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HE KNEW HE was close to something – he sensed it. All this groping...
“Are you McCleary?”
He turned from the bar. A miserable specimen of a man, filthy and furtive, waited for his answer.
“Yes.”
Large unusually lucid and brilliant eyes met his. “You don’t know me, do you?”
“No.”
“I’m not a man,” whispered the stranger. “I’m fifty-five years old, have four human children, six human grandchildren, weigh about one hundred and forty pounds; I eat, sleep, scratch myself and hate lice; but I am not a man.”
He came closer. “I’m a lot of things, McCleary. I’m the black sheep of Gotham’s flock, the whisky breath of Stephen Foster, the oldest street in the United States, the tea-water pump. I am the Henry Astor of the Fly Market, Priest of the Parish, Murderer’s Alley, the Dead Rabbits. I am exaggerated humor, intense filth. I am an accomplished linguist, can hold my tongue in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Hungarian, Polish, Yiddish. I am the rise of the gangs. I am also a mystery. I am Bowery...”

 

"For Sam Fuller the world condensed into stories. That’s what he saw wherever he looked. Whatever reality, incident, fact or event presented itself, he saw it as narrative material. Rereading The Dark Page I hear Sam’s voice, very clearly, as if he was talking to me, intense, excited, passionate, honest. I never met anybody else who would actually talk the same way he would write, let alone anybody who would also make movies with that very same impetus and attitude. One of the great movie directors of the 20th century, sure. But most certainly its greatest storyteller. In my book, at least."

~WIM WENDERS
 
from his introduction 


"If you don’t like Sam Fuller, you just don’t like cinema.”

~ MARTIN SCORSESE


As director and writer, Sam Fuller is revered for raw films noir like Pickup on South Street and searing war movies such as The Big Red One, earning a devoted cult of fans that has included filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Quentin Tarantino, and writers from James Ellroy to George Pelecanos. Before movies, however, Fuller was a newspaperman, and a prolific novelist, blasting out books for the disreputable pulp market.

Drawing on his own experience, Fuller sets this story against the vividly rendered world of Manhattan’s ravenous tabloid newspaper industry. The Dark Page is the tale of Carl Chapman, a powerful city editor turned murderer, who finds himself hunted through the pages of his own paper by the young star crime reporter he personally groomed.

First published in 1944, this fantastically readable murder story has been unavailable for decades, and never published in the UK before. A bestseller in its day – when it was awarded “Best Psychological Novel of 1944” - the novel’s page turning pace, hardboiled stance, cynical wit and grit remain surprising, as do the cinematic eye and powerhouse story-telling of its author. A gripping noir snapshot of its era, with still-pertinent observations on the workings of the tabloid press, it is one of the great rediscoveries of the year.


    

YOU'RE THE EDITOR OF A NEW York tabloid on the rise: "irreverent, blatant, cynical", your rivals call you, so you know you're doing very well indeed. You launch a lonely-hearts club that mesmerises the city, you go to its first great ball and you meet the first wife you were sure was dead. She says she won't ever let you go. The trouble is that you now have another wife, a family you adore, a wonderful life that's suddenly at risk; so you wipe away the blood and make it seem this left-over wife broke her head by slipping in the bath.

So far, so ordinary as set-ups for a thriller go: man with secret kills to keep it.

But The Dark Page is by the late, great Samuel Fuller, one of the finest of post-war American movie-makers, the man who once said he saw movies as a battleground - "Love Hate Action Violence Death; in a word, emotion" - and who suggested the only way to make a proper war movie was to have riflemen fire on the audience from behind the screen.

The novel's set-up grips from the start because Fuller doesn't just have a tabloid clarity, the punch of a great headline; he has a very moral kind of anger, and the philosopher's trick of working all the angles in a story.

The editor's crime seems practical, but is it always sane to be practical? He has become his own front-page story, the one he gets to trim and change; the angles that could put him in the electric chair are making his name and fortune. He works with the paper's crime reporter, who sees him as a mentor - a blustery kind of love that Fuller often conjured - but the kid is too good at his job. The way to undermine him, wreck him, is to put him in the story too: the next potential victim of the Lonely Hearts Killer.

The story is tight and it is brutal, but it's more; Fuller had the old newsman's sense of everyday life and unthinkable actions and how they intertwine. The book stinks of hot metal and printers' ink; it honours the callous heroism of the hack; you learn the workings of an autopsy and the timetable of a Bowery hobo's day while you sweat out the plot.

I've long suspected his time in the newsrooms and on the streets taught Fuller an even more important lesson: there are no limits to what can happen. When you take that knowledge into fiction, especially genre fiction, it is deeply shocking. Only Fuller could write a movie (Forty Guns) in which the villain taunts the hero, tells the lawman he'll have to shoot his own girl to take the villain down; and the hero does just that.

It's tempting to place The Dark Page in terms of movies, but this isn't film noir territory, even if we're deep inside The Naked City. The setting is the pre-war New York that Fuller knew and documented so well; it's a time when it was worth getting angry, not the cynical, almost solipsistic 1940s; and its exact location is Park Row, the zone for all the city's newspapers that just weren't the New York Times.

Fuller exactly reproduces the mix of calculation, cynicism, passion, delusion and cheek a man needs to chase truth to a deadline.
After all, it had once been his life. At 16 he bluffed his way from copy boy to crime reporter on the wild New York Evening Graphic, otherwise known as the Daily Pornographic; his new bosses, in a minimal gesture to child welfare, made him wait until he was 17 before turning him loose on a city of gangs, speakeasies, fascists and anarchists and ordinary, honest criminals. Around 1940, Fuller got ambitious and that's where the story of The Dark Page begins. He'd sold some yarns to Hollywood, even some scripts, but they'd been changed in the studio machine. He wanted something that was distinctly, unquestionably his own.

So he wrote The Dark Page and left it with his mother when he went off to be a dogface soldier in the great European war. On Omaha Beach, on D-Day, he became a decorated hero. And although his mother had found a publisher for the book, although it was reprinting nicely, even won a prize for best psychological novel, he never saw a copy until just before the Battle of the Bulge: in a bivouac by a Normandy chateau, he saw a new recruit reading the GI edition. He lay in the grass, loving the feel of the pages, before going off to face the Panzer divisions and the bombers to the East.

Hollywood was interested. Howard Hawks bought the movie rights, some of the money was airmailed to France, and was blown on a night of girls, steaks and booze for the company: as Fuller liked to tell it, a night of sexual fantasy for men who'd been dosed with far too much calming saltpetre.

But Hawks couldn't make the movie happen, even with Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson, and he sold the rights on to Columbia, who took their time putting out a faint carbon copy of the story (called Scandal Sheet, if your taste in film inclines to masochism). The book that was Fuller's bid to tell his own stories became, in Hollywood, his object lesson in what happens when you lose artistic control.
All this is a history anyone can recognise if they've sold a book to the movies, but you don't need to know it, or even be a movie buff, to appreciate The Dark Page. You only need to have time for a great story-teller whose stripped-down style only seems to be plain, whose directness never stopped Fuller being subtle. You think while the punches land. The book, along with Sam's other fiction, has been missing much too long.

   Michael Pye THE SCOTSMAN Sept. 2007


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