Jonathan Latimer

Active - 1939 - 1958  |   Born - Jan 1, 1906   |   Died - Jan 1, 1984   |   Genres - Drama, Mystery, Crime

Share on

Biography by AllMovie

Jonathan Latimer was a successful crime novelist in addition to enjoying a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Born in Chicago in 1906, he was raised in Illinois and Arizona. He began his writing career as a reporter in Chicago during the 1920's, and later turned to writing fiction. In 1935, he published his first novel, Headed For a Hearse, which was notable within the thriller genre as a novel that was equally steeped in comedy, much like Dashiell Hammett's novel The Thin Man. His early work owed more than a bit to Hammett, and even more so than the latter's Nick Charles, Latimer's hero in that book, Bill Crane was a hard-drinking, seemingly out-of-his-depth sleuth who managed to muddle through to the solution to whatever case he was working on. Latimer's 10 novels -- in five of which Bill Crane was the detective -- were all noted for their hardboiled nature, though the first seven were laced with a fair amount of humor as well. His most notable book, Solomon's Vineyard, originally published in 1941, was also his most controversial, featuring murder, deviant sexuality, and bizarre religious sensibilities, all in a midwestern American setting -- it was deemed unpublishable as written at the start of the 1940's, and only appeared in censored form as The Fifth Grave in its own time -- the book was first published in an uncensored edition almost a half-century later. Latimer became a screenwriter at the end of the 1930's, specializing -- no surprise -- in thrillers of all sorts, from genre movies in the Charlie Chan and Lone Wolf series, to adaptations of true genre milestones, such as The Glass Key and The Big Clock (both at Paramount); among his better free-standing scripts in the genre is They Won't Believe Me (1947), made by Irvin Pichel at RKO and starring Robert Young and Susan Hayward. He also proved skilled at exploring the darker side of the fantasy genre, in his screenplays for Topper Returns, a ghost-comedy involving a murder victim trying to find her own killer; The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, adapted from the work of Cornell Woolrich, involving a phony clairvoyante who actually does predict a murder; and Alias Nick Beal, the Faust legend transposed to modern American politics. Latimer also wrote screenplays for war movies (Submarine Command) and period dramas (Botany Bay), but in the main stuck with mysteries and thrillers. He mostly worked at Paramount and RKO, and when Hollywood dried up as a source of income with the slackening of film production in the late 1950's, he turned to television, and became one of the more significant and substantial screenwriters involved with the Perry Mason TV series. Latimer's screenplay for The Big Clock, adapted from the compelling but somewhat disjointed novel by Kenneth Fearing, is still regarded as one of the masterpieces of the film noir and thriller genres.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography