Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Don't Get Caught

Richard Macaulay (1909-1969) was an esteemed Warner Bros. screenwriter. During his seven-year partnership with the studio, Macaulay produced 30 screenplays including 1942's “Across the Pacific” starring Humphrey Bogart. His novel, “Women Make Bum Newspapermen”, was filmed as “Front Page Woman” in 1935. Stoutly conservative, Macaulay gained notoriety during Hollywood's Blacklist era, naming 29 of Hollywood's elite as communists. Perhaps it was this notoriety that led to writing paperback originals for Fawcett Gold Medal under a pseudonym. Collaborating with his wife Mildred, Macaulay wrote “Don't Get Caught” as Carter Cullen in 1951.

The book's opening premise follows minor league baseball player Dave Morgan into Pacific Industrial Insurance Company. The meeting is a mystery to Morgan, but soon he realizes he's been invited into a sting operation involving his estranged twin-brother Al. The insurance company informs Dave that his brother has died in prison. Serving a ten-year prison sentence for armed robbery, Al perished from pneumonia three-months shy of parole. Dave, never having a close relationship with Al, isn't phased by the news until he hears the words “thirty-thousand dollars”.

Al and three armed gunmen knocked over a payroll worth $400,000. The money was never recovered and the trio never talked. With Al dead and the remaining two robbers on the verge of parole, the insurance company wants Dave to “become” Al. The prison's population never knew Al died thanks to a secretive, collaborative agenda between the prison's hospital, warden and the insurance company. It's a fitting time for Dave to inject himself into Al's life, become the prisoner and then team up with the other two who will surely go for the money once they're released. Dave, having no enforcement skills, knows it's high risk with a lucrative reward for success. The insurance company's efforts to reclaim the money rests in an inexperienced minor league ball player.

After a few weeks of intense, grueling memorization of Al's entire life, Dave is inserted back into the prison population as his brother. While talking with hardened prisoners becomes easy, Dave is torn when he meets Al's lover Natalie. She's beautiful, cunning and altogether a black widow riding crime's coat-tails for her portion of the payout. Once Dave is released on parole, he must acclimate himself into the life of a man who's been away from society for 10-years. That means giving Natalie ten-years of pent-up sexual release. While rewarding, it's an exhausting job satisfying Natalie's unquenchable lust.

Soon, Al's two cohorts are released and the trio begins arrangements for recovering the stolen money. The book's furious second-half is brimming with action as Dave is forced to comply with their wishes while struggling to protect an innocent girl who's been kidnapped as rape fodder by the sadistic Sprang, the trio's leader. The closing chapters provide a thrilling escape route through the mountains as Sprang and Dave are forced into the inevitable confrontation.

Written in 1951, the Macaulays utilize a lot of 1940s dialogue. Amateurs are “amachoors” and all women are dames. While it doesn't detract from the story, it left me feeling as if Richard Macaulay never adapted to the 1950s and it's more modern landscape. This is understandable considering how many screenplays he wrote in the 1940s, but great writers should adapt to the times. Otherwise, “Don't Get Caught” is a solid, well-told crime story with two standout characters.

As Carter Cullen, the Macaulay marriage would later produce one additional novel, “The Deadly Chase”, published in 1957 by Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel would be reprinted in 1975 by Belmont Tower as a seedy misleading “underworld” novel complete with cover artwork showcasing bullets and brawn.

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