Friday, November 27, 2020

To Live & Die in L.A.

Man was I excited to be back on The Projection Booth podcast this week to talk about one of my favorite movies - William Friedkin's To Live & Die in L.A. with Mike White and Andrew Nette. It's a film that has been a part of my life for 35 years even though I didn't see it till the early 90s.! When it came out I had no idea what it was about, but I was absolutely captivated by that title! That poster! I haaaaaad to see it.

And you know what? When I did finally get around to it, I never did get over it. It's such a propulsive escalation of macho themes and stereotypes rushing toward unexpected and deeply satisfying ends.

I've written about To Live & Die in L.A. as well as other films based on books by Gerald Petievich (Boiling Point and The Sentinel) as part of the Picture Books series but what's changed since writing that piece is that I've read two of the books - To Live & Die in L.A. and Money Men (adapted as Boiling Point). I dug both of them. Plot-wise both adaptations are very faithful to the source material, but I'd say James B. Harris' Boiling Point is probably a little closer to the feel of the novel with its slightly laid back wait-n-see narrative than Friedkin's frenetic hard-charger. 

While the book and movie tell the same story, Friedkin's film is very action-focused (as a visual medium should be) where Petievich's novel is not exactly a George V. Higgins-level marathon of dialogue-heavy scenes it is certainly closer to that in feel than the viscerally propulsive film. In fact I'd bet the first three scenes you think of when you remember the movie aren't even in the book. The airport? Nope. The presidential detail? Huh-uh. The car chase? 

Hell no.

Even Chance's last scene is very different in the novel, though the book goes just as hard at the character and I would recommend reading it to anybody who enjoys the film. The surprises especially in the final act are worth discovering.

Boiling Point doesn't hold near the place in pop culture history as To Live & Die in L.A. which helped launch the careers of William Petersen, John Pankow and Willem Dafoe, though its cast is even more incredible: Wesley Snipes, Dennis Hopper, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Seymour Cassel, Jonathan Banks, Lolita Davidovich, Tony Lo Bianco, Paul Gleason, Tobin Bell, Valerie Perrin and James Tolkan.

In 1993 it arrived just at the beginning of Snipes as a leading man phenomena preceded by White Men Can't Jump and Passenger 57 and followed in quick succession by Rising Sun, Demolition Man and Sugar Hill (all '92-'93). Supposedly there were reshoots involved, but at the very least an effort to advertise the film as another Snipes-action spectacular is obvious in retrospect. Somebody didn't know, or more likely didn't care, what they had.

And what they had was a sturdy little crime flick about hustlers and predators on the streets with a hell of a that-guy cast and behind the camera talent in Harris and Petievich that would give serious weight to familiar genre-fare. I hope when somebody puts out a repackaged blu-ray they can get the film reconsidered and appreciated.

If you give up on hearing me ramble, don't give up on the episode, just skip ahead and hear Mike interview Willem Dafoe about the role of Rick Masters and his career. FWIW my next appearance on The Projection Booth will also be with Andrew Nette and we're looking at another Dafoe flick, Roger Donaldson's White Sands.

Also worth noting I made an emergency replacement appearance on All the President's Minutes podcast with Blake Howard and we talked about Robert Redford's vs. Dustin Hoffman's career, Alan J. Pakula's weaponization of recording devices and his affinity for bad brogues from Brad Pitt in The Devil's Own to Jane Fonda in Klute and I took the opportunity to connect Pakula/Klute to David Fincher's Zodiac as an easy bleed-in to Blake's next obsessive podcast project.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Not the Baloney Pony

Happy to be back at The Projection Booth podcast this week with Mike White and Carol Borden talking about Robert Montgomery's adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes' Ride the Pink Horse for Noirvember. You can find the episode here. Sounds like the title of an AC/DC song if ever a noir film did.

Of the three of us I turned out  to be the biggest fan of the film while Carol was bullish on the book and Mike wasn't quite sure what to make of it. That's okay though because I was a big enough fan for all three of us.

Certainly I think it's a big improvement for Montgomery over his directorial debut (the Raymond Chandler adaptation) Lady in the Lake which may not entirely work, but is at least ambitious and interesting for Montgomery's choice to shoot it entirely from his/Marlowe's POV and for Audrey Totter's amazing facial expressions. Ride the Pink Horse doesn't go near as hard on the calling attention to its style front, but it is stylish.

And handsome. Damned handsome. And, I, for one, think Montgomery wears that suit like the handsome damned of many of my favorite gringo noirs, though the ending of the film is a far sight more hopeful than the ending of Hughes' novel (or films noir in general). Carol and Mike have got more to say about that, but the episode also features a swell Dorothy B. Hughes-focused interview with Sarah Weinman, so I defer to everybody else there.

For the episode I read the novel and watched all the films I could find that Hughes had a hand in including Nicholas Ray's adaptation of Hughes' novel In a Lonely Place which I'd seen before, but only just learned how different it is from the source novel (lots on that in the interview with Weinman). 

I also watched The Corpse Came C.O.D. and Follow the Boys, a forgettable couple of toss-offs Hughes did some un-credited work on, but I quite enjoyed John Garfield and Maureen O'Hara in Richard Wallace's adaptation of The Fallen Sparrow about a damaged-goods veteran come home to find out who killed the policeman who helped him escape torture in a prison camp. It made for an interesting disillusioned vets double bill with Ride the Pink Horse, though Sailor, the protagonist of Hughes' novel, is not a soldier Lucky, the protagonist of Montgomery's film, is.

I listened to Montgomery and Wanda Hendrix reprise their film roles for the the radio drama edition of Ride the Pink Horse and watched the Destry episode Ride to Rio Verde which is also adapted from the text. The last adaptation I consumed was Don Siegel's The Hanged Man starring Robert Culp. As a big fan of Siegel's I was disappointed in The Hanged Man, which felt pretty slight though it had a nice touch or two (including nightmarish clown make-up on Gene Raymond). It wasn't nearly as satisfying to me as Montgomery's version. In the episode Carol notes that Culp's nastiness better represents the Sailor character from Hughes' novel though. 

Here's an interesting bit. In February 1964 Siegel directed Destry's first episode, The Solid Gold Girl. Episode 9, Ride to Rio Verde based on Ride the Pink Horse, aired in April. Siegel directed an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers (or, if you prefer, a remake of Robert Siodmak's 1946 version) which was supposed to be a made for TV film (the first made for TV film in color), but which NBC passed on due to the shocking colorized violence and was subsequently released theatrically in October '64. Then, in November, one year after John F. Kennedy's assassination (which had delayed filming on The Killers), Siegel's second attempt at a made for TV movie, his Hughes adaptation, The Hanged Man airs.

And that's it for Hughes movies. According to Mike, Carol and Sarah I really need to dive into more of her books and based on my enjoyment of Ride the Pink Horse I will. Seriously, the book is super hardboiled and unsentimental, nasty, brutish and has a scorcher of an ending. And it sounds like judging her books by their movies is a mistake regardless of how much I like the films.

Incidentally, before Ride the Pink Horse was an episode of the TV show Destry, Destry the character had a couple of hit movies: Destry and  Destry Rides Again inspired by a Max Brand novel starring Audie Murphy, himself a veteran of WWII who came back with some awfully deep war scars, like Montgomery's in Ride the Pink Horse and especially Garfield's in The Fallen Sparrow, that caused his marriage to Ride the Pink Horse co-star Wanda Hendrix to fall apart very quickly.

Anyway, check out the episode, I think you'll enjoy it. Also, subscribe to The Projection Booth's patreon if you can, check out Sarah Weinman's books and get acquainted with Carol Borden's website The Cultural Gutter: thoughtful writing about disreputable art. This is great company to be in.

Speaking of great company, tune in to The Projection Booth for the last Noirvember episode where I'll be back talking with Mike and Andrew Nette about William Friedkin's To Live & Die in L.A. That episode will also feature an interview with Willem Dafoe!

Saturday, November 7, 2020


Okay. For fucks' sake.

Back to crime stuff.

Thank God...

Since we last spoke... 

here's what I've been up to.

I haven't had the energy or focus to talk about any of it...

For some stupid fucking reason.

I'm glad you all hung in there.