Friday, August 31, 2007


Last night I mentioned the sadness you always saw in Richard Jewell's face. Today was a chemo day. I decided to reread my favorite Agatha Christie The Body in The Library. I know, I know--Agatha Christie. Well, if she was good enough for Raymond Chandler she's good enough for Ed Gorman of Cedar Rapids.

I brought two Christies actually, giving one to the seventy-three year old woman I always spend a little time with on chemo days. She's had three kinds of cancer in ten years and is still receiving chemo. She started reading mysteries because I brought her some. Now she's a Christie fan.

What's remarkable about her is that she radiates humor, wisdom, patience and great good cheer. Her face is the opposite of Jewell's. You see the beautiful things in her life in her smile--her children and grandchildren, her love of horses, her fondness for the movies of the Thirties on Turner Classic, the ranch she lived on for her first twenty years. And yes, her five year stint as a runway model in Chicago. And nary a discouraging word.

We should all be as tough and wise.


There's a great interview with Bob Randisi on Saddlebums currently. Well worth your time to read about the life and times of this remarkable writer.

And speaking of Bob, he reminded me that in the bio for my new novel (now out--Amazon awaits) Fools Rush In there appears under my photo the phrase "The beloved author of." I'm NOT beloved. Nobody beloves me. I don't WANT to be beloved. I've hired a private eye to find out who wrote it. And once we identify the varmit, and once my lawyer gets out of prison, it's lawsuit time baby!


Ran across an interesting comment by Louis L'Amour. He said that while the convention was to think of the frontier west as unhealthy and back East a paradigm of well-being, cities were actually much unhealthier than the outdoors. And from my limited knowledge (researching Chicago and New York in the 1860s) he was right. All you need to prove it is to read the hospital stats of the time. You were often healthier to stay out of the hospital than in it, even if your malady was life thratening.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm always amazed at who blurbs what. Genre writers for example occasionally attract a nice review from a well-known literary writer. And a movie star will put his or her name on a novel occasionally. But nothing prepared me for picking up a battered old paperback by old-time pulp writer Frank Belknap Long and find it blurbed by...Eudora Welty! G'Amighty. You have to wonder how that came about.


I'm beginning to feel sorry for Senator Craig. As I've said before I don't have the stomach for seeing some people publicly shamed and humiliated. Yes he was a hypocrite and yes there's a certain pleasure in seeing a would-be homphobe brought down this way. But I think of his family...there's no fun it for me. Hell I even felt sorry for Dick Nixon when he resigned (or at Eisenhower allegedly said when an aide suggested Nixon as his running mate: "Nick Dixon? Who the hell is that?") When he started talking to his dead parents there on the dais as he gave his resignation speech...I had tears rolling down my cheeks. As my cousin said, "The prick won't even let you hate him right." This sympathy doesn't extend to any of the the Bushies. No tears for Craig, either. But I do think it's amazing that the GOP blocked congressional investigations into Mark Foley and Tom DeLay (!) and went after Craig immediately.


While Craig actually plead guilty, Richard Jewell was condemned even though he hadn't done anything at all...

Buried in all the Craig news coverage was the fact that a true victim died. Richard Jewell struck me as one of the saddest and most forlorn of God's creatures. Most of us have known Richard Jewells in our lives and in my case the two or three I knew were good people. It just never went together for them somehow. You couldn't look at that face of Jewell's without knowing how lucky you'd been in your life--and how unlucky his lot had been. So long, Richard.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Joe L. Hensley


Bill Crider's blog carries the mention, and a link back to the
Ellison discussion website.

- Monday, August 27 2007 9:18:47


At 9 AM exactly, this morning, the 27th of August, my phone rang; and
it was Tom, the younger brother of my friend of more than 50 years,
the most excellent sf and mystery writer,


a staunch, talented friend I could not have loved more were he my
brother. Joe died in the night. Last night.

Please spread the word. I am in fear that such mass amnesia as exists
in the country, in the genre, in the massmind, that few will know his
name. He needs to be remembered. Yet when I called LOCUS to report
his passing, the (very polite) young woman who answered, who took the
news, may not have recognized it, nor be aware of Joe's significant
credits. I'm not sure; but I cannot leave this to chance. So, please,
if you can: let everyone know that big, charming, wonderful Joe
Hensley is no longer coming out to play with us.

Very sad, Harlan

Ed here: I first met Joe Hensley in 1961 when Roger Ebert, Vic Ryan and I bummed a ride from Wilson Bob Tucker to the Midwestcon in Cincinatti. It was a small group of maybe a hundred or so with lots of pros and even an editor or two. A heady moment for a Cedar Rapids kid.

One of the pros I talked longest with was Joe Hensley. I'd read his science fiction stories in Planet and other magazines of the time and I was a big fan of pieces in the fanzine Yandro. Plus his Ace novel The Color of Hate was one of my favorite books of the time. (And it holds up damned well today.) I was amazed that he treated me not like a dumb fan but an actual human worth talking to.

I always remembered that and in the late 70s, when I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed his latest crime novel Rivertown Risk, we started writing back and forth and talking about when I was going to try something a bit more difficult than short stories for downmarket men's magazines.

When Bob Randisi and I started Mystery Scene in 84 I made sure that we covered all of Joe's books and that he had a forum whenever he chose to use it. Even though few seemed to realize it, Joe was one of the best crime writers of his generation. This journalist-turned lawyer-turned judge knew what he was talking about, especially when it came to the kind of governmenalt corruption so prevelant today.

If you read through a shelf of his Roback novels you'll find a sense of the Midwest that evokes Sherwood Anderson, all the sad little secrets and sorrows of flyover country rendered in pitch perfect writing. These novels need to be read.

We usually spoke three or four times a year, long, looping coversations about the old days when science fiction had meant something to us, and the new days when crime fiction fixed our attention. Some of our last conversations concerned some of the people of our old Yandro days who'd passed on. And then Joe's wife died. Several times he talked about her final years and what he'd done for her and what she'd meant to him.

I'm not being merely sentimental when I say it's dfficult to imagine a more decent, honest, honorable man than Joe Hensley. He was a big man in all respects, gentle and wise and true.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Fugitive

The first season of The Fugitive is now availavle on DVD at a very reasonable price. I've watched the first three episodes, enough to conclude that, for me anyway, I'm correct--The Fugitive is the best suspense series ever to shine on the screen in your living room.

Concept, writing, acting flawless. I can't recall ever seeing an actor use his limitations to such great benefit as David Janssen does here. The facial tics, the dour delivery, the angled head that suggests weariness, there's a mini-novel in every frame.

This is Roy Huggins' triumph. In an old Mystery Scene he spoke about the trouble he had convincing the networks to buy it. He said they were particularly derisive in turning it down. A man on the run? Maybe you could make him a cowboy, Roy.

The script structure provides the viewer with textbook examples of how to create and sustain suspense. He's always in trouble wherever he stops temporarily--somebody makes a point of finding out who he is. And then they inform Barry Morse whose one-note portrayl of a wolfhound cop is impeccable.

This is a real gem. And again, it's priced far less than most full season DVDs.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Entourage; Flight of The Conchords

Maybe I'm just all Entouraged out. Or to quote George Costanza, "It's not you, it's me." You know how you sometimes just lose interest in a book or a movie or even a person? Maybe that's happened to me with Entourage.

I say all this to be as fair as possible about last night's script. It struck me as strained and dead at its center. They gave Ari another gimmick through which to show his humanity. This time the "problem" was taking his wife to Cannes. In retaliation she goes shopping. And then he relents in Good Guy fashion. Not even E was interesting. And Walsh for all his drama and darkness is actually a pretty dorky dude. Now they're off to Cannes in a variation on stunt casting. I dunno. I'm afraid that one of my favorite shows is played out.

On the other hand, I thought Flight of The Conchords was funny all the way through. The birthday song to the boys' manager was hilarious. In wanting to praise him and make him feel better they managed to cite every disapppointment and disaster in sad and luckless life. And the idea of hiring a "semi-professional" actor to call him pretending to be a big record executive was brilliant. A near miss after all those years of flat out rejection should have been a triumph. Unfortunately, the semi-professional actor gets carried away when the manager begins to cry and beg (lterally) for a contract. The semi-professional actor then actually offers him a pretend contract. I won't spoil the rest for you. Absolutely terrific writing with the two slugs rising to the occasion. (Hell would be trying to promote these two.)

It was good enough that I'll probably watch it again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Harry Whittington's A Night for Screaming

(A reader asked me to run my "Harry Whittington piece" again because he can't locate it anywhere. I'm sure I've written about Harry several times but the only one I can find on the internet is this.)

Back in the 1950s you could run but you couldn’t hide from Harry Whittington. Those were the days when many if not most paperbacks were sold in wire racks found in drug stores, grocery stores and what were then called dime stores.

Harry told me that he’d once seen five books of his displayed on the same rack, all published that month. He worked for everybody, from Gold Medal all the way down to Carnival. He did westerns, nurse romances, tie-ins, war stories and of course crime novels. The last was his true calling. There there was no sub-genre of suspense/mystery he didn’t like. Or apply himself to.

I mention Harry because Stark House Publishing has published two of his best in a single attractive volume, A Night for Screaming and Any Woman He Wanted. I should also mention here that I’m a free-lance editor for Stark House, though I’d be reviewing this two-fer with the same enthusiasm even if I weren’t.

Harry’s world was not one of ratiocination. There wasn’t time for that. Most of his white working class protagonists were on the run from cosmic forces that would have given Lovecraft pause. In Night, for instance, the villain is so oppressive you seriously begin to wonder if the protagonist will survive. Seriously. The setting is one of those labor camps where drifters and small-time cons are forced to toil for the local politicians who make money on them. If the characterizations are less subtle than COOL HAND LUKE, the violence is every bit as painful. There are two scenes that literally made me wince. Harry knew the Deep Dark South all too well.

Any Woman is a working class nightmare of a different kind. A once crooked cop stumbles on to a situation even he doesn’t want to cover up and joins his former enemy the DA in trying to right it. But the DA dies mysteriously and the cop is forced to go after the mob that runs the town by himself. Although this is a familiar 50s theme (the crooked town), Harry throws in a complication that makes the story personal and harsh. Harry always said that he knew how to do two things – plot and create characters. And this book proves that wasn’t any empty boast.

Here’s the Stark House website: Publisher Greg Shepard is bringing back the favorites of the 50s including Malcolm Braly, Gil Brewer, Stephen Marlowe, Day Keene, Vin Packer, Doug Sanderson and now Harry Whittington. He needs your support and I feel he deserves it, which is why I’m lending a hand. As I mentioned on my blog the other day, I recently paid $15 for a paperback from ABE. Well, I just got it today. It’s yellowed and the spine cracked when I opened it. Stark House sells two-fers (two books per volume) in handsome, sturdy editions for $19.95 that will last much longer than most pbs. I have no financial stake in this, I merely want to see the line thrive. Check out the website.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Brown Meggs; Gorman; bumper sticker


It was a pleasant surprise to stumble across your blog post in April of
this year regarding Saturday Games by Brown Meggs. I also enjoyed the
subsequent blog post from "Bob."

I was doing a little web surfing and I Yahoo'd Brown's name. I am
married to Brown's niece. Her name is Lisa Meade and her mother is
Brown's younger sister. Brown walked Lisa down the aisle and gave her
away at our wedding.

A great guy with a very sharp, dry wit. It took me a short while to
get a read on him as he could be very intimidating at first. Once I
got to know him and we both opened up to each other, I discovered he
was a prince of a man.

You would never know that he had such a storied and stellar career he
had from talking to him. He was a modest man, but his intelligence and
his education stood out from the second I met him. You are correct
when you say his passion was classical music. When Lisa and I were
helping Brown's son, Brook, with Brown's belongings I was impressed by
the size of his classical music CD collection. He was also very adept
at playing the French Horn.

Thank you for your retro review of Saturday Games as it brought back
fond memories of Brown.


Paul Tonelli

Lamont & Tonelli Morning Show
107.7 The Bone / KSAN-FM
San Francisco
650-207-6739 cell

Ed here: Some of you may remember my post on Brown Meggs' Saturday Games. It's one of the slickest suspense novels I've ever read. Meggs could really write and his take on the era of the Me Generation always reminded me of Phil Kauffman's remake of The Invasion of The Body Snatchers. Very nice work.

Dean Brierly of Cinema Retro interviewed me for that fine website. He posted it last night.


Our good friend Mary sent me the following this evening: "Driving home from Mystery Cat, I saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that read: "No matter how handsome he is, someone is sick of his shit."

That could also be a good song title for some of the tougher women of country western music.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What the Deadmen Say

2Blowhards is a website that deals with everything from the fine arts to architecture to evolutionary biology. The tone is
accessible and enjoyable even when discussing subjects as arcane (to me) as quantam physics. Occasionally Michael there writes about popular culture. Last night's entry dealt partly with me. I'm including it here because I have some extra copies of the book he reviews available for $11. 3601 Skylark Lane SE, Cedar Rapids, Iow 52403. This'll be a trade pb. I'm also including it because I think it's representative of the fine work you'll find on this website.


It seems to me that an assumption many sophisticated American fiction readers make is that narrative fiction -- ie., fiction whose energies are mostly invested in the creation and "selling" of characters, situations, and storylines -- is, when you come right down to it, for kids.

Stories are felt to be like Sugar Pops or Frosted Flakes -- supereasy, overbright, fizzy-poppy. Adults are supposed to have graduated to something more complex and substantial -- with complexity and substance understood to imply "literary fiction," ie., fiction whose energies are mainly invested in fashionable themes; fancy language; and writerly, linguistic, conceptual, and structural games.

Oh, realistically speaking, we all know that many educated adults enjoy spending occasional time with a thriller or a mystery novel -- but we agree to call that mere recreational reading. "Real reading," as we all know, is a more challenging, if not an actual slogging, kind of pursuit.

I think I know where this assumption comes from: from our English-lit educations. And I think I know how it's reinforced: through colleges, foundations, and virtually all the respectable bookchat outlets. Needless to say, I think this assumption is wrong, wrong, 100% wrong. I also think that it does a disservice to readers, to writers, to literature, and to pleasure more generally. I lay out most of my reasons and my evidence for this position in a series of postings about the New York Times Book Review Section and the way it shuns popular fiction: here, here, here, here, and here.

Lit-fict people who are curious about popular fiction will sometimes give it a try -- and good for them, of course. Typically, though, they don't make it very far. Flying without a map, they tend to sample titles from the bestseller lists. And, unsurprisingly, they often find that these books are every bit as bad as the enforcers of Lit-Fict Correctness say they are. Disappointed, our adventurers return to the lit-fict fold, resigned to the apparent fact that contemporary narrative fiction is written only for in-transit businesspeople.

It's really remarkable how many lit-fict people, even the open-minded among them, are convinced that contempo book-fiction divides up into only two camps: lit-fict, and top-ten bestsellers (and wannabes). If that were the case, I'd probably be a lit-fict addict myself. Happily, it's anything but the case. As with movies and music, there are plenty of gifted people out there creating first-class work in popular and accessible forms. You just have to know where and how to find it.

Hey, in the last couple of weeks I've turned up a couple of narrative book-fiction gems myself.

Ed Gorman's "What The Dead Men Say." I've long relished Ed Gorman's work as a short story writer and an anthologist; the man has done more for the cause of short fiction and miscellanies (two forms I adore) than anyone else I know of. More recently I've been a fan of his blog. But -- to my shame -- this 1990 western was the first novel of his that I've read. I'm pleased to report that I found it a knockout. From one point of view, it's merely a lean and trim genre piece. From another, it's remarkable: tough and direct, yet complex and shocking too.
Gorman doesn't violate the Western genre; he doesn't attempt to "do something with it" in the lit-fict sense either. Instead, he applies his brains and gifts to bringing the classic form and the classic elements of the form to bristling life. In other words, the novel is a morality-tale / chessgame involving archetypal characters and situations: the tenderfoot, the sherrif, the showdown, the hooker. His themes are classic too: the relationships between revenge and justice, the unpredictable yet inevitable unspooling of fate, manliness and authority.

As sonnet form seems like anything but a hindrance when it's in the hands of a fluent sonnet-writer, the Western in Gorman's hands seems like an amazingly expressive vehicle. As a piece of construction and writing, the book is terse yet canny, punctuated by rare but effective -- ie., shrewdly-judged -- verbal bursts. Gorman moves the point of view around in unshowy ways that always deepen and heighten, and he keeps injecting little psychological surprises that bump the story's tension level up a notch. The characters may be archetypes, but that doesn't keep them from bursting with persuasive and engaging life.

Gorman also provides enough earthy atmosphere, tang, and wonder for three books. Though its boots may be firmly planted in the muck, this novel makes a few quick visits to the stars. If you were ever curious about what a frontier town smelled like, you'll know by the end of "What The Dead Men Say." Though his characters are anything but thinkers, Gorman's empathy and imagination jogged my brain into contemplation of a surprising number of Larger Questions.

This blunt and methodical book about innocence, justice, and what it means to become a man delivers a real kick, as well as a generous helping of moral complexity and warm-blooded humanity. In its directness, and in its bleak yet charged impact, it reminded me of the renowned literary short stories of Raymond Carver. Me, I like Gorman's work better than Carver's. How great it is to be able to enjoy all that truth and observational juice plus a real story too.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Winter of Frankie Machine

From Hollywood Elsewhere by Jeffery Wells:

If this story about Martin Scorsese abandoning plans to direct Frankie Machine turns out to be true, my heart will survive the disappointment. The Paramount project, based on Don Winslow's "The Winter of Frankie Machine," is about an aging hit man (to have been played by Robert De Niro) who's hounded out of a respectable retirement as the target of a hit himself.

As I wrote last June 22nd, "I really can't stand the idea of watching another movie about another hit man. I'm hit-manned out, although this one sounds more like a meditation on old age and the end of the road. The real problem is that De Niro is looking way too bulky and roly-poly these days. It's good that Scorsese will be doing another mob movie, but he needs to summon the courage to tell De Niro that he's over the hill and has lost his mojo. He's eaten too many plates of rich food and gotten too soft and jowly....he looks like an old Russian wheat farmer."

I agree with Wells about one third of the time. And sometimes he really pisses me off, such as dumpng on Bob Clark's career within thirty-six hours of Clark's death. That said, Wells is a good writer and and interesting observer of the Hollywood scene.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I've always been interested in long careers in both the arts and show business. Many of the science fiction writers I grew up reading had careers that spanned many decades. Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett and of course Ray Bradbury. In mystery there was Hugh Pentecost, Richard Lockridge, Mignon Eberhardt and many others. The greatest kick is seeing character actors who worked in the early 1930s still working in the 1970s and 1980s. A few you see even in the 1990s.

What prompted this entry was reading Brian Garfield's long and fine interview over on Saddlebums (an excellent new site) Here's the final question and Brian's answer. I think he speaks for a lot of writers, actors, directors.

Q. What is the greatest satisfaction of your writing career? Is there anything else you still feel you need to accomplish?

A. Survival is the greatest satisfaction, especially when you find you still have a market after nearly 50 years in the business. I’ve changed a lot; so have the publishing business and the movie business; and we haven’t changed in the same ways, necessarily. So I’m very fortunate to be here, still kicking. The thing I feel I still would like to accomplish is to write a book that’s better than any of its sixty-odd predecessors. That may not be in the cards, but I’ll keep dealing anyway. Thanks for asking.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

in the name of humanity can't you stop???

Here's a post from that really fine site Cinema Retro about the latest version of The Body Snatchers. One more reason to look askance at remakes in general. As much as I like Kidman--she's a true beauty and a true actress--I have to reluctantly agree with the glum assessment of her career (below).

Posted by Cinema Retro in Movie News on Tuesday, August 21. 2007
We predicted that The Invasion, the new interpretation of the classic 1956 film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers would lay an egg at the boxoffice but even we didn't imagine to what extent. Since opening last Friday, the film has brought in a microscopic $2 million nationally. The Ziegfeld Theater in New York City probably grosses that in a week at their popcorn stand. The troubled production had incurred poor word of mouth and was shelved while last minute alterations were made. Much of what made the original story so chilling was dispensed with in favor of inserting run-of-the-mill cars chases and shoot-outs. The ad campaign also virtually buried the fact that this is Daniel Craig's first theatrical release since his sensational success as James Bond in Casino Royale. Although the film was shot before that 007 blockbuster and Craig only has a supporting role, one would have thought his new-found popularity would have been a major ingredient in the ad campaign. Instead, the trailers focused on Nicole Kidman as a gun-toting mom who protects her son by blasting her way through the crowds of pod people. The film just proves an unpleasant truth: whatever boxoffice clout Kidman once had is long gone. There is not a single female star who can be considered a major attraction at this time. Shame on Hollywood for serving the best actresses so poorly. No need to feel sorry for Nicole personally - dopey studio execs paid her a whopping $17 million to star in the film even though she hasn't had a hit since Paris Hilton was a vir

Monday, August 20, 2007

Judi Rohrig/JDM; HBO

From our friend Judi Rohrig:


From time to time readers will inquire as to the truth of the rumor that JDM
wrote a black McGee, to be published after the writer's death.

It makes for fascinating stories and theories and they do abound.

However, there is no truth involved. Both his widow, Dorothy, and his son,
Maynard, stated categorically that "There is no book or manuscript by John
which ends in Travis McGee's death.

We think John would have missed him as you would."

JDM himself said this many times. On one such occasion he replied:

"It would be really wicked so to do because of the people who haven't yet met
the gentleman.

"That would be a poor legacy to leave them."

Here's where the site is:


Ed here: I checked out the sight. Really fine.


For me last night's Entourage was the best episode of the season. Not a great show but a solid one. The big problem, as I've mentioned before, is that there are only two characters who seem capable of any real kind of growth or at least serious change. E & Ari. E has brains and a conscience. Despite the treacly attempt to make Ari more likable (which for me was a hammy failure), Ari is interesting enough and substantive enough to become the focus for the whole show. Last night Walsh the director slid a handgun under his chin and threatened to kill himself. I was seriously hoping he'd do it. I don't usually get all that involved with fictional characters but spending an hour or to bitch slapping Walsh with a lead baseball bat might be a way to get some good exercise. Johnny and Turtle remain one note and Vince isn't even one note, a total cipher. The end, I think, is near.

Flight of The Conchord was better for me the second time through than the first. The faux music videos were the wittiest elements of the episode. The agent strikes me as much funnier than the two musicians who again (not unlike Vince in Entourage) really don't have much personality. I know that most great comic characters are static and immutable in some respects and therefore asking for comic creations to change is probably wrongheaded on my part. But the operative word here is "great." Seinfeld went seven good and many times great seasons; The Honeymooners did thirty-nine near perfect half hours; and Mary Tyler Moore did five often brilliant seasons. Even The Honeymooners, mostly restricted to that sad little apartment, had enough comic and emotional latitude to hold our interest. The problem with Conchord dramatically is that I don't know where you can take it. It seems to be one of those hot house creations that will die of oxgyn starvation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crime & Mystery: The Best 100 Books

Here's a word I don't believe I've ever used in all my years of blogging: indisepensable. But that's the only word that can adequately describe H.R. F. Keating's Crime & Mystery: The Best 100 Books.

Not only is Keating an excellent novelist, his mini-essays beginning with Poe and ending with P.D. James offer a graduate level course in the history and import of the mystery novel. Keating doesn't offer us mere reviews of plots. In virtually every essay the book at hand connects to the author's career or life. And often he connects a given book to a trend or theme in mystery fiction overall. And he does so in prose so nimble and nuanced it's fun just reading the sentences for their sound and rhytm.

He manages to say brand new things about Chandler, Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner for the hardboiled; and enlightens the traditionalists as to the worth of such overlooked writers as Elizabeth Ferrars (whose novels in the Forties were especially fine) and Christianna Brand. He compares to John D. Macdonald to Charles Dickens in a fascinating way and his piece on the life and work of Chester Himes is so melancholy it's almost painful to read.

Even though the most recent book covered appered in 1986, I repeat that this book is indispenable for any serious understanding of the field of crime fiction.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Death Wish ll

Ed here: Very interesting Cinema Retro interview/piece by Paul Talbot on Death Wish ll. Given the enormous influence of the first two Death Wish pictures it

In 1981 star Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner reunited for Death Wish II, a follow-up to one of the highest grossing and most discussed films of 1974. In Death Wish II, vigilante Paul Kersey hits the streets to avenge the brutal rape and murder of his daughter (who had already been rendered comatose after an attack in the first film) and his Hispanic housekeeper. The sequel became not only another box-office hit, but the most-controversial film in the five-title series and the lone entry that alienates even the most diehard Bronson fans. Death Wish II owes most of its notoriety to two brutal and vicious rape scenes that were so grisly that they had to be extensively edited to achieve an R rating in the United States and were cut even further for England.

Although Death Wish II was shot twenty-five years ago, actresses Robin Sherwood and Silvana Gallardo, who played the assault victims, both have strong memories of appearing in the film. “I remember everything about Death Wish II,” Gallardo says with a laugh.

Robin Sherwood today

In the original Death Wish, the role of Kersey’s traumatized daughter, Carol, was played by Kathleen Tolan. But for the sequel, Winner chose Sherwood to play the mute girl. The actress and model’s prior movies included the horror flick Tourist Trap (1979) and Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981). “I went in through the traditional casting system,” Sherwood explains about her Death Wish II audition. “I was submitted by my agent. I then went to the casting director and he said, ‘I’d like you to meet Mr. Winner.’ We just talked about the concept of the role. It was all Michael Winner. Charlie [Bronson] wasn’t there and the producers weren’t there. I didn’t meet anyone else. [Winner] kept calling me back and calling me back, but he wasn’t saying that I had the part. So, I just flew off the handle at him and I said, ‘I don’t want this part,’ and I left and went to Miami Beach which is where I was from. I was sitting on the porch and I was crying, saying, ‘It’s over.’ I really wanted this part. I got a telephone call from the casting director and he said, ‘We want you to come back to New York. Mr. Winner has something to say to you.’ So I immediately got back on the plane and I was hoping and I was praying. [Winner and] the producers were there and they were all smiling when I walked in and they said, ‘Would you like the role of Charles Bronson’s daughter in Death Wish II?’ I said, ‘Yes, yes!’ [Laughs] I was so happy. It was really a very intense auditioning process. They were very close to shooting [when I was cast]. Pre-production was going on.”

for the rest go here

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bruno Fischer

Written by Gordon Hauptfleisch
Published August 16, 2007
Part of Pulp Pages: Hardboiled and Noir Fiction

“The streets were dark with something more than night.” - Raymond Chandler

When it came to the non-nonsense penny-a-word economy and resourcefulness of such prolific pulpsters as Bruno Fischer, a picture would often foretell a thousand words, reliably triggering a torrent fit to thrill for the infamous Weird Menace pulps’ ever-insatiable lust for page-turning melodrama and moral dilemma.

In a bit of assembly-line ass-backwardness coming into the publication picture, the noirish stories were sometimes written to go along with artwork already in-house. “The covers were supposed to illustrate a story,” Fischer explained in Lee Server’s reference Danger Is My Business. “However, the covers were sometimes printed in advance, before there was a story. So what the editor did was show me the cover or a drawing - it was usually a picture of a half-naked woman and someone stripping the rest of her clothes off her. And on that basis I wrote dozens of stories.”

A not inconsiderable quantity that turned out to be a fraction of Fischer’s creative output during his 1908-1995 lifetime, which saw him write over 300 stories — the nightmarish tenor of which may seen in such titles “School for Satan’s School Girls,” “Models for the Pain Sculpture,” and “White Flesh Must Rot” — for the so-called shudder-pulps such as Terror Tales and Sinister Stories, and also for the mags Mask and Manhunt. Also writing as Russell Gray and Harrison Storm, Fischer authored 25 novels, such as The Bleeding Scissors, Murder in the Raw, and The Lady Kills.

Ed here: Interesting piece over on blog critics about Bruno Fischer. The older I get the better he reads; his best stuff anyway. While he wasn't an original writer, nor in the first tier of the Gold Medal writers, his books work very well as solid suspense stories. And work even better as historical pieces about his time and, one assumes, his attitudes about his time.

I'm particularly taken with the Gold Medals published in the early Fifties when Fischer takes us through the New America, the country that awaited the soldiers on their return from war. He shared this fascination with his Gold Medal compatriots including John D. Macdonald and Charles Williams. If he wasn't as talented as those men he was at least as honest and observant about the pitfalls of housing developments and life lived on credit.

Yes, he did an enormous amount of shudder pulp material but he also wrote The Bleeding Scissors, which is a true and very effective noir; and he saved his best novel for last, The Evil Days. If I ever teach a class in writing the suspense novel that will be one of my choices to read and take apart. It always reminded me of Howard Fast's hardboiled novels--the decent man trapped by fate (or a foolish mate) into not only trying to survive but also being forced to question the way he lives. The suburbs, the drab jobs in the city, the the endless anxiety over money.

He's well worth a read.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Remakes Redux

Judging by the early buzz on the final two remakes of the summer it looks as if 3:10 to Yuma may be a reasonably good picture while Invasion may be a bit thin compared to the first two versions of Body Snatchers.

I was talking about remakes to a very bright young woman at Half Price Books today and I decided, about halfway through the conversation, that there's likely a tendency on the part of older people to defend originals and be leery of remakes on general principles. We have a vested interest in the popular culture of our own era.

The real point, though, is that it would be easier to accept remakes in general if most of them were any damned good. At the moment the only great remake I can think of was Body Snatchers number two which had its own vision and integrity. What an amazing use of the original material--to reconfigure it as a comment on the feel good philosphy of the 70s, a form of spiritual death every bit as sinister as the conformity of the 50s.

I mention this because the last time I wrote about remakes I got a few off-line letters wondering if I wasn't just being curmudgenly. I don't think so. It's comparable to too much of neo-noir, the remake business. Just because the cast wears fedoras and all the femmes are of the fatale persuasion doesn't mean that you're doing anything authentic. It just means you're playing dress up. I mean Hwood couldn't even make The Flinstonesor Bewitched any fun. How can we expect them to do better with more serious fare?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Andrew Coburn

I just reread this novel so I thought I'd run my initial review of it again.

Andrew Coburn

I've been saying for years that the single most neglected major crime fiction writer in the United States is Andrew Coburn. And here he is with a new novel to prove me right again.

I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose (Leisure,$6.99) and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.

Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.

But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.

And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.

It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than two decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Diablo Grant

James Reasoner's The Diablo Grant is one of his best westerns on a shelf full of excellent westerns indeed.

For one thing, the story peg is is irresistible. The town drunk seems to possess a piece of paper that seems to be a land grant that gives the formerly luckless Espina claim to a large piece of prime land.

Most unhappy of all about this are the powerful men who essentially own and run this area of New Mexico. Series hero Judge Earl Stark is brought in to settle the matter legally but when he rules in favor of Espina, violence is inevtiable. You may not have noticed but powerful men aren't necessarily keen on abiding by the laws that rule the rest of us.

Diablo contains some of Reasoner's best writing, clear, evocative language that recreates its historical time perfectly. The characters, too, are true to their time, yet also true, vital human beings.

And then there's the story. Salted with all sorts of twists, lean and mean as a thriller.

This one is well worth looking for on Abe or Alibirbis.

Monday, August 13, 2007

TV Notes

It may just be me but Entourage isn't clicking for me this year. The boys aren't all that interesting--well E is, I guess--and the attempt to "humanize" Ari seems ham-fisted and awkward. Last night was the nadir of that particular story track. Ari's jealousy over his former-actress wife kissing a Latin pretty boy in a soap opera scene was wildly overwritten and overplayed. For the first time I sense that the show is probably only a season or two from folding. Its starting to feed on its own cliches.

I finally caught an episode of The Flight of The Conchords. A number of amusing scenes, yes, but I sure don't understand what the buzz is about. Entourage felt like something brand new for a couple of seasons. Flight feels like sketch comedy rather than full-fledged character comedy. And not very original sketch comedy at that. Maybe it's the fact that all three of the principals are fools and incompetents. The only trio that ever got away with that was The Three Stooges.

I know nothing about fine art but I recommend the Ovation series about famous painters. The Goya segment is running this month and its truth is more powerful than fiction could make it, how a courtesan perfectly happy to be rich and famous flattering royalty with his paintings turned into an angry, bitter and horrorific chronicler of the lower depths after losing his hearing (among other senses and abilities). The latter-day Goya paintings integrate witchcraft (then a "fact" of everyday Spanish life) with reportage about life in the gutters and insane asylums, producing a look that dozens if not hundreds of commercial artists have imitated in trying to create a supernatural atmosphere. These are grim brutal paintingsyou'll never forget.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Here They come again

Fred Blosser pointed me to an interesting article in today's NY Times about the new Nicole Kidman film "Invasion"--the fourth version of Invasion of The Body Snatchers. Here's a section I found interesting:

"Siegel’s laconic style is well suited to conveying a multitude of meanings (as he would prove again in 1971’s “Dirty Harry”), but the open-endedness of “Invasion” was not a conscious goal so much as the result of a tangle of personalities behind the scenes. The film’s producer, Walter Wanger, made his name with issue-driven entertainments like the Spanish Civil War drama “Blockade” and Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller “Foreign Correspondent.” Wanger first read Finney’s story when it was serialized in Collier’s magazine in 1954, and even before the novel was published the following year, he had hired Siegel and the screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring to adapt it.

"The book, notably more upbeat than the film, ends with the vanquishing of the aliens. The movie’s subversive elements can be traced mostly to Mainwaring, whose other screenplay credits include the classic noir “Out of the Past” (1947). A committed leftist who was briefly blacklisted, Mainwaring infused Finney’s scenario with an unsparing pessimism. The love interest (Dana Wynter) winds up a pod and, in the cut Siegel submitted to the studio, Allied Artists, the hero (Kevin McCarthy) is last seen charging out into freeway traffic, issuing a warning that no one heeds: “They’re here already! You’re next!”

"With a budget of less than $400,000, Siegel finished the film in 23 days, but the post-production dragged on for months when Allied Artists complained about the odd mix of humor and horror, and the bleakness of the conclusion. Trims were made, and in a compromise that further mixed the movie’s message, Siegel and Mainwaring, with a minimum of conviction, tacked on a happy ending.

"Mr. Kaufman’s “Invasion,” while fully a product of its time, carries out what Siegel was unable to do, adding hints of comedy even as it pushes its hero (Donald Sutherland) toward the grimmest of fates. Homage is duly paid to its predecessor with a couple of knowing cameos: Siegel is glimpsed as a cabdriver, and an aged Mr. McCarthy reappears, still wild-eyed and running, sounding the alarm like a Paul Revere who’s been at it for 20 years.

"Reissued on DVD last week in a two-disc edition, the ’78 “Invasion” also lends a uniquely creepy dimension to the fraught cold war practice of naming names. The drones, when they notice a human in their midst, alert the others by unleashing a sirenlike banshee wail. (The sound designer Ben Burtt used pig shrieks for the effect.)

for the rest go here ......

Ed here:If you're interested in the subject of the first three movie versions, may I recommend The Invasion of The Body Snatchers Companion that I edited with Kevin McCarthy. Stepen King, Dean Koontz, Jon Breen, Tom Picirrilli, Fred Blosser and many other contribute articles about the various films plus there are extensive interviews with Kevin, Robert Solo (who produced two of the movies), Abel Ferrara and others. I prefer the Stark House edition. A much better looking book with more room for extended interviews. It's still available:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A letter from Brian Garfield

...Hello and harrumph. . . .

I probably owe you a letter. I apologize. If you owe me one, I take it
back. (!)

Bina and I are fine -- we hold hands a lot because if I let go, she goes
shopping. Ace the poodle is fine. There seems to be too much to do around
here but no time to keep up with friends and relations, many of whom (at
least two or three) have been asking about the forthcoming movie. So here's
info about it and the current book . . .

Title is "Death Sentence". (I'm told I can sell stories to the movies
only if they have "Death" in the title. Only one other of the previous
threescore books and dozen or more movies has met that criterion -- unless
you count sequels -- but there you are.)

"Death Sentence" is scheduled to open across the U.S. on 31 August for
the Labor Day weekend. It's based, in theme if not particulars, on my novel
of same title. I wrote a couple of the scripts; the shooting script is
written by Ian Jeffers. I think he did a good job.

Stars are Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Kelly Preston, Garrett Hedlund and
Aisha Tyler. Director is James Wan ("Saw"). Releasing studio is 20th
Century Fox, and they're utterly paranoid about showing the film to us --
they haven't screened it even for my agent, for cryin' out loud! (They
have, however, screened it for reviewers. The rats.)

Fox's bashfulness may be a symptom of their morbid fear of piracy --
other than that, evidently they feel it's a good action picture with
something for us to think about. A New York Times critic who's sneaked a
peak at it tells me he liked it a lot. Apparently they're concealing it
only from some of its participants. Ain't that Rupert for you.

Be warned, however. It's a violent action film. That seems to be a
requirement of this angry era. I could do with a lot less
blood-and-thunder. But the cast is excellent and I believe the movie will
make the point I wanted to see it make. One of the online journals calls it
an "extreme look at the downward spiral for a family man out to take the law
into his own hands." Sounds accurate to me.

The movie has a website < >.

Clips as well as the trailer-preview can be found at < > -- (do they mean
it's among the worst previews or worst movies?) -- and the clip numbered
"5" -- with Kevin Bacon and John Goodman -- is, to me at least, quite funny.

The trailer can be found online at various places --
-- on YouTube
-- or at < >
-- or at < >


A new tie-in reprint trade edition of the novel will be available a few
weeks from now on at, I believe, $14.95.

Also we're selling our few copies of the out-of-print Bantam and
Mysterious Press paperbacks, signed by y'r humble & obedient s'v't, and/or
inscribed by request; the price for these out-of-print (signed at request)
books will be $39.95 -- order 'em at

For further info about all that, see my website at < > or write to us at what passes for the office at < > .

Also there's an interview with me -- for a limited time -- in the new
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Website for the interview, by Steve
Hockensmith, is < > . And
there'll be an article in the 26 August (Sunday) New York Times by David
Halbfinger, in which I'm interviewed, about the various vigilante-revenge
movies coming out this season (another is Jodie Foster's "The Brave One",
which opens two weeks after "Death Sentence").

And the most recent book, "The Meinertzhagen Mystery", published by
Potomac Books, is on sale in many bookshops and at the online retailers.

Sorry. I usually don't pester anyone with self-promotion, so please
accept apologies.

We're at the same old stands, alternating Los Angeles and Santa Fe. Hope
to see or hear from you before too long.

Apologies again for mass distribution of this info. . . .


Friday, August 10, 2007


A while back I talked about writers who seem to do their best work late in their careers. I'd like to say that about Richard Lupoff's magnificent stunning overwhelming Marblehead but even though it was only recently published in its original form it was actually completed around 1970. But that doesn't matter. Whenever it was written and published, it's Lupoff's masterpiece.

Marblehead (A novel of H.P. Lovecraf) is a faux biography, speculative fiction in the real sense of the term. A good deal of it is actual-factual, which is to say that Lovecraft was just about as loopy as his stories, an old-fashioned New Englander whom God or actually the dark gods chose to plunk down in a century he loathed. Early on Lupoff gives us a man whose neuroses are sometimes amusing--i.e., his snobbery, crankiness, his Bush-like penachant for giving everybody nicknames, almost pathetic Anglophilia...a dotty literary man not without his very real griefs such as constant lack of money, his even more constant lack of literary recognition and his odd marriage to the Jewish Sonia, odd especially because Lovecraft is anti-Semetic.

This is the first of many unappealing sides of Lovecraft that Lupoff shows us. The anti-Semitism and the outright racism are factors that Lupoff uses create an imaginary period in which Lovercraft is hired by a German Aryan supremacist to write a book about how white folks will eventually rid the world of all others. Lovecraft is reluctant but needs the money.

I'm not coming close to doing the book justice. Its wit, its wily melancholy depiction of Lovecraft, its careful depiction of Lovecraft's era and strange burdened grief give it a depth and echo you just don't find in most popular fiction.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ken Levine's 20 Favorite Comedies

Kev Levine writes a column for Huffington Post. This is an interesting post if you can overlook the fact that it's way short on screwball comedies, my favorite. And if you don't have a quibble or two with his definition of the word "comedy." Maybe I like it so much because he puts "Heartbreak Kid" so near the top. Heartbreak has gotta be the most grossly overlooked great comedy in movie history. It's about to be remade--much as I like Ben Stiller it won;t come close to the original.

Ken Levine:

In honor of HuffPost's twenty great movie endings I have another list. My twenty favorite comedy screenplays. By favorite I mean the ones I wish I had written.

ALL ABOUT EVE - Joseph Mankiewicz. Sharpest dialogue I've ever heard. The film is 56 years old and still crackles. Saw it again recently. What a pleasure to watch, especially now during the dumbing down of America.

SOME LIKE IT HOT - Billy Wilder & IAL Diamond. Disproves its classic last lane. Somebody IS perfect.

HEARTBREAK KID - Neil Simon (although the hand of director Elaine May is clearly evident). Jewish men generally love this movie, Jewish women hate it. A young Charles Grodin gives the comic performance of his career. And Eddie Albert (yes, Eddie Albert) will make you laugh out loud. There's a remake coming soon. I shudder to think.

THE LADY EVE - Preston Sturgess, story by Monckton Hoffe & Preston Sturgess. Screwball comedy at its funniest and most sophisticated. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda - not who you naturally think of as a comedy team but they pull it off with ease.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY - Screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur. Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell trade quips at a pace that makes WEST WING seem slow. And every word out of their mouths is a gem.

ARTHUR -- Steve Gordon's masterpiece.

TOOTSIE - Larry Gelbart (although fifteen other writers also had a hand in it). If there seems to be a pattern in the comedies I like its men posing as women or "Eve" in the title.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN - Woody Allen. This movie was a revelation, especially when you consider that at the time (late 60's) most "comedies" were lame Doris Day type films.

SONS OF THE DESERT -- Stan Laurel for Laurel & Hardy. Features the famous line, "Life isn't short enough."

ROXANNE -- Steve Martin. He's not just an inspired comedy writer he's also a real romantic. And as I write this he's probably on his second honeymoon? Third?

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN - Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder. "Putting on the Ritz" scene alone puts this in my top ten.

ANNIE HALL -- Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman. For my money the perfect romantic comedy. (How could the same guy write HOLLYWOOD ENDING?)

MOONSTRUCK - John Patrick Shanley. Okay, so there are two perfect romantic comedies.

CHASING AMY - Kevin Smith. Funny, real, pitch perfect, and you actually root for Ben Affleck. Now that's good writing!

AMERICAN GRAFFITI - George Lucas and Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck. A consistently funny movie that doesn't even try to be a comedy. And what a soundtrack!

DR. STRANGELOVE - Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern. The perfect black comedy. And there are no other perfect black comedies.

THE PRODUCERS - Mel Brooks. The movie not the movie of the musical based on the movie. That was dreadful.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES - Jean Poiret, Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Damon. Even the subtitles were funny.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL -- Richard Curtis. Even Andie McDowell couldn't kill this English confection. But boy did she try.

SHOWGIRLS - Joe Eszterhas. So unspeakably terrible on every level that you can't help but laugh throughout. (Okay, so that's one I'm glad I didn't write). It's a tribute to Elizabeth Berkley's talent that after starring in this movie she still has a career.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Longarm and The Hell Riders

Things you might expect to find in your average western:

The ranch owner who wants all the land for himself
The wronged bank robber who didn't mean to shoot the clerk
The posse hell bent on finding its prey

Things you might not expect to find in in your average western:

A cowboy who references Darwin
Night riders whose heads are on fire
A villain who may or may not have a tail

Longarm and The Hell Riders gives you all these things and more. This is what you call a house name western, many writers sharing the same name, in this case Tabor Evans.

But this book is the witty work of our friend James Reasoner and a fine fun read it is, one part serious (a lot of interesting western history), one part pulp (lots of action) and one part...well, I've already mentioned the night riders whose heads are aflame and the bad guy who does or doesn't have a tail, haven't I?

If this was 1934, the fire heads and the tail would be part of some cowboy-sci-fi serial such as the inept giddy one that launched Gene Autry with lumbering robots being held momentarily at bay with six-guns. And while there are some nicely spooky moments in Hell Riders, James handles the explanations in a far more beleivable fashion.

For me this was ninety minutes of pure fun. I'm pretty sure it'll be the same for you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Cornell Woolrich's first novel emulated the novels of his literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Judging from the first act of the new Woolrich novel Fright from Hardcase Crime, the Fitzgerald influence lasted well into Woolrich's later career as a suspense writer.

The young, handsome, successful Prescott Marshall could be any of Fitzgerald's early protagonists. New York, Wall Street, a striver eager to marry a beauiful young socialite and acquire the sheen only she can give him...even the prose early on here reminds us of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" and "The Rich Boy." Strivers dashed by fate.

Bu since Woolrich was by this time writing for the pulps and not Smart Set or Scribners Magazine, young Prescott Marshall's fate is not simply to lose face or be banished from some Edenic yacht cruise...but to face execution at the hands of the State for killing a young woman he slept with once and who turned into a blackmailer. This is in the Teens of the last century, by the way; a historical novel if you will.

From here on we leave the verities of Fitzgerald behind and step into the noose provided by another excellent writer and strong influence on Woolrich...Guy de Maupassant. In the Frenchman's world it's not enough to merely die, you must die in a tortured inch-by-inch way that makes the final darkness almost something to be desired. And dying for some ironic turn of events is best of all.

I read this in a single sitting. It's one those melodramas that carry you along on sheer narrative brute force. I woudn't say it's major Woolrich but I woud say that it's awfully good Woolrich with all the master's cruel tricks at work and a particularly claustrophobic sense of doom. Readers will appreciate its dark twists. Collectors will want to buy a few extra copies.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Big Steal

Every once in awhile I catch the first or last half of Don Siegel's The Big Steal. It's difficult for me to watch it all the way through because its nuttiness starts to numb me after half an hour or so and I can't appreciate how truly crazy this script is.

Talk about your McGuffins. The whole movie is focused on a suitcase that does or doesn't contain $350,000 that Army man Robert Mitchum was carrying to the paymaster before being stuck up at gunpoint by the caddish Patric Knowles. The thrust of the story has Mitchum tracking Knowles through Mexico trying to recover the money and clear his name. He is accompanied by the beautiful Jane Greer, the one-time fiance of Knowles. She made the mistake of loaning him $2000 and wants it back. They in turn are pursued by Army investigator William Bendix who wants to take the fleeing Mitchum into custody, believing that Mitchum is indeed guilty.

There are several moments when the film teeters on outright farce. The bits in the beginning when three different people stand in front of closed doors are virtually identical shots. There is even a car chase wherein all three cars take turns stopping/passing by the same dusty rundown gas station that reminds me of it's A Mad, Mad World.

But Siegel has his actors play it straight and that makes it all the more enjoyable. It's a shaggy dog movie in all the best senses.

If you've never seen it, put it near the top of your list. Its wackiness in unparalled in realm of the hardboiled.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Polanski; horror

Roman Polanski's The Tenant remains one of the most frightening movies I've ever seen. It's a masterpiece of disorientation. Nothing is as it seems. The same can certainly be said about his Repulsion and to a large degree Rosemary's Baby.

These are my kind of horror(ific) pictures, I guess. Psycho, Cape Fear (1962), Misery, Near Dark, both versions of Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Candyman, A Stir of Echoes--the shocks are buttressed with a real concern for character and milieu. There are a lot of others I could have added to that list but unfortunately few of them have premiered in the past few years. I'm waiting for the next New Thing to take horror(ific) suspense in a different direction or to dazzle us alll over again with the old tropes all spiffed up.

What prompted this is a fine piece on the suspense films of Roman Polanski on Cinema Retro, a site you should put on your list.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Norbert Davis

The other night Bill Crider listed a site where you can get free Norbert Davis ebooks. Here's the url

For me, Davis is one of the most enjoyable of all the great pulp craftsmen, mostly because he managed to turn the tropes of crime fiction into screwball comedy while simeltaneously supplying some very good mystery stories.

John D. MacDonald wrote a long introduction to Davis' Max Latin stories. He lamented that Davis turned his work toward the slicks after creating such fine material for the pulps. The slicks sounded better than they were in actuality for most pulp writers. Making sales was hit and miss and the limitations on content were severe. MacDonald noted the great range they'd all enjoyed in the pulps and pointed out that Davis had certainly taken advantage of the freedom. All this was moot. David mysteriously committed suicide at age 49.

Here's another site worth looking at, The Mystery*File overview of Davis' career complete with photos and some interesting material on Wittengsetin the great philospher and his appreciation for Davis' stories.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Act of Violence

Here's a film I reviewed a year ago. It's finally out on DVD in a package with several other worthwhile noirs.
Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4

Mary Astor in ACT OF VIOLENCE.

I usually eat lunch around twelve thirty, catch the news and then go back upstairs to my office to write again.

Yesterday I happened to be channel surfing when I saw the billboard for a Turner movie called ACT OF VIOLENCE. I’d never seen it but as soon as I saw Robert Ryan (my favorite noir actor) l knew I’d watch the whole thing.

I’m going to be lazy and let a reviewer from the Internet Movie Database do the heavy lifting for me but I do want to remark on Mary Astor’s performance. Astor is famous for two things, being in THE MALTESE FALCON with Bogart and having her diaries admitted as evidence in a divorce case. She certainly got around.

ACT OF VIOLENCE is hijacked in the middle of act two. Previously the picture belonged to Van Heflin and Ryan. But Astor, who figures prominently in the action far into act three, just walks off with the picture. TCM ran several movies of hers a while back and she was usually a giddy spoiled heiress or somesuch in a glitzy comedies. She was always approriately irritating (the movies encourage us to hate giddy spoiled heiresses).

But in VIOLENCE we see a side of Astor that is, to me at least, astonishing. As a middle-aged hooker, she manages to be a decent person and a con job at the same time. Her faded looks are spellbinding. She’s got those great facial bones and the still-slender body but she plays against them with a weariness that makes her the most interesting character in the movie. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She’s every bar floozie you ever met and yet she transcends the stereotype by having a kind of hardboiled street intelligence. And at least a modicum of honesty. And, to my taste anyway, she’s sexy as hell.

This is one of those movies you enjoy because you soon realize that you have no idea where it’s going. It’s the standard three-act structure but the writers and director Fred Zinnemann aren’t afraid to introduce new plot elements right up to mid-way in the third act. That rarely works but it sure works here.

The only melancholy part for me was knowing how bitter Ryan was about playing psychos. He needed the work but considered it his jinx. He was among the finest film actors of his time but never really got his due. It’s his savaged face (he was dying of cancer at the time) that haunts the final moments of THE WILD BUNCH. Grim Sam Peckinpah knew what he was doing.

From IMBD:

Zinnemann again looks at the aftermath of war, 17 November 2003

Author: clore_2 from New York, New York

In SEVENTH CROSS director Fred Zinnemann depicted the isolation of a concentration camp escapee (Spencer Tracy) with MGM studio sets stepping in for actual locations – that would have been impossible at the time. In THE SEARCH he made use of a ruined Berlin to tell the story of a very young concentration camp survivor – a young boy separated from his mother – using the ruins as a metaphor for the many ruined lives.

In ACT OF VIOLENCE Zinnemann returns to the aftermath of war – this time telling of two prisoner-of-war camp survivors, one of whom was a Nazi collaborator, the other one a vengeful fellow prisoner who takes it upon himself to track down and kill his former friend. Cinematographer Robert Surtees makes great use of Los Angeles’ seedier parts of town – I was reminded of how his son Bruce Surtees made similar effective use of San Francisco in DIRTY HARRY –this is noir at its best, not only in cinematic terms, but with those “only come out at night” characters you expect in a top notch thriller.

Mary Astor is most effective as the barfly (couldn’t make her a prostitute, though it is more than obvious) – and after her performance in the garish DESERT FURY it’s nice to see her in black-and-white again. We first meet her in a pub in which Van Heflin runs for sanctuary, the lighting there has us admiring the way she has held up, but when we move to the harsher lighting of her apartment (the lamp hanging on a cord is unshaded), we realize that the first impression was too kind. It’s a magnificent performance – perhaps the best that I’ve seen of her.

Barry Kroeger, whose altogether too infrequent appearances included such noir classics as CRY OF THE CITY and GUN CRAZY, makes the most of his few moments as an underworld “enforcer” who would be quite willing to kill Ryan for a price. While Ryan seems to be a man who is on the verge of violence at any second, barely able to restrain himself, Kroeger is even more chilling. His calm, rational demeanor puts him in a different class of predator – he’s good at what he does and he’s used to doing it, like Alan Ladd’s character in THIS GUN FOR HIRE we can be sure that when committing murder, he feels “Fine, just fine.”

Janet Leigh appears as Heflin’s wife – it’s an early turn for her, and while it is a most stereotypically written “wifey” role, she invests it with all that she has, but the ending is such that we have to wonder just how she will react. Right before that we have a taut scene with Heflin about to confront Ryan while Kroeger is watching. The tension is almost unbearable, all done through editing and camerawork and not one line of dialogue.

Zinnemann would continue to look at war’s effects on those who came home in THE MEN as well as TERESA and in HATFUL OF RAIN – the man may be the most unheralded of classic film directors, but his resume includes Oscar winners such as HIGH NOON and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS as well as such nailbiters as this film and the original DAY OF THE JACKAL.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

From Tom Piccirilli

Hey Ed: sending this on because I thought you might appreciate it. In trying to do some promotion for my latest novel, I've been running into wall after wall with local newspapers and booksellers. Talked to a "reporter/columnist" this morning and her dismissiveness set me off. Just fired off a letter to the editor, publisher, and several other columnists at the paper. I really hate myself when I get all enraged and anxiety-struck about something like this, but I hate myself even more if I do absolutely nothing about it.

Tom Piccirilli

Dear Sir:

After having published fifteen mass market paperback novels with major publishers (for the last five years, I've been with Bantam Books, and before that Berkley and Pocket Books), I've reached a career level that can only be called "modest," at best. I've been reviewed by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, and appeared on Channel 2 News in a report covering my work. I've received quotes from bestselling authors such as Dean Koontz, David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Ken Bruen, and others.

I make no claims to be an earth-shaker in any capacity, nor to have chins wagging in Barnes & Noble stores all across the land. Or in any. However my latest suspense novel THE MIDNIGHT ROAD is in its second printing after only a month on bookstore shelves. The novel has sold foreign rights to Germany and book club rights to the Mystery Guild, the Literary Guild, and the Doubleday Book Club.

So when I'm told by one of your columnists that she receives "four to five books a month from local authors, and I have no one to cover them," and I'm met with complete and overwhelming indifference while trying to promote my work, I admit my heart sinks a little.

Not merely because I'm ignored by a local paper that covers community events, people, and entertainment, but because it reaffirms my belief that books and professional fiction writers are becoming less and less important in today's culture. Even by the people who work in journalism and the news media, who know how difficult it is to face down the empty page every day.

In an age when print-on-demand capability and vanity presses make it as easy to "publish" a book as to print out a grocery list, the art of writing/publishing/reading seems to be suffering even more greatly now than ever before. Saying that one is a "novelist" is casting doubt and aspersion on oneself. In recent weeks as I've set out to do a bit of publicity, I've not only been met with apathy and resistance, but anxiety, dismay, and outright hostility as well. Because so many people in these very industries of news reportage, promotion, and bookselling fear they're being bamboozled by some kind of con artist when a "local author" appears.

Ms. ### might argue the point–though I doubt she will–that during our brief conversation this morning she was filled with ambivalence and misgiving. I was merely one of several local authors who month after month try to wind my way into the ###'s pages. I didn't stand out in her mind whatsoever from any other author. Not even the very nice lady who lives down the block from me, who has recently self-published her book on thimble collecting.

And though my work may not be of interest to many, I can assure you that it's certainly not snake oil.


Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of fifteen novels including THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He's a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award and the World Fantasy Award.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ross Macdonald

The first Ross Macdonald novel I ever read was The Way Some People Die. He was John Ross Macdonald then, still going back and forth I suppose with John D. MacDonald about the use of names so similar.

I was fifteen, steeped in Gold Medals and Lions and Ace Doubles. By then I'd read a good deal of Hammett and Chandler as well. None of it prepared me for Ross Macdonald.

I was too ignorant to pick up on stylistic differences. What I noticed were the characters. Few of them were new to me as types, most of them in fact were in most of the hardboiled novels I'd read, but Macdonald brought a depth and humanity to them that made me think not of other crime writers but of authors such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway and James T. Farrell and Graham Greene, my idols at the time. This was real no bullshit psychological writing.

Just as superheroes never outgrow their need for milk, I've never outgrown my need for the novels and stories of Ross Macdonald. I share his view of humanity, that amalgam of fascination, disappointment, anger and sorrow that fill his work.

If you want to remind yourself of how good he was even early on, I'd recommend The Archer Files edited by Tom Nolan and published by Crippen and Landru. In addition to being a fine looking collection, it contains all the published Lew Archer short stories plus an intriguing section called "Notes." Macdonald started stories that he planned to someday finish, a way of keeping thoughts alive. Most of these sure would have made superb tales.

Then there's the long introduction by Tom Nolan in which he takes the reader into the work and life of Kenneth Millar a/k/a Ross Macdonald. Nolan wrote the Edgar-nominated biography of Macdonald and this introduction is almost a synthesis of it in its information, insight and elegantly arranged presentation.

Oh, yes--the stories.There are an even dozen and while some are better than others all of them demonstrate why he became so important so quickly, even though his real fame took many years to achieve. My favorite is an imperfect piece called "Wild Goose Chase." There's a sort of gothic frenzy to it that kept me flipping those pages.

This is an essential acquisition for all libraries, home or public.