Category Archives: Heist films

Book review: Blacktop Wasteland

If you spend any time in the social media circles concerned with crime fiction, in all likelihood you will have heard of S. A. Crosby and his book, Blacktop Wasteland. It has been out in the US for ages, during which time I was reading a tonne of positive commentary. Then I stumbled across the little publicised fact that an Australian edition has been released.

Beauregard ‘Bug’ Montage is a hard-working mechanic with a wife and two young sons, who wants a happy marriage, for his kids to get more that he has out of life, and his auto repair business to do well. Unfortunately, said business is just a few weeks from going under financially. On top of this he needs to find a large amount of money to keep his embittered mother in aged care, where she is dying of cancer (seriously, the US health system is a crime story in itself). He also has to somehow also rustle up college tuition fees for his teenage daughter from an earlier relationship.

Beauregard has a previous criminal life he is trying to leave behind. This is hard because he was very good at what he did – driving. The ghosts of his former life also hang around him in the form of his late father, a charismatic criminal in his own right who disappeared to parts unknown when Beauregard was a child, leaving his son with a lifelong love/hate obsession for him.… Read more

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

Parker on the screen #3: The Outfit (1973)

The third instalment of my series on Parker on the screen is the 1973 film, The Outfit, written and directed by John Flynn, based on the 1963 Donald Westlake novel of the same name (one of three Parker novels Westlake wrote under the Richard Stark pseudonym that year, the others being The Man with the Getaway Face and The Mourner).

The book opens with a botched hit on Parker while he is enjoying one of his post-job trysts. It forces the professional thief to come to the conclusion that he needs to settle his ongoing feud with the shadowy crime organisation known as the Outfit once and for all. He puts word out through his various criminal networks that the unofficial underworld truce with the Outfit is over and it is now fair game. What follows is a series of independently run operations as various freelance criminal groups start hitting the organisation’s money-making activities while Parker goes after its leader, a man named Bronson. It has been a while since I read The Outfit, but I remember thinking it was definitely one of the better Parker novels.

The film starts with a hit on a man working on a remote farm. Next we see Earl Macklin (Robert Duvall) getting out of jail where he has been doing a stint for carrying a concealed firearm (a scene very reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s release from jail in Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway a year earlier).… 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

Parker on the screen #1: Mise a Sac (1967)

With Melbourne is back in Covid-19 lockdown, I have a bit more time than usual on my hands, so I’ve decided to start a project I have been meaning to undertake for a while now – to watch and review all the screen adaptations of Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake’s crime fiction character, the master thief known as Parker.

Regular readers of this site will be well versed in my adoration for Westlake in general and his character, Parker, in particular. I wrote about what it was that so fascinated me about Parker in some detail on Pulp Curry back in 2014. And my second novel Gunshine State is an Australian homage of to the Parker series.

A few ground rules for what I intend to be an occasional series. I’ll tackle every film, except for John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), which I have already written about in some detail here. This means: Made in U.S.A (1966), Mise a Sac (1967), The Split (1968), The Outfit (1973), Slayground (1983), Payback (the director’s cut – 1999), and Parker (2013). That said, I will not do them in the order they appeared. While Made in U.S.A is the first film to be based on a Westlake book (although the adaptation is very tenuous), I’ve had issues getting a copy to watch, so I’ll tackle Mise a Sac first.… Read more