Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: Two Philly Guys - William P. McGivern and David L. Goodis

McGivern's ROGUE COP, Goodis' NIGHT SQUAD and the "Noble Loser"


_Rogue Cop_ (1954) features two “big boys,” Ackerman and Belmonte. The former controlled the judges, pols, magistrates (City Hall, as Goodis put it [both novels are set in hardboiled Philly]). Belmonte controlled the rackets in the neighborhoods Goodis wrote of (which in _Night Squad_ is “The Swamp,” a low-rent residential area in Southwest Philly which did actually exist, well before the airport and stadia.
The protagonist is Mike Carmody, the rogue cop who has been taking orders from the 2 bosses. He feels church and family have got him little besides trapped. In one passage, he shows the same self-hate mixed with violence that Goodis’ Eddie (_Down There_), Kerrigan (_The Moon in the Gutter_), or esp. Corey (the protagonist in _Night Squad_) show.
But there is a vast difference. Carmody was a good cop but very smart, and realized corruption was endemic. His brother Eddie, also on the force, was loyal, religious, community centered. Ackerman wants Mike to tell his brother not to testify regarding a crime scene. Eddie refuses the request and is murdered. Now Carmony goes solo, finds the assassin, regrets his corruption (which indirectly caused him to endanger his brother), and becomes a good cop. In itself, that is not dissimilar to Corey’s story.
But Corey’s rogue cop tactics, extortion and using his badge to intimidate his neighbors and shop keepers--had uncanny psychological roots. When he was a child, he was bitten high up on his thigh by a rat. Then his father, an honest, this cash-poor cop, was brutally beaten to death by the Dragons, a gang under the control of a predatory mob boss, of whose brutality everyone stands in awe. Whenever Corey rebels against his “4th-class ticket” life in The Swamp, he feels this wound, and retreats into a self-hate that alcohol and his awareness of betrayal of his trust reinforce. He is tough and can defeat, with guile, sharp shooting, and ham fists many thugs. But he is afraid of everyone, including his estranged wife, the neighbors who look at him with dismay and contempt, and the mob boss who employs him occasionally.
Carmony, by contrast, is still manly, aggressive, and has a much stronger sense of self and power than Corey does—which might even reflect the inner self-definitions of McGivern and Goodis. Carmody is on his way to atonement. McGivern has no doubt in the benevolence of the working class area to which his cop, no longer rogue, re-commits himself. In _Night Squad_, Corey kills the villain, but almost by accident. He shot him in the belly, when he really was aiming for his wrist.
BTW, there is much about that boss’s physical problems—his bowels have stopped working, the consequences of which Goodis focuses graphically in a way that it essential to his understanding of what a dirty story really is. Corey, like so many other Goodis’ “noble losers,” remains on the edge of loneliness, distrust of himself, isolation from any community—despite that community’s new-found love and respect for him.
He takes his place with Eddie (_Down There_), Hart (_Black Friday_), Whitey (_Street of No Return_). The phrase ”noble losers,” which could not be applied to McGivern’s kick-down Philly heros, is not meant to be a tern of ridicule. Instead, it means a complex, sympathetic, emotionally conflicted guy—a kind of post-war American Everyman.
P.S. re McGivern/Goodis
Belmonte has a girlfriend, Nancy, who is very like Debbie in THE BIG HEAT. When she humiliates him, he has her beaten and (it is implied) gang raped. Yet he suffers for it and wants her back (“he must have loved her,” thinks Carmody incredulously). This episode places Belmonte with some of Goodis’ mob bosses who cannot live without a woman they need, but not for sex, since that kind of relief is a crook of the finger away. No, as machine-like as is their capitalist frenzy, gangsters like Sharkey (_Street of No Return_), Charlie (_Black Friday_), and esp. Hebdin (_Somebody’s Done For_) are helpless before a woman they cannot live without. These guys, like Belmonte, cling to a woman whom they need to feel fully human, even if the woman disdains them. The images below, George Raft (at left in the poster) and the figure in the background of the paperback cover, suggest this story-within-a-story of love, need, and control, whatever its significance may be.

Pulp According to David Goodis's photo.


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