Created by Geoffrey Homes
Pseudonym of Daniel Mainwaring
HUMPHREY CAMPBELL was an operative for the Morgan Missing Persons Bureau (“Missing Persons Located, Heirs Found”) in Los Angeles, who appeared in a handful of novels right, who made his debut before the private eye genre was practically codified by the success of a certain Mr. Chandler. His boss is 65 year-old Oscar Morgan–fat, lazy, and not above a little corruption. Humphrey is on the chubby side himself, prone to white suits and playing the accordion (!), but his greatest distinction, the one that sets him apart from all the other hard-boiled dicks of the thirties and forties, may be his tipple of choice. He drinks milk. Never drinks anything stronger.
But make no mistake–Humphrey’s no weenie. If he has to, he’ll fight. And he carries a .38 in a shoulder holster that he certainly knows how to use.
Things generally boil along at a fair clip. Humphrey doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff, and Homes packs the books with some pretty nifty writing, pleasantly clever and occasionally quirky plotting, dialogue that keeps things moving and the occasional off-kilter detail you don’t see coming. Like the milk drinking. Or the accordion playing. Or like in No Hands on the Clock, where one of the victims is scalped.
That kinda stuff just sticks with ya.
And those titles! “The Six Silver Handles”? “Forty Whacks“? Later re-titled “Stiffs Don’t Vote”? No doubt about it–Homes had game.
Humphrey may also be one of the first detective series to have been spun off from another. He made his debut in Then There Were Three (1938), the final book featuring Homes’ other series character, newshawk/P.I. Robin Bishop. From then on, though, Humphrey flew solo, appearing in four other books.
Two of the Campbell novels were brought to the silver screen, and while neither is a lost classic, each does have its moments–they’re both prime examples of B-Grade cheese.
No Hands on the Clock (1941) was filmed under that title, and it’s a mess; an inadvertently hilarious train wreck that only occasionally strays close to its source material. It starred Chester “Dick Tracy” Morris as our man Humphrey, while 1944’s Crime by Night (based on the 1941 entry in the series, Forty Whacks) featured Jerome Cowan as “Sam” Campbell. I guess Humphrey wasn’t tough enough sounding, or something (Hadn’t they ever heard of Bogart?), does a little better. In that one, “Sam” and his secretary (Jane Wyman, who evidently has a way with a cigarette) go on vacation and end up solving a murder.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Homes was actually Daniel Mainwaring. Born in California, he attended Fresno University before attempting various jobs, including migrant fruit picker, private investigator and reporter, before turning to writing fiction under the Homes pen name in the thirties. Sometimes using his real name, he worked as a screenwriter, first for Warner Bros. and later for Paramount, and his credits include such classic crime and film noirs as Out of the Past (1946) (based on his own novel, and later remade as 1984’s Against All Odds), They Made Me a Killer (1946), The Big Steal (1949) and Roadblock (1951). He ended up writing the screenplays for over forty films, including a ton of gangster flicks and westerns. Perhaps his best known success was the screenplay for Invasion of the Body-Snatchers (1956).
- “Good pace if superinvolved….”
— Kirkus Reviews on No Hands on the Clock
- The action in Forty Whacks is fast and furious, but there is a good deal more than that to recommend it: clever plotting, witty and remarkably good dialogue, and a lean style made lyrical in places by some of the most vivid descriptive writing to be found in all of mystery fiction.”
— Steve Lewis, Mystery*File
- “(Geoffrey Homes’) novels were so good that I couldn’t imagine why he wasn’t better known.”
— David Handler
- “I have not read the novel it’s based on so I can’t say how it compares, but I have seen Crime By Night. It was on TCM a month or so ago. It was better than I expected. Murder among the well-to-do in a small town (with a corrupt sheriff) and investigated by a PI who can take a punch, and often does. One of my favorite character actors, Jerome Cowan, plays the rather sleazy P.I.. Jane Wyman is his assistant and gets star billing. It would have been better without her… It has the bloodiest murder scene I’ve ever seen in a movie from that era, and a fair number of fist fights and beatings. I don’t recall the PI drinking milk, however. Oh well, can’t have everything.”
— Mark McGlone on Rara-Avis
- “Late in this rather dull mystery, Miss Wyman offers her co-star a Chesterfield, then proceeds to prop one in her mouth and light it. No visible exhales, but Miss Wyman, who sports a fetching 40s-style hairdo and hats throughout, looks stunning as she dangles, inhales and holds. Did I mention her killer black gloves? She smokes again soon after in a hotel lobby. A real heart-stopper, if you’re into real old-style Hollywood glamour.”
— Female Celebrity Smoking List takes a look at Crime by Night (and people think THIS site is peculiar?)
- Then There Were Three (1938) | Buy this book
- No Hands on the Clock (1939) | Buy this book
- Finders Keepers (1940) | Buy this book
- Forty Whacks (1941; aka “Stiffs Don’t Vote”) | Buy this book
- The Six Silver Handles (1944; aka “The Case of the Unhappy Angels”) | Buy this book
- NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK
76 minutes, black & white
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Homes
Screenplay by Maxwell Shane
Directed by Frank McDonald
Produced by William H. Pine, William C. Thomas
Starring Chester Morris as HUMPHREY CAMPBELL
Also starring Jean Parker, Rose Hobart, Dick Purcell, Astrid Allwyn, Rod Cameron, Lorin Raker, Billie Seward, George Watts, James Kirkwood, Robert Middlemass, Ralph Sanford, Grant Withers, George J. Lewis, Keye Luke
- CRIME BY NIGHT
(1944, Warner Brothers)
72 minutes, black & white
Based on the novel “Forty Whacks” by Geoffrey Homes
Screenplay by Joel Malone and Richard Weil
Directed by William Clemens
Produced by William Jacobs
Starring Jerome Cowan as SAM CAMPBELL
Also starring Jane Wyman, Faye Emerson, Charles Lang, Eleanor Parker, Stuart Crawford, Cy Kendall, Charles C. Wilson, Roy Brent, Creighton Hale
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- The Unsung Godfather of Film Noir
David Handler on Geoffrey Homes (March 2019, CrimeReads)