Category Archives: Crime film

Pulp Friday: Hell is a City

A very quick Pulp Friday offering, Maurice Procter’s Hell is a City, published by Arrow Books, 1957. I am not sure, but this edition may even be the first British release of the novel in paperback.

Procter was a former Manchester policeman turned crime writer, best known for his police procedurals featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Harry Martineau, based in a tough fictional northern England industrial town. Proctor penned 14 Martineau novels, which appeared between 1954  and 1969, of which Hell is a City was the first.

Two things have got me thinking about the Martineau books. The first is my PhD research at the moment, which has been looking at the prevalence of American style detective and PI crime fiction in the 1950s in the US, UK and Australia. Procter’s work is different from a lot of post-war British crime pulp, which was set in America.

I’ve also been reading Nick Triplow’s excellent biography of English crime writer, Ted Lewis, Getting Carter (which I’ll be reviewing on this site in the coming weeks).

Among the popular cultural touchstones, Triplow writes, that would inspire Lewis’s work, including the iconic series of British gangster novels featuring the character of Jack Carter, was the 1960 film adaption of Hell is City by Val Guest.… Read more

Thoughts on Point Blank at 50

Point Blank premiered in San Francisco on August 30 1967. Critically overlooked at the time, its launched John Boorman’s Hollywood directorial career, became a cult hit and has had an enduring influence on crime cinema. It is a film I have watched on numerous occasions and each time it yields new insights. The 50th anniversary is an opportune time for a few thoughts about its importance.

Point Blank was loosely based the 1962 novel, The Hunter, the first in the series of books by the late Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, about the master thief, Parker. It opens with Walker, as the Parker character is called, played by Lee Marvin, double-crossed and left for dead by his friend, Mal (John Vernon), and wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), with whom Mal was having an affair, after the three of them have heisted a regular money drop on the prison island of Alcatraz by a powerful criminal network, the Organisation. Walker, somehow, survives his wounds and manages to get off the island. He reappears and proceeds to tear Organisation apart to find Mal and get his share from the heist, the amount of $94,000. He is assisted by a mysterious man, Yorst (Keenan Wynn), who at first comes across as a cop, but is eventually revealed as a senior member of the Organisation, who sees in Walker a means to eliminate his internal competitors.… Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 3: 10 of the best heist films you’ve never seen

payroll-1961As readers of this site know, I love a good heist film, the ingenuity of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star team assembled for the job of a life time or a group of desperate men and women trying for one last big score.

Everyone can name their favourite heist films and, for the most part, it is usually the big name titles such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) and the French classic, Rififi (1955). Indeed, I listed these and many other well know heist movies in previous posts on this site, ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made’ and ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies’.

But what about the lessor known heist films that are great but which nobody knows about?

To celebrate the release of my second crime novel, Gunshine State, I have compiled the following list of the 10 best heist films you’ve never seen.

operation-amsterdam-poster

Operation Amsterdam (1959)

Operation Amsterdam functions as both a war and a heist film. Peter Finch plays Jan Smit, a British intelligence officer ordered to infiltrate the city of Amsterdam, which is on the verge of being overrun by invading German forces, and prevent the city’s diamond reserves from falling into Nazi hands.… Read more

Mike Hodges’ Pulp & mass paperback fiction on the big screen

Caine in PulpThe opening credits of Mike Hodges’ under appreciated 1972 film, Pulp, are a delight for any fan of cheap pulp paperback fiction. As text roles across the screen (in type writer font, of course), the camera pans between the faces of the three female stenographers transcribing the words of sleazy English expat pulp writer, Mickey King (Michael Caine). As Caine’s nasal voice-over recites his latest novel, The Organ Grinder, we see the different reactions of the women, disgust, shock, and excitement. It’s a reminder that once, before it was reduced to an object of outre fascination for its cover art, pulp fiction elicited strong emotions.

The movie shifts to King, in his cheap white suit and big hair, Jack Carter – the character he played in Hodges’ Get Carter only a year earlier – gone to seed, stepping out of the Italian hotel he lives in to hail a cab. As he sits in the reception area waiting for his completed manuscript, King’s voice-over goes: “The writer’s life would be ideal but for the writing. This was a problem I had to overcome. Then I read the Guinness Book of Records about Earl Stanley Gardner, the world’s fastest novelist who would dictate up to the rate of ten thousand words every day.… Read more

James Coburn’s Hard Contract

Hard Contract Cobrun and RemickAmerican actor James Cobrun had a long and varied career that stretched from 1957 to his last role in 2002. He got his start playing tough guys in westerns on TV and then on the large screen, including his break out role in The Magnificent Seven (1960). He starred in the 1963 classic, The Great Escape, then rode the mid-sixties spy film craze with Our Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967). He spent the seventies appearing in action, crime and Westerns. Most of which were pretty average, notable exceptions being Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Walter Hill’s wonderful 1973 boxing film, Hard Times. The eighties and nineties were similarly varied in terms of his output, the highlight being Affliction, the 1999 film that won him a best supporting actor Oscar.

I have always liked Coburn for reasons I’ve found it hard to identify. I wouldn’t say he was a great actor. In nearly all the films I’ve seen him in the word that comes to mind to describe his performances is solid. He did have charisma of sorts and was good looking in an unconventional way, especially when he flashed that giant grin of his. I think I probably like him because of his work in the sixties and seventies, one of my favourite periods of US film making.… Read more