Friday, December 21, 2012

The Posthumous Man

I'm happy to announce the release of my new novella THE POSTHUMOUS MAN.

The book is being published in both print and ebook by BEAT to a PULP, the fine press run by David Cranmer.

Here's the scoop on the book:

When Elliot Stilling killed himself, he thought his troubles were over. Then the ER doctors revived him. It’s infatuation at first sight when he meets his nurse, Felicia Vogan, a strange young woman with a weakness for sad sacks and losers. After she helps Elliot escape from the hospital, she takes him back to her place. He’s happy to go with her, even when she leads him straight to a gang planning a million dollar heist. Does Felicia just want Elliott to protect her from the outfit’s psychotic leader, Stan the Man? Or is Elliot being set up to take the hard fall? One thing’s for sure: if he’s going to survive this long night of deceit and murder, Elliot will have to finally face himself and his own dark past.

Eddie Muller, president of the Film Noir Foundation and Shamus-award winning author of THE DISTANCE:
In THE POSTHUMOUS MAN the existential and theological themes buried inside the best noir are pulled to the surface, hungry for air and clutching a last chance at redemption. Jake Hinkson crafts this bullet-fast novella with qualities emblematic of my favorite best crime fiction: empathy, gravity and brevity. Much appreciated and highly recommended.

Scott Phillips, award winning author of THE ICE HARVEST and THE ADJUSTMENT:
THE POSTHUMOUS MAN is every bit as crazily entertaining as Hinkson's hard-rocking debut, HELL ON CHURCH STREET, and it reads like a streamliner rocketing across the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Native Son (1951)

In 1948, the novelist Richard Wright teamed up with Argentinian director Pierre Chenal to film an adaptation of Wright's controversial bestseller NATIVE SON. The resulting film is one of the rare examples of classic-era "black noir". Upon its release, NATIVE SON was cut up by censors who were afraid of the racial and political message. For many years the original uncut version of the film was assumed to be lost. 

In recent years, however, a surviving print has been found and NATIVE SON is coming back to life. I got a chance to talk to one of the architects of this resurrection, scholar Edgardo Krebs. 

Check out our interview here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dangerous Dan Duryea

In the 1940s, he was The Ladykiller. One of the great bastards in film noir, he specialized in terrorizing women. The source of his charisma is a transparent sleaziness topped off with a razor-thin veneer of charm (like Eddie Haskell grown up and turned abusive). He oozed his slimey charm arcoss a variety of films, but he set the standard in masterpieces like SCARLET STREET, CRISS CROSS, and TOO LATE FOR TEARS.

Read more about the king of heels in my new piece on Duryea over at Criminal Element.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Sound Of Fury (1950)

Frank Lovejoy was so underrated in the fifties. He was just another character actor with a pleasant face and an authoritarian voice. Today he’s probably best known to noir fans as Humphrey Bogart’s long suffering cop buddy in Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place and as one of the unsuspecting motorists taken hostage in Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker. His best role, however, was as Howard Tyler, the doomed getaway driver in Cy Endfield’s still largely unknown The Sound of Fury.
Tyler is an ex-serviceman who has recently relocated his wife and young son to California following the war. Things are supposed to be good in the sun-kissed promised land, but they aren’t. Tyler can’t get a job, and his wife’s getting fed up. He takes off one afternoon, stops by a bowling alley for a beer, and meets a guy named Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges). Slocum’s a slick, fast-talking hoodlum with a business proposition for a man who’s steady behind the steering wheel. At first, Tyler has some reservations about being a getaway driver, but Jerry spells it out: take your dignity and go home broke, or stop being a sucker and go home with some cash in your wallet. Tyler thinks about it and calls his wife to tell her he’s going to be late. By midnight, he’s waiting outside a gas station while Jerry’s inside pistol-whipping the attendant.
The money flows. Tyler buys groceries. His wife is happy, and his kid wants a television set so they can watch westerns. All Tyler has to do is keep working the night shift with Jerry, but before long Jerry decides they need to upgrade from armed robbery to kidnapping. He picks the scion of a well-to-do family, and one night they nab the guy as he leaves his house.
I won’t say more about the plot except to note that in film noir there are a million guys like Jerry Slocum. He’s got meanness and a lot of ideas for getting rich. Surveying the world around him, he just sees a bunch of suckers, so he spends his days drinking beer and bowling, and spends his nights drinking whiskey and chasing dames. He thinks he’s smart, but he’s not. In noir, when you climb into a car with a Jerry Slocum you are hitching a ride to nowhere.
As Slocum, Lloyd Bridges is all vanity and violence. His preening is the perfect counterpoint to Frank Lovejoy’s sympathetic, believable portrayal as Tyler. Lovejoy has the ease of a natural onscreen everyman, but the last third of the film takes him places that are dark, frantic and surprising. It is a wonderful performance but a bittersweet reminder of how seldom Lovejoy was given challenging roles. (He seemed to have settled into television—with shows like his private eye series “Meet McGraw”—when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1962.) Here, forming a duet with Bridges, he does the best work of his career.
The rest of the cast is hit or miss. The acclaimed Broadway actress Katherine Locke plays a disturbed spinster named Hazel, and she and Lovejoy share some nice scenes together near the end of the film. But Kathleen Ryan is shrill and whiney as Tyler’s put-upon wife. She has one good scene late in the film reading a letter from her husband, but a stronger actress in this role could have given us more insight into the nature of Tyler’s tortured decision to be a criminal. Likewise, every time little Donald Smelick opens his mouth as Tyler’s cowboy-obsessed son, I wanted him to shut up—though, in his defense, with a few exceptions most kids in noirs are generally insufferable.
The film was directed by Cy Endfield, a director who got his start as an apprentice in Orson Welles’ Mercury Productions at RKO. After Welles was driven out of RKO, Endfield wound up directing shorts for MGM, and finally got his shot at directing features at the Z-list studio Monogram. Heads started to turn for Endfield in 1950 when he made the independently produced The Underworld Story and The Sound of Fury —back to back films that were intelligent, uncompromising, and dealt with the themes of the press, mob violence, and human weakness. Unfortunately, soon after the release of The Sound of Fury, Endfield was named as a Communist sympathizer in the House on Un-American Activities Committee’s hearings on Communist subversives in Hollywood. He fled to England (where he eventually worked with fellow blacklistee Bridges), and he never retuned to work in Hollywood.
It’s damn disgrace that someone of Endfield’s talent was driven out of his profession, of course, but he left behind two impressive American films. His work in The Underworld Story is strong, but his work in The Sound of Fury is superlative. It helps that he’s working from an intelligent script by novelist Jo Pagano, whose source novel The Condemned is a sharp and underrated piece of work in its own right. Pagano intended his book, and the film that followed it, as an indictment of lynch mobs and journalistic cravenness. In both the book and the film he reaches too far in this respect (in fact he and Endfield butted heads over sections of the script Endfield felt were too didactic), but the power of its narrative comes from the way it weaves these themes in with Howard’s choice and its terrible consequences. Together, Endfield and Pagano crafted a quintessential film noir.

Read my review of Jo Pagano's over at Friday's Forgotten Books.

And read my essay on Lovejoy at Criminal Element.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frank Lovejoy aka The Face of the Fifties

Frank Lovejoy was the great unheralded Everyman of film noir. He had a gift that most actors would kill for--he was wholly believable as an ordinary man. At the same time, however, there is something boiling beneath the surface of this actor's best work.

Read my new essay on Lovejoy over at Criminal Element.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tom Neal: The Broken Man

I have an essay on Tom Neal in the new issue of NOIRCITY. Neal, of course, is best known as the star of of the essential 1945 noir DETOUR. While the film has long been acknowledged as gritty masterpiece, Neal has never been given his due. I aim to fix that oversight. My essay looks at his early life, his career, his contribution to DETOUR, and the events surrounding his imprisonment in 1965 for lethally shooting his third wife. Neal's life was as dark as any noir, and no fan of the genre will want to miss it.

This issue also contains my interview with scholar Edgardo Krebs about the making and rediscovery of the 1950 film version of Richard Wright's NATIVE SON. Steve Kronenberg writes about director Edgar G. Ulmer's plans to remake DETOUR in the 1960s, Eddie Muller writes about the silent film THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK, John McElwee writes about the long overlooked director Hugo Haas. And, as they say, there is much much more. Go check it out at the Film Noir Foundation.