Monday, April 13, 2015

Life's a bitch: paranoia and sexuality in the novels of David Goodis

David Goodis was born in Philadelphia in March, 1917. Like his contemporary, James M. Cain, Goodis studied journalism and, like another contemporary, Dashiell Hammett, he worked briefly in advertising. Writing, however, offered Goodis greater scope for pursuing his preoccupations and fears: sexual relationships, lonliess, and failure. He continually re-orchestrated his drama of despair: the same few character types and the same few plots are reworked obsessively in his nineteen novels. The essential concerns are those of the male paranoic: insecurity about masculine identity and fear of female sexuality. After the success of his second novel,Dark Passage, Goodis went to Hollywood on the Warner Brothers payroll. He soon returned to his native Philadelphia however, where, as Woody Haut notes, he 'wrote numerous pulp culture classics that exuded alienation and paranoia' (Haut, p. 10). Alienated and paranoid himself, Goodis died, aged 49, on January 7th, 1967.
While David Goodis's novels have provided film-makers with source material for almost fifty years, the novels themselves are only intermittently in print. Geoffrey O'Brien remarks:
Only long after Goodis's death in obscurity
as a portion of his work once again made available to American readers, and its continued availability is by no means a sure thing (O'Brien, p. 88)
Goodis, dubbed 'poet of the losers' (O'Brien, p. 90) is, with Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, among the most significant of the so-called 'noir' writers of the American cold war era. Serpent's Tail are reissuing two of Goodis's novels, so British readers will be able to find Goodis in print again. Read 'em and weep.
Goodis's first novel, Retreat from Oblivion, was published by Dutton in 1939. Writing may have offered Goodis a retreat from oblivion or may have allowed him to wallow in it. He wrote air-stories for the war-pulps during the war years, stories with titles like 'Sky-Coffins for Nazis' and 'Doom for the Hawks of Nippon'. Goodis also wrote for the detective pulps and possibly the horror pulps, both under his own name and under a variety of pseudonyms; he wrote for radio too, including the Superman and House of Mysteryseries.
Goodis's second novel was the highly acclaimed Dark Passage, which was first published as a hardback by Messner in 1946. Goodis sold the serial rights to the novel to The Saturday Evening Post; then Warner Brothers bought the film rights and, in 1947, made a successful film under the same title, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Dark Passage has a hard-to-beat opening line that sets the tone of the novel and sums up the anxiety of the era, expressed through so many of the films and novels of cold war America:
It was a tough break. Parry was innocent ... The jury decided he was guilty. The judge handed him a life sentence and he was taken to San Quentin. (Dark Passage, p. 1). 
This was the high point in Goodis's writing career. Warner Brothers took him on as a scriptwriter and, with James Gunn, he co-wrote the successful 1947 film, The Unfaithful. The same year saw the publication of Nightfall, Goodis's most successful book, described by Geoffrey O'Brien as 'perhaps his most nearly perfect book ... spare, balanced, and inexplicably moving' (O'Brien, p. 91).
Nightfall is typically claustrophobic. James Vanning, an artist, is an amnesiac bedevilled by blackouts and hallucinations. He cannot be sure if he is guilty of robbery and murder. Police psychologist Ben Fraser pretends to help Vanning, but plans to exploit and entrap him as a means of furthering his own career. Vanning is also pursued by crooks who believe he has the proceeds of a robbery. Fraser's relationship with Vanning gives Fraser something of an identity crisis, however, as he begins to worry about how little he knows about people, that 'so many madmen were walking around and fooling people' (Nightfall, p. 79). Vanning, meanwhile, comes to realise that what he fears most is himself. Jacques Tourneur directed the 1956 film Nightfall, with Aldo Ray as Vanning.
Just when everything appeared to be going right however, Goodis and Warner Brothers parted company. Like one of his novel characters, Goodis was doomed to failure. Goodis's behaviour in Hollywood was remarkable, even by tinseltown standards. Despite his healthy income, Goodis slept on someone else's sofa; wore second-hand suits and, apparently while wearing a dressing gown, tried to pass himself off as a Russian prince in exile (Haut, pp. 21-22). He also haunted the LA jazz clubs, to 'search for large black women who were not averse to knocking him around' (Haut, p. 26).
The precise reasons for Goodis's premature departure from Hollywood are not clear. According to Jack Adrian, Goodis was dropped by Warner Brothers (Adrian and Pronzini, p. 277), while Woody Haut suggests he was 'fed up with Hollywood [and] returned to Philadelphia in 1950' (Haut, p. 22). Geoffrey O'Brien is less certain, stating simply: 'it isn't clear whether he quit or was let go' (O'Brien, p. 92).
What is clear though, is that Goodis returned to Philadelphia, moving in with his parents and disabled brother. While living 'as a virtual recluse with his parents' (Adrian and Pronzini, p. 278), he wrought, in as many years, a dozen novels of desparation for the paperback houses Gold Medal and Lion. The first, and most successful of Goodis's paperback originals, is Cassidy's Girl (Gold Medal 1951) which, as Woody Haut notes, sold over a million copies (Haut, p. 9).
Geoffrey O'Brien remarks, 'with the move to paperback originals, the style and content of his books changed drastically' (O'Brien p. 92). Goodis turned from the depths to 'the lower depths', to delineate characters who had fallen from grace: Cassidy, for example, is a three-time loser, who crashes his plane, his bus and, ultimately, his life. Cassidy's Girl (Gold Medal, 1951) is standard Goodis stuff: the narrative of failure. Failed pilot Cassidy is dominated by his buxom wife, Mildred, with whom he is obsessed--and with whom he must fight physically before he can become sexually aroused. Now a failed bus driver, Cassidy has lost his sense of worth and seeks to escape from Mildred (and himself) by running away with Doris, a slightly-built, quiet, dreamy alcoholic. He finally realises the futility of his attempt to escape.
In The Burglar (Lion, 1953) Harbin is a burglar is going nowhere. He has 'adopted' Gladden, the daughter of the man who taught him his trade, and they are trapped in a sexless yet near-incestuous relationship as they occupy brother-sister/father-daughter roles. Harbin sends Gladden away after a bungled robbery; then he meets Della, which makes him realise he needs Gladden: 'the root of everything was this throbbing need to take care of Gladden' (The Burglar, p.86). In their bid to escape, the gang flee to Atlantic City where Harbin and Gladden declare their mutual love. But in a Goodis novel there can be no happy ever after, and Harbin and Gladden are left all at sea.
Black Friday (Lion, 1954) is an 'elaborate variation on The Burglar' (O'Brien, p. 93). It tells of an artist turned burglar's accomplice, and of how a group of small-time crooks are bound by their complex relationships. Rene Clement's 1972 film, And Hope to Die,draws on Black Friday and on Goodis's last two novels, Raving Beauty (1966) and Somebody's Done For (1967). 
Street of No Return (Gold Medal, 1954) opens with three losers on a street corner, wondering where their next drink's coming from. The novel follows the peregrinations of one of them, Whitey, who comes to self-realisation at the end of his journey: losers always lose. 'A wino's odyssey from nowhere to nowhere' (O'Brien, p. 93). The novel was filmed under the same title by Samuel Fuller in 1989.
The Moon in the Gutter (Gold Medal, 1953) is a tale of unconsumated love and alchoholism set in the dockland slums of Philadelphia's Vernon Street. Bill Kerrigan's sister commits suicide with a razor after being raped. Then Kerrigan meets middle-class Loretta Channing, who comes to Vernon Street looking for excitement. He cannot bring himself to develop a sexual relationship with her, even after their ill-matched marriage. His step-sister Bella is the dream girl with whom he cannot form an emotional bond. Nattassia Kinski played Loretta in Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1983 film version of The Moon in the Gutter.
The Blonde on the Street Corner (Lion, 1954) tells the story of loafer Ralph Creel. The eponymous blonde is Lenore, the over-sexed sister-in-law of Ralph's simple friend Philip Wilkin, aka Dippy.
He told himself to quit looking at her. She was a married woman who lived here in the neighbourhood. That was one thing. Another thing, she was the sister-in-law of one of his close friends ... From a deeper point of view he was afraid of her. There was something about her that caused his brain to sizzle and he was really afraid of her. (TBotSC, p. 1)
Ralph meets Edna, a shy, 'sort of pale' introvert who is the opposite of the avaricious Lenore. As in Cassidy's Girl, the protagonist finds himself trapped between the physically dominating, sexually demanding woman and the slightly built, quiet, 'dream girl': scared of the physicality of one, he is unable to find the emotional capital required of him by the other. In fumbling, Pinteresque words, Ralph tells Edna he is a songwriter who is 'not really a songwriter' as his attempts to build a relationship crumble. (TBotSC, p. 81)
Set against the familiar backdrop of an impoverished Philadelphia, Goodis's characters are going nowhere, and not particularly fast. They make plans that will come to nothing, anticipating Davies, Aston and Mick in Pinter's The Caretaker by some six years:
Ken sighed: 'Florida's the place. Florida's the only place'.
'When are we going?' Dippy said.
'Any day now,' Ken said.
They sat there looking at the slow-moving curtain of grey smoke as it drifted toward the ceiling and faded away. They lifted their gin glasses and grinned at each other.
(TBotSC, p. 100)
Fear and loathing of female sexuality haunt Goodis's novels. Lenore is depicted as a fat blonde threat to masculinity:'the sound of her high heels clicking on the sidewalk ... was on the order of weird cackling laughter coming at him from all sides, telling him he was trapped' (TBotSC, p. 6); a tease, 'standing in front of the mirror with very little on. Pretending that she did not know that he was watching ... putting her hands on herself ' (TBotSC, p. 107); and a grotesquely gaping, voracious fuck-machine:
She pushed herself against him ... her arms around his middle and she was rubbing herself against him ... He squirmed away from her ... Her face twisted, and her thick-lipsticked lips spread out and then rolled together ... He was shivering now... He was shaking his head, telling himself to get out of here fast. (TBotSC, pp. 108-109)
After a savage fight scene spanning four pages--bringing Goodis's male characters into their closest contact--and which costs Ralph his job, Lenore tries to seduce him:
She was leaning against the dresser, with her hands on her hips. Her lips were wet, and she was sliding her tongue over them again. And then she moved very slowly toward him ... She knew he was scared ... She pulled him down and kept pulling hard and throwing herself up at him. He was still trying to get away. (TBotSC, pp. 138-139)
The planned seduction goes awry as Ralph overpowers Lenore, and Goodis attempts to pass off gynophobic rape as the fulfillment of Lenore's masochistic fantasy:
She became very frightened and breathed fast and hard. Her mouth was open ... He was hurting her now ... And she was gasping ... her entire body quivered, because she was getting it with more force and with more throb than she had ever gotten it before ... she started to moan ... she smiled. Now she had someone who gave it to her like a beast. (TBotSC, pp. 139-140)
Ralph, finally ensnared by the spider-woman, has a vision of the dream girl he knows now will never come: 'For an instant he saw [Edna] clearly, then gradually she faded, like something floating out of a dream. He opened his eyes and saw the fat blonde on the sofa.' (TBotSC p.155)
Goodis is not the greatest stylist of the hardboiled-noir axis of popular American fiction and, as Geoffrey O'Brien remarks, 'there was undoubtedly more promise at the outset of his career than accomplishment at the end' (O'Brien p. 88). But, while the novels are not a particularly pleasant read--and it is something of a truism to note that Goodis is 'more adept at recycling characters with paranoid tendencies-sexual anxiety, obsessive behaviour and criminality--than depicting memorable individuals and storylines' (Haut, p. 22), Goodis's novels are interesting for what they reveal of the collective American psyche in the cold war era; 'they represent an America unsure of its future' (Haut, p. 34), and one is struck by how different is Goodis's America from that of, say, the self-assured 1980s consumer-culture represented in the designer-obsessed fiction of Bret Easton Ellis. As Geoffrey O'Brien observes:
That such testaments of deprivation and anxiety could have sustained a career as a paperback novelist is today cause for wonderment. Nothing so downbeat ... would be likely to find a mass market publisher at present. (O'Brien, p. 94). 
David Goodis's novels are fascinating for the way in which the paranoid sexual fears of a wounded individual are crystalised in popular literature as a marketable commodity. While Pinter's plays are 'A'-level set-texts, Goodis's novels are not. Absurd. The Blonde on the Street Corner is re-issued by Serpent's Tail on January 8th, 1998. Serpent's Tail will re-issue The Moon in the Gutterlater in the year.

E J M Duggan

Jack Adrian and Bill Pronzini, eds, Hard-boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories (Oxford University Press: Oxford and New York, 1995). Contains the Goodis short story, 'Black Pudding' (1953).
Woody Haut, Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (Serpent's Tail: London and New York, 1995).
Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir Expanded edition (Da Capo Press: New York, 1997).
David Goodis bibliographyDavid Goodis filmography
Retreat from Oblivion1939Duttonnot filmed
Dark Passage1946MessnerDark Passage1947Delmar Daves
Nighfall1947MessnerNightfall1956Jacques Tourneur
Behold This Woman1947Appleton-Centurynot filmed
Of Missing Persons1950MorrowOf Missing Persons1956Pierre Chenal
Cassidy's Girl1951Gold Medalnot filmed
Of Tender Sin1952Gold Medalnot filmed
Street of the Lost1952Gold MedalRue barbare [street of the damned]1983Giles Behat
The Burglar1953LionThe Burglar
Le Casse [The burglars]
Paul Wendkos
Henri Verneuil
The Moon in the Gutter1953Gold MedalLa Lune dans le Caniveau
[the moon in the gutter]
1983Jean-Jacques Beineix
The Dark Chase [Nightfall]1953Lionsee Nightfall
Black Friday1954LionAnd Hope to Die1972Rene Clement
Street of No Return1954Gold MedalStreet of No Return1989Samuel Fuller
The Blonde on the Street Corner1954Lionnot filmed
The Wounded and the Slain1955Gold MedalDescente aux enfers [descent into hell]1986Francis Girod
Down There1956Gold MedalTirez sur le pianiste
[shoot the piano player]
1960Francois Truffaut
Fire in the Flesh1957Gold Medalnot filmed
Night Squad1961Gold Medalnot filmed
Raving Beauty1966BannerAnd Hope to Die1972Rene Clement
Somebody's Done For1967BannerAnd Hope to Die1972Rene Clement

Thank you

Gertrude "Trudy" Silver R.I.P.

 A dear friend,Trudy Silver, will be missed.

Trudy's loving husband, Harold "Dutch" Silver

Harold Silver and Aaron Finestone honoring David Goodis.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Joe Samuel Starnes delivers the original redneck Rocky of Tennis Novels with RED DIRT starting April 7th, 2015

RED DIRT: A TENNIS NOVEL – “a tale with the pace and power of a Rafael Nadal forehand” – by Joe Samuel Starnes will be released Tuesday. National Book Award winner John Casey had this to say about the novel published by Breakaway Books: “Starnes knows what it is to compete, to hope to be made whole by competition, to overcome not just your opponent but your own unquiet. This is a tennis novel, but any athlete--no, any reader--will learn a lot and enjoy the learning."  

Noir Sports never had it so good!  If you love the game with all of its highs and lows then RED DIRT is for you.  Just as David Goodis was moved to write about people on a downward trajectory in life, Starnes takes us down the destructive path of professional tennis with the newest redneck, anti-hero - Jaxie Skinner. Starnes is professional as borne out in RED DIRT.

Get it NOW!

It’s available in bookstores and online most everywhere books are sold:
For a schedule of upcoming events and to learn more about Joe Samuel “Sam” Starnes, visit his website at, follow him on Twitter @JSamuelStarnes, or find him on Facebook at

Sunday, April 5, 2015



The final butchery of Hagen, with its overtones of ancient tribal rituals of the killing of the king, is revenge against a powerful authority. “A walking slaughterhouse,” Bertha calls him, when telling Chet the only reason Hagen stopped short of beating him to death was that “You crawled, you whined.” “Slaughterhouse” is an interesting choice of words, especially because it is not very plausible that Bertha would use a rather far-fetched metaphor instead of a immediately recognizable epithet. She means Hagen has imposed more and more pain and humiliation as the years have passed.
“Slaughterhouse” points forward to what the Ruxton mob does finally to Hagen. Hagen and his gang invade Chet’s house, and when he returns, his long-suffering, loyal wife Edna is killed when Hagen throws her down a staircase. Then all of Ruxton Street turns on the mob boss. Goodis is known for his sadomasochistic fight scenes, but this is Grand Guignol. An ice pick, a bread knife, and a can of lye are some of the weapons used. “There’s barely anything left to bury.”
Since Goodis uses Freudianism in other novels, often but not always as a facile way of providing an ending, I should point out the concept of “primal hoard,” since the dismembering of Hagen is suggestive of the murderous scenario that Freud used to imagine the primordial impulse of human sacrifice. I realize this might be the last sentence one reads before exiting this blog for good. But wait; this is Freud’s version of the first noir crime story. He wants to depict a universal male need: the elimination of a controlling authority figure, one whose behavior imperils the community, and especially innocent, empathetic females, that is, prospective mates. Freud imagines that the primordial tyrannical father or patriarch was killed and eaten by the hoard. Thus the father’s lovers, his wife and daughters, were available to them.
Fratricide or shadows of it are present in the Old Testament, at least by indirection. They might be echoes of pagan myths. Thus when Ham, Noah’s son, sees his father naked, his seed is cursed. In the original myth, he may have planned to castrate or kill the old man. The boy David killing and beheading terrible Goliath may be another echo if a boy overcoming a tyrannical father.
It was Hagen’s destruction of the Chinese girl’s will to resist that sickened Chet when the novel begun. The murder of Chet’s wife motivated his being torn limb from limb by the feral mob. Hagen had gone too far. If he had become a “slaughterhouse,” the Ruxton Street mob had degraded themselves by killing him. There is no remorse in the novel, however. It ends with a further nourish capitulation. Chet decides to leave, but he does not. Instead, Bertha—who has instigated the attack on Hagen (in which her can of lie and bread knife were the weapons used) moves into Chet’s house to take his dead wife’s place.

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: TOUGH BUT TENDER


“Tough but tender” was a plot device that aimed at intensifying sympathy for the hero. It was introduced by Fanny Ellsworth, the editor who succeeded Cap Shaw at Black Mask. An example of what “tender” might mean is as follows: a two-fisted, hard boiled approach of the hero to attacking sociopaths or coldly calculating criminals existed alongside of loyalty to victims if they deserved it, or if that loyalty could possibly bring justice. 

Goodis inserts a relevant comment on toughness with tenderness into his “Caravan to Tarim” action-adventure yarn set in Yemen (published in a slick, Collier’s, in 1943). His plain spoken, nerves-of-steel hero, willing to shoot himself rather than be captured, “Wasn’t a happy man; he was a bit too tough.” Given “how cities were run,” as the D.A. in The Big Sleep put it, a protagonist’s compromises were inherent in reducing illegitimate power. He suffered varying degrees of self-doubt. 

Agatha Christie once stated that she wanted her stories to show innocence could be protected. Magazine editors wanted to give at least lip service to that; moral crusaders insisted on it, and were not satisfied with a tacked-on “crime does not pay” mantra. But good crime writers would not relinquish the truth that humans easily become sinister predators, and all the more successful for being so. They destroy innocence every time opportunities for power and security say hello. Dashiell Hammett’s and Paul Cain’s heroes show the ultra-hard-boiled awareness of this. Sometimes, they can’t help “going blood simple” themselves. Chandler’s, Cain’s, and Goodis’, tough as they are, show another. 
Tough but tender meant openness to an interior adventure as well as having the toughness needed for physical survival.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: GOODIS IN HOLLYWOOD

Pulp According to David Goodis's photo.
Pulp According to David Goodis's photo.

Pulp According to David Goodis's photo.

_Up to Now_ was to be the “big film” that mirrored _The Best Years of Our Lives_ (1946). It was to be about the working class men and women adjusting to post-war America (remember when wars did not have to be “endless” for maximum profits?). As you can imagine, when HUAC came to Hollywood in 1947 for another round of hearings, Warners did not think it prudent to have a film about working class discontent. What is is extant is Goodis’ 268 page typescript—a “treatment”--in the form of a narrative divided into sections. The title page states that it is an original story, and the date, 12 March 1947, indicates that is not Goodis’ first treatment of the project. The text is prefaced by a four-page “Cast of Characters,” with an informative paragraph introducing each of them.
In his 1947 interview with the Temple University News, he emphasized that writing for film was “tedious, back-breaking work,” with millions of dollars invested. Part of that would be salaries of well-known actors. Apparently Jerry Wald, with whom Goodis worked closely on the project, wanted Jane Wyman (curiously, then married to Ronald Reagan, red-blooded hater of Communists), for the female lead Ruth (“working girl with dreams in her eyes and straightness in her spine. . . “something sanitary in the air when she’s around”). Broderick Crawford (a Philadelphian) was targeted for Carroway, the Communist recruiter (“quiet voiced . . . beefy . . . “the raging flame of blatant political convictions”). Claude Rains (fresh from Hitchcock’s Notorious) for Ralph’s father (at fifty seven trying to find peace and comfort in his own home . . . . His thin air is grey, his face lined. . . “). The director would be Delmar Daves, who skillfully wrote and directed Dark Passage.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


'Paranoia And The Destiny Programme' Out Now!
‘I see no butterfly wings in the Rorschach test, but a mountain of bones.’
So says Dale Helix, who is convinced he is being abducted by a shadowy group of rulers called The Assembly. He claims they have programmed him to kill. International novelist Richard Godwin’s latest title is set in a dystopian city, and is an exploration of totalitarianism, paranoia and social engineering in a society where it is impossible to gauge the truth. The aim of the programme is to study the link between serial killers and dictators in order to clone the ideal dictator. And the Assembly are engineering a new gender. Is Dale insane or is his paranoia a key to a hidden truth?
"A searing dystopian tour de force of genre-bending images flowing towards a terrifying conclusion."
—Jason Michel -The Dictator, Pulp Metal Magazine
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"...pulling us deeper into this truly Kafkaesque world."
"Godwin’s prose marches inexorably on, pulling us deeper into this truly Kafkaesque world. Shocking images blast the reader almost constantly, helping to create the shattered world that Helix experiences. There are shades of 1984 or Brave New World here, and even a bit of the classic TV show The Prisoner...."

—Kris Rudlin, Tangent
"Paranoia And The Destiny Programme is dangerous. It should be packaged with a warning: CAUTION, THIS BOOK MIGHT MAKE YOU SEE."
“Brilliant writing with passages that spark off explosions you can only escape by reading on. Richard Godwin rips off the flesh of everyday life and reveals the mix of maggots and metal underneath.
"Godwin takes modern life, shreds it, and extracts the deep madness. When you get lines like this: ‘The capsule shoots through the blackened tunnels that smell of rusting iron. The riders stare vacantly ahead at the blank space of the wall, their hard bodies break my bones beneath my dripping coat. As they jostle me, a smell like corroding metal rises into the polluted space we occupy and I see them there briefly beneath the luminescent lights. They aren’t breathing any more’, you realize that you’re in the hands of a new master who will shake the walls of James Joyce and Ezra Pound.
"For God’s Sake, Read It. It may not be enough to keep you sane but it’s a GPS guide into the deep insanity.“
—Terry Irving, Journalist and four-time Emmy award-winning writer and TV producer
"...another master class in ‘power’ writing for the non-timid."
"Richard Godwin’s terrifying artistic vision and stiletto writing continue to out-Burroughs William Burroughs, the preceding master reporter on social dysfunction and inventor of gripping images of the bizarre. Our dehumanised, demented times, lying in wait, just under the surface."
—Stephen Bett, author of ‘Breathing Arizona’
"...a cold, absolutely original journey..."
“Richard Godwin takes you on a cold, absolutely original journey into a near future that you may recognize as Burroughs’ Annexia, or Zamiatin’s glass-walled Onestate. Noir, horror, erotica, ultimate mystery equally balanced.”
—Professor Jay Gertzman, author of Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist