Limp Dick: The Raven Red Kiss-Off (1990)

Dave rounds up a few dames and polishes his roscoe as he ventures into the double-crossing world of Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective.

Making his debut in the second issue of Spicy Detective [1], Dan Turner was the creation of Robert Leslie Bellem, a newspaper reporter turned writer, who churned out countless stories for Culture Publications [2]. Turner was by far the author’s most renowned character. Drawing upon his occasional work as a film extra, Bellem positioned Turner in Tinsel Town as a private eye who spent most of his days investigating the grimy goings-on in the movie business.

Although Bellem did get to see his brainchild on the silver screen via the jaunty Republic Pictures quickie Blackmail (1947), starring William Marshall as the eponymous investigator, it took until 1990 for any of his work to roll before the cameras again. This time it was an adaptation of his 1943 tale, Homicide Highball, which was written by author John Wooley, who would go on to pen the acclaimed biography, Wes Craven: The Man and his Nightmares.

It’s Marc Singer who’s cast as the hardboiled sleuth, and he’s summoned to the set of a picture with the task of keeping tabs on the beautiful Vala Duvalle (Tracy Scoggins), the wife of studio head Bernie Ballantyne (Danny Kamen), who’s in the midst of being blackmailed. However, this new job for the mac-wearing gumshoe quickly begins to fall apart when an old flame (Bethany Wright) is murdered with his gun, and Turner finds himself named as the number one suspect.

Produced by Charles Fries, a fellow nicknamed the ‘Godfather of the TV Movie’ for his role in churning out countless small screen dramas, THE RAVEN RED KISS-OFF premiered on the boob tube on 14th August 1990 under the title ‘Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective’. Made for syndication, it was mooted as a potential series – although screenwriter Wooley places a degree of criticism at the feet of Fries for the lukewarm reception. As the writer told PulpFest recently:

“I should say that Fries Entertainment kept trying to tamp down the style of Turner’s voice. They cited the failure of The Man with Bogart’s Face (1980as evidence that people didn’t want their detectives too flippant, or some damn thing. They kept rewriting Turner’s best lines. It was a struggle, and I certainly didn’t win all the time.”

Wooley’s frustration is also the film’s biggest flaw. The Dan Turner stories were famous for their implied sexual shenanigans and coercive crimes, with the detective’s dialogue littered with slang-laden sentences. Christopher Lewis’ feature dilutes much of what made Bellem’s creation notorious, and the absence of sex or violence makes it tame even in comparison to its monochrome ancestors.

Having said that, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma laces the film with some eye-catching art-deco architecture, and the attention to detail in regard to production design warrants a nod of admiration. Singer is good, Scoggins is underused, and there are welcome cameos from the likes of Clu Gulager, Paul Bartel, and, even, Eddie Deezen.

USA ● 1990 ● Thriller, TVM ● 86mins

Marc Singer, Tracy Scoggins, Nicholas Worth, Paul Bartel ● Dir. Christopher Lewis ● Wri. Robert Leslie Bellem (original creator – Dan Turner), John Wooley

[1] Spicy Detective spanned one-hundred and four issues and ran from April 1934 to December 1942, at which point it was retitled Speedy Detective.
[2] Other magazines included Spicy Adventure, Spicy Western, and Spicy Mystery – the ‘Spicy’ being a not-so-subtle hint at the racy content within.

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