One of the books I pick up two or three times a year is The Detective in Hollywood by Jon Tuska. Because I'm a big fan of stories about the B movie factories of the Thirties and Forties this is nirvana between covers for me.
The book is packed with biographies of everybody from Rex Stout to some of the actors you saw in virtually every Monogram film ever made. The writing is respectful and never giddy and wise instead of wise-guy. Each person from grips to would be geniuses gets his or her due.
Tuska makes even Philo Vance interesting. Not as a character of course but as the name around which a very successful series was run. In the course of a long chapter there's more hard information about running a B movie series than in most full-length books I've read on the subject.
I've mentioned before the story of Leslie Charteris' contention that the B series Saint would become a smash A series if only RKO would convince Cary Grant to take it over. Right Cary Grant. Then one of the top two or three box office draws in the country. Charteris nagged them about this and other matters until they finally dumped the whole series along with Charteris himself.
I've never been sure why this book never got its due. This should be a staple in any crime library. From the sad story of Tom Conway to the tale of the resilient Boris Karloff to long choice overviews of Hammett, Chandler and even Hemingway...this is a fine companion for rainy nights.
Speaking of Bs...TCM ran this movie this afternoon:
Straight is The Way (1934)
A small-time gangster wants to go straight until he loses his girl to a rival hood. Cast: Franchot Tone, Karen Morley, Gladys George. Dir: Paul Sloane. BW-60 mins, TV-G
Ed here: It's always been said that Franchot Tone quickly tired of playing the smooth sophisticate and longed for more imposing characters to play.
He was a solid actor and generally an interesting presence but playing a hard-boiled gangster...I don't whose choice it was to have him grin and smirk knowingly throughout the entire movie--showing that he wasn't afraid, showing that he would triumph in the end--but the effect was irritating and ridiculous. Wow. A stunningly bad performance.