Friday, October 31, 2014

CRIMES BY WOMEN: The Comic Book

From my new piece on CRIMES BY WOMEN: 
Crimes By Women was a ten cent comic book published by the Fox Features Syndicate from June of 1948 to August of 1951. It was an anthology series that showcased a series of femme fatales, gun molls and full-tilt psychopaths engaged in all manner of sexual seduction and wanton violence. It was, in a word, trash.
Trash has its appeal, though, and—more importantly—it can tell us something about the shifting currents of a culture...
To read the rest of the piece, head on over to Criminal Element.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE SHOOTIST (1976)

The latest entry in The Cowboy Rides Away, my series on the final Western roles of the great cowboy actors, is up at Criminal Element. 

This time around I look at the John Wayne and THE SHOOTIST.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some Initial Thoughts On GUN STREET (1961)

I'm in the middle of working on the next entry in my Poverty Row Professionals series for Noir City magazine. I'm going to be profiling the director Edward L. Cahn. As such, I've been watching a lot of his work, and not just the noir stuff either.

I just watched his 1961 western GUN STREET. This is a modest little film with a small cast, limited sets, and little in the way of a budget.

The film isn't claimed by anyone (least of all me) as some kind of hidden masterpiece, but within the context of when and how it was made, it's quite an interesting movie.

It's something of a knockoff of HIGH NOON, though like RIO BRAVO, it is critical of that film's subversive message. HIGH NOON is essentially an extended meditation on the fickleness of society and the fragility of the institutions that are meant to keep it together. GUN STREET, like RIO BRAVO before it, is not.

GUN STREET has a heroic lawman (played in an effective turn by Cahn's frequent leading man, James Brown) waiting for the imminent arrival of a deadly outlaw. The town panics as the outlaw nears. The lawman stands strong.

That's the basic plot, but in more ways than one GUN STREET fails to deliver what the usual oater would promise from this scenario. We never see the outlaw. Never. Some critics of the film have argued that this dissipates the tension, but I would argue otherwise. Most normal westerns would hop back and forth between the hero and the villain, would give us someone to hate. Instead, here, the approaching trouble feels more like a storm than a man. The townspeople bicker over why the outlaw wasn't executed to begin with. (The movie could be read as a 67 minute argument in favor of the death penalty.) But at the end the outlaw is found dead, having bled to death from a gunshot wound he suffered while escaping. Thus, the villain we never see is killed by some guard we never even hear about. Everything in the film has led up to a climactic gun fight that we never get.

Again, many critics of the film see this as a simple oversight, but I somehow doubt that. Edward Cahn made roughly a million westerns. He knew all to well that the audience was expecting to see the hero kill the villain at the end, and I find it hard to believe that either he or his writer Sam Freedle (who had been a script clerk on HIGH NOON) simply forgot the gunfight at the end. I doubt they ran out of time or money either. The final scenes of the film, involving the discovery of the body of the outlaw and the retirement of the lawman (he rides away through a posse scattered over the side of a mountain) would have been as complicated as a simple two-man gun fight. 

I think Cahn just wanted to do something different.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Poverty Row Professionals: William Castle

I'm doing a series on the professionals of classic Hollywood's Poverty Row for the e-mag Noir City. My first installment was on the career of the underrated John Reinhardt (THE GUILTY, OPEN SECRET). 

My latest piece is on William Castle. He's best known today for the flamboyant gimmicks he used to sell his schlock horror movies in the fifties and sixties, but in the forties he'd down a lot of work on Poverty Row and in the B-units of some larger studios. He gave us one of the first film noirs in the class of 1944 (WHEN STRANGERS MARRY), apprenticed under Orson Welles on THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, and produced several other good examples of noir before moving on to fame and fortune as a self-crown master of the macabre.

You can check out my article on Castle by getting Noir City.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

God And The Gangster: The Ballad of Billy Graham and Mickey Cohen

Given my love for preachers and crime lords--and given my love for any overlap between the two--it was only a matter of time before I wrote something about the brief but remarkable relationship between the Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham and the Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen in the 1950s. 

Here are two outsized figures. 

Graham was arguably the most successful Christian preacher of all time (growing up Southern Baptist, I kind of thought of him as our Pope). To put that in perspective, Billy Graham proselytized to more people than anyone else in history, and perhaps more than any other single individual, he shaped the public perception of Protestantism in the later part of the 20th century and moved fundamentalism into the American mainstream.

Mickey Cohen, on the other hand, was the most feared crime boss on the West Coast in the 1950s. In the years since his death, his infamy has only grown. The subject of books and documentaries and feature films, Cohen is an almost mythical figure today.

I have a new piece that looks the strange moment in time when Graham and Cohen were on such friendly terms that Graham was telling the press than Mickey should be a preacher and Cohen was telling the press that he and Billy were going to vacation together at a dude ranch.

Go to Criminal Element to check out God And The Gangster

Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE BIG UGLY

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my new novel, THE BIG UGLY.

Ellie Bennett is an ex-corrections officer who has just served a year inside Eastgate Penitentiary for assaulting a prisoner. She’s only been out for a day when she accepts a strange job offer from the head of a Christian political advocacy group. He wants her to track down a missing ex-con named Alexis. Although no one knows where Alexis has gone, it seems like everyone in Arkansas is looking for her—from a rich televangelist running for Congress to the governor’s dirty tricks man. When Bennett finds the troubled young woman, she has to decide whether to hand her over to the highest bidder or help her escape from the most powerful men in the state.

You can get it in paperback.

You can get it as an e-book.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

I have a new piece up at Tor.com looking at the classic sci-fi/monster flick (and Howard Hawks production) THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. You can read that here.