Friday, November 30, 2012

Film Pairing — Down Under And Outback, Peter Weir And Nicholas Roeg


David Gulpilil is an actor, dancer and artist who grew up in the Outback, far away from the British influence in Australia.  His performances in director Nicholas Roeg’s stunning film Walkabout and in Peter Weir’s magnificent Last Wave have the ring of authenticity and are breathtaking.

He was only 16 when he portrayed someone much like himself in a movie that powerfully conveys the stark similarity between so-called primitive and advanced cultures.

The story begins with a deranged father trying to shoot his daughter and son after taking them out to a remote, desolate area of Australia. The children manage to escape, but to what? The hot, unfriendly environment of Australia’s Outback. It’s unlikely the two young bourgeois children could survive long enough to find their way back to food, water and shelter. Along comes the young man, who has begun his rite of passage into adulthood by attempting to survive on his own in the wild. It is a tribal ritual called “walkabout.”  Being much more equipped to survive in this environment, he takes responsibility for the lost children.  Jenny Agutter is the coming of age girl.  She is an extraordinary actress playing an extraordinary character. (Roeg apparently suffered some criticism — that he exploited her beauty by including extensive nude scenes.)  It is incredible to me that the human mind would go there. This is what the film is about — humans stripped to their nakedness — in a dangerous Eden.  And Lucien John is the young boy, young enough fortunately, to find the walkabout an adventure. And we believe him too. The film is about the three of them and all three are very much up to the task.

What Roeg has wrought here is much more than a story of survival.  It is setting so-called civilization up against the more primitive lives of those who live closer to the earth.  This isn’t romancing the simple life, though there are occasional glances of paradise amidst nature at its most brutal, which includes the graphic killing of prey in order to survive.  If nothing else, it is shows that the life in high-rises and life out in the brush are in many ways very much the same. We are of the same blood.  We have only created a little distance between the killing and the eating.  And in some ways we have desensitized ourselves from the essential, though often unpleasant, truths of existence, including, paradoxically, the impossible gap between the two worlds, as much alike as they are.

The Last Wave is perhaps a little less visually powerful, but no less thought-provoking. An aboriginal man dies in Sydney. The police believe it is murder and a brief investigation leads to four men, one of them David Gulpilil, older now, but still mesmerizing.  Richard Chamblerlain finds himself, through his association with a nonprofit defense association, to be their defense attorney — a difficult job at best.

Weir, who directed Picnic at Hanging Rock and Don’t Look Now, returns to themes that can be described as otherworldly in as much as one must accept a world of not necessarily complete rationality.  In The Last Wave, there is a suggestion that a great natural calamity is about to take place and that, in order prevent it, Chamberlain’s character, must uncover the mystery at the heart of an aboriginal tribe’s “myth.”  He can only do so — and incidentally free the four wrongly charged with homicide — by risking his sanity as well as his life and quite possibly the lives of everyone. Gulpilil plays one of the young men charged with murder and again he is the guide to the outback of the human psyche, a more reluctant guide this time.  Again, Gulpilil is flawless and Chamberlain reminds us just how underrated an actor he has been during his career. 

The question is what is real?  Is rational thought the truth?  What about dreams?  Premonitions? 

What both films have in common besides aborigines, though they are at the heart of them, is a larger question. What do we make of culture and how it shapes “the truth.” Of the two. Roeg’s film makes a statement and Weir’s poses a question.

Not sure what you should be drinking with this double feature.  Walkabout takes place in a dessert.  You could get heatstroke just watching it.  So beer or a chilled wine.  The Last Wave is interminably cold and wet.  Water, water, everywhere.  And caves and wind.  Perhaps an Australian version of an Irish coffee or a House Cappuccino modeled after San Francisco’s Tosca house specialty, coffee, chocolate steamed milk and brandy.




Monday, November 26, 2012

Observations — Remembrances of Things Beyond My Control


I’m writing my memoirs. 
I know.  Who do I think I am? I am not  famous.  Nor do I know famous people.  And I’ve made absolutely no impact on science or history or anything else that matters.  But I’ve not let that get in my way. 
Here is an excerpt from a draft of Albion and New Augusta (Confessions of a Midlist Writer) about my first, somewhat lonely days at Indiana University.  I had found three other freshmen who knew how to play the card game, euchre.  Having that in common, the four of us formed a tenuous friendship. And that’s how we passed the time, even though studying would have been a better investment.  Of this new group of friends, one stood out.
 I spent a lot of time with Pete, the smart but cynical one.  He was heavyset.  He wore glasses.  He always wore a white, short-sleeved shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, and dark pants.  Always.  He was adamant about having nothing around his neck. During the coldest winter days, he wouldn't wear a scarf.
He was moody, brooding, an avid reader and there wasn’t an easy read in his stack of books.  When we met he was reading Nietzsche, about whom he seemed obsessed.  I wasn’t nearly as well read; but I had devoured plays, especially the "modern" ones, beginning with Shaw and continuing to contemporary British playwrights.   The other two in the Euchre group had no such interests.  Neither did my roommate.  These were the people in my world. I don't believe Pete's social world was any larger. So Pete and I spent time together.
I looked forward to it.  I was more comfortable in matters of the mind as opposed to matters of the heart. I was comfortable with concepts rather than details.  In fact, intellectual matters were preferable given my most recent experience in matters of lovers and family. And like Pete and his Nietzschean mindset, I had no love for the church-going masses.  Right and wrong existed for me, but were notions outside of religion.  And if there was disagreement between Pete and I, we could disagree without a lot of Biblical baggage.  Authority took a back seat to logic.
In other matters Pete was explosive.  He had his personal passion when it came to cards and pool.  A couple of times, when he lost at Euchre, he kicked over the table.  He locked himself in his room once and did not come out for days. I saw that as sulking not depression. On the other hand it was interesting drama in what had otherwise had become a boring routine.  One day he lost a game of pool and snapped the pool cue.  It wasn’t so much that he lost; it was to whom he lost. I was the whom.  Not only were these domains over which he was master, I was just learning the game.  I’ll have to admit that I took some pleasure in surprising him with the notion that luck was sometimes victorious over talent and discipline. He hated the idea of "luck."   It has to do with randomness rather than order.
Despite the flaws, I thought Pete was one of the most formidable and memorable people I had ever met.  That was true until I met his father. I don't remember why I went to Pete's house, but one day, up from Bloomington and back in Indianapolis, I visited Pete at his place.  Maybe school was out. I’m not sure.
Pete's house was in another one of those housing developments in the city with street after street of mostly two- or three-bedroom frame homes. Each had small front and back lawns.  His home, like those of his neighbors, was modest but well built.  If I remember correctly the home was set back, up on a small incline. It had a smooth asphalt driveway, on which was parked a big black two-door Cadillac with black walls and a red light on the roof.
Inside, the rooms were small and seemed even smaller because the furniture was huge. One had to angle through oversized chairs, a mammoth sofa, and a grand piano, not to mention a sweet but overweight Boxer. It was as if Botero was the set designer. Pete’s dad, a doctor, was a deputy coroner for the city.  He was huge and round as well, twice the size of Pete and three times as scary. His hair was closely cropped, he wore a .38, and he smoked a cigar.   Rather, he chewed it.
The three of us had a little lunch.  Pete couldn’t have gotten any smaller.  He — all hunched into himself — looked as if he expected the ceiling to come tumbling down at any moment. He seemed nervous and frightened as his father talked about his work as coroner and as a kind of volunteer physician to the down and out.  As we ate, Pete’s father provided lurid descriptions of prostitutes and the debilitating diseases they were likely to acquire.  At one point, the doctor held up a small carrot stick, using it to show the size of a boy’s penis that he had been describing in a story.  After finishing his sentence, he bit off the tip of the carrot with, I thought, a bit too much exuberance.
This struck me as hilarious. I started laughing, which seemed to further distress Pete. In moments, perhaps realizing what he had done or maybe, fully aware of his purpose and surprised by its effect, the doctor started laughing himself.  He laughed so hard, he turned pink. He lit his dead cigar and invited me to dinner the following Friday.
He would show some family slides, he said, as if this gesture was in response to my questions about his growing up in New York.
When the evening of the dinner came, I was shocked at the way that not only the doctor talked to his wife, berating her, yelling at her in the kitchen, calling her stupid, and worse.  No one came to her rescue. I wanted to say something, but I was sitting next to King Kong.  When dinner was over, the slide projector was set up. There may have been a few photos of the family's earlier days in New York, but the bulk of the show was made up of autopsy slides — graphic, bloody slides of various human organs, sliced and diced, and in various stages in preparation for examination.
I kept a poker face.  I don’t know where or how I learned it, or why I thought it was necessary; but I was determined not to show fear or shock. Another skill I had learned was to go off to some other place in my mind until the unpleasantness had passed. It was a mechanism I would cultivate.  But during the time at the doctor’s house all I really wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
I couldn’t imagine what life was like for Pete and the others in the household.
A lurid torture/murder case that still shocks the city
I had no idea what life was like for the deputy coroner. I didn’t know at the time, for example, that he had been the examiner on the scene when Sylvia Likens’ tortured body was found in an Eastside home.  She had been cut and burned over many days. She died of brain hemorrhage, shock and malnutrition.  The facts of the story — the chief actor in this horrid drama punished the victim on moral grounds — were so tragic, that the drama was made into films, novels and plays.  The Likens case may have been the most gruesome the doctor had to deal with, but his practice exposed him to the most heinous acts on a regular basis.  He, like police and firefighters, witness the saddest, unluckiest and most depraved moments in human existence.  He saw and knew things too impolite for the general public, but perhaps not too impolite for his family. How much of this he brought home, I’d have to estimate from the entertainment after dinner, probably was more than most families needed to know.
I was content to get back to the university in Bloomington.  I had been cast in a Noel Coward play. Much good can be said about the importance of trivializing existence.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Film Pairing — Keep The Kid In The Picture, And Keep Him Alive


This double feature represents that old saying “keep the kid in the movie…because the kid is the movie.  That’s not altogether true for Witness and The Client, both big box office successes that deal with protecting a child who becomes a target for elimination because he knows too much.

The Client (1994) is based on John Grisham’s bestseller. Brad Renfro plays a mature beyond his years teen caught between an overly ambitious U.S. attorney (Tommy Lee Jones) and some gangsters who killed a high-ranking Louisiana politician.  Susan Sarandon plays Reggie Love, an ex-alcoholic attorney on the comeback trail.  She is the character who must keep young Renfro from being run over by the competing forces, both, it seems, intent on destroying him as well as his moonbeam of a mom in order to win the battle.  All three main characters are strong, as is the plot, but Renfro is the draw here.  He plays a tough, uncannily wise country bumpkin. Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Actress.”  Anthony LaPaglia, Ossie Davis and William H. Macy also appear in the film.  Joel Schumacher directed.

Witness (1985) cleaned up in the awards department. I remember loving the movie. My worry, when I sat down to watch it again these many years later, was that it wouldn’t hold up.  I needn’t have worried.  Director Peter Weir created a nearly timeless film that delivers a sit-on-the-edge-of-your seat plot and sets it against both a rarely used social environment and a strikingly visual landscape.  A young Amish kid witnesses the brutal killing of a cop in the restroom of a train station.  Because of corruption in the police department, neither the young witness (Lucas Haas) nor his police protector Harrison Ford, are safe — anywhere.  They retreat, Ford reluctantly, to an Amish community in Pennsylvania, where we meet an attractive Amish woman played by Kelly McGillis and other members of the boy’s family.  We also see Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone and the first Hollywood appearance of Viggo Mortensen.  Danny Glover plays a significant role and if you pay attention you’ll get a glimpse of James Earl Jones.

As far as what to have with your double feature, maybe this is an alcohol free night.  The Client takes you back and forth from New Orleans to Memphis, but despite this two-hour plus film, time goes quickly.  Witness moves a little more slowly and lusciously. But when you are in Amish country, you have to be content with sipping lemonade on the porch swing.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Opinion — Crime Writing, How Long Do You Cook An Egg?


A smart writer doesn’t criticize critics. Smart or not, I haven’t and won’t. On a few occasions I’ve disagreed with a reviewer’s take on something he or she has written about other writers and about my work.  To be fair, there also were times when I thought a reviewer had given me the benefit of the doubt. 

Agatha Christie, Cozy or Soft boiled?
One of the very few times I was bothered by a review was when it was clear that the expectations the reviewer had were ones that I didn’t set. It was kind of like complaining that Marcel Marceau failed to project his voice adequately. The reviewer had pegged me as a writer of hard-boiled detective fiction. And in the book under review I hadn’t met the criteria.  The thing is I never considered myself to be hard-boiled and I never tried to write hard-boiled fiction. I like it, but it’s not how my brain works.   Then again, maybe I don’t know what “hard-boiled” is. Did I write it and not know it? The truth is I never thought about categories of mysteries or crime fiction.  I read what I read and I wrote what I wrote.

Hardboiled Mickey Spillane
After failing to meet what I thought to be the reviewers “hard-boiled” expectations, I started looking around, reading blogs and paying attention to reviews of other writers. More important, I think, I began to think of the crime books I read as falling into one category or another.  None of them, the ones I read after I started writing books of my own, seemed to fit what I understood “hardboiled” to be, though that’s how many of them are described.  In the early days I couldn’t get my fill of books by Gregory Mcdonald, Stephen Greenleaf and Robert Campbell.  Not a lot of gore. And the P.I.s weren’t really all that tough. To me the common denominator in what I was drawn to was humor and the vulnerability (lack of pure heroism), something I liked on television as well, with shows like The Rockford Files. Shanahan, my first series, certainly isn’t noir. None of my books are. I like noir but I don’t write it. Also I can’t see the Shanahans as hard-boiled — though it has its moments.  Parts of Asphalt Moon are tough enough, I suppose. And Good to the Last Kiss, a non-series book, could easily fall into the category. For the most part, I see what I write as having a less sensational, but more probable plot with, I hope, a heavy dollop of humor. Still, I’m not 100 percent sure where my books fall.  But what do I know?  I mean that seriously.  Can we see ourselves clearly?  Can we judge our own work?

But back to the subject — crime fiction categories.  There are a number of ways to go about this, I think. The first may be dividing crime fiction into mysteries, thrillers and suspense with the knowledge that they may all cross over into each other.  These categories may be further delineated into medical, legal, supernatural, romantic, professional sleuth, amateur sleuth, police procedural and noir. Again, happily, there are mongrels here as well. It wasn’t long ago that what we call “crime fiction” was under the “mystery” category.  I think calling it “crime fiction” was a smart move.  A mystery, to me, is a whodunnit.

Dashiell Hammett, Noir
But the basic breakout always seemed to be “cozy,” “soft-boiled,” “hard-boiled” and “noir.”  There are those who lump “cozy” and “soft-boiled” together and still others where the term “medium boiled” slips in between the other two eggs.

So, someone could look for a soft-boiled, amateur medical mystery.  Maybe there could be a hard-boiled, legal, police procedural with professional sleuth overtones, as in Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Possibly James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle could be a professional sleuth police procedural noir with supernatural touches.  This must drive librarians and bookstore owners crazy.  Though for these two books, one might simply put them in the bestseller section and forget anything else.  Do that and still the question of categorization remains.  And it’s not easy to answer.

JB Dickey, owner of the 22-year-old Seattle Mystery Bookshop illustrates how thin the lines between categories can be. I had always assumed that Agatha Christie was a writer of cozies.

“I wouldn't call Christie's Poirot books cozy,” Dickey said. “… guess they'd fall into more of a 'classic' or 'traditional' school, whereas you could make a case for her Marple books to be cozy mysteries due to their setting and tone. Same author, same time period, slightly different 'category.'”

Seattle Mystery Bookshop
If “medium-boiled” is a valid term — and it’s not legit for many knowledgeable people — then I suspect it is where most of my books belong.  And it might explain many things.  I write about private eyes, which is at the moment, not the most popular of protagonist types. And as the trends show at the moment, I see that readers tend to go either to the least or most violent, while I occupy the land in between.

In other ways, today’s tastes seem to be broad.  And the ease of publishing — which, like most advancement, can be helpful and detrimental — has broadened the concept of crime fiction still further.

“Years ago,” Dickey said,  “the rage was medieval mysteries, then the Southwest, then conspiracy/codes and now Scandinavian. Readers will follow a certain type for a while because a certain author becomes popular.”  He cites Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman, Dan Brown and Henning Mankell.  But there is always something on the horizon, he says.  “Werewolves and vampires are big right now. Some are very dark and bloody —Scandinavian books or Urban Fantasy — and some are light cozies.”
           
It’s constantly evolving. Maybe the proliferation of categories makes the whole idea of categories unhelpful.  Add to this the reissues of everyone’s early books (mine included) as well as the classics.   

“Rue Morgue and Felony & Mayhem are bringing back whodunnits from the Golden Age and people are discovering them, or rediscovering them,” Dickey said.

Yes, yes, all that’s old is new again and we now have “urban fantasy” and “rural noir.” It’s kind of like the soda pop world or the number of flavors and colors of Yoplait yogurt. I searched the Internet for the definitive set of categories.  All of them, so far, seem insufficient.  Maybe we can’t get that categorical, after all.  But I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you write and read?  Why?




Friday, November 16, 2012

Film Pairing — The Once And Future Noir


Blade Runner ranked first on a list of top nine crime films I posted here earlier. If I were to redo the list I might have to make room for Inception. 

While it doesn’t have the wonderful noir moodiness of Blade Runner, Inception is exceptional.  Someone described it as a heist movie.  That works for me.  A team of criminals with specialized talents go about the delicate process of stealing information from the brain of one person in order to implant that idea into the brain of a person who will believe is his own.  We travel not in the outside world but in the world of dreams and dreams within dreams.  The laws of reality, as they often do in my dreams anyway, are suspended.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film’s protagonist, played by Leonardo DeCaprio, is a deeply flawed dream traveler who brings with him a team of experts to carry out the heist.  Among the other actors are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Cilian Murphy and Tom Berenger.  Michael Caine makes a brief appearance.  As you might expect from Nolan, though, the real star are the special effects — dazzling in their imagination and convincing in their execution.  Oddly enough and unlike say, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, there remains a cold genuine connection to reality after all.  The images may be oddly placed and even fold into themselves, but it is not truly as fantastic as dreams or nightmares might be. No matter which dream we are witnessing, these are familiar worlds.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.


Blade Runner is a masterpiece.  I have no authority to say so.  It is simply my opinion.  The world created in this film is recognizable in the sense that we understand such things as modes of transportation, the concept of robots designed to be human-like, and characters who are cops and robbers.  However, the characters are more broadly and colorfully imagined — more exotic and unpredictable without being absurd.  These are people we can come to believe exist, which is important because some of them are “replicants,” who are not considered human, have no feelings, aren’t, in some minds, alive. But is this true? The simple plot belies the implications, historically and currently, of those who view others as unlike them, perhaps even less than human.  Other races or ethnicities.  Undocumented immigrants.  People of another class or in a different circumstance.  It’s a simple, but powerful story.

Based, many say “loosely,” on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott has a world that is both different and relatable.  Harrison Ford is at his best.  Rutger Hauer and Sean Young are perfectly cast and give the performances of their careers. 

These two films offer a night of challenge.  Inception, particularly, demands that you pay attention.  If you get up for a second glass of Pernod, put the DVD on “pause.”  For a different reason, you won’t want to miss a moment of Blade Runner.  Each frame is a work of art.  Both films will make you think, imagine, question. 

I suggested Pernod as an accompaniment to the night of films because of its near hallucinogenic quality.  Whatever you choose, it should loosen you up a bit.  It’s not a night for Scotch or Martinis.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Opinion — On Writing, To Outline Or Not To Outline


Writes His Novels Without Outlining
I once worked for a company that had horrible morale problems.  It was run on the whim of the CEO and owner. It was a pretty oppressive environment.  At one point, the CEO decided to hire a consultant who passed out questionnaires. After the answers were analyzed, it was decided that the problem was the rule-bound corporate culture did not encourage spontaneity.  Productivity and morale would be improved if employees were allowed to think and express themselves more freely.

The CEO rented an auditorium and required the entire staff (probably about 300) to attend.  The CEO stood on the stage with a pointer and a flip chart.  She explained this new revelation about spontaneity and wanted to do something about it.

“We will be more spontaneous,” she said, “and this is how we do it.”  She flipped the first page over.  “Rule number one….”

The feeling I had at that moment is what I often feel when someone preaches that the only way to write a novel is to do an outline first. Only a person who uses an outline would suggest that this is the only way.  A person who doesn’t use an outline would be open to the idea that an outline is another valid way to approach novel writing.  I’m joking, sort of.  But I think setting down the rules for creativity is self-defeating.  All of our minds work differently.
I’ve written about this before, but had my feathers ruffled by an article in a writer’s blog I regularly read.  I tried to comment, but after half a dozen attempts to type in the code to “prove I’m not a robot” and failing to get the letters right (I couldn’t make out the letters inside the box) I decided to approach this on my own blog.  In my world, I begin writing a story by writing, not outlining.

I came across this bit of dialogue in James Lee Burke’s new book, Creole Belle.  His fictional character Dave Robicheaux is talking with a not quite so fictional daughter, Alafair, who is a mystery writer in fiction (and in real life as well). Here, she talks with her father about her writing.

“… I’ve started a new one,” Alafair replied.

“What’s it about?”

I’m not sure.  I never am. I make it up each day.  I never see more than two scenes ahead.”

“You don’t make an outline?”

“No, I think the story is written in the unconscious.  You discover it a day at a time.  At least that’s how it works for me.”

And that’s how it works for me, though I haven’t the success of Burke or his real-life novelist daughter Alastair.

John Lescroat, Outlining A Must
From an earlier post of mine:
As time went on, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my failure to outline. Among the many who do not use the outline technique are Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly and Stephen King. On the other hand, there are those who do outline, who must outline. These, I’ve read, include such successful authors as Louise Penny, John Lescroart and John Grisham. Scott Turow, to be completely different, does an outline during his second or third draft.
Here’s what I posted here a year ago or so:
Using an outline might keep you from going up any blind alleys. Not using one might allow you to find a street you didn’t know existed. I do use a brief outline sometimes when I know what’s happening in the next few pages and I’m afraid I’ll forget what I was thinking. But that is more of a bridge than an outline. The real point of this is that different people write in different ways. Find out how you are most comfortable and most creative. I’d be suspicious of advice that put too many rules down that do not take into account the individual who will need to abide by them. If you’re not sure of the best approach for you, try both. If you choose one, it doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later. For me, writing by the seat of my pants makes me want to sit down and write to see what will happen next and at some point discover who killed the victim found dead in Chapter One.
Saying that there is only one way to create art or tell a story is the same as demanding that everyone be right-handed.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Film Pairing — Joan Crawford, Ready For Her Close-Ups And Ready For Murder


Using the vernacular of the times, Joan Crawford was a “tough broad,” and she usually played one. In both Mildred Pierce (1945) and in Sudden Fear (1952) she had the opportunity to reveal her ability to portray characters of a little more emotional depth.  She won an Academy Award for the title role in Mildred Pierce and received another nomination for her principal role in Sudden Fear.

Mildred Pierce was revived with a new production on Cable to high acclaim and is just one of many movies made from books by James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity among them).  The original b&w classic was directed by Michael Curtiz, who also did Casablanca.  William Faulkner reportedly contributed to the screenplay.  With Academy Award winning cinematographer Ernest Haller, who picks up great backdrops in Los Angeles (Pasadena and Santa Monica), behind the lens, there’s plenty of talent putting this classic altogether.

Mildred’s daughter, played by Ann Blyth, wants the good life.  She is ashamed of her mother’s lowly beginnings and prompts Crawford’s character to seek wealth and status by nearly any means to please her daughter’s ambition. Blyth is outstanding as the heartless, manipulative girl with the innocent fa├žade.  She and Eve Arden were both deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards. Jack Carson plays a sleazy business partner and Zachary Scott is the slippery gigolo who gets it in the end and very much in the beginning.

My favorite of the two is Sudden Fear.  We spend most of this movie in San Francisco with Jack Palance trying to live off an extremely wealthy widow.  Joan Crawford plays the widow who is also an immensely popular playwright.  Palance is an actor who was 86’d from Crawford’s new play and is determined to get revenge — killing with kindness. Crawford is taken in by the romantic overtures, but by accident discovers that Palance and his criminally inspired girlfriend (noir’s standard bad girl, Gloria Grahame) want to do her in.  Hence, Sudden Fear.  But Crawford’s character is no pushover, and life and death become a bit more complicated for everyone. Like Mildred Pierce, Sudden Fear was nominated for a number of Awards including Academy nominations for Palance, costume design and cinematography — great work by Charles Lang, Jr.

My recommendation for drinks this drizzly cinematic evening is keeping is simple.  A fine whiskey, not the cheap stuff, goes well with the hard-drinking roles played by Crawford and her worldly friends.