Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Sidebar 1: Some Orchids for James Hadley Chase
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.Sunday Dispatch, quoted on back of 1961 Panther edition.
Now for a header into the cesspool.George Orwell (1944)
James Hadley Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) did for the gangster novel what Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep did in the same year for the private-eye novel.
Both works were clarifiers, intensifiers, transformers.
A millionaire’s beautiful red-headed daughter (no first name, always Miss Blandish) falls into the clutches of a family-type Depression-era gang run by heavy-set, sinister Ma Grisson (with an “n”). Through a combination of beatings and dope, principally the latter, Ma turns her into a sex slave for her sadistic son Slim, an extrapolation from two of real-life Ma Barker’s four sons and “Popeye” Vitelli in William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931).
When the authorities fail to find her, Miss Blandish’s father hires a tough private-eye, Dave Fenner, who cracks the case and helps the cops to wipe out the gang and rescue Miss Blandish.
Chandler eroticized the private-eye genre by amplifying the chivalrous aspects. Chase eliminates them almost entirely and puts rape and the possibility of rape at the centre of a narrative in which women can’t count on conventional protections of any kind.
Nor can men. This is a novel in which fear, as well as greed and lust, is a powerful motivator.
There are no magic shields, no moral entitlements. Dumb-but-nice hatcheck-girl Maisey, well-intentioned minor racketeer Rocco, neutral hideout-operator Johnny, would-be-protective playboy McGowan, are all wiped away.
But it isn’t a downer. It isn’t noir-depressive.
In “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944), George Orwell called the book “a brilliant piece of writing, with hardly a word wasted or a false note anywhere.” The chapters are too long, and I wouldn’t have expected customers to be able to take bottles of Scotch to their tables in a Kansas hash-house, and so on. But the flaws are minor.
The book reads as though everything has unscrolled with perfect clarity in front of Chase’s mind’s eye.
The text that I shall be referring to, and which Orwell himself was evidently using, is that of the first Jarrolds edition, which is also available in the 1961 Corgi paperback. For more about the various editions, see Afterpiece 1 and Afterpiece 5.
This is the Depression-era Midwest of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, the Karpis-Barker gang, and others, rather than Al Capone’s Chicago. The characters don’t have to master the complicated rules of big-city political machines and large-scale bootlegging operations.
There no coincidences and no hints of Fate at work, either pro or con. Basically, people are defeated and/or killed because others with whom they are in conflict, on either side of the law, are stronger, smarter, and more ruthless than they are.
Orwell considered this Fascism. But since there are no intimations that the strong ought to prevail simply by virtue of being stronger, I don’t think it is, and it seems to me a healthier attitude than the programmatic noir pessimism of the James M. Cain variety
Nor, Orwell to the contrary, are the characters simply seeking power over others. What they’re mainly after is moneymoney and the security that it can bring.
The ultra-violences pilloried by Orwell are indeed unforgettable, especially Slim’s killing of the minor hoodlum Riley (“The knife went in slowly as if it were going into butter.”), the third-degreeing of Eddie Schultz, and, at the outset, the killing by Bailey of Miss Blandish’s playboy date for the evening, who has drunkenly knocked him down during the snatch.
He drove his left into MacGowan’s body and, as the boy came forward, he socked him across the eyes and nose with the life-preserver. Miss Blandish heard the bone go, quite distinctly, like the sharp note of breaking wood. Jerry folded up. He lay on his back in the road, lit by the headlights, his long legs threshing in agony, as he held his hands to his face.
Bailey proceeds to kick him to death.
When Ma Grisson, after slapping Miss Blandish silly, tells her that if her father gets tricky about the ransom money, “I’m goin’ to take you apart in bits, an’ those bits will be sent to your pa every goddam day until he learns to play ball,” we believe her.
Miss Blandish “was blind with shock. Her world had caved in, leaving her terrified and broken.”
But despite their intensity, and their contributions to the atmosphere of anxiety, such incidents take up very little space. For the most part the killings are practical and non-sadisticeliminating inconvenient witnesses, escaping from cops.
The third-degreeing of Eddie Schultz is practicalthe classic scenario of the one man who can lead them to Miss Blandish being a tough egg who won’t squeal otherwise.
Orwell’s statement that “the police kill off the criminals as cruelly as the angler kills the pike” is a curious way of describing the storming of the town fortress in which the gang blaze away with tommy guns until the end. The police and the F.B.I. have evidently not been strong-arming their way to a solution before Blandish brings in Fenner, who cooperates with them.
Making others suffer, psychologically as well as physically, can still be enjoyable, and a woman can be as cruel to a woman as a man can. Slim has evidently been a sadist since childhood, though Ma’s cruelty seems practical rather than sexual.
Orwell is misleading, though, when he says that “such things as affection, friendship, good nature or even ordinary politeness simply do not enter.”
The relationship between Fenner and his perky, playful secretary Paula is charming. Fenner’s reassurance to Blandish (“’I’ll get those thugs,’ he said softly, ’if it’s the last thing I do’”) is not that of someone simply in it for the money. And at the end he displays considerable sensitivity in his handling of the rescued Miss Blandish, who after three months in the Grissons’ hands will now have to live with unbearable memories.
Orwell is also, it seems to me, needlessly sniffy about the phenomenon of No Orchids being especially popular during the Blitz and ordinary soldiers relaxing with “Action Mags” in combat situations.
What ought they to have been reading? Something by Orwell’s favourites like Fielding or George Meredith? One of those “old-style” English novels in which “you knocked your man down and chivalrously waited for him to get up before knocking him down again”? (untitled review, April 23, 1936)
When you’re unbearably stressed and mind-weary, you can seek the comfort of the innocently familiar, such as your favourite childhood books; or else surrender to a high-energy buzz that, in its coarser way, also eliminates moral complexities and the need for thought.
In Now It Can Be Told (1920), the war correspondent Philip Gibbs reported of the Western Front that in fact, “Even with hours of leisure, men who had been ’bookish’ could not read. … The most ‘exciting’ novel was dull stuff up against that world convulsion.” (p.139).
But, as so often happens, Orwell raises the important questions, and it is his essay that has kept No Orchids for Miss Blandish alive for serious consideration
In British Gangster and Exploitation Paperbacks of the Postwar Years (1997), Maurice Flanagan reprints the blurb for the revised Panther edition of 1961. It includes the statement that “No Orchids for Miss Blandish was written in six week-ends during the late summer of 1938” (p.9). Steve Holland, in his introduction to Flanagan’s book, says,
No Orchids for Miss Blandish was written over six weekends during the summer of 1938. At the time its author, James Hadley Chase (the pseudonym of René Lodge Brabazon Raymond (1906-1985) was working as a bookseller for the wholesalers Simpson Marshall, handling distribution to retail outlets and the tuppeny lending libraries. Writing a hard-boiled novel was purely marketing on behalf of its author, who had seen how quickly copies of The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain were sold.
To me, as to others, this sounds a bit like myth-making, presumably by Chase himself.
In The Mushroom Jungle, Holland describes some remarkable feats of speed-writing, and Chase could obviously work fast, since his solid He Won’t Need It Now also appeared in 1939. I can see doing No Orchids in twelve consecutive days, wired on very strong sweet tea, the English non-alcoholic stimulant of preference back then. But in six separate spurts? At a time when the working week lapped over into Saturday mornings?
Still, Chase provides an interesting account of his creative processes in a 1965 interview in the Nouvelle Observateur,
I always work in the same way. I sit in an armchair and wait. One day an idea grabs me, but most often it doesn’t go anywhere. I go on waiting, I work at it, this can go on for a couple of months. I don’t do anything but think about it. It becomes more complicated, evolves, transforms itself. I don’t make any notes. When I sense it’s reached the right point, I begin writing directly onto the typewriter. Working very early in the morning. Everything, absolutely everything, comes from here (he taps his brow with his finger). (Translation mine)
So if when he sat down to write No Orchids he was simply transcribing what was there in his head … ?
The only English edition of Postman up to that point appears to have been in 1934, and the only English edition of Faulkner’s Sanctuary in 1931. American pulp ’zines were coming into England in the Thirties. But I don’t think that copies of books published in the States would have been imported for sale.
Obviously the central situation of Sanctuary is lodged in Chase’s consciousness—a girl from a good family falls into the hands of low-lifes and is memorably raped (after a fashion) by a degenerate gunman.
And a blurb on a 1941 paperback impression of the first edition of No Orchids announces, “For the vast audience who hailed ’The Postman Always Rings Twice’ and [Horace McCoy’s] ’They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ may I offer the deadliest of all those tales.”
But No Orchids has nothing in common stylistically with either Sanctuary or Postman.
On the other hand, Paul Cain’s Fast One, which it does resemble, came out in England in March 1936, a cheap edition of Graham Greene’s A Gun for Sale (aka This Gun for Hire) appeared in January of 1938, and Greene’s Brighton Rock was published in July of the same year.
My own guess, though, is that none of these, whatever they may have suggested about sales possibilities, was the grain of sand in the oyster.
One such grain was most likely provided by Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care, published in London in January 1938. Chase’s titling his second novel The Dead Stay Dumb may have been a tip of the hat to that effect.
The greater part of this fourth Bill Crane novel is as good as a vacation among the drinking rich in the still unspoiled Florida of the Thirties.
But in the last two chapters we find that rich, small, drunky, likable Camelia Essex, who has been snatched outside a nightclub earlier, is being held in a cabin-cruiser off the Florida keys by pock-marked, stocky Frankie, plump soprano-voiced, clammy-handed Toad, skeletal Dopey (not named after the Disney character), and granite-faced George, owner of the boat.
Frankie and George, with investigator Bill Crane and Cam’s fiancé Tony Lamphier bound and helpless in the same cabin, are all set to start raping her (“’Want me to hold her?’ George called”) when . . . . well, read the book.
The following passage from earlier in the novel seems to me granular:
[Crane] wondered what it was like to be a woman and held by kidnapers. He often wondered what it was like to be a woman, but never before in connection with kidnapping. He supposed it was pretty bad. In the first place, when you were kidnapped, man or woman, you were always in doubt whether your captors would ultimately kill you or release you. But with a woman there was another consideration. With a pretty girl like Camelia Essex, especially, there was another consideration.
It was funny people never spoke about this. It was like solo transoceanic flyers. You never heard how they went to the bathroom. It was just something you never spoke about. And so was being raped by kidnapers. What was standard practice? He was a detective, but he didn’t know. How the hell could you know? A girl wouldn’t say: Why, yes, thank you, I was raped. He didn’t think the average kidnaper was above a little rape. (Ch. 6)
Something else in all likelihood was also going on in Chase’s creative processes.
This was the summer of 1938, when master political Capone-figure Adolf Hitler and his perfectly cast gangster crew—fat, pseudo-jovial Herman Goering, twisted crippled Josef Goebbels, chinless bespectacled slug-like Heinrich Himmler, arrogant faux-aristocrati Joachim von Ribbentrop, and others—were in full career.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles was in tatters, Germany had reintroduced conscription and been re-arming, the Rhineland area was snatched back from France in 1936, German planes had been assisting General Franco’s forces in Spain, and in March 1938, after nibbling at the edges, Germany annexed the whole of Austria, all this without any opposition from Britain and France.
Czechoslovakia, with its substantial German population, was now under threat, with France and England cautioning it against resistance.
War with Nazi Germany was now a possibility for any seriously thinking person (my own father bought a 1928 Overland Whippet for ten pounds in which to evacuate us from London if needs be), and it promised to be cataclysmic.
H.G. Wells, that nearest thing to a modern seer, had been predicting the devastations of aerial bombardment since The War in the Air (1908) and The World Set Free (1914), with London lying in ruins in the opening part of the very depressing 1936 movie Things to Come. The filming of his The Shape of Things to Come (1933).
In 1937, according to Google, “For over three hours, twenty-five or more of Germany's best-equipped bombers, accompanied by at least twenty more Messerschmitt and Fiat Fighters, dumped one hundred thousand pounds of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the village [of Guernica ], slowly and systematically pounding it to rubble.”
Through the narrator at the end of his novel Coming Up for Air the following year, George Orwell was predicting that war would be the end of the old muddling-along-somehow England, and that rubber truncheons, barbed wire, and “all the things you’ve got at the back of your mind, the things you’re terrified of, the things that you tell yourself are just a nightmare or only happen in foreign countries,” were on their way.
When one contemplates being attacked, whether in a home invasion or on a larger scale, it is natural to think of defence, as happens in numerous movies, such as The Desperate Hours, Cape Fear, and Straw Dogs,
Chase himself was the son of an army Colonel, albeit one in the veterinary branch.
In “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” as I have said, Orwell characterize No Orchids (so vastly better a seller than his own novel) as being essentially about the pursuit of power.
I think that that gets it a bit wrong, over and above the fact that what the gangsters, small and larger, are after is money.
No Orchids is surely about how to cope with groups who are ruthless in their own exercise of power. As Lee Horsley says of Slim Grisson in The Noir Thriller, we have tests here of “a society’s resolve.”
Miss Blandish’s drunken upper-class squire for the night, taking the kind of gentlemanly swing at Bailey that Orwell seemingly favoured in the comments I quoted earlier, is shattered by Bailey’s cosh and kicked to death.
The police and the FBI get nowhere in the case for three months, during which Miss Blandish, her world collapsed, her over-class self treated with a total lack of respect, is in hell among the effectively organized plebs.
Finally her father, the Meat King, buys the services of a private operator who, while not driven simply by greed, is not afraid to cut some corners, roughing up Mexican night-club owner Pete (at some risk to himself from the staff), getting hard-as-nails gun-moll Anna Borg to release crucial facts by threatening to grill her boyfriend Eddie Schultz’s face with her portable electric stove, and getting to Johnny’s place a short jump ahead of the mob, where he just misses being machine-gunned and hand-grenaded.
After which he picks up Eddie and watches while the wrecking-crew work on him in the notorious third-degree episode.
Eddie … didn’t say anything. Fenner turned sour. “Quit playin’ with him, can’t you?” he said to the cops. “This guy’s tough, ain’t he? Well, get tough too.”
Which sounds like good advice, and it works.
Fenner’s approach isn’t cost-free.
He sends poor, nice, scared hat-check girl Maysie to scout for Miss Blandish in the Grissons’ lair and gets her killed.
But it would have made good sense to members of the European Resistance, I imagine. And one shouldn’t put too much store by the wartime movie images of chivalrous British youth.
Behaving decently when not actually fighting was one thing, and very important, as witness the horrors of the totally unchivalrous Battle of Stalingrad. In Now It Can Be Told, Philip Gibbs had convincingly reported seeing “Our men treat[ing] their prisoners, nearly always, after the blood of battle was out of their eyes, with a good-natured kindness that astonished the German themselves.”(p. 406). Some traditions don’t wither away. There were astonishing episodes at the end of WW2 when liberated prisoners of war in the infamous Japenese camps did not turn on their bewildered guards and rend them.
But when it came to killing, the pertinent ethos soon became that of the great teacher of hand-to-hand combat, W.E. (“Dan”) Fairbairn, of whom one admirer, as quoted on Google, recalls, “All of us who were taught by Major Fairbairn soon realized that he had an honest dislike for anything that smacked of decency in fighting.”
According to a blurb, Chase’s “book was the most read by the men and women of the [British] Armed Forces.”
At age thirty-two and with nothing special to show from his life to date, but with in his head the consciousness of a book that he might be able to write, Chase may well have felt that he had nothing to lose by giving up on a programmatic “decency,” and that he would let his imagination take him wherever the demands of his story required.
He had obviously been thinking and reading about gangsters, and about the very different crime culture of the States, for some time, and he was indeed presenting, as Orwell suggests, “a distilled version of the modern political scene.”
As someone who, like Orwell, hadn’t been able to go to university, he was probably exasperated by charming, chattering, upper-classish types like Robert Donat’s Richard Hannay in Hitchcock’s espionage thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and Michael Redgrave in The Lady Vanishes (1938), that exhibition of too-too-terribly-English fumblings in the attempt to cope with, or even acknowledge the reality of, Fascist Europe.
An obvious grain of sand came from Horace McCoy’s No Pockets in a Shroud, published first in Britain in 1937, in which, as it happens, one of the characters is named Grisson.
The protagonist, feckless, womanizing journalist Michael Dolan, conscious of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s predations over in Europe, and naively setting out to tell the truth about local corruption in his new little newspaper, is pretty irritating. When he runs up against his home-town equivalent of the Klan, to which apparently all the right-thinking establishment citizens belong, and is bumped off, it is really only to be expected.
Which leaves future prospects pretty bleak, except maybe for the two undercover Communists who have been involved with him.
However, in a curious episode, he steps entirely out of character when he tells a rich local Senator whose carefree daughter he has impulsively married and whom he’s trying to extract money from for his paper, how during an earlier sexcapade he’d got some cop friends of his to deal with a private-eye who’d been tailing him.
“Well, the coppers don’t particularly care for private dicks at best, so we took this fellow to a little room down in the basement. A sound-proofed room, Senator, with only one chaira replica of an electric chairin the middle, with a big spotlight shining in the face of whoever sits in it. We strapped this fellow in and bruised him up a little, but still he wouldn’t talk. So we went to work on him with the rubber hoseand a couple of hours later he admitted that Fred Coughlin had hired him.” (p. 96)
After which he puts the crooked Coughlin out of action with a photo of him in a hotel with an under-age schoolgirl.
I am not, heaven forbid, suggesting that Chase was consciously writing an allegory. The term “allegory” too easily invites emotional distancing and the replacement of mixed bundles of banknotes with gambling chips—or Monopoly money.
But we do have an obvious overlapping of the Sanctuary image of rape at the hands of low-lifes as an ultimate powerlessness, the power-charged and power-seeking activities of American gangsters, and what Hitler and his gang had been up to in their dealings with other countries.
And, yes, Slim Grisson’s weapon of choice is the knife.
And if we recall only one thing about gang-leader Mackie Messer in Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928; brilliantly filmed by G.W. Pabst in 1931), it is that he is Mack the Knife.
And the massacre of Hitler’s principal rival Ernst Röhm and other Brownshirt leaders in the summer of 1934 was “The Night of the Long Knives.”
And the most unforgettable episode in No Orchids is when Slim slowly pushes his switchblade into the bared belly of lesser gangster Frankie Riley, tied to a tree. (See Sidebar 11.)
And, yes, a length of rubber hose and a rubber truncheon are both rubber, and there is something disquieting about an innocent gardening aid containing pain and a truncheon being flexible, perverting a substance that in rubber bands and bouncing balls is a bit playful.
The rubber truncheon, the ominously named Totschläger (beater-to-death), was a basic tool of social control in Fascist Europe, and had already figured prominently in interrogations in Eric Ambler’s Cause for Alarm (1936) and Background to Danger (1937).
During a lunch at my day-school in the summer of 1939, one of the older boys produced a rubber truncheon that was passed around the table at which I was sitting. It was unexpectedly hard and heavy.
This being England, it never, so far as I know, surfaced on any other occasion. No intimidation was implied. This was a decent private school (see my “Poetry and the Headmaster’s Wife”), with almost no corporal punishment, though one boy, not one of the two German-Jewish refugees, was swarmed in the playground.
For more, see:
Note 3. Editions of LadyDon’t Turn Over and No Orchids for Miss Blandish.
Sidebar 8. Scandal (the court case and resulting bowdlerization).
The text of the first edition of No Orchids (Jarrolds, 1939) is the best one. It reappears in the 1961 Robert Hale edition and the 1977 Corgi edition. It might be thought of as the “H’yah” edition.
On the second or third page, small-time gangster Bailey, sitting in Minnie’s hash-house on a hot dry July morning in small-town Kansas, calls out to blonde, busty Minnie, “H’yah, Gorgeous” when he wants some service.
In the revised 1942 text, “H’yah” is dropped, presumably because that’s simply what one would say by way of a first greeting. Nor does it appear in subsequent editions.
“Hey, juicy fruit” is an improvement over “H’yah.” But the 1942 revisions, which are mainly in the first half of the novel, are cumulatively regrettable.
The in places tightened phrasing breaks the rhythm of the prose. Normal lecherous feelings on the part of minor characters are eliminated. Miss Blandish is given some un-speakable lines of dialogue of the “You can’t do this to me!” variety that make her seem snobbish, spoiled, and wimpy.
At the same time, we lose a fifty-line passage in which she movingly describe to gang-member Eddie Schultz, who has some sympathy for her, her nightmarish perception of Slim through a drugged haze.
And Slim, who in the original version is a homicidal but sexually immature gangster who from the outset wants her fabulous pearl necklace for the gang and her body for himself, is turned in places into a drooling retard romantically in awe of her (he gives her back the pearls) and saving her from being bumped off by “the old wolf.”
In other parts, such as the episode in which he and Eddie tangle with the cops while looking for mystery-woman Anna Borg, he behaves perfectly normally. The result is incoherence.
The whole description of his first rape of Miss Blandish is cut. So is an earlier reference to his having seriously molested a little girl when he was a schoolkid.
There is also less sex on the part of minor characters and bit-players, like the drunks at the dance-party where we first see Miss Blandish, and Riley fondling her silk-covered thighs in the car. It makes the novel feel colder.
But the rewriting, as I said, is largely in the first half, before Fenner enters the scene. The endgame in which Slim is on the run with the dazed Miss Blandish in tow is one of the best parts of the book.
Until late in the game, I myself, after a quick skim, hadn’t bothered with the first-edition text (Corgi), having assumed that the other, being more staccato, was the right one.
The 1942 Howell, Soskin American edition has some of the same cuts and additions.
The novel has been filmed at least twice, as No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948), with Jack LaRue as Slim, and by Robert Aldrich as The Grissom Gang (1971).
The Aldrich movie, scripted by Leon Griffiths, who earlier did one of the most unsparing and atmospheric Hammer horrors, The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), brilliantly incarnates the narrative in a sweaty, three-dimensional, expressionistically coloured early Thirties America, with perfect casting.
Its basic derivation from the 1961 text works just fine.
Scott WIlsan is poignant as Slim, hopelessly, ridiculously, undeflectably in love (l’Amour fou). Miss (Barbara) Blandish, as played impeccably by Kim Darby, isn’t a gorgeous redhead without much identity, but a spoiled, snotty, explicitly snobbish little girl who is now learning something about the Depression-era underclass and mounting her own kind of unlovable resistance.
The movie is an impressive testimony to the continuing power of the fable, mutating from Faulkner’s Twenties South, via Thirties England, back to the States again.
Aldrich handles it as a labour of cinematic love, allowing things to proceed at the right emotional pace without a stop-watch-holding producer in mind, and achieves real pathos towards the end as Barbara reflects that she will now be restored to a father who will hate and reject her as damaged goods (he does) and that Slim has indeed been her one true love.
It is Aldrich’s most deeply serious movie. The account of it by Geoff Andrew in the 2002 Time Out movie annual is perfect.
Has the book been filmed under some other title elsewhere, I wonder? It feels like a natural for Japanese or Hong-Kong cinema.
It has also been made into two plays, the first by Chase himself and enjoying a long run in Britain, the second by Robert David MacDonald.
The 1948 sequel to No Orchids, The Flesh of the Orchid, is a cluttery pursuit-and-hide narrative in which Chase seems to have given up the attempt to make his characters’ speech sound American.
It largely lacks nail-biting suspense because (a) you are pretty sure that Carol Blandish, nineteen-year-old daughter of Slim Grisson and Miss Blandish (who presumably survives or never makes her suicide leap at the end of No Orchids), will finally be free of the more or less unlikable types who want a piece of her action as a prospective millionairess and (b) you don’t much care what happens to the characters who help her.
But the narrative achieves remarkable intensity in the finale, when professional hitman Max Sullivan, in hospital after being paralyzed on one side by a stroke, learns that Carol is in the room opposite his own after he’s undergone cranial surgery.
In his implacable determination to drag himself along the floor and kill her, with Chase writing at what is obviously full creative stretch, we see something essentially differentwoman as mysterious objectfrom the more complex movings-in on women by Glinto’s men.
She lay on her back, the sheet drawn up to her chin, her face the colour of snow in the bluish light. She looked as if she were deadvery lovely and calmbut he could see the slight rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. Her head was swathed in bandages, and only a wisp of her beautiful red hair showed beneath the bandages.
Max saw nothing of this: all he saw was someone to kill, just out of his reach, and, trembling with fury, he caught hold of the bed-rail and tried to lever himself up, but the dead side of his body proved too heavy.
He thought for a moment that he was going to have another stroke. To be so close to her, to have had to suffer so much to get to her, and for her still to be safe and beyond his reach was more than he could endure.
I suspect that writing like that is rare in Chase.
Too much of the time, at least in the handful of novels that I have tried, Chase’s prose stays at a steady level of B+ competence without any of the intensifyings within paragraphs, changes of pace from stretch to stretch, touches of humour, psychological insights, or interesting, even poetic, turns of phrase that keep one hooked when reading tough novelists like Jim Thompson, or John McPartland, or Charles Williams at his bleakest.
Would reading him be different if one thought that he was actually American? As it is, I am all the time waiting, half-consciously, for the equivalent of a pianist’s false note.
But the short stories collected after his death as Get a Load of This are very competent, and you, or at least I, would never have guessed that they weren’t normal American ’zine material.
They simply, to my mind, particularly when compared with the always rougher work of Kelly/Glinto/Toler, lack moral resonance. They are not, so far as I can see, really about anything.
In a 1983 note to an enquirer that I own, he says, “I’m happy to tell you that my book “GET A LOAD OF THIS” is completely unobtainable. This was my first (and only) attempt to write a book of short stories. It was a complete flop and has never been reprinted.”
A strong three-in-one volume would be the original uncut editions of No Orchids for Miss Blandish, Twelve Chinks and a Woman, and Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief. They are probably Chase’s best books. No doubt they would be politically unacceptable.
Since writing these comments, I have googled for “No Orchids for George Orwell” (it seemed a natural title) and come up with Susan Harris Smith’s article of that name in Armchair Detective, vol. 9, pp. 114-115. She is unintimidated by the prestigious “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” points to inaccuracies in Orwell’s account of No Orchids, and speaks up for aspects of the value system in No Orchids as opposed to that in the Raffles books that Orwell prefers.
However, the text of No Orchids that she refers to is different from both the 1939 one and the revised 1942 one.
Neither of them contains the passage that she quotes from near the end of the novel in which Miss Blandish laments the emptiness of her life before the kidnapping and deplores her general value system.
Nor does Bailey express in them a desire to become a chicken farmerBailey, who has furiously kicked Miss Blandish’s date in the head until he dies.
Her Panther edition (1961), which is the same as the 1980 Penguin one, is heavily revised. The prose is conventionally better at the outset, where Chase provides physical descriptions of the characters, and the book as a whole is a smoother read. But it has been “improved” the way 42nd Street has been improved. Eddie Schultz, for example, cracks after being merely slapped hard by one of the cops.
The passage of self- and class-criticism from which Smith quotes feels tacked on and, in its lucidity, inconsistent with the suicide leap that almost immediately ensues on it.
The physical description of Bailey also feels tacked on, having no expressive relationship to his character.
And yes, the Bailey of this book speaks of wanting to become a chicken-farmer. And no, of course this Bailey doesn’t kick McGowan to death. He simply shoots him.
The 1948 Novel Library The Villain and the Virgin and the 1951 Avon No Orchids are the same text with different covers and title pages. Both covers describe it as “revised and edited.” So far as I can see, this is the original text with some cuts but no additions.
Ma Grisson no longer slaps Miss Blandish silly, and may simply be threatening her with the rubber hose, rather than using it. Rico doesn’t have an orgasm before being knifed. Eddie Schultz caves in before the police beating starts. Miss Blandish doesn’t go to her death through the hotel window. The last words of the novel are now, “I want to be alone now. I’ve got to think,” a change which admittedly makes sense of her subsequently bearing the daughter who figures in Flesh of the Orchid.
Surprisingly, Lee Horsley in The Noir Thriller (2001) follows Smith in using the Disneyfied Penguin/Panther text without acknowledgment and quoting from the self-castigation by Miss Blandish that isn’t in the original version.
Some readers may prefer one of the revised editions. Presumably Chase himself wanted to make the novel more likable. But Orwell was talking about the first edition, and the revised editions are different not only in details, which are numerous, but in the central emphasis where Slim Grisson is concerned.
The first version is the fullest, the most self-consistent, and the best. Despite minor flaws like “Hi’yah.”
According to Steve Holland, Jarrolds reprinted the hardcover in 1940, 1942, and 1947, “to keep up with the library demand.” (SH/BGE), the libraries being the tuppenny lending libraries.
In any event, No Orchids exists in at least five different versions.
1. Jarrolds, 1939 hardcover and 1941 (?) paperback ; Corgi, 1961, paperback.
Miss Blandish is wearing pearls.
2. Jarrolds, 1942, revised. Hardcover and paperback; Harlequin paperback, 1951.
Miss B. is wearing diamonds. Substantial changes.
3. Howell, Soskin (U.S.), 1942.
The 1939 text with some of the same changes as in the 1942 Jarrolds edition. Miss B. still wearing pearls.
4. Avon, 1951; Diversey (Avon), 1948, 1949, as The Villain and the Virgin.
Pearls. No self-critical speech by Miss B. No suicide at the end. Eddie is socked on the head but not on knees and arm. Rocco doesn’t have an orgasm before being knifed. Other changes.
5. Panther, 1961; Penguin, 1980; heavily revised.
Diamonds. Self-critical speech, and suicide at the end, but the rich lady’s reaction to it omitted. Eddie gives in before being socked at all. Flynn and not Slim accompanies Eddy to the apartment building in search of Anna. Rocco, lying down, is knifed several times. There are other changes
If all this sounds confusing, it is.
In Donald Thomas’s An Underworld at War (2003), Chasebut better call him Raymond nowis described as “an English writer and serving RAF pilot” (p.314). In the article on him in the multivolume Dictionary of Literary Biography, we find him “becoming a squadron leader.” When myths get established, they’re hard to shake.
René (pronounced “Rennie”?) Raymond was born in 1906. There is no way in which a thirty-three-year old with no previous flying experience would be taken on for training as a pilotespecially not a fighter pilotin what the demands of the new technologies made very much a young man’s service. For the atmosphere back then, see The Last Enemy, the reminiscences of Richard Hillary (born 1919), or google for Hillary.
Moreover, Raymond himself is quoted in Robert Deleuse’s A la poursuite de James Hadley Chase as telling an interviewer that at the start of the war “I was attached to the Air Ministry, where I had to turn up every morning at 8:30. So, in order to continue writing, I got up every day at 5:30.” (Translation mine.).
Later on, he and the cartoonist David Langdon took over the editorship of the Royal Air Force Journal and turned it into what appears to have been a very professional publication. In the 1946 book of selections from it, Slipstream, both are Squadron Leaders.
“Squadron Leader” isn’t a term like “Platoon-Commander.” It’s simply a rank, the equivalent of Major in the Army.
I don’t have to take my own word on this, either.
I have now happened upon an excellent website where someone has researched into Raymond’s R.A.F. years and found the exact dates on which he got his various (Administrative) promotions.
But myths die hard, and Chase in his photos does look very R.A.F.
I have now obtained what must surely be the oddest book in English about a thriller, though, to be exact, only the first 180 pages are about it.
The first half of D. Streatfeild’s Persephone; A Study of Two Worlds (NY, 1959), which appears to have been his only book, is a thoroughgoing Jungian analysis of No Orchids for Miss Blandish, whose author he refers to without explanation as Hadley Chase. The approach is about as far as one could get from that of Orwell, whom he refers to as G.F. Orwell.
As he says in the Introduction, he plays fair with the reader. He doesn’t assume any prior knowledge about the Jungian system, and explains every concept as he introduces it. The whole book, the 200-page second part of which is called “The Two Worlds” is probably a good initiation into the subject, if one wants to be initiated.
Personally I don’t. Thinking in the fashion that is on display here seems to me incompatible with the actual writing of distinguished fiction and poetry. If by their fruits ye may know them, the following from page 154 is a sample of the fruits here.
The basic theme of No Orchids is the attempt to achieve the reconciliation of the irreconcilables by means of the age-old device of the Dynastic Union. For this purpose the Anima who, as the soul, is of divine origin (Persephone is represented by most mythographers as the daughter of Zeus) is compelled to descend into the underworld in order to unite with, and if necessary to redeem, its ruler or heir. In the face of all opposition the union takes place, but only at the cost of unleashing a titanic conflict in which most of the contestants, and the lovers themselves, are annihilated. In this respect the story resembles the rape of Helen and the Trohan War,
Streatfeild does virtually no quoting from the novel, but there is enough to show that the edition that he is using is the revised 1942 one in which Slim is smitten protectively by Miss Blandish’s beauty. In the original one he wants Ma to come upstairs with him and hold her while he takes revenge on her “to ease the torture of the other women in his life.”
Streatfield works at a level of abstraction that probably goes with the territory and which makes it unnecessary to read all the actual words on the page once one has assembled some of them into type figures and relationships.
But he does very seriously attempt to explain why the novel and the play Chase adapted from it should have enjoyed the popularity that they did,
And maybe there is indeed an enduring fascination to the idea of the raped woman, in the sense that the term is used in the classical Rape of the Sabine Women, namely a woman seized and carried off, as a sexual possession, such as we also see in the myth of Persephone borne down by the king of the Underworld into his gloomy but magnificent halls, and the seizure of Helen that starts the Trojan War.
These are much more value-charged events than King Tarquin’s straightforward bedchamber assault on the unfortunate Lucrece.
I don’t propose to follow Streatfeild onto the greasy slope of symbolic elucidation.
But obviously there’s a fascination to the idea of a woman abruptly snatched, as in King Kong, from her more or less civilized world, with its taken for granted conventions protecting her, into an utterly alien and savage one, and, while physically defenceless, exerting a power there, in her own person or through others, that eventually tames or destroys the taker.
It was Chase himself who in his revisions strengthened this aspect of the novel, and perhaps it was latent from the outset. The first edition still seems to me the best. But the Leon Griffiths/Robert Aldrich movie taken from the revised versions is indeed a moving story of an externally absurd and unrequited love (Slim’s) that at the end is recognized by Barbara Blandish as the nearest thing to being loved that she herself will ever know.
Streatfeild is also interesting about the contrasting of meatpacking-king John Blandish and queen-of the underworld Ma Grisson.
When Chase died in 1985, an obituary writer for the London Times observed at the end, with oh such knowing condescension,
In an age hardened to James Bond and Mickey Spillane, it becomes difficult to understand why these harmless, professional thrillers, more competent than most of their genre, but otherwise unremarkable, were ever thought shocking. No Orchids for Miss Blandish was remembered as a symbol long after it was forgotten as a book. (Clipping dated 7/2/85).
The novel has had better legs than that.
Its strength is testified to by the fact that Kelly, like Chaucer re-doing Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato as Troilus and Criseyde, could re-do No Orchids and up to a point rethink it, making it entirely his own, as LadyDon’t Turn Over.
Afterpiece 9: Jarrolds and No Orchids.
The first edition of Chase’s The Dead Stay Dumb (1940) contains the following full-page ad:
A book that will take you by the scruff
of the neck and beat the daylight out
No Orchids for Miss Blandish
This is a tale of a girl kidnapped by ruthless gangsters with incredible and sustained brutality. That the story will shock and horrify must be faced, but this age is an age of realism, and the author is determined to reveal the “Big Shots,” the “Tough Guys,” and the “Killers” in their true light. He shows them to be pitiless monsters, lacking all human qualities, and delighting in the harshest and bitterest cruelties.
James Whittaker writes:
“There is an inevitable and inexorable quality in this murderous tale to be found only in death itself. The atmosphere is rank poison … it is as deadly and dangerous as the most lethal poison gas. One whiff and you’ve gone … gone completely.”
The same edition of The Dead Stay Dumb also contains the following.
Look out for the third James Hadley Chase entitled Twelve Chinks and a Woman.
Slim Grisson in “No Orchids for Miss Balndish” may have horrified you.
Dillon in “The Dead Stay Dumb” may have haunted you for a while.
But you are never likely to forget Pio in
“Twelve Chinks and a Woman,” to be published shortly at 7/6 net.
The back of the first edition of Twelve Chinks (9th thousand) is a trove of nine pages of ads.
After a full-page ad for Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief, we have, under “Jarrolds New Works of Fiction,” a mixed bag of eight titles, five of them by women—a novel by Ethel Mannin about Emma Goldmann (who apparently was called Red Emma because of her hair, not her politics), a novel about “the great Penny Mills,” and one about eight girls in a school in Rome. The only crime novel is Winifred Duke’s Unjust Jury, about the personalities and secrets of the members of a jury. In another novel a young woman is amnesiac after being attacked in the blackout. The novel by Francis Iles, A New Novel, sounds like a study of an unhappy marriage.
The seventeen offerings in the Jay Library seem peppier. They include a murder mystery by Mrs. Victor Richards about “refugees” (evacuees?) in an English village, a spy novel by Walter S. Masterman, a Broadway murder mystery by Kelley Roos, a gangster novel (American gangsters by the sound of it) set in Oxford—Alan Kennington’s Murder M.A.—including a bomb in a lecture room and a gunfight in the High Street, another village murder mystery, an espionage-and-murder mystery by Van Wyck Mason, Brett Halliday’s first Michael Shayne novel, Dividend on Death, and a novel (The Spy in Khaki) by Marthe McKenna involving a British father’s search for his son who had quixotically tried to rescue a friend from “the horrors of Dachau Concentration Camp,” but who was imprisoned by the Gestapo and “suffered all the refinements of Teutonic torture at the hands of his sadistic guards.”
Tucked away demurely among the others is Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief. (7/6d) The blurb reads:
This is the story of Miss Callaghan. Not of any particular Miss Callaghan but of the hundreds of Miss Callaghans who disappear from their homes suddenly and mysteriously and are seen no more by those who knew and loved them. This is also the story of Raven, who played with clockwork trains, the leader of the White Slave Ring in East St. Louis, who was responsible for keeping to full strength the army of women for the service of men. James Hadley Chase needs no introduction now. He has established a reputation for unmitigated toughness and plain writing. Under his blunt treatment the traffic of women in America is shown to be what it is—a loathsome corrupt stain on the pages of American history.
No Orchids (3/- and 1/-), The Dead Stay Dumb (3/6 and 1/-), Twelve Chinks (7/6d), and, as Raymond Marshall, Lady—Here’s Your Wreath (7/6d) are also listed as being by him.
Recent Successful Library Novels are Twelve Chinks (7/6), Lady Here’s Your Wreath (7/6), and three novels by March Evernay, Walter S. Masterman, and Evelyn Fabyan, all 8/6.
There is a list of seventy-three titles under the heading “Cheap Editions of Popular Novels; Jarrold’s Select 3/6d net Library”. I recognize only the names of Rupert Croft-Cooke, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Francis Iles, Ethel Mannin, Van Wyck Mason, and Franz Werfel.
These titles are followed intriguingly by “The New 1/- Paper Novels. Wonderful Picture Covers.” The six novels are: No Orchids (185th thousand) followed by:
Beth Brown, For Men Only (92nd thousand)
Beth Brown, Wives and Men (32nd thousand)
Margery Lawrence, Madam Holle (76 thousands)
The Dead Stay Dumb (in preparation)
Jerome Ellison, The Prisoner Ate a Hearty Breakfast (in preparation.)
Messrs. Jarrolds also offer three Important New General Books and Works of Fiction, by authors I haven’t heard of, about adventures in exotic parts, including a French penal colony narrative, Hell on Trial, by Renée Belbenoit.
After which we have seven examples of Recent Successful Non-Fiction, including Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read a Book and Ethel Mannin’s Chistianity—or Chaos?, followed by the exotic-sounding Beacon Library, with such titles as Voodoo Fires in Haiti, In Morocco with the Legion, A Spy Was Born, a book by the French politician Léon Blum called Marriage, and, also intriguingly, one called Man into Woman, edited by Neils Heyer.
After which are miscellaneous works on psychology, guerrilla warfare, a play or two, a book or two about animals, and books by Hugh Walpole, J.B. Priestly, James Agate, and Arnold Bennett.
In sum, Jarrolds were respectable middlebrow publishers who weren’t into tough novels apart from Chase’s, but evidently felt no embarrassment about those, including Miss Callaghan.
That such a firm could be hauled into court and heavily fined for publishing the “obscene” Miss Callaghan presumably helped put a crimp into any aspirations other firms may have had to go the James Hadley Chase Route.
Wells, Gardner, in their Glinto offerings, were sailing closer to the wind.
Robert David MacDonald, No Orchids for Miss Blandish: a play based on the novel by James Hadley Chase, Birmingham, Oberon Books, 1988, pb, 82 pp. NEW
“This play was written for and first performed by the Citizens Company at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, on 17 February, 1978.”
A free adaptation, compacted into well-made scenes and with the characters given a sufficiency of lines to speak.
There are substantial departures from the original story, some of which work better than others.
Riley’s girl and Eddie Shultz’s Anna are combined into Anna Morgenstern, who at the outset is Miss Blandish’s beautician. Rocco, who was knifed by Slim for trying to help Miss B. escape, becomes Chink (not in fact oriental), a member of the Grisson gang. The handsome, saturnine, young Mr. Lucie, a new character, is Papa Blandish’s secretary and acts for him in the ransom negotiations, but turns out to be the super-villain of the piece, initiating the kidnapping and splitting the ransom money with Ma.
Catholicism is an odd new presence. There’s a photo of Pope Pius XII in the Grisson lair, draped with a rosary. Chink does an act of contrition before being killed by Slim. A priest comes in after the shoot-out at the lair. Miss B. tells Fenner, “God sets tests, they say. But he sets traps too. Do you believe in God?”
Doyle kicks Miss B’s beau to death (in mime) as in the first edition. But Ma Grisson doesn’t slap her when she’s led in, and later hits her with, not a rubber hose but a corn-cob, exclamation points. (How big do corn-cobs come in Scotland?)
Nor is Eddie /Schulz third-degreed.
Slim has droopy hair but isn’t “a drooling pervert.” Like in the first edition, he wants Ma to come upstairs and hold Miss B. while he rapes her. Which she doesn’t do. After a bit he’s trying to woo Miss B. with gifts, including a recording of Gounod’s Ave Maria and a statuette of the Madonna.
After a strong opening, the dialogue gets wise-quacky and post-modern in places, particularly Ma Grisson’s and Fenner’s. When Miss B. tells Ma “You can’t make me. Nothing could ever make me,” she gets:
“Never, cookie, but never name the well out of which you will not drink. That’s a quotation. You play ball or you get put in a sack, more probably several sacks. You want me to draw a diagram? Either way you and your daddy said the long goodbye some days back. The happiness market just crashed. Ssssooo. Have you had enough, as the Republicans used to say, or d’ya want some more?”
You can imagine what private-eye Fenner, who has obviously been to the movies, is like. He even reprises Bogie’s camp impersonation in The Big Sleep.
The keynote is struck in the opening description of a stage-set
decorated with a baleful, frigid luxury like a mortician’s office. Mirrors reflect each other in sterile repetition, drinks on silver trays on spidery console tables glitter in the unbecoming light cast by a cut-glass chandelier. No flowers. In short, everything money can buy, which does not, of course, include life.
Miss B is quite animated and likeable in that scene, regretting her virtual imprisonment in the life-style of the rich. But she says nothing when brought to the Grisson lair and browbeaten by Ma. Ma, on the other hand, neatly dressed and coiffed, and much more articulate, is virtually the heroine of the play.
The Queen of the Underworld?
- Sidebar 2. Chase and Glinto
- Sidebar 3. The Pre-trial Glintos
- Sidebar 4. Deep South Slavery
- Sidebar 5. Darcy Janson
- Sidebar 6. Rogues’ Gallery
- Sidebar 7. Kelly Brothers
- Sidebar 8. Scandal
- Sidebar 9. Westerns
- Sidebar 10. City Mid-Week
- Sidebar 11. Gangdom
- Sidebar 12. Jungle Books
- Sidebar 13. Bodily Harms
- Sidebar 14. Propaganda?