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March 23, 2015
Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern
Brian Greene
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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?]

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?]

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*]

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?]

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...]

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...]

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?]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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!]

Jul 16 2014 2:00pm

Ringin’ Around the Rosie with Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (1969)

I’m part of a group of friends who have been dazzling one another with movies for decades now. We’re all cinephiles and we have similar tastes in films, yet each of us has our own individual slant on flicks. We like to get together and watch movies, each of us taking turns at being the one to pick the titles. When you make a selection for viewing among this group, you’re of course hoping to show the others movies they haven’t yet seen. Beyond that, you just want your choices to be films that will be enjoyable and memorable. Sometimes you go for cinematic fare that’s just straight-up good, sometimes you shoot for weird and good, other times your aim is at so-bad-it’s-good camp. Just give them something that will engage them on some level during the watching and give all of us things to talk about after, and you’ve scored a winner.

I think I can say I have a fairly high success rate in picking films that work for this group. But there has been the occasional misstep. I once cleared a room with a showing of a moody early Wim Wenders title, and another time left everyone feeling deranged after presenting the bent 1973 drama The Baby. Another “mistake” on my part was when I offered the group Girly aka Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (it went under the longer title upon its 1969 theatrical release and was shortened to the one-word name for the 2010 DVD issue – I’m going to use the shorter title from here on in). The problem was timing and setting.  This was during a beach vacation and maybe that isn’t the most ideal backdrop for a viewing of a twisted British horror/dark comedy film. But our annual beach weeks are generally the only time all of us are together these days, I had just recently happened on to Girly and was knocked out by it, and I couldn’t wait for my friends to see it. And it’s not like the idea of me championing weird movies was a new idea to this set of people.

[That should tell you how weird this one is...]

Jul 9 2014 12:00pm

Moving In, Creeping Out: Roman Polankski’s The Tenant (1976)

One could reasonably expect that if a Criminal Element blogger were going to single out a Roman Polanski film for appreciation, the chosen title would be Chinatown (1974). But at the risk of committing sacrilege in the eyes of my fellow cinephiles and while I certainly appreciate the brilliance of Polanski’s classic work of film noir, a couple other cinematic works of his have always worked for me in bigger and deeper ways. One of those is his debut full-length feature: 1962’s Knife in the Water, the taut drama about a bourgeois couple who takes a nonconformist young man on a boating excursion. Another of my favorite Polanskis, and the one I’m about to discuss here, is 1976’s The Tenant.

I’ve just been watching the movie again, this being my fourth or fifth viewing. Before I dusted off my DVD, though, I sought out and read the novel from which the story originates. Although I’ve been an avid fan of the film since I first took it in decades ago, I had never before considered whether it was based on a book. I figured I should learn about that before writing this article, and now I’m glad I had the notion. The Tenant is indeed based on a novel of the same title and was written by Roland Topor and originally published in either 1964 or ’66, depending on the reference you’re checking. The book is a strong work – an absurdist, hallucinatory tale that combines nightmarish elements with black humor and which has a penetrating philosophical framework. Topor was an interesting guy: a writer, visual artist, filmmaker and actor who specialized in surreal works. I’ve been reading some of his other stuff since polishing off The Tenant. His books are something like Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays mashed with Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

[Apartment for rent...]

Jun 25 2014 11:00am

Punishment Far Beyond the Crime: The Last Detail (1973)

When I decided to do a run of film appreciation pieces for this site I thought, “Ok, so I need to go through my DVD collection and pick out some favorites that have some kind of crime/suspense angle to them.” That wasn’t hard to do and it’s really not all that limiting. And of course, one of the great things about Criminal Element is the wide range of film, fiction, and TV, etc. fare that gets covered here.  I knew I could be loose in my interpretations of what movies might be suitable for appreciation posts on the blog. So, the crime involved in the movie I’m about to discuss now – 1973’s The Last Detail – is a laughable offense. But then the triviality of the violation and the ridiculously harsh punishment visited on its offender is a big part of what drives the story.

Before we get into the details of the offense and what happens as a result of it, I just want to say a few words about the book that served as the film’s basis, and its author. In an earlier post here I singled out The Last Detail as an example of a rare instance (IMO) where a movie far outclasses the book it came from. After that piece ran I felt bad about picking on Darryl Ponicsan’s 1970 novel (same title as the film), because it’s really a perfectly good read. So is Ponicsan’s 1973 title Cinderella Liberty, which has a similar theme (foibles of life in the U.S. navy for enlisted men), and which was also made into a noted movie. So, sorry Darryl. Your books are aces.

[But now back to the film...]

Jun 10 2014 10:30am

A Western for the B-Movie Junkie: The Female Bunch (1969)

When Thelma and Louise hit the big screen in 1991, it stood out in the world of mainstream movies for being a film that portrayed women as badass renegades who fought against abuses from men and took the law into their own hands. But it was hardly the first film that had that kind of plot background. In the 1960s and early ‘70s, there was a whole slew of motion pictures that had women taking things over and ruling the society around them, and living in ways that suited their own desires rather than following any ordained laws of men.

Most of these titles were B-movies and being a B-movie junkie, I’ve seen a silly number of them. Russ Meyer’s 1965 drive-in classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is an obvious example of the kind of movie I’m talking about, and one of the very best. But there are hordes of others. There are futuristic films that have women lording over some colony, or female biker gang flicks, or the Bee Girls, about which I’ve already written. But the example I’m about to discuss is a Western that features women as outlaw toughies: 1969’s The Female Bunch.

Before I get into a plot summary and critical analysis, a couple of interesting side-notes about it: First, and creepily, it was shot on the infamous Spahn Ranch when the Manson Family was living there.  Second, it was the last movie role for Lon Chaney, Jr., who died four years after its release.

[Now onto the plot!]

Jun 4 2014 11:00am

Dario Argento’s Giallo Thriller: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The term giallo gets thrown around a lot by people talking about certain films. Sometimes I wonder how diverse are the definitions of the genre held by those of us who use the word. I’m sure the description giallo film could be stretched to include a lot of different things, but for me it means a kind of movie that comes from Italy and that began in the 1960s but enjoyed its heyday in the early-to-mid ‘70s. These gialli generally include some combination of the following elements: Hitchcockian suspense, slasher film gore, softcore sexuality, beautiful people wearing chic European clothing, and an overall feel of daring experimentation. And there’s usually out-there music, sometimes composed by Ennio Morricone who is mostly known for his spaghetti Western soundtracks but who did so much more. So I say a giallo film is a stylized Italian crime/suspense/softcore movie with a cool soundtrack. If you disagree, well, say so.

[Or don’t...]