Jesse's Reviews > Build My Gallows High

Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes
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Mar 13, 12

bookshelves: 1940-s, film-and-lit-connections, hard-boiled, mystery, read-in-2012
Read in March, 2012

A total bummer of a pulp mystery, and I can only attribute the high star ratings on this site as the residual memories of the elegance and literary wit of the classic film noir that was adapted from it, 1947's Out of the Past. It's telling that all three of the enthusiastic quotes adorning the cover of this edition are taken from reviews of the film, and have nothing to do with the novel itself.

Homes constantly allows the plot to stray into long chapters dealing with peripheral characters who are hardly distinguishable from each other (I had a difficult time keeping them all straight--they all have similarly terse, one-syllable names like Guy, Slats, Lou, etc--and finally gave up when I finally realized they don't add much to the plot anyway), and there's a lot of focus on the good-girl Ann and her dogged suitor, small-town Jim. But at least there's the presence of Kathie, one of the most infamous femme fatales in all of cinema to compensate, right? Well, no--she barely makes an appearance here, and to add insult to injury, is named Mumsie McGonigle, which has to be the most ill-conceived name for a femme fatale ever.

So how did Homes, which is actually the pen name for Daniel Mainwaring who is credited with the film's screenplay, manage to transform his pigs ear of a novel into the silk purse that is the screenplay of Out of the Past? As it turns out, some archive detective work in the 90's by film scholar Jeff Schwager revealed that Mainwaring's screenplay was deemed completely unsuitable and discarded (the same goes for an additional draft by James M. Cain), and that the screenplay used in the film was actually by an obscure studio writer who went by the name of Frank Fenton. All of the elements that are most loved about the film's screenplay--the incomprehensibly sophisticated twists, the witty quips, the character of Kathie--only surface in shooting scripts after Fenton was assigned the project. He was never credited, however, and Mainwaring happily took all credit for the lauded screenplay (I read an interview with him from near the end of his life and he discusses it as if it was all his own creation).

But even if I was ultimately disappointed, I'm not sorry I read this. In the end, it merely made me love the film all the more.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook I luv your sleuth work. Film editors, DPs {especially} are known more than writers. Curious that the scwriter is always screwed. Some bad films have good sc's, but I cant think of a "good" pic w a bad script. Only writer w "name" today is overrated Sorkin whose sc's are crammed w jabber.


Jesse Thanks, Sketch! I think there was a brief period in Hollywood in the 30's when the screenwriter could be a main draw, which is why every major American author of the time seemed to have a film contract for a while (Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemingway, Chandler, Hammett, Cain, etc, etc, etc).

But yeah, the studio system hierarchies meant that sometimes much credit was given where it wasn't deserved, and that definitely seems that was the case here. Schwager's guess is that Fenton didn't care much about his non-credit, as he did screenplay work just to support his fiction writing.

Agree Sorkin is probably the most famous screenwriter of the moment; the only other with a similar level of name currency I can think of is Diablo Cody.


message 3: by Sketchbook (last edited Mar 13, 2012 10:50AM) (new)

Sketchbook "Hollywood" -- a small town, ie, in the most provincial sense -- sought "names" in 30s when sound arrived. The names, from novels, theatre and journalism injected an east coast urbanity into the Moguled philistine-run system. As time passed the dirs we luv never "wrote" a script! (Hawks, Hitch, Lubitsch, Lang, Cukor etc)...Sc's who saw their work ruined (Wilder, Sturges, Mank) learned to direct.

Today, assholes who can barely "direct" mistakenly think they can script, which is why the language is so sloppy, slothful and plotting miserable -- fresh fr Idiot School. This is a corruption of the "auteur" theory... Filmmaking is collaborative.

I agree w all you say, only ponder that while DPs and editors have staunch power, if not glam, it's still the sc's who remain minus balls. Sorkin's "West Wing" brot him fame. Can he sc a pic? I've yet to see this. He's no Robt Towne or Benton-Newman...all of whom got squeezed in "credits" x greedy dirs..! (I bet Scorsese-Fincher-Beatty & their Bros have trouble writing a letter).


message 4: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook What I am reflecting upon is that since the 70s nitwitless directors insist upon "co-signing" a script. They think this will assure auteur status--. It's my belief that here's one reason -- escalating since 90s -- that scripts and movies are so damn bad. A good book on scripters is "Talking Pictures," (1974) x Richard Corliss. He examines the works of Lardner Jr., Raphaelson, Kanin, Lehman, Axelrod, Hecht etc.


message 5: by Bri (new)

Bri Fidelity I'm sort of in love with the idea of Jane Greer playing a sleek malevolent temptress called Mumsie McGonigle, now.

I'd just like to see if she could.


message 6: by Sketchbook (last edited Mar 15, 2012 07:59AM) (new)

Sketchbook That's a hilarious liner ! "Mumsie -- dry martini?"


message 7: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook "Mmm," Mumsie McGonigle sighed, "but go easy on the scotch."


Jesse Lol, and it doesn't even end there! In James M. Cain's screenplay drafts (also rejected) , he changed the name Mumsie McGonigle to Maisie Clemmens--"Maisie" being short for May Zenobia. :)


message 9: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook Connecting trivia threads : Js Cain was married briefly to actress Aileen Pringle who was lifelong pal of CVV. (How far could she go w that 'name' ?)


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