Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stories from other stories

I've always been intrigued by how one writer reads a piece by another writer and does a riff on it that ends up entirely his own. Well, almost entirely.

I've been reading one Alain Silver's fine books of interviews, this one dealing with Hwood directors, writers and cinematographers involved in noir films.

In the course of talking with Billy Wilder, Wilder mentions how he got the germ of the idea for The Apartment from a Noel Coward play. In Coward the hero is the man who uses the apartment of his friend for his tryst. But Wilder says he was more interested in the friend who let him use it. What was his story? Thus, the great film The Apartment was born.

Likewise, performances feed one into the other as well. This afternoon TCM showed the 1938 screwball comedy Boy Meets Girl. If you want to know where Cagney-Wilder got the Cagney performance for One, Two, Three (1961) it came from here. Slicked up, timed better, with much better writing in the later version but the hellzapoppin frantic punch line-punchline-punchilne rythm of One is certainly here to see.

Boy Meets Girl is sloppy, hasty and nonsensical (there are moments when you think you're watching Marx Brothers outtakes) but it sure ain't boring. And the always long-suffering Ralph Bellamy as the studio VP is another portrait of a dumb guy way out of his element. But here he's not the innocent he usually plays.

Fir the record here's the storyyline from TCM bloggers:

Two lazy screenwriters need a story for the studio's cowboy star. A studio waitress turns out to be pregnant. This gives them the idea for a movie about a cowboy and a baby. The waitress's baby becomes the star. The cowboy and his agent run off with the waitress and her valuable asset. The writers retaliate by hiring an unemployed extra to impersonate the baby's father. But the extra already knows the waitress... Written by David Steele

A Hollywood film studio in receivership and courted by a British outfit has all the signs of being run as a madhouse by Elliot Friday. To complete the image, screenwriters Law and Benson pretty well run rampant over the lot. When canteen-girl Susie is found to be pregnant they hatch the idea of making her expected a new star. Owner B.K. starts to realise this is no way to run a railroad. Written by Jeremy Perkins {}

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amos Burke

From the bloggers signing themselves The Clones on IMDB:

"TV actors, at least in the old days when they were placed in a separate class from movie actors, often seemed to be clones of their movie brethren.... There were a whole selection of Clark Gables, including John Russell, Rory Calhoun, Richard Egan , Robert Lowery and others. There were plenty of Brandos, including Burt Reynolds, George Maharis and John Saxon. There were enough Rock Hudsons to fill a theater, with John Gavin, Tom Tryon and Gardner McKay coming immediately to mind.


"Perhaps the most successful strain, however were the Cary Grants. Grant made an ideal model for the suave detective hero, able to be charming or tough as the occasion demanded. Craig Stevens was hired to play Peter Gunn specifically because of a strong resemblance to Grant. His tightlipped performance was not really very charming but it's surely how Cary would have played that character. Latern-jawed John Vivyan played a role that Grant had actually essayed in the movies, Mr. Lucky. He was competent at best. The heroes of the Warner Brother's detective shows were largely based on Cary Grant. Ephram Zimbelist Jr.'s Stu Bailey was a grant-style role with a lot more charm than Peter Gunn. Richard Long's Rex Randolph on Bourbon Street Beat was much the same. Anthony Eisley's Tracy Steele was a less convincing version of the same character on Hawaiian Eye.

"But the best of the Grant clones was Gene Barry. He was male-model handsome, had good breeding and seductive whiskey voice. He was also TV's greatest reactors. He had a series of comic takes that was perfect for Amos Burke, who had to confront an unending series of eccentric subjects. Yet he could turn around and romance the ladies or get tough with the tough guys. And he was a good enough actor to hold up his end when the heavy dramatics intervened."

Ed here: I watched two episodes of Burke's Law on American Family Network over the weekend and it brought back memories of all those wonderfully silly days when Warner Brothers Television ruled the black and white world. (Though Burke wasn't Warners.)

And you couldn't get any sillier than Burke's Law. A slick dude who shows up to the crime scene in a Rolls-Royce? With an assistant hunk who's a brainiac? And a rumpled old-style cop who makes Fred Thompson look lively?

The gimmick was that all the suspects were played by actors on the way up or on the way down. And the parts offered the players enough comic scenery to chew on for months after the wrap. My favorite this weekend was Wally Cox who was or wasn't a vampire and who was driven everywhere in a hearse. But Frankie Avallone was surrpisingly good as a method sports reporter--he didn;t just report on horses; he BECAME the horses. There was a beatnik-type in both episodes and you could write the dialogue at home. Hey, Daddy, lemme play them bongos. Jack Kerouac by way of Maynard G. Krebs.

Every episode ends with babe of the moment either pouring Amos champagne or beckoning him hither. For the sake of the censors hither usually seemed to mean getting another crime call and schlepping to the scene in his chauffeur driven Rolls.

If I'm not mistaken that's how the Chief of Police in Cedar Rapids gets around.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nobody Dies In Hollywood

As I've noted grumpily many times, I'm not much for sequels or franchises. On and freaking on. Off hand the only sequel I can think of that was possibly good as the original was the second Invasion of The Body Snatchers. In that case Phil Kaufman was bright enough to use his film as a commentary on the decade it was being filmed in. Witty and wise as a social document. (Jeff Goldblum reading Velikovsky in the mud bath; Leonard Nimoy as the pop prince shrink inveighing everybody to be a sociopath like him.) And making it one of the finest suspense films of its time.

But as we all know, the world doesn't seem to give much of a damn about what Ed Gorman of Cedar Rapids, Ioway thinks about anything. It goes right on rubbing its greasy hand in Ed's face. (Enough of the third person; it's getting weird.)

To wit from Variety today:

New Line sets up new 'Nightmare'
Freddy Krueger returns to theaters

Platinum Dunes partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form have been set by New Line to re-launch Freddy Krueger, the iconic psycho who haunts the subconscious dreams of teenagers and kills them in their sleep.
The trio will create a new franchise based on "A Nightmare Before Elm Street," the 1984 Wes Craven film.

Originally played by Robert Englund, Krueger haunted nine films and two TV series, and was New Line's most lucrative franchise until "The Lord of the Rings."

The deal comes as Bay, Fuller and Form ready for an April start for "Friday the 13th," a New Line re-launch of another iconic baddie, Jason Voorhees. "Cloverfield" star Odette Yustman has just been set to star, and Marcus Nispel will direct a script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift ("Freddy Vs. Jason").


Platinum Dunes is busy. At Rogue Pictures, the producers are prepping an untitled David Goyer-directed exorcism thriller, and a "Near Dark" remake that will be directed by Samuel Bayer. Bay, Fuller and Form are also developing a Universal remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," with Martin Campbell directing Naomi Watts.

Ed here:

Holy shit, Batman. They really DON'T care what I think, do they?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin quted on Galleycat today:

"Books are social vectors, but publishers have been slow to see it. They barely even noticed book clubs until Oprah goosed them. But then the stupidity of the contemporary, corporation-owned publishing company is fathomless: they think they can sell books as commodities."


August West over at Vintage Hardboiled Reads writes a fine review of of Death's Sweet Song, one of Clifton Adams' two Gold Medal crime novels. I sure agree with his admiration for Adams' crime books and, like August, wish he'd written more.

But many of you are saying Clifton who? Back in the days when western fiction was popular (and reasonably respectable to all but snobs) Adams wrote a novel called The Desperado, which Donald Westlake has spoken of admiringly (though not, understandably, of its poor sequel Return of The Desperado).

Adams was a jazz musician and a working writer. Never a star, he had to work all over the place and with varying degrees of creative success. He did a number of books that were competent but overly familiar but at least half of his considerable output was first-rate and two or three books were, in my estimation, were of the highest order.

Try A Partnership With Death and A Dangerous Profession. True hardboiled westerns.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Five Strokes To Midnight

Five Strokes To Midnight is a handsomely made hardcover edited by Gary Braunbeck and Hank Schwaeble with an introduction by Tim Lebbon.

Handsomely made and handsomely written. Authors Tom Piccirilli, Deborah LeBlanc, Christopher Golden and both editors contribute fine pieces of horror, though not the category horror of too many anthologies. And since each writer has two or three stories included, the reader gets a range of forms and styles.

Highlights for me include Piccirilli's "Berveavement," one of his most powerful pieces; Braunbeck's "Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway," a cleverly conceived and perfectly executed story about the mercurial and confusing elements of relationships; LeBlanc's "Bottom Feeder" which is a great old-fashoned new-fashioned take on magic; Schawaeble's "Midnight Boogie Blues" is the barn-burner of the book, a tough tough tale; and Golden's extraordinary "Breathe My Name," a fusion of fabulism and folk tale.

This is a collectible and a keeper in all respects. will take you to the publisher's website

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Twilight by Brendan DuBois

As I've said here before, I think Brendan DuBois is one of the three or four best short story writers of my generation. He's also an exceptionally fine novelist. After I read his new novel Twlight I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed it, admired it and honestly envied it. It's a powerful and intense but written with all of Brendan's supple and subtle skill. He wrote back and told me a story about its history that shows how strange the world of writing and publishing can sometimes be.

From Brendan

Back in late 1999 I had an idea for a novel that eventually became
TWILIGHT, published this past November by St. Martin’s Press. The
basis of the idea came after watching a television report of UN
peacekeepers and war crimes investigators at work in the former
Yugoslavia. And that’s how it happens, the “what if” that allows us
writers to grab an idea and work with it.
And the idea was something I loved: what kind of catastrophe could
happen in the United States that would result in the same UN forces
being dispatched here? How would ordinary Americans react in a time of
chaos to seeing the famed “blue helmets” in our streets, and not the
streets of Bosnia, Serbia or Rwanda? Would they see the UN as saviors
or occupiers?
From that idea came TWILIGHT. The book was a gamble in a number of
ways. The main character was a former Canadian journalist, it was the
only novel outside of my Lewis Cole series written in the first person,
and my outline consisted of just a few sentences. But it was a tale
that I wanted to tell.
The book was finished in early 2001. I sent it off to my agent,
confident that I had tried something different, confident that this
book would quickly sell, confident that it would make a mark.
Alas, my agent and his associate didn’t share the same confidence.
Long story short, they thought the book was a failure, and I put it
that legendary desk drawer where manuscripts go to die… or hibernate.
It was sobering, the first novel I had written that my agent had
disliked so entirely.
Flash forward a few years later, when I was struggling to complete
another thriller, FINAL WINTER. Ah, that book, with multiple
viewpoints and a complicated plot, hurt my mind to write. And to have
a bit of fun during the day, I took TWILIGHT out of the dusty drawer,
rewrote it a bit, updated it to reflect the turbulent times after 9/11,
and I sent it off to my new agent.
She loved it.
She suggested a couple of changes, which I embraced, and in the space
of a few months, it was sold to St. Martin’s Press, as well as
publishers in Great Britain, Italy and Spain, and there is still some
interest from other foreign publishers as well. Publisher’s Weekly
gave it a starred review, saying that, “The balance between action and
introspection is superb, and DuBois is confident enough of his
readership and his premise to avoid a pat, upbeat unending.” I’ve had a
host of other positive reviews, including one from the proprietor of
this blog.
The upshot, the lesson learned?
Damned if I know, except for two things: don’t ever give up, and
don’t ever think you know how publishing works. More than twenty years
after my first novel was published, it’s still a mystery to me.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Edmond O'Brien

I watched DOA this snowy afternoon and reaffirmed my opinion that it's one of the great B pulp stories of all time.

"I'd like to report a murder."

Hw can you miss with an opening like that? This is pure noir from first frame to last, an almost surreal experience of radioactive drugs (the scene with the doctor telling him that he's going to die is handled flawlessly), the almost documentary-like observation of San Francisco architecture, the quick vicious violence.

There's even a snarky bit of satire. The war has ended and prosperity has come to many. Salesmen abound. They fill the hotel where O'Brien first stays. As he goes into his room he sees there's a party going on in the room across from him. He accepts the invitation. Director Rudolph Mate gets everything right in this bit--the inane chatter, the sexual undertone, the sudden drunken jealousy, the goofy hats of the women and the effusive Chamber of Commerce attitude of the men.

From that point on it's grim without relief. As many critics have noted the black band in the jazz club scene was pushing the envelope. There was studio concern the film wouldn't be shown in the South (though I never quite understood that--the band did nothing but make some sweet music, they weren't hitting on white chicks). And then comes the succession of liars O'Brien encounters as he tries to figure out who poisoned him and why. He becomes a de facto hardboiled private eye and a better peeper than most. There's all that anger, all that fear.

I saw this new at Half Price for (I think) $3. Hard to go wrong.

As for O'Brien...several years ago TCM showed him as a very young man in a costume drama. He was thin and theatrcal. Studied. Weight and years gave him a more comfortable persona, the perpetually agigated average man who lost just about every battle with the dark gods. Though he would do more work after his part in The Wild Bunch, I think he was especially memorable as the crazed-wise old coot with rotted teeth and a wino laugh. Fitting and ironic in context that his character and Robert Ryan's were the only two left in the coda. Fine work capping a significant career.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bad Day At Black Rock; Bob Randisi

Bad Day At Black Rock was on TCM this afternoon. One of my all-time favorite westerns. Bad Day demonstrates how durable the western form can be in the right hands. Make it contemporary, give it a serious theme but keep the pacing and excitement of the genre...and you've got one of the best scripted films I've ever seen.

I'd forgotten how often the film becomes a bit stage bound but to great effect. The lobby of the dingy hotel where Robert Ryan and his thugs gather to confront Spencer Tracy is a perfect setting for long speeches and character development. Two scenes in the third act are especially memorable. The fight in which one-armed Tracy dispatches Ernest Borgnine is staged better than anything in John Ford.

But for all the jabber this is pure movie. The desert, the ghost town-like whistle-stop, the dirt and grit of the actors and the hotel interior are a mosaic of desolation. Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and the others add their individual colors to the mosaic. Young Anne Francis is the desert flower, a stunner in looks and a fine strong actress.

This is one of the great ones.


Bob Randisi has responded to my post on Amazon Top Ten reviewers

I can't post on your blog so I'm sending this here. Some years back I went back and forth with emails to Amazon, talking to them about their reviews. I whole heartedly disagree with their policy of reviewing books, especially when they slam them. This is NOT the way to sell books. I liken it to a grocery store putting canned peas out on their shelves, and then a sign telling people they're BAD peas and not to buy them. I tried to get some support from my fellow scribes, but no one wanted to take Amazon on. Others didn't agree with me. One well known author even accused me of advocating censorship. I gave up, but I do NOT buy books from Amazon, I buy them from other sites like Barnes & Noble and

And whenever I get a chance, I have my say, like now.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Good news from Richard Wheeler

January 23, 2008
I’m back from an esophageal dilation, and when I get past the dope and Vicodin, I’ll post again. Meanwhile, buttoning my shirt is a complicated task.

Amazon reviews

I have two or three friends who take Amazon reviews very seriously. By that I mean they get really pissed off when some dude or dudette trashes their books. I agree that this is an odd way to sell books--by having reviews that trash the merchandise. Though you can make the case for providing a consumer guide by offering yay and nay opinions.

I've certainly been disembowled by Amazon reviews. One woman hated my book so much I thought she'd probably turn me into the feds. She even wrote me personally to tell me how much she hated my book. She wanted to make sure that I saw the review she'd posted.

Now, I like Amazon. I buy virtually all my new books from them. But their reviews--not so much. And not just because I get dinged occsionaly but also because there's always seemed to me some weird Phillip K. Dickian system at play that low lives (i.e. me and my buds) aren't supposed to know about.

All this is preamble to recommending a fine strange article by Garth Risk Hallberg on Slate that is well worth your time.

What's interesting is that Hallberg isn't just complaining. He's seriously trying to understand the process by which you become a Top Ten Amazon reviewe and what such reviewers portend for the future.

This certainly won't deter me from shopping on Amazon. But it is a lenghty look at a rather weird reviewing system.

the literary amateur.
By Garth Risk Hallberg
Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, at 7:33 AM ET

"Full disclosure: It was late at night, in a fit of furtive self-Googling, that I discovered the first Amazon customer review of my debut book of fiction. "Superb," wrote Grady Harp of Los Angeles. "Fascinating ... addictive." Not to mention "profound." Such extravagance should have aroused suspicion, but I was too busy basking in the glow of a five-star rave to worry about the finer points of Harp's style. Sure, he'd spelled my name wrong, but hadn't he also judged me "a sensitive observer of human foibles"? Only when I noticed the "Top 10 Reviewer" tag did I wonder whether Grady Harp was more than just a satisfied customer. After a brief e-mail exchange, my publicist confirmed that she'd solicited Grady Harp's review.

"I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I had imagined Amazon's customer reviews as a refuge from the machinations of the publishing industry: "an intelligent and articulate conversation ... conducted by a group of disinterested, disembodied spirits," as James Marcus, a former editor at the company, wrote in his memoir, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut. Indeed, with customers unseating salaried employees like Marcus as the company's leading content producers, Amazon had been hailed as a harbinger of "Web 2.0"—an ideal realm where user-generated consensus trumps the bankrupt pieties of experts. As I explored the murky understory of Amazon's reviewer rankings, however, I came to see the real Web 2.0 as a tangle of hidden agendas—one in which the disinterested amateur may be an endangered species.


"Like celebrity bloggers and Wikipedia "Gnomes," then, the Top Amazon Reviewer heralds the arrival of a curious hybrid: part customer, part employee. This feels like a loss. But perhaps it means that in the coming age, every writer will be a salesman: up past dark, sifting through the data stream for evidence that somewhere, some honest soul is buying."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

American Detective; Nicky Hilton

Every once in a while I read a novel that reminds me why I've spent a good share of my life reading fiction. Loren D. Estleman's American Detective is such a book.

Characters, plot, milieu all dazzle as private investigator Amos Walker tries to help former Detroit Tigers pitching ace Philip Darius Fuller stop his daughter Dierdre from getting even more involved with a sleaze named Hilary Bairn. Estleman is often compared to Raymond Chandler but in most respects I think he's a better writer. Not as playful maybe in the telling but far superior in drawing characters (to me Chandler's people are generally types from B movies) and twisting plots. And just being enjoyable as hell to read. He's realistic downscale to Robert B. Parker's L.L. Bean upscale. I'll take the downscale.

For pure pleasure, American Detective is a novel you should buy post haste.


From Page Six this morning:

January 22, 2008 -- While most of the celebrities at Sundance came to see movies or promote them, and actually do some work, the usual hangers-on came along for the ride just to party and cause chaos in Park City.

Nicky Hilton, her boyfriend, David Katzenberg and their entourage hit Club Stereo, which took over Doolin's bar on Main Street, for the Anamigo party on Friday. Katzenberg stood in a corner at the club pulling down his belted jeans and taking pictures of his private parts bulging through his gray boxer briefs, while Nicky giggled next to him.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Heather Graham; H'wood nepotism

Probably everybody except Dick Cheney has sexual fantasies (he prefers killing). Remmber when movie critic David Thomson got lampooned for writing a book about Nicole Kidman that was a revery of lust and devotion (few bothered to note how well written it was)? A few days ago, mentioning David Mamet's play in NYC, the always elegant James Wolcott mentions reviewers Mannion and Cassavetes and how they perceived Heather Graham's presence in the Mamet satire. I'd say Heather is high on his list of fetching young ladies. As well she should be.

"Lance Mannion finds entrancement in Heather Graham's eyes, and Cassavetes candor in the desperate abandon of her behind. It's true that whatever end of Heather Graham you're gazing at, there's something to reward your attention. I happened to see an early cut of James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy in which Robert Downey Jr. buried his face between Graham's butt cheeks and seemed to disappear for a few minutes, perhaps breathing through his nose to prevent blacking out from lack of oxygen. I wasn't sure where this scene fit in the film's arc of character development and thematic advance but I decided to set my rational mind aside and simply "go" with the experience, figuring Toback would fill me in later if he happened to be hanging around outside the screening room afterwards. Anyway, I like Heather Graham; she's sweet, vulnerable, gifted, natural, unabashed, with a plaintive quality that fills in the blanks when the dialogue she's given is insufficient."


Hwood nepotism

When screenwriter Dalton Trumbo moved to Los Angeles in the late Thirties he noted: "Hollywood is a town of nephews." John Patterson recently expanded on that notion in the UK's Guardian newspaper:

"I see that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood. In Tinseltown terms that means that God is in his heaven and all's right with the world, especially if you're the son, daughter, nephew, niece, brother-in-law or bastard offspring of said God or one of his major cronies.

"Check the recent releases. We've had Chromophobia, directed by Martha Fiennes with room for an eye-catching role for her backer-bait brother Ralph. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, directed by Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence. No Country For Old Men stars Josh Brolin, son of James, and, perhaps more crucially in getting-ahead terms, the stepson of Barbra Streisand. And this week sees the UK release of The Good Night, starring Gwyneth Paltrow (offspring of actors Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner) and directed by her brother Jake, whose previous achievements have been in the heavily nepotistic arena of directing episodic TV.

"Elsewhere we've had movies from pointless hack Nick Cassavetes, son of John (Alpha Dog), and from Jason Reitman, son of Ivan (Juno). Hell, even man of the moment Daniel Day-Lewis, for all his talent, started out with one of the legendary producers of British cinema, Michael Balcon, for a grandfather. We hardly need add such names as Gyllenhaal, Hudson, Spelling or Barrymore.

" truth, Kasdan and Sofia Coppola and the Gyllenhaal kids are not without their talents; their elevation is no more harmful to the world than installing Jason Bonham behind his late father's drumkit.

Now, if only we could confine all nepotism to Los Angeles. Surely this industry could have found safe and comfy berths (safe for us, that is) for the likes of failed sons like George W Bush or the myriad second-generation neo-cons who cheerled the stupid Iraq war. Dubya, the archetypal useless-wastrel rich kid, might have found his true metier in press-junket party management or PR mendacity (spin and bullshit being truly his thang), and think what that might have spared us. The junior fantasists of the pro-war right would have been much more useful, and far less dangerous, as script-doctors to warmongering crap like 300 or the xenophobic The Kingdom."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Paperback Parade #69

There's a new issue of Paperback Parade featuring, among many other goodies, a history of Mike Shayne novels and a long interview with cover artist William George. One of the best issues yet.

As I've said before, Gary Lovisi deserves great credit for creating an ongoing hstory of paperbacks worldwide. I'm hopng that someday he'll do a Best Of. That'd make a fne collection.

From Lynne Myers-Bob Randisi-Ben Schutz dies

Hey Guys,

Got this from Ben Schutz's agent, Lynn Myers, just this morning. What a shock! I already passed it on to my newsletter editor.

From: Lynn Myers
Sent: Sun, 20 Jan 2008 12:05 pm
Subject: Benjamin Schutz, two-time Shamus winner

Dear Bob:

It is with great sadness that I must report the death of Benjamin M. Schutz. He has a massive heart attack while playing racquetball on Thursday evening. He won two Shamus awards and his one Shamus win also was selected for an Edgar. If you tall me who is in charge of the PWA newsletter, I will contact them.


Lynn Myers

Friday, January 18, 2008


We caught a morning showing of Juno. Carol liked it a lot. I liked it with reservations.

For me the biggest problem was that it kept falling in love with itself. Young Ellen Page is so beautiful and so fetching and so talented she doesn''t need to hype the cutesy quotient as she does from tim to time. And the orginal songs that seem to have captivated everybody are (again) so cutesy-poo and self-conscious I was tempted to stick Milk Duds in my ears.

That said, it's a fine, funny, endearing little movie. Michael Cera, the boy from Arrested Development, plays teenage male innocence as well as I've ever seen it done. Yes, for all that we hear Teenagers Run Wild, there are boys and girls who haven't been caught up in their cultural moment.

The adults, especially Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, are excellent. I'm happy that director Jason Reitman chose to make her parents workingclass people. Decent, hardworking, loving parents. I was less taken with the performances of Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman only because they had much less to work with. They play a wealthy yuppie couple that can't have children and arrange to adopt the baby Juno is famously carrying. Nonetheless, the plot twist that comes at the end of the second act gives Garner and Bateman some real moments and they're up to them.

For all wingnut bullshit we hear about family values from homegrown Talibanistas like Mike Huckabee, this to me is what the phrase should mean. This family draws together in a time of crisis with understanding, forgiveness and a determination to make it all come out right.

Hard to imagine anybody not liking this sweet fresh film.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ed Hoch

As many of you probably know, Ed Hoch died today. I don't know any of the details.

I wasn't a close friend of his but we worked together on projects from time to time and I always found him to be a gentleman and a bright, witty, courteous man who was eager to help new writers get started.

I'm not sure there was ever anybody like him before in the mystery field. I'm sure thre will never be anybody like him again. He was nearing his one thousandth story when he passed. He worked in every genre and sub-genre in the field. He may even have created a sub-genre or two. He was indisputably the greatest idea man of our time. I reprinted six or seven of his hardboiled stories. These showed not only a darkness but a richness of character that surprised peopple.

I'm looking forward to tributes from his close friends. He was a man among, that's for sure.

So long, Ed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dr. Watson I presume

Let us now offer up a communal prayer for the sanity of Duane Swierczynski. And for our own sanity. Even though he pretends to be a contemporary dude who writes wryly hardboiled novels of the first-order, Duane S. is really a time bum pausing in our era to mess with our minds.

You may buy into the fiction that he's Duane S. But there is now proof positive that he's actually the true Dr. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Crimes of Dr. Watson is a clever, rich interactive game filled with enough fair clues to give Golden Age Detectives the vapors. I'm not much for games--I'm too stupid--but this one is involving and fun.

But be hip to the fact that of what the two names (in addition to Holmes himself) portend. Supposedly the entire book is a letter from Dr. Watson. But read down further and you'll see that it is "edited and with an introduction by" Duane S.

See the mind game here? One really devious dude. And one excellent, slickly packaged game.


Under his Duane S. name, Dr. Watson has also penned a very cool comic book, Moon Knight Annual. This is a creepy, noirish story about a man who preys on women wearing a variety of disguises. The dialogue is adult, the storyline twists and then twists again, and the art is as good as the concept and the writing. Another winner for Dr. Watson.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Val Lewton;Cassie Edwards; eBay

Here' a preview from Cinema-Retro:

"(Tonight) Turner Classic Movies premieres a major tribute to producer Val Lewton followed by an eight film marathon. Cinema Retro was provided with an advanced screener of the documentary, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows and we found it to be one of the most unique and informative documentaries about a filmmaker that we've ever seen. The tribute is a collaboration between Martin Scorsese and writer/director Kent Jones.

"I don't want to go into too many details regarding this remarkable man's life and career. It's best you let these fact unravel as you watch the documentary. Director/writer Kent Jones has worked wonders with the little material that is available on Lewton. There is no known film footage of him or even any audio recordings of his voice, thus the documentary's sub-tirle, The Man in the Shadows. The film contains interviews with Roger Corman, Lewton's son Val, Ann Carter Newton (star of Lewton's Curse of the Cat People) and archival interviews with directors Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, both of whom distinguished themselves by working on Lewton films."

Update on Cassie Edwards

Mediabistro reprints a piece from Smart Bitches updating the Cassie Edwards plagiarism story:

(Blog co-propreitor) Candy Tan.. "Using passages, word-for-word, of research material still isn't a good thing by a long shot, but I can understand somebody being confused about the protocols of how much to acknowledge in a work of fiction. Using descriptive passages from another work of fiction, however, changes the tenor entirely."
The usual chart juxtaposing Edwards' prose with that of her likely source material is provided.

Pure decadence

From MarkEvanier's News From Me

"Someone on eBay is selling a pair of Gary Coleman's pants, autographed by the former star of Diff'rent Strokes and gubernatorial candidate. The other night on his show, Jimmy Kimmel put in a bid and warned viewers, "Don't try to outbid me on this." Well, of course, people are trying. The other day when I checked, the top bid was up to something like a million and a half dollars with many folks bidding six and seven figure amounts. I immediately thought, "Hmm...I may be wrong but I have a hunch some of these aren't legitimate bids."

"eBay has since cancelled out all the six and seven figure bids, labelling them as "bogus bids." But the auction is still on and as I write this, the top bid is $33,433.33 ..."

Think of all the people, charities who could use the money. Hell, Coleman could probably use the dough.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Last night my post included references to the sf magazine Planet Stories. If you want to take a look at some of those great gaudy covers, Bill Crider has posted a gallery of them on his most excellent website.

With horny vampires still in fashion I should mention an erotic vampire novel I usually read once a year because it's so sleek, dark, witty and truly erotic. I'm talking about Ray Garton's Live Girls. Its structure is so cunning it intimidates me. I just wish I could make a book cook the way Ray does. I'm pretty sure it's still in print from Leisure. If you've never read it, pick it up right away.

I didn't really pay much attenton to the Cassie Edwards plagiarism controversy until the NY Times piece this morning. Edwards, a bestselling romance writer, is alleged to have cribbed lines, sentences and more from works of fiction and non-fiction alike. The fiction I understand. The non-fiction I don't. One of her defenses is that she tried to credit sources but that she didn't for reasons I don't understand. I've tried to credit sources in my westerns on occasion and been told that they weren't approriate. The article insists that romance writers frequently credit sources. This makes me nervous, not cribbing the fiction but making sure that I sufficiently change factual material I learn on websites and in books. I rewrite everything but maybe not enough.

This Sunday's NY Times magazine has a long, fascinating article about the singer Shelby Lynne. I wasn't aware of her until a few years ago when one of her concerts was shown on (probably) Ovation. She started out in country but soon tired of the formulas. Except for a massive critical hit five years ago, she's had at best a ragged career. She's never really had a hit record. She's now teamed with producer Phil Ramone to record an album of Dusty Springfield covers. Entertainment Weekly has posted the Dionne Warwick-Springfield "Anyone Who Had a Heart" on line. I don't know what to call except a jazz interpretation. I like it a lot.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Leigh Brackett

In a recent issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine Robert Silverberg wrote a smart piece about growing up in the Fifties with your bedroom packed full of science fiction magazines. Easy to turn such a memoir into treacle but with only a tad of sentimentality Silverberg explained how those magazines influenced us and how, in turn, the writers, editors and readers of that time went on to infuence other generations to come.

I started reading sf magazines when I was eleven. I preferred the action-oriented titles, the most famous (or notorious, take your pick) was the great grand Planet Stories. While it published Ray Bradbury (some of his best work in fact) very early Philip K. Dick, most of the magazine was give over to splashy adventure featuring sweaty white heroes fighting sweatier green aliens for the right to despoil the inviolate white heroine.

My favorite in Planet Stories was Leigh Brackett. Her characters were hard-boiled (she collaborated with William Faulkner on the screenplay for The Big Sleep) and her universe painted in the same colors and textures as her idols, among them Edgar Rice Burroughs. She created a mythic Mars of vast deserts and cut-throat tribes and ancient terrors an earthman could never quite comprehend. Her people lived by one rule: trust no one.

Haffner Press has now published volume two in its series of Brackett stories: Lorelei of the Red Mist: Planetary Romances. The huge volume is packed with some of Brackett's best space opera, especially the Jewel of Bas, The Lake of the Gone Forever and The Dancing Girl of Ganymede. Ray Badbury writes a fond remembrance of Brackett, who was one of his most important teachers (one of their collaborations is in the book) and Harry Turtledove makes a strong case for Brackett being one of the truly great pulp writers. And there are some evocative illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas from the original appearrance of te title novelette.

Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, the first volume, demonstrates how quickly she was learning and how unique her approach to adventure fiction was becoming. Michael Moorcock delivers a long and exceptionally fine overview of Bracketts career.

There is even more Brackett in Stark and The Star Kings. Here Brackett's Eric John Stark joins her husband Edmond Hamilton's The Star Kings in the only tale to feature them both. This book is packed with two full-length novels by Hamilton as well as three novelettes by Brackett. John Jakes provides a knowing and entertaining introduction.

A word about the production qualities of the books. They're among the best made and most handsomely illustrated of all the collectibles I've ever seen. These are masterpieces in every way.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Just when you thought publishing couldn't get any stranger...

Galleycat (via e Fine Books & Collections blog) today carries the story of Scribners publishing taking a new look at the ARC s(galleys) it sends out to reviewers:

...the parent company Simon & Schuster "reserves the right to cancel the loan and recall possession of the proof at any time."
The assumption being that galleys are "loaned" for promotional purposes.

"Scribner didn't say on the outside of the package—which was left on our doorstep by the delivery company—that accepting the package bound us to these terms. They didn't provide a way for us to return the book at Scribner's expense. In short, they are attempting to saddle us with a book we don't want and are hinting that legal action might follow if we dispose of it or sell it."

As the blog goes on to note, many ARCs tend to be sent to reviewers unsolicited, and that makes them gifts in the eyes of federal law, gifts which the recipient "has the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender." So let's put it to the lawyers in the readership: Is Scribner's effort to prevent the sale of ARCs on the used-book market by binding recipients to its imposed terms legal?

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I spent a good share of last night reading Hard Case Crime's snappy edition of A Touch of Death by Charles Williams and I'll say what I've said before about this book. It likely has more plot turns than just about any suspense novel I can ever recall reading.

One of Charles Williams' amoral failed men narrate. He was briefly a football star. Now he's a busted real estate agent. No wonder he gets interested, after initial reluctance, in stealing an one hundred twenty thousand dollars that a bank president took from his own bank. The woman who convinces him to help her makes it sound simple. It's probably in this mansion. All you have to do is get in there and find it. The bank president's wife won't be home for two days. You'll have plenty of time.

Right. Well, we know better than that, don't we? Yes, he gets in but he finds he's not alone. The woman is there, beautiful beyond description, and drunk beyond belief. But so is a killer. After saving her life, failed star takes her to a cabin in the woods where he plans to persuade her to tell him where the money is.

That's the beginning. Everybody in this book is a professional liar. And the bank president's wife is the most fatale of femmes. She lies on virtually every page and occasionally almost gets them killed. That she knows where the money is is obvious. That she killed her husband is also obvious. But who is trying to kill her and why?

While Touch isn't as rich in characterization as most Williams its story is so daazling it doesn't matter for once. More evidence that a good share of his work should be returned to print.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Magazines; Val Lewton


Andy Cox is one of the most talented editor-publishers working today. His second issue of Black Static is rich with dark fiction as well as articles about writers and writing. With stories by such fine writers as Lisa Tuttle & Steven Utley in collaboration; Christopher Fowler, Scott Nicholson and Steve Rasnic Tem (and many others), Andy has created a type of magazine uniquely his own. The excellent layout and design enhances the material. This is a must-read for those who like their fiction contemporary and uncensored. TTAPRESS.COM

Cinema Retro #10 is packed with a wide assortment of goodies in both prose and photographs. CR bills itself as "The Essential Guide To Movies of the 60s and 70s" and so it is. But it's not just a nostalgia trip. The articles show how we got here today from back there. Interesting takes on Elke Sommer, Doris Day, Hammer Films, Richard Johnson (the actor who turned down the Bond job originally) and Sam Peckinpah--to mention just a few. My favorite is a retro review of "I'll Never Forget What's His Name," a British film about advertising agencies and treachery in Mod UK. Great issue.

From our friend Toss Mason on Rara-Avis today:
As the TCM website puts it:

Martin Scorsese presents [and produces and narrates] VAL LEWTON: THE
MAN IN THE SHADOWS, which is being
produced for TCM by Scorsese's Sikelia Productions, with Kent Jones
writing and directing.

The following is the schedule for the Jan. 14-15 premiere and
of Lewton classics (all times Eastern):

8 p.m. Martin Scorsese Presents: VAL LEWTON - THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS

9:30 p.m. Cat People (1942) - starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith and

10:45 p.m. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) - starring Frances Dee and

Midnight Martin Scorsese Presents: VAL LEWTON - THE MAN IN THE

1:30 a.m. The Leopard Man (1943) - starring Dennis O'Keefe and
Margot [based on Cornell Woolrich's novel BLACK ALIBI]

2:45 a.m. The Seventh Victim (1943) - starring Kim Hunter, Tom Conway
and Hugh Beaumont.

4 a.m. The Curse of the Cat People (1944) - starring Simone Simon and
Kent Smith.

5:15 a.m. The Body Snatcher (1945) - starring Boris Karloff, Bela
and Henry Daniell.

6:30 a.m. Isle of the Dead (1945) - starring Boris Karloff, Ellen
and Marc Cramer.

7:45 a.m. Bedlam (1946) - starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee and Ian

***The TCM website uncleverly fails to note that this will be
immediately followed by:

9:15 a..m. Martin Scorsese Presents: VAL LEWTON - THE MAN IN THE

10:45 am Youth Runs Wild

12p Madamemoiselle Fifi

--and since they for some reason decided to drop one of the
horror/suspense films from the unit's work, they've wisely chosen THE
GHOST SHIP to drop. The last two titles are the other two films the
Unit made, the spy drama MADAMEMOISELLE FIFI and wartime j.d. drama
YOUTH RUNS WILD, unlike THE GHOST SHIP missing from the recentish DVD
box set.

Todd Mason


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Executioners

I usually read a John D. novel every month or so. There are eight or nine I never get tired of simply because they're so well done.

Last night I picked up The Executioners (Cape Fear) for bedtime reading and read to page 102 before turning out the light. Yes, there's cutesy-poo dialogue but mostly in first half of the first act. But except for that this is a virtually perfect suspense novel. MacDonald wisely hews to the Hitchcock rule--suspense comes from knowing that the bomb is under the chair. MacDonald plants the bomb in the first chapter and they slowly lets the wick burn lower and lower. Several lesser incidents anticipating the final explosion.

Cady isn't Robert Mitchum's Cady but he could be his cousin. The scene where the family buries the dog Cady kills is as fresh and moving as it was the first time I read it. The wife is a tough woman, not the Polly Bergen version. And protagonist Sam, while not a typical MacDonald tough guy, is not the cipher he seems to be in the movie. JDM gives him real depth here.

As for being slow...I suppose it is. And for good reason. In those days one of the marks of a serious writer was the ability to make part of the narrative a portrait of the milieu where the story is taking place. Last week I mentioned how well Lawrence Block did this in A Diet of Treacle. MacDonald does it well here, too. We get to know the sociology of the time and place almost as well as we get to know the people. I'm sure this is a matter of age--I like this kind of writing.

The Executioners would be written very differently today. It would be angrier, bloodier, more brutal in terms of Cady's psychology (Mitchum got it exactly). But for me The Executioners bears re-reading because it's one of the best stories told by one of the best storytellers of my time on the planet.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Val Lewton

A week from tomorrow night TCM will air the original Martin Scorcese docu bio of Val Lewton. This should be of interest to most genre writers and readers. But it should be especially interesting to those of us who like hardboiled and noir. Certain kinds of horror incorporate noir atmosphere and tropes. Most of Lewton's nine most famous horror movies demonstrate this clearly, most especially (for me anyway) The Seventh Victim and The Leopard Man.

I was reminded of all this today because of a post of Todd Mason's on Rara-Avis. Speaking of Fritz Leiber he says: "His very important early story "Smoke Ghost," (is) as noir as you could possibly want."

True. A number of Weird Tales writers were able to work in hardboiled because the turf was similar. The darkness that only some of us can see. The Leiber story is a masterpiece and one of the most memorable stories I've ever read. It dramatizes and explains the modern world more elegantly and terrifyingly than anything I've read. Not bad for five thousand words.

Give the Lewton bio a look. I tend to agree with David Thomson that when people say Lewton should have been given more expensive films to make they're missing the point. This type of material was his passion. He wasn't a song and dance man nor a Big Theme guy. He was what he was and what he was was a damned good B film maker.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


On his blog tonight Bill Crider reviews John D. MacDonald's Where is Janice Gantry, a Gold Medal from the early Sixties. I've always remembered it for its strong, evocative opening. And the story holds up throughout. Bill offers his usual incisive criticism and makes a point we've both discussed before. Here's Bill:

"MacDonald has his flaws, the irritating male/female dialog exchanges chief among them, but when it came to getting down the details of his time (he seemed to know everything about everything) and creating memorable characters, situations, and stories, he was hard to beat. I know some younger readers find him slow. I can't imagine that, but maybe the attention to detail, character, and description has something to do with it. Times and tastes (not mine) have changed."

Awhile back I did a signing at a mystery store. I happened to be sitting in front of a shelf of John D paperbacks and so when readers and I began bandying writer names back and forth it was logical I'd bring him up. Those over forty-five were big fans of JDM. The under forty-fives seemed to find him slow. Too much description and psychology.

I held my temper in check (though I did later take an ice pick to several tires)-- Kidding. I wanted to know who the younger people were reading. And to quote Gomer Pyle surprise surprise--they were reading younger writers. They liked stripped down, they liked larger than life, they liked thrill upon thrill. Some of the "new" writers are already middle aged. But they don't write like it.

There's a new generation just as there'll always be a new generation. And while all of us read back and forth across the decades, there's definitely a new style, a new voice, a new take on the kind of hardboiled crime fiction Bill and I grew up reading.

No right or wong here. Just many gifted new writers showing us duffers some new dance steps.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Bill Crider's running a review of Tom Piccirilli's forthcoming Bantam novel The Cold Spot. I like it as much as he does.

In broadstroke it's sort of a Dickensian hardboiled crime novel. Chase's family is gone early on and he's raised by his crooked grandfather. Like all upwardly mobile kids who think their grandads are cool guys, Chase becomes a getaway driver. But soon enough he takes to the straight life, the world of stickups and guns taking its toll. He marries, becomes a teacher (he teaches auto mechanics, a nice wry touch for a former getaway driver), and things are looking good until he gets dragged back into his former life, meeting up again with his diffident, complex grandfather.

I said this was Dickensian because it has the feel of the way Dickens used family relationships strained by a violent world (as London was and is in some parts).

For all the violence and hardboiled attitude, The Cold Spot has great heart. Is also has a breakneck plot and a number of fascinating relatoinships. The ending anticipates a sequel. I can't wait to read it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

MY long national nightmare is over

Yes, in five hours, it'll all be over. The pols'll leave Ioway. I'm not fond of the way we do business out here. The caucus is mostly an abberation left over from the 1972 Dem convention when everybody was smoking way too much dope.

Carol's going to caucus tonight. I'm sitting home. I have a two-three hour window with the oral chemo I take every day. Then I go into a severe vegatative state. Not only would I be unable to throw punches; I'd be unable to ward them off.

As sinister as Huckabee is (anybody who believes in Creationism is dangerous to me because if they'll buy that they'll buy any kind of myth/prejudice/hooey) he got the best joke of the whole shebang. In a refrence to Ken Doll Romney he said, "People want a president who looks like the guy who they work with. Not like the guy who laid them off."

I'd vote for Biden or Dodd. I know they won't change things but then I don't think Hillary will either. She's mobbed up with most of the big lobbyists. And to me Obama is more of a beauty contestant than a serious candidate. Except for his ill-fated health plan (something he and Hill the Pill have in common) I've never hard him offer anything except embarrassing platitudes.

Biden and Dodd are mobbed up too but they're smart and they'd place steady hands on the tiller. And maybe best of all they wouldn't inflict Bill Clinton on us again.

I swear to God that guy's going to end up doing a lounge act in Vegas. There just isn't enough applause in th entire universe to satisfy him.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Old Times' Sake

Jacket design by Gavin L. O'Keefe
Ed here: I was pleased when James Reasoner asked me to write the introduction to his collection of short stories OLD TIMES' SAKE. Ramble House is the publisher (and a fine publisher at that) so check out the book and the website. This is a serious collection of first-rate fiction. Parts of my introduction are quoted below.

James Reasoner

James Reasoner, author of more than 200 novels, presents 17 short stories, most of which were published in the MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY Magazine in the 70s and 80s. Now collected for the first time, they show you why he's the master story-teller he is and why those in the know, like Ed Gorman, have so many good things to say about him. For instance:

James is an artist, not just a writer. Hemingway called it “angle of vision,” the way one sees the world. James Reasoner puts his stamp on everything he writes. His work can be funny, violent, sad, even whimsical at times but it doesn’t matter because the craft and the art are always informed by the wisdom of the man telling the stories.
Any man who wrote both Texas Wind and Dust Devils is obviously a major crime fiction novelist. As this collection will convince, he’s also a major crime fiction short story writer as well.
Ed Gorman

Buy Trade Paperback from Lulu $18

Buy Hardcover from Lulu $28

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block Hard Case Crime

Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties paperback original novels about the Beat generation appeared regularly. Sex, drugs, jazz, weirdness. Today few of them bear rereading. Certainly Vin Packer's take on the subject holds up very well but some of the bigger names who took a tour through Kerouac-land ended up looking and sounding silly. They were writing tour guides without having ever been there.

A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block on the other hand has the feel of first-hand observation. Set in Greenwich Village in 1960, peopled by faux-beat losers of various kind and a cop out of Malcom Braly, the drug scene, the crime scene and the scene of hardscrabble drifting life in the big bad city crackles with authenticity.

There are three prime players. Joe is a cipher of sort, not a good guy or a bad guy, one of those people who just sort of take up space. His friend Shank, an angry street hustler, suports them both by selling pot. The third person, and by far the most interesting, is Anita, a young, attractive woman engaged to a square engineer while still living under the auspices of an overly pious grandmother.

When the main heroin dealer in the area is busted, Shank decides to quit selling pot and go into the junk business, at first unbeknownest to Anita and Joe, with whom he is sharing a shabby little apartment.

The transformation of Anita from the good girl to the lover of a drifter like Joe to somebdy inadvertently involved in murder is what gives the book its power. Block is too good a writer to try to explain away her changes with melodramatic motivatons. She remains somewhat mysterious throughout the book, both to the reader and to herself. At one point, even though she considers marrying Joe, she wonders if she even loves him. At another, she begins to feel oppressed by his lifestyle of hanging out in beat dives (Block has a beat poet read a "poem" that manages to be both short and interminable) and letting Shank dicate much of his life.

Block is always good with his female characters and Anita, sweet, warm, confused, ultimately as adrift as Joe himself, is a fine, endearing creation.

The party scenes are spot on. Cheap wine, portentuous and pretentious conversations, sex sex sex and unending tributes to the powers of pot. Everybody yakking so much about how good pot makes them feel it starts sounding like a revival meeting with hemp substituting for God. Very wittily observed.

The plot kicks in full tilt in the the third act and it's breathtaking. The hard ass cop, whom we meet early on, reappears and what had been minor cat-and-mouse becomes explosive confrontation.

Of all the hardboiled writers working today, Block for me remains the most believable in dealing with crime and criminals. He's able to write about them and their milieu without tricking them up or romaniticising them. And, as he demonstrates here, he was doing it as far back as 1961.