Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rogue Cop by William P. McGivern

As the title tells us, this is a novel about a crooked cop. The time is 1954 and the city is Philadelphia. It is a Hammett world of civic corruption and violence.

Carmody is a competent detective but a bad guy, having been on the take so long that his allegiance is to his mob bosses rather than the police force itself. But now there is problem. His younger brother Eddie, a patrolman, eye witnessed a murder and can identify the killer. The mob wants Carmody to make sure his brother doesn't testify. They hope Eddie will take a bribe and relent. But Eddie is a good cop and refuses.

Editors of the pulp era always talked about "narrative drive." Well this narrative will flatten you like a speeding bus. William P. McGivern graduated from the pulp (he worked a good deal for the Ziff-Davis magazines of Chicago) and learned how to keep the reader in heart attack mode. The scenes of Carmody pleading with his brother to forget about testifying--and then trying to placate the mob so that they won't kill Eddie--are classic moments of desperation.

I mean no disrespect when I say that I always considered McGivern a road show version of Graham Greene, a writer he clearly admired. Though his novels were never as rich or in some cases sly as Greene's, in their blunt American way they were compelling looks at our society and our ideas of success and loyalty and honor. There is real power in his best work and that work certainly includes Rogue Cop with its two soiled doves and its sad earnest look at the process of redemption.

I don't much care for the movie that was made of this. Robert Taylor is too slick and wooden to play a beast like Carmody. In various forms and under many different titles this movie has been remade many times and much better as "homages."

McGivern died way too young, early fifties of throat cancer. Most of his author photos show him with his pipe. He had a successful career by any measure and in his last years wrote the enormous (and excellent) bestseller Night of The Juggler. For me his finest novel is Odds Against Tomorrow which Robert Wise turned into a fine movie despite the fact that Harry Belafonte was never much of an actor. Robert Ryan and Ed Begley both made up for what Belafonte couldn't deliver.


Todd Mason said...

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW Still has the most over the top ending of any crime drama I've seen, even given such latter-day competition as DOMINO, and I still haven't read any of McGivern's novels, despite really enjoying much of his fantasy fiction for the Z-D magazines. Shame. Soon.

Todd Mason said...

I didn't hate Belafonte in the role...but perhaps I was swept up in everything else, including John Lewis and the augmented Modern Jazz Quartet's score. I had forgotten how much Lewis worked on NIGHT GALLERY (along with Gil Melle and Oliver Nelson) until looking at credits for the series the other day.

Ed Gorman said...

I didn't hate Belafonte, either. He just doesn't have much range as an actor and up against Ryan he just disappeared. He had great presence but not enough acting chops.

Tom Piccirilli said...

I have to respectfully disagree about Belafonte. I think he gives a first-rate performance and actually manages to go toe to toe with Ryan, whom I also love in the film. By turns Belafonte is hip, suave, funny, haunted, hurt, desperate, and like a true noir hero knows he's marching off to his doom but can't do a damn thing about it. I think it's a very nuanced performance.