Category Archives: Jim Thompson

The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies

ST 2My recent post The heist always goes wrong – ten of the best heist movies ever made, generated some great reader feedback. The best thing about the response was that it pointed me in the direction of a number heist films I hadn’t seen or that I need to revisit.

Based on your comments and the thoughts I’ve had on the subject since the original post, here are follow up list of other films that could be included in a best of heist films list (and my shameless editorialising regarding what I think about the merits of not of them).

Straight Time (1978)

A huge thanks to West Australian crime writer David Whish Wilson for alerting me to Straight Time, which I’d seen previously but forgotten. Dustin Hoffman plays a career criminal just out of prison, trying to stay on the right side of his ball breaking parole officer, masterfully played by one of my screen heroes, M. Emmet Walsh, and avoid the temptation of re-offending.

Straight Time is based on the book No Best So Fierce, by real life con Edward Bunker (who has a small role in the film). Everything about this film works, the script, the down at heel late seventies feel, the cast, which includes Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, Kathy Bates and Harry Dean Stanton.… Read more

Book review: The Grifters

Most people probably associate The Grifters with the 1990 film directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening. But the script, penned by veteran crime writer Donald Westlake, was adapted from a story by Jim Thompson, one of the most influential writers of the golden age of noir that stretched from the late 1940s to the 1950s.

Thompson was an expert at depicting an amoral world dripping with cynicism and desperation. He also wrote fierce, clean prose that told stories better and in half the words of many writers who followed him.

The Grifters is a good example. Clocking in at just 129 pages, this 1963 story may be a minnow length-wise but it’s one of the best pieces of fiction ever written about the world of the con artist.

The story focuses on Roy Dillon, a successful “short con artist’, a grifter, and his relationship to his mother, Lily and his attractive girlfriend, Moira.

When a routine attempt to cheat a shop assistant out of twenty dollars goes wrong, Roy receives a blow to the stomach with a wooden club. As he makes his way back to his apartment, the pain gets worse. He receives a surprise visit by Lily who, discovering his condition, gets him rushed him to hospital.… Read more

Melbourne International Film Festival: progress report

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the crime movies I was going to catch at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Nearly half way through, here’s my progress report.

First, the bad news. Killer Joe, which I checked out last night. I’m very partial to cinematic tales of money, lust and murder set in the underbelly of rural small town life. Throw in a corrupt lawman who moonlights as a pimp/pusher/contract killer, whatever, and as far as I’m concerned you’re on a winning formula. No matter how many turkeys he’s made, I’ve also got a major reserve of goodwill towards the director, William Friedkin for To Live and Die in LA (1985) and The French Connection (1971).

Killer Joes has all the signposts associated with this sort of movie, down at heel locations, sleazy sex and a criminal plot that quickly spirals out of control. But none of this makes up for the poor performances and a scarcely believable story line.

A small town cop cum contract killer (Matthew McConaughey) is hired by a white trash Texan family to murder their mother for the insurance money. The key conspirator, Chis (Emile Hirsch), scarcely has the brains to tie his own shoelaces let alone instigate a murder plot. When he can’t pay his would be assassin up front as expected, Joe takes Chris’s sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as collateral and seduces her.… Read more

Crime fiction criminals

By definition, the majority of crime fiction characters are criminals or at least commit illegal and/or immoral acts. But books where the main character is a full-time professional criminal are surprisingly few and far between. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

It’s worth noting that when this post originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website, readers came up with several good additions, including Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thornton, Lawrence Block’s hitman character Keller and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I had originally thought of including the James Ellroy character Dudley Smith (“Knock, knock, who’s there, Dudley Smith, so reds beware”), but he’s a bent cop so not eligible. However, Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant would definitely make the cut.

Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.

Parker by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The 24 books written between 1962 and 2010 featuring the professional thief known as Parker remain some of the best crime fiction ever written. Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974. Westlake took a rest from the character until 1997, then wrote another eight Parker books.

Parker is a career criminal who steals things for a living. Get in his way on a job or try to double cross him afterwards and he’ll hurt you.… Read more

Rural noir

Rural crime fiction is big at the moment.

US authors like Daniel Woodrell (Winter’s Bone and The Outlaw Album) have been writing “country noir” for years. Arguably people like Jim Thompson did it for a long time before him.

And the sub-genre has caught on big time in Australia. Think about the popularity of books like Chris Womersley’s Bereft and Honey Brown’s The Good Daughter.

Now Woodrell and others have got some stiff competition from the latest country noir sensation, Frank Bill, whose book Crimes in Southern Indiana is getting rave reviews in the States and is now even available in selected book shops in Australia.

Make no mistake, the 17 stories in Bill’s book are gritty, nasty and raw.

The collection kicks off with ‘Hill Clan Cross’, about the consequences of a drug deal gone wrong. ‘Them Old Bones’, one of bleakest and, for my money, best pieces, depicts a man who whores his daughter to pay for the cancer treatments of his wife.

‘Beautiful Even in Death’ starts off with a man killing his mistress in cold blood when she threatens to reveal their relationship. It’s a spur of the moment act that unbeknownst to him has been witnessed by his son.

You get the picture.… Read more