My crime film fest continued last night with a weird entry from 1972… PRIME CUT starring Lee Marvin as a Chicago enforcer who heads out to the fields of Kansas to collect a $500,000 debt from Gene Hackman, another enforcer who has gone into the cattle business. But beef isn't all Hackman is selling…he's also selling women like cattle. Literally. The movie isn't quite sure what it wants to be, a satire or a violent bit of Farm Noir. Marvin's performance is steely, tough, and straight…but Hackman is chewing everything in sight, from the scenery to big, heaping plates of pig guts. Sissy Spacek makes her movie debut naked…and in a ridiculous role as an orphan raised to be a sex slave. Hackman made this movie right after shooting THE FRENCH CONNECTION, where he played NYPD detective Popeye Doyle, a character based on real-life cop Eddie Egan, who has a bit part in this movie as a mob boss.
The relationship between Monk and Natalie has always been as interesting to me as the mystery plots in these novels, and it takes a new and intriguing turn in this installment […]Mr. Monk in Trouble is another fine, hilarious entry in Lee Goldberg's series, and I read it with a smile on my face, except for the times I laughed out loud. I recommend it to fans of the TV series, and to anybody else.
And James Reasoner chimed in by saying, in part:
this is probably my favorite Monk novel so far, and that's saying a lot. It comes out tomorrow, I believe, so you'll have plenty of time to pick up some as Christmas presents for your friends and family who are Monk fans. They'll love you for it.
I like to think they would have been just as kind even if I hadn't thanked them both in the acknowledgments for their help with the "western" aspects of the book.
Tonight's showing in my personal film noir film festival was Sam Fuller's PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET starring Richard Widmark as a two-bit pick-pocket who lifts a billfold from a lady's purse on the subway. The billfold contains a stolen film-strip containing a top secret government formula that the woman was unknowingly delivering to the Commies for her ex-boyfriend, a Red spy. It's a silly plot device in what is otherwise a down and dirty crime movie. The high point of the film is an amazing performance by Thelma Ritter as an aging street peddler of neckties and information. Ritter is funny, touching, and genuinely moving…and once she is gone, the movie loses much of its edge and its heart. Even so, I really enjoyed it.
Today I watched VANISHING POINT, the 1971 movie starring a white Dodge Challenger and Barry Newman. The car was a lot more charismatic that its c0-star. I do not get what all the hoopla is about over this movie, which has a loyal cult following. I thought it was dull and as seemingly endless as any of its many shots of the wide open road across a vast desert. You can pass on this one.
I'm continuing my Holiday weekend film festival of crime movies I've alwasy meant to see, but have somehow missed. Last night, I finally got around to THE OUTFIT, writer-director John Flynn's 1973 adaptation of the Richard Stark novel. Robert Duvall played Parker (renamed Macklin) and, while he doesn't match my vision of the character, I was surprised by how much I liked his take on the role (previously portrayed by Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK). I don't remember the book well enough to notice where the movie deviated from it, but Flynn certainly captured the stripped-down essence of Stark's prose very well. THE OUTFIT is essentially a revenge movie, with a few robberies thrown in, but I found it lean, mean, and deceptively well-crafted in its simplicity. Flynn's straight-forward directing style reminds me of Don Siegel's films…and, like Siegel, he has a great eye for casting, using familiar character actors in colorful supporting roles. I especially enjoyed Joe Don Baker as Cody, Macklin's affable but deadly partner in ripping off a bunch of The Outfit's gambling operations, and Karen Black brought surprising depth and emotion to what otherwise might have been a thankless role as Macklin's girlfriend (and I say this as a guy who has never liked Karen Black).
I finally saw Allen Baron's 1961 movie BLAST OF SILENCE, a brutal, cold piece of low-budget film noir that I've been hearing great things about for years. I'm pleased to report that it lives up to the hype…and is unlike any Christmas movie you've ever seen. The fantastic, gravel-voiced second-person narration (written by Waldo Salt under a pseudonym and performed by an uncredited Lionel Stander) and the startlingly bleak visuals more than make-up for the thin plot and weak acting. I recommend it.
Back in the mid-80s, when I was still a freelancer writer, I wrote hundreds of articles for STARLOG and their sister magazines, including FANGORIA, COMICS SCENE, and ALLURE, their feeble attempt at their own version of PLAYGIRL. Just what the world needed — a porn magazine for women published by Trekkies. In honor of Turkey day, Starlog editor David McDonnell blogged about ALLURE, his company’s biggest turkey ever. He wrote, in part:
…perhaps we might call it pseudo-porno, a magazine with pictures of naked people that aspired to sleaziness but apparently wasn’t quite sleazy enough. It was intended by then-Co-Publishers Norman Jacobs & Kerry O’Quinn to compete with PLAYGIRL and feature nude dudes while appealing to a readership of women and gay men.[…]ALLURE ran at least one celebrity interview per issue and needed a writer. Asked for nominees, I suggested my LA-based contributor William Rabkin, who tackled Dudley Moore for ALLURE in a chat timed (believe it or not!) to that most inappropriate of movies, SANTA CLAUS (1985). Yes, SANTA CLAUS in the porno mag. WHAT were they thinking? Also, Moore played an elf.
Oddly enough, ALLURE editor Nancie S. Martin went on to edit PLAYGIRL and to pose naked in PLAYBOY. My then-girl friend worked as an editorial assistant at PLAYGIRL and got me a gig writing fake letters-to-the-editor for $25 each asking for sex advice. If I remember correctly, I wrote both the letters and PLAYGIRL’s advice.
I'm a big Garry Disher fan…but as much as I like his Inspector Challis books, I absolutely love his WYATT novels, which are an Aussie take on Donald Westlake's Parker. It has been years since the last one, but now Wyatt is finally back. A new novel, simply called WYATT, will be published in Australia in February. So far, no publisher in the U.S. has picked up the book…but that' s not going to stop me. I'll buy it from a bookseller down-under.
Andy Breckman ( the creator of MONK), NBC/U (the owners of MONK) and my editor all loved the outline for MR. MONK GETS EVEN… my 11th original MONK novel. So, next week, I have to start researching and writing. I have no time to waste… the book is due in May.
The idea for the book actually occurred to me while I was at the Men of Mystery conference in Irvine last Sunday…though the plot has nothing to do with mystery conference or authors. I actually already had an idea for the book…and was going to start writing it up when I got home…but then this notion popped into my head out of nowhere and I realized it was much better than what I was already working on. I quickly jotted down my idea on a scrap of paper and then had the bright idea to email the notes to myself on my Blackberry.
I'll have to do some research for this one, but that's okay. I have nothing against learning something while I write! (I had to do lots of research about the old west for MR. MONK IN TROUBLE, collecting paper currency in DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE DEAD LETTER, life in California in the early 1960s for DM: THE PAST TENSE, the Paris underground for MR. MONK IS MISERABLE, earthquakes and L.A. disaster scenarios for THE WALK, the illegal sales of body parts for DM: THE LAST WORD, alligators for MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS, etc. I've already started ordering books on Amazon and scouring the Internet for relevant articles.
This is will be the first book set after the "end" of the TV series but it won't be published until a year from now. In the mean time, MR. MONK IN TROUBLE comes out next week and MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT will be published in July…both of which are set before the events in the final season of the TV series.