Category Archives: 70s American crime films

Wanda (1970): Barbara Loden’s film as a noir

The highlight of my Noirvember viewing so far has been Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970). Most of the writing about Loden’s sole directorial effort has understandably focused on the marginalisation of women in the American film industry and Loden’s role as an, until recently, unacknowledged pioneer in this regard. But I want to discuss another reading I think can be made of the film, Wanda as a noir.

When I ventured this opinion on social media several people questioned my characterisation. But it seems a pretty solid interpretation to me. It is not just that Wanda contains the strong elements of a heist thriller. Its central narrative, a woman dealing with a world in which she has little control and getting slowly sucked into committing a serious criminal act, seems like core noir territory. I wonder whether the reticence to see Wanda in this light comes from the perception that a film can’t simultaneously be feminist, a serious piece of art and a noir crime film.

Wanda first came to my attention while I was attending 2016 Noircon in Philadelphia. One of the panels was about little seen crime films of the 1970s that deserved to be better known. Among the panelists was a film maker called Jennifer Dean, who nominated two female directed crime films – the only two American crime films directed by women I am aware of from that era – Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky (1976) and Wanda.… 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 #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

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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