Saturday, May 27, 2023

Reading Ernie Pyle on Memorial Day


This Memorial Day weekend, read some of the dispatches of Ernie Pyle.

Born in Indiana in 1900, Pyle was known during World War II as the reporter who wrote about the average G.I. Their stories in his syndicated column gave the people back home a glimpse of the war at ground level.

Pyle was with the U.S. infantry as they fought in the mountains of Italy and, after D-Day, he was with the soldiers fighting in France.

His most well-known dispatch may be “The Death of Captain Waskow,” (which you can read here). Another is, “A Slow Cautious Business” (here).

Pyle later went to cover the war in the Pacific and was killed there in April, 1945.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Favorite Films of 2022

Sunday night the Oscars will be awarded.

But rather than make predictions on the nominees, I thought I would do a short list of my favorite films from 2022.

“The Quiet Girl” (From Ireland and in the Irish language with subtitles.)

"The Duke" (Why didn’t Jim Broadbent get a nomination?)

"Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" (Why didn’t Emma Thompson get a nomination?)

"Father Stu" (Wahlberg and Gibson gave good performances)





"The Lost City"

"Top Gun: Maverick"

Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

Thirty-five years after it hit bookstores, James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere still has the power to thrill and nauseate. So much so that a reader might ask: “What is wrong with this guy?”

All joking aside, Ellroy is a hell of a writer. He mixes a deep knowledge of mid-20th century Los Angeles with an obsession for the crimes and misdemeanors of the old police department. He creates a world based in reality with situations straight out of his own nightmares.

Set in the LA of 1950, The Big Nowhere starts as two parallel stories with three key characters. The characters come together to solve one of the most gruesome and disgusting crimes in fiction.

In the small hours of New Year’s Day, the body of a murdered and mutilated man is found near the Sunset Strip. Detective Danny Upshaw of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department catches the case. Since the body is discovered outside the municipal limits of LA, the case is in the county sheriff’s jurisdiction.

Upshaw discovers the crime was initiated in the city, which is a problem for a sheriff’s deputy. There is outright hatred between officers of the LAPD and officers of the LASD. The city cops, the records department and even the morgue will not cooperate with him.

But this changes due to the other story line.

In the city, an ambitious lawyer in the LA district attorney’s office forms a task force to look into Communist influence in the movie industry.

The lawyer, Ellis Loew, is looking to boost his own political standing. He appoints LAPD Detective Lt. Mal Considine to investigate Hollywood Reds. Considine, who hopes this work will get him promoted to captain, is disappointed to learn he has to work with former dirty cop, Turner “Buzz” Meeks. Loew, knowing the team has to take some short cuts, brings in Meeks. He also appoints the smart, politically savvy, and deeply corrupt Lt. Dudley Smith to work with Considine.

Smith is a fascinating character who appears in several Ellroy novels. The character has the uncanny ability to find weaknesses in other men and to use that knowledge to get what he wants.

In a strange move, Upshaw of the LASD is recruited into the Red-baiting team of LAPD investigators. Seeing his own opportunity for advancement, Upshaw agrees to join, and works the two cases at the same time.

It doesn’t take long for Upshaw to learn that suspects and witnesses in his murder case are also targets of the investigative team.

Ellroy has made a career of telling jaw-dropping stories of the good-old, bad-old days in the City of Angels. He uses the setting to crank out high-octane novels, like this one, told in the voice of a street-smart guy of that era.

The Big Nowhere is not for weak stomachs. The violence and gruesomeness are almost as hair-raising as Ellroy’s use of nearly every racial slur.

The Big Nowhere is Ellroy’s second book in his LA Quartet with includes The Black Dahlia, LA Confidential, and White Jazz.