Showing posts with label Quentin Tarantino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Quentin Tarantino. Show all posts

08 March 2019

My Dinner With Lawrence Tierney - Part 1

by Lawrence Maddox
Lawrence Tierney's break-out role

There's an irresistible draw to crime fiction authors whose lives resemble the dark, edgy characters they've created. The extra thrill of reading the likes of Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim and Edward Bunker is that some of the blood spilled in their books may have coursed through real veins.

I met Edward Bunker at a 2000 signing of his autobiography Education of a Felon. It's a harrowing, exciting read that covers his criminal career, his 18 years of incarceration, and his redemptive plunge into writing. Like his fiction, it's not for the squeamish.

Edward Bunker
I grew up in the same part of Northeast Los Angeles that Bunker had decades earlier, walked the same off-limits train trestle, and we talked about the neighborhood. At one point I asked him an innocent question that he took exception to. Bunker looked at me in a way that made me understand why he'd once been declared criminally insane. Spooky.

With Bunker's literary fame came the occasional acting gig, and he landed the role of ill-fated Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs (1992)Bunker wasn't the only ex-con in front of the camera in that film. Playing crime family patriarch Joe Cabot was Lawrence Tierney, an actor whose legendary–and violent– collisions with law enforcement mirrored the bad guys he played on the big screen, just as Bunker's fictional characters could've escaped from the pages of Education of a Felon.  Quentin Tarantino gave Lawrence Tierney a fitting bookend to his career with Reservoir. It seems even more fitting that Tierney punched Tarantino for his efforts and got himself fired off the film.

Probably the most famous example of Lawrence Tierney's bad boy shenanigans is the Seinfeld knife incident. In the season two episode "The Jacket," Tierney plays Elaine's dad, a tough, imposing vet who is also a successful novelist that Jerry and George admire. It's hilarious. Tierney delivers, intimidating the daylights out of Jerry and George yet believable as an intelligent writer. It's a rare comedic turn for Tierney, and he pulls it off.
Elaine-benes-3707.jpg
Not a Lawrence Tierney fan

Sometime during shooting, Tierney apparently stole a butcher knife from the set of Jerry's apartment. "Hey Lawrence, what do you got there in your jacket?" Seinfeld asked him. Seeing he was busted, Tierney tried to play it off as a joke and started waving the knife around.  What was supposed to be a recurring character for Tierney on one of TV's all-time sitcoms turned into a one-off right there on the spot. "I'll tell you something about Lawrence Tierney," Julia Louis-Dreyfus said. "He was a total nut job."  It was typical Tierney, snatching defeat from the jaws of success. Crazy as the knife incident sounds, it wasn't close to the violence that marred Tierney's early career.

Lawrence Tierney was just another RKO contract player until the studio loaned him out to Monogram to play the eponymous bank-job king in Dillinger (1945). It didn't matter that Dillinger played fast and loose with the facts. What mattered was how Tierney embodied low-budget noir bad-assery. Dillinger was a hit. Crime flicks followed, including Robert Wise's Born to Kill (1947), and the cult-classic The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947). I don't remember the first time I saw The Devil Thumbs a Ride or why it made such a big impression on me, but it did.

The Devil Thumbs a ride DVD cover.jpgDogging Tierney's legit shot at stardom was a growing rap sheet for booze fueled fights and assaults. Here are some headlines he generated: "Actor Taken Away in Straight Jacket." "Actor Tierney Must Sleep on Jail Floor." "Tierney Goes to Jail Again." Tierney brawled up and down the Sunset Strip, dusting it up at the legendary Mocambo, and at the home of original Hollywood Hellfire Club member John Decker. When in Hollywood, or New York, or Paris, or anywhere he went, Tierney got drunk, violent and incarcerated.

It's tough to call Tierney a bully, because he got into too many fights with those who stood a reasonable chance of kicking his ass. In 1953 he duked it out with a professional welterweight on the corner of Broadway and 53rd Street. Back in New York in 1958, Tierney was arrested for brawling with cops outside a Manhattan bar.

One of Tierney's prime targets was often the police. I can only imagine what the police would do to you in those days, in the back of a police car or in a lonely holding cell, after they'd arrested you for trying to beat them up. Tierney's career did a slow fade in the1950s, and his comeback didn't happen until he found work on the small screen in the '80s. A turn as Ryan O'Neal's dad in Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987) didn't hurt. Since were talking fighting and film, Mailer can be seen in a disturbing real-life fight with actor Rip Torn in Mailer's Maidstone (1970).

In an earlier blog (guesting for Paul D. Marks - thanks again Paul!) I wrote about my day job as a film and TV editor and how those skills helped me with my novel Fast Bang Booze. In 1991 I hadn't cut anything but a short film or two. My first screenwriting credit, a martial arts flick, was four years away. Published crime fiction was still a Hail Mary pass that wouldn't be caught for years. Times were lean. AM PM was fine dining.

That year I often assisted filmmaker Steve Barkett, an actor/writer/director who was tying-up loose ends on his self-produced horror film Empire of the Dark. Steve has a genuine love of film history (I consulted with him before writing this piece, and he remains a fount of celluloid knowledge), and we'd sometimes discuss our favorite eras of movies. Obscure poverty-row film noir was a passion of mine. I loved films like Detour (starring Tom Neal, whose own off-screen violence lead to a murder rap), and Tierney's The Devil Thumbs a Ride. Back in '91 when Steve asked me if I'd like to join him and Lawrence Tierney for dinner, I almost hit the roof.

I met Steve at his place in Tarzana, the San Fernando Valley neighborhood once owned by pulp icon Edgar Rice Burroughs. "I don't want to scare you," Steve said as we drove to Hamburger Hamlet. "Lawrence can be a little weird. Sometimes he likes to mess with people." Steve said that when he first befriended Tierney at the previous years' CineCon, held at Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel, Tierney was on probation and was living at a halfway house. "He shot up his nephew's apartment," Steve explained.

Hamburger Hamlet was bustling. I brought one of my favorite books, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Movies by Barry Gifford, hoping Tierney would sign it. The cover depicts a prototypical 1940s dashing Tierney-esque tough guy, driving at night. Next to him sits a prototypical noir blonde, dropping a flask of booze as she looks frantically over her shoulder. And no wonder, for they're being pursued by the devil himself.

"Larry, you found us," Steve said, rising to his feet.  "Sit down. You don't have to get up for me," Lawrence Tierney said in a gravelly voice. Tierney was a big guy, his face fixed in a scowl. He was wearing a t-shirt, and I couldn't help but notice he was using a thin piece of rope for a belt.

Steve introduced me as another Lawrence, and Tierney and I shook hands. Tierney had a strong grip and I could tell he was sizing me up. I had a few inches on him and age was definitely on my side, but you never know. Tierney saw the book I'd brought and launched into a discussion about the making of Thumbs a Ride (not a great experience according to Tierney), and about the merits and shortcomings of some of the directors he'd worked with. He was charming, holding court. Out of nowhere he recited random lines of poetry. I wish I recalled what they were.

When the waitress arrived to take our drink orders, Tierney did not order alcohol, but opted for a soda. Steve looked relieved. I was tempted to get one of the Hamlet's renowned Schooners of Ale,  but Steve and I both followed Tierney's example. Tierney flirted with the waitress, asking her questions in pretty good French. I don't think she spoke French and she was getting irritated. Tierney was keeping her at the table longer than she appeared to appreciate. "Okay Larry," Steve said. "I think she needs to go do her job now."

Tierney laughed good-naturedly as the waitress walked away. I felt since booze wasn't going to be a factor, there was nothing to worry about. I'd get to hang out with a screen legend and learn about an industry I was just breaking into. Then Tierney threw a punch at me.

Stay tuned for Part 2, dropping March 29. Only here at Sleuthsayers.org. You can also visit me on twitter, 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.