<i>Berried Secrets</i>: New Excerpt Berried Secrets: New Excerpt Peg Cochran This cozy mystery is ripe for the picking. <i>The Secrets of Lake Road</i>: New Excerpt The Secrets of Lake Road: New Excerpt Karen Katchur An unsolved crime threatens to drown a summer community. <i>Best Laid Plans</i>: New Excerpt Best Laid Plans: New Excerpt Allison Brennan FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid returns, and her first stop is a seedy motel. <i>Brush Back</i>: New Excerpt Brush Back: New Excerpt Sara Paretsky Hateful criminal, monstrous act, political backlash. Of course, V.I. ends up on the case!
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Showing posts by: Brian Greene click to see Brian Greene's profile
Wed
Jul 15 2015 11:00am

Fast Paced and Expensive Tastes: The Money Trap (1965)

I’ve written about one of Lionel White’s novels here before (The Big Caper), and now I’ve got some thoughts about a film based on one of his books.

White is seen by many noir aficionados as a master of the heist story. Stanley Kubrick made the author’s 1955 novel Clean Break into the classic film noir The Killing (1956). Quentin Tarantino credited him as being an inspiration on his 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs. But caper tales aren’t the only kind of stories White wrote, and The Killing isn’t the only example of a time a film director saw fit to adapt one of his novels for the big screen. Jean-Luc Godard’s avant-garde title Pierrot le fou (1965) is loosely based on White’s 1962 novel Obsession. And there’s an odd, good 1968 movie called The Night of the Following Day that stars Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno, that’s from White’s 1953 book The Snatchers. In addition, there’s another heist film, 1957’s The Big Caper (1957), which shares the title of the White story (1955).

Another time a Lionel White novel got made into a film happened when his 1963 book The Money Trap served as the basis of the same-named film from 1965. And this movie is the one I want to bend your ears about now. Because while The Money Trap, which was directed by Burt Kennedy, may not be not on the same quality tier as The Killing, or as groundbreaking as Pierrot le fou, it’s a hell of a good crime film, and it appears to be all but forgotten, if it was ever much known in the first place.

[Let's remedy that...]

Wed
Jun 10 2015 5:00pm

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’ve got Shirley Jackson on the brain. I just recently finished reading Let Me Tell You, a forthcoming collection of short stories and essays by her, most of them previously unpublished. If you like Jackson’s writing and/or are intrigued by her personality, you’ll want to get a hold of that anthology when it’s released this late July. I loved the compilation of Jackson’s work, and when I finished it, I was left wanting more of her unique voice. So I turned to my personal favorite of all her literary efforts: her final completed novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was published in 1962, three years before her death at age 49.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, like Jackson’s signature short story “The Lottery” and other works of fiction by her, a tale that forces its readers to accept the conditions of a kind of alternate universe. It’s not a work of sci-fi or fantasy, but like a good Twilight Zone episode, it involves extraordinary human experience. To a great extent, the oddness of the spellbinding tale exists inside the mind of its narrator. I’ll let that singular personage introduce herself, via the opening paragraph of the book:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

[Doesn't that just grab your attention?]

Wed
May 13 2015 2:00pm

Fresh Meat: Boxes by Pascal Garnier

Boxes by Pascal Garnier is a work of noir fiction about a French man who goes through with moving to the countryside despite his wife's sudden overseas disappearance (available May 18, 2015).

The house was sulking. Not one window would look him in the face.

Those dazzling lines from Pascal Garnier’s novel Boxes are enough to make me want to read more and more of his books. But those bits of dizzying surrealism are only part of what makes the late Frenchman’s novels such gems. Boxes, which was released in its original French in 2012, two years after Garnier’s death at age 60, is being brought out in a new English translation, courtesy of Melanie Florence. It’s the latest in Gallic Books’ series of English language versions of Garnier’s noir fiction works. And it’s superb.

Like much of Garnier’s body of noir, Boxes is set in a provincial area of France. Also in keeping with the author’s general approach, it studies a person who is living in such terrain and whose life – and mind, and spirit – is coming apart. Brice Casadamont is a middle-aged man who illustrates children’s books as his profession. (Garnier authored many kids’ books, in addition to his noir novels.) Brice and his wife Emma, an oft-traveling journalist some 20 years his junior, make the decision to vacate their apartment in the city of Lyon and relocate to the countryside. But sometime before moving day, Emma goes missing. She was in Egypt on assignment when she disappeared. Brice goes ahead with the move, anyway, and starts to make a life for himself in the village as he awaits word on Emma.

[Sounds reasonable enough...]

Sat
Apr 18 2015 12:00pm

From Page to Screen with Ed McBain’s King’s Ransom and Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low

I’ve been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 suspense film High and Low since I saw it years ago. I just watched it again after my first read of the 87th Precinct novel it’s based on: Ed McBain’s 1959 procedural King’s Ransom - the 10th installment of the highly-celebrated series penned by Evan Hunter under the McBain pseudonym. The Wikipedia page for High and Low states that is it “loosely based” on the McBain book; but while there are certainly differences between the film and the book, I’d say that statement is a stretch, as the two versions of the story are very similar in some essential ways. In any case, both are worthy examples of works done in their respective media, and it was interesting for me to look closely at what happened when a masterfully-written crime novel got channeled through the vision of a brilliant film director.

Before I delve into the storyline of King’s Ransom and High and Low, I have to confess that I’m going to commit a spoiler where the movie is concerned. There’s just no way for me to comment on the similarities and differences between novel and film without doing that. But what I’m spoiling is something that happens only about halfway into the film.

[Don't let that stop you!]

Tue
Mar 31 2015 9:00am

The Obscure, Peculiar, and Clairvoyant Black Rainbow

I first watched the 1989 film Black Rainbow a few years ago, and I took an interest in the movie for three reasons: 1. It was directed by Mike Hodges. Hodges is the auteur behind what are, to me, two superbly-made films: 1971’s Get Carter and 1998’s Croupier. I’m up for seeing anything the guy directed. 2. It stars Rosanna Arquette. I have a soft spot for her, and not just because I think she’s pretty. I like her acting, particularly in John Sayles’ 1983 title Baby, It’s You and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985). If she’s in a movie, I’m curious about it. 3. The film’s obscurity. You almost never hear or read anything about Black Rainbow, even in quarters where you might expect it to come under discussion. I’ve read lengthy overviews of Hodges’s career, that don’t even mention the film. It only got a limited theatrical run at the time of its release and doesn’t appear to have scored any notable rave reviews or awards nominations, but still... it’s a film directed by a living legend and that has a big-name star (two, actually, as Jason Robards plays another lead role). So I wanted to know why is it so forgotten despite all of that, and despite its having been released on DVD in 2004 and on VHS before that.

[I'm always down to try and solve a good mystery...]

Mon
Mar 23 2015 4:15pm

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

I first saw Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat decades ago, and I just viewed it again this week. This time I watched it immediately after reading William P. McGivern’s novel of the same title. This is the latest in my series of posts where I rave about an underappreciated noir novel while commenting on a better-known film that was made from it. Lang’s big screen feature is, of course, a gem, and one that any fan of film noir should get to know if they don’t already. McGivern’s work of fiction, which originally appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, then was published as a novel in the same year as the movie’s release, deserves lofty status among those who appreciate hard-edged crime tales as they appear on the printed page.

There’s little difference in the plotline between book and movie, but for present purposes I’ll focus on the story as it is told in the novel. The primary character is Dave Bannion: a sergeant of detectives in a homicide bureau in Philadelphia. Bannion is a big man; much is made of his hulky build in McGivern’s book, whereas he comes across as being of more normal male stature via Glenn Ford’s portrayal of him in the movie. He has a temper that he needs to keep a watch over, to make sure he doesn’t use his great bulk to do bodily harm to others when it’s not warranted. Bannion is a family man, happily married to his good-natured wife and a loving father to their young daughter. He’s also an honest law enforcement agent. In the beginning of the novel (this is not in the movie), some of the detectives on his team are holding a black man on suspicion of a crime, and are ready to work him over physically to sweat a confession out of him; but Bannion feels their grounds for suspecting the man are flimsy (and racially motivated, although that’s only implied in the book), and he tells his boys to let the guy go.

[What's not to like?]

Sat
Mar 7 2015 1:00pm

Crimes Against Film: Super Bitch (1973)

I have watched this movie three times now, and twice while planning to write about it for this site. I didn’t get around to doing a piece on it after the second viewing, because I was left unsure as to how it should be presented. It’s neither a full-on campy romp nor a consistently high-quality film I can praise without my tongue resting in my cheek. Super Bitch, which has carried different titles over the decades (I’m going with the one that’s on the DVD I own), is somewhere in between those two classifications. But clearly it has a kind of hold over me, and is one I’ve wanted to cover, so here goes.

Super Bitch is a poliziottesco, i.e. an Italian crime/cop film from the late 1960s/’70s. The cinematic style is similar to that of Italian giallo movies, both of them edgy/often violent features with a clear European feel, the difference being that gialli are more on the arty/stylish side of crime/suspense stories and poliziottesco titles lean more in the direction of being straight, hard-nosed toughies. Think Dirty Harry movies as made through the creative outlook of an Italian director, and you’ll have an idea of the type of film at hand here.

[Got it, punk?]

Fri
Feb 20 2015 11:30am

Two-Lane Blacktop: An Offbeat Cross-Country Race

I just watched Monte Hellman’s moody 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop for maybe the fifth time. After being dazzled by the film once again, I asked myself, because there are numerous qualities that make the movie such a keeper for me, via which winning aspect do I begin?

Makes sense to start with the storyline, which is compelling. Written by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Cory, the tale is of a cross-country car race. One entrant is a team of two young men who don’t seem to do much in life except roar around in their custom-made Chevy, looking for someone stupid enough to challenge them to a sprint. The other is a lone wolf who zooms around in a GTO, and whom also appears to be at mostly loose ends in life. The two cars and their occupants keep encountering each other on the highways and at roadside places, as they wander through parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico. Finally, after some attitude exchanges on the road and some lippy chatter at a service station, they decide it’s time they shut up and put up: they’re going to race all the way to Washington, D.C.  And the winner gets the other’s ride.

[*waves the checkered flag*]

Fri
Feb 6 2015 4:00pm

Lost Classics of Noir: Felony Tank by Malcolm Braly

Felony Tank by Malcolm Braly -- A Lost Classic of NoirLife inside prisons makes for interesting stories. I wouldn’t know where to begin in reeling off some of the more compelling books, movies, and TV shows that have explored this world. But having just read Malcolm Braly’s 1961 prison novel Felony Tank, I can add it to my personal list of favorite jail tales. It also gets a high place on my score-sheet of top-notch noir literature.

Braly, who spent much time behind bars over his 54 years of life, penned another prison novel which is more celebrated than Felony Tank. 1967’s On the Yard was made into a film in ’79, got the New York Review Books Classics reissue treatment in 2002, and just generally gets lots of props. I read On the Yard just recently, right after plowing through Felony Tank. But I chose to cover Felony Tank for this series because, for one, it is more lost than On the Yard. Also, for me personally, it was the more engrossing read between the two (more on that comparison in a few). In addition to authoring these prison novels, Braly produced the 1963 cult classic novel Shake Him Till He Rattles, which explores the underbelly of San Francisco’s North Beach beatnik scene. 

Much of what drew me into Felony Tank more than happened with On the Yard did is that, while the latter struck me as a sprawling study of a whole swath of people involved in prison life, Felony Tank mostly zeroes in on just a few such persons. That intense concentration on a couple inmates made me feel more inside of the prison world. Several characters come under Braly’s informed microscope in the book, but really it’s two of them who are the prime specimens. One, and the guy you’d have to say is the ultimate protagonist, is a boy named Doug. Doug is a 17-year old dropout and runaway who is a tumbleweed tumbling in the direction of trouble. He has a complex about his age — hates being thought of as a kid. His stubborn pride on this matter causes him, when he’s busted at the beginning of the novel for breaking into a feed store in a town into which he drifts, to tell the arresting cops he is 18. He is welcoming them to process him as an adult, and they are all too happy to oblige. They put him in a cell with other adult cons, where all of them await hearings that will dictate their more long-term punishments.

[How's being an adult now, Doug?]

Mon
Jan 12 2015 4:00pm

Run Down to the Ground: Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

One of the few bits of learning I retained from my years as a sleepwalking college student, was a lesson a film class instructor gave us as a lead-in to a section on film noir. He said that one common aspect of those movies was that many of them centered around doomed characters trying to rise in the underworld while fighting the ways of straight society. He mentioned that these antiheroes could often appear to be successfully holding sway over their left-of-center domains for a time, but that they were always destined to be run down to the ground in the end. I don’t know whether 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy should be classified as film noir, and don’t particularly care to argue the point, but I think it powerfully explores that theme my professor detailed as being a signature element of the cinematic genre.

I doubt that many reading this need a detailed description of Drugstore Cowboy’s plot. We all know it’s a study of the alternative lifestyle led by a team of four intravenous drug users in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s. It was the second feature film directed by Gus Van Sant, and really his breakthrough. It is based on the then unpublished autobiographical novel by career druggie and criminal James Fogle, who died in 2012 and was a study in himself (one this writer plans to undertake). It stars Matt Dillon who puts on an absolute tour-de-force in portraying Bob Hughes, the leader of the junkie team. Van Sant, his screenwriting partner Daniel Yost, Dillon, and supporting actor Max Perlich all were nominated for and/or won awards handed out by the likes of the L.A. Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. In my opinion, they should have won Oscars.

[It was that good...]

Fri
Jan 2 2015 4:30pm

The Wicked World of Abandonment: Born Innocent (1974)

In my Criminal Element appreciation of Orrie Hitt’s 1960 noir novel Wayward Girl, I compared the book to the 1974 made-for-TV movie Born Innocent. As I pointed out there, the two stories have some surface likenesses in their plots. Ultimately, both are about teenage girls who are left to fend for themselves in a wicked world because their parents are no damn good. I went on to say that in a deeper way, what connects the book to the movie, for me, is the emotionally devastated way both leave me feeling.

I’ve watched Born Innocent three times now. I saw it once when it re-aired on TV, when I was roughly the same age as its lead character: 14.  I watched it again when it was released on DVD in 2004. And I gave it a fresh viewing before writing this post. Its impact on me has been the same through each sitting. It floors me.

[And it will floor you too...]

Sat
Dec 27 2014 1:00pm

Another Kind of Thrilla in Manila: Wonder Women (1973)

This post can be seen as the third in a trilogy of appreciations I’ve written of B-movies that involve packs of women employing bizarre, world-beating (they hope) masterplans. First there was Invasion of the Bee Girls, about some ladies who lure men into sexual encounters then turn into buzzing creatures during the act and leave the fellas dead. Then I covered The Female Bunch, the story of some pissed-off babes who are fed up with the male population and construct a female-run ranch commune that doubles as a drug-smuggling headquarters. And now I’m here to discuss the 1973 grindhouse cult romp Wonder Women, in which, again, some ladies set up a self-contained world wherein they carry out odd operations.

The plot of Wonder Women is loopy, as is true of many exploitation films from this era. But, here, I’ll have a go at summarizing its storyline: 14 prized athletes from around the world suddenly disappear, over a short span of time. The general assumption is that they were kidnapped, but nobody comes forward to claim the adductions or demand ransom. Hmm. It turns out the guys have been put into comatose states and shipped to an island retreat in the Philippines, this center run by a Dr. Tsu: a disgraced lady physician turned mad scientist (“100 years ahead of her time”), played by exotic beauty Nancy Kwan. What Tsu’s up to at her freaky complex is – with the help of a bevy of go-go boots-wearing, machine gun-toting honeys – managing an organ transplant clinic. She takes vital parts out of one captive’s body and puts them in somebody else’s. Sometimes she executes these operations just as experimental play, to see what will happen if you, say, swap brains between two people. But mostly she’s after money. She lures in rich clients who will pay to trade vital parts with more fit persons; thus, the need for super-bodied athletes. So, for instance, there’s one wealthy old geezer who’s going to pay Tsu mad bucks to have his brain inserted into the body of a jai alai player Tsu and her girls have captured.

[What could go wrong?]

Mon
Nov 24 2014 1:00pm

Lost Classics of Noir: Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders (and/or Charles Willeford)

In case you’re confused by the author credit in the heading here, let me just say that I join you in your befuddlement. This 1961 noir novel was originally published as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, with W. Franklin Sanders tagged as the writer. But over time it came to be revealed that Charles Willeford wrote some, if not all, of the book. Sanders may have been his co-author, but then Sanders may have also been a make-believe person. If you’re interested in reading up on that intrigue, there is no shortage of material available on the web. I’m going to leave that subplot alone and just focus on the book, which is a gem of a read.

But first a couple words on Willeford. I doubt I need to sell many readers of this site on the merits of his writing. Some Willeford fans might think of his Hoke Moseley series as his finest work, while others might prefer his earlier titles such as Cockfighter (1962) or The Burnt Orange Heresy (1971). Of the Willeford books I’ve read, it’s his second novel, Pick-Up (1955), that I value the most. When I first started this column, I drew up a shortlist (well, it was actually long) of books I might cover, and Pick-Up was among those. I haven’t gotten around to writing an appreciation of it, and maybe I never will for this series, as I have purposely been avoiding covering the same writer twice, in order to spread the hardboiled love. In any case, Pick-Up is a hell of a noir novel. If you like this kind of stuff and haven’t read it, do so. And while you’re at it, read the one I’m about to discuss; because whether it was written by Willeford or this Sanders guy, or some combination of the two of them, it’s pure.

[Back to Whip Hand...]

Sun
Nov 9 2014 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott is a coffee-table book that highlights the illustrious career of one of America's most recognizable artists (available November 11, 2014).

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that while I have long been an admirer of particularly striking covers of what we now call pulp novels, I’ve never learned all that much about the artists who create the images that grace those book faces. I’ve only recently started to learn some things about this particular corner of the visual art world, via an especially enjoyable Twitter connection (@PulpLibrarian) who is a great source of stunning book covers and information about the artists who made them. Something else that’s added to my knowledge of this terrain, and given me a thirst to be educated about it even more, is this glorious new coffee table book which celebrates the career of  visual artist Robert E. McGinnis.

[It's one of those books that never grows old...]

Fri
Oct 31 2014 11:30am

Lost Classics of Noir: Criss-Cross by Don Tracy

So this is the next in my line of posts where I’m going to write about an underappreciated vintage noir novel, and in so doing, discuss a movie that was made from its story (sometimes it’s the other way around, but you get the idea). Robert Siodmak’s 1948 (referenced as ’49 in some places) film Criss-Cross, which stars Burt Lancaster, Yvonne “Lily Munster” DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea, is an example of film noir of which most aficionados of that genre are likely familiar and appreciative. Don Tracy’s 1934 novel of the same title is less known but as worthy of recognition.

Tracy may not have been James M. Cain, but judging by this novel, he wasn’t all that terribly far behind. Honestly, if someone new to the world of classic hardboiled fiction asked me for a good example of such a book, I would be perfectly comfortable pointing them in the direction of Criss-Cross. Likewise, I’d gladly tout the book to knowing noir heads who haven’t read it.

[Let's change that...]

Thu
Sep 18 2014 2:00pm

Get Carter by Ted Lewis: Crime Fiction’s Open Source Blueprint

I’ll get right to the point here; Ted Lewis’s 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home (re-titled Get Carter so I’ll call it that from here on) is one of the most influential works of crime fiction in existence. In the world of U.K. hardboiled literature it’s had the kind of impact that books by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had on the genre in the U.S. In the new edition of Get Carter being put out by Syndicate Books, the back cover and inside pages contain jaw-dropping laudatory praise of the novel by the likes of Derek Raymond, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, James Sallis, and John Williams, the last of whom says Lewis’s book is “the finest British crime novel ever written.” When I researched Lewis’s life and work several years back, one person I interviewed was David Peace; Peace told me, about Get Carter, “I very consciously used it as a blueprint for Nineteen Seventy-Four, my first novel.”

Before further discussion of the book, I’m going to pause and say a few things about the film that shares its title. Because you can’t say the words Get Carter without thinking of the 1971 big screen feature that stars Michael Caine and was directed by Mike Hodges (Hodges supplies the foreword to the new edition of the book). I’m not going to go into any detail about the movie, because a prolonged analysis or appreciation of it deserves its own space. Suffice to say that it is not only a classic film; it’s an institution. It holds high places on best-ever film lists issued by entities such as The British Film Institute, Empire magazine, Time Out, and The Guardian. If you’ve seen the movie, you likely don’t need me to try and convince you of its quality. If you haven’t, and if you care anything about film noir, gangster cinema, Michael Caine, or classic films period, just go watch it. If you’re like I was after my first viewing, when it’s over you’ll find you have a hankering to run it again.

[And probably a third time...]

Thu
Sep 11 2014 2:00pm

Lost Classics of Noir: Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes

I didn’t set out to make a habit of, when writing appreciations of books for this site, also commenting on movies that were made from the novels. Ditto discussing the books that were converted into the films I cover. But oftentimes it just makes sense to do this. There’s usually something interesting in the connection between books and the movies that get made from them, and when you know one but not the other, then experience the other, you often come away with some new insights into the story in the medium to which you were already hip.

Anyway, when writing about the novel that was turned into the classic 1947 movie Out of the Past, there’s just no way around commenting on the film. Ask 100 film noir buffs to list their all-time top 10 examples from the genre, and my guess is at least 80 of them (if not more) would include Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 masterpiece on their tally. Yet I wonder how many of those 80 or more have read the book – Build My Gallows High (1946), penned by Daniel Mainwaring under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Homes – that is the foundation of the big screen feature. I’ve been an avid watcher/reader of both noir film and fiction for decades, first saw and was blown away by Out of the Past many years back, but I’ve only just now read the novel. The book is out of print, as best I can tell was last issued by Film Ink in 2001. And there is no e-book version, at least that I can find. So it’s fair to say it’s a lost title. And, having just taken it in (I got it in one of the Ace 2-for-1 editions, with a Harry Whittington novel attached), I can say it’s a classic.

[You owe it to yourself to check it out...]

Wed
Aug 20 2014 11:00am

Lost Classics of Noir: The Baby Doll Murders by James O. Causey

We noir heads love the covers of the classic paperback editions of what we now call pulp fiction. You know, the ones with the deliciously lurid images and the zinging plot teasers. The funny thing about the zingers is that, as often as not, they are misleading in giving an indication of the story’s actual plot, if not outright false. But we don’t care about all of that. We enjoy the catchy phraseology and we know it’s just some words that read well on the book cover and that were put there to hook readers.

The cover of James O. Causey’s 1957 noir novel The Baby Doll Murders is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. A Fawcett Gold Medal title, its face shows a sexy redhead in a negligee, her back turned to a guy who is intently staring at her while he holds a cigarette in his mouth and a cocktail in his hand. And the tagline reads, “She could look like a wistful child and she loved to play games – such as murder, men, and marijuana.”

Now, there is a carrot-topped femme fatale in the story, she does use drugs, and there is a guy who is hooked by her charms. But the truth is that she is only one of about eight main characters in the saga, and the leading man’s attachment to her is only one element of the plot, no more central than the several other subplots that drive the tale. So the main story is really not one of a trouble-making babe who lures a hapless fella into her web of mayhem, as the cover suggests. But who cares? The cover rocks.

[Sex has always been the best seller...]

Thu
Jul 31 2014 12:45pm

Somewhere Between French and American: Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

We know about the appreciation of, and contributions to, noir film and fiction by the French. We know that they celebrated the likes of Jim Thompson when the now-revered American noir author was kicked to the curb in his home country. And in 1960 another striking example of U.S. noir being recognized by the French occurred when rising star French film director Francois Truffaut used a novel by American David Goodis as the basis of his second film. Truffaut had come across Goodis’s bleak 1956 title Down There along the way, was enthralled by it, and had one of his legal reps buy the movie rights. Then, after dazzling the movie-watching universe with his groundbreaking debut, 1959’s French New Wave classic The 400 Blows, Truffaut wanted his next film to be something less blatantly French and something that showed the influence American cinema had on him. Cue Shoot the Piano Player and Goodis’s downbeat tale of a once-famous musician, who is now playing tacky fare in a rank-and-file bar, was the perfect vehicle through which the director could put these desires into effect.

[First, we move from Philly to Paris...]

Thu
Jul 24 2014 11:00am

Erotic, Gothic, Belgian Vampires: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Atmosphere is such an important aspect of movies. I’ve never attempted to make a film, so I can’t intelligently discuss the techniques involved in pulling off this vital part of the endeavor, but I know quality cinematic atmosphere when it crosses my path. If someone asked me to explain what I mean by this facet of movies, I might either try to describe it verbally, or I might just sit them down and have them watch the 1971 erotic/gothic vampire film Daughters of Darkness.

The spellbinding atmosphere in the movie is there from the opening scene and is strong enough to keep a hold over a bewitched viewer throughout the duration of the story. It’s there in the mesmerizing speaking voice of Delphine Seyrig, who plays an ageless and exotic Hungarian countess who also happens to be a lesbian vampire who feeds off the blood of young girls. The mood is present in the striking physical beauty of Valerie (played by Danielle Ouimet), a young Swiss woman who is unlucky enough to, while on her honeymoon, wind up staying at the same hotel where the Countess decides to stop. It’s in the stormy soul of Stefan (John Karlen), Valerie’s new husband, a blue-blooded Englishman who’s a nice enough guy most of the time but who is prone to sudden and inexplicable violent outbursts and who is drawn to the Countess in a love/hate sort of way. And the atmosphere exists in the personality and look of Ilona, the Countess’s personal secretary and co-drinker of young female blood: Ilona is a moody/sexy Goth girl who is constantly both on the brink of suicidal despair yet ready to seduce somebody.

[Watch out!]