Friday, March 14, 2008

Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes

(pb; 1946)

From the back cover:

"Retired private eye, Red Bailey, is finally happy in Nevada, spending most of this time fishing and tending his out-of-the-way gas station. Then his past returns to haunt him. Blackmailed into doing just one more job, he is forced to revisit the life from which he had flown. And in particular a woman from his past: the seductive Mumsie McGonigle. Red Bailey soon discovers that the whole affair is a set-up -- a trap laid just for him with little or no way out."


This is one of the leanest, sharpest pulp novels I have read. The characters are deftly (but thoroughly) sketched, the twists are effective and fast, and the sense of doom -- not only Red's -- is constantly remarked upon by the characters, and confirmed by the mounting number of corpses, as well as the clearly-defined divisions of light and dark (in the novel's oh-so-cinematic scenes). It's a fast read, a 153-page black-humored gem, well worth your time.


Build My Gallows High has been filmed twice, under different titles.

The first film, Out of the Past, lensed in 1946 and released on November 13, 1947, was scripted by Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote the novel under another name, Geoffrey Homes.

 Robert Mitchum played Jeff Markham (the cinematic counterpart to Peter "Red" Markham). Jane Greer played Kathie (the cinematic counterpart to femme fatale Mumsie McGonigle). Kirk Douglas played Whit Sterling. Rhonda Fleming played Meta Carson. Richard Webb played Jim. Virginia Huston played Ann.

 Directed by the consistently-great Jacques Tourneur, it's considered one of the best noir films made.


The second film, a remake called Against All Odds, hit the silver screen on March 2, 1984. Loosely based on Daniel Mainwaring's 1946 script, it was co-scripted by Eric Hughes. Taylor Hackford directed.

Jeff Bridges played Terry Brogan (the cinematic counterpart to Peter "Red" Markham). Rachel Ward played Jessie Wyler (the cinematic counterpart to Mumsie McGonigle). James Woods played Jake Wise (the cinematic counterpart to Whit Sterling).

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