Friday, October 27, 2017

Orson Welles On The Air

Between the period that he became a groundbreaking theater director and the period when he became a groundbreaking film director, Orson Welles was a groundbreaking radio director. Actually, these periods all overlapped in the mad days of the 1930s when Welles seemed to be everywhere, doing just about everything. His film work has, of course, seized the attention of the most people, if for no other reason than it is the work that's been most readily available to the public. His theater works, as all theater works, live on mostly in reports and stories and legends. (God, I'm pining for someone to put out a new exhaustive exploration of his theater work spanning from the 30s to the 60s.) For those interested in his radio work, however, there is wonderful news from Indiana University.

The Lily Library in Bloomington, the guardian of the largest collection of Welles's papers and archival materials, has a magnificent new resource available to the public.

Orson Welles On The Air collects much of Welles's prolific radio work as a director, actor, political commentator, and master of ceremonies. Included are the series' FIRST PERSON SINGULAR, MERCURY THEATER ON THE AIR, CAMPBELL PLAYHOUSE, THE ORSON WELLES SHOW, HELLO AMERICANS, ORSON WELLES COMMENTARIES, and more. Much more. It's fascinating to see Welles alternate between his roles as an entertainer (mounting a thrilling version of "Dracula" or his famous panic-inducing take on "War of the Worlds") to his work as a social critic (including his five episode campaign on ORSON WELLES COMMENTARIES calling for an investigation into the 1945 beating and blinding of an African American serviceman named Issac Woodard in South Carolina). 

Welles is back on the air where he belongs. Go check it out.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Georges Simenon: The Father of European Noir

I'm really proud to be associated with the Film Noir Foundation and its journal NOIR CITY. Published and edited by FNF honcho and host of TCM's NOIR ALLEY Eddie Muller, it's one of the best movie journals around. The new issue is out and it's pretty damn great. There two pieces by Imogen Sara Smith, who's certainly my favorite writer on film working today. She's got a piece on Jean-Pierre Melville and another on the 1929 silent noir A STRONG MAN. Alan K. Rode writes about the great, if not widely known, screenwriter Frank Fenton. And there's a lot more.

Oh yeah, there's me. I have a couple pieces in this issue. One is a epic overview of the massive influence of Georges Simenon on European film noir. Adaptations of his novels started with Jean Renoir in the early days of sound and have extended to the present, so there's A LOT of territory to cover. It was a blast to write.

The other piece is a look at the film version of ALL THE KING'S MEN, the film about a blowhard populist politician who sweeps to power by inflaming his white rural base. Total fantasy stuff.   

You can learn about about the magazine and the Film Noir Foundation here.

Friday, October 13, 2017


above: Joan Bennett in a publicity still for THE RECKLESS MOMENT

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's 1947 THE BLANK WALL might be the best classic noir novel that most noir fans have never read. It's a masterpiece of its kind, one the best examples of what some feminist critics call the "domestic noir," that subgenre of crime fiction and film that concerns itself with the secret world of the happy American housewife.

Holding's book was made into the brilliant 1949 Joan Bennett noir THE RECKLESS MOMENT, and was then adapted fifty years later into the excellent 2001 Tilda Swinton neo-noir THE DEEP END. Three very different works of high quality. That's an incredible feat. 

I wrote about the book and its cinematic legacy in a recent piece for the Book vs Film column for the magazine Noir City. Here's a link to the article. Check it out.