Thursday, July 26, 2018

“Small Town Crime” is a Movie to Watch

A garage door on a suburban home opens revealing a painfully hungover man who looks out at a car now parked on his lawn after mowing down his white picket fence.

This is former police detective Mike Kendall.

Kendall knows he has a drinking problem. He also has an employability problem. He can’t seem to find work and the chances of him ever getting back on the force are zero. The reason why is linked to his drinking on duty.

Stumbling through life, starting his days with a cold beer, and dreaming of being a cop on a case again, Kendall is wasting away.

Then, one morning, waking up in a field after a binge, he discovers the dead body of a young woman. Kendall ignores his former boss’ warning to stay out of the investigation and strikes out on his own. He proves to be a smart detective but the situation is way over his head.

Character actor John Hawkes gets the chance to play a leading role here and does a great job. In supporting roles are top-notch veteran actors Octavia Spencer, Anthony Anderson, and Robert Forster.

“Small Town Crime” is a terrific little film written and directed by two brothers, Eshom and Ian Nelms. It is now out on DVD.

I hope the brothers bring back John Hawkes as Kendall for another case.

Friday, July 20, 2018

FFB: Some Die Hard by Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz, author of thrillers and suspense novels, came up with a hell of a locked-room mystery for his first book Some Die Hard.

Rock Dugan, former Hollywood stuntman turned private investigator, is swept into the mystery of why a man being chased by two thugs ended up dead. It turns out the man, who bumped into Dugan during his getaway, slipped an envelope into Dugan’s jacket pocket. The envelope contained gambling IOUs obtained by the dead man before he could deliver them to Susan Court.

Intrigued and feeling an obligation to get the envelope into Ms. Court’s hands, Dugan tracks her down. She hires him and takes him to the estate of her wealthy father. The father ends up dying in a very strange manner which Dugan believes to be murder. I will not give away the locked-room device or its solution, and just say that Stephen Mertz spins a fast-paced and enjoyable journey to the conclusion.

Some Die Hard is also a modern hard-boiled detective story in which the PI, Dugan, is pretty tough but not too hard-boiled. He encounters aggressive suspects, a goonish police chief and a former jockey with a pistol before the action really heats up.

Published in 1979, Some Die Hard was reissued a few years ago by Rough Edges Press and the Kindle version I read had a bonus at the end. In it, Stephen Mertz explains how the book first came to be published by a house specializing in paperback originals, and how that publisher tried screw him out of any money owed him. Stephen Mertz also tells how he got his revenge and his money.

(For more posts on books, check out Todd Mason's blog.)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Noir Alley is a Program to Watch

Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel showing old movies, uncut and commercial free, created a series with Eddie Muller, author and founder of the Film Noir Foundation. The show is called Noir Alley.

Saturday nights at midnight (Eastern time), and repeating Sunday mornings at 10, Muller, the host of the show, presents classic films that fit the definition of “film noir.”

The French term meaning dark movies was adapted from the name of a line of crime novels, including many American books, published in France starting after World War II called série noire.

Film noir generally identifies – and there are a lot of definitions – American crime movies produced from the mid-1940s to the late-1950s that often feature men with sketchy pasts trying to go straight, but who either get sucked into committing crimes or become victims.

The movies usually have dark, high contrast, black and white photography, often framed at odd angles. Some say this look traces back to German Expressionist films of the silent era.

For years, film buffs have argued over film noir, trying to establish an exact definition. But the genre seems to defy rules and provides all kinds of exceptions. If film noir requires black and white photography, what about “Leave Her to Heaven” from 1948, directed by John H. Stahl? Or, “Niagara” from 1953 directed by Henry Hathaway? If film noir requires the unreal world of movie studios where even exteriors were built on sound stages, what about the documentary style of “The Naked City” from 1948 directed by Jules Dassin, filmed on location in New York?

The debate goes on and on. So I will sum up my definition of film noir by using Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s quote about pornography: "I know it when I see it."

Eddie Muller, introduces each of the films, some of them restored by his foundation, and he always gives an informed and entertaining preface and postscript to each showing.

For movie buffs, this is a great series, and for film noir fans, this program is not to be missed.

To check out the Noir Alley site, click here. To see the program's schedule, click here. And for the Film Noir Foundation, click here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth from “The Great Escape”

A clip  from the 1963 movie “The Great Escape.”

While busy tunneling and preparing a massive escape from a German POW camp, three American service men – played by Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Jud Taylor – also build a still.

They pour moonshine for their allies to celebrate the Fourth of July.