The new edition of the London Review of Books carries a tremendous essay by Gaby Wood discussing Dorothy Hughes’s novel In a Lonely Place and more particularly Nick Ray’s movie of the same title that’s loosely based on it (although, as Wood observes, not that loosely). You can read the essay here.
***Over at Wonders in the Dark, in his regular “Fish Obscuro” column, Jared Dec has a tremendous account of a movie that should I think be of great interest to many readers of this site. He’s kindly given me permission to reblog it here.
by Jared Dec
Japan 1933 95m
d Tomu Uchida w Toshihiko Takeda, Eizo Yamauchi photo Soichi Aisaka art Hiroshi Mizutani
Eiji Nakano (Tetsuo Tomioka), Isamu Kosuji (Itami), Taisuke Matsumoto (Miyabe Keikan), Soji Ubukato (Officer Hasimoto), Kenji Asada (Judiciary Chief), Shizuko Mori (Tazuko), Tamako Katsura (Emiko), Isao Kitaoka (Shinchi), Matsuko Miho (Tamiko), Hirotoshi Murata (Yamamura)
We were young then
I am sure every critic in any art medium can be argued to have one artist they hold as being the most underrated they have ever encountered. Allan obviously felt this way about Yoshida and went out of his way to promote his work. Ebert argued strongly for Herzog, and so on. While I don’t think Uchida is anywhere as talented as either of those great directors, if I had to pick one unknown director I relentlessly pursue any film they made that can be found, it would be Uchida. The fact…
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The usual mix of excellent, good and not-so-good books this past month, with the Himes and the Tran probably being the standouts. The links are as usual to my Goodreads notes.
- The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez
- The Scent of Blood by Raymond Miller
- Death by Crystal by Agnes Bushnell
- Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes
- Mary, Mary by James Patterson
- The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown
- The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
- The Evening of the Holiday by Shirley Hazzard
- Flush by Carl Hiaasen
- Ali and Nino: A Love Story by Kurban Said
- Dragonfish by Vu Tran
Over on his film and anime blog, Brian Camp has an extensive — and copiously illustrated — personal essay on the 1970s blaxploitation scene, complete with plenty of discussion of one of my personal icons, Pam Grier.
Here’s the start of it:
In going through old file boxes from the 1970s, I found a number of clippings that effectively illustrate the Blaxploitation era of Hollywood filmmaking, a period from roughly 1971-75, when action and other genre films showcased black heroes and heroines, usually in reworkings of standard genre formulas. They were made quickly and cheaply to capitalize on a trend that could fade out at any time as it eventually did after its peak in 1972-73. These films played grindhouses and neighborhood theaters but also, for a time, premiered at the biggest Broadway movie palaces and commanded ads and constant press coverage. I usually saw them at Bronx neighborhood theaters where they were often paired with Italian westerns and, later, kung fu films, a trend which gradually displaced Blaxploitation. I’d like to share some of what I clipped 45 or so years ago, supplemented by movie stills from my collection and posters copied from IMDB and other sites.
BLACULA opened on August 25, 1972 at the Criterion Theater, the same theater where LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had played for over a year a decade earlier and FUNNY GIRL the same just four years earlier. I went with some friends from the Bronx to see the film at the Criterion on its second weekend and it may have been my first trip to the theater. The film starred William Marshall, a classically trained actor, whom we knew from roles in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Star Trek” and a handful of movies, such as DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, in which he played one of the gladiators and a close associate of Demetrius, and THE BOSTON STRANGLER, in which he’d played Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. In BLACULA, he plays an African king who defies Count Dracula in the 19th century and is turned into a vampire who is revived in 1972 Los Angeles where he has a series of adventures and romance with a young woman who resembles his long-dead queen (Vonetta McGee). I remember enjoying the film a great deal although one overzealous audience member took exception to the scene where the vampire-hunting heroes use fire to burn attacking vampires. “You burn witches, not vampires!,” he shouted from his seat. That was a memorable evening. After the film we went to eat at Child’s House of Pancakes on 46th St. and Seventh Ave. and then walked a few feet to the Embassy Theater to see Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I should add that the Broadway movie houses had just recently raised their prices to $3.50 per ticket and this was the first time we were confronted with that. We were not pleased!
BLACULA had one sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1973), which co-starred Blaxploitation diva Pam Grier and managed not to replicate the thrills of the original. I saw it at a neighborhood theater on a double bill with the Lee Van Cleef Italian western DAY OF ANGER, the better film.
Speaking of Pam Grier, we had seen her in a Filipino women’s prison thriller, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1970), on a double bill with SHAFT back in 1971 and she’d died a bloody death in that one. And then we saw her in two 1972 thrillers, COOL BREEZE, which I don’t remember well enough to describe her role in, and HIT MAN, starring Bernie Casey, where she comes to a bad end after betraying Casey–he kicks her out of his car in a safari park and she gets mauled by lions. Poor Pam! American International Pictures decided to make her the co-star of her next movie, BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973), a gender-switching variation on THE DEFIANT ONES, with Grier and Margaret Markov as escaped prisoners chained together in the Philippines. I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know her fate in it, but it made for a great ad.
(Notice Jonathan Demme’s name in the credits and the prominent billing given to location filming in the Philippines.)
The film did well enough for AIP to give Grier her own starring vehicle, COFFY (1973), which I saw on a double bill with the sci-fi comedy, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), which happened to star Grier’s cousin, former football player, Roosevelt Grier.
COFFY was a tight little hard-edged crime thriller with Grier coming off pretty badass as a nurse-turned-avenging angel out to take down the drug dealers in her neighborhood by any means necessary. She gets quite a shock when she learns that someone close to her is in league with them and she shows him no mercy. The film was directed by Jack Hill, who had also directed Grier in THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and the similarly-themed THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and would go on to direct her in her next starring vehicle, FOXY BROWN, which I didn’t see until I got it on VHS decades later. Her last two starring roles in the 1970s were
Now scuttle across to Brian’s blog and read the rest. It’s a great read.
Overall, an enjoyable month’s reading — and surprisingly prolific, at least to me, bearing in mind that I’ve been working flat-out all month on various aspects of two books of my own scheduled for 2018 (of which more here anon).
The links are as usual to my scrappy Goodreads notes, some of which are shorter and even hastier than usual because . . . see first paragraph. (Did I mention that the final proofs of one of the forthcoming tomes went off by email at 12.30 last night? Why am I even out of bed yet? You may well ask.)
- Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
- God’s Spy by Juan Gomez-Jurado
- Einstein’s Masterwork: 1915 and the General Theory of Relativity by John Gribbin
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
- The Seventh Hypothesis by Paul Halter
- Beware the Young Stranger by Ellery Queen (in this instance Talmage Powell)
- Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
- The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov
- A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine
- Malice by Keigo Higashino
- Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside
- Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
- Stray Dogs by John Ridley
- Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes by Maurice Leblanc
***Jean Gabin is a favorite of this site, as is French noir in general, and the same could be said for the blog B Noir Detour. Many thanks to the latter’s Salome Wilde for permission to reblog her splendid evaluation of 1939’s Le Jour se Lève.
Every time I see a film starring Jean Gabin, I’m amazed anew. I love his acting style, the roles he plays, the directors he works with, and the artistic style of his films. Before yesterday, I’d seen and loved:
- The Grand Illusion (1937)
- La bête humaine (1938)
- Moontide (1942)
- Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954)
When searching for Pepe le Moko (1937) — which I put on my Cinema Shame 2018 list of must-sees) — I found Le jour se lève (1939). And I am so glad I did. The film is a stunner in so many ways, from style and direction to acting, plot, and social message. Given that this is a noir blog, I’m organizing this review by elements of noir style.
Expressionism and the Noir Look
The sets for this film are stupendous. They have an expressionist feel, and it doesn’t surprise me that both the main street, featuring…
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***Sad news, via The Hannibal 8. I must get out of the habit I’ve had for years, every time I saw the name Peggy Cummins, of smiling at the cheerful thought that she was still alive after all these years.
Peggy Cummins (Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller)
(December 18, 1925 – December 29, 2017)
Peggy Cummins, who is absolutely incredible in one of my favorite films, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949), has passed away at 92. She’s in a couple other favorites — Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957, Curse Of The Demon in the States) and Cy Enfield’s Hell Drivers (1957).
John Dall, Peggy Cummins and Joseph H. Lewis on the Gun Crazy set.
Was just thinking the other day that Gun Crazy would be a great candidate for a Warner Archive Blu-ray. If it happens, it’s a shame she won’t be around for it.
And so another year circles to its end. I read eleven books during December (plus a couple of abandonments) and, although nothing blew me away, a couple came close and I enjoyed most of the rest.
The links go to my often rather scrappy Goodreads notes:
- The Man Who Stalked Einstein: How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History by Bruce J. Hillman, Birgit Ertl-Wagner, Bernd C. Wagner
- One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline
- We’ll Always Have Murder: A Humphrey Bogart Mystery by Bill Crider
- Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain
- Black Plumes by Margery Allingham
- The Undoing by Averil Dean
- What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney
- Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
- The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
- High Priest of California by Charles Willeford
- The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
2017 has been a vile year on so many fronts it’s hard to tally them, and the destruction that’s been waged during it by our science- and reality-deficient overlords will redound for decades to come: our descendants are going to have to cope somehow with a severely damaged world. (My own book Corrupted Science — in a new edition nearly double the size of the 2007 one and coming in May — discusses a lot of this.) If this weren’t too much of a hostage to fortune, I’d say 2018 could hardly be worse than its predecessor. As it is, I guess we just have to hope for the best, while working each in our own way to improve things.
Gloomy, I know. Even so, here’s hoping the coming year brings you joy.
vt The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas
US / 26 minutes / bw / Mark VII, NBC Dir: Jack Webb Pr: Michael Meshekoff Scr: James Moser, Jack Webb Cine: Edward Colman Cast: Jack Webb, Herbert Ellis, Wm. Johnstone, June Whitley, Sammy Ogg, Virginia Christine, Rennie McEvoy, Olan Soulé, George Fenneman (voiceover), Hal Gibney (voiceover).
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The series opening (voiced by George Fenneman) is famous; for the even better-known radio series upon which Dragnet’s TV incarnation is based, it was of course “the story you are about to hear.” Both series can trace their origins to Alfred Werker’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948).
Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday.
For this particular episode (season 2, episode 7, first aired December 18 1952), Jack Webb, in his role as Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD, adds a voiceover that wastes no time in getting us into the Christmas spirit:
This is the city. All year around it wears work clothes. On holidays it dresses up. To most people, Christmas brings happiness and prayer. To some it brings heartbreak. Then my job gets tougher. I’m a cop.
Admit it. You’re starting to feel that festive glow of good cheer already. But don’t relax too much into Continue reading
US / 26 minutes / bw / Showcase, CBS Dir: Erle C. Kenton Pr: Hal Roach Jr, Carroll Case Scr: Arthur Orloff Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Reed Hadley, Lloyd Corrigan, John L. Coogan (i.e., Jackie Coogan), Alan Dexter, John Phillips, Willie Best, Louis Lettieri, Jeri Lou James, Paul Keast, Argentina Brunetti, Frances Drew, William Fawcett.
Produced at the Hal Roach studios and (alas) sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc., Racket Squad ran for a total of 98 episodes between 1951 and 1953. (The Christmas Caper, series 3 episode 15, was first aired on December 25 1952.) As its series hero, Captain John Braddock (Reed Hadley), explained at the outset of each episode,
What you are about to see is a real-life story taken from the files of the police racket and bunko squad, the business protective associations and similar sources all over the country. It is intended to expose the confidence game, the carefully worked-out frauds by which confidence men take more money each year from the American public than the bank robbers and thugs with their violence.
Reed Hadley as Captain John Braddock.
In this particular instance:
Tonight I’m going to tell you a story that’s a little different from the ones you’ve been seeing. It exposes a racket just as the others have done, and it’s a nasty racket that takes hard-earned money from honest people and puts it into the pockets of thieves. But still it’s a different story, first because it’s a Christmas story and second because it put me on a spot I never want to be put on again: I had to arrest Santa Claus . . .
In a poor quarter of the large city where Braddock’s Racket Squad operates, elderly Charlie Dooley (Corrigan) lives alone with his dog Monster. Alone? Well, not so much. All the kids Continue reading