Friday, March 22, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: Night and the City (1950), Nightmare Alley (1947)





















Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)

Warning: when blacklisted, better to become an export,
like a bottled beer. With a never-to-be-read novel tucked
under your belt. The point being there was no point.
The shadows, all too familiar. Urban sleaze slicing up
a foreign landscape where it's always night and the city
is still the city.  This time a depleted London, where Dassin
is sent to recoup Zanuck's frozen profits. Shooting fast,
the most expensive scenes first, to keep the studio “on
the hook.” Harry Fabian, whether unlikeable corrupter 
or fast-talking wide-boy,  traipses through dark alleyways
and pocked bomb sites. There's rationing for everyone
save those who would follow the money. Kersh’s novel
bought, still unread, by Charles Feldman for $45,000, 
then selling book and script to Zanuck for $175,000. 
A tasty return, but, hey, turnarounds are what Hollywood's
all about. So long as one can milk the dregs: in this case,
Fabian, the Silver Fox and wrestling, punctuated by
dawn-and-dusk photography,  and a litany of geo-exotica:
Soho’s Richmond Buildings, St Martin’s Lane and in-the-Field, 
Waterloo Bridge, the Shot Tower, St Paul’s, Charing Cross
Road, Trafalgar Square, County Hall, Leicester Square’s
Cafe Anglais, and Hammersmith Bridge, where, a half-hour
of light, Dassin, using six cameras, completed twenty-two
shots in eighteen minutes.True to its title, though more
so had anyone been interested enough to read the novel.




















Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947)

Forget the reprobates, crawling parasites and fallen angels
who some say have flown too close to the ground. Only to
lose yourself amongst their wounded ilk: barkers, freaks,
dodgy mind-readers and cross-dressing shrinks. Each with
a sideshow of their own. No way out, other than to turn into
some ill-fated geek, down on his luck, his cage littered with
bottles of rot-gut, sleepless nights spent howling at the moon.
Gresham first heard about such creatures from Doc Faraday,
an ex-carny, who, like Gresham, had thrown in his lot with
the Lincoln Brigade. “I can’t understand how a man can get
that low,” says Stanton, as he takes another wrong road to
 nowhere, reading the signs but never their significance.
How easy to fall, in an era before euphemisms became a
language spoken beyond the beyond. Back when cops still
smiled as their truncheons split skulls, owned or borrowed
by the discontented or dispossessed. So basic the desire for 
world of one's own. Can he hack geekdom? “I was born to
it,” Stanton declares. Words inked at the Dixie Hotel, Coney
Island, the missus in the arms of some high church author.
No passaran, though the darkness surrounds us, but no god-
damn big car for the effort. The rope breaks, but eventually
he's just  another suicide statistic. As for Goulding, paranoid
the blacklist would come knocking, his peccadilloes revealed,
a studio mark, who would never again walk that razor's edge.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Philly and South Jersey Gothic: On Jay A. Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis

Hard-boiled noir fiction has produced more than its share of cult writers, but pulp novelist and periodically successful Hollywood screenwriter David Goodis is in a league of his own. His status, first nurtured in France through Gallimard's Série Noire imprint, has grown steadily since Francois Truffaut;s film Tirez fur le pianiste, based on Goodis's novel Down There (1956), was released in 1960. That book would be reprinted in the United States a few years later by Grove Press, retitled, to capitalize on the film, Shoot the Piano Player (1962). What success the latter garnered no doubt had less to do with Goodis's name and reputation than with Truffaut's, though Henry Miller's blurb gracing its cover might have given the reprint added heft. Yet even before Down There's initial publication as a Gold Medal paperback in 1956, Goodis had some 14 novels under his belt, including classics like Dark Passage (1946), adapted for the screen by Delmer Daves in 1947; Nightfall (1947), adapted by Stirling Silliphant for Jacques Tourneur in 1957; and The Burglar (1953), filmed by Paul Wendkos in 1957 from a screenplay- his most accomplished- by Goodis himself.

The publication of Philippe Garnier's groundbreaking Goodis, la vie en noir et blanc in France in 1984 went some way toward confirming Goodis's status as a cult writer. Nine years later, James Sallis's Difficult Lives (1993) placed Goodis in a select pantheon alongside two other cult noir writers, Jim Thompson and Chester Himes.  Goodis would also feature heavily in two of my own books, Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (1995) and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood (2002). The last three volumes all owe a debt to Garnier's investigative work, which turned up a number of people who had been close to Goodis throughout his truly troubled life.

(You can click here to read the review in its entirety on the L.A. Review of Books website.)

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Friday, March 01, 2019

Finally: Paul Oliver and Mack McCormick's The Blues Come to Texas

It seems like I've been hearing about this book for ever. The Blues Came to Texas was, and is, intended as a definitive history of Texas blues.  It was first  conceived way back in 1959 at a time when blues scholarship was still in its infancy, by two of the most renown blues scholars Paul Oliver, author of, amongst many other books Blues Fell This Morning and Songsters and Saints, and Mack McCormick, "discoverer" of Mance Lipscomb and Lighnin' Hopkins, also known for his research on Robert Johnson and, for legal reasons, perhaps the most infamous blues research project, on Johnson entitled The Biography of a Phantom, never to see the light of day. For various reasons- health problems, mistrust and the difficulties of transatlantic communication in a pre-internet era- the book has languished in literary limbo ever since 1977. Thanks to Texas A&M University, the project is now available, thanks to researcher, photographer and film-maker Alan Govenar who, after conferring with Oliver during the last years of the latter's life. revived the project. Urged on by the likes of  Tony Russell and Arhoolie's Chris Strachwitz, Govenar, in turn, brought on board the noted musicologist Kip Lornell to assist him in putting together the final manuscript.

Their collaboration certainly does not disappoint. It really is the definitive history of Texas blues, and though a large format, relatively expensive book, this is hardly the coffee table book its size implies. Instead, the text  predominates, along with a handful of photographs. No doubt this book is really meant for a small band of blues scholars, but I think any blues enthusiast, particularly those interested in the southwest variety, will want to give this volume serious attention. This even though  the publisher notes that what is now available is, in fact, more like a literary artifact, a draft of what was, and is, a massive research project. Certainly,  the unfinished format of the book- chapters listed as sections in alphabetical order, notes in which Oliver queries McCormick, missing texts, grammatical inconsistencies, etc.- would back up the publisher's claim. Though that hardly detracts from the book's importance.  Though hopefully a more affordable format will one day become available. Nevertheless, The Blues Come to Texas is finally here, and the wait has been long but well worth it. http://www.facebook.com/facebook-widgets/share.php

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Naked Kiss (1964)

















The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)


Back before noir was noir, and only a
stained melting-pot, Spade had a thing for 
vernacularisms. The young hood a gunsel, 
Yiddish, guncil/gunsel, for thief, catamite, 
or young tramp. Though deployed earlier
byTully and London who opted for gonsil. 
Relating to gonnof/gonif, also meaning thief, 
originally a pickpocket, and corruption 
of gazoon(e)y. Derived from garcon or the
Irish gossom. Prior to that, deployed by
Dickens and Chesterton. Though for them
it was Dutch- the language of a trading
nation- in origin, also referring to a sodomite. 
Which makes one wonder: does that imply
all thieves are sodomitesor all sodomites
thieves? Joel Cairo is certainly fat cat
Gutman’s gunsel. And, surely, Gutman
makes use of gunsels or gonnifs as required. 
As for Spade?  He was doing it for Miles
Archer, whom, it's said, spawned a son, Lew,
as told by a K. Millar, aka Macdonald. And
Spade’s thing with Brigid? Spoiler alert, she's 
murderer, the bird’s a fake, and Spade,
besides tweaking prefixes, has no problem
shopping her. Because,“When your partner 
gets killed, you gotta do something.” As for
Flintcroft, neither gunsel nor gonifclose
call makes him the same but different, his dis-
appearance a vernacular of a deeper dilemma.    




















The Naked Kiss (Samuel Fuller, 1964)

Jazz, jerky camera, “I’m drunk, Kelly!” 
Not even Maggie could handbag quite
like that. The pimp pulls  her hair. Fuck
me, it’s a wig.  Kelly, bald, knocks him
to the floor, takes his wallet. “I’m not 
rolling you, you drunken leach" (or is
it lech?), I’m only taking the 75 dollars
coming to me.” Slaps him,  stuffs the
cash into her bra, delivers a final kick,
grabs a photo, looks in the mirror, and
re-wigs. Then the credits roll. Kelly
calmly applying her make-up.  Suspended
disbelief, no, makes that animation, bound
to be just another lamb to slaughter. Yet
there’s more: cramming money into
the brothel-keeper’s mouth; finding her
rich fiancé, Grant, molesting a child;
a one woman vigilante, she beats him to
death with a telephone receiver; tells Griff-
his friend, and her final john- that Grant
was a naked kisser, the sure sign of a
pervert.” Though why or what is never
explained. Only Sam knows for sure.
Walking through that crowd, like some-
thing out of Night of the Living Dead. 
Seeking redemption as much as revenge.
However lachrymose, a tabloid fantasy,
in which depravity is never far away,
and negativity, something like schmaltz 
and loathing in small-town America.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: The Lady From Shanghai (1947) The Long Goodbye (1973)



















The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

After the rescue, the inevitable: flirtation,
employment, sweet talk on hubby's yacht.
Eyes irresistibly twinklingIn the real 
world, Cohn green lights the project only 
after assuming Welles’s fifty grand debt.
As usual, it's all power to the capitalist class.
But, then, Cohn is said to have created Rita, 
husband number one pimping her while
still a teenager. Of course, in Hollywood
everyone is owned by someone. Undeterred
in dreamland, Michael's brogue historically
screams murder. Ne touchez pasGrisby,
wonders if he'd be willing to do so again?
Riffing on the cause du jourMichael 
simply says,  I'd kill another Franco spy. 
After which Grisby repliesWould you kill 
me if I gave you the chance? Should he, 
given Rita, even deliberate? Would you?  
Contemplating a life in Patsyville, Michael
remains philosophical, reminding Grisby 
that Everybody is somebody's fool. As for
the mirrors, they only go to show that any
reflection is merely a state of mind, another
image of itself or something else. Splicing
the film to pieces, Cohn obsesses over 
Rita's hair, demands more close-ups and, 
of course, Gilda-like song. What else 
might intercedealbeit disfigurement, and 
a world in which everything cracks, breaks
or is already broken. As Rita's doppleganger 
says, You need more than luck in Shanghai.















The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)

It’s okay with me, things are what they are,
even when they’re not. A surfeit of shrugs, 
wisecracks, topless hippies, alienated
wealth, crooks, quacks, or steroid-enhanced
thugs. It's the me-culture minus the stench
of fuck-you geckonomics. Marlowe, no
longer a lapsed petit-bourgeois oil lackey,
but a cat-loving, chain-smoking mumbler, 
supermarket insomniac, secular Jew, singing
Mammy in blackface to the cops. Purists
have never had time for such revisionism,
while the impure amongst us can't decide
whether to laugh or cry. A blank slate,
Marlowe’s knightly virtues, naturally at
odds with a culture that could care less.
Not down these mean streets but across 
road-raged freeways. Stylish bungalows
replaced by vertical brutalisms, glassed-in
beach front properties like centres for the
murderously insane.  Walking down that
tree-lined avenue, harmonica-in-cheek,
it's Hooray for Hollywood with an Astaire
shuffle. Such is the corruption, and cynicism, 
gumshoeing into the distance, tarnished, ad
infinitum, beyond the before and ever after.     

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Noir Fiction and Non-Fiction, My Favourites from 2018


It was a good year for noir fiction. But these were the books that stood out for me.  I've included links to those that I reviewed. A couple came in a bit late to be reviewed on this site. Maybe I'll get to them at some point in the near future.


-Give Me Your Hand, Megan Abbott

-Green Sun, Kent Anderson

-November RoadLou Berney

-The Lonely WitnessWilliam Boyle- 

-The Syndicate, Clarence Cooper Jr.-

- Pulp According to David Goodis, Jay Gertzman

-So Many Doors, Oakley Hall 


-The Annotated Big SleepHill, Jackson, Rizzuto- 

-Ivory PearlJean- Patrick Manchette

- I'll Be Gone In the DarkMichelle McNamara-

 -Only to SleepLawrence Osborne- 

-The Long TakeRobin Robertson

-The Prague Coup, Jean-Luc Fromental, Miles Hyman

           
                                                   
                                                                         





































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