Category Archives: 1960s American crime films

Reading John Frankenheimer’s Seconds

Early in this excellent monograph on John Frankenheimer’s criminally underseen 1966 film, Seconds, by Jez Conolly and Emma Westwood, the authors ask the reader at what point they first viewed the movie and what they made of it. For me it was a random VHS store pickup on a slow Saturday night sometime in the late 1990s. I can remember being as confused as I was impressed by the sheer bizarreness of Seconds. I was particularly perplexed by the presence of Rock Hudson. What was this major American actor, best known for the series of romantic comedies he did with Doris Day, doing in a downbeat, existentially bleak fusion of science fiction, thriller and noir?Watching the film more recently, with the benefit of considerably more knowledge of film history and Hudson’s career, I was blown away by the brilliance of Seconds.  

Conolly and Westwood begin with the proposition that the film very much deserves a second life, a notion that is also central to its plot. Seconds concerns a bored, ennui riven middle class wage slave, who through an almost Faustian pact with a mysterious entity known only as the Company, is given a new body and face, and second chance at life. Escaping from everyday domestic responsibilities, particularly the possibilities for self-discovery and erotic adventure that this promised, would become a key topic of American film and literature from the mid-part of the 1960s onwards.… Read more

Video of my talk, The motorcycle – rebel in pop culture, now available

For those of you who were unable to attend my recent talk hosted by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, ‘The Motorcycle: Rebel in Pop Culture’, there is now a video of the entire presentation on Youtube. The wonderful folks at QAGOMA have even done an Auslan interpretation of it for the vision impaired.

My talk will take you on a journey through the various representations of the motorcycle in youth and popular culture history, mainly in the United States, Australia and Great Britain. I examine what has given the motorbike its cool reputation and discuss how it has also functioned as a lightning rod for post war concerns around various youth subcultures. In addition to film, I also look at the representation of the motorbike in music and pulp fiction. You can also find it on YouTube here.… Read more

Upcoming talk: The motorcycle – rebel in pop culture

A heads up to Pulp Curry readers, that on Thursday April 22 EST, I’ll be giving a talk to coincide with the exhibition currently being hosted by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire. The talk is entitled, ‘The Motorcycle: Rebel in Pop Culture’.

Throughout the decades, motorbikes have been portrayed as a symbol of freedom and rebellion in fiction, music and on the screen. I’ll be taking you on a journey through the different representations of the motorcycle in youth and popular culture history, mainly in the United States, Australia and Great Britain. I’ll be examining what has given the motorbike its cool reputation as well as discussing how it has also functioned as a lightning rod for post war concerns around various youth subcultures. The talk will focus on film, but I’ll also look at the representation of the motorbike in music and pulp fiction.

The talk, which will take place on Zoom, will start at 7pm EST, is free & your time zone permitting open to anyone anywhere to attend. All you have to do is book at this link. I hope you can attend.

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Parker on the screen #5: Payback Straight Up (2006)

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.

Anyway, back to it with the next Parker film, Brian Helgeland’s neo noir, Payback Straight Up (2006). This is retelling of the very first Parker novel, The Hunter, published in 1962 and, of course, first filmed by John Boorman as the immortal Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin (and which I wrote about on this site here on the 50th anniversary of the film).

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

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