Thursday, November 22, 2012

Forgotten Books: Deadlier Than The Male by James Gunn

Deadlier Than The Male

Ed here: Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Of Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn*, the novel that became the basis for the Robert Wise film Born To Kill, the French Director Claude Chabrol said: "It has a freely developed plot and an absolutely extraordinary tone, pushing each scene towards a violent, ironic and macabre unexpected dimension, a poetic depth..."

I'd put it more simply: If there is a hell, these are the people you'll find in its deepest part.

The story concerns a psychopath (in the movie well played by Lawrence Tierney) and a beautiful brittle gold digger (played with equal skill by Claire Trevor) and how they come first as partners of a sort and then as enemies. It is Swiftian in its contempt for humanity. The ugliness of Jim Thompson (whose favorite writer happened to be Johnathan Swift) was redeemed somewhat by the madness and occasional pathos of his people.

No madness or pathos here. These are the two most hard-boiled ruthless people I've ever encountered in crime fiction. Of necessity (censors) the film softens them slightly but only slightly.

In broadstroke the movie plot is generally like the movie plot. Here's IMBD:

In Reno a man kills a girl he likes and her boyfriend out of jealousy; it may not be the first time. A woman whose divorce has just come through finds the bodies but decides not to become involved. The two meet next day on the train to San Francisco unaware of this link between them. They are attracted to each other, and the relationship survives his marriage to her half-sister for money and status. It even survives the woman discovering that he was the murderer, though she may not realise how easily someone who has killed this way before can do so again. Written by Jeremy Perkins {}

Ed here: The cast of characters, with very few exceptions, fit exactly Chabrol's description: "violent, ironic and macabre." The attitude of the book, which which Chabrol also notes, reels between black comedy and surrealism drenched in a misanthropy that is occasionally stunning. The two old floozies we meet in the early boarding house scenes are worthy of Thompson at his best.

Deadlier Than The Male is one of those odd litle books that is both unique and successful on its own terms. This should definitely be back in print.

*not the science fiction writer

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