Cliff Neal is going to make his mark on the world. His mother is an elegant Irish woman who keeps her own council, his father is everybody’s pal, and his sisters annoy the hell out of him. Friends and enemies and the stuff of high school fill his days until he meets the two people who will alter his life.
THE ANGRIEST BOY is blue-collar noir, a story of young love, and a drama about a kid becoming a man who has to decide if he’s going to be the pawn of criminal forces or use his brain to think his way out of a tightening noose.
One of those movies that was clearly messed with in post-production, HIS KIND OF WOMAN was directed by John Farrow, but producer Howard Hughes had it recut, with additional material added by Richard Fleischer. This all comes from the DVD commentary by Vivian Sobchchak, which is a good one–these sorts of car-wreck productions give commentators something to talk about besides the movie stars. You don’t need commentary to see that this movie is one of those peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate goony bird movies. No one would’ve planned a movie to come out this way.
This starts off in film noir territory. Dan Milner (Mitchum) is a gambler who owes $$$, so of course he takes a job that will put his life in danger.
That’s when he heads into romance, intrigue and some wacky adventuring that puts this closer to BEAT THE DEVIL than THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Mitchum spends the first HOUR of the movie hanging out in a tourist spot without knowing WHY he’s been sent to Mexico. The noir promise of the first few scenes is long gone, and it never really returns. There are some moody moments with the father from ROBOT MONSTER as an evil Nazi-sounding doctor, but like Mitchum we spend our time wondering what the hell we’re doing here.
Mitchum and Jane Russell have great screen chemistry, and why shouldn’t they? Russell was Mitchum’s female counterpart, doing her own thing, clearly into having a good time wink wink, and able to handle herself without calling on some man for help.
When it turns out Russell’s boyfriend is played by Vincent Price, the modern viewer knows there’s clear sailing ahead for Mitchum and Russell. In Price’s favor he plays an unusual character, neither the campy villain of his future roles nor the sour stiff of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. He’s actually fun as a movie star who organizes a raid on the bad guy’s domain.
Howard Hughes’ involvement led to more Price scenes, and this seriously, almost fatally knocks the movie out of noir territory into light comedy adventure. Russell disappears from the movie for half an hour while The Men shoot and beat each other up. While Mitchum endures a maze of passageways in this yacht the size of a small U.S. state, we see Price in scenes that could have been disposed of in a sentence or two of dialogue. They’re fun, but they kill any sense of Mitchum being in real danger. Remove Price’s scenes and this could be an okay noir; with them, it’s just a romp.
Howard Hughes’ involvement usually beat up, ripped up and defaced pictures. It’s too bad he couldn’t have gotten along with Howard Hawks–both seemed to share an attitude that movies should be romps, a good time. You can see in his meddling here that he was up for Hawks movies, but he just didn’t have Hawks’ ability to balance the serious and the humorous.
HIS KIND OF WOMAN is no classic, but it’s fun, with some snappy dialogue.
“Well, what did you think of the picture?”
“Oh, it was fine. It was just a little long – about an hour and a half.”
“Yet “Frankie Teardop”‘s howling electronic assault sounded like nothing that came before. Anticipating new wave, no wave, synth pop, industrial, electro and noise, it was in its way far more radical than the punk bands it preceded.” – Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
In their dark, dark masterpiece “Frankie Teardrop,” SUICIDE’s Martin Rev created a monotonous New Wave synth sound, often rhythmic and repetitious while Alan Vega pushed out the lyrics. In a Rolling Stone piece on the song they mention the influence of The Doors on the sound, and there’s a definite connection to “The End.” It’s there–an influence, not a source to rip off.
This ten-minute slice of working-class Hell begins with a staticy beat that plays throughout. Vega tells us Frankie is twenty, works hard, has a wife and kid, and he isn’t able to keep it together, ‘it’ being life. It’s just too tough to make the money he needs for his little family to survive, not that we get any idea of what the wife and kid are like. The fascinating thing is that we get an idea of Frankie entirely from his problems–we don’t know anything about him except these few facts.
The inciting incident and last straw is Frankie and company getting evicted.
There’s not much more to this horrible noir diamond. The vocalist whose name I forget has a sweaty voice as he tells us Frankie’s gonna kill his wife, his kid and himself.
And that’s exactly what Frankie does.
The track continues on with the machine-like synth dirge drilling its way into your head. A few bits of sound design help create the urban setting, but the aural highlights are the singer’s impressions of Frankie’s and his wife’s death screams.
With a limited musical environment and a simple–even simplistic–lyric inspired by a news story, “Frankie Teardrop” puts you in the shoes of a working man who hasn’t the imagination or resources to get out of a trap that’s so easy for so many to enter.
Back in the 80’s the Black Lizard/Vintage editions of Jim Thompson’s books were the most consistent sign of the Thompson revival. I like the black and white photos used for covers, and in the case of THE GETAWAY in particular. The picture helped wipe away the image of the story as a Steve McQueen flick. It’s not a terrible movie, but like THE KILLER ELITE, it’s neutered Sam Peckinpah, not the straight stuff like THE WILD BUNCH or BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.
Later, the Alex Baldwin/Kim Bassinger adaptation had me apologizing to the spirits of McQueen and Bloody Sam. It’s slick and flashy and you forget it the second it’s over. And of course they skip the best part.
As with SAVAGE NIGHT, the highlight of THE GETAWAY is the ending; as with Matheson’s I AM LEGEND, the best part of the book hasn’t made it to the screen. In it, Doc McCoy and his wife Carol have escaped the cops and their crooked ex-partner, and end up in a hideaway in Mexico. The movie skips over the parts that wouldn’t work with McQueen, such as his killing of an innocent driver. Doc McCoy would bump off a guy just because it was convenient for him; Steve wouldn’t.
The movie, scripted by Walter Hill (THE WARRIORS), has Doc and Carol tumbling out of a trash container and stumbling around a little. The movie’s corny “We’re criminals, but HOLLYWOOD criminals” view of the pair means they’ll somehow make it work, those crazy kids.By Hollywood standards this is radical, I guess.
That’s not how the book ends.
Thompson goes off into loopy extremes. See, Doc paid to be hidden in Mexico, and he and Carol end up in a kind of Bad People Town. They have gotten away with the loot from a bank heist, but that money’s going to be used to finance their stay in a town peopled by criminals on the lam. The money’s going to go to room and board, and the peculiar meat churned out nearby.
The meat is made of folks whose money finally runs out. Doc and Carol know they can’t trust each other, but they’re also stuck with each other, at least until they end up smoked and between slices of bread.
Now, why didn’t they use that ending in the movies?!
This is the real madness of Thompson’s work, this grotesque stuff that’s like a horror mold that’s consuming the final pages of a straight crime novel. Thompson’s surreal/horror streak doesn’t get as much notice from critics, but it’s responsible for much of the madness in his books.
In “The Murder Clause” episode of PETER GUNN, Helen Bailey (Cece Whitney) goes to Gunn because she’s afraid her husband wants to kill her. See, he’s this crazy trumpet-playing cat, and you know how THEY are–probably all hopped up on the ‘horse’ you dig?
Bud Bailey is played by James Coburn, so of course we believe her story completely. So does Gunn. Then the Bailey weekend getaway cabin burns down, apparently with Bud inside.
(There has to be a cleaner way to indicate that things aren’t as they seem without using ‘apparently,’ which might as well be ‘apparently but not really.’)
SPOILERS AHOY! cap’n. Budd got a bum to stand in for his body, and Pete catches up with him.
It’s an okay ep, but around the 24 minute mark on the Youtube version, Gunn enters a room where Bud (pot reference?) is hiding out. The jig up, Bud sits on the bed, obviously but effectively behind bars.
What’s fascinating about this scene is the way the script and Coburn bring out the sheer FRUSTRATION of the criminal seeing his plan fail.
So much crime fiction is about big money, big passion. This scene is about crime as an escape. Coburn’s character gets more frustrated AND more exhausted as the scene goes on, as he accepts that his escape didn’t work, and he was JUST SO SURE he could get away with it.
It’s a fascinating scene. And this being a death penalty state, he’s going to get away from it all.
(Boy, this transfer slows down the theme in the end. Directed by Boris Sagal, dad of Katey, who died by walking into a helicopter rotor on the set of the TV movie WORLD WAR 3. Ouch.)
Our hero is just out of the big house and our heroine is an ex-prostitute he met on the job (hers). They’re of the James M. Cain “We’re both rotten, we belong together” school of sexy criminals who can’t keep their hands off each other and everyone else wishes they were him or her, but they can’t be satisfied with that so they pull a crime that leads to disaster. Where would noir/hardboiled be without ’em?
Barry Gifford can’t seem to write about books without name-dropping; his list of great books in one of his collections is mostly stuff like, “I was walking in Times Square with David Lynch this one time and we were talking about film noir,” but he has written about a lot of good books and movies, so I can’t hate him. He did more in this case–half the intro to the NYRB edition of this is him telling you all about it–and helped get this back into print.
While it takes a little long getting where it’s going for my modern temperament, BWHMA is a terrific, bleak crime story that deserves more readers. You like Thompson, Willeford, Cain? You need to read this. There’s the self-destructive couple who can’t stay away from each other out of Cain, the narrator’s a self-pitying criminal who has a great deal of insight about himself out of Willeford, and a climax that lurches toward surrealism in the manner of some of Thompson’s crazier books like THE GETAWAY.
The key to this kind of book is The Dame. Chaze excels in his depiction of Virginia, though she is a creation of the era, too: She looks awesome, she loves sex, and she’s Evil, and that’s pretty much the male noir fantasy woman. Chaze gets away with it because, as is the case so often with fine writing, it’s as much what he comes up with as what he leaves out that makes his characters stick. Knowing too much about Virginia would spoil the suspense about her ultimate plans.
They almost made a movie of this a few years back. I’m glad they didn’t. This was the casting:
Virginia comes off a lot like Ann Savage in DETOUR.
My casting for Virginia would’ve been Peggy Knudsen, particularly how she looked in THE STOLEN LIFE:
Our hero thinks a lot about the crime, before and after they pull it off, and Chaze comes up with a beautiful noir image, the sort of thing the French Siere Noire crowd got all sweaty about: a seemingly bottomless pit, part of an abandoned mining site, into which evidence of the crime is dumped. It’s out there, tugging at the characters’ thoughts, an actual void into which they fear falling but to which they’re drawn. The Existential Hardboiled Void, if you can boil a void.
While acting like regular suburbanites before the big caper, our hero wears a suit and acts all respectable. Our whore-with-a-heart-of-bitcoin plays the good wife as long as she can (about three seconds) before turning the garden hose on the suit while our hero is wearing it.
Then she says this:
“I can stand anything in the book but gentlemen. Because I’ve spent a lot of time, too much time with them, and I know why gentlemen are what they are. They decide to be that way after they’ve tried all the real things and flopped at them. They’ve flopped at women. They’ve flopped at standing up on their hind legs and acting like men… They’ve flopped at being individuals. So they say to themselves one fine morning: ‘What can I be that’s no trouble at all and that doesn’t amount to a damned thing, but yet will make everyone look up to me?’ The answer’s simple. Be a gentleman. Take life flat on your back, cry in private, and then in a well-modulated voice… A gentleman is a door mat with all the scratch gone from it.”
That’s why people are villains in hardboiled stories, and why readers like me love books like this.
I like crime movies, i.e. movies about criminals. They give movie makers the freedom to explore places most of us only think about and will never experience. Which is what any movie does, but these are things we’re afraid of, and we like testing ourselves secondhand. How would we deal with our life taking us someplace much darker than nice people go?
Many crime movies have shootouts. They’re frightening, but they’re also about power. We want to think if dropped into this most manly of fantasies we’d be the baddest shooter, the one who wipes out all comers.
I like these shootouts a lot.
If you didn’t see this opening night in a theater with great sound, you can’t know what a shock the sound was. Here machine guns sounded like jackhammers. DeNiro and crew pull off a bank heist in broad daylight, but Pacino and his men are tipped off. What happens next is a war in the streets of L.A.
The gang makes progress–they start out HERE and need to get AWAY. They blast away, and though they’re the bad guys you’re–not rooting for them but INVOLVED in what they’re doing.
Both sides lose men, and the stakes are raised. The climax is beautifully done and doesn’t need to match this scene. But it’s the essential scene in the movie.
THE WILD BUNCH
Best shootout ever?
The first time I saw THE WILD BUNCH I was in awe of this scene. It just kept COMING. The cuts between regular- and slow-motion were masterful, each shot feeling like it belonged. We watched as these really cruddy human beings tried to do something kind of right and die in the attempt. The whole movie is mixed-up–bad people show loyalty, and the claims about ‘realism’ drown in the gallons of blood that flow.
Best shootout ever.
A BETTER TOMORROW 2
Most amazing climactic gunfight evah. It starts at 11 and then gets crazy. And it keeps on going. Amazing.
TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2
Not a great series, but includes the best gunfight I’ve seen for a TV show. Starts bad and just keeps getting worse. Police approach a building and the drug makers inside open fire.