My Gritty Dozen 1970’s NYC Crime Films

This list is a result of recently reading author David Gordon’s article on Crime Reads. Like David, I grew up and lived in New York during its grittiest down and dirty days.  It’s a bit ironic that during New York’s ugliest days some of the best films set in the city were made during that time. I was already a movie freak, and while I liked a wide variety of movies I found myself attracted to crime films at a very young age. Two of the earliest I remember seeing on the big screen were Al Capone and Baby Face Nelson. While most parents took their under ten years of age kids to only Disney films, my folks took me to more adult movies too including gangster films.

Without further ado, here are my favorite crimes films from the 1970’s.

 

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975) 

Dog Day

Mean Streets (1973)

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Taxi Driver (1976)

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Klute (1971)

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Shaft (1971)

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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (!974) 

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The French Connection (1971)

French

Serpico (1973)

Serpico

Across 110th Street (1972)

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Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

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 Death Wish (1974)

Death

 

 

 

 

Elmore Leonard is Out of Sight

Arguably, Out of Sight is the best film adaption of the many Elmore Leonard crime novels to hit the screen. Some would argue for Jackie Brown, based on Leonard’s Rum Punch, and that’s a worthy debate to have. The Tarantino film has some fabulous performances particularly by Samuel L. Jackson as gun runner Ordell Robbie. But for me, Out of Sight is  off beat, dark, smart and funny. It’s a film I could watch multiple times and never get tired of watching.

Below is a clip of the famous truck scene. After Jack Foley (George Clooney) escapes from Glades State Prison in Florida, with the help of his partner Buddy (Ving Rhames), U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) happens along at the wrong time and ends up held hostage, forced to ride in the trunk of the getaway car with Jack.

The electricity between the two stars, the humorous dialogue, and the tight quarters of the trunk all quickly heat up the atmosphere. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

Edgar Ulmer’s Detour on TCM

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If you like down and dirty film noir, set your DVR for 4:45pm (ET) to catch Detour. Edgar Ulmer’s bargin basement noir is poverty row film making that rises to the level of art.

You can read more about Detour and other noirs it in my ebook Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames per Second. Available at Amazon. BUT be sure to set your DVR!

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Devil’s Tower – Wyoming

For those who have seen Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you will remember “Devil’s Tower” as one the film’s locations. Photographed it back in 2012.

Devil's Towere SD 2012 Revised-0107

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Linda McCartney

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This is my third in a series on real life photographers as portrayed in the movies. Here we take a look at Linda McCartney.

For a short period after high school, Linda Eastman attended the University of Arizona. However, she spent more time out in the Arizona countryside horseback riding, a passion since her youth, than in school. In 1962, her mother, Louise Eastman died in an airplane crash, and she came back to New York for a short period. The pressures of her mother’s death on her family sent her escaping back to Arizona. Upon her return, she soon became pregnant by her boyfriend, Melville See. They quickly married, and Heather was born. During this time, Eastman’s experience with photography was limited. While married to See, she took classes in photography at the Tucson Arts Center under the guidance of Hazel Archer. Her photographs at this point consisted mostly of her beloved horses as well as the Arizona landscape. The marriage didn’t last long. See, a geologist took a position that would send him to Africa. Linda declined to follow along. The marriage quickly dissolved. Linda and Heather went back east.

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Brian Jones – Photograph by Linda Eastman McCartney

Linda got an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She took a low-level job working as an editorial assistant for Town and Country magazine. She met David Dalton, a photographer, and writer, one day while both were waiting for the elevator in the same building where they both worked, though for different magazines. Dalton had a Pentax camera slung over his shoulder, and she began asking questions. They became friends and even dated. He taught her about lighting and other aspects of photography which she eagerly soaked in.

Among Linda’s functions at Town and Country were bill checking, calendar managing and opening the mail. On one occasion there came a press invitation for a reception aboard a yacht that would be cruising up the Hudson River. The guests of honor were the Rolling Stones. With the invite in one hand and a 35mm camera in the other, Linda, and her co-worker/best friend Christine Berlin were allowed on the yacht. [1]

Aboard the invitation-only yacht, Linda was both nervous and excited.  On deck, she photographed Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richard, et al. She hoped the photos would come out good enough to sell. They did. Eastman’s success was due to a couple of factors. She had a natural eye and sensitivity. Her pictures were different; they were informal portraits, unlike the regular press photographers who wanted more standard shots. For example, a photo of Brian Jones had him sitting there with his legs wide apart; this was never seen before. It helped that she had a talent for being sociable and was a bit of a flirt with the boys managing to get uncooperative rockers to pose and work with her. After the reception, Linda sold some of her photos to both Hullabaloo, where Dalton was now working, and Datebook teen magazines; this was her big break. Her career as a photographer began. Over the next few years, Linda would photograph rock and roll luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Morrison, the Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who and many others. In May of 1968, Linda became the first female photographer whose work, a photo of Eric Clapton, would grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Ever the black sheep of the Eastman family, her father Lee Eastman, never approved of her rebellious lifestyle or her photography career.

Eric Clapton – Photo by Linda  Eastman McCartney

During these days, Linda gained an unfair reputation for being a groupie. It’s a sexist term. After all, if guys had sex with many women, he’s a stud. And unlike most so-called groupies, Linda wasn’t a hanger-on, she had a job, and as a single working woman, she came into contact with famous and rich men who saw her as attractive and exciting as she found them. Why shouldn’t she spend a night with some of the men she came into contact with?

A photo assignment in 1967 brought her to London. One night while hanging out at The Bag o’ Nails, a well-known and popular club at the time, she met Paul McCartney. There was an immediate chemistry between the two even though Paul was still seeing Jane Asher at the time. Linda was invited to photograph The Beatles launch party of their groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. She photographed the event getting shots of all The Beatles for the first time.

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Linda Eastman’s photo of The Beatles launch party for St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Paul and Linda would meet again in New York in May of 1968. Four months later he asked her to come to London and move in with him; they married on March 12th, 1969. Linda continued to photograph, but her devotion over the years the couple were together was split between family, photography, animal rights and vegetarianism. Family was number one.

From those early rock n’ roll photographs to the last years of The Beatles, Paul’s solo career, the raising of their kids, Linda’s camera was always there to capture the beauty and the spontaneity of their lives. Her work was fresh, self-effacing and warm. When she died at the age of 56, she left behind a visual rock n’ roll history of some of the most significant artists of our time.

One of her proudest moments in her photographic career happened in 1982 after a coffee table size book of her work called Photographs was published followed by an exhibit that traveled across Europe. The high point for Linda though happened when the great French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, then 88 years old, requested a print of Linda’s shot of a young Scottish boy running across a field. At the time, Lartigue did not know who the photographer was.

***

Despite the many films made about The Beatles, Backbeat, The Two of Us, Nowhere Boy, Birth of the Beatles to name a few, Linda McCartney was portrayed only in one film. Two years after her untimely death in 1998 at the age of 56, CBS came out with The Linda McCartney Story. Based on Danny Fields book, Linda McCartney: A Portrait, the film tries to have it all by attempting to appeal to Beatles fans, always hungry for another “inside look,” baby boomers, the tearjerker crowd, and the romantic audiences who love a good love story. The film has it all. But as it flashes back and forth between the early days where we see Linda’s beginnings as a photographer, her success, even before meeting Paul, then jumping ahead to her final years, and her fight against the cancer that took her life. You get the feeling none of the targeted audiences will be completely satisfied.

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Elizabeth Mitchell and Gary Blakewell as Linda and Paul

Elizabeth Mitchell was a particularly good choice to play Linda. She manages to make Linda come across as frank, aggressive as well as charming and endearing. The script lets her down toward the second half of the film as it focuses more on the breakup of The Beatles and her health issues effects on Paul with Linda fading into the background of her own life.

Paul is decently played by Gary Blakewell who previously portrayed him six years earlier in the 1994 film Backbeat. George Segal plays, Lee Eastman, Linda’s hard-ass father who before her marriage to Paul saw Linda’s photography career as nothing more than shooting a bunch of long-haired freaks. Tim Piper[2] plays John Lennon in one of the creepiest portrayals of the rocker ever who at one point burst into the McCartney home like a madman, screaming and ranting, finally breaking a framed drawing he did that he previously gave to Paul.

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The Linda McCartney Story

In the beginning, Beatles fans hated Linda. She wasn’t pretty enough for the cutest Beatle, she, along with Yoko, was accused of breaking up world’s most famous band. Then she had the nerve to go on stage and perform with Paul in his new band Wings. Hell, she couldn’t sing or play an instrument, yet there she was. She looked uncomfortable on stage, but Paul wanted her in the group, and what Paul wanted, he got.

Except for the week, Paul spent in a Japanese jail for pot possession; the couple never spent a night apart. Their love for each other and their family was real. Real enough for a wild rocker who slept with an infinite number of women to give it all up for a family and a farm in Scotland. McCartney, always the romantic in his work proved it works offstage too.

In the end, The Linda McCartney Story is mostly a tearjerker overshadowing the photography story, The Beatles, and the love story.  For me, it’s best to remember Linda McCartney as a talented photographer, an animal activist, and vegetarian who brought peace and love to her husband and family and not as a victim of a horrible decease.

Footnotes:

[1] Some Beatles and Paul McCartney biographies have stated that Linda was the only photographer on board the yacht. This was not only untrue, but ridiculous if you think about it. The reception was a press junket and to have had no photographers on board would have defeated the purpose.

[2] Tim Piper has made a career out of playing John Lennon. In 2002, a one night only tribute show called ‘Just Imagine’ premiered at the Stella Alder Theater. The critics liked it so much, the William Morris Agency took it on and put the show on tour across the United State and the world. It still tours to this day.

 

 

 

Sources:

Linda McCartney: A Portrait – Danny Fields,  2000, Renaissance Books

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, 2010, Howard Sounes

 

 

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Alexander Gardner

First in a series I am doing on real life photographers who made it to the movie screen.

Twenty Four Frames

Alexander_Gardner_1863Photography was in its infancy when Abraham Lincoln was running for President. It was a cumbersome and deliberate process. Cameras were these large boxes, set upon sturdy bulky tripods, using wet plates and a slow exposure making the possibilities of the sort of images captured limited.

View original post 1,221 more words

New E-Book From Classic Movie Blog Assn.

I am one of ten contributors to the new ebook, Underseen and Underrated. The book collects ten articles reevaluating and  celebrating little known classic films including Gunman’s Walk, Unfaithfully Yours, 7 Women and my own take on Between the Lines. All proceeds from the book are being donated to the National Film Preservation Foundation.  Available at Amazon.  

Underseen an Underrated

 

Depression Blues and the Dance Marathon

they-shoot-horsesDance marathons were phenomena that began in the 1920’s. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel is a dark tale of losers desperately attempting to hang on to impossible dreams. Just like in Nathaniel West better known novel, Day of the Locust the characters all have unreachable dreams of being in the movies. Continue reading “Depression Blues and the Dance Marathon”

A Slight Case of Donald Westlake

westlake-photo-0-jpgOne of my favorite crime writers is the late Donald E. Westlake. Westlake was awarded the title of Grand Master by The Mystery Writers of America, as well as a three time Edgar winner. He wrote over 100 novels and numerous short stories and screenplays.

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Westlake was a prolific author, best known for two long running series, one featuring the dark anti-hero known only as Parker, written under one of his many pen names, Richard Stark, and the lighter comedic mysteries featuring John Dortmunder. By 1977, both characters had already made their way to the movie screen. In 1967, the first Parker novel, The Hunter, appeared under the title Point Blank (1) with Parker’s name changed, inexplicably, to Walker. The film featured Lee Marvin in the lead role. Five years later John Dortmunder hit the screen with Robert Redford in The Hot Rock.
ENoughBack in 1977, the author published a book called Enough. It consisted of two novellas, the longer of the two was called A Travesty, and the second, shorter story, was Orb. Enough may be one of the toughest of Westlake’s works to find a copy. I was fortunate enough a few years back to discover a copy at a local library. A Travesty is a dark, comic tale involving a sexually insatiable film critic, Corey Thorpe, who during a heated argument with one of his lovers accidentally kills her. Having seen too many movies, instead of calling the police, Thorpe decides to cover up his involvement in the transgression. Unfortunately, Thorpe’s lover was under surveillance by a blackmailing private investigator. Additionally, the investigating police detective takes a liking to our “‘hero,” and admires his amateur detective instincts. He’s also a frustrated screenwriter and would like Corey to take a look at what he wrote. Along the way, Corey is “forced” to commit a couple of more murders. Regrettably, for the film critic, his voracious appetite for sex does him in when he spurns the wrong woman.

a-slight-case-of-murder-150353l-600x0-w-5cb070a8Let’s fast forward more than 30 years to 1999 and the premiere on TNT of a film called A Slight Case of Murder. It’s not to be confused with the 1938 Edward G Robinson film with the same title, but a made for TV film starring William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, James Cromwell and Adam Atkin. The film is based on A Travesty and adapted for the screen by Macy and director Steven Schachter. The duo faithfully captures the humorous essence of Westlake’s novella. The film critic’s name was changed in the movie from Corey to Terry, but much of the tale stays close to Westlake’s original work. It’s smart with plenty of visual and verbal nods to the noir films it’s sending up including Terry talking at times directly to the camera (in place of a voice over). It’s filled with murders, sleazy characters and plenty of twists wrapped up in a funny script that film lovers, like myself, will especially love.

The performances by the four main actors are all of high quality, though William H. Macy gets a special nod in a role that some may find reminiscent of his Jerry Lundgaard role in Fargo. Also noteworthy is Julia Campbell’s work as Arkin’s amorous wife, whose affair with Macy leads to his downfall.

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I am a big fan of two of the author’s stand-alone books, The Ax and The Hook, both wonderful satires. In The Ax, the main character is Burke Devore, a quiet company man who after twenty-five years of service becomes a victim of corporate downsizing. After two years of unemployment, his life falling apart, Burke comes up with what he considers the ideal solution, eliminate his competition by killing them off.

The Hook is a devious tale about author Bryce Proctor, a mediocre but best-selling author. Then there is author Wayne Prentice, a more accomplished writer than Procter, but his books no longer hit the best sellers list. Bryce has been going through a rough stretch including a divorce which has led to a bad case of writer’s block. To make it worst he has a deadline quickly approaching on his next book. Wayne comes up with a plan that would help them both. He’ll write the book, give it to Bryce to publish under his name, and they split the royalties 50/50. Bryce is all for it except he has one caveat, Wayne needs to kill Bryce’s wife.

Many of Westlake’s books have made it to the screen, unfortunately not always in a good way. The previously mentioned Point Blank, The Hot Rock, and A Slight Case of Murder are on the plus side. However, more often than not, there were mediocre films like Cops and Robbers, The Twin, The Split, The Bank Shot, and the awful and misguided Jimmy the Kid which was turned into a vehicle for Gary Coleman. Interesting enough, a few of Westlake’s books have been made into films by foreign filmmakers including Costa-Gavras whose 2005 film, Le Couperet, is based on The Ax. In 1966, Jean Luc Godard loosely adapted Westlake’s The Juggler (a Parker novel) turning it into Made in the U.S.A. (2) No one connected with the Goddard film, including Goddard, at the time, bothered acquiring the film rights. Westlake eventually sued and won.

As a screenwriter, Westlake was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of hard-boiled author Jim Thompson’s The Grifters (1990). He also wrote the screenplay for the original The Stepfather film which was adapted from a short story he wrote with co-writers, Brian Garfield and Carolyn Lefcourt. For a full list of Westlake’s film credit’s check here.

If you like reading crime fiction and have not read Donald Westlake, get down to your local independent book store or anywhere books are sold and start catching up. If you like hard boiled fiction, the Parker books written under the name of Richard Stark are must reads. On the lighter side are his John Dortmunder books. Dortmunder is a cool, criminal mastermind, brilliant at planning heist. Unfortunately, his luck is not as good as his talent. Inevitably something always goes wrong.

 

Footnotes:

(1) In 1999, Point Blank (The Hunter) was remade as Payback with Mel Gibson in the lead role. Once again Parker’s name was changed again, this time to Porter.

(2) Wikipedia Donald E. Westlake.