Monday, January 18, 2016

W.R. Burnett and The Crime Writers of Hollywood by BRETT YATES

Update: Boy did I screw up. A man named Brett Yates wrote the following piece IN RESPONSE TO to a piece written by Pauline Kael.

W.R. Burnett and The Crime Writers of Hollywood
(excellent long piece; this is an excerpt)
The writers behind these movies wrote dime novels as early as the late 1920s; others debuted at the beginning of the '40s. Some worked in Hollywood in the '30s, but John Huston opened the door for them as screenwriters in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon, which was gritty, mean, and successful; it exposed a market for gritty, mean pictures. Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Jonathan Latimer, Frank Gruber, A.I. Bezzerides, Daniel Mainwaring, and, eventually, Jim Thompson supplied this market with what it wanted. In the '40s, they wrote screenplays for movies such as The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia, Out of the Past, and The Big Clock; some of the writers worked successfully well into the '50s and gave us Kiss Me Deadly and The Killing. And when these guys weren't writing movies, their novels were being adapted into movies by other writers; the results were classics like Murder, My SweetThe Big Sleep, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The greatest illustration of this strain of movies was Double Indemnity (1944), which came from a script that Raymond Chandler wrote with director Billy Wilder, based on a novel by James M. Cain. Set in a desolate Los Angeles, it communicates a fatalistic sense of doom more powerfully than any other movie in its genre or any other.
Even more important to the development of the crime picture than Cain or Chandler, however, was writer named W.R. Burnett, now mostly forgotten. His first novel, Little Caesar, appeared in 1929; Hollywood bought it, and it made Edward G. Robinson, now best known for his role in Double Indemnity, a star in 1931. Burnett parlayed the movie's success into a gig as a screenwriter, and in 1932, he contributed to Ben Hecht's script for Scarface, which would, of course, inspire the 1983 movie of the same name. In the early '30s, Hollywood was still a long way from film noir. The gangsters of Little Caesarand Scarface, though destined for death, were much more heroic than the protagonists of the noir era. The gangsters murdered with skill; they built criminal empires and became wealthy. In the noir era, the typical protagonist was, at best, a small-time crook; usually, he was an ordinary guy lured into a half-baked heist or scam, not a gangster. And the detectives of the genre didn't bust Al Capone; they caught grubby degenerates from the seedy side of the city. Still, the gangster movies of the '30s paved the way for the likes of the The Postman Always Rings Twice by exposing viewers to violence and nastiness that the silent movies hadn't shown.
In 1941, Burnett bridged the gap between the two eras with High Sierra. It premiered eight and a half months before The Maltese Falcon, and like The Maltese Falcon, it starred Humphrey Bogart, a supporting actor for stars like James Cagney (Angels with Dirty FacesThe Roaring Twenties) in the gangster era who became a star in the noir era. It was directed by Raoul Walsh, and it was based on a novel by Burnett, which Burnett adapted for the screen with John Huston, The Maltese Falcon's screenwriter and director. Bosley Crowther reviewed it in the New York Times: "We wouldn't know for certain whether the twilight of the American gangster is here. But Warner Brothers, who should know if anybody does, have apparently taken it for granted and, in a solemn, Wagnerian mood, are giving that titanic figure a send-off befitting a first-string god in the film called High Sierra, which arrived yesterday at the Strand." Bogart's character, Roy Earle, "the last of the great gunmen," recently sprung from jail, is past his prime and lonely; his friends are "all either dead or doing time in Alcatraz." He falls in love with a lame girl and pays for an operation to fix her clubfoot; afterward, the girl promptly ditches him. He collaborates in a heist, which goes wrong; he hides from the police in the mountains until he's killed. He may go out in a blaze of glory, but we see here the transition from the heroic, ambitious gangster of the '30s to the pathetic, melancholy small-timer of the '40s.
for the rest go here:

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