Category Archives: Film Noir

“Every headlight’s a police car, every shadow is a cop”: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

I have been writing a bit this year on the phenomenal popularity of faux American crime fiction in post-war culture in places like Australia and Great Britain. By this I mean crime fiction written and produced in these countries that not only mimicked the atmosphere and tropes of hardboiled American mystery novels and film, but was set in mythical versions of big American cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This fiction, for example many of the books written by Australian crime fiction author Alan Yates aka Carter Brown, was sometimes even mistaken for the genuine thing.

One of the countless cultural offshoots of the United States’ emergence as the dominant global power after World War II, the success of faux American crime fiction is often associated with the wide penetration of film noir and American writers such as Mickey Spillane. But as I wrote in this piece on the popularity of the controversial 1939 James Hadley Chase novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, its roots go much deeper; the influence of pre-war writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and W. R Burnett. Also the private detective and mystery fiction contained in the mass-produced American pulp fiction magazines that flooded into markets such as Australia and Great Britain in the 1930s.… Read more

Parker on the screen #2: The Split (1968)

Several years ago on this site I referred to the 1968 film The Split as a Blaxsploitation style riff on Donald Westlake’s character, Parker. I have seen other reviewers make the same mistake, I suspect mainly on the basis that it was an action film starring a black man, ex-pro-footballer turned actor, Jim Brown, in the role of McClain (as the character of Parker is called). Not only did The Split appear several years before that cycle of films kicked off (1971 with the release of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft), but it displays none of the extravagant sexual and violent action stylings of that canon.

The second film in my series of Parker on the screen, The Split is a workmanlike neo noir based on Donald Westlake’s Parker novel, The Seventh. It is no Point Blank. I don’t even think it is as good as the 1967 French film, Mise a Sac, based on Westlake’s The Score, my first entry in the Parker on the screen series. But neither is it as bad as lot of people think.

The heist in The Seventh – stealing the ticket takings from a stadium football game – is over in the first dozen or pages of the book.… Read more

Pulp Friday: No Orchids for Miss Blandish

‘In 1939, amidst violence and wartime shortages, one hardboiled noir took the nation by storm, provoked moral outrage, and inspired legions of imitators.’

My latest piece for the CrimeReads site is a look at the popularity and controversy around James Hadley Chase’s 1939 blockbuster, No Orchids for Miss Blandish. You can read my story in full at the CrimeReads site here.

The article is a sequel of sorts to a story I did back in April on the popularity of mid-century faux American crime fiction in Australia and the career of one of the country’s least known most successful crime writers, Alan Yates, who wrote under the pseudonym, Carter Brown. A link to the full piece is here.

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They Made Me a Fugitive

I recently wrote a yet to be published article on the critical furore that greeted the 1939 James Hadley Chase book, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, and the 1948 film version. Among my research was an article by British film academic James Chapman which discussed the film version of No Orchids as part of a cycle of British crime films that drew severe condemnation from censors, moralists and film critics for their depiction of sex and violence and their bleak take on post-war British life. Another was the 1948 adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. But it was the first of this cycle, appearing in 1947, that I had not seen and only vaguely heard about, They Made Me a Fugitive or I Became a Criminal, the title it was released under in the United States.

Fugitive stars Trevor Howard as Clem Morgan, a demobbed Royal Air Force pilot who joins a criminal gang headed by a flash gangster with a very nasty streak, Narcy (Griffith Jones). Narcy runs a funeral parlour business as a front for a black-market operation, the good smuggled in the coffins. Morgan and Narcy take an instant alpha male dislike to each other. Morgan is particularly critical of Narcy’s decision to traffic in what he calls ‘sherbet’, which I think is cocaine (although this is not spelt out in the film).… Read more

Hungry wives and evil husbands

I’ve been writing a piece on the science fiction of Ira Levin for an upcoming book project. This led me to re-reading his amazing novel Rosemary’s Baby, which led to a re-watch of the 1968 film, which got me to thinking, why there seemed to be a preponderance of cinema in the late 1960s/early 1970s which involve supposedly ordinary women having witchcraft used against them or using it for empowerment.

Roman Polansky’s version of Rosemary’s Baby abides fairly closely to Levin’s book and I suspect regular readers of this site don’t need any introduction to how good the book and film are. Obviously, the story has a very strong feminist tone, as did a lot of Levin’s work. An innocent woman, Rosemary, has her young, fertile body quite literally sold to a group of Satanists who, unbeknownst to her, live in the same New York apartment block, by her husband, Guy, in return for success in his chosen profession as an actor.

What is really good about the film, and even better about the book, is the way Levin leaves a trail of small clues as to what is going on – that Satan has raped her and Guy, in league with the Satanists, is manipulating her to carry the child to full term – often seemingly inconsequential or coincidental details, just enough to move the plot forward, but which all add up to a horrifying, inescapable trap.… Read more