By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
But it is DeLorenzo‘s appreciation of Miss Blandish’s Depression-era milieu, as well as the play‘s improbabilities -- its malarial, Midwestern Catholicism, as well as the inexplicable East Coast accents of some characters -- that capture the country’s perky cynicism, and bring to mind another theatre noir and PRTE triumph, The Blue Dahlia, which Daniel O‘Connor so lavishly staged at the small Court Theater in 1989. In the end, DeLorenzo’s Miss Blandish views like Brecht without the politics, a Darwinian tableau of little fish getting eaten by bigger ones.
MacDonald‘s play, first produced in Scotland in 1978 (with Pierce Brosnan playing Eddie Schultz), was based on a pulp novel welded to the conventions of its genre -- sadistic brutalism, a sniggering contempt for homosexuals, and the belief that a woman’s place is in a jar with all the other black widows. What makes it so vivid is the chewing-gum pop of its slang, the kind of racy American repartee that only a foreigner like James Hadley Chase could write. A library clerk and sometime encyclopedia salesman, Chase (born Rene Brabazon Raymond), like many of his fellow Britons, immersed himself in the American pop culture of gangster films and romans noir.
He reputedly cranked out No Orchids for Miss Blandish in six weeks, and, just as Bram Stoker had researched distant Transylvania in the reading rooms of the British Museum, so Chase, who then had never visited the States, learned about them by holing up in the Hampstead library with an American slang dictionary. Like film directors Billy Wilder and Edgar G. Ulmer, and fellow countryman Richard Hallas (You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up), Chase eagerly learned ”American“ as a second language -- the language of sex, violence and swing -- eventually making it his own. (He also showed a flair for making passages from other writers, including Raymond Chandler, his own.)
In Chase‘s case, it was an artificial speech, the ironic idiom of movies, radio programs and novels that were prohibited from using deep profanity and so had to manufacture an ersatz slang not derived from traditional colloquial sources (black ghettos, music and drug subcultures, or Army-barracks life), but from the overheated imaginations of men who had never actually fired a heater, sapped a pansy or braced a frail.
Chase’s speech was not, ultimately, a speech of the people, but of a pop ethos presuming to represent prewar America. This led Chase‘s novel, and MacDonald’s play, to a harsher darkness than that encountered in Emlyn Williams‘ Night Must Fall, and down meaner streets than Philip Marlowe would ever go, but it also made Miss Blandish a sterile literary artifact. Still, Chase’s dialogue ricochets between his characters as wickedly as anything from The Front Page. ”What do I need to get you to kiss me?“ Eddie asks Anna. ”Chloroform,“ she replies. Or ”Careful, Lucie,“ Fenner taunts the major domo, ”you almost split an infinitive.“
No Orchids for Miss Blandish sold millions of copies, served as the pretext for a cautionary George Orwell essay, and has been adapted into two movies and several plays. Above all, for Chase it launched a wildly lucrative writing career whose picaresque titles included 12 Chinks and a Woman and You‘re Lonely When You’re Dead. Fourteen years after his death, however, Chase is virtually forgotten, his Alexandrian library of pulp ignored even by the hard-boiled revival, led by Black Lizard Books, of the 1980s. No Orchids for Miss Blandish may out-Chandler Chandler, but it‘s also out of print, another small fish that has vanished without a trace.
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