Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film Pairings — Two Films From The Seventies, Escape American vs. European Style

I can’t think of two more diverse approaches to film than these two 1970s crime films. One is American (U.S.) and the other European. If one needed an explanation of the difference in our cultures, this double feature should do the trick. 

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw
The Get Away (1972) is about as American as a movie can get.  Sam Peckinpah directed.  Arthur Hill wrote the screen play based on a Jim Thompson novel.  There are are guns — lots of guns — car chases, crashes, fires, explosions, falling elevators, even a potential hydraulic compaction in the back of a trash truck. McQueen is an ex-con who, in his exchange for what he imagines to be his freedom, trades his girlfriend and agrees to do a bank heist.  We go from bad to worse.  No end to treachery.  Along the way, the Thompson noir got a Hollywood detour.  Quincy Jones provided some happy ending music.  Even so, the movie was a big hit, and despite its ‘70s sentiment, Getaway is nonetheless an adventure. You won’t doze off.  The casting director deserves an award.  Ali MacGraw costars with merit, and supporting actor Al Lettieri is appropriately and masterfully despicable. Sally Struthers is at her irritating best.

Maria Schneider and Jack Nicholson
The theme of the evening is “escape,” from what to what.  In The Passenger we find Jack Nicholson playing British-born American TV journalist David Locke who is fed up with his wife, his life, and his job, which has devolved into a shallow practice of a once important profession.  At a remote hotel in Chad, he discovers that a fellow Western traveller with whom he had befriended has died of natural causes. The dead man had few ties back in England. Locke figured that, given the circumstances and with a little tinkering, he could exchange identities.  It was Locke who would be dead, officially. And the Nicholson character would be reborn as Robertson, set free from his encumbrances. However, Robertson turns out to have been a munitions supplier in the Chad civil war.  The new Robertson comes into a large sum of money, but of course cannot deliver the goods.  In this European film, written in part and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, the threats are more implicit than manifest.  The character’s philosophically existential dilemma is more important than his physical survival.

The Passenger (1975) is a slow, beautiful film. While Getaway is nearly all action, The Passenger slows so you can see the amazing stream of still photographs that make up the whole.  The life force in the film, however, comes from actress Maria Schneider, who plays a young and eccentric "passenger,",if only the main character would get it. She is a sprite who does her best to help a human (Nicholson) find what he is really searching for.

Oddly, at the end of Getaway, Steve McQueen tells Slim Pickens, “I hope you find what you’re lookin’ for.”  The thing is that the Slim Pickens’ character, hardly pivotal, was the only one (in both movies) not looking for anything and seems quite content.

The roughly four hours watching these two movies are spent in hot, dry and desolate places.  To help you endure your cinematic surroundings, put some ice into a glass with tequila or rum to stay cool.  Lemonade is nice too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Observations — 1943, TV Had Yet To Kill The Radio Star

Franklin Roosevelt, first U.S. president to visit a foreign country during wartime, and Winston Churchill met in Casablanca. But will they always have Paris?  Benito Mussolini was arrested. The Pentagon, the largest building in the world, was completed. Chiang Kai-shek became president of China. FDR named Dwight Eisenhower Supreme Commander of Allied Forces. Italy surrendered. Nazis advanced on Amsterdam where they killed Jews, homosexuals and communists.  They also raided a Jewish old folks home, (no doubt a major threat to the “homeland”).  Pope Pius XII welcomed the German ambassador to the Vatican.  In the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Race riots broke out in New York, L.A., Detroit and Beaumont, Texas.  “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show was cancelled after 4,000 shows. “Sorry, Wrong Number, “with Agnes Morehead, was a major radio success.  Jimmy Durante, Garry Moore, Groucho Marx and comic book character, Archie, premiered on radio. Oklahoma opened on Broadway. Joe DiMaggio enlisted in the military. Antibiotics were developed, as was the “Pap” test. Oklahoma opened on Broadway.  The Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Your Teeth. The Pulitzer for Literature went to Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair.   We also read The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, So Little Time by John C. Marquand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, Hungry Hill by Daphne Du Maurier and Mrs. Parkington by Louis Bromfield. At the movie houses we watched Sahara, Death Valley Rangers, Shadow of A Doubt, Jane Eyre, The Outlaw, Batman, and The Song of Bernadette.  We listened to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers. “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Al Dexter and His Troopers, “You’ll Never Know” by Dick Haymes, “I’ve Heard That Song Before” by Harry James, “There Are Such Things” by Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, “That Old Black Magic” by Glenn Miller, and “Sunday, Monday and Always” by Bing Crosby.  We lost Leslie Howard, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nikola Tesla, Frank Nitti, Beatrix Potter, Stephen Vincent Benet and Fats Waller. We gained Mick Jagger, Robert De Niro, George Harrison, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Christopher Walken, Joe Namath, Fabian, John Kerry, David Soul, Joni Mitchell, Penny Marshall, Ben Kingsley, Malcolm McDowell and Randy Newman.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water sheep?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Notes — Blatant Self-Promotion: Is Indianapolis PI Deets Shanahan Back For His Last Case?

I would have preferred to wait a bit for the announcement.  However the publisher has the news out there already.  So I wanted blog readers and Facebook friends to know. A new book in the “Deets” Shanahan series will soon be available.  

This is the description of Killing Frost:

At seventy-two Deets Shanahan is still reeling from brain surgery. He is ready to “check out.”  But fate has other plans. As he waits for the arrival of a mysterious, unwanted, yet insistent new client, he spies a car pull in his driveway.  From his window, he sees a lady head toward his front door. This is the first time he sees her and the last time he sees her alive.

Her death leaves too many questions. What did she want with Shanahan? Why was she killed? And what can he, in his condition, do about it? Shanahan’s obsessive search for answers will uncover a disturbing trail of greed, lies, ambition, sibling rivalry and police corruption.

Twenty-five years ago Shanahan embarked on his first case. This case is likely his last, a touching story of age, infirmity — and love.

My first book in the series, Stone Veil, was welcomed by The New York Times saying the elderly detective made a “good first impression.” The Private Eye Writers of America agreed, nominating the book for that year’s Shamus Award in the “best first P.I. novel category. Killing Frost is the 11th in the Shanahan series, all of them set in my hometown, Indianapolis.

Over the years, the critics have been generous in their praise.

"Tierney's 'Deets' Shanahan series, Stone Veil, offers characters of depth and sensuality, and well-placed swipes of razor-sharp humor." — Publishers Weekly
"A series packed with new angles and delights." — Booklist

Severn House, which has published the last seven Shanahan books, has announced Killing Frost, in hardback, will be available in the U.K. on January 1 and in the U.S. on May 1. If you’d like to pre-order at Amazon, click here. For Barnes & Noble, click here.  I’m not sure when the other formats will be available. Reviews — the good ones, anyway — will be posted as they arrive. And I’m sure more blatant promotions will follow as the official release dates get closer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Observations — 1939, “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” and “Frankly I Don’t Give A Damn.”

World War II began.  The long, lost Judge Crater was declared dead, though no one seemed too sure about it. Unemployment was at 17.2 percent. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed “sit down” strikes. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when they refused to allow opera great Marian Anderson (a Black woman) to perform at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C.  France banned the guillotine. DDT was developed. Albert Einstein advised Franklin Roosevelt regarding the possibilities of an atomic bomb. Pope Pius XII congratulated Generalissimo Francisco Franco on his victory in Spain. King Faisal II took over in Iraq. Mahatma Gandhi began fasting in India as a form of peaceful protest against the British.  The Massachusetts legislature finally ratified the U. S.  Bill of Rights.  Also tardy, Connecticut followed suit a short time later. The New York World’s Fair welcomed visitors. Wilbur Shaw won the Indianapolis 500. The Baseball Hall of Frame opened.  Lou Gehrig retired, announced his illness. He suffered a disease that would later bear his name. Batman was introduced.  Superman first appeared in the newspapers. Frank Sinatra cut his first record.  In music, most of the Top Ten spots were held by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, including “Over the Rainbow.”  Larry Clinton’s “Deep Purple” and “Beer Barrel Polka” by Will Giahé were exceptions.  The Academy Award for the previous year’s best movie went to You Can’t Take It With You.  Both Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz premiered this year. It was a great year for soon-to-be film classics.  Others were Dark Victory, Wuthering Heights, and Goodbye Mr. Chips.  The Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings for The Yearling. Other books that appeared that year: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, All This And Heaven Too by Rachel Field, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Wickford Point by John P. Marquand, Escape by Ethel Vance and Disputed Passage by Lloyd C. Douglas.  Some major figures passed away in 1939.  Among them were William Butler Yeats, Sigmund Freud, Zane Grey, S. S. Van Dine and Ford Madox Ford.  Among those born were Tina Turner, Ian McKellen, Seamus Heaney, Ralph Lauren, Marvin Gaye, John Cleese, Harvey Keitel, Phil Spector, and Lily Tomlin. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the earth rabbit?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

On Writing — By The Numbers, A Marketing State Of Mind

Next year, publishers will release two new mysteries of mine. The manuscript work is done.  So, for the moment, marketing has replaced murder as a focus of my day. Therefore, I’ve been looking at ways to present my new books in a positive light. in a way that would promote sales or at least attention. This is a necessary, but irritating part of being a writer.

I think it is in the nature of many writers (bookstore workers and librarians — in short, bookish people) to shy away from pubic displays. And yet we must.  In the age of social media, writers take on additional responsibility in the effort to gain attention for our books and justify our existence.  This we must do in an ever-larger marketplace  where every book, e-book and audio book screams ‘look at me!”

Just Released: A New Crider
In the end it is the story and “word of mouth” that determine a novel’s ultimate success. Still, one has to find a way to get things started. One criterion to use when picking a book by an author you do not know (or perhaps no longer remember) is whether or not he or she has been published before. Is there a history?  While there is the excitement of discovering the next Hammett or Christie, there’s also comfort in knowing the author is reputable, vetted in a sense, and therefore worth the gamble of a reader’s time and money.

So, here’s something I came up with: One of my books due out on May is one of the Deets Shanahan mysteries. It is the 11th book in the series’ 25-year history. These are good numbers, right?  And by the fall of 2015, when the second book is released, I will have a total of 18 mystery novels to list on that “Other Works By” page in the front of each book.  Surely this is something. Maybe.  I’m not sure.  There’s always a faster gun. just like there’s always someone with ore money.  No matter how rich you are there’s always someone who has more numbers on the left of the decimal point. So, what is a good number here?

Just Released: A New Gorman
I am reminded that author Bill Crider, whose blog I read every morning, has published 60 or more novels.  And they are still coming.  Ed Gorman, whose blog I also read every morning, has a similar number of published works.  And he keeps adding to the list.  Perhaps I should take a different marketing direction. Compared to many others, my personal tally is no big deal.  In fact, there are plenty of other highly respected and prolific writers to put me in my middling place. Many, like those mentioned above, have awards, citations and other honors in addition to their impressive “published” list.

One of Creasey's 600
To further rain on my pitiful parade, during my research for a blog post capsulizing the year 1962, I came across the name, J. J. Marric.  He won the Edgar that year for Gideon’s Fire.  To my shame, I had never heard the name.  I looked him up.  Marric was a pen name.  His real name was John Creasey and he wrote 600 novels. I say— “600 novels,” as Foghorn Leghorn would have repeated in his blustery way. The mystery and science fiction writer used 28 pen names and God knows how many pens. Some of you already knew that, I suspect.  But I was overwhelmed. 600. I have 18.  All is not lost, however.   He’s dead. That gives me a strategic advantage. To catch up, to really make a difference, all I need to do is write 582 more novels. I do understand that because I’m just a couple of months shy of 70, I’d better step on it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Observations — 1962, Year of The Locomotion AND The Twist

France leaves, Algeria independent. JFK stared down Nikita Krushchev during Cuban Missile Crisis.  The young president also sent a federal Marshall and 3,000 troops to make sure black student James Meredith safely entered the University of Mississippi.  Mariner II reached Venus. John Glenn orbited earth. Pat Brown (Jerry Brown’s father) became California Governor, beating Richard Nixon. Marilyn Monroe died reportedly of a drug overdose.  Jack Paar left “The Tonight Show,” replaced by Johnny Carson.  Fidel Castro was ex-communicated.  The Boston Strangler began his spree.  Three prisoners (the only ones ever) escaped Alcatraz.  Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game, 4,000 in one season. Jackie Robinson was the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Mickey Mantle hit four consecutive home runs. Record label Decca turned down The Beatles. Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as Beatles’ drummer. The Emmy Award for Album of the Year went to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. We also listened to “Strangers on the Shore” by Acker Bilk, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles,  “Roses are Red” by Bobby Vinton, “The Stripper” by David Rose, “Johnny “Angel” by Shelley Fabares, “The Locomotion” by Little Eva, and “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. The Nobel Prize For Literature went to John Steinbeck. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor. The Mystery Writers of America awarded Gideon’s Fire by J. J. Marric (John Creasy) the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel of the year.  We also read The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, In the Clearing by Robert Frost and Another Country by James Baldwin as well as One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  Westside Story picked up the Academy Award for best film of 1961.  Other movies we watched were To Kill A Mockingbird, Dr. No, The Longest Day, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Cape Fear. Arrivals include John Stewart, Craig Ferguson, Jodie Foster, Tom Cruise, Bon Jovi, Demi Moore, Wesley Snipes, Axl Rose, Paula Abdul, Matthew Broderick, Sheryl Crow, and Jim Carey. Departures included: Charles Laughton, Thomas Mitchell, Frank Lovejoy, Ernie Kovacs, Lucky Luciano, Hoot Gibson, William Faulkner and Eleanor Roosevelt. If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the water tiger?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Film Pairings — Farley Granger Times 2

Granger and O'Donnell
Farley Granger had a look — corruptible innocence — that worked for those mid-century film noir and black & white B movies. Nice guy makes a mistake and things run amok. Granger turned out to be an Alfred Hitchcock favorite (Strangers on the Train and Rope). However earlier in his gracefully-aged, long career, Granger made a couple of movies that put him on the road to stardom. In the following two movies he is paired with Cathy O’Donnell, the feminine version of corruptible innocence. There was something oddly and attractively androgynous about both of them. There was magic between them.

Edward Anderson's Novel
They Live By Night (1948) — Veteran gangsters help a young and green prisoner (Granger) escape. In return, they expect him to help them in their chosen field of employment.  When he meets a semi-tough daughter (O'Donnell) of grifters (O’Donnell), they both see a way out of their current existence.  The movie, directed by the highly regarded Nicolas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause), was based on a depression-era novel, Thieves like Us by Edward Anderson. Escaping his fellow escapees, as well as the police, proves to be more than he can handle. Character actor Howard Da Silva gives an outstanding performance as “One-eye” Mobley.

Side Street (1950) — While current critics seem to dote on the noir qualities of They Live By Night, I favor this one right up to, but not quite all the way to the end. What could have been the perfect noir turned out to be a perfectly fine police procedural with exquisitely photographed scenes of 1950 Manhattan. Granger plays a down-and out, part-time postman whose wife (O’Donnell) is pregnant. He engages in what he believes to be a petty theft. The opportunity (temptation) practically falls in his lap. Unfortunately there’s nothing petty about his crime. And each time he tries to clear himself, he gets in deeper. Blackmail and a couple of murders later, Granger’s character is running for his life. Anthony Mann directed.

Both films are not only blessed by great cinematography both are able to draw from a stable of under-rated character actors, many of whom will be familiar to fans of “B” films of he era.

Netflix has put both these films on one disc.  If you are staying in and you are looking for some spirits to get in the mood, get a blanket, dim the lights and pour a glass of whiskey. Somehow wine spritzers and tough guys and gals don’t go together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Observations — 1959, The Year The Music Died

Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba.  Fidel Castro took over. The Dalai Lama escaped to India. Nikita Krushchev became the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Charles de Gaulle became President of France. Richard Nixon and Krushchev engaged in the historic “Kitchen Debate.” Louisiana Governor Earl Long was committed to a state mental hospital. Using the power of his office, Long fired the hospital director, and hired a new one who set him free.  American Japanese regained American citizenship. Alaska and Hawaii became states.  Texas Instruments developed the first integrated circuit. The first transatlantic jet flight (LA to NYC) cost $301. Ford stopped producing the Edsel model. The Supreme Court ruled that a ban on black-white boxing unconstitutional.  Ingemar Johannson TKO’d Floyd Patterson. Typhoons battered Japan, killing thousands. A 7.1 earthquake shook Yellowstone.  A hurricane killed 2,000 in Mexico. Contestant Charles Van Doren revealed the popular TV Quiz Show “21” was rigged.  “Twilight Zone” debuted. So did “Rawhide.”  Sweet Bird of Youth and Raisin in the Sun premiered on stage in NYC . Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. The album of the year Emmy went to Songs from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini. We also listened to “Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, “Personality“ by Lloyd Price, “Venus” by Frankie Avalon, “Lonely Boy” by Paul Anka, “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin, “Put Your Ahead On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka and “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price.  The Nobel Prize for Literature went to poet Salvatore Quasimodo.  The Pulitzer went to the book The Travels of Jamie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor.  The Mystery Writers of America gave its best novel Edgar for The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin. We also read such controversial books as Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence as well as more accepted books such as Hawaii by James A. Michener, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth. We watched Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder, Ben Hur, and Room At The Top. Gigi picked up The Oscar for Best Picture during ceremonies for movies released in the previous year. Born in 1959 were Magic Johnson, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer, Michael Kors and Richie Sambora.  Many talented people departed: Frank Lloyd Wright, Billie Holiday, Mario Lanza, Mel Ott, Ethel Barrymore, Raymond Chandler, Lou Costello, Errol Flynn and George Reeves.  If you were around, what were you doing during this year of the earth pig?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Notes — 25 Books Some Folks Want Banned

When I was growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana’s attorney general made a really big deal about banning Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  The owner of a downtown scholastic bookstore was arrested and prosecuted for selling it “under the counter.” I also remember seeing paperbacks with a banner across the top proudly proclaiming that  particular book was “banned in Boston.”  I often wished one of my books would be banned.  It’s not only a badge of honor but likely to increase sales. It’s not so much fun for librarians who have to deal with irate citizens who think they have the right to control what other people read.  Every year the American Library Association (ALA) sponsors “Banned Book Week,” reminding the public that librarians across the country must still deal with serious attempts at censorship.
Books like Fifty Shades of Gray are expected to stir up some dust. It stirred up so much, in fact, that it sold like i-Phones and spawned sequels and clones. For reasons less obvious such books such as J. K. Rowlings’ Henry Potter series, (books that inspired more children to read than any Dick and Jane book ever written), scare parents because they allow children to think for themselves.  Below is a list from the ALA of some of the 20th Century classics medieval library-goers want removed from library shelves. What they’ve actually created is a valuable set of important books to add to our bucket lists.
Crime fiction, the usual subject for this blog, has for the most part, slid under blue-nose radar. However, Thrilling Detective web site editor Kevin Burton Smith notes that Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man as well as James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice were honored with a “banned in Boston” distinction. These four books, of course, are considered by many crime fiction lovers to be among the very best of the genre.
The ALA Most Challenged Book List
 The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son, by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

Banned Book Week begins today (September 21).  Libraries and bookstores are highlighting the event.  For a list of independent bookstores, click here.  For a list of mystery bookstores, please click here.