Donald Free (Private Detective 62)

Created by Raoul Whitfield
Pseudonyms include Ramon Decolta and Temple Field

A trio of short stories by Raoul Whitfield that appeared in Black Mask in 1932 related the adventures of DONALD FREE, a disgraced government agent forced to accept work at a particularly seedy private detective agency. Perhaps more significantly, though, was that the stories formed the basis for a pretty successful movie, Private Detective 62, the next year, starring William Powell. It was one of the first–and certainly not the last–films to feature a hard-boiled private eye.

It was a nice, tight little film. The plot is obvious and even a bit hokey, but William Powell is stylish and suave, something he was to perfect later on in the Thin Man series. The direction by Curtiz is solid, with some good angle shots and some nice fluid camera work, avoiding the staged-look of a lot of other films from the time. I love the stair bit at the end.

The whole thing’s only a little over an hour long, but I thought it was a hoot; a very entertaining little crime film. Powell, of course, is always fun to watch, and Margaret Lindsay as “the babe” is easy enough on the eyes. And this being a pre-code show, some of the pulp grit seeps through, like a hophead called Whitey who’s told at one point to lay off the “snow.”

The film did well enough, I guess, and was said to have inspired Whitfield’s pal Dashiel Hammett when he created his own numerically named eye/spy, Secret Agent X-9, for the comics.

Raoul Whitfield, one of the masters of the pulps, was also responsible for private eyes Ben Jardinn and Jo Gar (under the pen name of Ramon Delcolta).


  • “Man Killer” (April 1932, Black Mask)
  • “Walking Dynamite” (May 1932, Black Mask)
  • “Blue Murder” (September 1932, Black Mask)


  • PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 | Buy the DVD | Buy the poster
    aka “Man Killer”
    (1933, Warner Brothers)
    67 minutes
    Black and white
    Based on a story by Raoul Whitfield
    Screenplay by Rian James
    Directed by Michael Curtiz
    Starring William Powell as DONALD FREE
    Also starring Irving Bacon, James Bell, George Brent, Arthur S. Byron, Hobart Cavanaugh,, Heinie Conklin, Ruth Donnelly, Eddie Dunn, Bill Elliot, Theresa Harris, Arthur Hohl, Ann Hovey, Charles Lane, Margaret Lindsay, Natalie Moorhead, Eddie Phillips, Georges Renavent, Rolfe Sedan, Harry Seymour, Sheila Terry, Gordon Westcott, Revel Whitney, Charles C. Wilson, Pat Wing, Toby Wing
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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