Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Sidebar 2: Darcy Glinto and James Hadley Chase
Putting together Lady—Don’t Turn Over the year after No Orchids appeared, Kelly unabashedly lifted major elements from it and dived deeper into what Orwell called the cesspool.
The beautiful young daughter of a powerful man (Clare Holding’s father is deputy director of the Federal Investigation Bureau) is kidnapped by Dill Slitson’s white-slavery-and-blackmail gang, beaten with a rubber hose to make her submissive, kept prisoner in a windowless room. Holding’s tough young assistant Glyn Alder is given leave-of-absence to find her and does some strong-arming. Former gang member Lynx Hanson, now operating with stripper Cora Bilt in the nightclub provided by her sugar daddy John P. Halmar, is picked up and given the third-degree. The headquarters of Slitson’s gang is stormed, with guns blazing.
But they are two distinct books.
No Orchids is straightforwardly realist, the cause-and-effect chains of action precise, the style rising at times to the excellence of a passage like:
Slim began to walk upstairs. He still had his gun in his hand. The smooth, cold butt felt good. Each step he took brought him nearer to Miss Blandish, and he curled his toes inside his shoes, trying to grip the stair-carpet through the leather soles. On he went, noiselessly, taking care to put his feet down softly and spring up on his arches. He suddenly became aware of how he walked upstairs. He became conscious of the weight each foot had to carry as he lifted himself from stair to stair. He slowed down as he reached the head of the stairs, but he kept on, measuring each step. (Chapter 2)
There is nothing in Lady—Don’t Turn Over as fine as that, or as the closing pages in which Slim is on the run with a drugged Miss Blandish.
Lady is looser, coarser, more expressionist, with its own kind of energy, turbulent enough to have got it into court and, the first time for any British thriller, banned. Its relationship with No Orchids is creative, not parasitic.
Glinto heightens the violences and shortens the in-betweens the way Sergio Leone did for Westerns with A Fistful of Dollars (1964) after he’d grasped that the essential ingredient of the genre is men shooting one another dead with revolvers, and as Wes Craven did when he transposed Ingmar Bergman’s art-house rape-and-revenge The Virgin Spring (1959) into The Last House on the Left (1972).
In fact, you have the feeling that, emboldened (or irritated?), by the success of Chase, seven years his junior, Kelly has set out to be deliberately provocative in the way Boris Vian was in J’irai cracher sur vos tombeaux (I’ll Spit on Your Graves) in 1946, intensifying at every point what Chase provides.
The result is rather like what readers unacquainted with the novel might imagine the No Orchids of George Orwell’s account in “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944) to be. No Orchids isn’t really as pulsingly atrocious as Orwell’s itemizing suggests.
Orwell himself pushes the envelope when he speaks, for example, of “the third-degreeing of the gangster Eddie Schultz, who is lashed into a chair and flogged on the windpipe with truncheons, his arms broken by fresh blows as he breaks loose.” The beating is indeed fearsome, but Eddie, at least while we’re watching, is struck twice on the windpipe with a billy-club and once on the wrist, and his arm is almost certainly paralyzed, not broken. But Orwell knew the art of giving examples.
Personally I would have thought that the blows Chase described would have crushed Hanson’s windpipe, but the American police reporter Emanuel H. Lavine describes such blows being given in The Third Degree (1930), where Chase may have found them. See Note 33.
Some itemizing of my own now.
Chase’s Ma Grisson beats Miss Blandish offstage with a length of rubber hose, up in the bedroom. (“She shouldn’t make her scream like that,” Doc says downstairs.) In Lady we are there in the bedroom ourselves as the powerful hunchback Min, madam of the Slitson gang’s little brothel, socks Clare with her rubber hose.
In No Orchids, as Orwell points out, the minor racketeer Ricco has an orgasm just before he’s knifed by Slim, In Lady, naked Cora Bilt, her mouth suddenly stuffed with bedclothes during their lovemaking, silently screams her last moments of life away after being given a hari-kari cut by the Jap Matsu.
Chase’s Eddie Schultz, socked on the throat,
suddenly stiffened, straining at the straps. The chair creaked with his movements. He jerked and pulled while he fought to get the air into his lungs. His face was blue with the effort, and for a moment Fenner thought he wouldn’t make it. They stood back and watched him have his convulsions. Gradually the air got back into his lungs again and he ceased to thrash.
Lynx Hanson, down in Glinto’s police basement, also receives “a long swinging blow to the windpipe.” But that’s the least of it.
Two [of the five cops] got his legs and two his arms. They swung him up and arched him over the back of the chair so that the edge was knifing into the small of his back. The other ripped open the buttons of his pants and pulled up his shirt, leaving his belly naked. He began socking the naked expanse with his rubber stick. For every sock he swung his shoulders back and brought the stick over with a heave that made him grunt. The beating was agony enough but with every blow Hanson felt the edge of the chair dig into him as if it was grinding his spine. In that position he could not howl. It nearly burst his arteries to draw breath into his lungs. He could only make inarticulate gurgling sounds.
The beatings described by Lavine are less inventive and erotic.
In 1945, that odd British chronicler of torture and flagellation George Ryley Scott, not the most squeamish of readers, remarked of Lady that “It would be difficult to pack into 192 pages of largish type more stark unreserved brutality than is here presented.”
But there may have been some personal animus there. See Note 25.
Glinto obviously knew much less about America when he wrote Lady than Chase did, even if Chase’s knowledge had been acquired from the printed page and movies.
I still have no idea how the men in Lady are clothed, except when they are in tuxedos, or what brands of cigarettes or cigars they smoke, or how they pass the time. There are no brand names, except for the cars, or recognizable street names and landmarks. The car names seem taken from No Orchids. (For the Chrysler Airflow, see Note 32.)
The conversations between men in the early pages take place with literally no presentations of the settings, whether direct or oblique, and with none of the by-play of characters who have lived and worked together for some time. There is no filling in like,
“So what?” said Big Al indifferently, stifling a yawn as he delicately probed his left ear with the pinky on which gleamed the ruby ring which he had won from Lefty Louis Schneider the week before during the all-night poker game in the back room of Louis’ dive over on 14th Street.
The action of Lady is very largely indoors, as it is in what I think of as nightclub gangster movies like The Roaring Twenties (1939), and names like Lynx Hanson, Dill Slitson, Mouth Fennig, and Cora Bilt sound a bit odd, as does the diction at times. However, the June1939 issue of the not particularly tough American Thrilling Detective gives us Hog Callopy, Drug Hood, Colly Pratt, Cokey Schalk, and Hamfat Dring (p.96), so Glinto may not be all that far out.
In addition to having a better ear than Glinto, and a dictionary of American slang, Chase gives us plenty of the outdoors, both city and country, though obviously there was no substitute for the first-hand experience that had enabled Edgar Wallace, with his newspaperman’s ear and twenty-four guided hours in Chicago, to write the brilliant gangster play and its novelization On the Spot (1930/ 1931).
But the balance isn’t all on Chase’s side of the ledger.
In Lady—Don’t Turn Over, Glinto has a more inward and kinesthetic feeling for bodies than Chase does (the fate of the Fed who comes over to question Hanson is unforgettable) and builds the action with better shaped chapters and scenes. (The first of the four chapters of No Orchids is over forty pages long, and the numbers go up from there, presumably because Chase couldn’t conceptualize it as separate units.)
All the parts with the kidnapped Clare Holding in them are strong, and there’s a sardonic humour to the subplot in which Lynx Hanson’s mistress, dumb, greedy, sexually-frank fan-dancer Cora Bilt, keeps her senescent sugar-daddy John P. Halmar titillated and steers him towards what she hopes will be a really big score for herself.
But you need to read attentively when there aren’t always well-made-writing signals that something important is about to happen.
The comedy ceases abruptly when Cora slugs Halmar with a rubber truncheon after she has, figuratively speaking, shot herself in the foot with his bank manager. Hanson, “using a quick flash of his torch to place the gun … set the muzzle against Halmar’s temple and pulled twice.”
Indeed, the knowledge that shocking things can happen in the narrative can compel one to slow down and read even the weaker male-to-male dialogues more attentively.
Richard Hoggart was on target when in The Uses of Literacy (1957) he spoke of the raw power that British gangster novels possessed when writers were free to hack out their own trails, the outlines and conventions of the genre not yet having been stabilized. Dashiel Hammett hadn’t provided a template for gangster novels the way Chandler, going on from The Maltese Falcon, would do for the eroticized private-eye novel, nor had W.R. Burnett. Paul Cain’s Hammettesque Fast One (1932), while violent, was too compressed to be held clearly in the mind’s eye.
Chase would try his own hand at the Hammettesque in 1940 with Twelve Chinks and a Woman.
When it came to the sex-and-violence nexus, it is as if Kelly sensed, subversively, what the “decent” citizens who read No Orchids as, don’t you know? a rattling good yarn really wanted, and turned his imagination loose to provide them with it. The result was a cinematic novel that could probably only have been done full justice to as a Category III movie during the glory years of Hong-Kong cinema, circa 1987-95.
Glinto seems to me a more interesting and more sympathetic writer than Chase, and able to reach expressive heights that were beyond Chase’s range. His books became more American than Chase’s. He was also, I will venture, much more seminal for Mushroom Jungle writers like Stephen Frances and “Ben Sarto” than Chase was.
Were Chase and Kelly friendly rivals? Was Chase annoyed to have been followed so closely and, in a sense, outdone? But then, Chase himself had followed Jonathan Latimer’s Lady in the Morgue closely in places, such as during Slim Grisson’s escape from the cops in Chapter Two of No Orchids, and there are Latimer passages in at least three other novels.
Had Kelly, almost in the spirit of a dare, said or thought, “I can do as well as that”? Was Chase stimulated to top the Lady white-slaving in Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief, thereby landing them both in the dock, figuratively speaking, at the Old Bailey?
On the first page of Chase’s Lady…Here’s Your Wreath (1940) there’s a fat cowardly journalist called Hackenschmidt, the name of the famous wrestler who was very likely a friend of Kelly’s. (See Note 19.) On the first page of part 2, chapter 3 of Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief we have the names Spade, Raven, and (from Latimer’s Headed for a Hearse) Little Joe.
I have no idea what Chase was up to in such places, or how conscious he was of his own borrowings from Latimer. But Headed for a Hearse, Lady in the Morgue, and The Dead Don’t Care were published in England in, respectively, 1936, 1937, and 1938, so it would be hard to be unaware of them. Latimer himself borrowed with both hands from Hammett in Solomon’s Vineyard (1942. Was spotting such things, presented with the implied equivalent of an authorial wink, part of the pleasure of the thriller-reading cognoscenti back then?
But too often Chase lacks Latimer’s ability to build strongly individuated scenes. Not displaying any feeling for the sensuous individuality of bodies (having described someone’s appearance once, he assumes that no further mention of it is needed), he is also uninterested in the feel of the various environments in which they find themselves.
Two decades later, Kelly, writing as Hank Janson, would return to the organized white-slave racket as defined by Chase in Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief . In Lady—Don’t Turn Over, the operation had been cottage-industry stuff.
For Orwell, No Orchids for Miss Blandish isn’t really an erotic novel, let alone a pornographic one.
Well, there seems to me more there in the way of heterosexual desire than he allows for, but Miss Blandish (always that absent first name!) is very little there as a consciousness, being primarily a problem (for Ma Grisson), a commodity (for ransoming), and the object of a fixation (for Slim). How does she pass the time? Do they let her have movie magazines? Is she permitted a radio? Or is she simply doped out of her mind?
Glinto, in contrast, extends the range of sexual relationships—the conning and rape of poor Edda Van Luys, the voyeurism and titillation of sugar-daddy Halmar and gold-digger Cora, the practical partnership of Cora and Lynx Hanson, the violence and mind-games of Dill Slitson with Clare—and takes us much more into the various modes of consciousness involved. He understands both the victims and the violators.
The key-setting opening with Hanson and Doreen Milmay in the first couple of pages is masterly. This powerless but still feebly protesting woman, who looks as though she should own the fancy car, has been prostituted. We are drawn, unless we close the book in revulsion, into a measure of complicity.
What had it been like?
- Sidebar 1. Some Orchids
- 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?