Just Ask Eddie.

Ask Eddie

A Film Noir Foundation email blast tells us to “Ask Eddie”, promoting an upcoming live stream Facebook page where questions can be posed to that master of all things noir, Eddie Muller.

I think I need to stay away. Or at least, keep my questions to myself. After all, is it even possible to sift through the hundreds (thousands?) of questions I’d love to ask the main man himself? But don’t think I won’t be swooping in to snoop.

Want to know more? You know where to go, fellow film noir friends.

www.filmnoirfoundation.org

The Violent Ones.

The Violent Ones Illustration

I can’t tell you much about Fernando Lamas (married to Esther Williams, spoofed by Billy Crystal on old Saturday Night Live episodes…that Fernando Lamas?) much less about the two feature films he directed, which includes 1967’s The Violent Ones. The film’s grim piece of uncredited movie poster illustration above might look more at home as a duotone spot or spread in a sleazy men’s ‘adventure’ magazine from that same era, the film dealing with a southwestern lawman (Lamas) transporting three rape suspects to a safe trial with a lynch mob on their tail. It’s on Turner Classic Movies’ database, but that doesn’t guarantee it’s a classic. I’ve never seen it, and with no TCM anymore, I don’t imagine I’ll be seeing it soon.  Still, it had an interesting (albeit creepy) poster.

The Girl He Goes For: Whistle Stop (1946)

Whistle Stop 2

It’s been months, but I’m still grumbling about losing Turner Classic Movies and its Noir Alley feature. Oh, I manage to get by (sort of) with Movies! Sunday Night Noir, which offers a mix of genuine classics alongside lesser known and oddball crime melodramas. But I get the feeling that the network’s definition of “Noir” demands no more than coming from the 1940’s/50’s and being in black & white.

Whistle Stop 1

Not everyone’s a fan of George Raft (1901 – 1980), many considering him too wooden a performer who was understandably eclipsed by Humphrey Bogart and others as one of the studios’ main tough guys. But I do like him, though I’d be the first to concede that in Whistle Stop, a 1946 Nero Films/United Artists release, Raft was woefully miscast as Ava Gardner’s former lover, being more than twenty years older (and that’s if you believe Raft’s ‘official’ 1901 birth date, which many contend was actually 1895).

Whistle Stop 3

As for Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990), she’d been toiling away in walk-ons, bit parts and uncredited roles since arriving in Hollywood in 1941. But 1946 would be her year, starting with Whistle Stop and ending with the much more memorable The Killers alongside Burt Lancaster. For me, Gardner’s like Ida Lupino or Lizabeth Scott: I’d buy a ticket and happily watch them read the dictionary, file their nails or do absolutely nothing at all for an hour and half. Gardner acquits herself well in this, her first starring role, playing Mary, a girl with a reputation returning to her small ‘whistle stop’ hometown far outside Detroit after a two year absence. Mary’s not just returning for a family visit, but yearns to rekindle a steamy affair with Kenny Veech (George Raft), and when that doesn’t quite work out, she takes up with a shady nightclub owner. There’s already some bad blood between Raft and the sleazy gambler, and soon enough someone will have to die.

Whistle Stop 5

Screenwriter Philip Yordan claimed he was faithful to the source material…what little of it he could actually use, that is, since it was much too sexually explicit for 1946 audiences.  That would be Maritta Wolff’s 1941 first novel by the same name. Wolff (1918 – 2002) actually wrote the seamy tale of small-town violence, vulgarity and sex as a book-length assignment for her senior year composition class at the University Of Michigan. It went on to be published in multiple hardcover and paperback editions, earn rave reviews and lead to a successful writing career. Maritta Wolff’s second novel, Night Shift, was also made into a film, The Man I Love (1947) starring Ida Lupino. Intensely private, Wolff refused to do publicity for her books, and her final manuscript was discovered hidden in her refrigerator after her death (Sudden Rain posthumously published to great success).

Whistle Stop Books

Whistle Stop’s okay, though mostly because we get to watch Ava Gardner assume the mantle of a lead actress, alternately seductive, manipulative and vulnerable from scene to scene. The film was interesting enough to prompt me to look for Maritta Wolff’s novels so I could find out more about this adventurous college kid cranking out a provocative hit novel in college. Whistle Stop and Night Shift are en route right now.

Bye, Kate.

Batwoman 2

The CW’s Batwoman: You liked it, you hated it (or based on the ratings) you were completely indifferent. Me, I really did like the show, one of very few series I faithfully watched (back-to-back Batwoman and Supergirl episodes made for a nice 7:00 – 9:00 PM CST pre-workweek slot on Sunday evenings). Yes, the show speedily started to build a needlessly complex series of subplots like most CW Arrowverse shows have done, but I still enjoyed the show’s performances, link to DC Comics Bat-Verse and overall look, not minding one bit that many exterior scenes used altered Chicago skylines (notably oft-filmed LaSalle Street and the ubiquitous Board Of Trade Building for Wayne Tower). Quirky Rachel Maddow voice-overs were just icing on my personal Bat-cake.

But then drama unfolded, lead actor Ruby Rose is gone and fan sites buzzed with speculation about the how’s, why’s and what-now’s.

Batwoman 1Myself, I’d have simply recast the role with someone who thought a steady and visible acting gig with a pre-built fan base wasn’t a bad deal in a profession where most actors barely eke out a living by working demeaning day jobs while toiling in anonymity in storefront theaters, corporate training films and local market commercials. Batwoman wouldn’t be the first television series that had to recast a role, though recasting the lead would be pretty unprecedented.

Now the news pops up that the CW powers-that-be have decided instead to abandon the DC Comics-based Kate Kane character altogether and introduce an all-new person to don the Bat-mantle in season two. I smell CW execs concluding that they won’t get screwed by a series lead ever again, so they’ll be poised to rapidly introduce a new Batwoman as needed. Maybe it’s a subtle message to the leads of their other shows: “You too can be replaced”. Who knows?

Elseworlds, Part 2

I’m disappointed, but sure, I’ll check out the new season, which might suck or might be terrific. The fact is, it almost feels silly to even be thinking about a television show at all when a global pandemic can become yesterday’s news in the face of other overwhelming issues. But a part of me hopes that come this Fall or even in early 2021 when new CW superhero series’ seasons debut, the national political scene will have simmered down (one way or another), we’ll be on a path (however meandering) to resolving once and for all the institutionalized inequities in our society, and even the dreaded and deadly virus will be better contained and managed. At least, enough so I can shut my brain off for an hour or two once a week to enjoy a silly costumed superhero TV show. Which I really need to do, ‘cuz it feels like my head’s ready to explode these days.

 

The Killer 1940’s.

Film Noir Style

Ahhh, Ava. I’ll have to wait till Summer winds down for this one: Kimberly Truhler’s Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940’s, which will look at popular men’s and women’s fashions from 1941 through 1950 as seen in twenty definitive movies from film noir’s first wave. The GoodKnight Books hardcover isn’t due till late September, and yes (big surprise!) I’ve already pre-ordered a copy.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

Maltese Falcon 1

The new Summer 2020 Mystery Scene issue arrived yesterday, but there was no time to read it last night, being stuck with some day job take-home work. More about what looks like a terrific issue later. But I did manage a quick peek over this morning’s drive-through large-with-cream (God bless Dunkin’ Donuts) on the way to work, and the last item in Louis Phillips “Mystery Scene Miscellany” column caught my eye, it being the day after Dashiell Hammett’s birthday.

Maltes Falcon 3

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”

No, not the Carly Simon song from her 1987 Coming Around Again album or paraphrasing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade delivers that final line of dialog in the 1941 The Maltese Falcon, just before he and Ward Bond exit while we watch the elevator gates close over Mary Astor’s resigned face, the car descends into darkness and that memorable Adolph Deutsch composed Warner Brothers studio orchestra music builds for the film’s close, a mere minute or so of truly iconic proto-noir cinema that gets me every time I see it.

Maltese Falcon 3

“The stuff that dreams are made of.” According to Mystery Scene Miscellany (referencing a 1989 Lawrence Grobel biography of the Hustons), that wonderful line which had long been attributed to director/screenwriter John Huston was actually ad-libbed on set by Bogart himself. Doubly intriguing, since all I’ve read about the film indicates that Huston was meticulous about sticking to his script in this, his first feature film directorial assignment, even shooting largely in sequence.

But I’m glad at least one bit of improvisation was allowed, and all the more pleased to think of Humphrey Bogart coming up with that particular – and memorable – line.

Paul Mann.

Paul Mann 1

Paul Mann did the handsome retro-flavored cover art for Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman’s Are Snakes Necessary? profiled in a prior post. The Salt Lake City, Utah artist is an old-school illustrator employing a master craftsman’s skills with figures in a distinctly 1960’s/70’s era movie poster montage style. His work graces a number of the Hard Case Crime series novels, reviving the look of so many Robert McGinnis and other’s covers from the latter days of the postwar paperback era.

Paul Mann 3Paul mann 2Paul mann 4

Fast-Paced And Fun…But Is It A Novel?

snakes

A few days have passed since I finished Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman’s Are Snakes Necessary?  (Hard Case Crime, 2020), but I’m still trying to decide if I enjoyed it or (if this is possible) actually hated it. Since I blew through the book in a couple evenings, I’ll have to concede that it was a fast and fun read. But that concession doesn’t mean there wasn’t something about this novel that still bothers me.

Not really a mystery and only fitting ‘crime fiction’ if you set very broad genre parameters, Are Snakes Necessary? is a somewhat neo-noirish thriller of sorts, rolling out a seemingly unrelated cast of largely unsavory characters whose stories will intertwine through a series of sometimes logical and sometimes implausible coincidences. A sleazy political consultant hires a desperate fast food worker to set up an incumbent Senator with photos of a hotel room tryst. A failed photojournalist hooks up with a Las Vegas casino maven’s trophy wife. A flight attendant is horrified to learn her ambitious daughter has not only dropped out of college to join a political campaign but is joining the candidate (her own one-time lover) in bed as well. Throw in a retiring advice columnist, the Senator’s dying spouse and an abused Philadelphia housewife, and still everything will manage to come full circle as these characters’ stories converge in the novel’s closing mini-chapters, with multiple people dying (not always the ones who deserve it), some in Hitchcock-homage fashion (no surprise there, with DePalma at work).

In describing his writing style, Elmore Leonard famously said “I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip”. Apparently, DePalma and Lehman took this advice seriously, but maybe a bit too much, and that’s what troubled me about Are Snakes Necessary? Oh, it’s an entertaining ‘page turner’. But is it really a novel? Frankly, I’m not sure.

The fact is, the book reads more like a story treatment, elaborate synopsis or an unproduced DePalma screenplay fleshed out into book form by Lehman. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, only that I’m pretty sure that if an unknown submitted this to an agent or editor, they’d be told to come back once they’d actually written the novel.

All that said, don’t be turned off by my own mixed feelings. The Hard Case Crime series rarely has a miss, even if it occasionally strays from its original mission of publishing long forgotten mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction from the postwar paperback originals heyday and seems all too ready to go to press when there’s a well-known name with some marquee value to put on the cover (an understandable business decision). So, if you’d like a quick, entertaining read peopled by mostly unpleasant but-no-less intriguing characters, Are Snakes Necessary? will definitely keep you occupied for an evening or two. Arrange a curbside pickup from your local indie like I did, and see what you think. Is it a fast-paced plot-driven novel thoroughly purged of indulgent writerly fluff? Or is it an old screenplay dusted off by DePalma and finessed into something like a novel by Lehman?

Either way, it still is a fun read.

His Turn.

Karin Dor

Spend a lot of time browsing mid-twentieth century pulps and postwar paperback crime fiction, and it’s easy to overdose on damsels-in-distress and women-in-peril. So it’s a nice change of pace to see the fellow with his arms yanked behind his back and at the mercy of a fetching femme fatale, in this case SPECTRE assassin Helga Brandt played by German actress Karin Dor (1938 – 2017) in You Only Live Twice, the fifth Sean Connery James Bond 007 film.

Karin Dor 2Karon Dor 3

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑