Monday, August 31, 2009

Western movies

Patti Abbott posted her thoughts on western movies the other day and to date she's received forty eight replies. That's why I read her every day. She's always entertaining and interesting. But forty-eight replies to western movies--who woulda thunk it?

The last time I posted some of my own thoughts on the subject I got several off line letters calling me a crank, mostly because I'm not much of a fan of either John Wayne or John Ford.

As for Wayne he was a great presence but not much of an actor with the exceptions (to me) of The Searchers (and again you have to balance his great presence against the nuances a better actor could have brought to the role) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I like a number of Ford's pictures but his frontier Army stuff has always struck me as juvenile. It's Boy's Adventure, the Kipling romance of the military at its most treacly. Wayne's gray hair at the end of "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" still doesn't make it a movie for adults. Read any serious history of the Army in the frontier west and you'll see what hokum it is. Plus all the phony Irish horseshit. Spare me.

I guess because I grew up watching so many noirs I early on liked the movies in which the characters seemed real. I remember being stunned by seeing Winchester 73, The Naked Spur and The Devil's Doorway.I was eleven and twelve. These were people I recognized from my everyday life. And their rage and sorrow and violence I was all too familiar with.. By the time I was fourteen or fifteen Anthony Mann was my western god. Later in the same decade I saw all the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns. They didn't have the same emotional power of Mann's films but they did have a laconic lonely truth. And they hold up. We just watched Seven Men From Now last week. The performances by Scott and Lee Marvin are as vital as ever and Boetticher's use of landscape is a perfect metaphor for the story he's telling.

No big argument, just my opinion. Hey, I can't help it if Anthony Mann is a god, one who managed to find the savage dark side of the wistful James Stewart. That accomplishment alone should put Mann in the pantheon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I want to thank Tom Piccirilli for letting me reprint this interview from his blog The Big Adios

Ken Bruen is the author of the popular Jack Taylor series and Brant series. He has over twenty novels to his credit, including THE GUARDS, PRIEST, CROSS, BLITZ, AMMUNITION, AMERICAN SKIN, LONDON BOULEVARD. Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) has teamed with Quentin Curtis to film the Ken Bruen novel LONDON BOULEVARD. Stay up to date with Ken's work at

Reed Farrel Coleman is the former executive vice president of MWA. He's published eleven novels, two under his pen name Tony Spinosa and one with multiple award-winning Irish author Ken Bruen. He's been nominated for the Edgar Award twice and for the Shamus Award three times. He's been honored with the Shamus twice and has won both the Barry and Anthony Awards as well. He was the editor of the anthology Hardboiled Brooklyn and his short fiction and essays have appeared in several anthologies and magazines. Reed is an adjunct lecturer in creative writing at Hofstra University and he lives with his family on Long Island.

PIC: Ken, you mentioned that halfway through with your opening of the novel, you knew it was going to be a "two-hander." What was it that made you decide that? Was it just not working?

PIC: How long after you finished the fragment was it before Reed came into the project?


PIC: Despite the eighth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, the subject is still rather taboo. But here's a novel that uses the Twin Towers as a metaphor both before the fall and after. It was a ballsy move, brother. What made you give it a whirl?


PIC: Reed, as a native New Yorker, how did you feel about coming in a project that dealt with the Towers? Was there any trepidation or did you find yourself eager to tackle such a subject?

RFC: I have to say that Tower is a story about two Brooklyn friends who have always gotten-as we say in Brooklyn-the shit end of the stick in their lives. That's what the book is about and I would hate for people to think that the book is about 9/11. As you astutely mentioned in a previous question, we use the Twin Towers as a metaphor, but a quiet metaphor. Yet, I think the time has come for us, as authors and artists, to begin to explore the small tragedies, the personal tragedies of that day. For eight years it's been the elephant in the room no one could write about because it was such an enormous event, such a horrible event, that we all struggled with how to make sense of it. Well, it's a writer's job to make sense of the senseless and the way to do that is on the small scale, on the personal scale. I have always admired my friends SJ Rozan and Jim Fusilli for trying to take this on immediately in the wake of those awful days.

PIC: Since Ken's voice is so distinctive you must've thought about emulating it. What stopped you?

RFC: Well, I have twice, in short stories-"Requiem For Jack" and Requiem For Moe"-done a fairly good job of imitating Ken's voice in the form of Jack Taylor. I've always been good at imitating voices both actually and in my writing. However, it's much more easily done for a few pages than for a few hundred pages. I think me doing Ken's voice in Tower would have been a huge misstep. First, why would Ken have needed a co-author to write in a voice he does better than his would-be co-author? The whole notion of the book is that it's done in distinctive parallel narratives. Ergo you have narratives from two different characters with different points of view. It would have been very bizarre to have two characters writing in one voice, no? But I didn't feel my normal writing voice was appropriate to the book, so I took an ax to my usual style. This way my narrative has a similar meter to Ken's so that it's not jarring to read.

PIC Ken, having collaborated with you on a short story myself, I know you're a very easy partner to work with. By your own admission you didn't change a single word of Reed's portions of the novel. Why aren't you a control freak like just about every writer I know?


PIC: Even as a two-man effort TOWER is a lean, mean slice of noir. Was there any pressure, either internally or from publishers, to lengthen it?

RFC: One party who was interested very early on in the process wanted us to lengthen the book, but Ken wisely made the choice not to go in that direction. One of the reasons the book is as effective as it is in terms of darkness is that it is sparse and laser-like. We dispensed with frills and subplots and went for the jugular. If the book aches and bleeds, it's because we kept the knife sharp and focused.


PIC: Reed, your section of the novel really takes a wild left hand turn. You reinterpret the opening section and come at it from a whole new angle. Why put yourself through that? Did it feel natural to you or did you just feel that it might be boring to follow along in an expected fashion?

RFC: I didn't see the point in simply rehashing what Ken had written. I knew Ken was challenging me to do better, to make hard choices, to stretch the book and, as he might say, me own self. I felt I had to rise to the occasion and that just doing a fair job would have meant letting Ken down, the book down and me down. SJ Rozan and I went to dinner soon after she read the book and, after praising the book to the rafters, she asked me, "Are you crazy?" I know I took a big chance with Todd's narrative, but I don't think Ken would have wanted it any other way nor would I. It was the hardest work I've ever done, but the best work.

PIC: Ken, now that Hollywood has come knocking and you've got two novels (BLITZ and LONDON BOULEVARD) currently being filmed, do you feel you can relax where the writing is concerned? You started off because you had gnawing demons driving you on. Can you finally just kick back and enjoy a well-deserved rest?


What's next for the both of you?


RFC: I'm doing about a three week tour in support of Tower. I've just finished a new novel that my agent is about to send out. I'm working on a new Moe Prager book. I've just had a short story accepted in Indian Country Noir and I'm getting ready to go back to this "big" novel I've been working on for years. Other than that…

PIC: Thanks so much for your time, gents, much appreciated.

[Bruen and Coleman interviewed by Tom Piccirilli 08/29/09]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More Mad Men

I don't know much about Lance Mannion except that cultural critic James Wolcott likes his stuff so that's all the recommendation I need. Wolcott quoted at length from Mannion's take on Mad Men. While his angle isn't the same as mine
they both pretty much end in the same place, that Mad Men is pretty dumb as a melodrama but would be a hoot as a flat ut comedy.

Lance Mannion:

"The first episode of the new season of Mad Men struck comedic gold, every situation a laugh riot straight out of the best bedroom farce and classic satire. The fire alarm interrupting Don's and Sal's trysts in the hotel, Pete and Ken in the elevator, each thinking the other is congratulating him on the promotion, Sally Draper finding the stewardess's wings in Don's pocket and asking if he'd brought them back for her---these were scenes worthy of Feydeau, Wilde, and Shaw.

"Too bad none of them were played for laughs.

"But this has always been one of the most maddening things about Mad Men. It's a comedy with all the jokes removed.
Last Sunday's episode, Out of Town, is a perfect illustration. Except for the opening, Don Draper's bizarre vision of "Dick Whitman's" birth, the whole episode could have and should have been funny. It wasn't just that drained of humor the situations I listed were flat and lifeless. They were also without point or purpose. More than that, though, they were without sense. Played as they were, as naturalistic drama, they came across as mere constructions for construction's sake, there simply to give the actors things to do and say. But a character like Shelly the Stewie only makes sense as trouble for the philandering male lead in a farce. The point of her being there is to give us reason to laugh at the man who's foolish enough to pursue her. She doesn't exist as a character except in the act of causing laughter for us and embarrassment for the man. Any line of dialog she's given that isn't a variation of "Coffee, tea, or me?" reveals her not as a person but as a fantasy, and a not particularly imaginative fantasy at that. Take away her jokes and what you have left is a pretty actress acting her heart out to bring a stick to life."

for the rest go here:

Lance Mannion

Friday, August 28, 2009


Kate Stine was kind enough to send me a link to a very interesting piece from the PW website. Go to Commentary to check it out.

Why scaling down is good for publishing

by Douglas Rushkoff -- Publishers Weekly, 8/24/2009

The corporate consolidation of publishing over the past two decades has finally maxed out. Borders is verging on bankruptcy; Barnes & Noble is closing stores; and major media conglomerates are closing imprints and ejecting talent faster than they gobbled it up in the 1990s. While this makes for some bleak headlines in the short term, it bodes well for the future of a publishing industry that operates on a scale more appropriate to the medium we're all creating and selling.

Publishing is a sustainable industry—and a great one at that. The book business, however, was never a good fit for today's corporate behemoths. The corporations that went on spending sprees in the 1980s and '90s were not truly interested in the art of publishing. These conglomerates, from Time Warner to Vivendi, are really just holding companies. They service their shareholders by servicing debt more rapidly than they accrue it. Their businesses are really just the stories they use to garner more investment capital. In order to continue leveraging debt, they need to demonstrate growth. The problem is that media, especially books, can't offer enough organic growth—people can only read so many books from so many authors.

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

for the rest go here:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Edmond Hamilton - Haffner Press

If you grew up reading science fiction in the Twenties, Thirties, Forties or Fifties the name Edmond Hamilton was a revered one. A pioneer in creating the kind of far-flung galaxy smashing action-packed sf that fan boys of every age hounded their newstands for...Hamilton survived all the changes common to any genre. The reason was simple. He was not only a superb storyteller, he was also an innovator. Many of the sf action tropes we take for granted today (hello there Star Wars) came from Hamilton's typewriter early in the last century. Along with his wife Leigh Brackett Hamilton virtually created galaxies and universes that kept writers fed for decades.

Volume One The Metal Giants and Others are stories collected from Weird Tales and introduced by Robert Weinberg; Volume Two The Star-Stealers also come from Weird Tales and includes the complete tales of The Interstellar Patrol with an introduction by Walter Jon Watkins; the third volume is Volume One of Hamilton's Captain Future stories, introduced by Richard A. Lupoff.

Haffner Press has published these in inordinately hefty and beautiful editions. Short of having every single word you've ever written collected in leather bound editions...this has to be the kind of tribute only a handful of writers (of any kind) ever receive.

One of the most fascinating elements of Hamilton's literary history is the award-winning short story he wrote in the late Thirties. He called it "What's It Like Out There?" It was a somber realistic story about men who'd been to space and come back. Nothing like it had ever been published. Hamilton decided to hang on to it. Not until the early Fifties did he decide that the field was ready for it. While he had previously been known for action fiction he was now heralded as a writer of sensitivity and serious themes. The novels he wrote after this reflected this newly revealed side of his talent.

But why listen to me. Check out the Haffner Press webiste for yourself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Catching up

Well, in all I had seven tests to find out why I'm not getting enough oxygen. The initial results of one of the tests worried both Carol and I as well as my oncologist but it turned out all right after all. The conjecture now is that taking two years of steroids not only packed on pounds but put me badly out of shape. Hand me those carrots please. Thanks to all of you who wrote with good wishes. I really appreciated all the kind and supportive words.

Here are some things I want to mention:

Honey in His Mouth by Lester Dent is one one of the most interesting books Charles Ardai has yet published in his Hard Case line. And it's also one of the damndest novels I've ever read.

Whenever I see the name Lester Dent I think of a) all the Doc Savage novels he wrote and b) the pleasure he took in sailing, mountain climbing and searching for gold. A man of action who wrote action books.

Now one thing I should have remembered was that Dent got so tired of writing the Savage novels that he gave ole Doc some strange occupations from time to time (Ron Goulart can check me on this). In one novel he had Doc lead a dance band aboard a ship and on another he had Doc be a fashion designer. He mentioned that nary a single reader complained about the disguise jobs he gave our hero.

I should have remembered this because far from being thud-and-blunder pulp Honey In His Mouth has elements of black comedy and dares to offer you a wide range of characters who have one thing in common--they are greedy ruthless people starting with the ostensible protagonist, a dimwit named Walter Harsh who didn't manage to make it through the eighth grade.

The set-up was familiar in the Fifties. You want to get rid of somebody, in this case a cruel Latin dictator, but you need somebody who looks like him to pull it off. Walter Harsh not only looks like him but he's also a perfect match for the dictator's rare blood type.

The group running this whole scam work for the dictator. They've been stealing from him for years. He asks them to bank his money throughout the world. They bank some, skim the rest. Now the dictator is being forced out by a revolution. The group wants to get all his money. Walter Harsh, the perfect double, will get it for them. Then of course they'll kill Harsh.

The story is cunningly structured and told. It's laid out so well it's easy to keep up with all the crosses and double crosses and triple crosses going on within the group itself. And as I said, it's very funny in places.

The standard Latina beauty in Honey In The Mouth turns out to be as ruthless as the rest of them but also (something new) a brilliant intellectual. She gets the job of trying to teach Harsh a little bit of Spanish so he can fake it properly when the time comes. All he wants to do is sleep with her. So her revenge is to read him something sure to be boring--she takes out a volume of Spinoza and inflicts it on him.

Dortmunder would probably have hired several of these people. Parker would have lined them up against the wall and shot them on general principles.

I love this book and I think you will, too.

-----------------From Vince Keenan:

Got a chance to meet Alan Rode of the Film Noir Foundation over the weekend. We're going to collaborate on a big piece about the Whistler films for a future issue of the Sentinel. Turner is going to run all 8 movies in sequence in November, you know.

-----------------Two of The Deadliest

As I mentioned awhile back I'm reading for next year's best of anthology. One of the finest collections I've come across this year is Two of The Deadliest edited by Elizabeth George. In addition to terrific stories by Laura Lippman, Nancy Pickard and many others, Wendy Hornsby offers a piece of historical fiction that will be of interest to all readers of Jack London.

London historians have long disagreed about the effects London's second wife, Charmian had on Jack as a man and as a writer Well, Hornsby has a definite opinion on the subject and in the course of encapsulating the last ten years of London's life, she brings alive the entire era in which he lived and long disputed saga. A fine piece of work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My last political post

Not only did I get a number of on-line responses about my political post last night, I also received four letters and a phone call. So I'll briefly try to clarify some misunderstandings.

--One letter writer said I was being a "snob" for calling the town hall meeting protestors "dirtbags." She said that I was making fun of the working class.

Hardly. I grew up working class and still consider myself working class. But when I said "dirtbags" I didn't have class in mind. To me dirtbags are people (irrespective of social class) who espouse the belief that

Obama was not born in the United States
That Obama has "Nazi" leanings of any kind
That the US government will get into your bank account if the public option is passed
That Obama will kill your grandma

On the latter subject, if you saw Jon Stewart last night you saw him destroy Betsy McCaughey, the insurance industry's favorite witch.. She made the mistake of bringing in the first half of the thousand page congressional bill now being proposed. She slammed it down on the desk, thinking she was very very smart. Unfortunately for her Stewart made her read the section pertaining to the so-called death panels. He let her interpret the section first. It was clear that she was using "hyperbole" (the polite term for lies) in her reading of the bill. Then he destroyed her. He gave her two segments and he humiliated her. You could tell she thinks of herself as pretty hot stuff. Not by the time he got done with her.

--Three of the letter writers said I was left wing. You know, until Bush's invasion of Iraq there were Republicans I still voted for. I've always voted split tickets. On my office door is a large black and white photograph of Dwight Eisenhower. Whenever liberals say that LBJ passed the civil rights bill I remind that them, no, he didn't--Ev Dirksen did. The Dixiecrats were against it to a man. Dirksen got LBJ the needed votes by appealing to his fellow Republicans. For all the terrible things he did Dick Nixon passed more poverty legislation than any president in our history. A number of Republicans turned against Nixon early in the Watergate investigation. I wrote political speeches for five years. The man I admired most was a Republican governor, a moderate, the first major GOP figure to come out against the war in Viet Nam. I wrote the speech for him. The GOP was stunned.

I want a two party system but as Bill Maher says what we have now is a GOP party that is truly ready for a mental hospital and a Dem party that is now as conservative as the old (legitimate) GOP.

I mean Governor Hair in Texas talks about secession and just today sleazebags Jim DeMint and Michelle Bachmann advocate
nullification of if Obama gets his health care plan. In case you don't know what that means, here's Josh Marshall's definition:

"Nullification, the constitutional theory that states can block enforcement of federal laws they find objectionable, was crackpot from the start and hasn't been seriously entertained anywhere in the county since the Civil War (with the exception of feigned attempts in the South during the Civil Right Era). Nullification, to give you a thumbnail idea, is sort of like secession a la carte."

I'm left wing because I'm against people like this? The GOP is a regional religious party that may just win a lot of seats in 2010. There's a new Gallup poll out today that shows Obama's support falling steadily--among Dem progressives.

This is the last I'll write about politics for a long, long time.


I also won't be posting for awhile. I'm going through a number of medical tests now and they're pretty draining. The first couple I held up all right but the one today has me pretty tired.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health reform

I gotta tell ya I'm so god damned sick of all the bullshit coming from the right about health care reform and specifically the public option that when I look at all these people who show up at rallies to carry and cheer the lies...all I can think of is `dirtbags.' That's a harsh and unfair judgement I realize but as Mencken said "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." He sure was right about that. I still think most of this has to do with the fact that Obama is black. They just can't or won't deal with it.

On the other hand I'm now convinced that Obama is Jimmy Carter, a slick self-salesman without any true vision or guts. He's not going to get the health care reform he needs or wants and a good deal of that is his fault. He's pretty clearly way over his head in his job. This is going to be a long four years and if I had to bet I'd say the Dems are going to lose thirty house seats in 2010.

I'm reprinting a piece here about a rally held by Jim DeMint, one of the slimiest men to ever be seated in the US Senate. It's interesting that the kind of people he attracts are likely exactly the kind of people who need health care reform the most. But since Bauchus, Grassley, the insurance companies, the health care lobby and every wingnut in America has been pumping lies into their heads...and since they never question anything if it comes wrapped in Jesus or the flag...maybe they deserve what they get. The hell of it they're depriving intelligent, open-minded people of the reform the entire country needs.

Greg Mitchell is one of the finest journalists in the country. Here's his take on DeMint's rally.

The Huffington Post
AUGUST 20, 2009

Greg MitchellAuthor, 'Why Obama Won'
Posted: August 20, 2009 02:00 PM

At Sen. DeMint's Town Hall: Lies, Damn Lies -- and "Jewish Spokesman" Ben Stein

Today I managed to attend one of the town halls sponsored by a key critic of the Democrats' health care reform, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Well, I wasn't there in person, only in spirit -- thanks to a live web broadcast starting at noon via WSPA-TV. They covered his second town hall of the day, as he stood on a platform outside the Beacon Restaurant in Spartanburg.

The crowd was almost universally supportive, even worshipful, with one attendee hailing him for being considered the most conservative senator of all. The lies and misinformation that came both from the crowd and the stage probably exceeded what many might have imagined. And DeMint denounced the one person who pressed him with a tough question, saying she had come "fully" loaded with "Democratic talking points."

The same thing happened earlier in the day at his town hall in Greenville, when a woman raised some critical questions. DeMint referred to them as "talking points." Don't expect him to be criticized on Fox, a la Barney Frank, for "putting down" an attendee.

Also at Greenville he referred to the suspension of the cash for clunkers programs and asked, "what if the gvernment had to suspend all surgeries'?

Here are some of the highlights of the Spartanburg town hall.
DeMint said that if the Democrats' plan goes through "hundreds of millions will lose Medicare" coverage.

One guy said insurance companies are NOT making big profits--only like 6% --and Obama was telling lies about it. DeMint agreed that profits not excessive.

DeMint said "non-partisan" analysts agree "a hundred million" will lose insurance at their jobs under Obama plan.

A woman quoted "Jewish spokesman" Ben Stein as tracing the decline of America to taking prayer out of school. She declared that America was a "Christian" nation. DeMint said, "I can't add anything to that."

Another woman said she had a relative in London "who is dead because of national health care." And willing to document it.

When a questioner said that the Democrats wanted to cover illegals, DeMint said it sure looked that way and would no doubt happen if not checked.

A man said he wanted an ethics probe of David Axelrod, but did not say why. DeMint said a real concern but didn't want to get into it because "I am not partisan."

Finally, a woman stood up and politely asked why he continually put down government programs while also backing insurance companies. He quickly accused her of coming "loaded" with "Democratic talking points" as the crowd hooted.

DeMint closed by thanking the attendees for showing that they backed "taking back the government" -- and that he would try to help them get it back. He urged them to send letters to the editor, call Democratic congressman-- or start a blog.
Greg Mitchell's latest book is Why Obama Won. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.
More in Politics...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Power

In the late 1950s the prominent publisher J.P. Lippincott decided to take advantage of the Sputnik-inspired science fiction boom by offering a line called "Novels of Menace." The line didn't last long but in its brief life it spawned three true classics: A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson; Time Out Of Joint by Philip K. Dick; and the book at hand, The Power by Frank M. Robinson.

At the time he wrote it Robinson had a two-track science fiction career going. He published regularly in the most sophisticated magazines of the day, Galaxy and Astounding; and he wrote action pulp for such magazines as Imagination and Imaginative Tales.

The Power managed to do something no other sf novel had ever done. Shortly after its publication it became the basis of a live production on the popular CBS anthology drama "Studio One."

In brief the story is this: Tanner is head of a university study testing the ability of man's endurance in stressful conditions. Why do some men (and women) survive and others perish? The study is done in conjunction with the US government with an arrogant Admiral overseeing everything. This was the time of the cold war and Russia's presence is felt throughout the book, the great Boogeyman.

But something has gone wrong. Olson, one of the professors working on the project seems to be having a mental breakdown. In the opening chapter he hints that he knows something that will astound the others in the group. He recently asked every member to fill out some questions that would profile their routines such as eating and sleeping. The profiles were to be left unsigned and then discussed among the group. But one of them-- He can't quite get the words out.

Tanner takes the profile and reads it out loud. Bemused he says that there seems to be a superman among them. The others laugh. Somebody was having fun with Olson. But Olson bursts out that profile is real. He's sure of it.

To prove there's no superman present Tanner puts a crushed piece of paper on the head of a pin. Given what the profile implies the person should be able to make the paper spin just by focusing on it. Everybody but Olson is intrigued but still laughing. One by one they try to make it spin. No luck. Then Tanner decides to have them try it as a group. The crushed paper spins wildly.

Olson says that the superman wouldn't make it spin when he was one his own but when he was able to hide in the group he decided to show off.

This is the set-up. There is a superman among them. And a nasty one. He begins to kill people in the group. As Tanner begins to realize who he is, the superman frames him for murder.

What Robinson has done is fuse Cornell Woolrich into a dark chase science fiction thriller. The novel is as claustrophobic as anything Woolrich ever wrote played against a paranoid realism (Chicago in the late `50s, carefully observed from jazz clubs to to college hangouts to midnight streets) as Tanner moves closer to the final showdown with the superman. As I mentioned, the cold war can be felt on every page. Robinson also takes some nice shots at professorial politics and the intrusion of the military into academia.

But what he does best of all is scare you. One dazzling suspense scene after another as Tanner is both hunter and hunted. Robinson went on to write several blockbuster bestsellers with his collaborator Thomas N. Scortia. After some time away from novels, he returned a decade ago with a half dozen major novels.

But for me The Power will always be his masterpiece.

(I should note here that the 1968 film version is excellent and well worth looking up.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rona Jaffe; Patti Abbott

Yesterday The Daily Beast did a piece on the books that get featured on Mad Men. You know, to lend further timeliness to the show. Good idea.

The first choice was Atlas Shrugged. The more I learn about Ayn Rand and her cult followers I think she should have been burned at the stake. And used her acolytes as kindling. And yes I do mean you Allan Greenspan--your very Randian economic theories went a long way to putting us where we are today. I believe he was one of her lovers (shudder).

The second choice was Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything. Rona who? you ask. Well, she was actually an example of something we don't have any more--the solid middle-brow novelist reporting on what she sees around her. Sartre's goal has come true. Only high art and low art matter he said. We n longer have the JP Marquands and the Phillip Wylies. Not all the middle-brows were dull.

Rona Jaffe was a fine storyteller and a witty if melancholy social observer. She wrote Mad Men many decades before the show appeared. The Daily Beast quotes the opening of Everything, Jaffe's take on working girls in NYC circa 1960:

"You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Station, crossing Lexington and Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, the hundreds and hundreds of girls. Some of them look eager and some them look resentful, and some of them look as if they haven't left their morning beds yet."

Jaffe was a real writer. I automatically bought each of her novels. There wasn't a bad one in the lot. Here's a brief bio from Wikipedia:

"Jaffe wrote her first book, The Best of Everything, while working as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications in the 1950s. Published in 1958, it was later made into a movie, starring Joan Crawford. The book has been described as distinctly "pre-women's liberation" in the way it depicts women in the working world. Critic Camille Paglia noted in 2004 that the book and popular HBO series Sex and the City had much in common with Jaffe's novel in that the characters, who have similar lifestyles, are both "very much at the mercy of cads."

"During the 1960s, in addition to writing more novels, she was hired by Helen Gurley Brown to write cultural pieces for Cosmopolitan with a "Sex and the Single Girl" slant."

Ed here: You'll note she worked for Fawcett. I believe she may have for for Gold Medal at one time. Maybe George Tuttle knows.


You know my post last night about the difference between storytellers and wordsmiths? I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I was wrong. I didn't really answer the question implicit in the distinction. I simply stated my preferences. So I apologize to Patti. I also should have noted that Patti was quoting Kate Wilhelm. Wilhelm was the one who made the distinction.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Most succinct movie review of the month from Slate:

The Time Traveler's Wife
I wish I could travel back to a time when I hadn't seen this movie.

To read or not to read?

Came across an interesting discussion on Tor. com Apparently science fiction writers Orson Scott Card and John C. Wright have said some pretty negative things about homosexuality. Some readers wrote that they will no longer read anything by these two men while others say that personal opinions shouldn't stop you from enjoying a writer's fiction.

How about you? Should a writer's private beliefs matter to readers?


Storytellers and wordsmiths

Patti Abbott posted a thoughtful piece on different kinds of writers--those who tell stories and don't generally concern themselves with careful choices of words etc. and those to whom each word is a matter of serious concern.

I started to post a response but then realized that what I was in the process of saying didn't make sense (that's never stopped me before of course).

After a day of thinking about the distinction Patti makes I'd say that I'd split the difference. To me if you're writing a story then the story is the utmost concern. But I do come across stories and novels so badly written I have to give them up. But I think there are storytellers who are also excellent stylists. Don Westlake was certainly an example. He was a master of story and a master of language as well. I've also said that nobody in crime fiction writes better sentences than Lawrence Block. He has many imitators, none successful. Ray Bradbury was quoted once as saying that he'd take apart a Theodore Sturgeon story just to see how anybody could write with such energy and grace. I know what he means. Thirty years ago I went to school on a Larry Block novel. I could see how the plot was put together; how he stage managed the scenes and so on. But what I couldn't get at all was how he concocted those sentences. Block writes with a clarity I find in nobody else. But then there are the rhythms of the phrases and the richness of the psychology and the ongoing urgency of the story. I would say that Westlake and Block are both storytellers and wordsmiths.

By coincidence I reviewed Megan Abbot's Bury Me Deep this weekend. Now here is a perfect marriage of story and style. I consider it genuine literature, so much so that when I see some of the kudos some writers get I wonder if the reviewer has ever read Megan Abbott. The imagery, the cadences of the language, the almost brazen use of backstory in the age of speed demon novels--this book was written with almost painful precision. Now I know the Edgar committee is hanging on my every word so let me say i here--I can't imagine there'll be a better novel published this year.

On the other hand, I find a lot of wordsmiths bores and boors. I guess I'm too old to appreciate stories that aren't stories. I don't mean that stories have to follow the old pulp patterns. But I see enough literary magazines to know that some awfully good writers of words are awfully bad tellers of tales. Rather than letting language free them, it seems to trap them so that the words become self-conscious. Every other sentence the writer expects a round of applause. That's the feeling I get anyway. To be fair, let me say that last week I read a collection of literary stories by undergraduates and was stunned and moved (and envious) by just about every one of them. With young men and women like this coming up American literature has nothing to fear.

So to conclude I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure storyteller and wordsmith are so equally divisible. Questions?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad men

Well it looks like it's time to bitch about Mad Men again. You can't escape the advertising in papers and magazines, radio, tv or cable.

When The Office traveled to America it had to be sweetened for our hayseed audiences. The UK Office was a dark comedy-drama about the grief of the working place and the desperate ways people fought to find at least some dignity and meaning in the grind of their meaningless jobs. And nobody was more desperate than the buffoonish boss played by Gervais. There were moments in that show when you were paralyzed by embarrassment for him. There were glimpses of his grief that made you want to look away.

I like the American Office. it's a lot of fun. But it has no real point of view. Even the worst of the characters are cuddly and funny. Even the worst of the situations can be answered with a gentle laugh or sigh of exasperation. This is sit-com land after all.

There are few more insidious institutions anywhere in the world than advertising and its bunk mate public relations. Cigarettes, medicines that kill, politicians who would destroy our Constitution, unsafe cars, home products that do permanent damage to children...The express purpose of advertising is to deceive. To make good products even better and to make bad products palatable.

So how does Mad Men deal with all this? By turning it into a sexy soap opera that wraps even its sins in romance.

Many of you are too young to remember when the automobile manufacturers got together with their agencies to create advertising and public relations that warned of "the DANGERS of wearing seat belts." Yes, folks, it's not that the manufacturers didn't want to lay out the extra cash for the seat belts. Oh, no, they were only thinking of you and those scary dangerous seat belts certain Communist factions in this country wanted installed in cars. All this was being done in the same years Mad Men is set. Now THAT would be an interesting storyline.

Mad Men may be good soap opera. I've only watched it twice and thought it was stagy and arch but that's just my opinion. I could well be wrong.

But what I'm not wrong about is how gutless a show it is. Just as the Americans turned The Office into sit-com we turned advertising into a cool biz where you get to wear nifty clothes and have people kiss your ass all day. After all a good share of George W. Bush's people came for advertising, didn't they? How could you go wrong with folks like that?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A review; Shamus; jack Vance

Back in the eighties when I was editing Mystery Scene and the world was young, I received in a two week period reviews of three different books. What this trio had in common was that they each "transcended genre." Then I noticed a couple of mainstream magazines recommending two other novels that "transcended genre." Finally (and I'm not making this up) a cheery fellow called one wintry afternoon and said that he was a literary agent and that he was representing a crime novel that "Transcended genre." I asked him what made him so sure of that and he said (honest) "I only handle novels that transcend genre." Ah. Simple enough.

The reviewing world goes through periods when it seems to find a fair share of novels that transcend. I've always thought this phrase was used to impress the hi lit people who think that genre fiction is something you find in unflushed toilets. Still and all I've never a) known exactly it means and b) given the number of books that get tagged with it--well, that's one hell of a lot of transcending over the years.


Even though I don't know exactly what the phrase means and even though I swore I'd never use it myself, I'm going to say that I think Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep transcends genre. Let me say quickly that I'm putting my own meaning on those words. By any definition of good and lasting fiction, Bury Me Deep is a startling and stunning achievement.

Abbott writes her version of a famous 1930s crime that involved a woman named Winnie Judd (here Marion Seely) who secures a job at a medical clinic where she meets some nurses who befriend her. Her husband (a strange figure) is abroad and Marion welcomes the friendship of these women. But when Marion meets and becomes comfortable with a man named Joe Lanigan the nurses insist that Marion leave him alone. There is an argument, there is a murder.

The brief outline can give you no sense of the drama, the historical era and the sheer beauty of the writing. In this age of stripped-down books, Abbott dares give us long stretches of backstory, reminding me, at various times stretching back to Dreiser and Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde" and early John O'Hara. But the voice is pure--and pure is the proper word--Megan Abbott.

Real lives are lived in this book. Suspenseful as the story itself is it is the shifting motives of the women--motives that even they don't seem to understand--that give the book its urgency and beauty. All played against a backdrop of bittersweet Americana.

A masterpiece of true and lasting fiction.


Shamus Awards at Bouchercon

The PWA Shamus Award Banquet will be held Friday, Oct. 16, from 6:30-9:00 at The Slippery Noodle, the most popular blues bar in Indianapolis. Good food, great music, and the Shamus Awards. Tickets are $50 and are available now. Reserve your place asap as seating is limited. Email Bob Randisi at with your home address and an invitation will be sent to you.


I got a copy of superstar science fiction writer Jack Vance's autobiography today and as I was leafing through it I saw that in the final chapter he talks about the writers he likes to read. When he gets to mystery writer he cites Bill Crider's work. Now that's a compliment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The new Cinema Retro


Cinema Retro is one of my favorite magazines. Each issue seems to be better than the last. No easy task. The new issue is special in every sense. This time the entire issue is devoted to a single movie, Where Eagles Dare. I've never seen every angle of a motion picture production covered in such readable juicy depth.

But why listen to me when the editors say it so much better:

"We’ve decided that our inaugural special edition will be dedicated to a film that is among the most requested by readers in terms of wanting extensive coverage. If you’re a fan of films of the 1960s, you don’t need to be told that MGM’s Where Eagles Dare is one of the most enjoyable movies of that glorious era. Starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, this was a big budget, slam-bang action adventure – the very first time that novelist Alistair MacLean had written a thriller directly for the screen. Part spy film, part war movie, Where Eagles Dare was just one of a number of outstanding movies that made the year 1969 one of the best in the history of the industry.

"Over twenty writers and film historians have collaborated to bring you, what we believe, is the most definitive story behind the making of this blockbuster movie. Apart from the wealth of rare behind the scenes photographs – many taken by cast and crew during filming on location and at the studio – we have gathered stories and quotes from people like director Brian G. Hutton, producer Elliott Kastner, stuntmen Joe Powell, Alf Joint and Bill Sawyer, second unit director Yakima Canutt and his assistant director Anthony Waye (now a producer on the James Bond films), art director Peter Mullins – and many more. Illustrated with film poster artwork from around the world, call sheets, flyers, merchandise, tickets and story board and script pages, this is one tribute to a film you will not want to miss!"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Them Dang Elvis Pitchers

I stlll remember seeing Love Me Tender in a teen-packed theater on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn't quite sure why but I was embarrassed by most of it. I guess I thought Elvis was best heard not seen. I never got over that feeling. No matter what his screen role he was always ELVIS to me and I didn't like that. I had the same feeling with Dean Martin. I always had the sense that Martin was spoofing the crooner style and spoofing the acting style. Elvis didn't spoof acting but to me he was always self-conscious, as if he too was well aware he was ELVIS.

Now part of his difficulties was with most of the scripts the Colonel chose for him. In the seventies writer Dan Greenberg worked on an Elvis picture and wrote about the chore in Esquire. I remember him writing that the first act was plotted by the Colonel himself--he wanted two songs and a fight in the first act and so on. Apparently the Colonel had the final say on every picture. Songwriters Leiber and Stoller were approached at a NYC party once by Elia Kazan who asked them if they could arrange a meeting with Elvis. Kazan (I'm paraphrasing all this) said he thought Elvis could be a serious actor given the right screenplay and a good director. Leiber and Stoller went to the Colonel. They were excited. Elia Kazan! The Colonel told them that if they ever let Elvis know about this he'd see that they never worked in show business again, which was bullshit. They were much bigger stars than the Colonel. The Colonel wanted total control of his cash cow and he'd never get it with Kazan. Elvis was never told. Would've been interesting, though, with Kazan.

Today The Tainted Archive is running an interesting piece on Elvis movies:

"In 1956 Elvis himself told reporters that acting was his greatest ambition and that all his life he had wanted to be an actor, like his idols, Tony Curtis and James Dean.

"In fact much has been made of the young Elvis’ love of roots blues music and of him lugging a guitar about at Humes High School in Memphis, it was by Elvis’ own admission that as a child he dreamed of being Tony Curtis. He also claimed that when he became a cinema usher in 1951 it was not only for the much-needed money but also to see all the movies for free. Childhood friends of Elvis have said that the young singer was a huge fan of Rudolph Valentino who actually died some nine years before Elvis was born. Billy Smith, a cousin of Elvis’, said that the young Presley was fascinated with the way Valentino projected so many emotions with his eyes. And of course the teenage Elvis modelled his hairstyle on that of Tony Curtis. "

For the rest go here:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The mystery drawer

I'm not the most organized of people. My idea of cleaning up is to stuff things into boxes and drawers and forget about them. As long as the surfaces are clear, who cares?

The middle drawer on my desk has not been opened for a long time. Years. The reason is simple. It won't open. I have so much stuff jammed in there that it is now impossible to open without first beginning to pull out some of the material that has swollen to monster size. Last night, for no particular reason, I thought maybe I should find out what's in there.

Well, one of the things inside was a single glove. I have no idea why a glove is in there. Same with a stapler and same with a bottle of aspirin and same with a half empty bottle of Pepsi. For the most part the drawer became obstinate because of all the papers I'd crammed in there. I spent two hours going through them.

There's a story from Variety that quotes a producer who'd just won the Academy Award pledging that his next picture would be "Ed Gorman's beautiful novel Moonchasers." Famous last words. There's a letter from an old girl friend who wrote to tell me that she'd finally bought one of my books and that she "enjoyed it but it is the sort of thing most people could write if they put their mind to it." She is apparently not the forgiving sort. There's a fax from my family doctor asking me to call her at five o'clock. As I recall this is when I learned that I'd been diagnosed with my first cancer, thyroid. Then there's the letter from an old friend of mine who was obsessed with this girl in college who would never go out with him. The letter details how, shortly after he turned forty, he finally got the job done when the Chicago group of our class got together for an informal reunion. And much much more.

Most joyously there are an even dozen photographs of my first two grandkids when they were little more than babies. The photos are now on my wall and their beautiful faces are beaming down at me at as I write.

And there are letters from writers. Bill Gault, Steve Marlowe, Richard Prather in one group and Peter Rabe, Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong in another.

The longest letters are from Dorothy. I had written her and asked if she'd be interested in writing a few autobiographical pieces for Mystery Scene. I mean my God think of her career. I didn't hear back from her for some time and then this long letter showed up. She hadn't been familiar with either the magazine or me so she did a little checking out. A friend gave her two issues of MS as well as my novel The Autumn Dead. She liked the magazine very much and then wrote "I try t keep up with new writers. I recently read Lawrence Block (not really new I realize) `When The Sacred Windmill Closes.' It's a new classic. Wonderful. And then I read `The Autumn Dead' and I was really taken with its depth and its compassion and its heartbreak. Both these books show that there's a new turn coming in mystery fiction." I sent her few more. She liked all but one. I remember her saying it was "too cynical for its own good." She told great stories on the phone. My favorite was an incident that had happened the day before I called. Somehow she'd bumped her head and fallen to the floor. Her daughter lived nearby and stopped by. She found her mother on the kitchen floor, blood pooled around her head. Her daughter was naturally frightened. On the phone Dorothy said: "Oh, hell, you kids get so excited about things." The autobiographical pieces she wrote for the magazine were excellent. God I liked Dorothy.

Sweet Charlotte MacLeod and I used to talk all the time on the phone. We were certainly an odd couple, her one of the the leading cozy writers, me still hawking the old Gold Medals. Reading through her letters last night I realized that we rarely agreed on any book, we just liked each other. She always made me laugh. My favorite story of hers was about the time when she went to see the Three Stooges film in Boston. She was seventeen, just down from her tiny home town and enrolled in art school. Her room mate said that the Stooges were filming at the ice rink. They hurried there to see them. Charlotte said that the Stooges swore so much (it was freezing) that she learned more dirty words that morning than she had in her entire life.

This group of Peter Rabe's letters dealt mostly with two novels of his he'd written over the past two years. He wanted my opinion and any ideas I had for marketing them. He'd also run an idea for a new Daniel Port book by me, sort of bringing Port into the eighties. The idea was very very cool. One of the letters references the trip to Cedar Rapids he hoped to make. He'd take the train. He liked the idea of the trip itself. Another reference was to the cough he'd been fighting and his plans to go to the doctor. He would soon find out that he had terminal lung cancer, which was coincidental because less than a month earlier he'd been telling me how good he felt after having given up smoking years earlier. He said he'd had a hell of a time quitting. The end came fast. He went to a laetrile clinic in Mexico, the same thing Steve McQueen tried when he'd run out of options. I talked to him there and he was in great spirits. But when I called back a week or so later I was told he was in LA. They gave me the name of the hospital and I called but when I mentioned Peter's name the nurse's tone changed abruptly and I knew he was dead. I sure wish we'd been able to meet. BTW those two novels of his I'd read. He sent me a quick note days before his death asking me to keep them and try to sell them for him. I sent them to five publishers. I got amazingly good feedback but no sales. Once again Stark House comes to the rescue. Next year they'll be bringing both of them out in a single volume.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Richard Prather

Ed here: I'm reprinting this from `05 because when I was at a bookstore yesterday two gents in the mystery section were talking about Shell Scott.

Richard Prather

Bud Post wrote to ask my why I never talk about Richard Prather. As I recall, I think I've devoted two or three columns to him over the past four years.

I loved Prather because he was always fun. I was naive about his right-wing politics so they never got in my way, I just liked the hilarious situations women always led the willing Shell into. One of my all-time favorite scenes is Shell in a hot air balloon flying above the nudist camp he's just escaped from. His attire consists of his holster and gun.

But I think the cleverness of the plotting--Robert Leslie Bellem incoprating Mickey Spillane--cost him something in reputation. Nothing that much fun could be any good, right?

But Prather was a real writer. His depiction of LA after the big war, the nut jobs who seemed to fill TV screens 24/7 and the various type of restaurants, parties and clambakes Shell went to gave us a good sense of what LA was like in this days. Good solid reporting.

The unreality came in the form of the gangsters--straight out of ZIV TV--and the women. Have there ever been so many beautiful babes so willing to drag a man into bed? And all with such cute, coy dialogue?

I can still sit down and read one of the Shells with great enjoyment because however dated they're soundly built by a man who knew what he as doing and did it with pride.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A letter to some writers

I got a long e mail from an old writer friend of mine today. We've had similar careers, a number of successes but no break-outs, though we wrote two Best Seller types of books at the same time. And suffered the same fate. (If you want to read about agents who are always pushing these Best Seller ideas on their clients, read Dean Koontz's new novel--a truly hilarious look at publishing, agents and critics).

My friend was talking about all the people we knew who'd never gotten their due and how so many of them had fallen away now, lost cars, homes, marriages, got lost in alcohol or drugs or despair. He said he wished it was the eighties again and we were starting out, both of us having come out of magazines in the seventies to write novels in the new decade.

I reminded him that back in the eighties many of the book writers I knew were telling me that they wished it was the sixties again because that was the golden decade. I soon learned that the golden decade was any that you didn't happen to be inhabiting at the moment.

I also reminded him of something wise Charles Grodin once said (I'm paraphrasing here): A lot of the young actors I hung out with were a lot better than I'd ever be. But they gave up. A lot of them went into real estate. But that's why I'm here today. Because I didn't quit.

I believe Grodin was asked in this same interview why he'd had to audition five or six times for his masterful part in Midnight Run, getting the part (I believe) only when Robert DeNiro said he'd pull out if Grodin didn't get it.

To me that was another example of hanging in there. I always thought of Grodin as a star. I imagine he did too from time to time but he put up with the nonsense and finally got the part. (Who else could have played it anyway? One of the best performances of that whole era.)

Full time writers of my generation (and this is true in all genres) are struggling with an abysmal marketplace, the dominance of new sub-genres (horny vampires--who knew?) and a flood of new kids on the block who are damned good writers.

Mixed in with the scramble to eat is the will (never lost) to do our best work. We're too old to write the break out book but we're not too old to write the book that will survive us. Not some monster bestseller but a book indelibly our own that will speak to at least a few people after we've passed. Unlike publicity departments and reviewers, the internet is a democratic institution. Just last week somebody said they were starting a website about Eliot Chaze, a major writer whose work is often referred to but seldom read since his death twenty years ago. Chaze will finally get a deserved following. The size of it is irrelevant.

So ladies and gentlemen of my generation--many of you whom I know through my years editing Mystery Scene--let's not give into the despair there's so much of on various blogs. Let's do what we need to to survive but also make time to write the kind of book we set out to write long, long ago.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

General Stuff

1. I don't get to see all the anthologies published. I try. I pay for every one I can find out of my own pocket if need be. But I still miss some. It's relatively easy to find stories on line. IF YOU'RE IN AN ANTHOLOGY PLEASE E MAIL ME AND LET ME KNOW WHICH ONE. That way I'll have a checklist. I'm starting to read for the 2010 book now.

2. A number of you wished that the British volumes of my Collected Stories hadn't been as expensive as they were. They are very handsome books and are my favorites. But I understand how they might be beyond the budgets of some people. I'm taking the crime stories from the first two volumes and collecting them along with eight or nine uncollected ones and publishing them all in a single trade pb with Ramble House. I'll let you know when it's available.

3. Every once in awhile I like to remind all of you that you're welcome to contribute as many pieces as you like to the blog. Believe it or not I get sick of hearing my own opinions. Appropriate subjects only please. We do want to see and discuss your sex tapes ("Wow! Who knew people could actually do that?") but we don't have that site set up just yet. The nuns helping me with it were recently picked up for disorderly conduct in Boston and have yet to be sprung.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Movie stuff

Some interesting items on line about movies the last few days:

In New York magazine critic David Edelstein offers a complex rather than sentimental look at John Hughes' work, one I agree with. Almost thirty years ago when I wrote my two serio-comic novels about alcoholic film reviewer Tobin Edelstein was decent enough to let me ask him questions about his process as a reviewer, where did he see screenings etc. I've followed him since then. He's in the New Yorker most issues and is well worth reading.

"I was in my early twenties when Sixteen Candles opened, and I’ve always wondered if my adolescence would have been different somehow if I’d seen The Breakfast Club as a young nerd instead of one whose personality was already—for better or worse—formed. Instead, I often found his films difficult to watch. I didn’t buy the relationships, and I couldn’t get past the self-pity and anger.


"The emotional hook of The Breakfast Club—and so much of Hughes’s work—was the indifference, incomprehension, and cruelty of parents and other grown-ups. That was the point of connection among those disparate kids, what allowed them to look beyond their superficial differences and unite against a hateful teacher, against all the adults in their lives. There were one or two exceptions to the Grown-Ups Are Soul Killers rule, like the hangdog working class single dad Harry Dean Stanton in Pretty in Pink. But he was an outsider himself, and impotent; he couldn’t begin to help his daughter (Molly Ringwald) fit in.

"At the height of his success, Hughes got strange, and stories abound of his unpleasantness. (I interviewed him once for a Rolling Stone story I decided not to write and found him neither nasty nor nice—not indifferent, just … neutral.) Films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles boasted child-men and homosexual panic. The movie of Hughes’s that haunts me is Uncle Buck, which looked in the ads like a broad comedy about the invasion of a slob-ola relative (John Candy) and turned out to be a mournful, minor-key quasi comedy against a background of illness and death in Chicago at its wintriest. Here was an opposite perspective: Kids left to their own devices needed a grown-up to set rules."

For the rest go here:

WILLIAM LUSTIG------------------------

William Lustig is best known as writer-director of such down market Bs as Maniac Cop and its sequels. I've always liked his movies and have to admit that a few of them scare the hell out of me. The Village Voice published the following article which I've excerpted here:

Wlliam Lustig's 'Buried Treasures' at Anthology
Presenting a '70s hit list where the results aren't pretty
By Nick Pinkerton
Tuesday, August 4th 2009 at 2:46pm
William Lustig Presents: The '70s Buried Treasures
August 7 through 14, Anthology Film Archives

"Also very present is the psychic blowback from Southeast Asia. Co-scenarist Paul Schrader translated Taxi Driver to Tex-Mex with 1977's Rolling Thunder, in which Major Charles Rane (William Devane, impenetrable behind aviator shades) touches down in San Antone, after 2,555 days as a POW, to a wet-blanket countrypolitan theme song, a wife who didn't wait, and a USA that can't manufacture convertibles. It's a boon when some psychopathic home invaders give his life fresh purpose—tracking and killing, with bleary honky-tonk angel Linda Haynes and a bullnecked young Tommy Lee Jones, still looking fit to play tackle.


"Performances are made crystalline through a sixth sense for camera placement and curt cutting from director John Flynn, whose 2007 passing was little noted, though his no-BS way of laying down a story is a rare commodity in any era.
If the genre man, per shopworn cliché, is a good utility ballplayer, Flynn was Rance Mulliniks. His 1973 The Outfit, which comes no closer to sentiment than communion over a thermos lid of coffee, is Best in Show (this hard, efficient director is the perfect adapter for the hard, efficient "Parker" books by Donald Westlake—another recent R.I.P.): Pridefully taciturn Robert Duvall has a gauntlet to run to exact revenge on kingpin Robert Ryan, but gets on top of every situation with bright-eyed singlemindedness. An ineffable gallery of supporters includes Karen Black, Sheree North, Elisha Cook Jr., Timothy Carey, two ex-heavyweights (Archie Moore and Roland La Starza), and slow-grinnin' bruiser Joe Don Baker. Baker's leading-man viability faltered with the Southern drive-ins, when the Dairy Queen demographic got bumped straight-to-video, but he sure sells the small-town detail of Richard Compton's long-fuse explosive Welcome Home, Soldier Boys, playing a country buck back from Vietnam distinctly failing to readapt to stateside living ("Gonna be strange goin' back to white women").

"The whole of Lustig's lineup of films was better accepted by double-bill burners than cultural gatekeepers on their first run, their legends kept alive in late-night-TV purgatory. When The Times' Vincent Canby brushed off The Outfit as "a 30-Year-Late B-Movie," he didn't realize that the "B" springs eternal."

Ed here: A few points about the Lustig piece:

1. I think Rolling Thunder is mostly a mess but it captures the insanity and rage of the 60s and 70s about as well as any film I've ever seen. It is a disturbing movie and worth hunting for.

2. I know that Don Westlake liked the movie of The Outfit. He thought Duvall was very close to his own take on Parker and he enjoyed seeing all those great B movie actors in his film. Except for Point Blank it's my favorite of the Stark films and really is much closer to the books than is Point Blank. I see that there is some talk about the film adaptation of the Parker novel Slayground. I think it's even more of a mess than Rolling Thunder. But the first ten-twelve minutes are the closest I've ever seen the tone, the pace, the soul of the Parker prose translated to film. I remember saying that to Westlake. I don't want to misquote him here but I do remember him saying that he know exactly what I meant. Unfortunately when this baby goes off the rails it plunges five thousand miles to instant death.

3. As the article points out director John Flynn's passing was barely noted back in 2007. But he was for me one of those action directors who could give you real human beings while pumping up the adrenaline. I'll take his body of work over all the action big shots of the day including James Cameron's (The Terminator being the only exception; a very Flynn-like movie).

4. I'm old enough to have suffered through the NY Times' years of movie reviewers Bosley Crowther and Vincent Canby. Whenever they reviewed a B I had to call for Animal Control so I could be restrained with a six or seven shots of bear tranquilizer.

For the rest go here:

Friday, August 07, 2009

R.I.P Mink Deville

Mink DeVille died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, age 58. I hadn't listened to him in some even though I had a run of his songs on iTunes. I just listened to nine of his songs in a row and man it made me feel young and strong and crazy again. All the pain, all the passion, all the fuck you. So much of punk was crap but when you hear DeVille you understand what punk was supposed to be about. All those giddy outrageous days of 75-80 in London, Paris and NYC. You can hear it all in Mink DeVille. Fire up your iTunes. Spanish Stroll, Desperate Days, This Must Be The Night, Love and Emotion are a good place to start.

From Rolling Stone:

Mr. DeVille's career never quite took off, despite the impressive breadth and depth of his talent. He is recording a new album for Atlantic records, having departed from his previous recording commitment under less than amicable circumstances. And on Friday night he was at the Savoy, where he demonstrated with an almost insolent ease that he is still ready for the recognition that should have been his several years ago. He has the songs, he has the voice, and he has the band. And he has expanded the scope of his music by adding elements of French cafe songs and Louisiana zydeco to the mixture of rock, blues, Latin and Brill Building soul that was already there.[37]

From Wikipedia:

Critic Robert Palmer wrote about him in 1980, "Mr. DeVille is a magnetic performer, but his macho stage presence camouflages an acute musical intelligence; his songs and arrangements are rich in ethnic rhythms and blues echoes, the most disparate stylistic references, yet they flow seamlessly and hang together solidly. He embodies (New York's) tangle of cultural contradictions while making music that's both idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original."[3]

Doc Pomus, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member with whom he penned several songs, wrote about him, "DeVille knows the truth of a city street and the courage in a ghetto love song. And the harsh reality in his voice and phrasing is yesterday, today, and tomorrow—timeless in the same way that loneliness, no money, and troubles find each other and never quit for a minute."[4]Mink DeVille, for which DeVille was the principal songwriter, was billed as one of the most original groups on the New York punk scene after an appearance at the legendary CBGB club in Greenwich Village in the 1970s.


In 1977, the band recorded "Cabretta," a rock and roll/rhythm and blues album with renowned producer Jack Nitzsche. Its featured song, "Spanish Stroll," was a Top 20 hit in Britain. It was followed by the album "Return to Magenta."

Better known in Europe than in the United States, DeVille went solo in 1980 with "Le Chat Bleu." Recorded in Paris and influenced by his admiration for siren Edith Piaf, the album featured "This Must Be the Night" and "Just to Walk That Little Girl Home."

About Dean Koontz

John Schoenfelder is an editor at St. Martin's. We've been exchanging e mails dealing with different topics. He made a very interesting point about the work of Dean Koontz as well as the state of the art of reviews in general.

"Far beyond the ever present scope of (Dean's) huge sales, the more I’ve looked at Koontz’ work, the more it becomes apparent to me just how much he’s accomplished in terms of adding to the canon of what I term “ultimate suspense”. Maybe it’s just me but I often lament the fact that the “auteur theory” of film criticism often seems to have missed any sort of echo across in terms of criticism across large segments of the book world. Of course, the classic pulps- Willeford and Thomson, Cain et al have been canonized by the NY Times crowd at this point, but I’m just not sure that the world at large really gets how much an author like Koontz has just for instance, really taken the “Hitchcock” baton and run with it.

"And of course, in a broader sense, Hitchcock’s engine was fired by Woolrich, Highsmith, Hunter et al so always a bit disappointed by the fact that there are an ever growing number of college courses where people write essays on the minutia of sequences of The Birds, while the book pages behind, and beyond that kind of storytelling continually don’t seem to get the same level of critical care…"

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg

The passing of Budd Schulberg at age 95 is getting a lot of press, surprisingly so since we don't much value writers in America. While most of the comments are flattering, there are a few that ask us to remember that Schulberg was a "friendly witness" when brought in front of HUAC in the Fifties. It is claimed, without much proof, that his testimony put an old friend or two behind bars. I'm nobody's idea of hero so I have to say that I have no idea how I would've reacted if I'd been dragged in front of those slime ball bastards who ran the committee. Faced with the end of my career or even prison, I don't know what I would've done.

If Schulberg's decision to talk is open to question, his work certainly is not. What Makes Sammy Run. On The Waterfront. The Harder They Fall. The masterful and all but forgotten Wind Across The Everglades. A Face in The Crowd. Wonderful American writing.

One novel that never gets much mention is The Disenchanted. This is a novel about a writer whose fame was lost to alcohol and fashion. The great artist is now a Hollywood hack working on a screenplay with a young writer who worships him. The writing takes them back to their old college where the older writer goes through alcoholic breakdown.

If you know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald, you know this story is true. Schulberg was assigned to work on a piece of dreck called "Winter Carnival" in the course of which he saw his idol come undone. There are two stories here, the tale of Fitzgerald's destructive love for Zelda and how the honor Schulberg felt for working with Fitzgerald turns to horror and pity (as pointed out in

I've often wondered if this novel failed to find a large audience because the more literary reviewers just didn't think it was possible for a writer of popular fiction (however important and occasionally profound) to understand a genius of Fitzgerald's caliber.

But the book is so powerful in places it hurts to read it. Line for line it's the best writing Schulberg ever did. No less a figure than Anthony Burgess wrote an essay about it and called it a masterpiece.

Along with the novel, I'd also recommend Schulberg's lengthy essay on Fitzgerald. It tells us far more about the man than all but a few of the many biographies written about him. Below is the link.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Killing Mum

Killing Mum -- Allan Guthrie

Whenever I feel that life has cheated me I don't need to pick up a Prozac. I just read something by Alan Guthrie. Compared to the lives of his people, my life has been a breeze.

In the entrepreneurial spirit we all admire so much, Carlos Morales has found himself a fine little niche that keeps him in cookies. He's the guy who'll find you a killer for whatever job you need done. All he needs are your wishes and some serious cash and pretty darn soon the guy Morales chooses for the job eliminates the man or woman you want vanished.

But now somebody's screwing with Morales' head. He gets ten grand to kill his own mother. And the client doesn't want just anybody to off her. He wants Morales to do the job himself.

I suppose this is a novelette by pulp magazine standards. It comes in a handsome little booklet that you can slide into your jacket pocket along with your dope and your shiv. Guthrie packs his prose with real suspense, his usual droll take on human venality and enough surprises to keep you turning the pages quickly. A really nice piece of crime writing.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Noir City Sentinel

I guess the only way to say it is that I've done gone and died and found myself in noir heaven.

When I say I've never seen a book as packed with fresh information about various aspects of noir history, I'm not exaggerating. Eddie Muller and his staff at the Film Noir Foundation have published Vol. 4 No.3 of the Noir City Sentinel and it is so crowded with topics, insights and photographs that I'd need four or five nightly posts to do it justice. Seriously.

I started by reading my friend Vince Keenan's two pieces. As a good lapsed Catholic, I wanted to see what Vince did with "The Catholic Noir of John Farrow." Fascinating study about the Catholic themes of sin and redemption play across Farrow's years as a director. As Vince points out this is especially notable because Farrow, though a proud Catholic, was a womanizer of the first degree. Mia's daddy strayed far and wide. There's a great bit here where Farrow and Robert Mitchum are talking about Confession. Farrow has so many sins to confess he goes to a Mexican priest who can barely understand English. The priest always goes easy on him. If only he knew what Farrow was really confessing to...Vince also has the definitive word on the film "Nightmare Alley." How it came to be made and how, as a few key studio people predicted, it failed at the box office. It is revered today. Great work on both subjects.

Writer and publisher Eddie Muller contributes three excellent pieces on subjects including Belita: The Ice Queen of Film Noir; Comic-Book Noir; and "Mr. Modern Noir." All this in addition to a fine Letter From The Publisher in which he talks about the often unheralded work screenwriter Ben Hecht did for various film noirs.

Staff writer Dan Malcolm covers Noir in the 1960s, three neglected films; Noir Couples; and Single Word Double Bills. Alan K. Rode interviews producer-director Arnold Laven whose career stretches over many decades. This is one of those discussions that take in Holllywood from the shakiest of platforms (Monogram) to the gold plated dazzle of hit TV shows. Laven gives us numerous portraits of various actors he's worked with. His melancholy portrait of Edward G. Robinson is particularly strong. Laven worked with the actor during the time Robinson was "gray-listed" by various right-wing groups and had to work once again in low-budget films.

Reviews, obituaries, TV noir, Noir...or not? (a look at "The Shack on 101" every John Bircher's favorite film) and more more more.

Exuberant as I can get, I rarely use the word exciting. But this entire issue loaded with crisp, literate writing that gives us historical insights into the genre we love most. As I said, I've never read a book on noir that was as informative and just as much downright fun as Noir City Sentinel.

I'm excerpting a letter Vince Keenan wrote me:

"You can subscribe to the Sentinel by making a donation to the Film Noir Foundation, which is doing terrific work restoring classic noir films and putting them into circulation again.

All the info on the Foundation’s work and on subscribing to the Sentinel can be found at the FNF’s website:"

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Missing Kubricks

(I haven't been blogging because I've run into a patch of bad health. Still not feeling very good but at least not as bad as I was last week.)

Cinema Retro linked to the magazine Empire which recently ran a piece on the films Stanley Kubrick hoped to make but never did. Here are two examples:

"One-Eyed Jacks
This hoary environmental Western paired Kubrick (up-and-coming director) with Marlon Brando (fully-fledged superstar) in what should have been a match made in Hollywood heaven but, well, wasn't. In fact, to say that it was disaster would be an understatement. In 1960 Brando's clout with the studio was such that two of the cast - France Nuyen and Karl Malden - were picked without Kubrick's knowledge, in Malden's case with a whopping salary. That wasn't the only problem. "Marlon, I don't know what this picture's about," director told star during their confab at Brando's house. "I'll tell you what it's about," retorted Brando. "It's about the $300,000 that I've already paid Karl Malden." Disagreements festered until Brando schemed to have Kubrick fired and directed himself. The result was a mess Kubrick was happy to walk away from, not least because it freed him to take over when Anthony Mann was fired from Spartacus.

"A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Admiration for E.T. fuelled Kubrick's interest in 'Super-Toys Last All Summer Long', a short story by British sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss that had grabbed his attention when it appeared in Harper's Bazaar. Super-Toys, a tender, Pinocchio-like tale of artificial intelligence in an overpopulated world, sent him back to his 2001 sci-fi drawing board. To forge it into a script, he enlisted the help of leading authorities on artificial intelligence, as well as 2001 novelist Arthur C. Clarke and a revolving door of British sci-fi writers who were treated to impromptu Chinese banquets at his Hertfordshire home.

All the Peking Duck in the world couldn't forge Aldiss' story into a coherent screenplay though, and the two fell out amid threats of injunctions. A.I. remained close to Kubrick's heart - it was rumoured to be on the verge of filming as late as 1995 (test footage took place in the North Sea), before he turned to Eyes Wide Shut. It was fitting that the film initially inspired by E.T. was passed on to Steven Spielberg, himself so influenced by 2001."

For the rest go here: