On Valentine’s Day in 1929, Al Capone allegedly sent a surprise gift to his Chicago North Side enemy Bugs Moran. Capone and Moran were in the middle of a gang war over territorial rights involving bootleg booze. On that romantic holiday, four men posing as police officers, entered Moran’s headquarters. They lined up seven of Moran’s thugs against a wall (Bugs wasn’t there) and emptied their machine guns into them. While it has never been completely proven that Capone was behind the massacre, he is generally credited with the bloody gift. Photo is from Roger Corman’s 1967 film, THE SAINT VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE.
Here we have my top ten, plus six HM’s, of my own personal faovorite P.I. eyes. I’ve always had a soft spot for the anti-hero types, though you will find Nick and Nora Charles on the list. It was Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe who cemented my love for the mean dark streets of film noir where many of the best P.I. films are set. Please share you own favorites if you so desire.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
There are lies, deceit, sex, betrayal, murder, a stay true to the source screenplay by John Huston, a supporting cast that includes Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorr, Elisa Cook, and of course Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade all add up to make this film the epitome of Private Eye films.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
A multi layered, satirical, witty send up, and as you would expect from Robert Altman, a breakdown of genre conventions. Still the film keeps many of Chandler’s archetypal characters (wives stuck in loveless relationships, low-rent hoods, and cops too bored to do the job right) but he does it with a twist. Altman’s Marlowe is not the hard boiled knight in 1940’s armor living by his own moral code. In fact, this Marlowe seems to lack a moral center. Altman, along with screenwriter Leigh Brackett, turned our anti-hero into a man who is out of his time. He is the complete outsider; from the law, the hoods, even to his neighbors..
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer was never better served than in Kiss Me Deadly. Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer is a cold, brutal, sneering, amoral, narcissistic, and sullen dark knight dealing out revenge as his own form of hard-nosed justice. He’s a “bedroom dick” who easily confesses to some irksome cops to his own repugnance (you’ve convinced me, I’m a stinker). After giving a lift to a psychiatric ward escapee (Cloris Leachman) Hammer finds himself involved in a mystery where radioactive material is the prize. Director Robert Aldrich has delivered a cynical, fatalistic, and apocalyptic noir masterpiece.
The Big Sleep (1946)
With the making of Harper, based on Ross MacDonald’s first novel there was a definite connection to the past. First, there’s author MacDonald who writer Michael Avallone once wrote that Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald were the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” of the hard-boiled school of fiction. MacDonald himself was a major influence on many of the mystery writers we read today including Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker and Robert Crias. Next was Warner Brothers, the same studio that brought you The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, released the film. Finally, there is Lauren Bacall. Bogie’s Baby herself who taught Bogart how to whistle. Paul Newman’s Harper is cynical and quick with the wise cracking, snappy comebacks. Like many classic P.I. films, it all takes place in California, land of off-beat cults represented here in the face of Strother Martin as a phony guru who runs a cult called Temple in the Clouds.
The Thin Man (1934)
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
I always ranked Humphrey Bogart as my favorite screen version of Philip Marlowe with Robert Mitchum a solid number two. Mitchum plays an older version of the P.I., but just as cynical. He’s backed up by a nice group of supporting actors including the beautiful Charlotte Rampling, Sylvia Miles, John Ireland, Harry Dean Stanton, Anthony Zerbe, Jack O’Halloran with a minor role by still unknown Sylvester Stallone. Look for the great hard-boiled writer Jim Thompson in a small role.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetically order)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Night Moves (1975)
Like many folks who fall into the age categories that are open to receiving the COVID vaccine, I have been trying to get an available appointment. Crashed systems, unavailability, lack of a simple implementation have all added up to a frustrating time for many of us.
Here in Florida, right now you have to be 65 and older to qualify, and yes I’m in that age bracket. Since the vaccines became available, there have been outcries about poor planning; website crashing, being disconnected on the phone after waiting for hours. Appointments filled up fast. Only the other day on the news I heard that in one county here in Florida they had 1,000 vaccines available and all were gone in three minutes.
Where are the vaccines people cry out? The state blames the feds, and the feds blame the states.
Here in Florida, selected Publix Supermarkets are now giving out the vaccine. This past Saturday morning the website opened, enabling folks to register for an appointment beginning at 6 AM. My wife and I were up and on our computer. After a 40 minute wait, my wife managed to schedule an appointment. After she was all set up, they asked if another household member wanted to register and I got an appointment. She was scheduled for Sunday, the next day, and I had my appointment for Tuesday.
We were ecstatic and grateful.
Both appointments went smoothly. They were quick, efficient, and we were in and out in 35 minutes, including the 15 minutes after you receive your shot.
There are many snags with the rollout of the vaccine. One of the key problems is the confusion because of a lack of a federal mandate on how to distribute the vaccine. Everyone knew the vaccines were coming. There was plenty of time for the federal government, the state, and counties to be better prepared.
Here in Florida, each county is doing their own thing from having to register by computer and/or telephone. County websites are all different, requirements are inconsistent including a few counties that are not doing by appointment only, but are on a first-come, first-serve basis until we run out. This situation has resulted in having a senior population standing in long lines or parked in long lines overnight, hoping to get a vaccine. Sadly, there won’t be enough for all and at some point, they will run out of doses and there will be folks who waited in line for eight hours or more and will go home still searching for vaccine relief.
It’s a frustrating experience, hours are spent online or on the phone attempting to get an appointment only to receive a message that there are no more appointments available at this time or are disconnected. That said, please don’t give up. Keep pushing on and on and there will be that one time when you will scream out YES!
Stay safe !and keep on pushing!
E. J. Bellocq is best known today for his evocative photographs of the prostitutes of Storyville, the notorious section of New Orleans where prostitution became legal in the late 1800s and lasted through the early years of the 20th century. Bellocq was a native of New Orleans and began his photographic career, first as an amateur photographer then turning professional, shooting mostly ships and machinery for local companies in the area.
However, Bellocq had a private side to his life that few people knew about. He would travel across Basin Street to Storyville, where he turned his 8×10 camera on the ladies of the New Orleans night. It is for these photographs Bellocq today is best remembered. The portraits at first seem standard portraits of the women of the day, except that in many pictures the ladies are nude, though not always. Some women seem uncomfortable in the photos, not because they are naked, but more likely because they do not know how to pose in front of the camera. Yet, others come across as very comfortable, posing with an innocent grace. Bellocq was no pretentious artist; his work is very informal, almost anti-artistic. They have an old world charm; the women are plump, the clothes almost 19th century. The photographs become even more intriguing for the details they reveal about the interior living conditions, what it looked like inside these “specialty” houses. For example, in one photo we surprisingly see college banners (Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri) hanging on a wall.
By 1978, the JAWS and STAR WARS blockbuster mentality had taken over from the sophisticated, artistic, personal films of the early 1970s. Out of synch with the new Hollywood trend, French New Wave director Louis Malle (MURMUR OF THE HEART, LACOMBE, LUCIEN) released his first American film, PRETTY BABY in 1978, with Keith Carradine as E. J. Bellocq. The film also stars Susan Sarandon and a young Brooke Shields as mother and daughter. Sarandon is a prostitute named Hattie with a 12-year-old daughter (Violet). The story opens with Malle playfully seducing the audience’s expectations as we first meet Violet in an extreme closeup of her face. On the soundtrack, we hear what sounds like a woman approaching a sexual climax. However, as Malle soon reveals, the woman is really in the middle of child birth.
Bellocq comes to the house of ill repute one day requesting to photograph the “employees.” The cocaine sniffing Madame Nell (Frances Faye), agrees only after Bellocq agrees to pay for the privilege. Bellocq befriends Violet as he goes about meticulously photographing the ladies of the house.
Soon after, Madame Nell decides Violet is ready to enter the house business raffling off her virginity to the highest bidder. A celebratory ceremony accompanies Violet’s delivery to the winner. Both Bellocq and the black piano player known as the Professor (Antonio Fargas) stand off to the side from the “festivities” effectively reflecting their unease with the perverted ritual, yet both remain quiet, no attempt’s made to stop it, knowing this is Storyville and that’s the way it goes.
Hattie wants out of the business and marries a financially well off customer, leaving New Orleans and her past behind, moves to St. Louis. Violet refuses to go. For her, this house is her home, she stays behind. However, Violet does eventually go to live with Bellocq and they soon marry. Yet Bellocq’s genuine passion in life is his photography, which frustrates Violet, who though so experienced is still a child of 12 and acts that way. Hattie, now a proper lady, returns. Against her daughter’s marriage, she has come back to New Orleans to take Violet with her back to St. Louis. Realizing the young girl needs a more normal life than he can ever provide, he lets her go.
Though Bellocq was an actual person, the story of PRETTY BABY is fictional. It was a controversial film from the beginning. Even during the filming, rumors flew about what was being filmed and how explicit it would be. The controversy continued after the film’s release, some calling it child porn, mostly by folks who did not see the film.
Malle’s intent is to present a particular period and place in time. Not a good time, a sad one, but unique and one that happened. Malle and cinematographer Sven Nykvist take an unpleasant subject and handled it with taste. There is nothing neither salacious nor explicit in the film. Adding to the atmosphere is the excellent soundtrack filled with ragtime tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and others.
Many of Bellocq’s photographs are recreated in the film; much of his original work has been destroyed or lost. That said, some of his Storyville negatives survived over the years. What remains a mystery is why some surviving works, the original glass plates, contained damaged faces that are scratched or obliterated. Whether this happened on purpose and by whom remains unknown.
Bellocq’s work remained unknown until Lee Friedlander, then a young photographer, purchased the surviving glass negatives. He first became aware of their existence in the late 1950s. An exhibit of Bellocq’s work with new prints by Friedlander became part of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in the early 1970s. Fame came to Bellocq twenty years after his death.
History know’s little about the real Ernest J. Bellocq except that he had a slight physical impairment. He was short and did not indulge in any sexual activity with the women in the profession. He’s been compared physically to Toulouse-Lautrec, but how true that is, I do not know. Bellocq spent his last years roaming the streets of New Orleans, going from one camera store to another, becoming a fixture in some establishments. His Storyville photographs were unknown to all except for a few people, and the idea he someday would be considered an artist with his work hanging in New York’s Museum of Modern Art would have been laughable to those who knew him.
Besides the exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Louisiana Tech University honored Bellocq by naming a photography gallery after him. Bellocq’s work has also appeared in books like STORYVILLE, NEW ORLEANS As a character Bellocq has appeared in various novels, including Peter Everett’s BELLOCQ’s WOMEN.
E. J. Bellocq died in 1949. He was 76 years old.
Here are the five top crime shows that helped get me through 2020.
BETTER CALL SAUL
It’s been a rough a year and I think I’m safe in saying we’re all looking forward to a brighter 2021. Too many people have suffered heartbreaking losses of family and/or friends, lost jobs and more. It’s been a struggle for us all in one way or another. I want to take this moment to wish everyone during this holiday season peace, happiness and a reason to believe. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to stop by and please stay safe.
Finally, after a long delay, I have published my first newsletter. If you are interested in receiving it, send me your email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or PM on Facebook, and say newsletter. For a limited time, I will send to anyone who signs up a copy of my short story, MAKE IT WRITE (Kindle or PDF). Let me know which you prefer.
It seems like there is hardly an author of crime novels who can resist the lure of writing a Chritmas themed novel. Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot’s Christmas), George Simenon (A Maigret Christmas and Other Stories) Ed McBain (Sadie When She Died), and Robert B. Parker (SIlent Night) are among so many others who could not resist the temptation of writing a mystery/crime novel with a Chrisstmas theme.
This year I threw my own entry into the pot with the four story collection calle ‘Tis the Season.The four stories include tales about a hitman who hates the idea of killing people during the holidays, two brothers whose holiday reunion is in no way holly jolly, a shoplifter and the head of security who catches her, and finally a Christmas Eve revenge tale.
So if you need a Christmas themed book with a deadly touch to read, ‘Tis the Season will filled your devilish holiday needs. Available as an eBook for 99 cents at Amazon.
I am both editor and contributor to the latest CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) eBook, POLITICS ON FILM. Thes book contains seventeen essays covering politically tinged films dating back to the 1930s and up thru the 1960s. While not a definitive collection, the articles include a wide range of political points of view from the courageous to corruption to satire. Among the movies included in this collection are well known works like The Best Man, All the King’s Men, Duck Soup, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, to more obscure films such as Medium Cool, What Every Woman Knows, and Left, Right and Center.
Contributors: Paul Batters, Annette Bochenek, Marsha Collock, Jocelyn Dunphy, Patricia Gallagher, Amanda Garrett, Rick Gould, Jess Ilse, Marianne L’Abbate, Kevin Maher, Beth Nevarez and Lora Stocker, Patricia Nolan-Hall, Linda J. Sandahl, Patricia Schneider, Nur Soliman and J.O. Watts.
Will movie going ever be the same? It’s not like I want to add more doom and gloom to what we have been experiencing, however after reading a few articles recently, I have wondered about its future. Theaters are in crisis. Regal theatres have kept its doors closed up to now. AMC is open with limited capacity and struggling. Like many, I have not been inside a movie theater since the pandemic hit us early this year, turning our lives inside out. True, I have been watching plenty of movies, thanks to DVD’s, Netflix, Amazon, and other outlets that we fortunately have today, but theater going is still a unique experience. I mean, I don’t care how big your TV screen is, it’s not as big as a theater’s. And though I no longer indulge, I love the smell of movie theatre popcorn, and just having other people around to share the experience. All of which is all gone… at least for now.
One article I read mentioned how many of the studios have been postponing the release of their major films until next year. Steven Spielberg’s new version of “West Side Story,” scheduled for release this Christmas season now pushed back to a December 2021 debut. Also, there is “Respect,” the bio about Aretha Franklin, starring Jennifer Hudson, that should have been out by now. Instead, it now has a new release date of August 2021. This is all in hopes a vaccine would be out and the pandemic gone, or at least under control by then, and audiences will feel safe enough to come back and sit next to hundreds of other people in an enclosed space. What are the odds?
Despite people, including myself, and businesses wanting to get back to normal, what we are facing is a new normal where life has changed. It won’t be forever, but until COVID-19’s eradicated like Polio, you have to ask yourself how safe is it to go back to the old normal, and what is your tolerance for risk? For me, my risk tolerance of going to a movie theater filled with people who don’t want to wear a simple thing like a mask or don’t believe the science or just don’t care is more than I can deal with in my life.
Be open and willing to adjust to changes in life.
I hate not going to a movie theater or seeing a live concert or theater performance. I also hate the idea of getting sick from a disease that we still know little about and seems in many people to have long-lasting effects.
But I also think how much worse this all could be if it was 1970 and there were no PC’s or I-Pads, I-Phones, cable TV and streaming services to connect us with the outside world like we have today. Think about it, how fortunate we are in that respect.
No, I won’t be going back to a movie theater for a while, a long while. I miss it, but I’d also miss too many other things in life if I get sick or die. I’m not living in fear as some may say or think I am. I’m adjusting to a new normal that may be around for a while and making the best of it. I just need to decide what movie I want to watch tomorrow.