Wednesday, October 29, 2008

LU DOULOS; A.A. Fair; John Updike

From Fred Blosser

Ed, I see that Criterion has just released Jean-Pierre Melville's LE
DOULOS (1963) on DVD. My capsule review from MYSTERY SCENE #70, based
on the 2001 VHS edition, might be of interest for those who may not have
seen the movie:

"Silien (Jean Paul Belmondo) is a Parisian 'finger man' who steers
robbers and safecrackers toward potential jobs. Some of his associates
suspect that he's also in the gendarmes' pay as an informant. Therese
doesn't like it that this slippery character is pals with her boyfriend
Maurice, a thief preparing for a big score. 'He plays cozy, and you
tell him everything,' she frowns. Responds Maurice, 'Silien's my friend
until I know different.' Maybe his trust is unwisely placed. While
Maurice is out on his heist, Silien comes calling on Therese and roughs
her up until she tells him where Maurice is operating. Moments later,
the cops interrupt the score, gun down Maurice's partner as the thieves
flee, and nearly nab Maurice himself. Did Silien double-cross his
friend? Jean-Pierre Melville's LE DOULOS, newly reissued on home video
by Kino, loops through 50 or so twists and turns until Melville finally
reveals the answer. This hardboiled noir from 1963 is one of
Melville's best, served up in a style so cool that it's beyond cool.
The videocassette's visual quality isn't up to Kino's usual high
standards, but if it's a choice between less than perfectly packaged
Melville or no Melville, I'll still put my money down."

I haven't seen the Criterion disc yet -- but given Criterion's high
standards, the fact that a new 35mm print of LE DOULOS was struck a
couple of years ago, and my guess that the DVD was burned from the new
print, I anticipate that the disc will have much sharper detail and much
richer blacks, whites, and grays than the old VHS tape, even above and
beyond the basic superiority of DVD to VHS. I may be one of the few
fans who think that LE DOULOS surpasses LE SAMOURAI, which most critics
seem to feel was Melville's masterpiece.

By the way, looking for the LE DOULOS review, I glanced through MYSTERY
SCENE #61 and noticed my review of Robert Benton's TWILIGHT (1997), not
to be confused with the later Stephanie Meyer teen vampire novel. When
Paul Newman died recently, I remembered that while TWILIGHT had received
generally good notices, I wasn't greatly impressed. My review reminded
me of a key weakness: "... the script ... never gets a good fix on
Harry Ross' character [Ross was the retired private eye played by
Newman] except to the extent that it tries to make him an object of the
audience's pity. Bad mistake. In the performances that we remember him
for, Newman never had to beg for sympathy, never wanted to." William F.
Nolan once said he enjoyed Ross Macdonald's earliest Lew Archer novels
more than the later ones, because the later, older Archer was like the
younger Archer's grandfather. Even so, it's a pity that the aging but
persistently hard-nosed Archer of THE INSTANT ENEMY or THE BLUE HAMMER
couldn't have been Newman's PI swan song.


-----------------------------------A.A. FAIR

Bruce Grossman posted one of his nifty oldies review columns on Bookgasm this morning.
As I've said here many times my favorite Erle Stanley Gardner series ifsthe A.A. Fair books, especially those written in the Forties. A number of prominent writers showed their influence down the years but nobody did them quite las well as Gardner--screwball comedy-mysteries filled with Gardner's cynical take on American business and businessmen.

Here's Bruce:

BATS FLY AT DUSK by Erle Stanley Gardner — This is not your typical Cool & Lam mystery, since Donald Lam is nowhere to be found. We’re told he signed up for the Navy, which is fitting since this book was written in 1942. He makes somewhat of an appearance through a few telegrams, but that’s all. This one is all about Bertha Cool taking center stage.

The story deals with a blind man who sells ties on the street, trying to find a woman he knows got hurt in an accident. But what Bertha gets herself into is more trouble than she expects, becoming the prime suspect in a case that develops. All the blind man wanted was a name and to make sure the girl was okay, but this story takes a turn that keeps readers guessing until a great reveal toward the end.

for the rest go here:

-------------------------------JOHN UPDIKE

An excellent NPR interview with John Updike (yes I still read and admire him). His almost mournful defense of realism ("the beauty of the everday") certainly rang true with me. He wasn't bitter; he simply wished there was still a place for fiction that didn't include "heroism" or melodrama.


Bill Crider said...

There's a good article by Updike in the latest issue of the AARP mag. I like some of his books a lot, and I punished a generation of students by making them read THE CENTAUR. Or at least I tried to make them read it.

Vince said...

Melville fans might also want to check out Criterion's DVD of Le Deuxieme Souffle, also out now.

Ben Boulden said...

I was impressed with Updike on the NPR interview. His attitude was upbeat, and the most poignant moment of the interview was when a caller asked if he was happy.

His response was something like (to paraphrase in a big way): Sure. I mean I'm not happy that I'm getting old, I'm not happy that I'm going to die, but I've been a very fortunate person and I think I'm happy.


Scott Parker said...

When I inherited a box of my grandfather's books, I discovered most of his non-L'amour westerns, a couple of Perry Mason books, and a couple by A. A. Fair. I've since read one of these and thoroughly love it. Just this past weekend, I found another A. A. Fair book. This is now my #1 treasure hunt: find, collect, and read all the Cool and Lam books. Very entertaining not the least of which b/c Lam is a "pipsqueak," not the Hammer kinda guy. He's basically more real and more like all of us.