Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Tabloid City by Pete Hamill

A newspaper editor, a young reporter, an old columnist, a bitter fired employee, a successful commercial artist, a famous painter, a patron of the arts, an NYPD detective, a disabled Iraq War veteran, and a radical bomber lose in New York City, plus a double homicide are some of the many elements of Pete Hamill’s last novel, Tabloid City.

Hamill, a long-time New York newspaper columnist, novelist, memoirist, screenwriter, raconteur and man about town, knew his city. Pete Hamill died August 5, 2020, at age 85.

This 2011 book gives readers his insider’s view of  the 21st century struggle of newspapers to survive in the digital world. All of his experiences and interests, including his love or art, are here in this sprawling book that is also a taught thriller.

Tabloid City is a fast read and well worth the time. Anyone unfamiliar with Hamill should also pick up a copy of A Drinking Life, a memoir of his early years, his Irish-American family living in Brooklyn, and the path that brought him into the newspaper business.


(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

Monday, September 14, 2020

I Died a Thousand Times starring Jack Palance story by W.R. Burnett


The 1955 crime film, “I Died a Thousand Times.” is the third movie made from the W.R. Burnett novel, High Sierra, (book review here).

The first is the more famous picture, with the original title starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino (review here). The second, was a Western called “Colorado Territory,” starring Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo and was made by the same director as the first, Raoul Walsh.

“I Died a Thousand Times” stars Jack Palance as Roy Earl. Earl is a John Dillinger-type criminal recently paroled from an Illinois prison and on his way west to meet some guys who are planning to rob a resort hotel.

Palance was a better actor than people gave him credit for being – check out his performance in Elia Kazan’s “Panic in the Streets,” or in the original TV production of  “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” In “I Died a Thousand Times,” Palance will make a viewer forget Bogart’s portrayal of Roy Earl. Palance is edgier and more physically dangerous than Bogie.

His hold-up crew, played by Earl Holliman and Lee Marvin, are also more dangerous than the actors in the earlier film.

The only misstep in “I Died a Thousand Times” was the casting of Shelly Winters in the part originally played by Ida Lupino. Winters and Palance do not connect.

Director Stuart Heisler, a long-time Hollywood craftsman, kept the whole thing moving. This wide-screen, color production is worth watching for Palance, Marvin and Holliman.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber


A book I long wanted to read and finally got my hands on was Frank Gruber’s The Pulp Jungle.

This was his 1967 memoir of becoming a writer for the pulp magazines in the 1930s.

Aside from the accounts of living in flea-bag hotels, and hammering out dozens and dozens of stories on a manual typewriter, his book is full of stories about his fellow writers – some of them famous, some of them not so. They helped each other, introduced each other to editors, shared their experiences in the pulp market and gave tips and advice.

It was not all work and no play. Gruber talks about the many get-togethers with other writers for lunch, drinks and parties.

He tells a great story about one of those parties:

...George Bruce, who had a temporary apartment in Brooklyn, gave one. It was a rather small apartment and the thirty-some guests who were there were jammed into the place so that you could hardly move around. About ten o’clock in the evening George announced that he had a deadline for a twelve thousand-word story the following morning and had to get at it. I assumed that it was a hint for the guests to leave, but such was not the case at all. George merely went to his desk in one corner of the room and began to bang his electric typewriter. George sat at that typewriter for four solid hours, completely oblivious to the brawl going on around him. At two o’clock in the morning he finished his twelve thousand words and had a drink of gin.

They don’t make them like that any more!

The Pulp Jungle is a must read for any writer, for any reader of pulps, and for anyone interested in the lives, struggles and laughs of people working their way through the Great Depression.


(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

Monday, August 31, 2020

A Song for Today

Gregory Porter doing “In Heaven” from his 2016 album, Take Me To The Alley.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Film Noir “The Scar”

(This re-post from 2015 is also a DVR Alert. “The Scar” under its other title, “Hollow Triumph,” is scheduled to show Friday, August 28 on Turner Classic Movies.)

 “The Scar” (also known as “Hollow Triumph”) is a heavily atmospheric, film noir from 1948 starring Paul Henreid.

Henreid, best known as the stoic hero, Victor Lazlo, in “Casablanca,” or as the romantic lead in “Now Voyager” who can light two cigarettes simultaneously, here plays a brilliant criminal running for his life from the powerful gangsters he ripped off. By chance, he learns that he is nearly the double of a noted psychiatrist, and he sets out to hide by impersonating the doctor.

The tone and pace of “The Scar” help suspend disbelief that this man could not only kill and take the place of the psychiatrist, but also do it without anyone ever noticing that he is a different guy. Henreid, who plays both parts, lends a suave intensity that drives the 83-minute film. While the cast of supporting players all think bad-guy Henreid is actually good-doctor Henreid, it is a stretch to believe that the shrink’s own secretary, played by Joan Bennett, who is also in love with the doc, would not notice the switch.

“The Scar” was directed with much style by Steve Sekely, a Hungarian filmmaker who went to Hollywood in the late 1930s. Sekely was able to build tension and create a genuinely creepy atmosphere in the picture, especially in a stomach-turning sequence in which Henreid, in order to convincingly switch identities, must give himself a long scar on his cheek. He sits before a mirror and sets out his medical instruments, which, under the expressionistic lighting of the great cinematographer John Alton, take on a sinister personality of their own: a scalpel, a vial of numbing agent, and a sickeningly large glass syringe. His tools in place, Henreid sets to work on himself. 

Director Sekely had talent. He might have become one of the great auteurs of film noir. (Wonder why he didn’t?)

“The Scar” is a fun little noir, and that scene of creating the scar is worth the price of admission.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bodyguard is a series to watch

Bodyguard has one of the best first 15 minutes of any movie or TV show.  

This thriller on Netflix opens with army veteran, David Budd, riding on a commuter train and encountering a terrorist wearing an explosive device.  

The following five hours and 45 minutes of this 2018 British series are darn good, too. 

Budd’s actions on the train land him a job he does not want—protecting Home Secretary Julia Montague, a controversial cabinet minister. Montague is tough, difficult and has many enemies sniping at her—some politically, some literally.  

Budd is tightly wound. He has seen too much war. Now the war on terrorism at home is grinding on him.  

The series was written by Jed Mercurio, who also wrote the terrific British police series, Line of Duty. Richard Madden plays Budd and Keeley Hawes plays Montague. 

Bodyguard has it all—suspense, action, intricate plotting and interesting characters.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Q&A with author Dana King


Dana King’s latest book is Pushing Water. It is the fifth book in his Penns River series of police procedurals.

Penns River is King’s fictional setting, a small Pennsylvania city. It was once a prosperous place, now it is down-at-the-heels. The local police department is up to its neck in work as crime is on the rise.

The main character of the series is police Detective “Doc” Dougherty – pronounced “Dock-erty.”

A couple of days ago, I asked Dana King a few questions.

ELGIN BLEECKER: Dana, what is going on in Penns River in your new novel?

DANA KING: An active shooter at a local discount department store leaves several people dead. No one is quite sure who the shooter is, as the man arrested at the scene definitely shot someone but claims to be a Good Guy with a Gun.

As if the cops aren’t busy enough, a Canadian fugitive passing through pulls a job to tide him over until his brother can get some cash across the border. The fugitive picks up a local partner and seizes an opportunity, robbing everything in sight while the police focus on clearing the mass shooting. The police turn out to be the least of the robbers’ problems, as they eventually hit a joint owned by what’s left of the mob.

ELGIN BLEECKER: What does the title, Pushing Water, mean?

DANA KING: There’s a scene where the Mountie who’s after the fugitive asks Doc how everyone on the force gets along so well under circumstances that are difficult at best. Doc tells him it’s out of loyalty for the long-time and beloved chief of police. 

 "Everyone knows we’re pushing water uphill every day and we keep doing it for him. I don’t want to think about what happens here when he finally retires."

ELGIN BLEECKER: Has this weird time we are living through had an effect on your writing, or your reading?

DANA KING: Not as much as for a lot of people. I’ve worked the day job from home for ten years now, so my schedule didn’t change much.

There are unusual external stresses—what The Beloved Spouse™ calls “buzzes”—but the time I spend writing and reading are my escapes, which provokes me to make time for them.

I also had some pretty serious vision problems that started about a year ago and affected my reading and writing. We started to get them under control about the time social distancing kicked in, so reading and writing became easier for me around then. I’ve been very lucky.

ELGIN BLEECKER: Glad to hear it, Dana. And thanks for doing this Q&A.

Reviews of Dana King’s previous Penns River novels can be found on this site. Worst Enemies is here. Grind Joint is here. And Resurrection Mall is here.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Resurrection Mall by Dana King

Since March, I have barely traveled more than a dozen miles from my front door. But during the lockdown, I was happy to visit Penns River.

That small, western Pennsylvania city, not far from Pittsburgh, is the fictional setting for Dana’s King’s terrific series of police procedurals.

The third book in the series, Resurrection Mall, picks up about year after the violent shootout at the end of the previous book, Grind Joint.

Detective “Doc” Dougherty is on a new case. Five, small-time drug dealers meet their bloody demise in the food court of a rundown shopping mall. Two men with shotguns did the job.

The place of the attack, renamed Resurrection Mall, is the city’s hope to revive a poor area. A pastor, with the adopted name Christian Love, is rebuilding it as a church and center for his ministry.

The pastor has two assistants with criminal records. He also has some shady contractors with possible connections to the drug dealers.

Suspects are everywhere and Doc keeps running into more every time he turns around. Complicating matters, there is a witness who saw the killers’ faces. It is a teenager whose mother is a junkie and who Doc helped in a previous story. The kid is older and tougher now, and scared to death of the hitmen.

Resurrection Mall is fast paced and suspenseful. Two foot-chases involving Doc are vivid. Dana King also has a way of making a reader “see” and “feel” Penns River in winter.

It is always a pleasure to ride along with Doc and his partner, tough, grumpy Grabek. Also back in this book are Neuschwander, “Eye Chart” Zywiciel, and their boss “Stush” Napierkowski, the chief of police.

A few weeks ago, Dana King published his latest Penns River novel, Pushing Water, the fifth in the series.