Down On the Underground

I suppose there’s a certain rightness – the book being largely concerned with the Miners’ Strike and its lingering aftermath – about coming face to face, for the first time,  with one of the posters advertising the new paperback of Darkness, Darkness, way underground on the Northern Line platform of Waterloo station (High Barnet branch).

And, just in case you’re not going to be travelling on the Tube any time in the next few weeks, here it is …

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At the Movies 1961

Long before Moleskin notebooks took over the stationery world to the degree that they have, there were these neat little notebooks called / made by Baberton; I had a number of them, mostly little ones – The Baberton Junior – spiral bound at the top and containing 40 pages, or leaves, as they preferred to call them. Most have gone the way of so much else, via some route or another to recycling heaven – a journey usually occasion by moving house, something that’s happened all too many times.

But to the point … A few years back I discovered one of said notebooks, in which I had kept a note of films I had seen between 1961 to 1967. It was to this notebook I went a few days ago before writing about The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, fairly certain I would have seen them during that period, and, sure enough, there they are, close to the front of the book, having been seen – first? – in 1961. I suspect that I’d already seen The Big Sleep before then, if not both.

Either way, neither film appears in the Best Of … lists for that year.

What did, I hear you ask … ?

Here goes …

Ten Best New Films of 1961

  1. Rocco and His Brothers (Visconti)
  2. La Casa del Angel (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson)
  3. Les Jeux de L’Amour (Denys de La Patellière)
  4. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
  5. A Taste of Honey (Tony Richardson)
  6. The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges)
  7. Victim (Basil Dearden)
  8. The Young Savages (John Frankenheimer)
  9. Tunes of Glory (Ronald Neame)
  10. Goodbye Again (Anatole Litvak)

Best Reissues of 1961

  1. The Maxim Gorki Trilogy (Mark Donskoi)
  2. Ivan the Terrible, Parts 1 & 2 (Eisenstein)
  3. Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein)
  4. The Navigator (Buster Keaton)
  5. Kanal (Andrzej Wajda)
  6. The Marx Brothers Go West (Edward Buzzell)
  7. Rebecca (Hitchcock)

And all of those (and, of course, more) seen during my first year at Goldsmiths’ College. With all the trips up to town to the Hampstead Everyman and the National Film Theatre (as the BFI Southbank was then, so much more sensibly, called), how did I ever get all those books read, all those essays written?

 

Two Sides of Bogie

Watching The Maltese Falcon last night at BFI Southbank, and spurred on, I suppose, by the recent death of Lauren Bacall, I was thrown back into long-ago arguments with friends about the relative merits of that movie, John Huston’s first as director, as against Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, his 32nd, sitting nicely between To Have and Have Not and Red River – what a trio!

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Both, of course, have their considerable merits – both are still highly enjoyable even after many viewings – but if I were forced to make a choice, it would be the Hawks film every time. And I think the key to that, for me, is in the playing as much as the direction, that of Bogart in particular. (To the extent they can be separated.) There’s a tightness, a brittleness to his performance as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, which, while it is in keeping with the character as portrayed in Dashiell Hammett’s novel, affects the more romantic of his scenes with Mary Astor (as opposed to the memorable moment towards the end when he waves her off to prison and the possibility of a hanging) and means that – coupled with Astor’s duplicitous coldness – we never get to believe he has any genuine feeling for her, so that when, just before handing her over to the police, he says maybe he’s in love with her, we don’t believe him for a minute and thus his dilemma is no dilemma at all. The closest, in fact, he comes to showing real affection for a member of the opposite sex is in his scenes with Lee Patrick, playing his secretary, Effie, and that’s because, in his eyes, she’s more like a regular guy, a pal.

Compare that performance to his Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, and you find an actor equally as capable of hardness and anger when the occasion demands, but otherwise far more relaxed and at ease with himself and the character he’s playing. This is never more evident than in those teasing scenes with Lauren Bacall, rightly famous for their sexiness and speed of witty repartee. [Small wonder, with William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman lining up to sharpen Chandler's original dialogue still further.]

Bogart and Bacall were an item by then, of course, in love, in lust, a relationship which had started during the making of To Have and Have Not two years previously, whereas Mary Astor was sleeping with the director of The Maltese Falcon rather than the star.

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The other half of this argument was always that between the source novels: which was the better book? Spade or Marlowe, who was the most convincing detective? Who was the better writer, Hammett or Chandler?

When I read them first, around the age of 16 or 17, my vote – swayed by the elaborate metaphors and an occasional lushness of style – was for Chandler; but as I got older and learned a little more about Hammett – his experience as a Pinkerton detective, his leftish sympathies – I found myself leaning towards his harsher more hard-boiled sentences and what seemed to be an almost nihilistic view of life.

Now? Well, I’m not so sure. It’s a while since I read The Maltese Falcon, but The Glass Key, which I did re-read recently, struck me as terrific; and if I haven’t opened The Big Sleep in a while, I’ve certainly gone back to and admired what might be the best of Chandler, The Long Goodbye.

Where the novels are concerned, maybe we should settle for a draw?

Resnick: US Publication

Here I am, allowing myself more than a small cheer to celebrate the fact that the 12th and final (yes, that’s right) Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, is this week published by Pegasus Books in both hardcover and ebook form in the US.

… the excellent writing, strong characterisations, and the genial, jazz-loving Resnick make this a suitable conclusion for Harvey’s fictional creation.

Publishers Weekly

The Resnick novels remain one of the high points in the history of crime fiction.

Bill Ott: Booklist

‘Nuff said.

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More details …

Oh, and I’m delighted to add that Going Down Slow, the most recent Resnick short story, only currently available as an ebook, has been accepted for publication by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, date not yet confirmed.

 

Crying for a Nickel

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“If Weegee had set aside his camera in favour of a beat-up old Underwood, this is pretty much what the result would have been like – raw and up close, but off-centre just the same, the threat of violence exploding from the shadows.”

That a recent post on Woody Haut’s excellent blog was devoted to a book about dedicated collectors of 78 rpm blues records would have come as no surprise to anyone lucky enough to have read his latest noir novel, Cry For a Nickel, Die For a Dime.

Set in 1960s LA and featuring, alongside aforementioned collectors and a Weegee-like opportunistic news photographer, the novel is awash with corporate greed and violent gangsters, shot through with various shades of blues, and showing, yet again, Haut’s love of the noir world in all its scuffed and downbeat glory.

Cry For a Nickel, Die For a Dime is published this September, ebook first, paperback to follow.

Details here …

Praise from One’s Peers

Gratifying as it is to get positive notices from professional book reviewers, it means even more to have good things said about your work by fellow writers – especially those whose work you yourself admire. This was the case recently with David Peace’s remarks about Darkness, Darkness, and now, following in his footsteps, comes the equally formidable John Burnside.

I got to know John a little some dozen or more years ago, when we were part of a British Council writers’ tour of Romania, and was delighted when, sometime after that, he reviewed my second poetry collection, Bluer Than This, in very positive terms. On the strength of that, and maybe one meeting in the intervening years, I sent John a copy of Darkness, Darkness, thinking it might be the kind of novel he would like.

Thankfully, I was right. This is what he had to say …

Charlie Resnick’s last case not only recreates the sense of betrayal and despair that prevailed during the Miners’ Strike, but also vividly tracks the underlying currents of corruption and fear in a society still suffering from the blind greed and callous betrayals of that divisive era. A dark, yet elegant and utterly compelling novel, Darkness, Darkness is a masterpiece, a fit farewell to a character so many of us have loved for quarter of a century.

Many thanks!

John’s most recent book is I Put A Spell On You.

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http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/blog/author-interviews/John-Burnside-I-Put-A-Spell-On-You/