There are a variety of pulp heroes. The predecessors of Batman, they were usually experts with gun and fist alike, and possessed of at least one gimmick. The Shadow had his invisibility, Doc Savage had his loyal crew of brilliant toughs, The Spider had cheek implants, plastic fangs and a branding-iron ring, The Black Bat heightened senses and the ability to see in the dark, The Phantom Detective had a domino mask. (Not all gimmicks were impressive.)
The pulp detectives were a different breed. They tended to be tough guys, incorruptible, often former or current policemen. The characters weren’t meant to be as flashy as the pulp heroes, even as the writers attempted to give them characteristics which would distinguish their detectives from the field.
One character stood above all other detectives: Dan Turner. He successfully bridged the gap between the different pulp styles, not because he had special powers or even a domino mask, nor even due to his tenure as a private detective on the payroll of Hollywood studios, but because of his language.
If other writers seasoned their tough guy tales with street jargon of the time, Turner’s creator Robert Leslie Bellem dropped an entire spice rack into most of the Turner stories.
How much slang was used? Here’s an example:
“The McBride ham crossed the stage with assault and bashery in his slitted peepers; his maulies were balled for action and his kisser was a thin slash in the hard granite of his map as he barged to the camera setup and planted his bulk firmly ferninst the director, a dyspeptic little sourball.”“The Book of the Phantom Bullet”
The plots might not have been particularly special, but the stories absolutely were. Dan Turner developed a following both among those who took his use of slang seriously and those who recognized it as intentionally outlandish.
A character like that is purely a creature of its time. In the early 1990’s, that concept was challenged. A television movie was filmed starring Marc Singer, the Beastmaster star, as Dan Turner. The plot, taken from a Turner short story, was pedestrian and predictable. Complete with the classic voiceover format, it must have confused those unfamiliar with the 1940s pulp legend as to whether the over-the-top language was meant to be funny or serious.
The real answer, in classic Dan Turner style, was “yes”.
Thanks to the magic of Youtube and streaming services, the movie is available for viewing. Because of its so-bad-it’s-good nature, I recommended it to my wife for one of her weekly reviews, but she demurred. She suggested that I tackle it, holding it in reserve for a week where I was taking over for Friday night, because I was very familiar with the character. I know the way my mind works, though… I’ll have forgotten about it when that time rolls around.
Normally I wouldn’t put a film up in the middle of the week, but with many people still stuck at home, the weekdays aren’t quite as scheduled as they once were. So, for anyone in the mood for some hardboiled action with tongue lodged firmly in cheek, I present the link to Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective in The Raven Red Kiss-Off.
Question of the night: What are some of your favorite mystery movies?