It is fitting that my last post on this site for 2020 is a short tribute to the passing of a writer who has given me an enormous amount of pleasure during this difficult year, David John Moore Cornwell or as he is better known, John le Carré. Since his death on December 12, a sea of ink has been spilt on le Carré’s influence on the spy novel and his undoubted merits as a writer. I don’t intend to go over this territory again. Instead, I want to briefly discuss what it is about his George Smiley series I have found so fascinating. I also want to talk about one of the films based on his work that I believe does not get nearly enough praise, Frank R Pierson’s 1970 adaptation of le Carré’s 1965 novel, The Looking Glass War.
Melbourne, the city I live in, spent the better part of 2020 in hard lockdown in response to the Covid 19 virus. Reading was one of my many responses to suddenly finding myself with more free time. One very wet, cold Saturday morning at the outset of winter I picked up a paperback I bought ages ago – I can’t even remember when and where – the 1964 Penguin Crime edition of Call for the Dead.… Read more
The idea to review every screen iteration of Donald
Westlake’s crime character, Parker, originated much earlier in the year, when
Melbourne was in deep in winter and the middle of hard Covid lockdown.
Melbourne is out of that lockdown now and summer is here, and I am much busier,
hence the delay since my last entry.
Helgeland, who started out in the movie business as a scriptwriter, is not someone whose work I am particularly across. He did the script for the adaptation of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), which I really liked. The same year he also performed wordsmith duty on the script for the simply abysmal post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner vehicle, The Postman. The 1999 film adaptation of The Hunter, titled Payback, was his first outing as a director (he also wrote the script) and by all accounts it was an exceptionally troubled shoot.… Read more
One of the great things in the not so great year that was 2020 has been writing regularly for the excellent American site, CrimeReads. My latest for them is live and looks at the the supernatural neo noirs of the late writer, William Hjorstberg.
Hjorstberg’s 1978 book Falling Angel was the basis for Alan Parker’s 1987 supernatural thriller, Angel Heart. Posthumously published for the first time in paperback by Britain’s No Exit Press, the sequel, Angel’s Inferno continues the story of the down at heel private detective, Harry Angel, who takes a routine missing person case and becomes ensnared in an occult nightmare.
Only Angel is now Favorite, the amoral crooner who sold his soul to the devil for fame, then stole Angel’s identity in an attempt to evade payment. And he’s in Paris, determined to hunt down and exact revenge on Lucifer’s earthly manifestation, Louis Cypher.
I am thrilled to be co-hosting another episode of Mike White’s film podcast, The Projection Booth, this one on William Friedkin’s 1985 neo noir, To Live and Die in L.A. The film pits Treasury agent William Petersen as Richard Chance against Willem Dafoe as artist and forger Rick Masters, and is based on the novel of the same name by former US federal agent turned crime writer, Gerald Petievich. Along with my fellow co-host, Jedidiah Ayres, we were joined by the film’s editor, M. Scott Smith, and one of the its stars, Willem Dafoe.
We dive deep into this film, discussing the breathtaking work of To Love and Die in L.A.’s cinematography Robbie Muller and how the Friedkin demands complete suspension of disbelief from his audience in some many respects of the story and gets it.
We we also talk about the Wang Chung soundtrack, Los Angeles on the screen, how the film embodies the deregulated economic and political policies of the Reagan era, and how it relates to Friedkin’s broader ouvre and other America crime cinema, particularly the other film based on a Petievich book, Boiling Point (1993) and the Michael Cimino effort also released in 1985, Year of the Dragon.
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