Indefatigable editor Penzler’s latest 61-scoop sundae is a treasure trove of short stories that were filmed, though most readers won’t care to sample more than a fraction of its contents.
Acknowledging that “most of the greatest mystery crime films were adapted from novels or were original screenplays,” Penzler (The Big Book of Female Detectives, 2018, etc.) introduces seven sections containing suspense stories, crime comedies, thrillers, horror stories, stories about criminals, fatal romances, and detective stories. A significant fraction of the volume’s 1,200 pages are devoted to the editor’s story-by-story introductions, but these short essays, which are filled with anecdotes, breezy evaluations, information about the production histories of the movies based on these stories, and the occasional spoiler, are often more interesting than the stories they introduce. As for the selections themselves, some (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Five Orange Pips,” G.K. Chesterton’s “The Blue Cross,” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game”) are anthology chestnuts fans will already know. Most of these, along with Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” and Dashiell Hammett’s “The House in Turk Street,” are better than any of the film versions that provide the hook for their inclusion. Other stories changed beyond recognition in filming—Edgar Wallace’s “The Death Watch” and “The Ghost of John Holling,” Sapper’s “Thirteen Lead Soldiers,” Hammett’s “On the Make,” Barry Perowne’s “The Blind Spot,” Stuart Palmer’s “The Riddle of the Dangling Pearl,” Palmer and Craig Rice’s “Once Upon a Train,” Fredric Brown’s “Madman’s Holiday,” Ian Fleming’s “From A View to a Kill”—and will provide mostly bewilderment from readers familiar with their film versions. Only a handful—E.W. Hornung’s “Gentlemen and Players,” Agatha Christie’s “The Witness for the Prosecution,” W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” and “The Traitor,” Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” Irwin Shaw’s “Tip on a Dead Jockey,” and several of the eight noir tales by Cornell Woolrich, a welcome minianthology within this anthology—are memorable stories made into equally memorable films. The happiest discoveries for most readers will be the mostly forgotten stories that provided the basis for Broken Blossoms, Brother Orchid, Smart Blonde, The Killer Is Loose, Possessed, Gun Crazy, The Wild One, On the Waterfront, Bad Day at Black Rock, and (even before Robert Bloch’s novel) Psycho. Who knew?
The ideal audience: cinephiles who’ve never read any of these stories before. But everyone will find something to treasure.