Category Archives: British crime cinema

John le Carre, my 2020 and The Looking Glass War

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

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

“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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