Category Archives: Film Noir

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

M and my top 10 reads for 2019

It is no exaggeration to say I have been eagerly anticipating Samm Deighan’s monograph of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film. I love the film and I am a big fan of Deighan’s movie writing, so the combination is bound not to disappoint. And it didn’t.

As Deighan puts it in her introduction, M ‘exists in a liminal space between urban social drama, crime thriller, and horror film’. It was arguably the first serial killer film, long before the FBI coined the term in the early 1970s. Anchored by a superb performance by Peter Lorre as the paedophiliac child killer, Hans Beckert, it was certainly the first motion picture in which a serial killer was the central protagonist. Another crucial innovation was the way in which Lang depicted the character of Beckert in a not entirely unsympathetic light. This same sensibility would have a influence on some subsequent serial killer cinema, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/thriller, Psycho.

Deighan discusses M’s broader social and political themes, including the film as a critique of modernity and a text for Germany on the brink of totalitarian control, appearing as it did a year before the Nazi’s assumed power and Lang had to flee the country.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the discussion of how the themes in M would echo in Lang’s subsequent work, particular the threat of the lawless mob violence and what is perhaps the director’s most defining idea, how even the most noble individual is capable of brutal murderous thoughts and actions.… Read more

The grifters and con artists of Nightmare Alley

I have a piece on the new Crime Reads site – a spin off of the respected Literary Hub- on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 little known novel, Nightmare Alley. Gresham’s book is a masterful story about the art of the grift and the best fictional depiction of the carny (slang for the traveling carnival employee). But most of all, it is a stone cold classic piece of low life noir fiction, dark, visceral, surprisingly sex-drenched for its time, and utterly devoid of redemption.

The piece is available in full here on Crime Reads.

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The heist always goes wrong, part 4: 10 more heist films you’ve never seen

To celebrate the re-release of my heist thriller, Gunshine State, by Down and Out books, it is time for another of my top 10 heist posts.

This is my fourth post  along the theme of ‘the heist always goes wrong’. Previous posts have been: ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made’, ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies’, ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 3: 10 of the best heist films you’ve probably never seen’.

This instalment continues where I left of in part 3, with 10 more unknown or under appreciated heist films that you might want to check out.

So have a read, and, if you haven’t already maybe pick up a copy of Gunshine State in e-book of paperback format here.

Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Even when he was slumming it, John Cassavetes was still incredible and Machine Gun McCain is proof. This hard boiled 1969 Italian film tells the story of a paroled armed robber (Cassavetes) whose plan to heist a Las Vegan casino falls foul of a battle for territory between the east and west cost Mafia. Cassavetes’s co-starts include Peter Faulk, Britt Elland, and such Italian genre film stars as Luigi Pistilli and Grabiele Ferzetti.… Read more