Showing posts with label 1940s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1940s. Show all posts

16 October 2022

The Top Fifteen Crime Films of the 1940’s.


by William Burton McCormick

As I said in my listing of my favorite crime films of the 1930’s, lists are silly.  Making lists, however, can be a useful exercise for authors studying a genre. At best, it forces serious analysis on what works and what doesn’t, allowing an author better perspective on the elements of a successful thriller or mystery. At worst, it is a wonderful excuse for watching and re-watching countless old films, re-appreciating classics and unearthing obscure gems. 

So, here I am again with a new decade to discuss, the era of the Second World War, film noir’s first Golden Age, when authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett held sway and English director Alfred Hitchcock burst onto the American scene (his previous films, including my 30’s top film The 39 Steps (1935) were made in England. Now Hitch had Hollywood budgets and stars at his disposal. Look out!).  Warning! Spoilers are ahead.

The number of outstanding crime films in this decade was exponentially greater than the preceding one and reducing it to fifteen was a painful affair. A list of honorable mentions reads like a collection of classics and near-classics: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), Key Largo (1948), Song of the Thin Man (1947), Mildred Pierce (1945), This Gun for Hire (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), Laura (1944), They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), The Naked City (1948), High Sierra (1941), Gaslight (1944), The Dark Corner (1946), I See A Dark Stranger (1946), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Out of the Past (1947), and The Postman Always Rings Twice(1944).

Several legendary directors had multiple films I was forced to omit: Fritz Lang (whose (1931) nearly topped my earlier list) had the excellent pictures The Woman in the Window (1944), Hangman Also Die! (1946) and Scarlet Street (1945) left off. Akira Kurosawa wrote and directed two fantastic crime films Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949) but they were unseen outside of Japan, and I use this as the flimsiest excuse to omit them. (For a discussion on Kurosawa’s crime films go here.) 

Alfred Hitchcock, well-represented on this list, was productive enough to have several excellent films not make the cut: Saboteur (1942), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rebecca (1940, his only career Best Picture winner), and Suspicion (1941, often called his ‘flawed masterpiece’ as producer David O. Selznick forced Hitch to change the ending and make Cary Grant’s character innocent, much to Grant’s chagrin who wanted to play a villain). 

Carol Reed, who has a film high on this list, also produced two excellent thrillers I’d recommend: Odd Man Out (1947) and The Fallen Idol (1948). Orson Welles’s The Stranger (1946) was probably the most painful cut from this list, while his The Lady from Shanghai (1947) has scenes of absolute genius tempered by Welles’s typical money problems and egregious studio interference. (And Welles insisted his wife and costar Rita Hayworth cut her luxurious hair and bleach it blonde, a sin against humanity that must be penalized).

Lastly, several great films with crime elements but ultimately residing in other genres are excluded: Casablanca (1942, a romance), Arsenic and Old Lace (1945, a farce), To Be or Not to Be (1942, a war comedy), His Girl Friday (1940, a screwball comedy), Rebecca (1940, a gothic romance), and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948, a Western). 

All these films I watched or re-watched before composing this list. So, enough about what’s not here. On to our main event:

15. Gilda (1946)
American gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is hired by Ballin Mundson (George Maceady) to run his Buenos Aires casino and watch over Mundson’s rebellious wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth), who often cavorts with other very dangerous men. When two German mobsters seek control of the casino, Mundson fakes his own death leaving Johnny and Gilda to contend with each other and the mob. Hayworth’s Gilda is the very visual definition of a femme fatale. Her entrance in the film is legendary, as is her singing “Put the Blame on Mame” in a hormone-popping strapless black dress designed by Jean Louis, a performance still bewitching seventy-six years later.  An Esquire photograph of Hayworth in that dress with “Gilda” stenciled above decorated the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tested in July, 1946. The 23-kiloton bomb was the most powerful exploded up to that point and the decoration meant to honor Hayworth “as the world’s ultimate bombshell.” When Hayworth found out she was highly offended. 


14. The Glass Key (1942)
The second of four films pairing Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, The Glass Key edges out This Gun for Hire from the same year and The Blue Dahlia (1946) as the finest picture to feature both stars.  Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, The Glass Key tells the story of Ed Beaumont (Ladd), the “problem solver” for corrupt political boss Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy).  Madvig has fallen in love with Janet Henry (Lake), and is determined to get Janet’s father, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), elected governor despite the objections of mob kingpin Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia). A tale of temptation in many forms, Ladd’s Beaumont stays loyal to Madvig despite sexual advances from Janet and bribes, threats and torture from Varna. As election day approaches the bodies pile up, including Ralph’s son Taylor (Richard Denning). Despite Ladd being third-billed, Beaumont is the film’s central character. The Glass Key was rushed through production to capitalize on the chemistry between Ladd and Lake in This Gun for Hire and Hammett’s name after The Maltese Falcon (1941) and the successful Thin Man series. The timing was right, and it paid off handsomely at the box office.

 
13. Rope (1948)
Inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murders, director Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope tells the story of two roommates Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) who kill a friend (Dick Hogan) for the sheer intellectual thrill of it. They then host a party using an unlocked chest housing the body as a serving table. Among the guests are the victim’s father (Cedrick Hardwicke), fiancée (Joan Chandler) and their old prep school professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), whose gallows humor and promotion of Nietzschean superman theories greatly affected the killers in their youth. By the end of the night, Phillip is coming apart, Brandon is making threats and Rupert regrets his irresponsible teachings.  

A modern BBC review called Rope “technically and socially bold.” This is certainly true. The characters of Brandon and Phillip are a homosexual couple which the film hints at often. In reality, Dall was gay, Farley bisexual, and Hitchcock hired openly gay writer Arthur Laurents to craft a screenplay with appropriate subtext (Laurents and Farley would begin an 18-month relationship soon after production). The character of Rupert was also supposed to be gay, though the hints more subtle. (There is no evidence Stewart knew he was playing a gay man.)  A film in 1948 with three homosexual characters, two villains and the hero, was daring even if the Hays Code prevented mentioning homosexuality explicitly.  

Technically, Hitchcock was also pushing the envelope. In his first color picture, he shot long, continuous scenes only limited by the amount of film that could be placed in camera. Hitch disguises the ends of these eleven-minute “long takes” by panning or tracking into objects and then starting again from the same position. Some of these seams are clumsy (especially when you know the trick) but it allowed the film to appear to play out in real time. This was influential on director Fred Zinnemann and producer Stanley Kramer, who would use the illusion of a real time story to great effect in High Noon (1952). Except for one exterior establishing shot, the entire movie takes place in Brandon’s and Phillip’s Manhattan apartment. Hitchcock’s experiments on how to tell a gripping thriller in static limited space in Rope and the equally confined Lifeboat (1944) would pave the way for a masterpiece of the form in 1954’s Rear Window.


12. Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
The fourth Thin Man film keeps the winning streak alive. In San Francisco, Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) head to the races only to find a jockey who has thrown a race was murdered. (“My, they’re strict at this track,” says Nora.) With the day at the races ruined, they head to a wrestling match where Paul Clarke (Barry Nelson) is framed for killing a reporter and Clarke’s girlfriend Molly (Donna Reed) pleads for help. Are the two murders connected? The trail leads to Claire Porter (Stella Adler, future founder of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting) who, failing to seduce Nick, tries to outsmart him and steal evidence. Twists, turns and much laughter ensue. 

The best scenes include a brawl in a restaurant and a recurring joke where Nick’s underworld contacts mock Nora’s hat. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Ava Gardner as an uncredited extra in one scene, her debut in film. (We’ll see more of Ava on this list soon.) The first Thin Man film not based on a Dashiell Hammett story or treatment and without a screenplay from the husband-wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich (who claimed they had exhausted every witticism they knew in the first three films) new writers Harry Kurnitz and Irving Brecher stepped in without missing a beat. It is also the first film after canine actor Skippy was retired and the role of Asta given to a descendent. More changes were ahead. Pearl Harbor was attacked two weeks after the film’s release and Loy would forgo acting to serve in the Red Cross as Director of Military and Naval Welfare, while Powell would be devastated by the death of his ex-wife Carol Lombard in a plane crash two months later. But never mind those grim future troubles. Put on your best screwy hat, order the seabass, and enjoy because “Baby, you’ve arrived.”
 

11. Green for Danger (1946)
Based on the Christianna Brand novel of the same name, Green for Danger is a classic “closed environment” mystery set in an English countryside war hospital during the German bombings of 1944. In the first scene, we are witness to an operation performed by a staff of six people: surgeon Eden (Leo Genn), anesthetist Barnes (Trevor Howard), Sister Bates (Judy Campbell) and nurses Linley (Sally Gray), Woods (Megs Jenkins), and Sanson (Rosamund John).  A voiceover tells us within five days “two of these people will be dead and one of them a murderer.” What follows is a tense mystery where duties and bombings force suspects together and ratchet up the anxiety to deliciously tortuous levels. This tension is nicely counter-balanced by humorous-but-clever Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim), who arrives to catch the murderer. Great fun.


10. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
After leaving London for Hollywood in 1939, director Alfred Hitchcock burst onto the American cinema scene with two films released in 1940 that would receive Academy Award Best Picture nominations: Rebecca (the winner) and Foreign Correspondent. 

 The latter is a cracking good thriller of Europe teetering towards war.  American journalist John Jones (Joel McCrea) is sent to Europe to interview a Dutch diplomat (Albert Basserman) only to witness his assassination. Or was it faked? And if so, for what purposes? Adventure, international intrigue and a surprising amount of comedy follow. 

This film has a plethora of memorable Hitchcockian visuals: the chase in the rain through an umbrella-packed square, the mysterious windmill that turns opposite direction of others, the assassination on the steps mimicked by Francis Ford Coppola in the Godfather and Hitch’s first great set piece for American audiences, a plane shot down in the stormy Atlantic where the survivors cling to the wings as the waves wash over them. 

After filming was complete, Hitch visited England and found the German blitz was soon to come. Back in Hollywood, he hired Ben Hecht to write a new closing scene where McCrea’s reporter broadcasts a warning to the world. It impressed even the enemy. German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels called Foreign Correspondent "A masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries". Hitch was fighting Nazi propaganda fire with a fire of his own. Rebecca may have taken home the Oscar, but for my money Foreign Correspondent is the better film. It’s certainly more reflective of what was on Hitchcock’s mind in 1940.

9.  White Heat (1949)
Possibly James Cagney’s greatest film, each act of White Heat explores a different crime subgenre – gangster, prison, heist.  Cagney plays mobster Cody Jarrett, a psychotic Mama’s boy worthy of the later Bruno Antony or ;[;[Norman Bates. After killing four men in a train robbery, Jarrett confesses to a lesser crime committed elsewhere to give him a false alibi for the murders.  While serving a year in prison, members of his gang plot against him and the group is infiltrated by an undercover agent (Edmund O’Brian). After Jarrett’s release, they undertake a payroll robbery at a chemical plant unaware of the traitors and lawman in their midst.  A perennial entry on all-time great films lists, White Heat is one of the darkest masterpieces to come out of the ‘40’s.  And that ending. Wow! Say it all together: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”  Boom!


8. The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy, as if you didn’t know by now) leave Nicky Jr behind and visit Nick’s parents (Harry Davenport and Lucile Watson) in rural New England.  Word quickly circulates that the famous detective is on a case, rumors fanned by Nora to impress Nick’s father, who thinks little of sleuthing and wanted his son to be a doctor like he is. Then a man is shot dead on the Charles’ doorstep and the fictious case becomes real. One of the best in the series, the cast of colorful small-town suspects makes it the most engaging mystery since the 1934 original. 

The fifth film, it was the first entry without series director W.S. Van Dyke who died in 1943. With Loy off supporting the war effort, MGM announced in pre-production that Irene Dunne would be cast as Nora. Horrified fans started a mail campaign demanding Loy. As Powell said: “The fans wanted Myrna, and they didn't want anyone else...And I wanted Myrna, too…I've never seen a girl so popular with so many people.” When Loy did return (her only film of the war years) she donated her salary to the war effort.  The Thin Man Goes Home would be followed by a final sequel in Song of the Thin Man (1947) a darker, noirish picture which could have made this list too. Is there any mystery series (or comedy or romance series) that is this good, this long? If you can think of one put it in the comments below. 

7. The Killers (1946)
Expanded from an Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name The Killers starts out in tense and riveting fashion. Two hitmen (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) arrive in Brentwood, New Jersey and murder a gas station attendant nicknamed “the Swede” (Burt Lancaster).  Insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmund O’Brien) looking for a motive for the killings, delves into the Swede’s past, unearthing a rogue’s galleries of suspects including gangster-gone-straight “Big Jim” Colfax (Albert Dekker) and old flame Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner).  

As Reardon moves closer to the truth, the Swede’s story is told in Citizen Kane-style flashbacks. Lancaster, terrific in his film debut, and Gardner, given a chance to shine after years of bit parts, both deservedly became stars. The music written to accompany the hitmen at every appearance would later become the Dragnet theme. 

With a screenplay by Anthony Veiller (and an uncredited rewrite by John Huston), The Killers would go on to beat out such other classics as Notorious and The Big Sleep for the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Picture.  But the truest praise came from Hemingway himself who called The Killers “The only good picture ever made of a story of mine.”
 

6. The Big Sleep (1945)
“Ah ha!” you say, you’ve caught an error. Every cinephile knows The Big Sleep (based on the 1939 Raymond Chandler novel, with a screenplay by William Faulkner and starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as widow Vivian Rutledge) came out in 1946, not 1945. Well, have faith true believers, this requires an explanation. When director Howard Hawks filmed The Big Sleep, World War II was coming to a close. Warner Bros. Pictures had a backlog of war films the studio wanted to release before the fighting ceased. So, with the film in the can, The Big Sleep’s theater distribution was pushed back. Warner Bros. did, however, play it to Allied servicemen fighting in the South Pacific in early 1945. 

Then a funny thing happened. Thanks To Have and Have Not, Bogie and Bacall became Hollywood’s hottest couple on and off screen. Bacall’s agent asked if Hawks and the studio would be willing to film new scenes to capitalize on their chemistry and increase the role for Bacall’s character. Twenty minutes of new footage were shot, mostly featuring the couple exchanging sexually charged banter. Scenes were re-ordered, others removed, and two key characters dropped to accommodate the new footage. 

This version, released in 1946, was the classic we’ve all come to know. A terrific film, but even its most fanatic admirers will admit the plot is confusing. (When Jack Warner cabled Chandler asking if a character was murdered or had killed himself, the author replied “Dammit, I don’t know either!”).  

In the 1990’s, a copy of the original 1945 cut was found in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Hugh Hefner, a fan of Chandler’s work, paid for a restoration and theater distribution of the 1945 print. Since then, the debate has raged: ’45 or ’46?  Roger Ebert preferred ’46, caring more for “feel” than story. The Washington Post thought them both masterpieces but very different films. Me? I watched both versions again for this article. I’ll side with Hef and the servicemen. There is enough interplay between Bogie and Bacall in the ‘45 cut for my taste and with the scenes in proper order and those two other characters present, the plot makes much more sense. Have you seen both versions? If so, which do you prefer? Please tell me in the comments.

5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
One of Hitchcock’s finest films of any decade, Shadow of a Doubt is the story of Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) and her visiting uncle Charles “Charlie” Oakley (Joseph Cotten). The two Charlies share a special bond, one that is tested by the terrible secrets Uncle Charlie brings with him when he arrives at the family home in Santa Rosa, California.  

Wright’s Charlie is easily my favorite Hitchcock heroine, and the actress is a joy to watch in the role. No icy blonde bound for humiliation, the character is a plucky, warm, and highly intelligent brunette who follows the clues to discover what her uncle really has been up to on the East Coast with all those “merry widows” who seem to be dying off. When the secrets are revealed, she matches wits with her uncle and ultimately defeats him while sheltering her family from the horrible truth. 

That family is excellently portrayed and I’m particularly fond of Henry Travers as her father, a bored banker and mystery fan who plots murderous scenarios with family friend Herbie (Hume Cronyn) over the dinner table. Their humorously imagined killings are a perfect balance to the real threat Uncle Charlie has brought into their home. Cotten is flawless in the role, charming enough to fool everyone, but his niece, and chillingly sinister when cornered.  Hitchcock would say for the rest of his life this was his favorite of all his films. Who can argue with the Master? Well, maybe I’d dare to argue (a little) as I have another Hitchcock film at number four.  


4. Notorious (1946)    
Poor Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman). She loves American agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) but he wants her to sleep with and ultimately marry another man, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), so she can spy on Sebastian and his circle of German conspirators in Rio de Janeiro.  

Alicia obeys partially because she is a patriot and wants to stop the Nazis from restarting the German war machine, partly because her German-American father was a spy and traitor and she wants to atone for his actions, but mostly because she loves Devlin and he asks her to do this. Devlin, while directing her actions, resents her obeying his carnal orders and treats her in a jealous and passive aggressive manner. How dark and twisted is that? But it’s for national security, right? 

Sebastian, despite being implicitly a Nazi (the word is never used), is portrayed as a sympathetic character for a villain. He truly loves Alicia, and she is using that love to destroy him. What it amounts to his one of the blackest and most suspenseful love triangles ever put to screen.  

Notorious marks a major development in Hitchcock’s career. Midway through pre-production, he finally jettisoned producer David O. Selznick. From here on out, Hitch would produce his own films (as well as direct and develop the stories with his writers).  With this freedom, starting with Notorious his movies would become more psychological in focus, an aspect that has given his best work a true timeliness. There is always something uncomfortable going on underneath the surface now. 

Not that the magic is all subtext, visual storytelling remained a strength. For example, the legendary tracking shot from the top of a high staircase down to a key in Alicia’s hand far below. (A prop Bergman would keep as a memento).  Or one of the most famous MacGuffin’s in history, the uranium ore that Sebastian is storing in the wine cellar, implying his team is working on an atomic bomb. (Notorious was filmed shortly before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the American government was very leery about uranium references in the media.) Hitchcock claimed he and his screenwriter Ben Hecht were followed by the FBI during shooting.) 

How good is Hitchcock at pulling the strings in Notorious? Consider this. It has no gunfights, no chase scenes, no onscreen murders, not a punch thrown or shot fired, yet it undoubtedly a superb example of the thriller genre. How? It’s all psychology and suspense. The Master playing the audience like a violin.  Critic Roger Ebert regarded Notorious as Hitchcock’s best work and one of the ten best films of all time. 


3. Double Indemnity (1944)
I’m glad I doubled down on Double Indemnity. The first time I viewed Billy Wilder’s film, years ago, it would have not made this list.  Having grown up watching reruns of My Three Sons, and Disney live action fair like Follow Me Boys! and The Absent-Minded Professor, Fred MacMurray to me was a gentle, fatherly everyman not a murderous heel spouting risqué dialogue as he is here. This really threw me. 

And Barbara Stanwyck in a cheap wig was not as dangerously beguiling as femme fatale sirens like Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner or Ava Gardner. I didn’t understand why MacMurray’s insurance salesman would destroy his life for her. (Wilder would say that the phoniness of the wig was meant to hint at the phoniness of the character beneath it.) 

On a second viewing, those biases fell aside. This is one great film, rocketing up to its current position. The best of a noir sub-subgenre featuring evil women seducing weak men to gain help murdering husbands or sugar daddies, this trope is found in The Woman in the Window (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and countless other films to this day. (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine editor Janet Hutchings once told me this plotline is the most frequently submitted to her magazine. One wonders how many are influenced by Double Indemnity?)  

The difference is in the high quality of the performances by MacMurray and Stanwyck (once all biases and wigs are ignored), a fantastic screenplay by Wilder and Raymond Chandler (based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name), and perfect direction by Wilder, with suspenseful sequences that may equal anything Hitchcock did in the 1940’s. (Not an easy admission for a Hitchcock devotee like me.)  Among these are a sequence on a train where MacMurray cannot find privacy to fake a suicide, or the moment after dumping the body when Barbara’s car refuses to start, or when a character places a gun under a pillow that you know will be used later, or the extended tension when MacMurray’s friend and colleague, insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson, never better), recruits him to help solve the murder MacMurray himself committed. I could go on forever. Even a conversation in a grocery store is fraught with danger and suspense. For many, this film is the apex of film noir’s Golden Age. I can see why.

The last two films, flipped back and forth for the top position a half-dozen times during the drafting of this list. Oh, the agony, we arbitrary list makers go through! But the piece has to be finished, so the positions must be set. He takes a breath.  So… 


2.  The Third Man (1949)
“The dead are happier dead,” remarks a character in The Third Man. The statement reflects not only the speaker’s sociopathic views, but the exhaustion of a war weary Europe in the late ;40s. Director Carol Reed made two excellent thrillers in the years preceding this film, Odd Man Out (1947, Roman Polanski’s favorite film), and Fallen Idol (1948), but The Third Man is his masterpiece.  

Written by the great Graham Greene (who drafted both screenplay and novella), The Third Man tells the story of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a naïve American Western author who arrives in post-WWII Vienna to work for his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to discover that Lime was killed by a passing car days before Holly’s arrival. 

Martins finds the accident suspicious and seeks to discuss it with two witnesses (Ernst Deutch and Siegfried Breuer) who carried Lime’s body away and a mysterious “third man” who was also at the scene. His search for this third man brings him into contact with Lime’s girlfriend, actress Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a German-speaking Czech who lives in dread of being deported to the Soviet Zone, and British military police officer Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who tells Martins that Lime was an unscrupulous raconteur operating in all zones of divided Vienna.  

In an era when most filming was done on sets and studio backlots, The Third Man was filmed primarily onsite in still-rebuilding Vienna, giving it greater realism and vibrancy than other pictures of the time. Indeed, the divided city has an authentic character as strong as any flesh and blood actor. It is a beautiful film for the eyes and ears with harsh lighting and Dutch angles from expressionist cinematographer Robert Krasker and a distinctive score by local zither player Anton Karas (whom Reed discovered playing one night in a Vienna wine-garden and invited him to score his film.)  

Despite rumors, Welles did not direct any of the second unit filming, though he did provide the famous “cuckoo clock” line. The actor performances are starling modern, and Greene’s dialogue is imbibed with depth, ironic humor and a real despair.  A speech by a villain looking down from the heights of the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel, the people below resembling mere dots, is one of the most memorable and chilling ever given. “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax.” 

The rare thriller to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, The Third Man was voted by the British Film Institute as the greatest British film of all time (of any genre or era). They aren’t wrong. I love this film and can’t believe The Third Man is second to anything.

 But there is another film I love as much, and it defines crime cinema in the ‘40’s like no other.

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Ah, that black bird. The greatest MacGuffin of all. John Huston’s directorial debut was the third filming of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel, but this is definitive. Those other films took liberties with the story and were of mixed success, so Huston decided “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and writing the screenplay himself, followed the book scene-for-scene, dialogue-for-dialogue. 

It was an enormous hit launching Huston’s career as both director and screenwriter and turning B-list gangster actor Humphrey Bogart into a major star. (Coupled with Casablanca released the next year Bogart was on a fast track to becoming a Hollywood icon.) More than any other film, it ushered in the era of the film noir and Sam Spade (Bogart) became the archetype for a hardboiled detective. The Maltese Falcon tells, in essence, two interlocking stories: one is a mystery about who killed Spade’s detective partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), the other is a game of wits with a quartet of crooks seeking a statue of a falcon which is supposedly encrusted with priceless jewels beneath its enameled skin. 

With one of history’s most sublime casts, each of those actors perfectly defines their crooked characters: the duplicitous femme fatale Miss Wonderly/Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), the over-dressed, treacherous fop Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), the gluttonous, talkative criminal leader Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and the unhinged youthful gunman Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.). 

To watch the five main characters, try to outmaneuver each other for the priceless bird, each spouting Hammett’s snappy dialogue, is one of the great joys of cinema. At the center of the storm is Spade juggling crooks, police and Miles' widow Iva (Gladys George) who is infatuated with Sam. He trusts nobody and plays it straight with no one except his secretary/side kick Effie Perrine (Lee Patrick).

 Bogart’s other great film detective, Philip Marlowe, may have gone down the “mean streets”, but Sam Spade is plenty mean himself. As in the book, Sam keeps his thoughts private from other characters and audience alike, and much of the tension comes from wondering if Spade will fall in with the crooks and become one of them. He is on the edge of being an antihero. It’s a corrupt world, but is our hero corrupt? 

At the denouncement, Spade steps back from the abyss at last revealing his cards and telling O'Shaughnessy: “Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be. That sort of reputation might be good business, brining high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy.” 

In a sentimental age, when the male and female leads were supposed to go off together hand-in-hand (even Notorious, as black as it is, ends with Grant and Bergman together), The Maltese Falcon throws a curve. When O'Shaughnessy admits to killing Miles, Spade tells his lover: “Yes, Angel, I’m gonna send you over. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”  It begins a speech many can recite from memory. Some film historians think Psycho (1960) is the great severing point between the Age of Sentimentality and the Age of Sensation in cinema. I’ll maintain that The Maltese Falcon did that nineteen year earlier.
Why is The Maltese Falcon number one? I’ll quote the film’s last line, one improvised by Huston from Shakespeare on the set.

“It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”

Any films I missed either on the list or Honorable Mentions? Give me your own favorites from the 40’s.

Now’s the time when the blog author normally plugs some work. I like to keep my shameless promotions relevant to the article. Fortunately, I had a thriller short story set in 1943 published this year. “Locked-In” was in the January/February 2022 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. If you liked this article, please revisit my story in a back issue or Magzter or wherever you read AHMM and tell me if it fits in with the era. You can read Rob Lopresti’s review of “Locked-In” here.

16 December 2021

My Brain on Old Movies


Notes from my brain as I rewatched Otto Preminger's Laura:

My God, look how young Vincent Price was in 1944. This was nine years before he began his career in horror movies. Otherwise he'd never have gotten the 4 year gig on radio as The Saint.  But I have to say when I was young I read my way through a stack of Charteris' The Saint novels, and Price's was certainly not the voice I ever imagined for that British swash-buckler.  (You can listen to the episodes  HERE.)  Meanwhile, Price's Shelby is tall and soft and definitely a gigolo, which makes the idea that Gene Tierney's [breathtakingly beautiful] Laura would fall for him a real problem. Judith Anderson's Ann Treadwell (Laura's aunt) is more understandable, although I think they should have had Agnes Moorehead reprise her role as Emily Hawkins in Since You Went Away. She would have eaten Shelby alive, purring the whole time.

Musing: Agnes Moorehead is the main reason to watch Since You Went Away, because I find the movie pretty saccharine, not to mention trite, melodramatic, and I get tired of watching Claudette Colbert only being filmed from one angle. Oh, and I keep waiting for Jane to run into one of the posts as she runs after Bill's departing train. They spoofed that in some movie, but I can't remember which one.

BTW, Dana Andrews (Detective McPherson) and Gene Tierney had real chemistry.  I looked it up, and they ended up doing 5 movies together - Tobacco Road, Belle Starr, Laura, The Iron Curtain, and Where The Sidewalk Ends. BTW, my favorite Dana Andrews movie is The Best Years of Our Lives.

And my favorite comment about him comes from Radio Days, where all the kids are down at the Rockaway shore and talking about their favorite actresses:

Young Joe's Friend #1: My favorite is Rita Hayworth.

Young Joe's Friend #2: I like Betty Grable.

Young Joe's Friend #3: I like Dana Andrews.

Young Joe's Friend #2: Are you kidding? Dana Andrews is a man.

Young Joe's Friend #3: She is? (IMDB)

And I'm always happy to see Clifton Webb. 

He alternated between character actor and leads, nominated 3 times for an Academy Award - Laura, Sitting Pretty, and The Razor's Edge - and deservedly won it for The Razor's Edge (and if you've never seen it, watch it - Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney are the leads.)  He also played Frank Galbraith in Cheaper by the Dozen (with Myrna Loy as his wife), and his character, Mr. Belvedere (in Sitting Pretty and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College) was the model for Mr. Peabody in my favorite cartoon series of all time, Rocky & Bullwinkle.  

Excuse me while I wallow in nostalgia:  Mr. Peabody, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Boris Badenov, Natasha & Fearless Leader, Fractured Fairytales, Aesop & Son, Bullwinkle's Corner & Mr. Know-It-All...  

And Myrna Loy was also Frederic March's loyal wife in The Best Years of Our Lives, which brings us back to Dana Andrews, and back to Gene Tierney:

Very beautiful, with great range. Watch Laura, and then watch her Oscar nominated performance in Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor's Edge. Great success, interrupted more than once by tragedy.  Manic-depressive before anyone knew what that really was, and the shock treatments made her lose much of her memory.  And of course, hers was the source of the tragedy in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd:  her daughter, Daria, was born deaf and mentally disabled, because a fan broke a rubella quarantine and infected the pregnant Tierney while she volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen.

EDITORIAL INTRUSION:  GET YOUR DAMN VACCINATION OR STAY HOME!!!!

YOUR ACTIONS DO HAVE EFFING CONSEQUENCES!!!

Otto Preminger was a great director. Here are the ones (besides Laura) that I remember watching a long, long time ago:

The Man With the Golden Arm 
Bonjour Tristesse
Anatomy of a Murder
Exodus
Advise and Consent
Bunny Lake is Missing (this one will twist your head off)
Hurry Sundown (Michael Caine in one of his many appalling American accents, but otherwise, like all of these, very educational for a young girl/teen in the 1960s…)

Oh, and can anyone point me to where I can find a maid like Bessie Clary, Fidelia (Since You Went Away), Matilda (The Bishop's Wife), etc., etc., etc.?  

Oh, damn - the movie's over. What's up next?  
The Bishop's Wife, or The Man Who Came to Dinner?  
Monty Woolley's in both, 
        and Bette Davis is in The Man Who Came to Dinner
               and she starred with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory
                       and Bogart starred with Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in We're No Angels...
                             and...

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

13 August 2020

Some Things Will Give You Nightmares


Last week was the 75th anniversary of the United States' atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, 8:15 AM. (Nagasaki was bombed August 9, 1945 at 11:01 AM.) I'm not going into the whole history of how those two cities were chosen to be the first and only cities ever to be nuked, nor why no demonstration bomb or warning was given, nor how, even after Nagasaki, Japan's war council still wanted to continue fighting the war. (It wasn't until the Emperor announced that, as long as kokutai - which approximately means Japanese sovereignty - was recognized, he was going to surrender to the Allies, that the war council was forced to acceptance. Sort of.)

But what I want to talk about is the power of the written word.

Back when I taught History of Japan classes (Ancient in the fall, Modern in the spring), when we got to WW2, I had them read John Hersey's Hiroshima and showed them Frank Capra's short film Know Your Enemy: Japan. You can watch it too, below.


The New Yorker has put the magazine version of Hiroshima (originally published August 24, 1946, and it was the entire magazine) available for free online HERE.

A photograph of a walking figure and dead trees


After watching the movie in class and reading the book, they had to write reports analyzing both as propaganda and/or journalism. And then we discussed it all in class.

Couple of things: they found Frank Capra's propaganda techniques pretty funny and pretty crude. Most of them almost always ignored the fact that John Hersey chose as his protagonists those who Americans would be able to relate to.

"A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died." - Hiroshima, p. 2

MY NOTE: If that sounds similar to the opening line of Thornton Wilder's 1929 The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” - it should. Hersey cited it as a direct inspiration for his Hiroshima.
Anyway, the six characters are:
  • Mrs. Nakamura - widow raising children.
  • Dr. Terufumi Sasaki - dedicated physician, very Westernized.
  • Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge - German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima.
  • Toshiko Sasaki - Catholic - who is abandoned by her fiancé after being left crippled, and becomes a nun with the Society of the Helpers of Holy Souls.
  • Dr. Masakazu Fujii - self-absorbed, worldly.
  • Pastor Kiyoshi Tanimoto - Methodist pastor who loves America.
I mean, really, 3 Christians? Japan is at most 2.3% Christian, and the majority are Shinto and/or Buddhist. One foreigner? Two doctors? Mrs. Nakamura is about the only "typical Japanese" in the book. Think that might be on purpose?

Anyway. To move on to what struck me, year after year. The students, as I say, found Capra's movie crude and even funny. The visuals - piles of dead babies, flamethrowers used on living people, etc. - didn't bother them a bit. In fact, most of them didn't even remember those. But they found Hiroshima harrowing. I always had someone who said, "that scene in the [___] gave me nightmares." And a lot of heads nodding in agreement.

This shouldn't be surprising.

"An average American youth will witness 200,000 violent acts on television before age 18. Violence is often considerable, even in programs not advertised as violent. Overall, weapons appear on prime time television an average of nine times each hour.19 An estimated 54 percent of American children can watch this programming from the privacy of their own bedrooms."

Volume I: summary report of the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth. 1993.

I'd say it's gone up since then.

Anyway, they'd been jaded. They've seen dead babies before; Grand Theft Auto and other video games provide explicit ways of tearing off people's heads, disembowling them, etc.

But words are still effective. If the writing is good. And Hersey's is very good. What scene affected the students most? Depended on the student. The wounded in the river; Father Kleinsorge wandering around with pieces of glass in his neck and back; the burns; the bodies; the vomiting; the polluted river; the skin… They had nightmares.

It novel cover

That's what writing is all about, isn't it? Making someone see it - whatever "it" is - in their minds.

If you can do that, they'll never be able to forget. We've all read scenes like that. We've all - I hope - written at least one scene like that.

Go, and write some more.


02 June 2020

Outside the Three-Mile Limit


As many regular readers here know, I’m fascinated with Los Angeles history. I post about various aspects of it from time to time. I use it as background in much of my fiction. And one of the most fascinating aspects of L.A. history are the gambling boats that used to anchor off the shore, just outside the three mile legal limit.

The Rex
Bobby in the just-released (yesterday) The Blues Don’t Care has more than his share of adventure on one of those gambling ships. In the novel, Bobby and the band he’s in get a gig on the Apollo, one of the gambling ships off the Los Angeles coast. They find more than a little trouble there that really sets the plot in motion.

Cops dumping slot machines off the Rex
The Apollo is based on the real gambling ships that used to lay off the SoCal shore, just outside the three-mile limit. I’ve taken a few liberties with the Apollo. It’s much nicer than the real gambling ships, which, while they had their amenities, weren’t always as glamorous as you might think. But when gambling was illegal I guess they were good places to go and get your fix.

                  The interior of the Lux
The most famous of the real gambling ships was the Rex, run by Tony Cornero, A.K.A. The Admiral. Cornero had a checkered career, to say the least. During Prohibition in the 1920s he was a rum-runner (I wonder if he knew Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.?). He moved much of his illegal booze on ships, so had a background on the bounding seas for when he decided to open up the gambling ships later on.



When Prohibition was repealed, Cornero made the easy slide over to gambling. In 1931 when gambling was legalized in Las Vegas, he and his brothers set up there, opening up The Meadows Casino and Hotel, beating out Bugsy Siegel’s Vegas venture by over a decade. Unfortunately, Lucky Luciano got wind of it and, since Cornero wouldn’t pay extortion money, the Meadows was torched. Hmm, no connection to old Lucky there, right?

Tony Cornero aboard the Lux
So back to L.A. Cornero went. And in 1938 he bought two ships, the SS Rex and the SS Tango and converted them into gambling boats. By running them outside the legal limit he could skirt US law. The ships included gourmet chefs, gunmen to keep the peace, waiters, waitresses and—wait for it—orchestras. And that’s where Bobby and the Booker ‘Boom-Boom’ Taylor Orchestra come in.


Cornero was a constant thorn in the side of authorities, but things went along swimmingly until The Battle of Santa Monica Bay—yeah, that’s a real thing. The authorities tried raiding the ships. The Rex held them off for nine days, but eventually lost and Cornero, to make a long story short, hightailed it back to Vegas, where he built the Stardust Casino and Hotel, which I stayed at many times. At the time, way back when, I knew it was mob-connected, but I didn’t know then about the Cornero connection, which I find intriguing.

The Battle of Santa Monica Bay
And, of course, some pivotal scenes in The Blues Don’t Care are set on the Apollo, just a water taxi ride from the Santa Monica Pier:

“A fine briny mist bit Bobby’s skin as he waited in the throng of people on the Santa Monica Pier for the water taxi that would take him to the gambling ship Apollo. The little cartoon-like ‘Kilroy Was Here’ drawing glared at him from the water taxi shack. Kilroy was everywhere these days. He had to shield his eyes from the fiery late afternoon sun, wished he had a pair of sunglasses. Only movie stars and musicians wore sunglasses. Maybe he’d get a pair of shades.”

Below, Bobby describes seeing the Apollo’s ballroom for the first time:

“Bobby peered over the sea of faces in the ballroom—white faces in expensive suits and chic dresses. The Apollo wasn’t the biggest or fanciest or the most seaworthy ship in the world. But if she went down, half of Hollywood, the Los Angeles political establishment, and business movers and shakers in the Southland would disappear into Davy Jones’ Locker. That didn’t stop the people who ran her—gangsters everyone knew—from decking out the main ballroom as if it were Versailles. The ceiling was tall and sparkled with lights under a false ceiling with a gauzy, azure-painted sky. Below it, the dance floor in the center of the room, surrounded by gambling tables—craps, roulette, blackjack, and the like. And in rows behind the gambling tables, dining tables.”

The La La Land gambling ships also make appearances in one of my favorite books and a movie from one of my favorite series.

Raymond Chandler talks about them in Farewell, My Lovely. In the novel, Philip Marlowe is told that Moose Malloy might be hiding out on one of the gambling ships outside the three mile limit. Marlowe sneaks aboard and persuades Brunette, the gangster who runs the ship, to get a message to Malloy. Farewell, My Lovely was made into the movie Murder, My Sweet (1944). The 1942 B movie The Falcon Takes Over is also based on the plot. And in 1975 Robert Mitchum starred in a remake.

And much of Song of the Thin Man, the last Thin Man movie (co-written by my friend Nat Perrin) is partially set on one of the ships. A benefit is happening on the gambling ship Fortune. The bandleader is murdered. Guess who has to figure it out. Song of the Thin Man should be called Farewell, My Thin Man as it’s the last in the series and unfortunately not the best by far, but it has its moments.

Mr. Lucky
Another movie that takes place on a gambling ship is the Cary Grant-Larraine Day flick Mr. Lucky. Not his best, but I like it. And you can check out my close encounter of the first kind with Cary Grant at my website.
The book was released yesterday. Hope you’ll want to check it out. Here’s what some people are saying about it:

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
    —DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com

“Award-winning author Paul D. Marks hits it out of the park with this finely-written novel bringing WWII-era L.A. alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended.”
     —Brendan DuBois, New York Times bestselling author

“Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40's L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. There's sex, drugs, and jazz and an always surprising hero who navigates the worlds of gambling, music, war profiteers, Jewish mobsters, and a lonely few trying to do the right thing. Marks has an eye for the telling detail, and an ear that captures the music in the dialogue of the times. He is one helluva writer.”
      —Michael Sears, award-winning author of Tower of Babel, and the Jason Stafford series


"While The Blues Don't Care is a complex, sometimes brutal, story, it also has its glimmers of beauty and joy. Those glimpses come from Bobby's passion for music, and his awe when he sees celebrities such as Clark Gable and Billie Holiday. Wander into Bobby Saxon's world in Paul D. Marks' latest book. It's a world you won't easily forget."
      —Lesa's Book Critiques, lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com



~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

12 May 2020

Location Location Location – In “The Blues Don’t Care”


In front of Club Alabam
Every time I have a novel come out I do a post about some of the locations in it. I try to set most scenes in the real world and give that world a sense of verisimilitude (remember, don’t use a small word when you can use a six syllable one). Much, though not all, of what I write is set in Los Angeles. As is The Blues Don’t Care (dropping on 6/1/20, and available now for pre-order)…but with a twist this time. Instead of being set in the modern L.A. of White Heat, Broken Windows and Vortex this one is set in 1940s L.A., with World War II raging in the background.

Bobby Saxon is a young white piano player whose ambition is to get a spot with the all-black Booker ‘Boom Boom’ Taylor Orchestra (big band) at L.A.’s famous Club Alabam. He gets his wish but at the price of having to help investigate a murder that one of the band members is accused of.

Like Randy Newman said, I love L.A. (well, more like love-hate, but overall love) and I really loved researching the locations and history of 1940s L.A. Bobby’s adventures take him on a wild ride through mid-century Los Angeles, from the swanky Sunset Tower apartments in West Hollywood to seedy pool rooms near downtown and the vibrant jazz scene of Central Avenue.

So here are some of the stops on Bobby’s journey:

The Club Alabam and The Dunbar Hotel: In the days when African-Americans couldn’t stay at most hotels and couldn’t go to just any “white” nightclubs—or other establishments—they formed their own businesses. In L.A. the heart of the black community during the mid-twentieth century was Central Avenue. Clothing stores, barbershops, restaurants, doctors, dentists and pretty much anything one could want could be found there. And the heart of Central was the Dunbar Hotel (formerly Hotel Sumerville), which featured an elegant lobby with arched windows and entry ways and Art Deco chandeliers. The Dunbar was where the cream of black society, entertainers, politicians, et al., stayed when they were in town. Duke Ellington kept a suite there. Right next door to the Dunbar was the most famous of the nightclubs (of which there were many) on Central, the Club Alabam. Bobby spends a lot of time at both the Alabam and the Dunbar. And it’s said that one night when W.C. Fields got drunk at the Alabam he stayed overnight at the Dunbar, accidentally integrating it.

Two shots of the Dunbar Hotel, interior & exterior.
It was formerly the Hotel Somerville.

Famous couple at Musso & Frank.

Musso & Frank: Has been a Hollywood watering hole for decades, since the 1920s. There was a back room bar where famous writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Fante, Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner hung out. Movies stars like Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Betty Davis, Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo and Edward G. Robinson all dined there. It’s known for its red-coated waiters, many of whom have worked there for decades, probably since the time of the story (maybe?). In Blues, Bobby plays piano in exchange for a free meal, but pays dearly for that meal when he’s ambushed outside of the restaurant. Here’s a recent pic of Amy and me there. We didn’t get ambushed that night, but anything’s possible on Hollywood Boulevard.

Another famous couple at Musso & Frank ;-)

The La Brea Tar Pits: Located on Rancho La Brea lands, the tar pits were a major excavation site in the 1910s for paleontologists from all over the world. In the 1920s ranch owner, Hancock, donated the land to Los Angeles County with the stipulation that the tar pits be designated as a protected park and that the fossils found there be retained and exhibited. When I was a kid we’d go on picnics at the park surrounding the tar pits and I have fond memories of them, including the acrid smell of the tar. Since those days the George C. Page Museum was built and fossil excavation continues to this day. Bobby visits the tar pits in a scene in the book, and let’s just say not all the bones in the tar pits are that old….but you’ll have to read the book to find out what really happens there.

La Brea Tar Pits (photo by Kimon Berlin)

The Long Beach Pike: In the novel, Bobby and his “partner” Sam Wilde head down to the Pike in Long Beach, while looking for clues. For decades the Pike was an amusement park by the sea. It featured a wooden roller coast, The Cyclone, with two tracks so cars could “race” each other. Bobby and Sam ride the coaster in one of the scenes at the Pike.

Long Beach Pike

There was also a midway with arcade games, shooting galleries, fortune tellers and assorted shops. And because it was situated near Naval shipyards, it earned a reputation for being a hangout for rowdy sailors looking for girls. That’s the atmosphere that appealed to me as a setting for some of the scenes in Blues.

In the 1970s it fell on hard times, got seedy and eventually closed.

One of the challenges writing Blues was figuring out how Bobby and Sam got down to Long Beach in the 1940s, before freeways. I turned to the usual sources for help, the internet, books, etc. But the best source was buying old Los Angeles area street maps from eBay. They really helped in this regard and were just plain fascinating in general. My mom also helped with her memories of how to get from “here” to “there.”

Here’s a short excerpt of Bobby and Sam heading to the Pike. When Bobby first meets Sam it’s not exactly under pleasant circumstances and Bobby isn’t sure if Sam is on his side or not, so the long ride to Long Beach is a little tense to say the least:

Long Beach was a navy town south of Los Angeles, the Pike its oceanside amusement quarter. Bobby knew there’d be lots of sailors around, if they ever actually made it to the Pike. They’d have to pass through the Wilmington oil fields on the way and that was as good a place as any to dispose of a body. The oil fields were a well-known dumping ground. Bodies were always bobbing up through the greasy black muck that leached to the surface.

Bobby white-knuckled the steering wheel, gripping as hard as he could, mostly so Wilde wouldn’t notice his shaking hands. They passed through the oil field, with its forests of towering derricks—supplicants reaching for the sky. Safely past the dumping grounds, he loosened his grip on the wheel.



Pickwick Books (in case the sign didn't give it away :-) )
Pickwick Bookshop: I loved this place, which is, unfortunately, gone now. It was an institution on Hollywood Boulevard for decades. Three stories of books, books and more books. There was a time when there were a ton of bookstores on Hollywood Boulevard, most of them used or antiquarian. I think most are gone today, replaced by electronic stores and gimcrack souvenir shops in large part. And people running around dressed up like super heroes who, if you take their picture without paying some ridiculous fee will chase you down and… Bobby has occasion to go there in the story, but my favorite part of the scene there was cut. Supposedly this is a true story that actually happened there, but fictionalized to include Bobby. So here it is:

Bobby looked away.
“There are no second acts in American life,” the salesman said, as Bobby handed him a five dollar bill.
“No, I guess not.”
“Know who said that?”
“Can’t say I do.”
“F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous writer.”
“I like his books,” Bobby said. “But I don’t know the quote.”
“A man came in here one day looking for Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. You know our store here’s on three floors, the first is current titles, the second level is for rare and unusual books. The third floor is for used books, bargains and the like.”
Why was the salesman telling him all this?
“So anyway, this man comes in and asks for Gatsby. The salesman tells him, ‘We don’t stock the work of dead authors on this floor. You’ll have to try upstairs.’”
“So did he find the book upstairs?”
“He did. And do you know what his name was?”
“No.”
Pickwick Books (interior)
“F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t even recognize him and it’s been making me sick ever since. Especially since he died shortly after that. Another customer who knew him told me my not recognizing him and thinking he was dead had a catastrophic effect on him.” The clerk looked at the book Bobby had set on the counter. “Thomas Wolfe. No, you certainly can’t go home again.”
“Neither you nor me.”

The clerk finished wrapping Bobby’s book in brown paper, tied it with string. He handed it to Bobby with a wink. “Here’s your change.”

Max Factor Building: Bobby has occasion to go to the Max Factor building in Hollywood on Highland near Hollywood Boulevard. Max Factor is the famous Hollywood makeup artist, who branched out into a line of cosmetics that I think you can still buy today. He also had a salon where anyone could make an appointment and you might run into someone rich or famous while there. Bobby goes there on business, but feels a little funny, and maybe not for the obvious reasons. Today it’s the Hollywood Museum, so luckily here’s one building the Powers That Be didn’t tear down as happens so often in the City of Angels.
Max Factor building (the pic doesn't do it justice)

Cocoanut Grove: The Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire was one of the premier, if not the premier nightclub in L.A. for ages. On a darker note, the Ambassador is also where RFK was shot by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. Bobby takes Margaret, a woman he’s interested in and someone who might know more than she’s saying about the murder, on a date there. It might not have worked out so well for him…

Cocoanut Grove

Clover Field (A.K.A. The Santa Monica Airport): Douglas Aircraft worked out of Clover Field in the heart of Santa Monica. As such, during the war Warner Brothers technicians and artists came out from Burbank to camouflage the airfield so it couldn’t be seen from the air. Movie magic applied to real life. Bobby, his pal Sam Wilde, and Margaret wind up there when they’re chased by a mysterious car and end up almost breaching the base’s security, not something that is taken lightly by the MPs on duty. But what happens after that makes Bobby wish they’d been arrested by the MPs.


Clover Field: the center/bottom half of the pic is the concealed Douglas Aircraft
Cars parked under the camouflage tarp

Bradbury Building (photo by Jay Walsh)
The Bradbury Building: With its atrium, caged wrought iron elevator and marble and brick is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I’m sure you’ve seen it ’cause it’s been in many movies, especially the interior. Generally, one can’t go above the mezzanine as it’s still a functioning office building. I had a meeting there one time and felt special to be able to go up the elevator and walk the upper hall. Someone Bobby has an interest in has an office here, too. I don’t think his visit was as pleasant as mine… I did a whole SleuthSayers post on it some time back so if you want to check that out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2016/05/the-bradbury-building-screen-star.html .

These are a few of the places Bobby visits. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1940s Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more when the book comes out on June 1st. It’s available for pre-order now at Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

My short story "Fade-Out On Bunker Hill" came in 2nd place in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Poll. In lieu of the pre-Edgars cocktail party, we had a virtual awards ceremony. You can see the whole thing (including my bookshelves) on YouTube. I want to thank Janet Hutchings and Jackie Sherbow of Ellery Queen and, of course, everyone who voted for it!



Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books – The Blues Don't Care:

 “Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40s’ L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. He is one helluva writer.”
                                                               —Michael Sears, author of the Jason Stafford series



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com