Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Cthristmas!

I haven't been blogging much lately, but it's only due to two facts: I've been swamped with work and family matters (you might remember we have a 10-month old kid in our house), and I also haven't really been reading any books I should be blogging about. I've been doing a book on Finnish literature, and while there might be some interest in it among my followers, it all comes down to the fact that I've had really little extra time in my hands. I've even been thinking about calling it quits, but I don't want to do that. Blogging here at Pulpetti has brought me new friends and even professional contacts (hey, I wouldn't have been publishing Kevin Wignall were it not for Pulpetti!), and I'm thinking there might be some in the future.

I've also been doing another book: I've compiled a collection of Finnish Cthulhu mythos stories, mostly new, but also with four previously published stories. The book will come out next Spring. I've been at it for almost two years, so it also took some extra energy. But the cover is really nice, as you can see. The title means "The Guardian of the Forbidden Book". I sent the finished manuscript with the foreword and all yesterday to the publisher, so you can see I'm relieved and can finally say: "Happy Christmas!"

Friday, December 04, 2015

Erik Munsterhjelm: A Dog Named Wolf

Anyone read the book? It's a book published in English in 1972 as A Tale of Wolves, Dogs and Trappers in the Canadian Wilds, and as A Dog Named Wolf in 1977. Erik Munsterhjelm was a Finnish writer, who emigrated to Canada in the 1920s and lived there for a dozen years hunting and prospecting gold. Later he came back to Finland and wrote a three-series book of memoirs set in Canada; later on he published four adventure books for young readers set in the same regions. Munsterhjelm returned to Canada in the late 1940s and lived there for the rest of his life. I'm writing on him, but can't get my hands on A Dog Named Wolf. What I'd really like to know is that if it's a fictional book or a memoir and if Munsterhjelm himself is in the lead. If it's a novel, it never came out in Finnish and I'll have to get my hands on it. (There are plenty copies on Abebooks, but I need the info quicker.)

Mind you, there's also a book by Munsterhjelm called The Wind and the Caribou, it's an English translation of one of his memoirs. I thought it was pretty wonderful, you should seek it out if you're interested in the so-called Northern genre.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Morons from Outer Space (1985)

Some time ago I watched a virtually unknown movie by Mike Hodges, the director of such masterpieces as Get Carter and Flash Gordon. Now I watched another one, but of this I'd heard before. Morons from Outer Space (1985) was shown in Finnish cinemas, so I'd seen ads of it and I even remember a friend of mine discussing it.

I bought the now rare movie on VHS and my viewing of it may not have been the best quality, but I still think I got a good picture of what the film was doing and how well it was accomplished. The morons of the title are four foul creatures travelling somewhere in space and somehow ending up on Earth. One of them is played by Mel Smith, amiable comedian, who performed a lot with Griff Rhys-Jones, who plays a reporter in the film. Jimmy Nail merits a special mention as one of the aliens. Morons from Outer Space aims for parody (there are references to 2001, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and satire - the space morons end up being celebrities, though they don't know or even understand a lot. They do speak good English, though, which is a joke unto itself. The film is a bit wacky and a bit quirky, but never funny enough. Not enough good jokes, not enough crazy slapstick comedy, not enough witty ideas. The satire is also a bit obvious, maybe dated.

The film bombed at the box office and probably made sure Mike Hodges's career will never rise to the heights of Get Carter and Flash Gordon. Mind you, though, Croupier from 1998 is a pretty good neo-noir, and Black Rainbow, made in 1989, was occasionally very good (see the link above). He made some TV stuff between those two, but his film career has been erratic and very mixed.

More Overlooked Films here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gil Brewer in Wikipedia, at long last!

Remember when I noted that Gil Brewer didn't have a Wikipedia article to his name? Now he does. (I didn't do, though I set out to do it.) It's still a stub, but it's a start.

There must be dozens or even hundreds of paperback crime and western writers who have no Wikipedia articles, someone should start making up a list of those who don't have (I just noticed the other day that Giff Cheshire doesn't have one). Maybe I should do it?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Science fiction westerns

I'm editing a collection of my writings on genre and pulp literature. Included is an essay on horror and sci-fi western hybrids. I'd added some comments in English at the end of the text, possibly snatched from the Fictionmags or other e-mail list discussions, but I won't be incorporating them into my essay (or at least all of them), it's long enough as it is. But here they are, for your reading pleasure:

Did you ever read FOR TEXAS AND ZED by Zach Hughes? (Popular Library, 1976) It's my all time favorite in the SF-about-Texas sub-genre, and it's a pretty good story to boot!

From the jacket copy:

"Spacemen from Texas on Earth had settled this remote planet centuries ago. While the rest of the galaxy was being divided between two vast warring empires, Planet Texas preserved its
independence, created its own unique civilization, developed its own advanced technology. But now all that Planet Texas was and all that it believed in were threatened, as the super-powers of space moved in for the kill."

William Rotsler's space western novel (THE FAR FRONTIER?)?

Eric Frank Russell, "The Illusionaries," PLANET STORIES 11/51, reprinted in Andre Norton's anthology SPACE PIONEERS.

David Drake's Hammer Slammer spinoff, The Sharp End, though set in a galaxy far far away, was structured along the lines of Sergio Leone's western, Fistful of Dollars.

Julian F. Grow:
The Fastest Gun Dead (ss) If Mar 1961
The 7th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F, ed. Judith Merril, Simon &
Schuster 1962
The Sword of Pell the Idiot (nv) F&SF Apr 1967
The Starman of Pritchard’s Creek (nv) If Dec 1968
Bonita Egg (nv) F&SF Sep 1969
Formula for a Special Baby (nv) F&SF Dec 1969

Phyllis Eisenstein's "In the Western Tradition". Wonderful story. (A time viewer story, one of my pet categories.) F&SF, March 1981

William F. Wu's story and novel of a robot in the west: "Hong's Bluff" and HONG ON THE RANGE.

I dug out Eric Frank Russell's "The Illusionaries" (PLANET STORIES 1951, reprinted in Andre Norton's anthology SPACE PIONEERS), and that's the category it falls into also. Aliens land on
earth, are accustomed to enslaving lesser species by controlling their perceptions, try it on humans and it works fine, but decide that they can't make it work, get in their spaceship, and check out.
The end of the story suggests that the humans have been creating an illusion for the aliens and invokes Wyatt Earp and Jesse James.

All of Quinn Yarbro's vampire novels are historicals as well, and "In the Face of Death" is set muchly in the West of American Indians and San Francisco pre-Civil War ... and in the South during the war.

Howard Waldrop, with "Night of the Cooters" (Omni, April '87; also in the Waldrop collection NIGHT OF THE COOTERS, and in Kevin J. Anderson's GLOBAL DISPATCHES anthology) which has Texas Rangers battling H.G. Wells' Martian invaders -- of WAR OF THE WORLDS fame -- at the same time they are landing elsewhere on Earth (1898?). A gem.

Anybody yet mention Jonathan Lethem, _Girl in Landscape_ (1998), which makes complicated (but perfectly recognizeable) play with _The Searchers_ .

WiIliam Tenn's story "Eastward Ho!" which, I think, was about the Indians crowding the white man out of America.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bibliographical problem: Hugh B. Cave in Finnish

I just posted a short bibliography of the short stories by Hugh B. Cave that were translated and published in Finnish in my bibliographical sidekick blog here. None of the stories show up in any reliable Cave bibliography and he himself didn't remember them, when I had the opportunity to interview him just a month before he died. So, if anyone here can identify these stories, I'd be most grateful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stack of Robert E. Howards

I bought these nice items couple weeks ago. You can easily guess we don't usually have this stuff here in Finland. And what's nice is that I got them cheap.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Charles Beckman (1920-2015)

I just heard from James Reasoner that Charles Beckman died two weeks ago. He was probably the last real pulp magazine writer alive - I can't think of anyone else, after Hugh B. Cave, Jack Williamson, Frank Kelly, Ray Bradbury, and Elmore Leonard have all passed away.

Beckman's career wasn't straight-forward. He wrote for the crime and western pulps, he wrote for the sleaze houses in the mid-to-late sixties, he wrote for the men's magazines, he wrote for the romance publishers with his wife, he also wrote some non-fiction on jazz - he was a jazz drummer first. Beckman's first published short story was "Strictly Poison" in Detective Tales, October 1945.

Beckman got active just before the end, compiling two collections of his old pulp tales: Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers, and Saddles, Sixguns & Shootouts. I have the first one, but haven't had time to check into it. Note also the new biography Pulp Jazz available from CreateSpace. The book also seems to have a bibliography of Beckman's writing, but I thought I'd also include one myself, here at my bibliographic sidekick blog.

I also published Beckman myself. I put out a small booklet (see above) containing two of his stories, a noirish hardboiled pulp story "Die Dancing, Kid!" (Detective Tales, January 1947) and a more thoughtful "Class Reunion" (AHMM, June 1973). The first one was published originally in Finnish in a magazine called Seikkailujen Maailma (The World of Adventures) and the translator remains unknown. The latter one was translated by my friend Tapani Bagge and published in a short-lived crime fiction mag RikosPalat (CrimeBits) in the late eighties. Both were republished by permission from Mr. Beckman himself, with thanks to James Reasoner and Walker Martin!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview on Women Crime Writers

Here's Cullen Callagher's nice interview with Sarah Weinman on her 2-volume anthology Women Crime Writers. Check it out, it's a very good interview with interesting points.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Jack MacLane: Goodnight, Moom

I was lucky to find this almost ancient paperback from a junkyard sale at a comics book store here in Turku. Goodnight, Moom, published originally in 1989, is a cult item, cherished by few aficionados. And it deserves to be.

It's a sort of Frankenstein tale, set amongst the white trash of Texas. Victor Frankenstein of the book is Ed Leach, a car mechanic who abuses his wife and does nothing else but work at his garage and drink beer with his loser buddies. The monster of the book is his son, Harry, whom Ed throws against the wall when the kid is very small. Something happens to the baby and he grows up weird, not saying anything to anyone. He goes to school, but learns nothing. At one point, Harry tortures a kitten. Then he kills another child, a girl who's taken to liking him, since he's so quiet all the time. Ed decides to lock Harry up in the cellar. His mother, Harriette, takes care of the boy, but is afraid of him. And she should be... Harry breaks free and goes on a killing spree, repeating "moom" everytime full moon is up. Ed goes
after him, just like Victor Frankenstein does in Shelley's novel. It develops into a nasty mess, with Ed wanting to keep his son's misdeeds hidden.

Goodnight, Moom is a well-paced horror novel with a ghastly plot and ghastly details, but what's more important is that Jack MacLane can make Harry an interesting character, even though Harry can't speak and doesn't know any words for his strange emotions. You care for the sick, silent bastard. And you care for Harriette, his mother, and you even might care for Ed - you almost surely care for his loser buddies whom he takes with him to catch Harry.

Jack MacLane is really Bill Crider, the Texan writer, paperback collector and blogger. He used the pseudonym Jack MacLane in a string of horror books written for the now-defunct Zebra. The Texas landscape comes alive with many telling details about the wasted life of the small-town Texans. At times Crider goes into a tall-tale territory, like his friend Joe Lansdale also often does.

Goodnight, Moom is available as an e-book alongside the other Jack MacLanes Crider wrote.

One of the Jack MacLanes, Keepers of the Beast, was translated in Finnish in 1989 as Paholaisen opetuslapset in the short-lived horror series by the Viihdeviikarit publishers. There's a sheriff called Jay Reasoner in the book, but that's about all I remember from the book. Might be the time to reread it.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here or at Todd Mason's blog here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jason Starr: Savage Lane

As I've said a hundred times before, Jason Starr is one of my all-time favourite writers: nasty, twisted, funny, fluent. He's very readable and catchy, yet there's nothing amiable about his book. At the same time you really care for his characters, they are not mere pawns in the game.

Starr's newest book Savage Lane marks his return to noir thriller and does it with a wicked punch. Starr treads the same ground as Gillian Flynn, but there's nothing to suggest he's just going after a trend. This is his territory, pure and simple. 

There's something different this time, however. Savage Lane is set in the healthy suburbs, not the seedy downtown and the facile city of his earlier novels. Savage Lane is about the not-so-healthy relationships born out of the shallowness of suburban life and the self-treachery of the people inhabiting the nice homes. Starr's stablemate, sociopathic liars, figure greatly in the novel, and Starr's use the unreliable narrator is matchless. The shifts in the narration and what they reveal about the characters is laugh-out-funny. The timing is perfect. Yet there's no crime almost halfway in. When it comes, it's almost a shock - and after we've gotten over it, we start to laugh. 

Savage Lane is actually a pretty savage book. It's Desperate Housewives meets Psycho. Megan Abbott is right saying: "Who but Jason Starr could render suburban vice pitch black, sneakily endearing and wickedly funny all at once? Like James M. Cain meets Tom Perrotta, Savage Lane shows, in grand style, how twisted the hearts of All-American families can be, and how those picket white fences can be dangerously sharp."

Read more about the book at the Polis Books site (they seem to be doing good work bringing out new noir and hardboiled thrillers, alongside the more traditional ones) and at LitReactor where Keith Rawson has some nice things to say about the book. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Gil Brewer: The Red Scarf

A Crest reprint
Gil Brewer was one of the best crime and noir paperbackers of the fifties and early sixties. I've read several of his novels in Finnish translation and liked them all. They are fast and plausible, and the protagonists have to overcome some heavy obstacles in their way.

Same goes for The Red Scarf (1958). It was published in hardcover by Mystery House, a cheap lending-library publisher that paid $300 for the book, after it was rejected by Brewer's usual publisher, Fawcett Gold Medal, and other paperback publishers. Still it's an outstanding book, one of Brewer's best, which is saying a lot. This is one of those books where your typical lower middle-class working person gets into a trouble, can't find his (or her) way out of it and just digs his hole deeper and deeper. In The Red Scarf the protagonist is a nice young man who runs a motel with his wife. They have no money and it seems there won't be the new highway that was promised when they bought the motel. Then a femme fatale comes in, with loads of money. It's just that the money belongs to the mob. (You'll find a longer description of the book at Mystery*File, by Bill Pronzini and Lynn Munroe.)

The Red Scarf is very well paced and tightly written little monster of a book. Before I read it, I was struggling with another book from the same era and thinking they must be all like this, but I was delighted to find Brewer's book just blew me away. I couldn't stop reading. The most important thing about this kind of a book is that it remains believable through the end - and the ending is not the most happy one.

By the way, Gil Brewer doesn't have a Wikipedia article! Quick, someone!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Old issues of Paperback Parade

Paperback Parade is (was?) a periodical magazine devoted to the study of old paperbacks and the culture surrounding them. It is (or was) published by Gary Lovisi, author and the head honcho of Gryphon Books. One could actually call it a fanzine, since there are lots of fannish elements in the magazine, such as a long letter column in the start of each issue. It's an interesting magazine, full of intriguing info and tit-bits on obscure authors. Some of the articles in Paperback Parade were the first ones to praise such now classic authors such as Peter Rabe and Bruno Fischer.

I've had six issues on loan from my friend Tapani Bagge for several years now, and taking a break from work, I decided to finally read them. I think I've read some of the articles earlier and used them in my books Pulpografia and Kuudestilaukeavat (Six-Guns). There's stuff in the articles that I don't recall reading, though, so it was good to go back to them anyway.

Popular Library reprint
Paperback Parades are a mixed bunch. Some of the articles are very well done and thorough, others are mere scratches, with bibliographical listings (they are sometimes pretty difficult to follow, but I know it's difficult to do a good bibliography). Some of the texts really don't tell much about the books themselves, as they deal more with dates, editions and cover illustrations. Same goes for the authors. There's a short review by Lovisi of a book called Shadow of a Hero by Allan Chase (Popular Library, 1951). We learn nothing about Allan Chase, we get only a synopsis of the book and a recommendation: "an exceptionally well-written book, hardboiled, fascinating - and a very plausible look at big-town politics." Maybe there wasn't much information on Chase available in 2001, when the issue #55 came out. (BTW, I'm wondering if this is our Chase.)

One thing kept sticking in my eye: Lovisi and other contributors often refer to paperback reprints of the earlier hardcover editions as if they are the true first editions. This happens for example in the interview with crime writer Henry Slesar, Lovisi seems to be more interested in the Zenith reprint of Slesar's crime novel The Gray Flannel Shroud than the fact it's not really paperback fiction. Luckily Slesar steers Lovisi on the right route and mentions the book came out first from Random House in hardcover. (The Zenith reprint has a great cover, though!) And Shadow of a Hero was also a reprint, hardcover coming out in 1949.

The Zenith reprint
But aside from this, it's an absolute delight to have interviews with writers such Peter Rabe, Bruno Fischer, Jonathan Latimer, William F. Nolan, A. S. "Sid" Fleischmann, Ted Gottfried (AKA Ted Mark, the writer of The Man from O.R.G.Y.) and Slesar. Also the British paperbacker and editor Laurence James is interviewed.

There's also a fascinating look at writing for lower markets in the interview with Morris Hershman. The interview with Peter Rabe by George Tuttle was very interesting and possibly one of the first instances where Rabe was taken seriously. Rabe mentions in the interview that he wrote some short stories in his later years, but didn't aim for publication. I started to wonder whether the manuscripts have survived and could be publishable. There's also Tuttle's essay on Rabe. By the way, Rabe mentions he really appreciated Donald Westlake's essay on Rabe in Murder Off the Rack, a very good book with ten essays on paperback crime writers. Get it if you don't already have it. Alongside Rabe there are also essays on Jonathan Latimer and W. R. Burnett. The interview with Bruno Fischer mentions his socialist affiliations (he was the editor of Socialist Call), but doesn't go further into the issue, I'd really like to hear more about this.

Some other points of interest: Graeme Flanagan's article on the Australian paperback series Marc Brody (though nothing I hadn't read before, must be noted that there probably wasn't much info on the Brody books before this), interviews with illustrators Gil Cohen and Bertil Hegland (the Swedish paperback artist), a look at Holloway House (containing lots of info, though it's a bit too fannish to my taste), an article on the Gold Eagle headquarters (they seem to be closing down, not sure if I knew this before). I also enjoyed Philip Harbottle's articles on British western paperbackers and how Harbottle got them back in print through Robert Hale's Black Horse imprint, though Harbottle doesn't really say much about what the books are about and what they are like and how they compare to their American counterparts. There's also some stuff on early Australian paperbacks I could use for an upcoming book I've been planning for years.

One of the more interesting articles in Paperback Parade (in the issues I have) is "Carny Cuties and Killers" by Kurt Brokaw (he must be same guy as the film critic of The Independent, he seems to be curating the course called "Killer Movies: Lost Films"). Though the article is a bit heavy on synopses, the article is full on information on books I hadn't earlier known about. Especially Edward Hoagland's first novel Cat Man (1956, in hardcover) seems very interesting.

Paperback Parade reminds me of my own magazine, called Pulp, that I published for several years (been dead for some years now). It was smaller in size (Paperback Parade is a sturdy, almost book-like object), but I do know the effort one has to make to this kind of thing possible and to happen. Some of the articles in Pulp were not very good or even interesting, but some of them have ended in some of my books (and some still will!). There are lots of articles and essays in Paperback Parade I'd like to see reprinted in an anthology!

The issues I had in chronological order:

# 19 (1990): Bruno Fischer, Gold Eagle
# 25 (1991): Peter Rabe, Gil Cohen, Marc Brody, Arthurian saga in paperbacks,
# 29 (1992): Jonathan Latimer, William F. Nolan, Ace Capelli (British house pseudonym)
# 45 (1996): Laurence James, W. R. Burnett, Morris Hershman
# 55 (2001): Sid Fleischmann, Bertil Hegland, Holloway House
# 56 (2001): Henry Slesar, Hank Janson, Carny Cuties, Ted Mark

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog! 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Swedish paperback covers

I found some Swedish paperbacks and other books in our house's trash bin. Took them out, but decided that I had no use for them, so tossed them back. I scanned the covers, included are some tidbits on the books and writers.
Two crime covers for American paperbacks.
The right one is by the great Bertil Hegland. 

James Morris was, if I recall, the pseudonym of Niels Meyn (in the other photo),
under which he wrote a series of Tarzan copies with Jukan.
I don't know who Jack Morris was.
Alibi-magazinet was a Swedish digest-sized fictionmag,
devoted to crime stories. Each issue had one story.

Niels Meyn was a Danish author, mainly of children's books.
This scifi title means "Around the World in 80 Hours".
See his Wikipedia page here.

Vernon Warren wrote pseudo-American private eye books
in the fifties, his hero was called Brandon. Not quite bad, actually,
I've read one and would possibly read another.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Black Rainbow (1989)

I watched this unknown gem from a VHS cassette I bought from a thrift store. The quality of the cassette was better than could be expected, no one had probably watched the film before me, which kind of makes me sad.

Black Rainbow tells about a medium (Rosanna Arquette) and her alcoholic father (Jason Robards), who travel somewhere in the forgotten parts of the United States, and put up shows where Arquette takes contact with the dead people, normally the loved ones of the members of the audience. Two things take place: Arquette starts talking with the dead persons who are not yet dead, and someone starts killing them at the same time. The premise is clever and it's pretty well developed, taking the story to directions one wouldn't easily guess. There are some very good scenes between Arquette and Robards, and some of the scenes from the clairvoyance show are silently thrilling, getting close to horror. Tom Hulce plays a reporter, who suddenly starts to believe in Arquette's powers. The main actors are believable.

Black Rainbow was directed by the English Mike Hodges. Hodges has done some very good films, like Get Carter and Croupier. Then he has done some outrageous camp classics, such as Flash Gordon (though it was done intentionally, I'm sure). Black Rainbow is surely one of his better films, a serious look at abuse and exploitation, not only at the clairvoyance shows, but also on a larger scale. It's a pity the film is not better known, as it didn't get a proper release at the time (Hodges seems to be suffering from this even now, since the same thing happened to Croupier). The film has been released on DVD, but some of the editions are no better than a VHS cassette.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here (as soon as he gets the post done, I'm sure).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Martin M. Goldsmith: Detour (1939)

The film made from Martin M. Goldsmith's novel Detour is far from forgotten. Detour by Edgar G. Ulmer from 1945 is actually one of the better-known film noirs of its era, though it's been erroneously labeled as an extra-cheap quickie. It's now known that Ulmer exaggerated his tight budget and claimed the film was shot in a week, although it took longer than that. This is all well explained even in the Wikipedia article for the film. It also states that the film was shown regularly on television throughout the sixties and seventies, which explains why it was picked up by the first American critics of film noir, such as Paul Schrader, when other equally interesting films were neglected.

But the original novel by Martin M. Goldsmith is a different story altogether. The book was published in 1939 by Macaulay (a lending library publisher, if I'm not mistaken) and getting no reprints until the small press did it in 2005. This is astonishing, given the quality of the book. It's a moving tale of two persons living during the depression, trying to make ends meet. The other one, Alexander Roth, is a violinist trying to get to Hollywood to meet his girl friend living in Los Angeles. The girl, Sue Harvey, is a wanna-be actress, who hates her agent and is working in a diner. Alexander hitches his way across the continent, looking like a bum. He's picked up by a strange man, who has lots of cash and smokes joints. The man dies in his sleep and Alexander is left on nothing. He suspects that if he notifies the police, no one would believe he's innocent. He takes the money and the car, but meets a strange girl, named Vera. Vera reveals he also travelled with the dead man and hence know Alexander is not who he says he is. Vera is one of the meanest bitches in written word, and I'm not saying this lightly. The way Goldsmith paints her with words just makes your blood go chilly. The hate and lack of interest in anything (but money) ooze from her.

The first edition from 1939

Alex Roth is an amiable young man, if not something of a bore, and Goldsmith gives him a plausible voice. Sue, on the other hand, is not so amiable. She's a bit of a gold-digger, but also very earnest at that. The novel is written in terse and hardboiled vernacular, and the story races along smoothly largely through point-of-view narration. The depression era with all its worn-out ramblers comes alive in the pages of the book. When the film was made in 1945, the story of Sue Harvey was dropped alongside with references to sex and drugs. The book ends in an open note, in the end of the film the police pick up Al (changed from Alexander). Otherwise the film is pretty faithful.

Detour was republished, as I said, by a small publisher called O'Bryan House. They seem to have done only two books, according to this. Detour has its share of formatting errors, seems like they haven't done enough editing for the scanned text. Nevertheless, this was a very welcome reprint, a forgotten classic that should stay in print.

Here's Bill Pronzini on Goldsmith's two other crime novels, and here's Steve Lewis's review of Detour. And here's (also on Mystery*File) the foreword by Richard Doody for the O'Bryan House reprint.

More Forgotten Books for Friday found at Todd Mason's blog!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Megan Abbott on why women love crime

This nice essay by Megan Abbott is related to the wonderful-looking collection The Women Crime Writers, edited by Sarah Weinman, that just came out. And Abbott's essay is worth reading as well.

Sarah Weinman was wondering in one of her Crime Lady e-mails whether there have been substantial female domestic suspense writers outside the US and UK. I got to thinking about this (lazily, I must admit), and I haven't come up with any contenders. Many female Finnish crime writers of the time period of Weinman's book dabbled mostly in puzzle mysteries, but there must be some. Anyone?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Jason Starr: Twisted City

Jason Starr has long been one of my favourite writers, and I can't help but fall in love with his plots. I picked up his Twisted City that I hadn't previously read and showed the back cover copy to my wife, grinning widely and saying: "This sure sounds like my kind of book!" It says: "Times are tough for David Miller, a journalist for a second-rate financial magazine who hates his boss, is tired of supporting his girlfriend's partying lifestyle and recently lost his sister to cancer. But things are about to get much worse."

David loses his wallet in a bar after a failed attempt at picking up a woman, and some days later a woman calls him and says she's got his wallet. David goes to a seedy neighborhood and meets Sue, who seems to be a junkie. She's asking lots of money for David's wallet. David goes to a bank to raise money and when he gets back, he's attacked by Sue's maniacally jealous boyfriend. After that, things really go wrong. It's a hell of a ride for David, and while everything's pretty dark and hopeless for our hero, you can't but laugh at his tribulations. Everything goes worse no matter what David does, even though there's one chance he could make things right, but he blows it too. The end is really, really nasty.

Jason Starr writes and plots with ease, and he's deceptive. Every time you think you miss a hole in the plot, it gets explained. The book moves with a breakneck pace and there's no empty page. This is a brilliant noir novel, once again. It's a damn shame my efforts to get Starr translated in Finnish have proven futile, but I'm still trying.

I read the 2005 printing from No Exit with a pretty bland cover, but their new covers for Starr's backlist are so stupendous (see above) I'm almost thinking I'd buy the whole set.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Cornell Woolrich's "It Had to Be Murder" and Hal Jeffries

I read Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder" yesterday due to my book project on books (and seemingly short stories also) that were filmed. Woolrich's story (that, by the way, doesn't differ so much from Hitchcock's subsequent film Rear Window as is usually thought) was published in Dime Detective in February, 1942. It features Hal Jeffries (L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries in the film) as the hero, stuck in a wheelchair just like James Stewart in the film. Stewart's Jeffries is a photographer, but Woolrich doesn't give his hero any professional traits, but he knows the police and the lieutenant is his personal friend. The ending climax is a bit different from the film, as Jeffries of the short story doesn't have the photographic equipment Stewart uses in the film to distract Raymond Burr's Thorwald. One notable difference: Jeffries's hired help is an African-American man, not Thelma Ritter of the film.

I just got to thinking Woolrich may have written more stories that feature Hal Jeffries. There's something about the story to make me think he was familiar to the readers of Dime Detective. I can't find any info on this, however. There's no Hal Jeffries in the series index at the Crime, Mystery, & Gangster Fiction Magazine Index, so I'm must surely wrong, but I'd really appreciate if someone could confirm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Split Second (1992)

Split Second is a B- or C-grade action/horror flick that should've been made in the eighties, but it came out only in 1992. For some reason or another, the film came to Finnish cinema theaters and I managed to see it. I remember thinking it was somewhat entertaining, but I also remember everyone else saying it was pure crap.

I picked the VHS up free from a thrift store and wanting to see something light, I decided to watch Split Second. It didn't very well hold up my interest this time, even though I'm ready to admit it was still somewhat entertaining. I found myself Googling bits of info on the film and its director, Tony Maylam, on my phone throughout the film, so I wasn't actually glued to the screen.

The story takes place in a near future, and the climate change has made London flood all over the place. An alien is on a killing spree and leaving mysterious signs behind, and tough loner cop Rutger Hauer is the only one who realizes they are not up against an ordinary man. The signs aren't however satisfactorily explained, maybe they were just a red herring. There's some banter between Hauer and his partner, a nerdy young guy who's just fresh from the academy (some fresh ideas in the film, huh?), but overall it's disappointing. Hauer's cop acts at times like an incompetent moron. I'm not sure I would assign him to any case. The alien, when it finally reveals itself, is quite poorly and badly made. Editing and shooting in darkness help a little, but not much. The monster in this film should've been huge! If I were rating this, I'd give it a ** or even *½.

However, I got to thinking that Split Second might have influenced my writing, at least on a subconscious level. My debut novel (well, my commercially published debut novel), called Jumalten tuho in Finnish (meaning "Twilight of the Gods") is about an alien (not a space alien, though, more like a monster from Christianity's darkest secrets) on a killing spree, ripping its victims wide open. There's also a tough cop almost alone working on a case. Of course there are dozens of films and books written about similar stuff, but maybe I saw Split Second during a sensitive phase (insert smiley here). If I saw it in 1992, that's about the same time I started writing the short story that gradually became my novel.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin as domestic suspense

Domestic suspense is a sub-genre that I've been long interested in. I've earlier dubbed it female noir, but I've never really been satisfied with that moniker, so "domestic suspense", coined by mystery maven Sarah Weinman, comes really handy. Weinman writes in her website dedicated to her excellent anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives:

It’s a genre of books published between World War II and the height of the Cold War, written by women primarily about the concerns and fears of women of the day. These novels and stories operate on the ground level, peer into marriages whose hairline fractures will crack wide open, turn ordinary household chores into potential for terror, and transform fears about motherhood into horrifying reality. They deal with class and race, sexism and economic disparity, but they have little need to show off that breadth.
Instead, they turn our most deep-seated worries into narrative gold, delving into the dark side of human behavior that threatens to come out with the dinner dishes, the laundry, or taking care of a child. They are about ordinary, everyday life, and that’s what makes these novels of domestic suspense so frightening. The nerves they hit are really fault lines.

I recently read, due to a book project I've been working, Lionel Shriver's best-selling novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. I saw the film earlier, and I liked both a great deal. They are somewhat different, the film being a condensed version of the slightly too long novel, but very effective nonetheless. I got to thinking that Shriver's novel is a very good example of contemporary domestic suspense: it's about the concerns and fears of women, it operates on the ground level, peers into a marriage whose hairline fractures will crack open, et cetera. You get the drift. The suspense, the horror of the novel comes out with the dinner dishes, the laundry and especially taking care of a child. And this particular child is horrendous.

I won't spoil the book (or the film), there's enough information on it in the web, but even though I'd seen the film earlier, I was very captivated by the novel and its slowly unfolding secrets, to the very end.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The crime fiction issue of the Human Journal

Seems interesting, at least the lengthy interview with Michael Connelly. There's also an article about John P. Marquand's Mr. Moto series. Check it out here!

By the way, I got this link from one of Sarah Weinman's delightfully informative posts on her The Crime Lady e-mail list. Do subscribe to it here! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

For a Raymond Chandler completist

Raymond Chandler just had a birthday couple days back. Here's a book I ran into, looks like a must have for any Chandler completist. It's a Finnish school book for students of English language, published in 1986, with a pulp magazine story by Chandler up front! The texts are in original English, though they may have been slightly edited. There's also the table of contents, it seems like a nice collection of varied crime stories. I don't know who did the cover.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Randy Johnson

Only now I notice this. Naturally I never met Randy Johnson, but his blog and Facebook posts sure felt like he was a nice buy. Certainly he was knowledgeable and supportive. Here's to him!

PS. Sorry for not posting anything on my own for the past months or so. Even during the holidays I find myself swamped with work. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ten best noir novels of the 21st century

Eric Beetner has a pretty good list. I've read five (Starr, Phillips, Zeltserman, Rector, Max Phillips), and also two of the ones bubbling under (Megan Abbott and James Sallis).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Megan Abbott interviewing Patti Abbott

I really loved this small item: Megan Abbott interviewing her mother, Patricia Abbott, on their family reading habits, her (Megan's) tuition into crime fiction and lots of other matters. I still have Patricia's first novel, Concrete Angel, to read, but I will in the near future.

Monday, June 22, 2015

True Detective's opening credits

I know this is starting today in the US and also in different streaming sites around the world, but I'll be lagging behind, I know. Just watched these credits today and all I can say is "vow!" Leonard Cohen's song is also very nice, atmospheric and gripping.

True Detective Season 2 Main Titles from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Three flash stories by David Terrenoire

Been working my ass off lately, since I was commissioned to a write a non-fiction book in a month. The Spring of 2015 was otherwise a lazy Spring, I got only three books out, one of these being a self-published pamphlety thing. The other two were a reprint of an old erotic old short story by a Finnish writer called Larin-Kyösti and a collection of Reino Helismaa's adventure stories. There's also a recent collection of my stories written as by Jaakko Ensio, with private eye Mikko Jarmo as the hero, but it's only POD and the stories are light-weight fun at best. I have some two books coming still during the Summer, the other being a collection of jokes I edited and the collected works of Mikael X. Messi, my pornographic alter ego. More on this later.

Didn't mean to brag about my work, instead I was going to say a word about this: I just sent a book by David Terrenoire to the printers. It's a small, 16-page collection of his flash stories, called Hyvä naapurusto, after his story "A Family Neighborhood". Two of the stories, "Sacrifice and the ACC" and "The Fire", were earlier published in my crime fiction mag, Isku, but "A Family Neighborhood" hasn't been available in Finnish prior to this. "The Fire" was also published in Kaikki valehtelevat, the collection of the translated short stories that came out in Isku, and "Sacrifice and the ACC" is still coming out in a small book I put together from the stories I ran in Ässä, my flash fiction magazine. (More on that later.)

David Terrenoire is a very good writer whom I'd like to see getting more praise. His only novel Beneath a Panamanian Moon is a nice thriller, but we'd love to see more. He's very good at short lengths also, as these stories prove. Mind you, these stories were first published in the web in now-defunct on-line fiction mags, and I don't think you can find any of them anywhere. I was very happy to send two of the stories to David himself, as he'd lost his files they were contained in. (One of the stories I had only in Finnish translation, which was too bad.)

The cover is by me. I snatched the photograph from an old Finnish arms and ammunition mag I found in the trash bin.

I've got some other weird stuff cooking also. I've got a collection of Finnish aviation stories coming out, with four stories by one Maunu Jorva, about whom I know nothing, except that he wrote four expertly done aviation pulp stories in 1941.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: a few Finnish neo-noirs

Some weeks ago The Festival of Finnish Cinema showed some Finnish films that can be labeled as neo-noir. This was continuation from the last year's theme of Finnish film noir. Last year only films from the studio era were shown, now the films were mainly from the eighties and nineties, with one film from 1978 and one from 2011.

Kaurismäki: Crime and Punishment
The first one shown was Aki Kaurismäki's debut feature based on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The film was made in 1983 and already shows the sureness of Kaurismäki. His style has changed somewhat after this, but it's still clearly his film. The spare narration, tight frames and the matter-of-factness of the dialogue are pure Kaurismäki. The film, taking place in Helsinki in the 1980s, is a bit like B-movie shot in only a few days, but it still packs quite a punch and remains one of Kaurismäki's best up to this day. Kaurismäki has some other films that could be labeled as neo-noir, such as Ariel, Hamlet Goes Business (even though it's pure comedy from the start) and I Hired a Contract Killer, in which a quiet man (Jean-Pierre Leaud) asks a hired killer to finish him off. There's also the TV movie Dirty Hands made from Sartre's play, which might also qualify, but I haven't seen it. 

Pauli Pentti produced and co-scripted and worked as assistant director in many of Kaurismäki's films, and he directed two neo-noirs in the eighties. Both were shown at the festival. Pimeys odottaa (Darkness Awaits, 1985) is perhaps the most quintessential Finnish neo-noir, strange drama of a young man who gets caught up in scheming and betrayal. The story unfolds a bit uneasily, but there's still lots of interest in the urbane film. Macbeth, made almost hand in hand with Kaurismäki Hamlet Goes Business in 1987, takes Shakespeare's nasty little tale into the late eighties' Helsinki. Macbeth in the film is the leader of the gang of criminals who rob empty houses and gas stations at the sea-side. The film is nicely photographed, but it's unfortunately marred by unclear narration of events. If you don't know the story beforehand, it's possible you don't really understand what goes on in Pentti's Macbeth

Pekka Hyytiäinen was an indie director, who made only three feature-length films two of which were shown at the festival. His first, Kirje (The Letter, 1978), was his most successful, as it was seen by 600 people when it opened! There are interesting elements in this psychological thriller, but the film is so slow there's actually no tension at all. Only glimpses of what was to come are seen on screen. Hyytiäinen's next, strangely titled 50-minute i + i (1981), is much more interesting. It's almost a collage of experiences in the life of a young man who's morbidly interested in suicide and dying. There's no coherent story line and it's difficult to tell what's going on in the film, as some of the film stock was almost destroyed by the laboratory, but the scenes were used nevertheless. i + i was seen by some 400 people in the premiere week after which it vanished almost completely. 

Hyytiäinen's best film, MP - minä pelkään (I Am Scared, 1983) was shown afterwards in the Finnish Film Archive's series, and it's ten or even hundred times more powerful than i + i. It's a dystopian horror tale set in a near future. There's possibly a war going on somewhere of which there are some really strange news on TV. A small family is trying to have a vacation at their summer cabin, and the reality and the dreams and nightmares of the family mingle with each other. MP is a very experimental film with some haunting imagery. It's an uneven piece of work (especially the actors are not up to their tasks), yet unlike any other film made in Finland, still it was seen only by some 300 people in 1983. After it was dug out from the archives some five years ago, it's been seen by more people than during its few weeks in the 1980s.

Tallinnan pimeys (The Darkness in Tallinn, 1993) by Ilkka Järvi-Laturi is more a suspense film than a proper neo-noir, but it was shown nevertheless, as it is not often seen and it's not out on DVD. I didn't watch the film at this time, but I saw when it came out. It's a well done caper movie set in Tallinn just after Estonia declared independence from Russia. Ilkka Järvi-Laturi's debut movie Kotia päin (Homeward, 1989) is also worth a look if you're interested in Finnish neo-noir, as is his History Is Made at Night (1999), but it's also so bad it practically ruined his career and he hasn't directed since. 

All the previous films were over 20 years old, but there was still one neo-noir more from 2011: Martón Jelinko's indie film Pystyssä (Indebted) that wasn't shown in Turku during its premiere week, so this was its proper premiere in this city. Jelinko, a Hungarian-born film-maker working in Finland, was at the screening and told how this movie was made with only 8,000 euros and how it was distributed without any funding from the Finnish Film Foundation (that's almost the only way to get your film properly distributed here). Jelinko also told his biggest influence in making Indebted was Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher trilogy, which to my mind is a recommendation. Indebted tells the story of two young women, the other working for a crime gang, the other working as a prostitute to pay her bills. It's hard-hitting movie with a recklessly moving camera and some tough violence. The ending is bleak, as befits a neo-noir movie. Indebted is not going to be released on DVD or Blu-Ray, but you can watch it at Indieflix. Comes highly recommended by me. 

There could've been more neo-noirs to be shown in the festival, but there were time and schedule restrictions. Some films, such as Veikko Aaltonen's two or three stylish and hard-hitting crime films, were shown during earlier festivals. I mention some other films in the post on studio-era film noirs; link at the top of this post.

More Overlooked Movies here

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The new English translation of Linna's Unknown Soldiers

Remember I wrote about Väinö Linna's war novel Tuntematon sotilas AKA The Unknown Soldier a while back? Check it out here. I mentioned at the end of my blog post that the new English translation by Liesl Yamaguchi is on its way. It's been out some weeks now, and the first reviews have come out. Here's the first one, from Independent. It's not overtly positive, but there's not much contextualizing in the review. The critic writes like it's a new book. And I had no problem with the multitude of characters, maybe it's because the critic is too accustomed to the habit of new novels introducing the characters a tad too carefully?

There's also the issue of the slang being translated in another language. It's never easy. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was translated in the seventies so that the African-Americans spoke the Turku region dialect (which to many sounds funny), the same with cockney in Stoker's Dracula. It's annoying and distracting and only mildly funny. So one can understand the difficulties the translator of Linna's war novel had to come over, since there are so many dialects in the book.

But do note that the new translation is called Unknown Soldiers, not "The Soldier", as the previous, reportedly bad piece of work. I was told, by the way, that the earlier translation should've been better. Alex Matson, whom I mention in my earlier post, wanted his name left out from the book after the publishers botched his work and cut several pieces from the text.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A Most Violent Year

I'd be a rich man, if I was given a nickel every time I hear someone say that they don't make movies for adults anymore. How about trying some of these new crime films, like Prisoners or Mud or A Most Violent Year?

The last one, directed by J.C. Chandor, is a very serious film taking place in 1981, with Oscar Isaac playing a business man trying to make it big and keeping it honest, even though he's married to a mob princess. The police are interested in what he's doing, and someone is hijacking his gas trucks. There's only little violence, only one car chase, but plenty of tension and threat hovering over our hero - who's not a hero in the least, but he's no scumbag either. There's lots of interesting ambivalence in the people of the film, and in the end we are not wiser. There's a clever twist in the end, which you may or may not notice.

Chandor writes and directs with ease and sureness, which makes me want to check out his earlier films, All Is Lost (with no other actors than Robert Redford) and Margin Call.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stacks of crime books found in a trash bin

Been busy as hell. But I found some extra time when a friend of mine alerted me that her father, writer and critic, had to throw out his English-language crime novels. My friend said I might be interested, the books are in the trash bin of their house and easily available. I jumped on my bike and rode over to the other side of the town.

Lo and behold! There were some 200 books, mostly hardcover, in the trash bin, lots of American and British authors, with some very interesting writers included. I climbed in the bin and started unloading the books. There were so many I phoned a friend of mine who's a taxi driver. He said he's close by and can come to pick the books and take them to our house. When I got back home, I started going through the books. I picked up all the hardboiled and noir books, alongside with the thrillers, and let my friend have all the cozy ones. I didn't know all the books or the writers, but here are my stacks. What say you? Any stinkers in there I should get rid of?

There is a story behind the books. The writer (whom I actually also konw) has worked as a reader for a publisher in Finland and these (or at least most of them) were books that the foreign publishers and authors' agents had sent to Finland for a translation. I think almost none of these books ended up in being published, with the exception of Robert B. Parker's Poodle Springs (and that's the first edition). You note there's a small stack of Black Lizards in one of the photos. In one of them was a note from the Finnish publisher: "Could you read these and comment if they make any sense? They feel like pulp paperbacks."

Some of the books are ARCs, but I don't mind. I notice there are some rarities, like a book by Tom Kakonis, and William DeAndrea's The Werewolf Murders. I believe the Black Lizards aren't very common. Haven't checked these particular titles, though. Even the cozies included lots of uncommon titles, for example lots of first editions of British crime novels published in hardcover by Hale.

I hurt my left leg climbing out of the trash bin, so these didn't come free.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Tales of Ordinary Madness

Charles Bukowski hasn't been a favourite of mine for over 20 years. I liked his books when I was 15 or so, but then they wore me out with their machismo. And then came Pulp, a very bad pastiche of hardboiled crime novel, which wasn't funny in the least. I might reread some of his novels in the near future, but we'll see if I really can make it. I remember, though, that Bukowski is a very easy and quick read.

All this leads me to the first film version of Bukowski's work. I saw Marco Ferreri's Tales of Ordinary Madness, based on a short story collection from the early seventies, already in 1986 or 1987, but just last night I saw it again. I didn't remember anything from it, save from the scene in which Ornella Muti pierces her cheek with a huge needle.

Tales of Ordinary Madness proved to be a pretty good film. Ben Gazzara is wonderful (if you can call him that) as Charles Serking (meaning Henry Chinaski, but they couldn't use the character's real name, due to the fact that Taylor Hackford owned it at that time). Serking is a sleazebag of a man, stalker, rapist, drunk, loudmouth, cynical asshole with nothing good to say about anyone. Yet we feel something for him, when he meets Cass, played by gorgeous Ornella Muti, a wreck of a human being working as a prostitute. Serking falls in love with Cass, and problems ensue. The film ends in a tragedy after Serking is lured to New York by a big publishing house, but he doesn't want to work for them.

Bukowski started where David Goodis left off. There's indeed something noirish in Tales of Ordinary Madness, its view of people of the streets, with no hope, with only their lust and booze. This is enhanced by Serking's hardboiled monologue with sentences out of a neo-noir novel. Gazzara's voice is low and brutal and he works well on those consonants.

Tales of Ordinary Madness, filmed in the US, but made with European money, is no B-grade flick. The decorations of Dante Ferretti and the photography of Tonino Delli Colli make sure it looks good even in the lowest depths of mankind.

More Overlooked Films here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The left-wing and the right-wing definitions of noir

Here's Dave Zeltserman's (wonderful author) interesting essay on the definition of noir at the Artery site. Zeltserman emphasises what an individual, possibly or preferably sick or at least doomed, does to his or her own life. He argues against Dennis Lehane's social class theory of noir, where the failure of man is explained by the circumstances of life, which one cannot influence easily or not at all. Zeltserman is backed up by Otto Penzler, who says: "Noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed."

Zeltserman's is what I should call a right-wing theory of noir. There's been a lively discussion over Zeltserman's essay at this Facebook site, and people like Vicki Hendricks (wonderful author) and Woody Haut (wonderful noir and pulp essayist) have been saying most interesting things. The Facebook discussion is public, so I thought I could link it here and quote it. Here's Woody Haut's comment (after which he says: "Does that make sense?") which, to my mind, illustrates what could be the left-wing definition of noir: "Taking into account society as a whole and the forces at work that produce a noir sensibility. To put it bluntly, social issues inevitably become individual issues. Penzler’s definition is as comprehensive as they come, and easier to digest, but only so far as the individual. On the other hand, that's what noir is invariably about. But, in the end, even though he expresses it in simplistic terms, Lehane’s statement ends up being a deeper concept, if only because the social and the individual can’t be separated."

Further on, Woody Haut says that the psychological struggle (that Zeltserman emphasises) and the social issues can't be separated, both affect each other. The background of many noir stories is minimal and sparse, like in Double Indemnity Zeltserman mentions in the discussion, but I don't think this is not not being about social or class issues. I think Woody Haut nails it when he says: social issues become individual issues. The anxiety of one's place in the society, the urge to move upward, even with the help of violence, the frustration or the anger of what one has become when not wanting to on in the society, these are both social and individual issues. In the right-wing theory of noir, these losers are losers because that's all they can do, in the left-wing theory, the same losers are losers because there's no other possilibity for them in the society, be they rich or poor.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mark Coggins on The Long Goodbye

I was just writing on Chandler's The Long Goodbye for a forth-coming book I've started working on, and Googling for some references I found this interesting article by Mark Coggins on Chandler writing the novel. Well worth checking out!

(Sorry for not blogging. I'll try to get something done in the near future.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Luis Buñuel: Él

I've always loved Luis Buñuel's films, they are very fluent and his direction is almost invisible, yet they are full of surrealistic imagery and atmosphere, even though the events in the films aren't necessarily surrealistic or even weird themselves.

One of Buñuel's best films, to my mind, is this weird little melodrama Él, made in Mexico in 1952. Buñuel's Mexican period clearly was one of his most creative periods, even though there were no dull phases in his career (saying this must mean he's one of the best directors in the history of cinema, almost everyone else had their dull phases). Él is a noir melodrama that's more noir that any American film noir made in 1952 - or any other year from 1933 to 1958 (I'm thinking Touch of Evil here). Él is a hard-hitting drama about a man so jealous he's willing to kill his newly-wed wife for no reason at all, he's just imagining all the things he says his wife is doing behind his back. Yet this is a very funny film, though there's nothing funny about the way the man acts. Buñuel wouldn't be Buñuel, if the film didn't also mock the society and the Catholic church that protect and almost encourage this mad behaviour. Él is a perfect analysis of the narcissistic mind, made almost 50 years before talk about narcissism became commonplace.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Glass House

I bought this movie not knowing what to expect, but it was cheap (probably 20 cents) and it had the name of Truman Capote on its cover. It was on VHS, but being an old TV movie that didn't matter much. The cast also was pretty strong, spelled wrong though some of the names were on the Finnish cassette cover ("Vice Morrow"!). The Finnish title means "The Law of the Strongest" (or "The Strong Rules"), and the description of the movie is as wrong as can be, making the film some kind of a vigilance fest.

The story behind The Glass House is interesting. Seems like Truman Capote wrote the original screenplay, but it was so bad another writer was called in, mainly award-winning Tracy Keenan Wynn, who'd later written stuff like The Longest Yard and The Drowning Pool. He tossed Capote's script out of the window and started from scratch. Because of the contract with Capote his name had to be kept on the credits (the Finnish cassette cover says it's from Capote's novel). The film was shot in a jail, with inmates working as extras and in bit parts. There's a really gritty feel to the story and atmosphere, and the ending is really bleak. No one would be able to make this on American TV anymore - or maybe, then again, a channel like HBO might. This is a very realistic movie about the jails and the struggle for power in them, and there are not many clichés in it, though there have been lots of realistic jail movies for decades. This is not action-oriented, mind you, it's more a drama with lots of violent tension in the air.

The actors are superb. Vic Morrow as the homosexual gang leader is brilliant, Alan Alda is his usual good self. Clu Culager is for once the good guy, but there are no easy solutions for him in the film. The directing is not very visual, but it's physical and effective. Tom Gries is not known for his insightful films, but his filmography might warrant a second look.

Seems like the film is easily available on DVD, but based on what I've read about other TV movies of this era (the golden era of American TV movies?), that's not always the case.

I don't know who collects nowadays the Tuesday's Overlooked Films posts, can someone shed some light on this? Todd Mason hasn't done a blog post in over a month.

EDIT: corrected Tracy Keenan Wynn's script credits.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dan Gilroy: Nightcrawler

I've been saying this a lot lately: Hollywood handles neonoir pretty well these days. Just look at this list: Prisoners, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly, Out of the Furnace... Also End of Watch and A Walk Among the Tombstones prove my point. Even True Detective (a show I still have to write about) comes from under Ellroy's shadow.

One of these very good neonoirs from Hollywood is Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler that I finally saw the other night. I liked it a great deal - I knew going in I'd like it a great deal. It's a perfect case of noir: you know from the first minute everything is going terribly wrong, but you just can't turn your eyes away. (But saying this doesn't give away the film's superbly ironic ending.) Jake Gyllenhaal is masterful as a narcissistic sociopath who believes the neo-capitalist bullshit about how one can achieve anything if he just takes everything passionately.

Highly recommended. No easy solutions in this film, nor any genre trappings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Killing of America

The Killing of America by Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan from 1982 is a controversial film that has - as far as I understand - never been seen in the US, save for some occasional screenings when it was just released. The American producers backed out on it, thinking it was too extreme and radical. In Finland the film was known mainly through the VHS cassettes that recycled from hand to hand with everyone whispering about the scenes in which real people kill real people.

The Finnish Film Archive has a beautiful 35 mm copy of the film and I just saw it last night. I was a bit surprised and disappointed at the same time. I went in thinking the film consists mainly of the serial killers being interviewed, but there's surprisingly little of this material, though there are some scenes. The Killing of America is a straightforward documentary about the gun culture in the USA, and possibly the anti-gun sentiment in it has made it a forbidden film in America.

But it's also a very grim film, full of shocking imagery and arbitrary violence, make no mistake. There are some scenes I wouldn't want to watch again, though this wasn't made for cheap thrills, like films of the Faces of Death ilk. The directors, Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan, approached the theme seriously, Schrader being a known screenwriter (and Paul Schrader's brother) and Renan being an expert on American underground cinema (he's written a book about it). The use of archive material - live TV, surveillance camera shots etc. - makes The Killing of America look at times like an experimental film.

There are, however, some serious problems with the film. The anti-gun sentiment is clear: why are there so few killing in countries like Japan and Germany? Because it's not easy to buy guns there, and families don't pack weapons at home. The Killing of America can't analyze this further, it just points it out. The killings depicted in the film should've been more tightly related to the gun culture of the US. So should've been the argument about the murders of JFK and Robert Kennedy causing a killing spree in the US. What Schrader and Renan are forgetting is the fact that the large media coverage of violence causes more violence, just like there are more suicides if there are more stories about suicides in the media. The Killing of America doesn't question its own role in this process, though one could ask: how should this thing be approached then?

These gripes considered, The Killing of America is still a fascinating film and remits a watch, if one can find a copy. The most fascinating part is the interview of Ed Kemper who talks about his killing spree in a jail. He's self-ironic and almost funny, yet deeply weird. With his new glasses he looks almost hipsterish... I was hoping the film would have more of this stuff.

As an interesting side note, some funny folks from the little town of Pori, Finland, where I grew up made this parody of The Killing of America - called Killing of Pori. Pori is a town of some 77,000 inhabitants, yet the statistics in the beginning of the film claim there are million people killed every year. (You can see the second part here.)

Edit: Oops, I totally ignored the fact that The Killing of America is available for viewing in YouTube. Check it out here. Some stupid commentary under the clip.