Showing posts with label Born to Kill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Born to Kill. Show all posts

29 March 2019

My Dinner With Lawrence Tierney — Part 2

Born to Kill...me?
by Lawrence Maddox

I'd been warned.

In my defense, when Lawrence Tierney threw his first punch at me, many of his current lunacies weren't yet public knowledge. Reservoir Dogs had just wrapped production the previous month and Tarantino was still piecing it together in the cutting room.

Tierney's fight with Tarantino and his subsequent firing wouldn't become part of the Tierney mythos until Reservoir Dogs made its big splash the following year, 1992. Sure, Tierney nabbed some TV roles in the '80s, but until Reservoir Dogs brought him back, he was known (mostly to film buffs) as that actor who scared off stardom with booze-fueled mayhem.

Lawrence Tierney, dead center,
making his comeback in Reservoir Dogs (1992)



Still, when filmmaker Steve Barkett invited me to have dinner with the star of not only Dillinger (1945), but of my film noir fav The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1946), I knew things could get interesting.  I'd read about Tierney's exploits in Barry Gifford's love letter to American crime flicks, The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films (1988).  "Tierney, famous for his role as Dillinger," writes Gifford, "and for his barroom brawls (he was stabbed in one as recently as 1973), and drunk driving arrests, is the wickedest looking big lug in B-movie history."

Steve gave me plenty to think about during the drive to Hamburger Hamlet to meet Lawrence Tierney. "I don't want to scare you. Lawrence can be a little weird," Steve said. "Sometimes he likes to mess with people." Steve told me that when he'd first met Tierney in 1990 at CineCon, Tierney was living in a halfway house.

Jason Alexander

Steve also told me that Tierney had vaguely mentioned an incident on the Seinfeld set that happened earlier in the year.  It involved a butcher knife from the set of Jerry's apartment, and Tierney told Steve that he'd only been playing around but the cast took it way too seriously. Tierney was originally considered for a recurring role, but was never asked back.

It ended up being perhaps the most well known story about Lawrence Tierney ("it scared the living crap out of us," Jason Alexander recalled), but it wouldn't become famous until Tierney made his comeback.

There were funny Tierney stories too. Steve said they'd once gone to a cafeteria together. "We got in line and Lawrence loaded up my tray with all kinds of food. All he put on his own tray was a small salad. When we sat down, Lawrence started eating most of the food he'd supposedly picked out for me," Steve said. "When Lawrence was done eating, he excused himself to go the restroom. Lawrence didn't know I saw this, but he went to the cashier and paid for only the small salad, stiffing me for all the food he ate." Steve said Tierney already owed him $50. Steve had driven Lawrence to the cafeteria, and when it was time to leave, he wouldn't let Lawrence get in his car unless he forked over the fifty bucks right there on the spot.

Lawrence Tierney and Elisha Cook
in Born to Kill (1947)

At first things were going great at the Hamlet. Tierney saw that I'd brought Barry Gifford's book, in which Tierney figures prominently. Tierney said he'd read it and didn't care for it. He took humorous exception to Gifford's essay on Born to Kill (1947), in which he writes "there's no decency at all in Lawrence Tierney's face." Tierney, whose face seemed to be naturally fixed in a scowl under his wide, bald dome, mugged menacingly for Steve and I. "Look at me! Is this a face without decency?" He asked. We all cracked up.

Steve and I were relieved that Tierney didn't order any alcohol, and we didn't either. "I'm buying tonight, fellas! Order anything you want," Tierney proclaimed in his gravelly voice. Steve looked at me dubiously.

Not so promising was Tierney's treatment of our waitress. He peppered her with personal questions, many in French. Nothing he said was lewd or profane, but he took it right up to the line.  I figured he was showing off for Steve and I, but it got uncomfortable. We told him that it was time to let her leave and do her job. She hurried away, clearly annoyed.

Steve got up from the table. When I phoned Steve a few weeks ago, he told me he'd left the table to  apologize to the manager for Tierney's behavior, and to warn him that it would likely continue.

I was across the table from Tierney, and if I had to guess, I'd say it was a left jab. It was quick and sharp and I could feel the air hit me on my nose. It had come short of my face by two inches at the very most. In less than what screenwriters call a "beat," he threw another. I was paying attention now and I blocked it hard with my forearm. It felt like a real punch.




I did some quick calculus.

What just happened?

If I pop him I could get arrested. 

I'm broke and I'm going to have to call my parents to make my bail.

I don't wan't to clock an old guy. Even one that has been getting arrested for hurting people since Truman was in the Whitehouse.

That first punch was close, but I bet he missed it on purpose. He's messing with me. Right?

Getting up and leaving would've solved everything. I didn't want to do that, though. Maybe it was the burgeoning writer in me, but I wanted to see how it was going to play out.

If he'd actually tagged me square in the face, I guess I would've countered. I'm not kidding when I say I had this thought: I'm not going down like all those other clowns. I also remembered thinking one thing for sure;  He's messing with me. He purposely didn't hit me. He's trying to push me. He wants to see me get mad. 

"Looks like you've still got it," I said, doing my level best to look unfazed. Tierney did a double take. For some reason this really pissed him off. "Damn right I still got it!" Tierney said loudly. "Make any quick moves like that again and you'll see. I'm just trained that way. I can't help it." I remember that I actually laughed at him. I hadn't made any quick moves, not that that mattered. "Try it and you'll see too," I said. It felt like low budget dialogue from one of his early noirs. My whole demeanor threw him off.

That's when Steve came back. "We we're just messing around. I like your friend here," Tierney said. Steve could sense something was up.  Along with Steve came a new waitress. This one seemed like a tough Hamlet veteran.  She didn't take any of Tierney's guff and shut him down when he wanted to chit chat. "Bring back the other waitress, you're no fun," Tierney said. "And remember fellas, I'm buying."

Just like that Tierney was holding court again. I kept a close eye on him as he reminisced about his Hollywood heyday. He gave his earlier directors bad reviews, except for Robert Wise. "Wise knew what he was doing." I was kind of bummed to hear he didn't have a good time on my favorite, The Devil Thumbs a Ride. "They shot it too damn quickly," he said.

A pattern to our conversation developed, which involved Steve or myself saying something, and Tierney disagreeing. Even if we agreed with something Tierney said, he'd still disagree with us.  Without warning, he would recite stretches of poetry, or break out in French. I wish I could recall what the poems we're. For all Tierney's bluster and volatility, it was clear he was a well-read guy who valued intelligence in others.

Also without warning were Tierney's continued jabs. He threw two or three more, but these were just for show and didn't come as close to hitting Steve or I as that first one had. I scooted my chair an extra inch away from the table. I also kept one hand free, and I rarely let my eyes off Tierney.  I've never had a harder time cutting a steak.

When Tierney finished eating he said he had a phone call to make. "I'll be right back," he said. The check came, but no Tierney. Steve ended up picking up the tab. "I knew he wasn't going to pay," Steve said. After a long wait, Tierney reappeared. "I'm buying next time, fellas!" He picked up my book. "Got a pen?" He asked. I'd given up hope of getting him to sign my book after that first jab. He stood next to me, patting my back like an old pal. I handed him my pen.

Larry - May your fondest dreams become realities. Your friend, Lawrence Tierney.

Almost thirty years later, I'm still proud that I stuck around and finished having dinner with Lawrence Tierney. In hindsight, considering that very same year he'd pulled a knife on Seinfeld and got into a fistfight with Tarantino, I came out great. I got a free meal, a signed book, and an experience I'll never forget. I felt that I'd passed a test that others, both in real life and on the big screen, hadn't. It happened when I didn't have much else besides dreams and ambitions. When I see the inscription that he wrote for me, the nearly elegant handwriting, I'm touched.


Epilogue

One of the best parts about writing this was catching up with filmmaker Steve Barkett. He has a contagious love of cinema and remains an encyclopedia of film knowledge. He's retired now, though he's working on a new release of Empire of the Dark (1990).  Alamo Drafthouse Cinema plans on releasing it later this year. If he ever stops by LA, I'm taking him to lunch at the Hamlet.

I reached out to author Barry Gifford, whose engrossing The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Movies made such a big impression on me, and inspired Lawrence Tierney to mimic his own mean mug over dinner. "My mother told me that when she was in Hollywood in the 1940s Lawrence Tierney made a pass at her but didn't throw any punches," Barry Gifford wrote back. "She declined his advances."  The Devil Thumbs a Ride has been expanded by the University of Mississippi Press as Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir. 



Lawrence had two brothers, Ed Tierney and Scott Brady, who were also actors. Scott Brady didn't have the self-destructive bug that his brother Lawrence did, and was an instantly recognizable face on '60s and '70s TV. I know him best from The Rockford Files and his last film, Gremlins (1984). I asked Scott's son Tim Tierney if he had any thoughts on my dinner. "Larry, congratulations on surviving your encounter with my uncle unscathed when many others have fared much worse," Tim said. "Congrats also on spotting that he was much more than a brawler. Most people don't."


Lawrence Tierney with his nephew Tim Tierney.
Photo courtesy of Tim Tierney




Hey Fellow Anthony Voters! There's still plenty of time to get your ballots in. Gabrielswharf.wordpress.com lists the 2019 Anthony Awards Eligible titles. I found it very helpful. Shameless Plug Alert-My debut novel Fast Bang Booze is listed in the, well, Debut Novel Category.
Any Lawrence Tierney stories of your own? 
Tweet'em at me-Lawrence Maddox @MadXBooks 

23 February 2016

The Line-Up (Great Lines) – Pt. I, Film Noir 1

by Paul D. Marks

One of my favorite film noirs is Born to Kill, with Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak and Elisha Cook, Jr. If you’re in too good of a mood and you want to get knocked down a little, spend a couple hours with these people. Some of the nastiest in the original noir cycle. After you do you’ll need a shower.

That said, the movie has one of my favorite lines of any movie, spoken by Walter Slezak’s sleazy detective character:

Delivery Boy: My that coffee smells good. Ain't it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells.

Albert Arnett (Slezak): As you grow older, you'll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.

I think about that line a lot because it’s so true. Not just about coffee but about all kinds of things in life, the expectation of something often being better than the reality. But this post isn’t really about the line and its philosophical undertones. So maybe I’ll leave that for another time.

But the line got me thinking about a lot of great lines. So that’s what this post is about and Part One will be great lines from three of my favorite noir movies (though not my top 3 except for Double Indemnity). Later parts will deal with other types of movies, westerns, dramas, etc. And then onto the books... But since I’m a noir addict I’ll start with my favorite film addiction.

***

Double Indemnity

For my money the ultimate film noir. If I had to show one noir to a Martian to say “this is film noir” it would be this one. Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, the hapless insurance salesman to Barbara Stanwyck’s blonde-wigged femme fatale. She hooks him with her anklet and it’s off to the races after that:

Walter Neff: That's a honey of an anklet you're wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson.

*

Walter Neff: Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it

*

Walter Neff: Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.

*

Walter Neff: How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

*

Phyllis: We're both rotten.
Walter Neff: Only you're a little more rotten.

*

Phyllis: I'm a native Californian. Born right here in Los Angeles.
Walter Neff: They say all native Californians come from Iowa.

*

Walter Neff: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter Neff: I wonder if you wonder.

*

Walter Neff: It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

*

Walter Neff: Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.
Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson): Closer than that, Walter.
Walter Neff: I love you, too.

***

Born to Kill

Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney play two of the lowest, meanest, nastiest people you never want to run across. Different from some noirs, much of the movie takes place in upper class San Francisco instead of on the meaner, lower class streets. We see the sleaze and depravity beneath the veneer of civility and respectability. Tierney is a thug, and apparently that’s not too far from the reality of his life. He was busted for drunk and disorderly and assault and battery. And apparently even in his 70s he was getting into trouble. When he played Elaine’s father (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on Seinfeld they were so scared of him they never asked him back to repeat the role. And on Reservoir Dogs he almost came to blows with Quentin Tarantino because he would show up drunk and not take directions.

In Born to Kill, we have the coffee line mentioned above and several other good ones as well:

Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney): Oh, I see. You cross the tracks on May Day with a basket of goodies
for the poor slum kid, but back you scoot - and fast - to your own neck o' the woods. Don't you?
Helen Brent (Claire Trevor): I wouldn't say that.
Sam Wild: No, you wouldn't *say* it... but that's the way it is.

*

Mrs. Kraft (to Claire Trevor): You're the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I've seen plenty, too. I wouldn't trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.

*

Helen Brent: I must warn you, though, liquor makes me nosy. I've been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.
Marty Waterman (Cook): 'Sallright. I've been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober, too.

*

Mrs. Kraft: How come you got a hold of this information?
Marty Waterman (Cook): Through underworld connections, like it says in the newspapers. I'm a bad boy.

*

Marty Waterman: You can't just go around killing people when the notion strikes you. It's just not feasible.

*

Mrs. Kraft: Are you trying to scare me?
Helen Brent: I'm just warning you. Perhaps you don't realize - it's painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.

***

The Blue Dahlia

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake’s third full outing together and probably my favorite. Along for the ride in this Raymond Chandler original screenplay are Hugh Beaumont (later Leave it Beaver’s dad) and the great character actor William Bendix (who also had TV success in The Life of Riley). Ladd and his buddies Bendix and Beaumont are just back from the war—and you know when you say just ‘the war’ it has to be World War II. It seems that Ladd’s wife has been fooling around on him and when she ends up dead the police suspect the estranged husband—or maybe it’s the crazy vet with the plate in his head (Bendix). We’ll see.

Talk about subtext:
'Dad' Newell (Wil Wright): Well, I guess I better be goin', Mr. Harwood.
Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva): Wait a minute - you forgot your cigar.
'Dad' Newell: Oh.
Eddie Harwood: I think it's out.
Eddie Harwood: [he lights it] Cigars go out awful easy, don't they, Dad?
Eddie Harwood: [he blows out his lighter for emphasis] Good night.

*

Eddie Harwood: Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you.
Johnny Morrison (Ladd): Only half?

*

Joyce Harwood (Lake): [Joyce offers Johnny a lift in the rain] Get in.
[Johnny hesitates]
Joyce Harwood: Well, you could get wetter if you lie down in the gutter.

*

Eddie Harwood: Drink?
'Dad' Newell: Don't mind if I do but easy on the water.

*

Corelli, motel operator: You still want that room?
Johnny Morrison: [sarcastically] You sure nobody's dead in it?
Corelli, motel operator: [leading him to the room] Right back this way. You live in San Francisco?
Johnny Morrison: [laconically] Yeah, when I'm there.

*

'Dad' Newell: [examining Helen's – Ladd’s wife – body] Been dead for hours.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Suicide?
'Dad' Newell: Could be.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Better be!
'Dad' Newell: Unh-unh! Too much gun!

*

Johnny Morrison: [discovering his wife in close proximity to Harwood] You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.

*

Helen Morrison (Ladd’s wife): I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place. I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl.

*

Johnny Morrison: [to the partygoers] Seems I've lost my manners or would anyone here know the difference?

***

Please check out Pam Stack of Authors on the Air Interviewing me a couple of weeks ago: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair/2016/02/04/paul-d-marks-talks-about-writing-and-more-on-authors-on-the-air-live 

And my reading of my Anthony and Macavity-nominated story Howling at the Moon, from Ellery Queen. I don’t think the Barrymore clan has to worry: http://eqmm.podomatic.com/entry/2016-02-01T06_56_00-08_00 

And look for my post on Drinks with Reads at Mystery Playground, going live on Wednesday, Feb. 26th, but one of the pix is already up on the front page: http://www.mysteryplayground.net/p/summer-drinks-with-reads-series.html 


Check out my website: PaulDMarks.com

Well, that’s all folks. At least for now.