Author and screenwriter Evan Hunter was born in New York City in 1926 as Salvatore Albert Lombino. Even though his first short story was published under S.A. Lombino, this English and psychology major legally changed his name in 1952, after his editor told him that the one he was given by his Italian-American parents would not benefit him professionally. He officially became Evan Hunter, but that did not stop him from writing under other pseudonyms, such as Ed McBain, Ezra Hannon, Dean Hudson, Hunt Collins, D.A. Addams, John Abbot, Curt Cannon, Ted Taine and Richard Marsten. And while his first noteworthy novel The Blackboard Jungle (he wrote several young adult novels beforehand) was penned under Evan Hunter, it is Ed McBain who would not only bring him immense popularity, but also become known as the father of the police procedural subgenre, thanks to his series of novels entitled The 87th Precinct, set in the fictional town of Isola. Needless to say, many a Hunter/McBain novel has been adapted for the screen.
With Cop Hater (1956), the author’s first book from the series, he introduced a new, more realistic approach to police fiction, a far cry from the lone detective trope that permeated the genre. The novel was turned into a 1958 film directed and produced by William Berke. Starring Robert Loggia and Gerald O'Loughlin, the B movie revolves around the police officers of the 87th precinct in the midst of a heatwave, as they try to find out who has been murdering cops. Berke also helmed the 1958 adaptation of the second 87th Precinct novel called The Mugger (1956), which turned out to be the last movie he ever made, due to his untimely death that same year. The film follows a police psychiatrist attempting to catch a mugger who assaults women, steals their purses and slashes them across the face in the process. The third book in the series, called The Pusher and centering around a cop trying to bring a heroin dealer to justice, was made into a 1960 motion picture of the same name and marked the directorial feature film debut of Oscar-winning editor Gene Milford.
In 1963, revered Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa directed Tengoku to Jigoku (literally ‘Heaven and Hell’, but released in the United States as High and Low) and based it loosely on the 1959 novel King’s Ransom from the 87th Precinct series. In this critically acclaimed procedural, the executive of a shoe company is informed that his son has been kidnapped, but then learns that it is, in fact, his chauffeur’s boy who has been taken by mistake. Considered one of the director’s greatest cinematic achievements, Tengoku to Jigoku is a mesmerizing work of art that tackles important social issues that pertained to Japanese society at that time, such as class divide and sloppy kidnapping laws, while managing to be visually striking and stylistically impeccable.
Other theatrical adaptations of the books from McBain’s police procedural series are: director Philippe Labro’s 1971 French thriller Sans mobile apparent (Without Apparent Motive) based on the novel Ten Plus One; Richard A. Colla’s 1972 action-comedy Fuzz starring Burt Reynolds, with a screenplay written by Hunter himself; Claude Chabrol’s 1978 Canadian-French mystery Les Liens de sang (Blood Relatives) which Akira Kurosawa called “the best of all Ed McBain adaptations”, and the 1981 Japanese mystery film Kōfuku (Lonely Heart) directed by Kon Ichikawa and adapted from the 1961 novel Lady, Lady I Did It. There are also a number of TV movies inspired by McBain’s series, as well as a thirty-episode-long TV show called 87th Precinct (1961-62) that Hunter created.
But the author’s police procedurals were not the only novels that were given their cinematic counterparts. The Blackboard Jungle, which the writer penned under Evan Hunter, was turned into a 1955 social drama film (Blackboard Jungle), both written and directed by Richard Brooks. The movie received high praise from critics for its gritty depiction of an inner-city school. With Sidney Poitier’s amazing portrayal of a rebellious student with a talent for music, four Academy Award nominations and the inclusion of the song Rock Around the Clock performed by Bill Haley & His Comets that became “an anthem for rebellious teenagers” in the 1950s, Blackboard Jungle was deservedly chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Several other noteworthy adaptations of Hunter’s works include: Delbert Mann’s 1966 drama about an amnesiac trying to figure out who he is entitled Mister Buddwing (the 1964 novel Buddwing), which was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction); the 1969 coming-of-age drama about teen sexuality called Last Summer, based on the eponymous 1968 novel, that brought Catherine Burns an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress; the 1972 cinematic version of Every Little Crook and Nanny that saw actor Victor Mature play his first big movie role since retiring in 1966.
Apart from writing a number of books over the course of his lengthy career, one that would only come to a halt due to the author’s death in 2005 at the age of seventy-eight, Hunter also penned teleplays for miniseries such as The Chisholms (1979) and Dream West (1986), as well as several screenplays. He adapted his own 1958 novel Strangers When We Meet about two neighbors who start an extramarital affair into a script for the 1960 movie of the same name, directed and produced by Richard Quine and starring Kirk Douglas, Kim Novak, Barbara Rush, Ernie Kovacs and Walter Matthau.
Hunter also wrote the screenplay for Robert L. Collins’ 1979 hood film Walk Proud starring Robby Benson and Sarah Holcomb and the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, a 1963 horror-thriller that marked Tippi Hedren’s screen debut, based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 eponymous short story. Despite receiving unflattering reviews upon its initial release, the technically extraordinary film eventually became a hugely influential one, garnering praise from critics, other filmmakers and audiences alike, as well as being named the seventh greatest thriller in American Cinema by the American Film Institute.