politically sophisticated thrillers

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

… Eric Ambler (1909-1998)!

Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design

British writer Ambler is widely regarded—with Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene—as one of the pioneers of the politically sophisticated (especially espionage) thriller. Ambler published 19 novels under his own name and collaborated with Charles Rodda on another four using the pseudonym “Eliot Reed.” Between the years 1936 and 1940, Ambler wrote six (now regarded as classic) thriller novels: The Dark Frontier (1936), Uncommon Danger (1937), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), Cause for Alarm (1938), A Coffin for Dimitrios (1939), and Journey Into Fear (1940, which was developed into a 1942 film starring Joseph Cotton and produced by Orson Welles’ Mercury Company).

Ambler too would spend part of his career in the movies. In 1938 he would sign on as a script consultant for Alexander Korda, and during the war was made assistant director of army cinematography in the British War Office. After the war he worked for the Rank organization as a screenwriter (working unsuccessfully with director David Lean). However, Ambler’s adaptation of the Arnold Bennett novel The Card, starring Alec Guinness and Glynis Johns, was a surprise hit in 1952. He also wrote for United Artists. His best work in motion pictures was perhaps his adapting the sea novels The Cruel Sea (1951) by Nicholas Monsarrat and The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1956) by Hammond Innes. In the 1960s Ambler moved to California, where he created the TV show Checkmate (1959-61), about three assorted private eyes in San Francisco, starring Anthony George, Sebastian Cabot, and Doug McClure.

Background to Danger (hardcover first edition from 1937) was also the basis for a 1943 Raoul Walsh film starring George Raft, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Turhan Bey (what 1940s film of international intrigue would be complete without that cast?). It may not be one of Ambler’s true classics, but it does have an excellent modernist cover design.

Background to Danger
Pocket Books, 1945
Design: (possibly) E. McKnight Kauffer*

* H. Lawrence Hoffman, Leo Manso and others who were doing covers for Pocket at around this time and also working in flat, modernist “poster” styles, could also be credited for this cover art—but this has more of the hallmarks of Kauffer’s work

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