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)
Scene 7 in the continuing series Movie Watching in Quarantine.
It wasn’t the first time Woody and Diane Keaton teamed up on the screen but Annie Hall would solidify their coupling as one of the great screen couples. Neurotic lovers seemingly perfect for each yet destined not to last. What does last is Woody’s second lover in the film, not a person, but the city of New York. In Annie Hall, Allen for the first time puts on screen New York City, or at least his version of New York City, consisting of the Upper East and West Side, movie theaters, bookstores, museums, and restaurants all populated with a closet full of pseudo-intellectuals.
For the first time in his career Woody, while managing to continue the self-deprecating bookish pseudo-intellectual laughs, blends in or rather introduces new colors onto his palette: passion, romance, love, and regret. In “Annie Hall,” Woody gives us the many colors making up the romantic rainbow. Even if you lose in the end, it was great to have had made the trip. With Annie Hall, Woody Allen found his voice.
The 39 Steps
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller speeds along like a shooting star. A moment is not wasted during its tight less than 90 minute running time. Filled with suspense and humor, some risqué for its time, the film is a roller coaster ride that never stops. For the first time, Hitchcock used what would become one of his most famous motifs that of the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. It would surface again in films like The Wrong Man, Saboteur and North by Northwest. Another Hitchcock theme that will appear again and again in his films is the cool blonde; Madeleine Carroll, I believe may be the first in a long line of cool Hitchcock blondes. Spies and secret organizations are another theme that would continue to show up in future works. Of his British period, this ranks for me as his best. The Lady Vanishes, Sabotage and The Man Who Knew Too Much not fare behind.
Based on a novel (The Hunter) by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake, John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir Point Blank was a revelation when it first came out in 1967 one of the most stylistic and earliest films, along with “Bonnie and Clyde” released the same year, to reflect the influences of the French New Wave. Boorman uses flashbacks, inter cutting, offbeat camera composition to create the paranoid universe Lee Marvin’s Walker travels in attempting to collect the $93,000 owed him. Though dressed in suits and working out of corporate offices, John Boorman’s underworld characters in Point Blank are as treacherous, backstabbing, and a conniving group of low life’s as gangsters from the days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But as slick, as they think they are, they meet their match in Walker a relentless, lifelong criminal, doubled crossed out of his share of money from a robbery and left for dead on Alcatraz Island. More than revenge, Walker wants his damn money.
Don’t bother with the Mel Gibson 1999 remake (Payback). Gibson’s character is less anti-hero and more a crude gorilla dressed up in false modern day movie cool. The film as a whole has no heart or soul. It’s mindless pulp.
Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child, the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and you ask yourself what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out to be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse. Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mommie Dearest, and The Manchurian Candidate. And then there is Rosemary’s Baby.
We have been conditioned to expect witchcraft to be practiced in places like Salem or it’s like. But, not on the Upper West Side of New York City. Rosemary’s Baby can be watched as just a great horror film, but it can also be read as a mother’s worst nightmare. Betrayed by her husband selling her out for a successful acting career, arranging to have her impregnated by the devil, forcing her to be left in the hands of a demonic doctor and some very devilish neighbors. The terror of rape, an unwanted pregnancy, and the fear of abnormal deformed childbirth are also filtered into the storyline. Rosemary becomes isolated, trapped with no family or friends to confide in or help her. Roman Polanski has given us a room full of paranoia with an eerie atmosphere and morbid humor. The acting adds much. The waif-like Mia Farrow makes her look even more vulnerable. John Cassavetes has a perfect demonic look in his eyes. Polanski opens and closes the film with sky-high views of the Bramford apartments where most of the film is shot. The Bramford is of course the famed Dakota Apartments on the Upper West Side, home of many famous people, and sadly most notable for where John Lennon lost his life.
While Psycho may not be as shocking as it was back in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic till outshines the Freddy Krugers, Hannibal Lectors, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees that have followed. Though there are deeply disturbing themes running through the film, Hitchcock always makes it feel entertaining. Shot for under 1 million dollars, the director lures the audience in with masterful editing (the famed shower sequence), suspense, thrills, black humor, and a brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann.
Here is scene 3 in my list of Movies Watched in Quarantine.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
With the mood, the ambiance, the Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, the perfect deadpan voice-over by Steve Martin, we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain-filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all, that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an affectionate, funny, and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames, and mean darkly lit streets.
Murder By Natural Causes
Written by William Levinson and Richard Link (creators of Colombo) the 1979 Made for TV movie is a clever and devious story filled with one twist after another, and when you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. A must-see for mystery lovers. I originally saw this on CBS back in 1979. In the late 1990s, I found a used VHS copy at Blockbuster Video and held onto it to this day. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD. The film stars Katherine Ross, Hal Holbrook, and Barry Boswick.
The Narrow Margin
One of my all-time favorite Film Noir’s. Running a rapid 71 minutes, the film’s pace is as hi-speed as the rails they are riding. We are back in time when most people still traveled by train. It’s a world filled with sleeping berths, club cars, dining cars, porters, and whistles shrieking in the dark of the night. Most of all, the film has the great Charles McGraw, the unofficial king of B film noir. Whether portraying a cop or a criminal, his gravel like voice and square jaw looks have graced many film noirs. McGraw meets his hardcore match in Marie Windsor. Known as the “Queen of the B’s,” for the countless low budget films she made in her career. Windsor’s off-beat beauty graced a wide variety of films most importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Windsor’s 5’9” slinky frame, her coldhearted, seen everything looks make her a perfect femme fatale, and a superb counterpoint to McGraw’s rugged honest cop.
Broadway Danny Rose
Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business: a one-legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his client’s worth no matter how bad they are. Allen creates a nostalgic world filled with the lower levels of New York’s show business community that he knew well from his early days as a TV writer and standup comedian. Many of the characters have a colorful Damon Runyon like quality to them. Classic Woody!
Here are a few more films I watched while social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic which is still not under control. Here in Florida it continues to spread. I hope everyone is staying safe. Please wear a mask, it’s not that big a sacrifice. I know you can handle it Anyway, as I shelter from the storm, here are a few thoughts on some of the films I’ve watched. More to come!
Whether you are a musician, writer, actor, artist or any other public figure, you know having fans is an integral part of the experience. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted. However, with some fans there comes the point when that devotion takes a turn toward some very dark places; far from the ordinary, toward the bizarre, the maniacal or even worst. Fan is short for fanatic which derives from the Latin adjective fanaticus. The fanatic has lost all perspective of their relationship to the artist. They are overly passionate and unreasonable in their devotion to their idol. Some even feel they know the artist and have a personal relationship where the artist is speaking directly to them. It’s all very delusional, and needless to say, way outside the boundaries of what is considered conventional behavior. Then there is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates).
Misery is one of my favorite Stephen King novels and one of the best adaptations of a King novel. Filled with dark witty humor and a sense of dread that builds throughout. Would have loved to have seen Hitchcock make this film
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. It’s based on Richard Matheson’s novel, The Shrinking Man. On the surface, the film is fun to watch, but it does carry some serious underlying themes. Our Shrinking hero sees his shrinkage as a loss of his masculinity. As he continues to shrink, he feels his manhood and his place as the man of the house are being diminished as well. He is no longer sexually adequate. He also faces a life where everyday objects are now life-threatening. A spider he once would have stepped on is now the size of a prehistoric monster. The pet cat is a predatory beast ready to attack. Small leaks from the basement water heater turn into a major flood for our minuscule hero. He hates being a scientific experiment and a spectacle for the media. He now fights for survival in his own house where everyday objects are now the enemy to his existence. Finally, he must face the biggest question of all. If he continues to shrink, will he eventually even exist?
Lost in America
“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in this hilarious off-beat comedy, Lost in America is his third feature film as a director and writer (script co-written with, Monica McGowan Johnson). David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California, but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company where he works. However, on the big day, he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him. A transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. David is stunned; His jaw-dropping response is, “a transfer??? I can get that at a bus stop!” He goes on a verbal rampage directed at his boss and is fired. He convinces Linda to quit her job, sell all their assets, buy a Winnebago, and go searching for America just like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper..well almost.
And so they hit the road to the tune of Steppenwolf’s’ Born to Be Wild blasting on the soundtrack. We watch as their new Winnebago heads out on the highway, looking for adventure, in this superb parody of the counterculture hit, Easy Rider.
The free-spirited lifestyle doesn’t work out and the couple comes to realize that dropping out may not be the answer, at least not for them. Two weeks after hitting the road David and Linda make their way to New York with plans and hopes of David begging to get his job back
Between the Lines
I have always had an affinity for newspaper themed films. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, Sam Fuller’s Park Row, Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Phil Karlson’s Scandal Sheet, Richard Brooks’ Deadline U.S.A, and more recently Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight are just some of my favorites. As you can tell from this small list, newspaper reporting can be a heroic endeavor or it can be down and dirty, even scandalous.
A forgotten film in this sub-genre is Between the Lines. With the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, as well as the Vietnam anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement, underground newspapers representing the growing and influential youth market of the time were beginning to pop up throughout the country. The heyday of the underground newspaper was between 1965-1973. By 1977, when this film was made the idealism and the paper’s circulation has faded thanks to an apathetic public. The film works best as a document of its times, capturing the shabby conditions, the idealistic anti-establishment attitude of the characters, and finally the realization that it’s all about to change. The cast includes John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Crouse, Bruno Kirby, Gwen Welles, Stephen Collins, Michael J. Pollard, and others. One of the highlights is a couple of live performances from Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes.
As a writer, I stay home and write. That’s the nature of the process, but when I put my photographer’s hat on I am outside. Again, that’s the nature of the process. Covid-19 has put my photography on hold. Sure, I can do indoor photography, but my taste has usually run toward the outdoors.
These days, I’m spending more time inside than out. My writing is at its best in the early hours. Subsequently, to pass the time I read, and I have been watching movies, movies and more movies.
I have been posting on Facebook a few thoughts on most and decided to share a few here.
Cape Fear one of the great thrillers from the early 60s. Robert Mitchum’s revenge-seeking crazed Max Cady is one of cinema’s great psychopaths. What makes his performance so effectively terrifying is his laid back style. He’s a relentless, vengeful, monster that would put fear in anyone’s heart. The film is a twisted tale that will keep your nails short due to all the biting you will do while sitting on the edge of your seat. Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of his best as is Mitchum’s off-kilter, heavy-lidded, sexually charged, nasty performance.
Brian DePalma’s Carrie is best remembered for the film’s prom night climax: the bucket filled with pig blood dropping on Carrie, the split-screen, the bursting flames of fire, and the deadly revenge filled bloodshed as the highlights in this film. True, it’s one of the most shocking of screen massacres and all-time great sequences in horror. But complementing thasequence is the sequence that comes prior to it. The tense filled scenes beginning with the collection of prom queen ballots to the tracking shot of the bucket’s cord and the fated spilling of blood onto Carrie’s hair and body. That sequence creates a slow, but tense, nail-biting buildup to the final destruction
Three Days Of the Condor
Paranoia Strikes Deep as Buffalo Springfield once sang. Three Days of the Condor strikes deep into the heart of the CIA. Robert Redford reads books for the agency looking for ideas, plans, secret codes that may be Thembedded. He is not a field agent. So when there is a mass slaughter of his co-workers (with the hits occurring while he is literally out to lunch). Redford calls his superior and wants to be brought in from the cold. One little problem. He finds himself a target not only from the assassins but the Agency itself. Condor is one of the great paranoid thrillers of the day. Sydney Pollack was an efficient filmmaker whose crisp, no nonsense style moves the film along at a sharp pace. There are no fancy shots, and he manages to clearly explain what is sometimes a convoluted tale. Even in quiet, simple scenes like the elevator ride where Redford slowly comes to the realization that Max Van Sydow, his co-rider on the elevator is the enemy Pollack can build up suspense. I did find the love affair that ensues between Redford and Faye Dunaway lacking believability but this is a film I like watching over and over.
Recently watched Richard Brooks’ classic western, The Professionals, a film that contains one of the great closing lines in cinema. Ralph Bellamy’s arrogant and lying Texas millionaire calls Lee Marvin, one of four men he hired to bring his alleged kidnapped wife back, a bastard. Marvin’s character responds “Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, you’re a self-made man.”
Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery remains a mystery over ninety-years later. On December 3rd, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, packed a small bag, and left a note for her secretary that she would not be returning that night. She got into her two-seater Morris Cowley automobile and drove off.
The next day, the automobile was found hanging over a ditch, held back from falling by bushes. An attaché case was found in the car as well as some clothing. There was no sign of the author. Christie was a well-known author by then, her most recent novel at the time was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her disappearance international news. Her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently demanded a divorce, claimed she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A massive search by a thousand police and thousands of volunteers looked for three days before the hunt was called it off. Christie’s bother-in-law claimed to have received a note that read she’s going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment. Not convinced or reassured, the police continued their search.
As the manhunt continued, rumors spread that the disappearance is a publicity stunt, a rumor her secretary vehemently denied. Other rumors claimed the future Dame Agatha was in London dressed in men’s clothing. A spiritualist was consulted, determining Christie met with foul play.
Eleven days later, the author was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate registered under the name of Mrs. Tressa Neele. The Colonel claimed the entire incident was due to a nervous breakdown, and he had no idea about the significance of her alias. That second point was a complete lie. The name belonged to her husband’s lover. Christie knew of the affair and had been distraught.
When the Colonel came to pick up his wife, it’s been said Christie met him with an icy stare.
Fifteen months later, Agatha Christie sued and divorced her husband. In 1930, she remarried. Archibald Christie also married. His new wife, none other than Tressa Neele.
Over the years, many biographers have tried to find out exactly what, why, and where Agatha Christie disappeared. Was it revenge for her husband’s affair, manic depression, amnesia or something else? No one knows for sure. Throughout her life, Christie refused to talk about that period, except once to a British newspaper, and her story revealed few details.
When one of the greatest mystery writers has an unsolved mystery in her own life, you can bet there would be much interest. In 1977, author Kathleen Tynan wrote the novel, Agatha, featuring her own interpretation of what happened during those eleven days. Hollywood released a big-screen adaptation of Agatha in 1979 starring Vanessa Redgrave at the shy author, Dustin Hoffman as a fictitious American journalist, and Timothy Dalton as Archibald Christie. More recently, two British Made for Television films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), and Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019) turn Ms. Christie into Jessica Fletcher. A third film in the series is scheduled for this year.
I have been working on editing a new collection of film essays for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s (CMBA) ninth eBook. Each book has its own theme, Banned and Blacklisted, Underseen and Underrated, and Hollywood on Hollywood to name a few. This book is no different. The subject is Anniversaries. Why Anniversaries, you ask? Well, in October of last year the CMBA celebrated its 10th anniversary, so it seemed fitting.
The CMBA began in 2009 as a dream of Rick Armstrong who blogs as the Classic Film and TV Cafe. He was the organization’s first President and its guiding light. Today, there are close to 90 members and going strong.
This book contains 10 essays from celebrating how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other films from 1969 bridged the Old And New Hollywood to how the Spanish Flu of 100 years ago affected the film Industry.
THE LATE SHOW AND OTHER TALES OF CELLULOID MALICE includes 8 short stories all with two things in common… Malice and Movies. Below are some of the movies that inspired me to write the stories. Pre-order at Amazon. Available March 3rd
With only a few days left in 2019, I thought I would look back a bit and share a few small accomplishments.
I sold the use of one of my photographs (Colburn’s Shoe Store) for use in an ad for Belfast, Maine realtor Martha Martin in The Republican Journal Newspaper.
A photograph I took way back in 1976 of the Baronet/Coronet theaters in New York City is used in Abel Ferrara’s recent documentary, The Projectionist which debuted at this year’s New York Film Festival.
My short story, (The Bombay Hook Incident), published in the on-line magazine A Millon and One.
I was interviewed by the online magazine NRReads.coed
Interviewed by Jeremy Richey for Soledad Arts Journal. Available at Amazon.
Looking Forward to the New Year
My latest collection of short stories, THE LATE SHOW: AND OTHER TALES OF CELLULOID MALICE will come out in the first half of 2020. As you can easily deduct, all the stories have a common theme. More details to follow.
My thanks to all who have stopped by my little abode. Here’s wishing for all a happy, healthy and peaceful 2020.