Someone once described the classic noir plot as a man gradually realizing that he's fucked. Well, He Ran All the Way's Nick Robey is way ahead on this game. The novel opens with him having a full-on expressionistic nightmare of him playing himself in craps--and losing.
Yes, Nick is filled with a sense of foreboding. He convinced the stick-up he's planning with his pal Al is doomed And it is. It winds up with a cop dead, Al in jail (singing the tune "Nick did it!") and Nick himself on the run.
As long as Nick is in motion, the novel has a pleasantly sweaty kinetic energy emphasized by Ross's staccato style. "He couldn't afford to make a mistake. He couldn't afford to take chances." Unfortunately, rather than careening about Chicago like the hottest pinball in town, things grind to a screeching halt out of The Desperate Hours.
Realizing "...he had no way of getting anywhere and he had no place to go," Nick picks up 19-yr. old Peg Dobbs at the beach and convinces her to take him home. Oddly enough, her pathologically post war nuclear family raise nary an eyebrow over their daughter bringing home an obviously agitated and armed lunatic. But even though they seem quite amenable to letting him hang around the house for a few days with the housing shortage and all, he panics, pulls his gun and takes the whole lot of them hostage.
The next 200 pages of the parents freaking, Peg sympathizing, and Junior smart-assing are pretty dull. You want to scream at Nick, "Move, man, move!!!!" There's even a Flitcraft sequence where for no real reason Mr. Dobbs tells Nick that a man's dreams shouldn't come true because when they do, "you feel a little more hollow inside."
This doesn't stop Nick from ultimately tossing the seven-out of his dreams. He gets a screwball idea for Peg to buy a car and drive him to the coast. She comes through with the car, but faced with his increasingly irrational behavior, she embraces him--and fatally stabs him in the back with a handy kitchen knife.
Ultimately, the novel is done in by by the lengthy hostage sequence. However, the prospect of having a screen presence like John Garfield ranting and raving and screaming at the elder Dobbs, smacking Junior, fondling Peg (a young Shelly Winters? Mmmm...) and sweating over the tastefully-furnished Dobbs home does have enormous cinematic potential.
We'll see if this potential is realized on January 26th when He Ran All the Way screens at the Castro.