MAX ALLAN COLLINS ON THE PASSING OF JAMES GARNER

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Jul 222014
 






James Garner

from http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/

Like most writers who’ve had any sort of success – and this seems to apply particularly to mystery writers – I get questioned frequently about influences. If you’ve followed these updates or seen me on a convention panel or maybe just chatted with me, you know the list: Hammett, Cain, Chandler, Spillane, and a bunch of others. Writers all.
And I sometimes mention – as do such contemporaries of mine as Bob Randisi, Ed Gorman and Loren Estleman – the impact that series television had on me as a writer. Not every writer is secure enough to admit being influenced by what we used to call the boob tube (I always hear Edith Prickley saying that). But those of us who grew up in that wave of TV private eyes in late fifties were probably as influenced by such shows as Peter Gunn77 Sunset StripMickey Spillane’s Mike HammerPerry Mason and Johnny Staccato (among others) as we were Hammett, Chandler and Spillane.
More often (though still relatively seldom) you’ll hear a mystery writer admit to having been influenced by filmmakers. I frequently mention directors Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph H. Lewis, and such movies as Kiss Me Deadly andChinatown. Add Vertigo to those last two and I would challenge you to find many novels that stack up, even by the masters.
But it’s rare that any writers think to mention the influence actors have had on their fiction. I know that Italian western-era Lee Van Cleef influenced my Nolan series, for example, and Bogart is someone that writers sometimes aren’t embarrassed to cite as influential on their work. Not often, but it happens.
For me, the passing of James Garner – a man I never met and never had contact with – reminded me how big an influence this actor was on my life and my work. Before the TV private eye fad, there was the western craze, and discovering Maverick at a very young age shaped me in a way that rivals any parent or mentor. Now of course Roy Huggins had a lot to do with that, as the creator and frequent writer on the series, but it was Garner who brought life to the character, whose like we’d never seen.
Bret Maverick was a big, good-looking guy, able to handle himself with his fists and passably well with a gun (despite his claims at being slow on the draw). But he would rather charm or con his way out of a jam than fight or shoot. He was quick with a quip but never seemed smug. He was often put upon, and didn’t always win. Though he was clearly better-looking and more physically fit than your average mortal, he conveyed a mild dismay at the vagaries of human existence. And he did all of this – despite (or in addition to) Roy Huggins – because he was James Garner.
Garner’s comic touch was present in much of his work, and of course Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford were essentially the same character. And no matter what literary influences they may cite, my generation of private-eye writers and the next one, too, were as influenced by The Rockford Files as by Hammett, Chandler or Spillane. The off-kilter private eye writing of Huggins and Stephen Cannell made a perfect fit for Garner’s exasperated everyman approach, but it was just notes on a page without the actor’s musicianship.
Not that Garner couldn’t play it straight – he was, in my opinion, the screen’s best Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun, and as early asThe Children’s Hour and as late as The Notebook he did a fine job minus his humorous touch. But it’s Maverick and Rockford – and the scrounger in The Great Escape, the less-than-brave hero of Americanization of Emily, and his underrated Marlowe – that we will think of when Garner’s name is mentioned or his face appears like a friendly ghost in our popular culture.
Garner’s attempts to resurrect Maverick were never very successful – Young Maverick a disaster, Bret Maverick merely passable, though his participation in the Mel Gibson Maverick film was on target. I was fortunate to get to write the movie tie-in novel of that and – despite an atypically mediocre William Goldman script – had great fun paying tribute to my favorite childhood TV show and to the actor I so admired. (If you read my novel and pictured Gibson as Bret Maverick, you weren’t paying attention.)
Like all of us, Garner was a flawed guy, though I would say mildly flawed. Provoked, his easygoing ways flared into a temper and he even punched people out (not frequently) in a way Bret Maverick wouldn’t. He never quite came to terms with how important Roy Huggins had been to the creation of his persona, and essentially fired him off Rockford after one season. The lack of Huggins and/or Cannell on Bret Maverick was probably why it somehow didn’t feel like real Maverick.
Garner had great loyalty to his friends, however, and as a Depression-era blue collar guy who kind of stumbled into acting, he never lost a sense of his luck or seemed to get too big a head. He resented being taken advantage of and took on the Hollywood bigwigs over money numerous times, with no appreciable negative impact on his career. He was that good, and that popular.
When he gave a rare interview, Garner displayed intelligence but no particular wit, and it could be disconcerting to see that famed wry delivery wrapped around bland words. Yet no one could convey humor – from a script – with more wry ease than Jim Garner. Perhaps he was funny at home and on the golf course and so on. Or maybe he was just a great musician who couldn’t write a note of music to save his life.
It doesn’t matter. Not to me. He influenced my work – particularly Nate Heller – as much as any writer or any film director. He was a strong, handsome hero with a twist of humor and a mildly exasperated take on life’s absurdities. I can’t imagine navigating my way through those absurdities, either in life or on the page, without having encountered Bret Maverick at an impressionable age.
Watch something of his this week, would you? I recommend the Maverick episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres,” which happens to be the best single episode of series television of all time.
J. Kingston Pierce has a wonderful post on Garner at the Rap Sheet, with links to his definitive (and rare) two-part interview with Bret Maverick himself.
M.A.C.

Jul 222014
 


HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY!

Greg Rucka’s new novel, Bravo, follows two women: one, an American agent emerging from deep cover, is still coming to grips with what her “real” life really is. The other is an avid instrument of death, who will stop at nothing to execute her lover’s plans. Jad Bell, who saved the country once in Alpha, is going to have his hands full with these two.

Click here to read more about Bravo.

Jul 222014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


HORIZONS WEST. Universal International, 1952. Robert Ryan, Julie Adams, Rock Hudson, Judith Braun, John McIntire, Raymond Burr, James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Frances Bavier, Tom Powers. Director: Budd Boetticher.

   Horizons West is a very good, albeit uneven, 1952 Universal Studios production directed by Budd Boetticher. Set in and around Austin, Texas, after the Civil War and during Reconstruction, this Western tragedy stars Robert Ryan and Rock Hudson as the brothers, Dan and Neil Hammond.

   As the film progresses, Dan (Ryan) and Neil (Hudson) find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with the latter tasked with bringing in his criminal older brother back to town for trial, culminating in a final interfamilial showdown in a small Mexican town. Dan starts off as a seemingly good guy, but by the end, the man’s done gone bad, irredeemably so.

   The movie benefits from its strong coterie of extremely talented actors. Aside from Ryan and Hudson, the film also stars Raymond Burr, who brilliantly portrays Cole Hardin, a sleazily villainous gambler. There’s something about Burr’s character that’s so devious that one wishes that he weren’t killed off so abruptly.

   And then there’s the lovely Julia Adams (Creature of the Black Lagoon), who portrays Hardin’s wife. She inevitably falls in love with the increasingly arrogant and power-mad Dan Hammond, causing friction between Dan and Cole. Veteran character actor John McIntire portrays the stoic Ira Hammond, owner of the family ranch who watches with alarm as his son, Dan (Ryan) returns home from the war a defeated, but proud Confederate officer, only to morph into to a ruthless and corrupt Texas power player.

   Aside from the skillful acting, Horizons West makes excellent use of vivid and symbolic use of colors (Technicolor works extraordinarily well here) and numerous well-constructed lush interiors. Look for the scene in front of an Austin hotel when Dan Hammond is wearing a red tie and Mrs. Hardin is wearing also wearing red in her attire. It just works perfectly.

   In many ways, the plot is standard, almost cliché Western fare, replete with a soldiers returning home from the Civil War, a good guy gone bad, brothers in conflict, a corrupt and flamboyant Mexican general, cattle rustling, and a lynch mob.

   One can, however, view Horizons West less as a standard Western, and more as a quasi-Greek tragedy set in the American West, similar to Saddle The Wind, which I reviewed here.

   Similarly, one can interpret it as contemporaneous social criticism about how big money can corrupt otherwise good men. Indeed, by the time that the movie ends, the two overtly greedy lead characters, Dan Hammond (Ryan) and Cole Hardin (Burr), have both been killed by gunfire.

   In contrast, in the final moments, the film’s most humble and hardworking characters are prospering in the bounty of the westward movement of people and cattle, hence the seemingly optimistic title of the film. But to the extent that Horizons West is about the rise and tragic fall of Dan Hammond, the film’s French title, Le Traitre du Texas (The Texas Traitor), is more accurate in conveying the film’s classically tragic overtones.

   The film’s greatest flaw is in the fact that we never really get a full sense of what drives Dan Hammond to self-destruction, why he goes power mad. There’s almost no indication that something terrible happened during the war that explains his descent into villainy.

   There are, however, a couple of brief moments that may shed at least some light on the matter. Soon after Dan returns home from the war with his adopted brother, Neil (Hudson) and their family’s ranch hand, Tiny McGilligan (James Arness), he tells his parents that he finds Texas to be too quiet and refers to all the noise he heard during the Civil War.

   But that’s about the last he mentions of this. We never see Dan struggle with his wartime experiences, nor do we ever hear him explain to another character what drives him to cheat and to steal. The other instance is when Dan discusses finances with Ira, his father who still hasn’t paid off the debt on the ranch, something that Dan Hammond seems to find embarrassing. But again, it’s a brief exchange and one that isn’t much referred to later on.

   Still, Horizons West remains a better than average Western. Ryan, Hudson, and Burr are all great actors and it shows. The film’s strongest point is its extraordinary use of color. There are many scenes in which color, rather than dialogue, is the focal point. It’s a movie that explores one man’s descent into greed and violence, but nonetheless remains truly beautiful to behold.

 Posted by at 12:40 am
Jul 222014
 

Here's the trailer for Mercenaries, The Asylum's distaff take on the uber-manly Expendables franchise. The trailer looks pretty good - promising, even - but as it's an Asylum picture, I'm not letting my expectations get too high. The studio hasn't had a great track record for quality in any genre, really, and has fared especially poorly with action fare (stunts are expensive).

Cool to see Brigette Nielsen as the Big Bad, though it is disappointing to see that Cynthia Rothrock appears to have a non-fighting role. I'm hoping that Zoe Bell and Kristina Loken can raise the bar here. It can't hurt that Zoe can do her own stunts.

We'll see....
Jul 212014
 

Famous Fantastic Mysteries 40-03In a letter published in “The Readers’ Viewpoint” column in its June 1948 issue, Robert Boyer labeled Famous Fantastic Mysteries as “. . . the Aristocrat of the Pulps, the acme of stf perfection,” a title that can likewise be conferred upon the magazine’s later companions, Fantastic Novels and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine.

Started by the Frank A. Munsey Company in the fall of 1939 and edited by Mary Gnaedinger, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was created to reprint the scientific romances originally published in The All-Story, Argosy, and The Cavalier. Welcomed by readers anxious to experience the classics found in the Munsey files, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was joined by a companion title, Fantastic Novels, in the early summer of 1940. For most of the next year, the two magazines were published in alternating months.

In late 1942, Munsey sold many of its pulps—including their two classic reprint magazines—to Popular Publications. Reluctant to take on a pair of fantasy titles, the new publisher opted to continue Famous Fantastic Mysteries, but not Fantastic Novels. Popular would wait until 1948 to return Fantastic Novels to the stands, once again relying on the Munsey archives for its content. A third title, A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine, was added in late 1949.

On Thursday, August 7th, beginning at 8:30 PM, Ed Hulse, author and editor of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and Nathan Madison, popular culture historian and author of Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books, 1920-1960, discuss Famous Fantastic Mysteries, one of the major science-fiction titles started in 1939, as well as its two brethren, Fantastic Novels and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. Highly regarded during the pulp era, all three remain highly collectible pulp magazines, given their exceptional fiction and beautiful illustrations.

Fantastic Novels 48-03

Click on the illustrations to learn more about the images.

John Sayles on Anthony Mann’s Border Incident

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Jul 212014
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxJK2w3Hc0I

I never quit pushing Anthony Mann do  I?

Mystery File did a fine piece on this movie. I've seen it two or three times and now I want to see it again.
Jul 212014
 
“We’re all just in the muck trying to believe we’re capable of greatness, but closer to breaking than we want to admit. And we tell ourselves stories—about ourselves,but maybe also all these stories about other people, about characters—as a way to hide from how small we are.”

- Doug Dorst, S. (via quoted-books)
Jul 212014
 
Society Nineteen: Why do you feel that Thomas De Quincey is significant?
David Morrell: He was the first person to write about drug addiction at a time when opium in the form of laudanum was in everybody’s medicine cabinet and was used the same way we use aspirin. Many people were addicted to the drug, but the hypocrisy of the time was so severe that when De Quincey openly discussed his opium use, he became notorious and was called the Opium-Eater for the rest of his life. De Quincey was also an inventor of the true-crime genre. He was obsessed with the Ratcliff Highway mass murders of 1811. The first publicized multiple killings in English history, they paralyzed the entire country and created terror comparable to that of Jack the Ripper three-quarters of a century later.