Maritta Wolff was still pretty young when she sold her second novel Night Shift to Hollywood, that deal done right after selling her first novel, Whistle Stop, which was made into the 1946 film of the same name (that book written while she was still in college).
Night Shift was necessarily retooled for Raoul Walsh’s 1947 The Man I Love, the book including some edgy content that could never make it to the screen back then, and also being mighty long (my copy being a 550-page trade pb). The film’s title is taken from the George and Ira Gershwin tune sung by Ida Lupino’s nightclub torch singer character, and that would be Petey Brown (Braun in the novel), who returns to Los Angeles from New York (instead of a small unnamed midwestern city in the book) to visit her sisters played by familiar noir actresses Andrea King and Martha Vickers. With style and sass (make that brass), Lupino promptly lands a nightclub singing gig, then falls in with a self-styled ladies’ man and small-time hood (Robert Alda being particularly sleazy here), but more to the point, falls in love with the club’s down-n-out pianist.
Whether distilling or altogether discarding much of the novel’s soap-opera subplots and meticulously described minutiae of mid-twentieth century small town life, and instead, narrowing its focus on Ida Lupino’s character (though sisters King and Vickers get their licks in), The Man I Love is a much tauter tale than Wolff’s novel. Credit goes to crack screenwriters W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar) and Catherine Turney (one of Warner Brothers’ first female contract writers) for the expert slicing-n-dicing.
But then, film can convey backstory, mood and so much more in mere glimpses, while a writer may need entire pages to relay the same info. This is familiar turf for Warner Brothers: Gritty urban life with its bland rooming house apartments, grim waitress jobs and oafish Lotharios, all juxtaposed with less-than-legit nightclub Romeo’s and tough-talking songbirds in glittery gowns (with a few tunes to sweeten things up). The Man I Love looks, sounds and feels like a classic 1940’s Warner Brothers film – not exactly a noir, not really a romance, and definitely not a mystery, but consistently entertaining throughout. If you’re not up for Maritta Wolff’s 550-page novel, then dig up the movie adaptation. I mean, seriously: Ida Lupino as a tough-talking nightclub torch singer…what else could you possibly want?