police knab the lothario, he tells them he had been hired by one of Miss Turner’s work associates. The true identity is a mild surprise.

Hot-Rock Rumble by Richard S. Prather
(14,500 words) **
Shell Scott is hired by wealthy Jules Osborne to recover his mistress’ stolen jewelry before she makes trouble for the man. Scott engages in his usual romantic antics and his noggin suffers the requisite blows, all wrapped up tidily in a novelette. The Scott character is a fairly well-written character, but I guess my problem with the lesser Scott stories (this being one of them) is that they’re not tough enough for Manhunt. They’re lightweight in the same way that formula crime shows like Mannix, Ironside and Barnaby Jones are. There’s no sense of danger to the lead or his trusted supporting cast.

One Down by Hunt Collins
(1000 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Adele hates Ben’s job and the fact that it keeps him away from home so much. Ben’s decided to keep the job and rid himself of Adele. Another of McBain/Hunter's pseudonymous stories.

This issue's "Mugged and Printed" features Henry Kane, Richard Deming, Evan Hunter, Richard S. Prather, Charles Beckman, Jr., and Michael Fessier.

Also in this issue, Vincent H. Gaddis' "Crime Cavalcade" and "Manhunt's Movie of the Month" (Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker).

Vol. 1 No. 7 July 1953 Cover art by L.M. (?)

The Wench is Dead by Fredric Brown
(8500 words) **1/2 illo: Tom O'Sullivan
A motley assortment of humans: Howard Parry, ex-Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, now stinking drunk; Wilhelmina Kidder, aka Billie the Kidd, exotic dancer, hooker, and Parry’s drinking partner; Mamie Gaynor, heroin addict and soon a cooling corpse and a royal pain to our two drinking buddies. Add to this several junkies, whores, and alcoholics and you have a perfect picture of life in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Brown’s unrelenting gloom rivals that of the king of depression, Davis Goodis, in bleakness if not in quality.

Quiet Day in the County Jail by Craig Rice
(4000 words) ** illo: JQ Farris
For her own protection, a State’s witness is kept locked in a cell under constant watch. Though she’s protected by several guards, the woman seems convinced she’ll be killed by the mobster she’s to testify against.

I’ll Kill for You by Fletcher Flora
(4000 words) ** illo: Tom O'Sullivan
A very short and unaffecting tale of love, adultery, and murder. An early line: “A last whimper of regret at the doorway to Hell,” sounds like something George Chesbro would cook up for the title of one of his Mongo novels a few decades later.

Day’s Work by Jonathon Lord
(1000 words) **
Short-short about two hitmen on the way to a job who witness a hit and run.

Good and Dead by Evan Hunter
(5500 words) ** ½ illo: R. Cossette
Skid row bum Matt Cordell puts his old gumshoe skills to the test when one of his drinking buddies is found with a hole in his head. One of the weaker of the Cordell entries.

Say Goodby to Janie by Bruno Fischer
(8000 words) * illo: Rus Anderson
Paul Sherman, head of the City Crime Commission finds himself in all manner of bad ways – he’s convinced the mayor is accepting bribes but can’t prove it just yet; he’s having an affair with the mayor’s wife; then, to top it all off, he’s accused of murder. A meandering, unmemorable mess that reminds me of the Grade-Z noir melodramas that sometimes find their way onto late night cable. The kind of tale where the protagonist holds a gun on the bad guys at the climax and explains (to the audience and the patient police) how he came up with his suppositions (often in an unbelievable way).

The Follower by Hunt Collins
(2500 words) ** illo: R. Cossette
Ella Brant is convinced someone is following her home from the busstop every night but her husband thinks she’s got an overactive imagination. She doesn’t.

I’m Getting Out by Elliot West
(3500 words) **** illo: JQ Farris
Farm hand Tom has finally had enough of his boss Jake’s bullying and murdering ways. He leaves the farm, but before he can get on the bus, Jake’s wife Poppy begs him to take her with him. Tom wants no part of the soulless woman but decides to go back to the farm to get wages owed him. When he gets there, Poppy convinces Jake that Tom assaulted her and murder follows. Lots of interesting twists in what could have been a cliched “love triangle” in that Tom can’t stand the sight of the beautiful woman and wants only to get his money. Topped off with a really nasty climax.

Evidence by Frank Kane
(4000 words) *1/2 illo: Tom O'Sullivan
Swingin’ dick Johnny Liddell hands are full again. This time, a beautiful redhead enlists Johnny’s help when she’s blackmailed. You’ll never guess what the babe uses as her retainer.

The Double Take by Richard S. Prather
(11,000 words) **
Bad guys are using Shell Scott’s good name and his office to bilk unsuspecting folk out of large quantities of money. Shell doesn’t take this lying down. At least not until he gets the girl in the end.

Heirloom by Arnold Marmor
(1000 words) **
Hired gun Del only has to steal a necklace to earn his hundred bucks. The boss warns him not to touch the beautiful owner of the jewelry but Del is his own guy. Lurid ending is right out of Tales From the Crypt.

This issue's "Mugged and Printed" features Fredric Brown, Frank Kane, Bruno Fischer, and Craig Rice.

Also in this issue, "Crime Cavalcade" by Vincent H. Gaddis and the second installment of "Portrait of a Killer" by Dan Sontup. This issue's killer is Charles Henry Schwartz, a man who faked his own death for life insurance payouts.

Addendum: As you've probably noticed, I've added credits for interior illustrations when they're noted. Manhunt was lousy when it came to giving credit to its artists. I'll also note cover artists when they're credited.

Also, I should have noted price and page count for each issue. Each of the first seven issues contained 144 interior pages and sold for thirty five cents.

Finally, beginning this week, as you also may have noticed, I've increased the issues covered in each week's column. Cross your fingers and pray for me.


Walker Martin said...

This is your best MANHUNT post yet Peter. Two for the price of one. Of course the price is $0.00 but you get what I mean. I can understand your attitude toward PI fiction based on the stories of Frank Kane, Henry Kane, and Richard Prather. The cliches, The cliches!

Unknown said...

The Wench is Dead in its expanded form was for many years my favorite Fredric Brown novel. May still be.

Todd Mason said...

If I was the artist for the second cover, I might keep a low profile, as well. You've found better Bruno Fischer stories over the years, I hope...I certainly have.

MANHUNT, I gather, was basically put together in these years by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in their offices...I don't know what, if any, input titular editor McCloud ("yes, Chief?") had on those choices. Perhaps that explains some of the less stellar selections, in illos and fiction...

Jack Seabrook said...

In Fredric Brown's wife's book, she wrote that Manhunt offered Brown $1000 to write a 10,000 word story for the magazine. He wrote "The Wench is Dead" in response to this offer.

Ramon the cook is the first character in Brown's fiction to be addicted to heroin.

Howie Perry quotes Lovelace's "To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars." Having an erudite alcoholic is something Brown did more than once--think of Sweeney in The Screaming Mimi, for example. The title is from Marlowe's The Jew of Malta.

It's literary quotations like these in the mouths of seedy characters that make Brown's fiction so unique and enjoyable to me.

Brown expanded the novelette in 1954 to novel length and it had major changes. In the novelette, Perry drifts to L.A. and becomes a wino by chance; in the novel, he is a high school sociology teacher from Chicago who goes to L.A. to live on skid row as a wino to gather material for his thesis.

The novelette is good but the novel is great. I go into more detail in my book, Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, published in 1993 by the late, lamented Popular Press.

Peter Enfantino said...

Yeah, I've found some good Bruno Fischer stories in the past and those may come up fairly quick in one column or another.

Peter Enfantino said...

Jack and Bill-
You've made me want to read the novel version of "The Wench is Dead" now. Thanks for the recs. It's now on my want list.

Ultimate Tactical Warrior said...

Great article Pete. Reading yours gave me the urge to go dig up my Big Book of Noir book to reread "My Friend Fredric Brown" by Walt Sheldon.

A short, but good essay/article that painted an interesting portrait of the author.