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
The third in a loose series of pieces I’ve done this year for the Lithub site, CrimeReads, on the global impact on postwar American crime fiction is live. This one explores at the connections between the postwar campaign against pulp fiction, the international controversy around US author Mickey Spillane, the uniquely Antipodean youth subculture known as bodgies & widgies, & one of New Zealand’s most sensational murder cases in the 1950s, the ‘Jukebox Killer’.You can read the piece in full at the CrimeReads site via this link.… Read more
If you spend any time in the social media circles concerned with crime fiction, in all likelihood you will have heard of S. A. Crosby and his book, Blacktop Wasteland. It has been out in the US for ages, during which time I was reading a tonne of positive commentary. Then I stumbled across the little publicised fact that an Australian edition has been released.
Beauregard ‘Bug’ Montage is a hard-working mechanic with a wife and two young sons, who wants a happy marriage, for his kids to get more that he has out of life, and his auto repair business to do well. Unfortunately, said business is just a few weeks from going under financially. On top of this he needs to find a large amount of money to keep his embittered mother in aged care, where she is dying of cancer (seriously, the US health system is a crime story in itself). He also has to somehow also rustle up college tuition fees for his teenage daughter from an earlier relationship.
Beauregard has a previous criminal life he is trying to leave behind. This is hard because he was very good at what he did – driving. The ghosts of his former life also hang around him in the form of his late father, a charismatic criminal in his own right who disappeared to parts unknown when Beauregard was a child, leaving his son with a lifelong love/hate obsession for him.… Read more
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
The third instalment of my series on Parker on the screen is the 1973 film, The Outfit, written and directed by John Flynn, based on the 1963 Donald Westlake novel of the same name (one of three Parker novels Westlake wrote under the Richard Stark pseudonym that year, the others being The Man with the Getaway Face and The Mourner).
The book opens with a botched hit on Parker while he is enjoying one of his post-job trysts. It forces the professional thief to come to the conclusion that he needs to settle his ongoing feud with the shadowy crime organisation known as the Outfit once and for all. He puts word out through his various criminal networks that the unofficial underworld truce with the Outfit is over and it is now fair game. What follows is a series of independently run operations as various freelance criminal groups start hitting the organisation’s money-making activities while Parker goes after its leader, a man named Bronson. It has been a while since I read The Outfit, but I remember thinking it was definitely one of the better Parker novels.
The film starts with a hit on a man working on a remote farm. Next we see Earl Macklin (Robert Duvall) getting out of jail where he has been doing a stint for carrying a concealed firearm (a scene very reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s release from jail in Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway a year earlier).… Read more