Black, White, and Red All Over: The Active Four-Year Life of Will Gould’s Big Red Barry

Posted by on April 16th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

click to view larger image

Opulent; florid; intermittently bizarre: Red Barry, Will Gould’s gangling, glowering, undercover cop, countered Chester (no relation) Gould’s grimly taciturn Dick Tracy with a ripely atmospheric, robustly theatrical, unflinchingly lurid theater, replete with run-on dialogues, soliloquies and, not infrequently, faces that appeared to be “made up” in the pointed, dagger-like beards, eye patches, and whiskers that would earn a chuckle of recognition from George Jean Nathan (once-and-forever dean of American drama critics). Will Gould’s criminals, like his stories, exhaled the rank, yet titillating, sleaze of pulp mags like The Shadow, The Spider, Dime Detective. Indeed: Gould’s ample shadings — settings, clothing, faces — and occasional outright grotesqueries (the evil-eyed dummy of a crime boss/ventriloquist) suggest the caricature/visions of filmic sorcerers like Tod Browning and Josef von Sternberg. The retrospective note struck by his Chinatown settings (in an extended episode called “The Song of the Flame”) mingles Edgar Wallace-like hokum with the mildewed yet appealing sentiment of old radio shows like The Shadow and Alias Jimmy Valentine. The warm echoes of pulp and radio are heightened in a story like the one of Sarko, a criminal ventriloquist. Consistently attired in a smoking jacket, Sarko is constantly accompanied by an evil-eyed dummy. Under arrest at last, thanks to Red, Sarko (portrayed by Gould against black backgrounds) delivers a remorseful apology to his little wooden familiar, then consummates the dummy’s “revenge” by poisoning himself with a needle, secreted in the collar of the leering figurine.

The gadgetry: Either the impromptu inventions of fugitives (an improvised raft, stocked with cuts of venison) or, the sci-fi dojiggers of the ’50s — two-way wrist radio; junkets to the moon — all pertained, like his villains’ pat, machine-turned peculiarities, to Chester Gould’s fascination with, and genius for, the mechanical. But it was Will Gould’s instinct for theater that enriched Red Barry’s dialogue, imagery and adventures with their piquant and absorbing, moody vividness. A stellar example for this reader and belated “Barry” fan was the episode called “The Song of the Flame,” the name of a mysterious musical composition, precious to diverse claimants. These included a scrap of underworld flotsam called “Limehouse” and diverse personae, many in Hollywood-style Mandarin attire. Oh, yes: plus, a sexy, Balkan blond, and plus Red Barry’s superior, Inspector Scott. Trumping all the other makeups, to blend in, the Inspector merely shaved off his flowing white hair and mustache, donning a Mandarin outfit and eye patch. Although “camp,” in its current use, was then largely unknown, it flowed freely in this, and certain other of Red Barry’s adventures.

A freely flowing course of lusty fantasy, with just sufficient tongue in its cheek to lighten both sentimentality and terror: sufficient for any comic-strip devotee to murmur hasta la vista to an endearing borderline-camp labor of nostalgic love.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.