Category Archives: 80s American crime films

Parker on the screen #4: Slayground (1983)

SLAYGROUND, Peter Coyote, 1983, TM and copyright ©Universal Film Corp. All rights reserved

Next in my series on Don Westlake aka Richard Stark’s criminal character of Parker on the screen is the 1983 film, Slayground.

Slayground is based on the 1971 book of the same name, the 14th instalment in the first cycle of Westlake’s Parker series. I am going to put my cards on the table up front and say that while Slayground is among my least favourite of that earlier tranche of Parker novels, I think is film, however, is very good. It has very little to do with the book, but as I said early in this series, I’m not going to get hung up on how much the films adhere to their source material.

The novel depicts what happens after Parker and his criminal associates are forced to to hire a second-rate wheelman for an armoured car heist they are planning. The job goes wrong and Parker narrowly escapes the law with $74,000 from the robbery. He stumbles across an amusement park called Fun Island, closed for the winter, and figures it is as good a place as any to hide until the heat from the job dies down. A major hitch arises when a couple of corrupt cops make Parker entering the park.… Read more

Roger Donaldson double feature: Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981)

To the degree that I was familiar with the film career of director Roger Donaldson, it was probably because he made what I would argue is one of the best American thrillers of the eighties, No Way Out (1987).

Donaldson actually had a pretty lengthy and productive directorial career after he decamped to Hollywood in the early 1980s from his native New Zealand: The Bounty (1984), Marie (1985), Cocktail (1988 – a terrible but successful film which gets a pass from me only because it features another Antipodean who was making his way in the US film industry in the 1980s, Bryan Brown), the psychological thriller, White Sands (1992), the wonderful hot garbage that was his 1994 remake of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and the better than average action sci fi film, Species (1995).

But over the weekend I finally caught up with the two New Zealand films that Donaldson cut his teeth on as a director and which got him noticed internationally, Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981). I don’t want to go into too much detail but having finally watched them I wanted to write a little about them, because both of them are excellent.

Sleeping Dogs was Donaldson’s first film and tells the story of a loner, simply known as Smith (a very young Sam Neill), who is estranged from his family and living in a remote part of the country when he is reluctantly swept up in an underground revolutionary movement that is fighting against a right-wing dictatorial government that has taken over New Zealand.… Read more

“Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.” Projection Booth episode 463: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Okay everyone, time to stop watching Tiger King and get into to some quality popular culture.

Episode 463 of one my favourite film podcasts has just hit the airwaves and is on the 2005 crime film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You can access the episode in full from the Projection Booth website at this link.

I join the hardest working man in podcasting, Projection Booth host, Mike White, and crime writer, Jedidiah Ayres, to discuss this deceptively complex piece of crime cinema. Mike also did an interview with the film’s director, Shane Black.

Among the things we cover in this show are the film’s myriad of pop culture references, everything from Sunset Boulevard (1950) to the long running Mike Shayne private investigator pulp series by Brett Halliday, its links to the work of Raymond Chandler, and what one of us (okay, it was me) termed ‘the Shane Black formula’ of film making and storytelling. We also give a lot of love to his other films, particularly the misanthropic delight of The Last Boy Scout (1991), and discuss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s metafictional elements. … Read more

Rewatching French Connection II

Can we talk for a moment about just how good John Frankenheimer’s 1975 movie French Connection IIis?

It did okay but not spectacular business on release but I feel like it has never received much love from critics and crime film fans alike, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is a sequel and with few exceptions, like oft citedThe Godfather II (1974), we are always pretty meh about sequels, and rightly so.

Second, is the shadow of the 1971 original, The French Connection, which won a tonne of Oscars, including best picture, best actor for Gene Hackman as Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle, and best director for the then wunderkind, William Friedkin, and is one of the most famous, if not the most famous American crime film of the 1970s.

Third, is the director, John Frankenheimer, who started his career strong with The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Train (1964 ), but with a few exceptions – 52 Pick-Up (1986), the nasty little film he did for Canon, and The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), which I know a lot of people hate on but I love – didn’t seem to do a whole lot else of particular note. It is a filmography I have always found hard to engage with and I probably need to make more effort.… Read more

Blowback: late 1960s and 1970s pulp and popular fiction about the Vietnam War

If you are still on the fence about purchasing a copy of my new book, Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and the Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, the site CrimeReads is running a couple of extracts from the book. The first is my piece, ‘Blowback: late 1960s and 1970s pulp and popular fiction about the Vietnam War’.

The conflict in Vietnam cast a long shadow over pulp and popular fiction in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Vietnam veterans were hunted by small town redneck police in David Morrell’s 1972 novel, First Blood, dealt drugs in Vern E Smith’s The Jones Men, and staged an abortive bank heist in Dog Day Afternoon, both published in 1974. In the Lone Wolf series ex-New York cop and Vietnam veteran, Burt Wulff mounted a fourteen-book battle from 1973 to 1975 against the drug dealing criminal organisation, ‘The Network’, in which he treated the streets of America’s major cities as an extension of jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam was the training ground for many of the characters that populated men’s adventure and crime pulp in the 1970s. More broadly, Vietnam’s traumatic impact on American society would become a cypher through which pulp and popular fiction name checked cultural fragmentation, growing disillusionment with the American dream, dishonest and unaccountable government and corporations, and the power of the military industrial complex.… Read more