Friday, August 31, 2012

Film Pairings — Suddenly An Albino Alligator or the Hostage Days of Summer

One of the reasons I like baseball is that it reminds me of summers in my childhood — hot, sunny days, lemonade, the sound of propeller airplanes in the sky and the sound of the wood-framed screen door slamming shut.  Fewer clothes and the world moving more slowly.  I also associate summer with baseball, a kind of slow, almost lazy sport.

Today, I watch the Giants whenever the game is on TV.  I look forward to it.  Maybe some fried chicken, baked beans and potato salad.  I also look forward to not having that intense commitment to the game as one might to basketball or football as it unfolds.  Baseball on radio was actually pretty good. Most of the time, I can look at a magazine, talk on the phone, or jot some notes down on a book I’m working on — all while the game goes on.  You can’t do that with other sports.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for movies like that.  Most of the time I’m looking for a film to take me completely away or draw me completely in.  I’ve written about them before here. A good, not quite spine-tingling, not obsessively engrossing story with competent writing and performances can, in the right mood, be desirable.  And here are two of them.

Both are hostage dramas.  Both have good casts.  Both should have been in black and white.  Only one of them was.

Frank Sinatra plays a tough, little hood in Suddenly (1954). Three thugs descend on a home inhabited by “decent folks,” in order to use the house’s strategic location to assassinate the President of the United States.  The film got and is still given pretty good reviews, though I suspect many younger viewers will see it not only as dated (and not stylishly so like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca), but also stilted. It is considered by many to be in the “noir” tradition. I don’t think so. It is, in the end, hopeful and upholds the values promoted in the 1950s.  Sterling Hayden is the good-guy, male role-model sheriff.  One suspects J. Edgar Hoover approved.
Matt Dillon in Albino Alligator

Oddly enough, Suddenly was one of the first films to be colorized (I saw and recommend the b&w version).  Albino Alligator (1997), the other film on the double bill with hostages, should have been in black and white.  It is far more “noir” than Suddenly.  And the title, if not the story, should have motivated director Kevin Spacey to go retro in black and white.  As in most decent hostage films, the drama is about the interaction of those held in close quarters under stressful circumstances.  Reviewers have not been kind to this film with Faye Dunaway singled out for particularly bad acting. Certainly, there was nothing subtle about her performance. Others also saw it wasteful of the talents of Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise, Viggo Mortenson, Joe Mantegna and Skeet Ulrich.  I liked it.  I tend to like anything set in New Orleans, but it really didn’t matter in this case.  We spend all our time in a dark cellar bar, where we witness the appropriate disintegration of humanity and a genuine noir-style ending.

It’s definitely a beer night.  Any beer.  And if you get bored, switch over to a baseball game.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Observations — San Francisco Street Art, Murals On Balmy Alley

I would bet a good sum of money that there are more murals in San Francisco’s Mission area than any other.  Perhaps the most famous alley for murals is just off Valencia in Clarion Alley.  However, there are other spots farther into the Mission neighborhood with some highly creative work, including Balmy alley off 24th.  Here are four of them:

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Notes — Long Jumping Genres, Chiaki’s Death Sentences

Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther has been accused of encouraging suicides, so forceful a piece of literature it was.  But that is nothing compared to Kawamata Chiaki’s fictional poet who writes “The Gold of Time,” poetry so powerful that whoever reads them dies.  Or, do they?

Death Sentences is a fascinating experiment.  And I write this with the caveat that I am not academically or historically up to the challenge. I can only comment on the challenge.  The ideal reader should probably be familiar with not only the history of noir and of science fiction, but also have more than a passing knowledge of surrealism.  I am a lightweight in all three departments.  However, I am curious.  And that characteristic is what kept me going, even when I should have noticed, I’m told, the subtle references to Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and others.

We begin the story in relatively contemporary Japan with sleazy, corrupt cops and ugly sex in a cheap hotel.  Noir most tawdry.  Next, we find ourselves in Paris with the art and philosophy of the surrealists dominating the narrative in a much earlier time. Eventually, after some time behind the scenes in the world of Japanese publishing, the reader arrives on a primitively populated Mars in 2031. Earth people, apparently, were in a hurry to get off their planet. Inhabiting an inhospitable Mars in 19 years will be preferable to staying here. And it is on Mars that the truth unfolds.  Or does it?

When I read a book like this, one that doesn’t fully engage my attention, but won’t quite let me go either, I suspect it is my deficiency that keeps it from being compelling. I remained, it seemed, always on the verge of enlightenment.  Maybe that was the point.  However, when I read the comments of others on the Internet and on the book jacket, all more learned than I am in such matters, I tend to think that reading it, I repeat, might be very worthwhile for those who have serious academic interests in noir, surrealism and science fiction. I would love to hear other comments on the book, perhaps from those more grounded in the various disciplines.

Chiaki is also highly respected in Japan and is often compared to or contrasted with Haruki Murakami, an author whose work I almost always enjoy.

Death Sentences was published in Japan earlier, but is making its English translation debut in the U.S. now. Next book up for me is Red Harvest. I need to get back to the basics.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Film Pairing — Cate’s Characters Dump Dependence To Accomplish Mission

Charlotte Gray
In Hollywood, many of our protagonists seem to be born strong, noble and fearless.  These two films, which feature Cate Blanchett as tough protagonists, are not related to the kind of heroines we see in Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with Dragon Tattoo or La Femme Nikita, people we meet whose characters are formed.  Not to disparage these great fictional creations, the two women Blanchett plays in Charlotte Gray and Heaven, become tough characters because they have to and they do so gradually, as we watch.

In Charlotte Gray (2001) we are taken to Vichy during the Second World War. Gray, played by Blanchett, becomes a spy for the English to assist the French Resistance not just for the cause, but to find her husband, a downed or perhaps dead, British pilot.  It’s a tougher game than she bargained for.  War itself is hell, of course, made worse by not knowing who you can trust.  Deceit and betrayal mix with politics and the absolute horror that the Nazis brought to most of Europe.  It is beautifully filmed, romantically so, but is not for those seeking only action and adventure. It is a film intended to arouse other emotions. Billy Crudup is magnetic as the Communist who knows that he is welcomed by the resistance only because they have a common enemy.  And Michael Gambon is masterful as Crudup’s war weary father and reluctant hero.

Melancholy dominates both films.  Heaven (2002), which takes place in Turin, Italy, is also incredibly well acted. Blanchett and her co-star Giovanni Ribisi are dazzling.  And the cinematography is even better than Gray, no easy achievement.  However, while there is no question about the rightness of Charlotte Gray’s actions, there are serious questions about Blanchett’s character, Phillipa.  She intends to kill a drug pusher responsible for the death of her husband and for the addictions and deaths of school children.  But, through a series of unintended and unpredictable events, the bomb she uses to kill the evil man kills four innocent people instead, two of them children. She expected the arrest for the killing of the drug lord, but she is devastated to find out whom she had unwittingly murdered.  What follows is as much poetic as it is dramatic and suspenseful.  Ribisi, who has a strange, yet enchanting, and clearly angelic presence, is a policeman who, during her interrogation, falls in love with her.

Neither film relies on the action to carry it, though certainly there is some. After watching the Bourne Legacy earlier in the day, these films almost come across as still photography; but they are well worth a quiet evening. If you are a couple, one of whom likes war and crime films and the other romantic stories, this may be the double feature you can enjoy together.  And you may feel comfortable in choosing either an Italian or French wine or both.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Opinion — Released Today And The Blatant, Very Blatant Book Promotion

They are being called “digital originals” now.  These are books published in e-book format only, or published first in that format and later on paper. 

Released Today
My first digital original, published by the Penguin Group’s imprint, Dutton’s Guilt Edged Mysteries, is Death in the Haight.  It may be regarded as a stand-alone story, but it is related to the San Francisco mysteries that feature Carly Paladino and Noah Lang.  This one is Noah’s story — with, I hope, a tilt toward the early P.I. novels — in keeping with the new imprint.

Death in the Haight is also a novella, which means it is longer than a short story, even a long short story, but shorter than a novel.  The novella is my favorite form — probably closer in size to the pulp P.I. books of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Noah Lang and his gender-bending friend work for a family trying to find a runaway son.  When the son is accused of murdering a prostitute Lang continues the search at the family’s bequest, but becomes a target of a homicide inspector who has long believed that Lang is dirty. Lang’s “interference” in the case revives the cop’s desire to bring him down.

And because it is short and because it is an ebook and no trees were killed or ink spilled, Death in the Haight is available for a mere $2.99 (high promo mode here). The only hitch is that you have to have a Kindle, Nook or iPad, etc.

And a further note for my friends, the usual disclaimer: I will never know whether you bought this book or not. And I won’t ask.  And if you do and don’t like it, you won’t have to make up some carefully worded note that pits your need to be honest against a desire to spare my feelings.  I’ll never ask.  I promise. However, if you do check it out and you do like it, a multi-star review on Amazon or B&N (or anywhere else) isn’t out of order.

DEATH IN THE HAIGHT by Ronald Tierney
A Dutton Guilt Edged Mystery
On-sale: August 21, 2012 / $2.99 / 9781101610046

Also available from Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries:
SKIN: A Mike Hammer Story by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
$2.99 / 9781101595381
$3.99 / 9781101587485
Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries are available wherever eBooks are sold.

From 1947 to 1956, Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries was a pulp noir publisher that specialized in hard-boiled detective fiction. The imprint published eighty-two novels in ten years, including noir icon Mickey Spillane, whose first seven Mike Hammer novels were published under the Guilt Edged logo. Relaunched in 2012 as a Penguin eSpecial imprint, the program is dedicated to publishing original crime short stories and novellas as eBooks.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Film Pairing — Corrupt Cops and Self-Destruction

One of the standard noir plots and of crime fact and fiction in general is about cops becoming robbers.  I think that being a cop has to make even the noblest of people vulnerable to the hardening of the soul, to the bitterness that comes when the bad guys make out better than the good guys, when it seems that nothing you do seems to make any difference or when getting by with it looks easy.  And of course, not every soul is noble to begin with.

Two films, one heralded and showered with awards and the other nearly forgotten even before it was released are featured here.

The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, won four Oscars. Scorsese, himself, won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best director. Released in 2006, the film was based in large part on a highly rated Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs.  What we have is an active-duty cop on the take and another cop doing undercover in a Boston gang trying to ferret him out.  It’s a simple plot, but one with suspenseful twists and turns and a cast of Hollywood heavyweights.  Where else would you find Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Vera Farmiga in the same film? And for good measure there is the inimitable Ray Winstone playing second in charge of the local Irish gang to Boston boss Nicholson, more than keeping up with the scenery-chewing icon.  Lots of testosterone.  It oozes from the screen.

In The Departed the story is about finding the bad cop.  In Rampart, the story is about a police department that doesn’t want the cop found.  They are already sinking in a sea of bad PR from the bigger corruption — Rampart, a real LAPD scandal of immense proportions.  They don’t want the story of this bad seed and his highly personal brand of corruption to the mess. What we get from Rampart, released only last year, is a lesser phenomenon, but not a lesser film. The corruption of the cop in The Departed is a fait accompli pretty much from the beginning of the film.  In Rampart the focus of the film is on one cop, who despite the larger scandal going on around him, finds ways to be corrupt all on his own. He is a guy who wants what he wants and takes it — a man without allegiance. The world exists for him alone. It is perhaps a little less exciting than The Departed, but we delve into character a bit deeper — or try to. 

In a screenplay co-written by the famous crime writer, James Ellroy, we watch Woody Harrelson’s cop character devolve from a nasty human being to an even nastier one.  While the cast is not the powerhouse of The Departed, we are treated to fine performances from Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, and Ice Cube, with a cameo by Steve Buscemi.

If you get thirsty or want to feel part of the gang, you might open a bottle of Irish whiskey. If you want to change for the second feature, you could go for beer. Domestic is fine.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Opinion — Hanging Out With The Swells And The Silly Season

The description for this blog warns of the likelihood of an occasional rant.  Even though this really doesn’t qualify as anything so passionate, I must admit that it has nothing to do with crime fiction, crime film or San Francisco.  But while others were passionately following the Olympics, I’ve been following the political contests.  I’m proud the U.S. did so well in London and I am in awe of the skills many of these athletes have developed, but my life is not likely to change no matter how many medals Michael Phelps wins. My life might change if the make up of Congress or the person in the Oval Office changes.  Yet no one tunes in here to find out for whom to vote.

So I pondered how could I present the choice for president, for example, in a way that just stated the facts? How about guilt by association I thought? Maybe we could look at those people we all know — celebrities — and find out who they support.  That may not be right, but it certainly is interesting.  Based on our own choice for president, who agrees with us?
Donald Trump Endorsed Mitt Romney

This list is not a complete list.  I have no idea what’s in the mind of celebrities who haven’t made public their support.  However, these are the celebrities who have. I’ve gathered their names from various web sources, supported by other sources, often including the candidates’ and the supporters’ own statements.

Mitt Romney got a boost from the recent endorsement by Hollywood legend and millionaire Clint Eastwood.  Only moments before, it seems, Romney was endorsed by porn legend and millionaire Jenna Jameson.  “When you’re rich, you want a Republican in office,” she was widely reported to have said. From a universally honored, legendary actor, writer and director to queen of the triple X-rated, what do the celebrity endorsement lists look like so far?  I searched. Who else, among those folks we all know, wants Romney to lead the country and who would rather have President Obama continue? 

Support for former Governor Mitt Romney include, in addition to Eastwood, Chuck Norris, Jon Voight and Jenna Jameson and comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Romney fans also include musicians Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Gene Simmons and Pat Boone as well as Donnie and Marie Osmond. Wrestling mogul Vince McMahon and the mogul’s mogul and sometimes millionaire Donald Trump also stand behind Romney.

Bill Gates Endorsed Barack Obama
For President Barack Obama there are swoonful actors George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio as well as rising star Elizabeth Banks.  Respected director Steven Spielberg, as well as comedians Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres support the current leader. Writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) is in the Obama camp. Singer, songwriter and actor John Legend; money guru Suze Orman; clothing designer Michael Kors and former CEO and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates also back the current White House resident.

Two final statements.  First, there are rumors of many others who have implied their support for one or the other.  I only used celebrities who have “officially” endorsed theirs.  Second, I’m not a party-goer and, of course, I wouldn’t be invited to either party’s party even if I was, but if the impossible actually happened, which group would I most like to hang with? My choice here was as easy as the choice I made before I knew which celebrities liked which candidates.  You?

Monday, August 13, 2012

On Writing — To Be Or To Be Someone Else, The Resurrection of Marlowe

I’ve covered this territory before, but with the announcement that still another contemporary writer wants to take over still another legendary writer’s characters there are some questions.  Mine is: Why?

Raymond Chandler
The first thing that comes to my mind is that known characters like Holmes, Spade or Marlowe, in this latest case, gets the writer some level of instant recognition.  This provides a sales advantage in a cluttered marketplace.  The writer doesn’t have to fight the anonymity of starting from scratch with an original character — or as original as one can get. The theory is if you liked Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, you’ll like the clone rumored to be on its way from John Banville aka Benjamin Black.  Though, in this case, the writer is well known, there is marketing power in combining all the known names together.  That would be literary writer (Banville), his genre nom de plume (Black), and one of the most famous fictional detectives ever (Marlowe).  In the corporate world, the process is called “value added.”

Then again, I’m not inside Banville’s head, so I can’t know.  And I suspect that Banville is more capable of getting inside Chandler’s head than I am of getting into Banville’s.  So I shall leave well enough alone.

John Banville
The second thing that comes to mind is that some writers may want to make a game of it or they are excited by the challenge. Lord knows, writing James Bond books became a kind of playful hobby for half dozen writers, with such literary lions as John Gardner and Kingsley Amis, participating.  Then again, possibly even our lions fall on hard times and need the money.  The truth is that many genre writers are paid far more than the so-called literary ones.  But popular writers joined the Bond game as well. Best selling thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver took a shot at it.  And another highly respected writer, William Boyd, is expected to have his own post Ian Fleming Bond out next year.

The third possibility that comes to mind when we ask “why” is homage.  A writer can be so enamored with his or her predecessor that continuing the series is a way of honoring the one who went before.  As I understand it, Max Allan Collins, for example, worked with Mickey Spillane before the legend passed away and Mike Hammer’s life in crime fiction was extended with the original writer’s blessing.  Cool.  That isn’t likely the case with Chandler and Banville.

Or finally and fourth, the writer doesn’t have a great deal of imagination and has to feed upon someone else’s carcass to create something of his or her own.  That sounds harsh.  Oops.  Art is created in many different ways and who am I to judge? Certainly I wouldn’t have created private eye characters if there hadn’t been a whole slew of them before me.

Though, whatever it is, using some other writer’s characters without permission* goes against my perhaps misdirected sense of honor and order.  Which Bond is this? The Deaver Bond or the Amis Bond? Of course that may be the purpose of the game. How about a writing competition among the top performers?  They could be Olympic-type events.  Now, competing in the Hammett are….  So and so won the Gold in the Macdonald.  And why wait until their gone?  Who won the Banville this year?

Perhaps I’d be more likely to appreciate adaptations — that is if there is a significant difference in say, time, place or interpretation.  If Banville brought Marlowe into 21st Century L.A., that might be something.  Or maybe bring Sherlock Holmes into the present.  Oh, the BBC did it and a mighty fine job as well.  And now we have it on an American network TV, coming soon to a TV set near you.

*In the case of a dead writer, the estate may grant or withhold permission.  If the writer's work is in the public domain (quite likely Sherlock Holmes for example, though there is some debate), one may pillage Doyle's characters.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Film Pairing — Fritz Lang, Two With Edward G.

I confess what I’m recommending as a double feature is more of a comparison study than anything else.  They are remarkably, perhaps inexplicably alike. Director Fritz Lang made The Woman in the Window in 1944 and Scarlet Street in 1945.  Both films starred Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett as well featuring the great B-movie regular and scene-stealer Dan Duryea in a major supporting role.  

I’d like to say that’s where the similarities end.  But no.  Both are set in New York.  Oil paintings, portraits of Bennett’s character, are in gallery windows in both films and are significant in advancing the plot.  In both films, Robinson is an innocent guy, Bennett has questionable morals, and Duryea is a villain.  There are some subtle differences in character, but it’s almost the same movie.  Usually, of course, that’s not good. However, in the case of these two films, the fun comes from watching them back-to-back to note the nuances.

My favorite is The Woman in the Window, by far.  A small part of that choice, I confess, is the quality of the two discs.  Lang’s movies are noted for its stylish, noirish cinematography.  And both had Milton R. Krasner behind the camera.  Mission accomplished. However, Scarlet Street suffered from blurry reproduction.  That was, as I said, a small part.  Scarlet Street was also a little too melodramatic for my taste.  Robinson was a little too innocent.  Bennett was a little too evil.  And final scenes, while more in keeping with noir sensibility, were a bit too much.  It’s not easy acting crazy on screen. One tends to overdo it. The film is based in the French novel, La Chienne by Georges de La Fouchardiere. It had also been a stage play and a 1931 film directed by the legendary Jean Renoir.

The Woman in the Window seems a bit more real. The situation is believable.  There is a misunderstanding.  A man is accidentally killed in a fight that should have ended with wounded pride.  And, an otherwise decent college professor makes one fateful mistake. He tries to cover it up and the descent into hell begins. The characters have depth.  Raymond Massey also appears in this film based on Once Off Guard by J. H. Wallis.

I’d recommend watching The Woman in the Window second because it is a better movie. I think it is safe to say the critics at the time would agree to that assessment. To accompany the evening, select your favorite hard liquor and drink it as straight as you can.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Opinion — More Fun Than A Barrel Of Cat Burglars

At the absolutely opposite end of TV drama like The Wire is White Collar.  While the former is the toughest, most graphic, grittiest and most powerful crime drama ever on television, the latter is light-hearted, witty, funny escapist fiction.  And I’m enjoying every minute of it. Sometimes you are in the mood for ice cream.

Because I’ve only partially stepped into the modern world, I do not have cable TV or a big metal dish hovering like a spaceship outside my window.   Therefore I am watching each 42-minute episode on disc, which allows me to do these periodic White Collar marathons.   So I watch four at a time.  I overdo Hagan Daz Swiss Almond Vanilla in much the same way.  So, you see, I am keeping this ice cream metaphor alive.  Intentionally.

There are few swear words in White Collar.  Sex is treated just slightly more adventurously than The Brady Bunch.  New York City is a bright, sunny, extraordinarily clean and stylish place no matter where they are.  Even dingy warehouses resemble trendy lofts more than dingy warehouses.  People dress well.  And the crimes are, as the title suggests, high-end.  Unlike most cops and robbers shows, where the bodies pile up, there is only an occasional death and it is usually off-screen.  The whole gestalt is a TV screen-sized To Catch A Thief.  Normally a PG-rated show like this would be a debit in the mental calculation I make before committing time or money to a book or movie.  But I’ve not come up short.

Jeff Eastin
The whole thing seems so easy. Series creator Jeff Eastin has developed a simple and familiar set-up.  A talented, charming con man is released from prison only if he helps a by-the book FBI agent capture criminals like him.  It’s been done before. Nothing special there. The magic is in the intricate plotting and in the characters, which have been carefully and lovingly drawn and acted.

Actor Matt Bomer plays the con artist character who is the catalyst for all the action. The character is appropriately charming, endowed with the prerequisite mix of shallow emotions that hide a clever and learned mind.  His character plays off against his equally smart but usually one-step behind chaperone and FBI agent, played by Tim DeKay.  DeKay balances straight bureau stuffiness with humor and likeability very well.  Willie Garson is a brainy conman and Bomer confidante.  He is the go-to, quirky guy who is handy at all things, good to have around when things get difficult.  Tiffani Thiessen plays the FBI wife or Mrs. Suit.  Her ability to play sweet and devoted while making sure she doesn’t come off as too sweet and too selfless is an artful tight rope act. Sharif Atkins and Marsha Thomason are first class actors playing first class characters rounding out the regulars on the FBI team.  Diahann Carroll plays a recurring role as the owner of the mansion our lovable and loyalty-torn con artist calls home.

Season four is being broadcast now on the USA channel.  Unfortunately I am at the end of season three and four is not ready for Netflix.  So, as I do with Mad Men, I’ll have to wait to feed my addiction. But if you haven’t started and enjoy a not too taxing escape, start at season one.  Usually, when I do the film pairings on Friday, I recommend something to drink while watching the double feature.  This is perfect for your frozen dessert — sorbet, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.  Perhaps something light and nutty.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Film Pairing — Private Eyes, Newman Times Two

Ross Macdonald is considered by many to be right up there with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  Some even consider him better.  Readers are most likely to be familiar with his private eye Lew Archer, who anchored 18 novels.  However, only two of the Archer novels made it to the big screen.*  And in an odd twist, Archer was renamed Harper in the films because, Paul Newman had been lucky with movies that began with the letter “H.” Archer on paper, Harper on celluloid.

Newman had them make another change. (If James Dean had made the movie as originally intended, it probably would have been called The Moving Target, the Macdonald’s first novel and the one the movie was based upon.)  Newman insisted that the movie be called Harper (Think The Hustler and Hud).  It was released in 1966. 

Harper has significant parallels to Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Like Marlow, Harper is called to an elegant LA mansion, where he is hired by the wheel-chair bound owner to find a missing husband.  In this case, the infirmed is Lauren Bacall, who was incidentally the, smart, sexy sister in The Big Sleep. Despite the larger-than-life presence of Bacall, the film is definitely Newman’s. Even so, the producers weren’t stingy with the supporting cast.  You will enjoy Julie Harris, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner (perfectly cast) and Shelley Winters.  You’ll recognize many other supporting actors as well.  Except or the moment when I felt embarrassed by how silly we looked when we danced in the sixties, Harper is a worthwhile private eye escape. The talented William Goldman wrote the screenplay.

Almost ten years later, Paul Newman does Harper again, this time in Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool (1975).  They didn’t change the name of the movie, but Hollywood has a penchant for thinking it knows better than the person who wrote the book.  They moved Archer, I mean Harper, from LA to New Orleans. Personally, I love New Orleans.  That alone would get me to watch the movie.  And I can’t help but think this setting makes a much more interesting backdrop.  I also like the slightly more mature Newman, who (cliché alert), like a fine wine (or fine cheese, I guess) improved with age.  Much like Harper, The Drowning Pool is also Newman’s film. But the co-stars are notable here as well.  Joanne Woodward and Melanie Griffith are key, and Anthony (Tony) Franciosa gives a subdued and finely nuanced performance as the main cop.  Again Harper is called to a mansion to get his assignment. But instead of a kidnapping and murder, we have blackmail and murder.

Apparently Ross Macdonald didn’t mind the Hollywood interference. Not only did he go along with The Drowning Pool switch from L.A. to New Orleans, he also approved of Paul Newman playing his famous protagonist.  Many authors had been disappointed in Hollywood’s choices.  I think it’s difficult not to approve of Newman, especially as a P.I.  His late-in-life performance in the minor masterpiece, Twilight, was perfect, for example.

If you are considering libations for the evening, you might consider the Ramos Gin Fizz or a Hurricane, the official New Orleans cocktail.  If the heat wave is dominating your part of the world, you might try a Mint Julep.  And Absinthe might not be totally out of the question.

* Macdonald’s The Underground Man was filmed for NBC as a pilot in 1974. It featured Peter Graves as Lew Archer and had an all-star cast — Celeste Holm, Jim Hutton, Vera miles, Dame Judith Anderson and Jack Klugman.  It isn’t available on Netflix. Also, according to the Thrilling Detective web site, there were six, hour-long episodes broadcast in 1975 called “Archer,” starring Brian Keith. I’ve also read that there might be a new series in the making.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Observations — Photographs of San Francisco

There are many images that reflect this destination city — the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, Powell or California Streets with Cable Cars.  Here are a few more, a little less iconic perhaps, and from a slightly different perspective.

San Francisco’s elegant City Hall and the edge of city’s more contemporary Main Library, in the Civic Center

The recently reconstructed de Young Museum, one of the dynamic attractions in Golden Gate Park

A view of Saints Peter and Paul Church, across from Washington Square in North Beach

A rare view of the Bay through the windows of long unoccupied Pier One at Fort Mason Center