What Makes Sammy Run?
FOR a comparison with the lean, stripped storytelling of this really remarkable first novel one would have to go to some such play as George Kelly’s The Show-Off, It is the portrait of a tormentingly efficient and successful little heel, or, it you object to slang, what is nowadays called a realist: that is, a person devoid of mercy, kindness, pity, truth. Mr. Schulberg — or Al Manheim, in the story — is interested in discovering what makes him run, as a child might be with a watch. Al thinks he finds the secret when he goes back to Rivington Street and tracks down Sammy’s origins. Society itself is what started him running, he thinks, though a eugenist would give some credit or blame to congenital ego or hormones. However that may be, Sammy, butting, sneaking, brassing, lying his way, gets to the top in Hollywood, his special talents finding their congenial field of play there. Even those characters who loathe him watch him (as we do) with fascination and secretly admire, yes, even like him. What the author hates is not Sammy but the conditions that soured such courage and ability with such cynicism. Although it is a novel of hard surface, in which nobody speaks without wise-cracking, it is not hard boiled. Under the satire there is a sound sense of values, and not a little pity.
R. M. G.