book: Force of Nature (2017) by Jane Harper

I read Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry last year and enjoyed it very much, so when I spotted its successor I grabbed it. And quite rightly so, as I discovered: if anything I like Force of Nature the better of the two novels, which is saying something.

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A Melbourne company sends ten of its employees — five men and five women — on two separate weekend-long “bonding” expeditions into the remote Giralang bushlands. The men’s expedition passes off without any real hitch, but the women manage to take a single wrong turn early on and, as a result, become hopelessly lost. When they eventually straggle out of the wilderness they’re missing one of their number.

As a major search gets under way, Continue reading

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o/t: a policy change

For some years now I’ve been putting monthly roundups here of the book notes that I post on Goodreads, with links to the individual posts. My scribbles about movies have, of course, been posted here at Noirish.

More and more I’ve been wondering if this isn’t sometimes an artificial distinction: at least some of the books I write about on Goodreads fall into the same general territory that Noirish regards as its own — noir (in the broadest sense of the term), psychological thrillers, parodies thereof, old mysteries, other stuff of associational interest, B- and indie movies that have caught my attention, oddities, occasional it’s-my-site-and-I‘ll-decide-what-belongs-here movies . . .

So I’ve decided that, in future, I’ll crosspost here, as they appear, my Goodreads notes on books that seem relevant to this site’s theme (such as it can be discerned).

I’ll be putting the new policy into effect very soon indeed (before cooking supper if I get my act together, after eating it if I don’t). First up, an Australian mystery/psychological thriller that I enjoyed very much indeed.

Room 327 (2009)

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What is the secret of Room 327?
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US / 19 minutes / bw / Dead Leaf, Lucky Studio XIII Dir & Scr: Glenn Payne Pr: Glenn Payne, John Wee Cine: John Wee Cast: Carlton Wall, Michelle Payne, Daniel Lee, Brandon Murphree.

A young man, John (Wall), books into Room 327 at the Mockingbird Suites, as instructed by a note from whoever has kidnapped his unnamed girlfriend (Payne)—or it could be his wife, or his sister: the relationship is never made clear beyond the fact that, clearly, he cares very much about her. With him he has a satchel that we assume contains the ransom payment.

Carlton Wall as John.

Although he doesn’t notice it until later, when he enters the room its ashtray contains a freshly lit, still smoking cigarette.

Instructions come to him from an anonymous voice (Murphree) on the phone: he must Continue reading

Traitor Spy (1939)

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Whose torso is it?
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vt The Torso Murder Mystery
UK / 72 minutes / bw / Rialto, Pathé Dir: Walter Summers Pr: John Argyle Scr: Walter Summers, Jan Van Lusil, Ralph Bettison Story: Traitor Spy (1939) by T.C.H. Jacobs Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Bruce Cabot, Marta Labarr, Tamara Desni, Romilly Lunge, Edward Lexy, Cyril Smith, Percy Walsh, Eve Lynd, Alexander Field, Hilary Pritchard, Miriam Minetti, Davina Craig, Vincent Holman, Anthony Shaw, Peter Gawthorne, Bernard Jukes, Nino Rossini, Rosarita, Ken Johnson’s West Indian Band.

Carl Beyersdorf (Cabot) is a freelance spy, currently working under the name Jim Healey for the Bideford Marine Engineering Company in Devon, England. (For convenience we’ll call him Jim throughout, even though sometimes he’s in his true guise of Carl.) He’s aiming to get the blueprints of the company’s new antisubmarine patrol craft and sell them to the Germans.

Bruce Cabot as Jim.

And, sure enough, he’s able to steal the prints. Later, when an armed German agent arrives, Jim tries to jack up the price of the purloined documents from £1,000 to £4,000. But the agent, shouting threats, draws his gun. There’s the sound of gunfire and . . .

. . . and the next day a dismembered body is fished out of a reservoir nearby. Evidence leads the cops Continue reading

The Bad Sister (1931)

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Well, baddish . . .
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US / 65 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Hobart Henley Pr: Carl Laemmle Jr Scr: Edwin Knopf, Tom Reed, Raymond L. Schrock Story: The Flirt (1913) by Booth Tarkington Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Winninger, Emma Dunn, ZaSu Pitts, “Slim” Summerville, Bert Roach, David Durand, Helene Chadwick.

This was the third time Booth Tarkington’s novel The Flirt had been brought to the screen—the precursors had been

  • The Flirt (1916) dir Phillips Smalley, with Lois Weber, Marie Walcamp, Grace Benham and Juan de la Cruz, and
  • The Flirt (1922) dir Hobart Henley (who also directed The Bad Sister), with Eileen Percy, Helen Jerome Eddy and Lloyd Whitlock.

The movie has many great strengths and a few weaknesses, but really The Bad Sister is one of those pieces whose significance goes far beyond the artistic creation itself. Here we have the first screen role for Bette Davis and an early screen role for Humphrey Bogart, and it could so easily have been the last screen role for both. It was also the first screen role for poor Sidney Fox, the Star Who Never Was.

Sidney Fox as Marianne.

In Council City, Ohio, realtor John Madison (Winninger) is respected throughout the community as a man of utmost probity. With his wife (Dunn) he has raised three daughters: Amy (Chadwick), now married to plumber Sam (Summerville), vivacious, “highly strung” Marianne (Fox) and the drabber Laura (Davis). Much younger is son Hedrick (Durand). Rounding out the household is the long-suffering maid, Minnie (Pitts).

Although her parents cannot see this, Marianne is a Continue reading

o/t: Corrupted Science ARC cover reveal

And here’s one version of the blurb:

When first published in 2007, this searing exposé of the misuses and misrepresentations of science—from the time of Galileo to the present day—was widely hailed. “A wonderfully written and relevant book,” said Jeff VanderMeer on Ecstatic Days. “Excellent reading for anyone who believes science is worth fighting for,” said Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing.

Ten years later, it became clear an update and expansion were desperately called for. Nearly twice the size of the earlier book, this new edition of the classic work includes updates on abuses by the chemical industry, the sugar industry, agribusiness, the fossil fuels industry, and climate change deniers including, especially, the Trump administration.


Annoyingly, demand for the ARCs has been such that the publisher has virtually run out of them — I don’t even have one for my own shelf, grr! They’ve given me a PDF-ARC, though, if people are interested.

o/t: March reading

Here are the books I completed during March, with links as usual to my often hurried Goodreads notes:

Overall it was a fairly enjoyable month’s reading, although in addition to the above there were a couple of abandonments. (Mind you, I should have abandoned one of the above, but I got stubborn.)

No Way to Live (2016)

US / 85 minutes / color / Modernciné, Gravitas Dir & Scr: David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Pr: Rebekah Sindoris, David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Cine: Alexander Chinnici Cast: Freya Tingley, Tom Williamson, Timothy V. Murphy, Justin Arnold, Paul Rae, Carla Toutz, Christopher Douglas Reed, Larry Fessenden, Roy Frumkes, Bonnie Root, Ryan Harper Gray.

David Guglielmo, one of the co-directors of No Way to Live, approached me a few weeks ago with the suggestion that I might like to write about it for this site. I accepted his kind offer of a screener with I hope my usual impeccable courtesy but also some hesitation, because it’s a sad fact that not all of the independent noirish movies that come this site’s way are altogether wonderful.

In this instance, though, I needn’t have worried. No Way to Live is a first-rate movie that I enjoyed a great deal—far more than I’ve enjoyed many movies with major-studio budgets, which this I gather didn’t. It’s also, to clear matters up at the start, not a neonoir in the stylistic sense of the term: rather, as you might expect from a piece in which the main character has the surname Thompson and one of the supporting roles has the name Big Jim, it’s a movie that very much has its roots in the classic noir tradition, albeit with a greater degree of frankness about sex and racial prejudice than was generally deemed permissible in the 1940s and 1950s.

Paul Rae as Earl.

It’s 1958, and in the small town of Crawfordville, Florida, vacuum-cleaner salesman Monty (Williamson) is trying unsuccessfully to make a sale to householder Earl Thompson (Rae)—in fact, Earl is seeing him off the property at the point of a double-barreled shotgun, Monty being black and Earl being both white and a bigot.

Tom Williamson as Monty.

It’s clear to us that Monty’s eye has been caught by Earl’s pretty daughter Nora (Tingley). That night, as Monty attempts to spy on Nora through her window, he gets his foot caught in one of the gator traps with which Earl has surrounded the house.

Freya Tingley as Nora.

At Nora’s insistence, and much against Earl’s better judgment, the pair bring Monty indoors to convalesce from what’s a pretty serious injury. Love—or something like it—sparks between the two young people; Monty’s ardor is undimmed even after he discovers a terrible secret:

Nora: “He makes me do it. I got no choice. D’you think that I want to? He’s been having his way with me ever since my mother died.”

Monty and Nora run away, after she’s stolen from under Earl’s bed an old blue suitcase containing $10,000 in cash.

As we guess long before Monty does, Nora took the opportunity to murder Earl before she slipped out of the house. Led by Detective Frank Giddins (Murphy), with Detective Bradford (Gray) and hick local sheriff Big Jim (Arnold) assisting, the cops investigate. During the investigation we learn that Nora is not in fact Earl’s daughter but his wife, now widow. We later find out she was in effect sold to him as a child bride when she was just thirteen.

Meanwhile, the two youngsters are on the run and—in between coping as a “mixed-race couple” with the omnipresent racism of that place and time—taking the opportunity to do a lot of what two youngsters on the run generally do in movies like this. Despite all her protestations of eternal love for him, however, Nora has already decided it’s time to ditch Monty, preferably terminally; she even lines up wastrel Jerry (Fessenden) to murder him.

Jerry (Larry Fessenden) readies to shoot Monty (Tom Williamson) in the back.

Nora has had from the outset, you see, a plan that only slowly emerges into the light. What she doesn’t realize is that Monty too has had a plan—that in his way he’s every bit as cunning as she is, and that he’s been withholding from her all sorts of secrets that profoundly affect her.

Theirs aren’t the only plans. Big Jim has been planning for years to bed Nora if only she’d give him the chance, while Giddins has been developing a plan to blow the whole case wide open . . .

Big Jim (Justin Arnold) tries to woo Nora (Freya Tingley).

There’s a love for classic film noir evident in just about every frame of No Way to Live, together with lots of echoes of later noirish road movies like David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1990) and perhaps more particularly Tamra Davis’s GUNCRAZY (1992). The screenplay’s full of pace and surprise, not to mention some moments of unexpected cuteness and humor, as when Monty and Nora, lacking fizzy wine with which to celebrate their new freedom, make do with Alka-Seltzer.

And there are some really great performances. Freya Tingley (who I was astonished to discover is Australian, so convincing is she as the Florida belle) delivers a major act as the Lolita-style femme fatale, but she’s if anything outshone by Tom Williamson as the wholesome, loyal, everything-on-the-surface young adventurer who proves to possess an inner darkness. Timothy V. Murphy as the deceptively genial, wide-eyed Detective Giddins dominates the screen during his scenes.

Justin Arnold as Big Jim.

But it’s tempting to see this as an ensemble piece, with fine contributions coming from the supporting cast, even those whose screen time is minimal—such as Carla Toutz as Nora’s mother Celia Weaver, Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted store-owner Cain, and Roy Frumkes as Nora’s long-suffering lawyer, Thomas Chasen. Indeed, there isn’t a weak link in the chain of actors on display here.

Carla Toutz as Celia Weaver.

Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted shitface Cain.

Lawyer Thomas Chasen (Roy Frumkes) despairs of his client, Nora (Freya Tingley).

No Way to Live isn’t a perfect movie (as if there could be such a thing). There’s an unexplained hiccup in the storyline when Nora wakes to discover she’s been taken to the orphanage where Monty was reared; furthermore, Jerry somehow knows—by magic, perhaps?—that this is where Monty has taken her. There are two quite separate earlier explanations in the script as to why, in the later stages of the movie, Nora should find herself infuriatingly pregnant. And there are moments during the lovers’ time on the run when things seem to flag a bit, as if the scripters weren’t quite certain where they were going to take things next.

Those are really quite tiny criticisms, especially bearing in mind the egregious plot holes you often find in multiplex blockbusters. No Way to Live, which refreshingly doesn’t require you to leave your brain at the door, is a very satisfying piece whose 85 minutes seem to fly by.

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UPDATE: Contrary to my earlier understanding, you can get this movie on DVD/blu ray from the usual online suspects. And here are some places you can go stream it:

Hulu
Amazon
FandangoNow
Google Play
iTunes
Vimeo
Vudu
Microsoft XBOX
YouTube Movies

o/t: Fatalism and Futility in Film Noir

***Here’s a splendid essay from Paul Batters at Silver Screen Classics — much recommended if you have even the slightest interest in the underpinnings of noir.

Silver Screen Classics

by Paul Batters

Double-Indemnity-1‘Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner’ – Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) Double Indemnity (1944)

Film noir was not a specific reaction to the glamour of Hollywood but an organic creation, evolving over time and stemming from a variety of creators. There have been numerous arguments, discussions and essays written about how film noir can be qualified – whether it is a genre, a style or a combination of both. Perhaps the best approach is to see film noir as R. Barton Palmer describes it – as being a ‘transgeneric phenomenon’ as it has existed ‘through a number of related genres whose most important common threads were a concern with criminality . . . and with social breakdown’. Purists suggest that film noir is a classic period from a specific time frame. Others have suggested…

View original post 4,009 more words

Sensation Hunters (1933)

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Unsuitable liaisons?
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US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Charles Vidor Pr: Robert Welsh Scr: Paul Schofield, Albert E. DeMond Story: “Cabaret” (original story) by Whitman Chambers Cine: Sid Hickox Cast: Arline Judge, Preston Foster, Marion Burns, Kenneth McKenna (i.e., Kenneth MacKenna), Juanita Hansen, Creighton Hale, Cyril Chadwick, Nella Walker, Harold Minjir, Finis Barton, Zoila Conan, Sam Flint, Walter Brennan.

This bears no relation to Sensation Hunters (1945) dir Christy Cabanne, with Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay and Nestor Paiva. Where the later movie is a good minor film noir, this one is a pre-Code romantic melodrama punctuated by a couple of musical interludes.

On a ship bound for Panama from San Francisco, pausing at Los Angeles, demure Dale Jordan (Burns) attracts the attention of the male passengers, such as the exaggeratedly English uppercrust blowhard Upson (Chadwick) and the snobbish Hal Grayson (Minjir), who’s traveling with his even more snobbish sister (Barton) and his quite terminally snobbish mother (Walker).

Cyril Chadwick as Upson.

When the Graysons discover Dale is to join the troupe of cabaret artistes that’s joining the ship at Los Angeles, the two women drop her like a hot potato and Hal, after unsuccessfully trying his luck—because “everyone knows” cabaret girls are easy— Continue reading