Category Archives: Neo Noir

Prime Cut at 50: looking back at possibly the strangest American crime film of the 1970s

Want to talk about one of the strangest, if not the strangest American crime film to emerge in the first half of the 1970s? Then, let’s talk about Michael Ritchie’s neo-noir Prime Cut, as it turns fifty this year. It would be going too far to describe it as a neglected classic, but it is a fascinating film about a divided America that, as a result, finds obvious echoes today. 

You can read my piece on Prime Cut in full at the CrimeReads site here.Read more

Mid-year reading report back: David Whish-Wilson, Simenon takes a train & 1970s Mexico noir

It already half-way through the year, and I thought a quick report on the highlights of my reading so far is in order. This is especially since I have a couple of big writing projects on the go and, as a result, will probably not have the time to do anything of the sort again before the end of the year.

So, let’s get to it.

The Sawdust House, David Whish-Wilson

Regular readers will have seen me talk before on this site about how much I rate David Whish-Wilson. I genuinely believe he is one of the most underrated crime writers working in Australia today and his latest does nothing to disabuse me of this view. The Sawdust House is Whish-Wilson’s second book to explore the lost Australian history of mid-19th century San Francisco. The Coves (2018) told the story of Australian criminals, many of them former convicts, who drifted to the San Francisco in the hopes of making a fortune amidst the gold rush gripping the west coast of the US at the time, and who assumed a major role in the lawless city’s criminal world. The Sawdust House focuses on the life of one of these men, Irish-born James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan, who has been arrested as part of the nativists attempt to root out and crush Australian criminal influence in San Francisco.… Read more

50 years of Milano Calibre 9 and the crime cinema of Italy’s ‘years of lead’

Fifty years ago, Milano Calibro 9, or Calibre 9 as it was released in the United States, hit Italian cinema screens. A small time mafia foot soldier, Ugo Piazzo (Gastone Moschin, a famous Italian comic actor at the time), leaves prison only to be caught up in a conspiracy around the disappearance three years earlier of $300,000 from a Milanese crime boss known as the Americano. Believing that Ugo took the money and stashed it while he was in jail, the Americano sends Rocco (German Italian actor Mario Adorf), a clownish but lethal mob enforcer, to retrieve it. Ugo denies he had anything to do with the missing cash, but no one, including the police and his ambitious stripper girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet), will believe him. 

Calibre 9 is an excellent entry point to examine the Italian crime film phenomena known as the poliziotteschi, well over a hundred of which appeared from the late 1960s to 1980. It also serves to focus some overdue attention one of the lesser-known but more interesting of the many poliziotteschi directors, Fernando Di Leo.

You can read my piece on the crime cinema of Italy’s ‘years of lead’ in full here at the CrimeReads site.Read more

The mystery of Billy Rags

Billy Rags, Sphere Books, 1975
McVicar By Himself, Hutchinson, 1974

Crime fiction is just far too large a literary field to aspire to anything near being a completist in terms of reviewing. That said, the British noir author Ted Lewis has been something of a favourite on this site. I reviewed Jack’s Return Home aka Get Carter (1970) and its two sequels, as well as the novels Plender (1971) and GBH (1980). But there is one more Lewis work I want to tackle, Billy Rags, originally published in in 1973 and which, coincidentally has just been re-released by No Exit Press in the UK.

Billy Rags is very closely based on the life of the real British criminal John McVicar. Just how closely I’ll get to directly. McVicar was an armed robber, declared ‘public enemy no 1’ by Scotland Yard in the 1960s, until he was apprehended and given a 23-year sentence. He was also a serial escapee and after his final arrest in 1970 received a 26-year sentence but was paroled eight years later. McVicar was also something of a uniquely 1960s/70s phenomena, the self-aware/educated working class career criminal turned author and commentator on prison reform, a major social debate in those two decades. He studied for a university postgraduate, wrote an autobiography, McVicar by Himself, published in 1974, and authored a couple of other true crime books.… Read more

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more