Sunday, October 16, 2005

Website Update: Changes

The incremental design change continues. I’ve tweaked the Links page, but that’s the least of it. The Purpose page is no more, because by this point even readers of Parade magazine know what a blog is. As for Theories, I finally had to admit that I was never going to update that section of the site. So I’ve kissed it goodbye.

But I stand behind the sentiment that graced that page for lo these many months: everything that is wrong with society can be blamed on either hippies or television.

Book: Hell Hath No Fury, by Charles Williams (1953)

It reads like the ur-noir novel. A slick operator in a small town tempted by a good girl, a bad woman, and an easy bank. Williams’ lethally spare prose conveys the heat, the desperation, and above all the sense that a man who feels trapped can talk himself into anything.

The novel was the basis for the 1990 film THE HOT SPOT. Williams himself had a hand in the adaptation. I somehow missed the film for fifteen years, and I have to say I’m glad. It’s simultaneously too faithful to the source – almost every incident from the book is recreated – and not faithful enough, serving up the action in an arch, self-conscious style.

Still, director Dennis Hopper casts the movie well. The good girl is future Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly, the bad woman recent Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen.

Don Johnson makes a perfect noir protagonist – thickset, good-looking, and not as smart as he thinks he is. I’ve thought Johnson was underrated ever since 1993’s GUILTY AS SIN, which I recently caught again on cable. Screenwriter and personal hero Larry Cohen begins with the conceit of recasting the femme fatale as a man. The result is schizophrenic, to say the least; director Sidney Lumet and costar Rebecca DeMornay seem to think they’re making a courtroom drama. But Johnson is squarely on Cohen’s page, unafraid to push the feminine aspects of his character. The actor also scored in a TV production of THE LONG HOT SUMMER, and as a comic foil in TIN CUP. I had hoped to check out Johnson’s new TV series JUST LEGAL, in which he played a role similar to Paul Newman’s in THE VERDICT, but it was an early casualty of the fall season.

You may have noticed that most of this post has focused on Don Johnson’s career instead of Charles Williams’ novel. That’s because there’s nothing I can say about an acknowledged classic of the genre other than: read it.

Movie: Thunder Road (1958)

The sometime Hollywood stuntman who anchors James Sallis’ DRIVE spoke so reverently about this movie that I had to seek it out. Robert Mitchum, who not only wrote the story but the title song as well, plays a Tennessee bootlegger facing down revenuers and the Mob.

A low budget and a formula script hamper the story, but the film has a genuine feel for life in the holler, and Mitchum creates another in his gallery of screw-you individualists. And fans of fine motoring will find much to savor, including displays of the bootlegger’s turn (a 180-degree change of direction without stopping) and the moonshiner’s turn (the same thing done while driving in reverse). Yes, I had to look them up.