Of eddies, witches and titles

John Wayne as Captain Ralls.

The very manly paperback cover.

It’s no secret that the Eddie LaCrosse novels owe as much to mystery as they do fantasy, especially the hardboiled pulps and films noir of the 30s and 40s. So when I wrote Wake of the Bloody Angel, I knew its title would have to be a play on a title from the mystery genre, much as Burn Me Deadly echoes Kiss Me Deadly.

With that in mind, I turned in the manuscript under the title The Two Eddies, a play on the (unfairly, IMO) much-maligned sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes. Not only were there two characters named Eddie (my hero, and the pirate Black Edward Tew), but I liked that the term “eddy” also meant a current of water. My publisher, however, felt the title was too low-key, and that we needed something that would better jump out at a potential reader. I’m no elitist: I understand the purpose of marketing, and I’m generally sympathetic to it. Further, my publisher didn’t say, “We’re changing the title,” they asked me for another title, which is mutually respectful. And, luckily, I had one ready.

There aren’t that many nautical noirs. In film there’s The Phantom Ship, the first film from Britain’s legendary Hammer Studios, based on the Marie Celeste and starring a fading Bela Lugosi. There’s Wreck of the Mary Deare, with a young Charlton Heston and an old Gary Cooper. And there’s The Ghost Ship, part of Val Lewton’s extraordinary series at RKO that also included Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. 

Then there’s Wake of the Red Witch.

John Wayne as Captain Ralls.

Based on a novel by Garland Roark, it was made into a 1949 film starring John Wayne before he became codified as a Western star. He plays a captain who scuttles the titular Red Witch for reasons that go back years, and involve a girl (although she’s not a femme fatale; more of a naif fatale, if that’s a legitimate term). Its flashback structure resembles that of Out of the Past. And it has one of Wayne’s best introductions, when he’s discovered lashed to a piece of wood, drifting among circling sharks, and the film’s villain Sydney rescues him.

SYDNEY: What’s your name?
WAYNE: Ralls.
SYDNEY: Your full name?
WAYNE: Captain Ralls.

There’s nothing in the plot of Wake of the Red Witch that really influenced Wake of the Bloody Angel, but the concept of a wake, like that of an eddy, has a double meaning: both the waves left by a ship’s passage, and a memorial service for someone who’s died. And so, relatively painlessly, The Two Eddies became Wake of the Bloody Angel.

(Trivia: the mechanical octopus used in the film was “borrowed” [i.e., stolen] by Ed Wood’s crew for Bride of the Monster, as depicted in Tim Burton’s exquisite ode to perseverance, Ed Wood.)

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