Noir City.

Noir City

Hot off the press (or the drive, I suppose): The new issue of the Noir City e-magazine from The Film Noir Foundation. This came in while I was at the day job, and it just wouldn’t do to start browsing right away (even if I am the boss). But you can bet I’ll be picking up edibles at a drive-thru after work and hunkering down in front of the laptop to pore through 80+ pages of goodness in just a few hours. More to follow after I’ve had a chance to digest it all.

Go to The Film Noir Foundation’s site to learn more, contribute and get your mitts on a copy: www.filmnoirfoundation.org

 

 

 

 

In His Own Words.

Chandler

The World of Raymond Chandler – In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day, is a profusely illustrated (200+ images) 2014 hardcover I stumbled across in my first return visit to a favored used bookstore just a few days ago. Things were rearranged for more open space (which runs contrary to the typical used bookstore ambience, doesn’t it?) with masks required, limited occupancy, one person per aisle/cubicle and they’re only buying books by appointment, no walk-ins. But it was an odd time of day, I was one of only two customers, and it sure was nice to leisurely browse after being away since early March.

In addition to the one James Ellroy novel I don’t have (Clandestine, 1982) I found this Chandler book tucked away in the Memoirs section, and what a treasure it is. Though not a biography, it runs chronologically, the writer’s early years covered mostly through his own correspondence from that period, while his key novel, pulp and screenwriting years are addressed via a mix of excerpts from his own work, juxtaposed with more correspondence and miscellany. Chandler’s thoughts on the art and craft of writing (most of those quite cynical) and fellow mystery/hard-boiled wordsmiths are some of the best parts of this book.

Browse backwards at “The Stiletto Gumshoe” and you’ll understand what a find this book is for me. I honor both of the U.S. hard-boiled mystery granddads, i.e. Hammett and Chandler, but favor Chandler by far, indulging myself with multiple rereads. I don’t turn to him for plotting guidance, Chandler’s plots puzzlingly mixed up at best, but for the music of the language, the endless array of Chandler-esque bon mots and his ability to somehow be gritty and poetic at the same time (something I desperately wish I could succeed at).

Yes, I’m well aware that Raymond Chandler and a host of mid-twentieth century writers have undergone some well-deserved scrutiny and inevitable reassessment of late. But, for good or bad, I’ve chosen to compartmentalize them along with the bulk of sixty to ninety-year-old films, pulp fiction, comics and vintage paperbacks, digesting the material in context of its own time, reluctant to evaluate the work through a 2020 lens. After all, while I can benefit from easy access to reams of modern scholarship, that doesn’t mean I’ll look at Rembrandt, Dante, Michelangelo or Shakespeare through contemporary filters either. For more about that, just follow the link below to an old January 2019 post about Raymond Chandler, The Annotated Big Sleep, Megan Abbott and more. But while you do, I’ll just continue to savor some of the master’s own words.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/01/03/the-annotated-big-sleep-and-uneasy-feelings-of-complicity/

Maritta Wolff’s Night Shift

night shift

A month or so ago I commented on Whistle Stop, a 1946 Nero Films production that was part soap opera and part crime melodrama with a mismatched George Raft and very young Ava Gardner. Rife with steamy small-town adultery and intrigue, the film included just enough criminal mischief and shadowy scenes to qualify for the Movies! network’s Thursday and Sunday night film noir showcases (which, based on many of the flicks chosen, doesn’t take too much qualifying). But it wasn’t the movie that caught my attention as much as the source material: Maritta Wolff’s 1942 novel by the same name, her debut, and written while she was still in college, no less. That was enough to put me on the hunt, and though I’ll have to get my copy of Whistle Stop used and online (the local bookstore unable to deliver with the promised copy I ordered), I did get a new copy of her second novel Night Shift for a quick curbside pickup, and what an intriguing read it was.

During the early days of WWII in a small and unnamed midwestern city, Sally and her fellow boarding house neighbors are barely getting by on low paying waitress and war plant jobs. Christmas being right around the corner lends little cheer to their day to day routines of endless bus commutes, household chores, grisly factory accidents and handsy bosses. Suddenly the dreariness is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Petey Braun, Sally’s sassy, stylish sister unseen for years, back from crisscrossing the country with ribald tales to tell and a purse full of dough just in time for the holidays. Petey promptly finagles a singing job at the local edge-of-town nightclub where gambling and women are on the menu in addition to the steaks and cocktails.

maritta wolff 1

Night Shift could be a handy desk reference for any writer looking to add authenticity to period settings, Wolff’s writing is spot-on for dialog and descriptions, particularly of the humdrum and uneventful minutiae of daily life. It’s a very different kind of writing from what readers may be accustomed to in contemporary fiction, particularly genre fiction, which tends to be ruthlessly purged of nonessentials by agents and editors eager to get to the action. The novel’s nearly 550 pages long, (though I still plowed through it in two evenings) and a hundred pages or more go by before smart-mouthed Petey whisks into town in a swirl of stylish frocks with a savvy nose for a buck, a man and a plush place to park herself for a while.

maritta wolff 3

A crime novel? Well, not exactly, and certainly not a mystery. Oh, there’s some action, a genuinely evil bad guy, some neither-completely-good nor completely-bad troubled souls, and even a nasty killing near the end, with most of the book taking place in settings and scenes right out of a postwar noir film. Maritta Wolff had a way with the underbelly of mid-twentieth century small town life. Though Night Shift is populated by no shortage of men – siblings, spouses, coworkers, lovers and would-be-Romeo’s alike – it’s a woman’s novel all the way through. Just because there are no big heists, car chases, shootouts or murders, as such, this is still a genuine noir, and in many ways more legitimately so for disregarding some of the genre’s clichés and obligatory plot tropes.

An upcoming post will take a look at how this novel was trimmed down for a pretty nifty Warner Brothers noir-melodrama-romance by Raoul Walsh and crew, with none other than Ida Lupino as brassy Petey Braun.

maritta wolff 2

The Vegas That Was.

Maximum Rossi

Two business trips to Las Vegas don’t qualify me as an expert gambler, only squandering some dough on the slots and not much more. Writer Paul W. Papa, on the other hand, knows his way around a casino, with books on vintage and even haunted Las Vegas to his credit. So if some portions of Papa’s novel Maximum Rossi (2020) occasionally read like a Las Vegas travelogue or gambling tutorial, a reader’s likely to forgive him. Papa’s fondness for “the Las Veags that was” bleeds through lovingly on every page of the novel.

This book was the prefect remedy for a diet of depressing current events titles and one dense literary novel. Maximum Rossi is a fun, fast read, harkening back to any number of 1950’s-60’s era PBO’s featuring private eyes, troublemakers, adventurers, men-about-town and shady anti-heroes mixed up with bad guys, mysteries and dangerous dames. Here Massimo ‘Max’ Rossi, son of a Boston mob fixer but not in the life himself, lingers in Las Vegas after a bachelor party and winds up deep in trouble with both the law and organized crime families after intervening to save a gangster’s mistress from a bruising. Noble? Yes. But certain to cause trouble. So when that same mobster is found murdered later that night, all fingers point to Max, and the race is on to solve the crime and somehow stay alive.

Flipping back through the book, I don’t see a specific year noted, but will place it comfortably in the mid to late 1950’s. A Ford Thunderbird tells me it could be no earlier than 1955, while Chicago mob chief Tony Accardo references suggest a 1957 (or thereabouts) cut-off. Whatever the year, it seems to be comfortably set in a pre-Rat Pack era that’s ripe with criminal fun.

Specialty press HPD Publishing’s cover art from Darned Good Covers (which I believe is a self-publishing and small press stock cover graphics resource) might be a little misleading. Oh, Vegas dancers and chorus girls waltz in and out of Max Rossi’s troubles (or may even be at the heart of them, and I’ll say no more than that), but you’ll find no saucy scenes intruding on the fistfights and gunplay here. Mind you, I’m quite fond of some sexy sizzle stirred in with the more sinister goings-on. Just as Maximum Rossi the novel fits in well with a 1950’s-60’s style of crime fiction, the book’s cover art maintains that era’s tradition of packaging paperbacks in saucy come-on covers that didn’t always match the stories inside.

It looks like Max Rossi’s Vegas adventures will continue in a sequel, Rossi’s Gamble, due out later this summer (the book included a teaser for that new novel), and I’ll be buying it. You should too. If you get a kick out of what you browse through here with The Stiletto Gumshoe, you’re bound to get a kick out of Paul W. Papa’s Max Rossi.

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

Invisible City.

Invisible City 2

From Ken Schles’ photo series Invisible City and the 1988 monograph of the same name, documenting Manhattan’s East Village in black & white photos. If any one of the photos doesn’t trigger a story idea (and a dark, grim one at that) then I don’t know what will…

Invisible City 1Invisible City 3Invisible City 4Invisible City 5

Murder For Love.

Murder For Love

At the tail-end of March, I mentioned a number of mystery/crime fiction anthologies spotted at The New Thrilling Detective website, complete with handy links for ordering even though none were very recent releases. I’m past mid-way through the group I selected, just wrapping up Otto Penzler’s Murder For Love, a 1999 rack-sized paperback edition of the 1996 book.

Sixteen writers contributed previously unpublished tales, and Penzler nabbed some real names for this project, including Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, James Crumley, John Gardner, Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Joyce Carol Oates, Sara Paretsky and Anne Perry among others. How an editor can avoid redundancy and end up with sixteen distinctly different stories with so many luminaries turning in material to fit a theme is a mystery in itself.

The lead-off story by real-life former NYPD cop William J. Caunitz, “Dying Time”, is a procedural treat. If Jill Hennessey and Sam Waterson made cameos before its climax, it could’ve been an episode of Law & Order, and even was written in that same era. (With seven novels to his credit in Caunitz’ post law enforcement career, the writer sadly passed away right around the time of this anthology’s original publication.)  Near the end of the book is a deliciously dark (and unsettling grim) bit of noir-ish business from Joyce Carol Oates, and in the middle is Bobbie Ann Mason’s wryly playful “Nancy Drew Remembers”, in which the girl detective, now grown up and not doing so well, gets taken for a ride, and not in her trademark roadster this time.

Each story has a one-page or more intro penned by the editor, which I enjoyed. Though no credit appears in my paperback edition, I’m going to guess the handsome cover art comes from retro-noir photo-illustration maestro Richie Fahey. Now, I can’t verify that, of course, but it sure looks like his work. You can’t see them in the scan shown here, but there are vintage drapes hanging deep in the background shadows that just say ‘Fahey’ to me.

This is just the kind of anthology that populates used bookstore shelves, so frankly I’m surprised I didn’t have it. But I will keep an eye out for the two companion anthologies from Penzler: Murder For Revenge and Murder And Obsession.

Revenge Obsession

Noir-ish Nicole.

Nicole Noir 1

Nicole Kidman, chameleon that she is, posing for Vogue Australia in 1994 in a 1930’s retro-noir-ish looking photo suite that could be studio stills lifted from a pre-WWII proto-noir film. (I believe that’s then-spouse Tom Cruise lurking in the background of one shot.) By photographer and film director Rocky Schrenck.

Nicole Noir 2Nicole Noir 3Nicole Noir 4Nicole Noir 5

Vintage Small Screen Noir

TV Noir

I spotted film and television historian Allen Glover’s 2019 TV Noir – Dark Drama On The Small Screen on shelf during my last in-person visit to the local bookstore, right before everything went bonkers. But I already had a stack of books in hand and figured I’d get it on a subsequent trip. Lesson learned: You see it, you want it: Just get it. You never know what might happen. Like a pandemic.

But the indie store close to the day job (still dutifully going in most days) takes phone orders and does curbside pickup, bless them, and TV Noir was still in stock. (Okay, so I phone ordered three other books at the same time. What can I say. It’s a sickness.)

martin kane 1950

I knew from my in-store browse that portions of Glover’s lushly illustrated 250+ page hardcover weren’t going to be of particular interest to me. The author’s definition of ‘noir’ is wide-ranged and focuses less on the ‘look’ of a show and more on its themes. Considerable space (over a third of the book) is allotted to the UK’s Danger Man (1961 – 1966) and The Prisoner (1968), David Janssen in The Fugitive and again in Harry O, Lloyd Bridges’ 1965-66 dark western The Loner, and even SF/Horror with The Invaders and The Night Stalker/Kolchak. Not exactly what you think of when think ‘noir’? Well, me either. But no matter. It’s the first half or more of Glover’s book that I was really interested in.

Ralph Bellamy

The early chapters cover standalone shows and series I’d never even heard of, some dating back to television’s very earliest days, including ‘live noir’ from various playhouse series featuring stars (or soon to be stars) like James Dean, Paul Newman, Dick Powell, Farley Granger in productions adapted from stories by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis, Dorothy B. Hughes and others. Most of these are long gone, never saved except for their scripts, production notes and a handful of photo stills which the author uncovered.

M Squad - Staccato

No question: 1950’s/1960’s television was strictly a boys club, and TV Noir doesn’t even give a nod to Beverly Garland in 1957’s groundbreaking Decoy, much less Anne Francis in Honey West. But then, Glover isn’t cataloging cop, detective and private eye shows, but digging deep into dark, desolate and gritty projects like Cornell Woolrich’s The Black Angel (a 1940’s live production) or John Cassavettes cult-fave Staccato. Ample time is spent looking at more familiar shows like Dragnet, M Squad, Richard Diamond, Peter Gunn and 77 Sunset Strip.

Peter Gunn

With a few exceptions, the oddball cable rerun channels, YouTube and bargain bin DVD’s are the likely places to locate some of these 1950’s/1960’s programs like Martin Kane – Private Eye or Man Against Crime, and I’m up for rooting through used bookstore movie sections to see what I can come up with once the sheltering-in winds down.

Rare TV Detectives DVD

The Dark End Of The Street.

The Dark End Of The Street

There’s a big difference between pulpdom’s fixation on “sexy crime” stories and an anthology like The Dark End Of The Street from Jonathan Santlofer and S. J. Rozan, which offers 19 stories “of sex and crime”. One will likely be about titillation, shoehorning sex scenes into mysteries or sprinkling some peekaboo male gaze voyeurism into hard-boiled tales, perhaps with a token femme fatale tossed in for balance.

But I don’t think novelist and artist Jonathan Santlofer and Edgar/Shamus award winner (and MWA and Sisters In Crime board member) S.J. Rozan would’ve been content with that. “There is much more to this collection than dark-haired vixens and crimes of passion,” the book says. Much, much more.

The Dark End 1

There are no author bio’s or notes included, but with a roster listing the likes of Lawrence Block, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid and Joyce Carol Oates, just to name a few, I suppose no introductions were needed. Pro-since-forever Block appears second in line with a story that at first feels like it could’ve been comfortably at home in a vintage issue of Manhunt magazine…but it really couldn’t at all and belongs in much more nuanced company like this antho. The Hereditary Thurifer by Stephen L. Carter’s is provided generously ample space to slowly lay out a unique and genuinely creepy ecclesiastical mystery. Co-editor Santlofer’s own Ben & Andrea & Evelyn & Ben is a deliciously dark twist on sunshiny Mad Men era suburban adultery. Well, the list goes on.

The Dark End 2

This 2010 Bloomsbury quality trade paperback really is a handsome book, from its Marina Drukman designed cover to the unexpected but darkly delightful India ink wash illustrations by editor Santlofer himself, a few of those shown here.

There are no sexy romps in The Dark End of The Street (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and I enjoy some saucy mayhem myself…in fiction, that is). The 19 stories are more likely to trigger dark thoughts in your brain than any stirrings between your legs. Relentlessly grim throughout, this anthology may not have been the best choice for the isolated, gloomy times we’re in, but I loved it. But then, I’m usually comfiest on ‘the dark end of the street’ myself.

The Dark End 3

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