Showing posts with label film noir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film noir. Show all posts

17 December 2019

Merry Movie Mayhem


With Christmas and Hanukkah only a few days away, here’s some last minute Merry Mayhem stocking stuffers. As of the time of this writing, a few days before its posting, most were still available and some are available streaming. The movies aren’t necessarily Christmas-related, just good stocking stuffers for those who like to read, write and watch crime fiction. And I’ve tossed in a bunch of non-crime-related movies at the end. All in no particular order. So, roll film:


The Godfather and its two sequels: Godfather I is one of the greatest movies ever made. And Godfather II is even better. Three isn’t as bad as I first thought it was and if one can get around Sofia Coppola’s Valley Girl Mafia chic it’s pretty good actually. You can get them individually, in a set or as the Godfather Saga where they’ve been cut together chronologically. I’ll take my Godfather any way I can get it.

Chinatown and Two Jakes: At the risk of being repetitive, Chinatown is one of the greatest movies ever made. And one of the best and most perfect screenplays I’ve ever read. When task master Amy was trying to get me to pare down on things, she “made” me get rid of a ton of screenplays I had – lots of good ones, too. But one of the few that I kept was Chinatown, which still sits on a shelf in my office for inspiration. Some people don’t like the subject matter, they find it repulsive. But it’s still a terrific movie. And the sequel, Two Jakes, also isn’t as bad as I first thought it was. But it’s best to watch it right after you view Chinatown so everything that it refers to is fresh in your mind. That will enhance your enjoyment of it.

In a Lonely Place: Tied for my second favorite movie of all time (see towards the end for the other second fave). And yes, I like the movie better than the book it’s based on. It resonates with me on so many levels. Back in the day, the Smithereens did a song called In a Lonely Place, inspired by the movie. It even has some lines from the movie. I really like this song. I got a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Smithereens. And when I look at the poster I like to think that DiNizio was also looking at that very poster when he wrote that song.

Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection: Okay, even if you don’t have anyone to get this for, get it for yourself. It’s one of the best collections of noir I’ve seen. It includes: This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel, The Killers (1946 version), The Big Clock, Criss Cross, Touch of Evil. There’s not a bad movie in the bunch. And it includes the ultimate film noir imo, Double Indemnity. Plus Blue Dahlia, which Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for. But they’re all good to great. Some have commentaries and other features. I’ve given this as gifts to a few people and I’m always envious when I do. I have all the movies, but in other versions, but somehow I still want this set for me. One great set.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection: If you like Hitchcock and you don’t already have these or know someone who might enjoy them it’s a great Hitch starter set. I say ‘starter’ because there’s so many more. But this includes one of my two fave Hitchcock movies, Vertigo (the other being The Lady Vanishes). And most of the movies here are terrific, though there’s some I’m not all that fond of. Plus there’s lots of extra features. Movies in the set are: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot.

Pulp Fiction: Everybody knows this one. It’s a terrific movie. And would make a great stocking stuffer, along with Reservoir Dogs.

Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile: Two movies based on Stephen King stories. Not horror tales, like he’s generally known for. And I tend to like his non-horror stories – like these and Stand by Me – much more than the horror ones. You can get these two in a set, both directed by Frank Darabont. A terrific two-fer.

Thin Man Boxed Set: Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about this one still being available. Well, it is still available but it’s over 200 bucks. So maybe another time when it’s reissued. We all know the Thin Man movies. The playful banter and plentiful drink. One of my film school teachers wrote one of them – I always thought that was so cool. There’s other good William Powell Myrna Loy movies as well, especially Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.

LA Confidential: I’m a James Ellroy fan, though not as much as I used to be. This is one hell of a good movie based on his book. And, though I loved the book, after watching the movie about 500 times, I reread it and think I actually like the movie better.

Here’s some non-crime movies that might work, too:

Reuben Reuben: A minor gem and a great satire. Here’s a couple quotes from the movie:

“There's nothing I cherish more than the truth. I don't practice it, but I cherish it.”

And later:

“That’s where they live. (Points to sign that says “Birch Hills”.) And in other subdivisions with names like Orchard View and Vineyard Haven. All of them named, God help us, for the woods and the vineyards and the apple trees they bulldozed out of existence to make way for the new culture.”

After Hours: Something a little different from Martin Scorsese.  The Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” They might have been writing about Griffin Dunne’s very long, odd night in this movie.

Casablanca: Number 1 fave movie, bar none. Do I really need to say anything about this?

Beatles on Ed Sullivan: What can I say about this? They changed the world – at least they changed my world.

Uncle Buck: One of two John Candy/John Hughes movies on this list. Uncle Buck doesn’t always get great reviews, but I like it. I think it’s funny and warm.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The other John Candy/John Hughes film on this list. Also funny with a warm heart.

My Cousin Vinny: I’ve seen this in whole or in part about 1,000,000 times. And I always laugh. It never gets old.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Patrick Dempsey as a high school student who finds out the real price of being popular. And the title is from a Beatle song that’s played in the movie. How can you go wrong?

It’s Alive: Ramones concert footage. Great stuff from a terrific, punchy band. Gabba Gabba Hey! Johnny Ramone came in #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 guitar players. See why on this 2 DVD set. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-guitarists-153675/johnny-ramone-154110/

They Might Be Giants: A man (George C. Scott) thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. His psychiatrist, Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward), might think so, too…sooner or later.

Soldier in the Rain: A special movie, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. If it doesn’t touch your heart you don’t have one.

Fred and Ginger movies, individually or boxed: always good for the holiday spirit

Ghost World: My other second favorite movie, along with In a Lonely Place. I’m not a teenage girl, but I totally relate to the alienation these characters, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, feel. And for those who haven’t seen it it’s not a horror movie despite the title. (Also w/ Steve Buscemi.)

Sideways: a wonderful movie for writers, even more than for people who hate Merlot.

I don’t think he’s really talking about wine here:

Miles (Paul Giamatti): “Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”

Here’s a link to another SleuthSayers piece I did on Christmas movies with both a Christmas and crime element. Some movies you might think are missing from today’s list might be found here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/have-holly-jolly-crime-season.html

I could keep going, but all good things must come to an end and maybe crime doesn’t pay but it pays to watch these movies.

So have yourself a Merry Little Mayhem Murderous Christmas. Happy Holidays Everyone!

~.~.~

BSP: Oh, and maybe a couple stocking stuffer books:



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

09 October 2019

Capt. Blood



Captain Blood, famously, made Errol Flynn a star. It was the first of nine features Flynn did with Olivia de Havilland, and one of twelve with director Michael Curtiz. Flynn and de Havilland got along fine - she admitted the chemistry and spiked the rumors of a romance - but after a six-year run, ten of the twelve pictures delivering big box office, Flynn and Curtiz cordially loathed each other.



My own opinion is that the pictures Flynn made with Raoul Walsh in the 1940's are better movies, by and large, the best example being Gentleman Jim, but if not for the Curtiz swashbucklers, Flynn wouldn't have made it to the A-list. Curtiz was an awful bastard, by most accounts, but he brought home the bacon. Casablanca won Best Picture, and six of his other movies got nominated. He directed Cagney and Joan Crawford to Oscars, out of ten nominations overall for his lead actors.

Andrew Sarris, whose critical opinions I generally admire, feels that Curtiz had no genuine personality, as a director, that he basically ground out sausage, and that Casablanca was a happy accident, a sort of rebuttal to to the auteur theory, where the exception proves the rule. I'd beg to differ. If you say the director is in his pictures, then okay, Curtiz made an awful lot of crap. On the plus side, along with Casablanca, we've got White Christmas and Yankee Doodle Dandy. 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, the original Wax Museum. Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, Angels with Dirty Faces. Eddie Robinson and Garfield in The Sea WolfMildred Pierce, Young Man with a Horn, We're No Angels, and The Breaking Point ain't too shabby, either.


Curtiz was Hungarian.  He spoke five languages - "all of them badly," his son later remarked. Born a Jew in Budapest, he changed his birth name from Kaminer to Kertesz when he was nineteen, working in an acting troupe that crossed Europe. Kertesz was more ethnically Hungarian, in the anti-Semitic climate of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. He began directing theater, and directed Hungary's first feature film, in 1912. He was also on the Hungarian national fencing team that year, in the Olympics. When the war came, he served in the army. He was wounded, and invalided out. He went back to the movies, and spent seven years learning the trade. He caught the attention of Warner Brothers in 1926, and by the time he went to Hollywood, he'd already made sixty-odd pictures.  He was 39 years old.

This story, familiar in some ways, is framed by larger political imperatives, Kati Marton puts it in context with her terrific book The Great Escape (2006), subtitled Nine Hungarians Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. The nine are Curtiz and Alexander Korda, Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz, and Arthur Koestler, for the arts, with Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner, and John von Neuman, for the sciences. I highly recommend it.



I'm belaboring the point, which is that where Andrew Sarris sees Curtiz spreading himself too thin, I see industry, ambition, restlessness and insecurity. Sarris regards him as sausage-maker - and in fact Warners maintained two individual film crews for Curtiz, one for the picture he was actively shooting, one for the picture he was prepping next - and I think it reveals an obsessive. There's for example the story that Curtiz grabbed for a notebook to write down a sudden idea, forgetting that he was driving at the time, and ran himself off the road.

I see Curtiz the refugee, the stranger, running in place to catch up, afraid something or someone is catching up with him. The upstart Jewish kid from Budapest, trying to break into pictures, and never quite gaining the confidence it won't all be snatched away. Curtiz in high dudgeon, with David Niven the target: "You think you know fuck everything and I know fuck nothing, but let me tell you, I know fuck all." This is not a guy who thinks he stands on rock, he's afraid he stands on sand. 



Sarris admits Curtiz has vigorous technique, but he doesn't believe Curtiz has a theme. I couldn't agree less. No, Curtiz isn't Walsh, he doesn't have the muscularity, and he for sure isn't Anthony Mann, another exile, who inhabits the true fury of separation, but what Curtiz brings to the game is an intimacy, set inside the bigger canvas, a larger scale. In his better pictures, Curtiz reveals himself to be trapped, isolated, estranged. Bogart, in Casablanca, says, "Nobody ever loved me that much."

04 April 2017

Cornell Woolrich: The Forgotten Man


by Paul D. Marks

Cornell Woolrich was one of the most popular writers of crime/mystery fiction in the mid twentieth century. He also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopely. Today he’s largely forgotten at least on the written page. But I’m not going to talk about him as a writer per se. I’m going to talk about him as the hardboiled or noir writer who’s had more stories adapted for film than any other.

To give some idea of his popularity on celluloid, on IMDB there are 103 movies credited to him, including foreign movies. Chandler has 37. Hammett: 33. David Goodis 19. Mostly these are “based on” credits, but Chandler, Goodis and even Hammett actually wrote screenplays (the latter for Watch on the Rhine, not a mystery or noir, but a World War II propaganda flick).

The first movie based on a Woolrich story (writing as William Irish) was The Haunted House in 1928. The credit reads “titles,” so I assume that means he was writing the titles for a silent movie. The first flick credited to a story of his is Children of the Ritz (1929). The last movie listed on IMDB based on one of his stories is She’s No Angel (2002), based on I Married a Dead Man, which had been filmed several times before both domestically and in other countries. The American version was called No Man of Her Own (1950).

So 1928 to 2002 is a pretty good run, with over a hundred adaptations. And I suspect it’s not the end of his run.

Woolrich started out writing Fitzgerald-like stories, but found his niche in the mystery-suspense field, writing both short stories and novels. He spent some time in Hollywood but eventually returned to New York, where he lived in a hotel with his mother until she died, then he moved to another hotel. In the early days of his return to NYC he socialized with fans and MWA members. But alcoholism and the loss of a leg to gangrene because of a too tight shoe and the infection it caused, plus not going to the doctor soon enough, turned him into a recluse. A closeted homosexual, he spent the last years of his life alone and lonely. Nobody attended his funeral in 1968.

Here’s a handful of noir and mystery movies based on his work:

Phantom Lady, 1944: A man (Alan Curtis) and his wife have a fight on their anniversary. He takes a powder and picks up a woman in a bar. When he finally returns home he finds his wife strangled with one of his ties, the police crawling all over his place. And guess who’s the prime suspect? At first the only person who really seems to believe in him is his secretary, the bewitching Ella Raines. Curtis was seen by several people while out that night, but when Rains or the police talk to them they deny it. Eventually Curtis’ best friend (Franchot Tone) returns from South America (I hope I’m remembering this right) and Ella hopes he can help out. Noir icon Elisha Cook, Jr. has a great turn as a crazed drummer. A pretty good B flick, directed by Robert Siodmak.



Black Angel,1946: Blackmailer Mavis Marlowe is murdered. Kirk Bennet, a married guy with a loyal wife, is sentenced for the crime. His wife teams up with Marlowe’s ex-husband, an alkie composer and pianist, Dan Duryea, to try to find the real killer before the state executes her husband. Peter Lorre does a turn as a sleazy nightclub owner. Hey, it’s Peter Lorre, can the club owner be anything but sleazy? And any noir with Duryea is worth watching.



The Chase,1946: From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished school of storytelling. Down on his heels World War II vet Robert Cummings returns a lost wallet to gangster Eddie Roman. Roman rewards him with a job as his chauffeur. Eventually Cummings volunteers to help Eddie’s wife, Michelle Morgan, escape her crazy husband. Will they get away to sail into the sunset together?

Deadline at Dawn,1946: A sailor wakes up with a stash of cash after a night of heavy drinking (hey, he’s a swabbie, what do you expect). With the help of dance hall girl Susan Hayward he tries to find the woman it belongs to, and does. Just one problem: she’s dead. He’s not sure if he did the deed or not. And now they only have a few hours to find out the truth before his leave is up.

Fear in the Night x 2, 1947 & 1956: A man (who should have been in outer space—DeForest Kelly) dreams he committed a murder in a strange mirror-covered octagonal room. He wakes up with unusual marks on his throat, blood on his sleeve. His cop brother-in-law tries to convince him that it was just a dream—but he’s freaking out. The cop, his wife, DeForest and his girl go on a picnic to a weird house in the woods…and find a mirrored room just like the one he dreamt about. What the hell’s going on?—I have to admit that, while I like all the movies here, I really love this low-budget flick. I’m not saying it’s even good. There’s just something I like about it. The sort of surreal aspect maybe. Remade as Nightmare (the title of the story it’s based on) with Edward G. Robinson and Kevin McCarthy in ’56. Almost an exact remake, but it lacks something, IMO, that Fear in the Night has.



The Window,1949: Woolrich’s version of the boy who cried wolf. It’s hot and sultry in the city, so 9 year old teller-of-tall-tales Tommy decides to sleep on the fire escape, but instead of doing it outside his apartment he does it at a higher one to get a better breeze. While there, he sees the Kellersons murder someone. But no one will believe him because he’s the boy who cries wolf. Well, the Kellersons believe him and they want to silence him...

Rear Window x 2 – 1954 & 1998: POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD. Forget the 1998 version, though it does have one unique thing. Christopher Reeve plays the wheelchair-bound photog played by Jimmy Stewart in the original. And he’s really confined to a wheelchair because of his fall off of a horse. That’s interesting, but the movie doesn’t touch the original. And for those out there who’ve never seen it, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment because of a broken leg. He likes to spy on his neighbors in the voyeuristic way that Hitchcock loves so much (Oh, did I forget to mention this is a Hitchcock flick?) So he’s watching his weird, wild and sad collection of neighbors across the courtyard when he sees someone who looks suspiciously like Perry Mason murder his wife. He soon involves his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and his nurse (Thelma Ritter) in trying to ferret out what happened. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s 1950s string of great and classic flicks that includes Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest and more.

Besides movies, Woolrich’s stories have also been adapted for various radio and television shows, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Suspicion, Thriller and Fallen Angels.

I picked this group of films from the huge selection of Woolrich adaptations because to one degree or another (not including the Rear Window remake) I like them all and would recommend them as decent adaptations of his work.

Woolrich was very successful, but ultimately lived a life somewhat like his stories, sad, friendless and abandoned. There’s something very noir about the way his life played out.

***

And congratulations to O’Neil, Herschel, B.K. and R.T. on their Derringer noms! Good luck!

And now for a little BSP:

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. If you’d like to read it (and maybe consider it for other awards) you can read it free on my website: http://pauldmarks.com/stories/ 

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.


20 December 2016

Remembering Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill in Books and Movies


When Raymond Chandler talked about a man neither tarnished nor afraid navigating the mean streets, I have no doubt he was talking about that man walking the streets of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood.
For my first SleuthSayers post on February 24, 2015, I wrote a column called Adventures in La La Land (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/02/adventures-in-la-la-land.html), where I talked about Los Angeles, how it influences my writing and memories of growing up here. One area that I didn’t mention then was Bunker Hill. That is Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, not that “other” one on the East Coast.

And since my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill appears in the December, 2016 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (though I think it’s only available on newsstands until today, the 20th) I thought I’d take this opportunity to rectify that, especially as Bunker Hill has influenced both that story and my writing in general.



If you’ve been to the Music Center in downtown L.A. you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. If you’re into film noir, you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. Many times. Numerous film noirs—as well as movies in other genres—were shot there: Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly, Joseph Losey’s M, The Brasher Doubloon, Backfire, the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, The Glenn Miller Story and Angel’s Flight, an interesting, gritty, ultra low-budget noir. And L.A.’s Bunker Hill has stood in for many other cities as well.

Bunker Hill in transition
Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with glorious Victorian mansions, as well as offices, storefronts, hotels, etc. After WWI the swells moved west and the neighborhood got run down and became housing for poor people. It wasn’t shiny enough for the Powers That Be, who wanted to build up and refurbish downtown. Out with the old, the poor, the lonely, in with the new, the young, the hip. The wealthy.

By the time Raymond Chandler, who had lived there a couple of different times in his life, was writing about it he was calling it “shabby town”. In The High Window (1942), he said:

Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.
―Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Bunker Hill is also where John Fante (and his character Arturo Bandini) lived when he first moved to Los Angeles from Colorado. The struggling writer wrote about that experience:

One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight photo by Rarmin
And Bunker Hill is where the famous Angels Flight funicular railway is/was. As a kid, I got to ride the original Angels Flight, which was a thrill then and still is in memory. I guess Bandini preferred to walk alongside it instead of riding in the little cars:

I took the steps down Angel’s Flight to Hill Street: a hundred and forty steps, with tight fists, frightened of no man, but scared of the Third Street Tunnel, scared to walk through it—claustrophobia. Scared of high places too, and of blood, and of earthquakes; otherwise, quite fearless, excepting death, except the fear I’ll scream in a crowd, except the fear of appendicitis, except the fear of heart trouble, even that, sitting in his room holding the clock and pressing his jugular vein, counting out his heartbeats, listening to the weird purr and whirr of his stomach. Otherwise, quite fearless.
―John Fante, Ask the Dust

Angels Flight was later moved up the street and a “new and improved” Angels Flight was put in, but it closed not too long after it opened. So it might have been new, definitely not improved. And it makes me think of the old saw about how they don’t make ’em like they used to. I talk more about it in the Adventures in La La Land post and in Ghosts of Bunker Hill:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in mid-air, ghosts from another time.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


***

Fante also described Bunker Hill like this:

The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mâché homes were castles.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

It was a tough life in the tough part of a tough city for the young writer and his alter ego:

Down on Spring Street, in a bar across the street from the secondhand store. With my last nickel I went there for a cup of coffee. an old style place, sawdust on the floor, crudely drawn nudes smeared across the walls. It was a saloon where old men gathered, where the beer was cheap and smelled sour, where the past remained unaltered.
― John Fante, Ask the Dust

In the late 1950s and 60’s, the Powers That Be decided they wanted to get rid of the “blight” and modernize downtown. To that end, they began a massive redevelopment of the area, including leveling or flattening some of the hills, changing street configurations, removing and demolishing houses and other buildings. So by the late 1960s/early ’70s it was all torn down and redeveloped and progress was achieved.

In Ask the Dust, Fante said, “I crossed Hill Street and breathed easier when I entered Pershing Square. No tall buildings in the square.”

Bunker Hill today, photo by Lan56
Today’s Bunker Hill would be unrecognizable to Bandini. But maybe not completely to Fante, who lived till 1983, though he was dealing with serious complications from diabetes so he may not have seen what it became. As the narrator in Ghosts of Bunker Hill says,

Bandini had said there were no tall buildings in the Square. He should see it today. Steel and glass spikes sprout from every available space. And when nothing’s available the wrecking ball makes a new empty lot. Much of the park greens have been cemented over, with little pinpricks of green here and there, like a garnish on the side of your plate.
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill

***

I may have a somewhat romanticized view of Bunker Hill. We do tend to romanticize the past, don’t we? I’m sure it was a hardscrabble and even dangerous life for the people who lived there after the swells moved out and it became “shabby town”. But with its gingerbread elegance and the “secret passages” of Clay Street (which no longer exists), with the winding roads going up and down and the hills, I have to say that I love the old Bunker Hill. And I’m glad so much of it is preserved in movies and writing.

Newel Post "borrowed" from Bunker Hill
I also feel very lucky that I could explore it with a friend before it was totally razed. We did our own little archaeological expedition of several of the houses and I even "borrowed" the top of a newel post from the long and winding interior stairway in one of those houses (see pic). A true relic of L.A.’s past, it’s a prized possession.

Los Angeles isn’t known for venerating and preserving its past. Everything here is new or wants to be. People come here to start over and every few years the city tries for a rebirth. But parts of Bunker Hill were preserved. Some of the old Victorian houses were moved to Carroll Avenue near the Echo Park section of L.A.. The characters in Ghosts of Bunker Hill live in a restored Victorian on Carroll Avenue and appreciate what they have:

Every time I walked those creaky wooden floors, I felt the presence of the past. The people who’d lived there. Not ghosts, but history, something Los Angeles often doesn’t appreciate. Carroll Avenue was close to downtown, where I worked. But the whole short street looked like something out of early 1900s L.A. I loved everything about it. 
―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill


Haskins house on Carroll Avenue, Photo by Laëtitia Zysberg

So I hope you’ll give Ghosts of Bunker Hill a shot and if you like it the sequel, Bunker Hill Blues, will be in a future issue of EQMM.

###

30 August 2016

Lizabeth Scott: Queen of Noir


Recently at SleuthSayers I did a post ( http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2016/07/a-noir-summer.html ) suggesting some lesser-known movies for a noir summer. Two of those movies, Too Late for Tears and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers starred Emma Matzo… better known as smoky-voiced Lizabeth Scott. Doing that post made me think I should do a post on Scott. And even though she only has about 30 film and TV credits, she is one of the Queens of noir. 

Her noir canon consists mainly of these movies:
  • Dead Reckoning
  • Pitfall
  • Too Late for Tears
  • The Racket
  • I Walk Alone
  • Dark City
  • Two of a Kind
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Mostly they’re pretty good and mostly they’re actually noir.  My faves are:

Dead Reckoning: one of my favorite noirs. In fact, several of her noirs fall on my fave list. Along with Dead Reckoning are Pitfall, Too Late for Tears, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. All good. Some people find Dead Reckoning a rather pedestrian noir, but for me it’s got everything a noir needs. Humphrey Bogart and his buddy are soldiers heading to DC so his buddy can be awarded the Medal of Honor. For some reason, the buddy doesn’t want to be the center of attention and takes a powder, leaving Bogart to try to figure out what happened. He ends up in Gulf City. Enter femme fatale Coral Chandler (Scott): noir ensues.


Pitfall: Dick Powell continues his escape from juvenile leads (actually he’s long away by now) as an insurance exec and family man married to Jane Wyatt (Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best, so you know she’s a wholesome wife and mom, even though the movie came first). Checking out a case and working with slimy P.I. Raymond Burr, Powell meets femme fatale Scott. Noir ensues.


Too Late for Tears: As I’ve said, this is one of my favorite noirs, period. Scott’s so evil in this one that even Dan Duryea, who’s pretty good at being rotten himself, can’t take her. A husband (Arthur Kennedy) and wife (Scott) are driving their convertible when someone in another car throws a suitcase full of cash into their car. She wants to keep it, he not so much. Noir ensues.

Good, low budget noir. I like this one a lot. Some nice LA locations. It was written by Roy Huggins, who later created The Rockford Files and The Fugitive (TV series), though David Goodis might dispute that. And it’s just recently come out in a new, fancy-dancy restored Blu-ray/DVD edition.

Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The: Scott’s first noir and only her second movie. In this one she’s not the femme fatale, but she’s getting her noir footing down. Van Heflin winds up in his hometown, now run by his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Stanwyck, and her D.A. husband (Kirk Douglas in his first movie). Scott and Heflin have a thing for each other, but Stanwyck has other ideas. You know what happens next: noir ensues.

I Walk Alone: Frankie (Burt Lancaster) gets out of prison, expecting to go back to his old life of crime and high times with Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey. But Kirk has other plans for his old pal. Things just ain’t the same for Frankie after fourteen years in prison, even if he did take the rap for Kirk. Enter Kay Lawrence (Scott) who’s been told by Douglas to find out what it is Frankie really wants. Guess what: noir ensues.


Becoming a Queen of Noir is a long way from Scott’s seminary upbringing in Scranton, PA. And her life wasn’t without controversy. She had an on again off again relationship with her boss and mentor Hal Wallis, one of the major producers of all time. It was rumored in a 1954 Confidential Magazine article that she was a lesbian and that her name was found in the Rolodex of a notorious Los Angeles madam. Some claim her career was ended by the scandal. 

According to the New York Times: “Ms. Scott sued for $2.5 million, contending that the magazine had portrayed her in a “vicious, slanderous and indecent” manner. The outcome was never made public, but the suit, filed in 1955, was believed to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The scandal, however, was nearly ruinous.” You can find the full article here:   http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/movies/lizabeth-scott-film-noir-siren-dies-at-92.html?_r=0

I don’t think it was ever really proven one way or another, and it certainly doesn’t matter to us today, but at that time it was a big deal and probably one of the reasons her career slowed down. Whatever the truth was, she was an independent woman who didn’t give in to the pressures to put on an act or be something that Hollywood wanted her to be. 

She never married and lived alone in the Hollywood Hills until her death on January 31, 2015 at the age of 92. Lizabeth Scott left a legacy of several great noir films and is definitely one of the Queens of Noir.

***


Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released “St. Louis Noir.”


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31 December 2013

Good-bye, 2013, Good-bye, Audrey Totter!


by Terence Faherty

Audrey Totter
Many superstitious people will breathe a sigh of relief tonight--or rather, tomorrow morning at 12:01 a.m., when 2013 heads west.  It takes with it the usual carload of movie celebrities, a few of whom will be honored at the Oscars in March.  A much more comprehensive tribute is currently airing on Turner Classic Movies.  Tucked away among the bigger names--Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine, Peter O'Toole, etc.--is one that resonated for me:  Audrey Totter.  She died on December 12 at age 96. 


Totter and Robert Taylor,
up to their necks in noir
Totter, an apple-cheeked blonde, was a femme fatale of film noir.  She wasn't in the class of Joan Bennett or Claire Trevor or Ava Gardner, stars who dipped a toe in noir.  Totter was more like Jane Greer, a contract-player-grade actress for whom the noir flowering of the late 1940s was a career high point.  Totter was in the original The Postman Always Rings Twice (though outshone by a luminous Lana Turner), The Unsuspected, The High Wall, and The Set-Up, to name a few.

My favorite Totter film is Lady in the Lake, perhaps the strangest of the Raymond Chandler adaptations--at least until Robert Altman happened along.  The film stars Robert Montgomery, who also directed, so he may be responsible for some of the strangeness.   Two of the odd features are relatively minor:  the movie is set at Christmastime (the opening credits feature carols and Christmas cards) and Philip Marlowe is both a P.I. and an aspiring writer.  (Everyone secretly wants to be a mystery writer, even characters in mysteries.)

The film's major oddity is that, for the bulk of its running time, the camera takes the place of Marlowe.  We see what he sees and only see Marlowe when he chances to look at a reflective surface.  Some sources claim that this gimmick was intended as a substitute for the distinctive first-person voice of the novel.  If so, it was an odd choice, as it did nothing to replicate Marlowe's voice that a simple voice-over couldn't have done better.  In fact, it makes the movie so static that it could be called a barely-movie.  It also put a lot of pressure on the supporting cast, who had to play directly to the camera.  Totter headed that group and so had most of the close-ups.  Luckily, she could handle them.

Totter from Lady in the Lake, Philip Marlowe (Robert
Montgomery) seen as hand (left) and reflection in the mirror 

Though not entirely successful, Lady in the Lake will be around for a while, in part because it's the novel's only film adaptation, in part because it was so experimental.  So Totter, who died during the Christmas season, will be seen in her prime amidst the trappings of Christmas for years to come.

Totter's death prompted a couple of thoughts.  One is that a life as long as hers makes the person in question seem almost like a time traveler.  Woodrow Wilson was president when she was born, an amazing thing.  Her Lake co-star, Robert Montgomery, who had a relatively long life for a World War II veteran, died in 1981, thirty-two years ago.  John Garfield, of Postman fame, who had a relatively short life (thirty-nine years), died in 1952, sixty-one years ago.  By his standards, Totter was granted two lifetimes and was eighteen years into a third.

The other thought is one more appropriate to this day, a day given over to life assessments and future dreams.  It is that any person working in a creative field, be it a femme fatale actress or a mystery writer, will be lucky to be remembered.  That person will be luckier still if his or her work lives on for a time.  My toast tonight will be that all of our best work will!