Category Archives: British crime cinema

“Every headlight’s a police car, every shadow is a cop”: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

I have been writing a bit this year on the phenomenal popularity of faux American crime fiction in post-war culture in places like Australia and Great Britain. By this I mean crime fiction written and produced in these countries that not only mimicked the atmosphere and tropes of hardboiled American mystery novels and film, but was set in mythical versions of big American cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This fiction, for example many of the books written by Australian crime fiction author Alan Yates aka Carter Brown, was sometimes even mistaken for the genuine thing.

One of the countless cultural offshoots of the United States’ emergence as the dominant global power after World War II, the success of faux American crime fiction is often associated with the wide penetration of film noir and American writers such as Mickey Spillane. But as I wrote in this piece on the popularity of the controversial 1939 James Hadley Chase novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, its roots go much deeper; the influence of pre-war writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and W. R Burnett. Also the private detective and mystery fiction contained in the mass-produced American pulp fiction magazines that flooded into markets such as Australia and Great Britain in the 1930s.… Read more

Cold Light of Day DVD commentary for Arrow Video

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of my first DVD commentary, done with my fellow Melbourne film historian and friend, Dean Brandum, on British director Fhiona-Louise’s 1989 film, Cold Light of Day.

This little known film, critically attacked when it was first released, is based on the life of Dennis Nilsen, a mild mannered and unassuming civil servant, who was in fact one of Britain’s most shocking and prolific serial killers for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, until his arrest in 1983.

Starring the little known Bob Flag (the face of Big Brother in Michael Radford’s 1984) as Nilsen, this film is indeed one of the most realistic and chilling depictions of a serial killer put on the screen. It is also among the handful of films made in the United Kingdom based on the activities of British serial killers (Richard Fleischer’s 1971 film, 10 Rillington Place, about the murders committed by John Christie, and the Ian Merrick’s excellent 1977 effort, Black Panther, the story of murderer Donald Neilson, are two others.

Dean and I discuss why it is that a country which has experienced so many real life serial killers has been so reluctant to put them on the screen, as well as Nilsen’s life and crimes, and many other aspects of this confronting but fascinating film.… 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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“Dirt under its nails”: Ted Lewis’s Plender

Confession time. I have not been reading a lot of new crime fiction in 2020 and, for reasons that I am sure many of you share, have found it hard to concentrate on reading anything during the Covid-19 lockdown. What I find has been working for me is just picking up something at random from the large number of unread books I have on my shelves and seeing how far I get. Sometimes I don’t get more than 20 pages before turning my attention to something else. Other titles I can’t put down.

Ted Lewis’s 1971 book, Plender, was definitely in the latter category.

I didn’t come to Plender completely cold. As regular readers of this site will know, I am a major Lewis fan. I have written at length about Lewis’s 1970 novel, Jack’s Return Home a.k.a Get Carter, and I reviewed Nick Triplow’s biography of Lewis by Nick Triplow, Getting Carter: Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir on this site here. Triplow had also recommended Plender at some point in our online correspondence, saying, “It’s got dirt under its nails”. I duly ordered a copy and left it on my shelf where it sat for several years.

Plender was Lewis’s follow up novel to Jack’s Return Home.… Read more

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