Pulps in the Movies — On Sale Every Wednesday!
Stocking the digital newsstand, none other than pulp expert extraordinaire and tireless cineaste John Locke.
The guy’s a digger. Hot off covering the Peter Ruric flick Grand Central Murder on April 15, he popped me a note on April 18 to say, “I’m currently watching Gambling Ship (1933), adapted from ‘Peter Ruric’s’ stories. Has nothing to do with Fast One, but still a good movie.”
On April 19 an update: “Pulp sighting in the last ten minutes of the film!”
Here’s John with the skinny:
Last week, we started with Wilmer Cook and ended with George Carrol Sims, a.k.a. screenwriter Peter Ruric — a.k.a. Black Mask (magazine) and Fast One (novel) author Paul Cain.
This week, we’ll stay on that same high-pepper diet with another instance of Ruric’s on-screen self-abuse, and a genuine pulp sighting in Gambling Ship (1933), the loose screen adaptation of his only novel Fast One.
Recall that in Ruric’s screenplay for Grand Central Murder (1942) his detective disparages a gangster’s speech as coming from a “detective story magazine,” which also depreciates Cain’s work for Black Mask.
Of the handful of films for which Ruric earned a credit, the best-known is the first Karloff-Lugosi team-up, The Black Cat (1934). Ruric gets sole credit for the screenplay and shared the story credit with director Edgar G. Ulmer.
The film’s central, vicious conflict is between the two stars, Karloff and Lugosi, but a young newlywed couple are drawn in as innocent bystanders. During introductions, the young gent, Peter Alison, chimes in.
Our initial observation is that the fictional author shares the name Peter with the screenwriter. This is unlikely to be a coincidence. Ruric was talking — and joking — about himself.
After Karloff and Lugosi destroy each other in morbidly spectacular style, the final scene on a train car shows the newlyweds happy to have escaped the devastation. Peter Alison opens his newspaper and gets a surprise. His lines close the film.
The gag is that the events of the film dwarf the drama of his fictional novels, but again that’s Ruric suggesting that film trounces popular print, even in expressing the incredible.
The movie premiered on May 3, 1934. Earlier in the year, when presumably the film was shot, Cain was well past the triumphs of 1932, when five of his first seven Black Mask stories were published as Fast One. His subsequent Black Mask work is deemed to be of lower caliber.
His veiled comments here, coming from the mouth of a fictional writer, hint at the reasons he drifted away from the pulps so quickly. He either disrespected his work, the payment he received, the medium, or all of the above.
Eight years later, he made the similar comments in Grand Central Station. It’s not a lot of evidence, but then again the same pattern is repeated in two of his three films currently convenient for viewing. One suspects his Freudian need to reveal self-doubt.
That third film is Gambling Ship (1933), which bears only a vague relationship to Fast One. Here, tastefully printed over a roulette wheel, are the screen credits.
It’s Ruric’s first screen credit for writing, but the audience could have had no idea of how to find his stories since they were bylined Paul Cain.
Some great pre-code dialogue in Gambling Ship, like this from an older man and his young floozie at a casino bar:
He: Who’s he?
She: Does it matter?
He: No, but I always wonder what’s underneath things.
She: So I’ve discovered.
There’s also a Hammett connection here. Max Marcin adapted Hammett’s original story for the 1931 film City Streets, Hammett’s first screen credit.
Reviewers tend to be disappointed in Gambling Ship, probably because they go in looking for Fast One and find something completely different. The gang warfare was moved from Los Angeles to gambling ships moored outside the legal limit. Plot and characters were changed. The tone is completely altered. The film is centered on mob royalty rather than mob enforcers, so the violence is more imminent than actual — until all hell breaks loose in the final act.
That aside, it’s very entertaining, a must-see for fans of 1930s gangster films.
Late in the movie, two mobsters and the woman they’ve just discovered they share (Arthur Vinton, Benita Hume, Cary Grant) walk out of the D.A.’s office. Nobody’s happy. Not even when they pass by a sidewalk newsstand with an array of magazines for sale. A couple of pulps can be identified: the February 1933 Clues (top row, under the counter) and the July 1, 1932 Complete Stories (under the reaching arm). Gambling Ship was released on June 23, 1933.
The Clues is a choice issue. A rival to Black Mask, it features two Black Mask regulars on the cover: Carroll John Daly, launching a serial; and Perry Mason’s father, Erle Stanley Gardner. We can’t accuse Street & Smith of poaching talent, though. Daly and Gardner, both high-volume writers, scattered their seeds among most of the big pulp publishers.