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



27 March 2018

High Contrast, Low Key: Film Noir

Images of Film Noir

by Paul D. Marks

I didn't know I was doing film noir, I thought
they were detective stories with low lighting!

                                                                      --Marie Windsor, noir icon

Murder, My Sweet


I thought I’d do something a little different for my post this week. Instead of writing about this or that I thought I’d make it visual. Images from film noir. Images that inspire much, though not all of my work. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think a lot of us have been inspired one way or another by film noir and much of noir is its visual look.

The film noir aesthetic is full of iconic images – some might call them tropes. Either way, they’re striking, they affect us, and they hit us on a subconscious level. Iconic images of shadows, rain, fog, neon, darkness and night, dark streets and alleys, Venetian blinds, oblique angles and reflections, low key lighting, guys with gats, femme fatales and plenty of cigarettes, smoke and smoking. They’re mostly urban, though one of the best, Out of the Past, is largely rural. And, of course, pretty much all are in striking black and white.

I’ve broken the images up into various categories. Of course, one pic might fit into several categories and pretty much all have low key lighting, so there’s no category for that.

It’s hard to narrow down all the great images to a reasonable number for a blog, and I’m sure I’ve left out some good ones. But here goes. And feel free to add your own choices in the comments. I don’t think you can put pictures in but you can tell us about them and the movies they’re from.


Oblique Angles and Striking Images


D.O.A.
Fear in the Night
Born to Kill
The Big Heat
Sunset Boulevard
Strangers on a Train
Sunset Boulevard
D.O.A.
Fear in the Night
Phantom Lady
Fear in the Night
The Lady from Shanghai
He Walked by Night
The Lady from Shanghai
The Maltese Falcon
Nightmare Alley
Black Angel
Dark Passage
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Third Man
The Third Man

Touch of Evil

Shadows, Reflections and Venetian Blinds


The Killers
Crack-Up
Double Indemnity
Fear in the Night
He Walked by Night
The Maltese Falcon
The Narrow Margin
The Narrow Margin
Pitfall
Somewhere in the Night
The Crooked Way
The Woman in the Window

Fog and Rain


The Big Combo
Follow Me Quietly
The Narrow Margin
Scarlet Street
The Blue Dahlia

Smoking


The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Maltese Falcon
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
Pitfall

Streets, Alleys and Neon


Act of Violence
Act of Violence
Act of Violence
The Blue Dahlia
Born to Kill
Criss Cross
The Crooked Way
Cry Danger
Cry Danger
Dark Passage
Dark Passage
D.O.A.
Kiss Me, Deadly
The Lady from Shanghai

People, Femme Fatales and Guys with Gats


Gun Crazy
Crack-Up
Scarlet Street
The Big Sleep
Born to Kill
D.O.A.
Dead Reckoning
Detour
D.O.A.
Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity
The Postman Always Rings Twice
I Walk Alone
The Blue Dahlia
Laura
The Big Sleep
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
The Crooked Way
Too Late for Tears
In a Lonely Place and Detour

Lobby Cards, Title Cards, Posters


***

The author as a boy with gat, lucky rabbit's foot and the
shadow of noir over him.

###

And now for the usual BSP:

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