Wednesday, September 26, 2018

“Crime Wave” is Gritty Film Noir

The 1954 film, “Crime Wave,” was one I had never seen until this summer when it ran on Eddie Muller’s weekly TCM program, Noir Alley.
As Muller said in his introduction to the film (which you can watch here), “Crime Wave” could not be a simpler story. What makes it a terrific film is the way it is told, the tension, the snappy dialogue, and the cast.

Gene Nelson, a dancer who appeared in numerous musicals, does a good job playing an ex-con trying to go straight and live a quiet life with his wife, played by Phyllis Kirk. One night, some guys he knew in the joint barge in on them. They need a place to hide, but when the heat is turned up on them, they kidnap the couple and force the guy into participating in a bank robbery.

The cop turning up the heat is played by tough, towering Sterling Hayden. Muller said Hayden in this movie was author James Ellroy’s model for the brutal police detective, Bud White, in Ellroy’s novel, L.A. Confidential.

The bad guys are played by Ted de Corsia and a young Charles Bronson under his real name, Charles Buchinsky. In a small role, the amazingly odd Timothy Carey, plays a weird hood ordered to watch the wife while the others pull the job. Phyllis Kirk being left alone with Carey is one of the creepiest scenes in film noir.

Every moment of this 73-minute, black and white movie is tough, thanks to the direction of Andre De Toth.

Muller obviously liked this movie and had a lot to say about it before and after the picture. (You can see his post script here.)

Friday, September 21, 2018

FFB: Stool Pigeon by Louis Malley

A man sitting in his car in New York’s Little Italy is shot to death and police Detective Vincent Milazzo is assigned to the case, in Louis Malley’s 1953 novel, Stool Pigeon.

Detective Milazzo, who grew up in the neighborhood, joined the police department, made good, and got promoted to detective, now needs to find a stool pigeon to break this case. But the neighborhood is traditionally wary of talking to the police. Even though Milazzo is one of them, his choice of profession makes him an outsider.

The dead man is part of a pornography racket luring young women, making sure they are soon broke, then sending them into clubs and onto the street to earn for them. These gangsters have mob connections and may even have powerful members of the police force protecting them. Milazzo finds himself up against the old neighborhood, organized crime, and his own department.

Louis Malley obviously knew how the mob and the cops operated in his era. He uses that knowledge and creates some fine character studies in this suspenseful, fast-paced novel. Every page of Stool Pigeon feels real and true.

Little is written about Louis Malley, other than he was born and raised in New York City and he published four novels: Horns for the Devil, 1951, (reviewed here) which was later republished as Shadow of the Mafia; Stool Pigeon, 1953, later republished as Shakedown Strip; Tiger in the Streets, 1957; and The Love Mill, 1961.

According to court records and a newspaper report, Malley was shot and killed in 1962 at age 40.

Today, Malley’s novels are hard to find, but Stark House Press plans to bring out Stool Pigeon as one of its Black Gat Books.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

FFB: Dark Hazard by W.R. Burnett

The surprise read of the summer was W.R. Burnett’s 1933 novel, Dark Hazard. I fully expected to enjoy what I thought would be another tough-guy yarn filled with gangsters and gun molls. After all, Burnett made a splash with his first novel, Little Caesar, and went on to write other books populated by the underworld, like High Sierra, and The Asphalt Jungle.

Burnett knew his characters and the worlds in which they lived, and he wrote about them in a clean, hard style. But what surprised me was finding Dark Hazard had a soft heart.

It is the story of Jim Turner, once a high-stakes gambler and race-track regular who has fallen on hard times. It is winter, 1928 and he is making ends meet working as a night clerk at a third-rate Chicago hotel. He has a new, straight-laced wife who knows his past and is happy to see him making an honest – if poorly paid – living. The dull job is driving Jim nuts.

In a great twist, Jim meets a gambler who operates on an even larger scale than Jim ever did in his heyday. The gambler owns an interest in a dog track near Los Angeles and hires Jim to go out there and keep an eye on the operation. Jim jumps at the chance to leave wintery Chicago for sunny California.

At first his wife is happy out there. Then, two things happen. Jim, who swore off gambling for her, starts betting on the greyhounds. And Jim falls in love. He loses his heart to a champion dog named Dark Hazard. The more into dog racing Jim gets, the more he wants to buy and race Dark Hazard. His wife is not happy about any of these developments, nor about Jim’s new friends, a bunch of West Coast gamblers and sharpies.

The story follows Jim for several years through ups and downs, and winds up with an unexpected ending.

Burnett’s skill as a writer not only weaves a completely believable story out of these various threads, but also makes the ins and outs of dog racing understandable and exciting.

As Jim gets sucked back into the gamblers’ orbit, readers will worry about him on every page.

Not far into this book, it hit me I knew this story. Warner Bros. made not one but two movies in the 1930s based on this book. Around the time Warners bought the film rights to his 1929 novel, Little Caesar, Burnett went out to Hollywood to work on movie scripts.

After reading several of Burnett’s books, I’ve got to believe he was one of the writers who taught talking pictures how to talk. All through Dark Hazard, his characters’ dialogue is as sharp and funny and energetic as the roaring 20’s must have been.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott's blog.)