Friday, December 14, 2007

Criss-Cross -- Don Tracy

The other day I saw this book on a thrift-shop shelf, and nabbed it immediately. My theory is that when you see a book with a cover like that, you buy it. After I looked the book over, I was even more pleased with the purchase than I'd expected to be. Criss-Cross is the reprint of Don Tracy's 1934 novel that forms the basis of the movie with the same name (starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne de Carlo, and Dan Duryea (and I'm sure I've mentioned before that my father insisted on calilng him "Dan Diarrhea). It was also the basis for Stephen Soderbergh's The Underneath.

The book itself is sort of a proto-Gold Medal, published a good 15 years before GM went into the pb original business. Johnny Thompson falls for the wrong woman. He's not handsome or rich, just a down-on-his luck former boxer with a flat nose and a low-paying job as an armored-car guard. The woman marries a guy named Slim, who's a low-level heister. She doesn't love Slim, and, while she doesn't love Johnny, either, she doesn't mind a little extra-marital hanky-panky (this book's surprisingly sexy for a 1934 novel, about as frank as a typical '50s Gold Medal, in fact).

Slim finds out about the hanky-panky, and asks Johnny to help him knock over an armored car. Johnny goes along with the idea, knowing that Slim plans to kill him. Johnny's idea is to turn the tables, and he does. He comes out looking like a hero.

If you think that's the end, though, you're wrong. Being a hero isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when you're still hooked on the wrong woman. Johnny gets the idea that he can hear Slim laughing at him, though Slim's no longer among the living. And, sure enough, Slim has the last laugh.

This is a neat little noir, told in the flat, objective style that was coming on strong in the '30s. If you've only seen the movie, you might want to check it out.

And by the way, think a bit on Don Tracy. He wrote some nice pb originals himself later on, as well as some historical novels. I believe that as "Roger Fuller" he continued the Peyton Place series after Grace Metalious's death, as well as writing other media tie-ins (like Son of Flubber). He was a good writer, now mostly forgotten.


Ed Gorman said...

I bought the same edition you have. I think I paid a buck. Hell of a novel. Tracy had a very bad botte problem which he wrote about. In the Fifties three or four of his hardcovers were bestsellers. I'm not sure when the booze brought him down. But then he began writing a lot of pb originals. He did a couple of series for Pocket, I know, and yes he was Roger Fuller. And probabl some other folk too. Criss Cross is a fine movie with Burt Lancaster, Yvonna DeCarlo and Dan Duryea.

Unknown said...

The story how producer Mark Hellinger bought Criss Cross to be made into a movie is of some interest. Hellinger paid Tracy $5000.00 for the book in 1946 and also threw a grand at agent Paul Kohner for setting the deal up.

Hellinger hired Anthony Veiller for $30,000 to write the script with a 5% end of the producer's profits.

The ending that Veiller came up with had the cop Ramirez ( Stephen McNally in the film) kill Steve (Burt Lancaster) in the barwith a closing line about Steve's service and sea change during WWII: "“He died a long time ago, December 21, 1944 in Bastogne. That’s a little town in Belgium."

When Hellinger died at the end of 1947, his widow, Gladys Glad sold the rights to Criss Cross to Universal-International for $115,200. Daniel Fuchs wrote the screenplay, but the great dialogue was largely due to the uncredited work of Bill Bowers who punched up the script.

Alan K. Rode

James Reasoner said...

Among the Roger Fuller TV tie-ins are a couple of Burke's Law novels, WHO KILLED BEAU SPARROW and WHO KILLED MADCAP MILLICENT. I recall liking them quite a bit, although it's been over thirty years since I read them.

Fred Blosser said...

Tracy was publishing pb originals at least as late as 1968 -- THE BLACK AMULET from Pocket Books. He seems to have written a fair number of historicals. One of his '50s hardcovers, CRIMSON IS THE EASTERN SHORE, was reprinted in pb in the '70s to capitalize on the popularity of Michener's CHESAPEAKE.

Anonymous said...

As Roger Fuller he wrote at least one THE FUGITIVE tie-in, FEAR IN A DESERT TOWN. It's quite good, as I recall.
CRISS CROSS never made it into Swedish, I'm afraid. Guess it's one of those books I will never read. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

You guys are good. You got there before me with the Burke's Law and Fugitive info. Don Tracy also did about 6 books in a series about M.P. Giff Speer, books like Look Down On Her Dying, Pot of Trouble and High< Wide and Ransom.


Unknown said...

I have some of those Griff Speer books.

August West said...

Unbelievable. I also found the same edition at our Salvation Army Store last year for $1 People must not know what they have to be getting rid of them. Read his Lion book "The Cheat" -was good, but "Criss-Cross" was better. Also have one of his Historical Novels but thats not my cup of tea.
Reading now "The Nightshade Ring" by Lindsay Hardy. Believe he is an Australian author?

Unknown said...

I read The Nightshade Ring about a zillion years ago, and also another book by Hardy. All I remember now is that I enjoyed both.

RaiderLegend said...

I read Don Tracy's "The Hated One." It deals with racial issues in the south, as well as alcoholism. I found it very interesting to be in the head of an alcoholic character who happens to be a lawyer and must sober up to focus on the case. Tracy did a great job. I Didn't know he had a problem with the bottle. I have his "How sleeps the beat" on my reading wish-list.

Unknown said...

Tracy's one of those writers who's slipped through the cracks and it seldom remembered. Which is too bad.