Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

December 12, 2011

TICKETS FOR DEATH by Brett Halliday, source novel for the PRC film “Too Many Winners”

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 9:50 am

About six years after the release of the Michael Shayne detective novel TICKETS FOR DEATH, the book was adapted in 1947 into a film at PRC, the final film in the series that starred HUGH BEAUMONT as Shayne, and re-titled TOO MANY WINNERS. The story deals with counterfeit paramutuel tickets at a racetrack: in the movie it’s a horse track, with a name that echoes Santa Anita, although this being a PRC film, you see very little of the track. And of course the track is in California, so L.A. location shooting works just fine. The novel is set at a greyhound track, and as usual for Shayne is set in Miami. Since the book was a success, one wonders why PRC changed the title. However, after seeing the film and reading the novel, I’d guess that PRC feared those who’d actually read the novel would be distressed at the many changes made. Elements from the novel seem to be inserted into a narrative whose focus is on Shayne getting away for a duck hunting (!) vacation with his girlfriend/secretary (he’s married in the novel, although later in the 1940’s novels Shayne is widowed). It’s hard to cram all the details of a complex detective mystery with many characters into a 60-minute PRC programmer, but the film-makers try, although (as is often the case in PRC and Monogram crime-mystery films) too much is explained after the fact in the film’s final minutes, while in the novel the details are well-seeded into the text throughout, but such is the nature of a B-movie with a quick production schedule on an assembly-line format. The emphasis is necessarily on atmosphere, colorful supporting players, and a charismatic lead, which we certainly have in Hugh Beaumont, who plays the character in a jovial way that’s great fun but has no basis in the novels. It’s interesting to note that the two actors who played Shayne in 1940’s films, Lloyd Nolan and Hugh Beaumont, created unique characterizations and the role fit them like a glove. In Nolan’s case, the emphais was on verbal wit and the charm of star Nolan. However, neither is anything like Brett Halliday’s Shayne, a cognac-drinking, red-haired tough guy who in some ways was the model for Mike Hammer. I’m assuming that 20th Century Fox and then PRC were buying the Shayne brand when they paid for the rights to the books/character–he was a pre-sold commodity and would get people who’d never even read one of the novels into the theater. In fact, with the lack of resemblance of the movies to the novels, the studios were probably hoping the audience had not read the novels, just heard the name, seen the books, and liked the “idea” of Mike Shayne.

20th Century Fox issued a box-set of Lloyd Nolan Shayne films and the PRC Beaumont ones can be had via “collector’s circles” (meaning, check ebay and I-offer, etc.). Halliday’s many Shayne novels (and in the mid-60s on, many were ghosted though appearing under the Halliday name) have been through many editions and can still be found cheap, especially if you don’t mind a 70’s reprint of a 40’s novel, and the 70’s originals can be found even cheaper, though they tend to have a generic flavor (I pick them up in used bookstores while on the road and usually pay around $2-3 for a VG copy that isn’t going to have me sneezing from mold). You could easily pick up two dozen Shayne novels for under $50, if you were so inclined. They are models of economical writing, and the 40’s and 50’s entries are atmosphere-filled. As a poet, I value both terse (and particular) expression and controlled ambiguity (the latter being essential in creating/sustaining/developing  the mystery elements of a detective novel), and I always find myself returning to Shayne novels when I need to flush out the pretentious BS from my system.

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