Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book: Blackmailer, by George Axelrod (1952)

Ed Gorman has the brief on George Axelrod – “hip but accessible.” For me, he’ll always be the man who wrote one of the greatest screenplays in the history of motion pictures, the original adaptation of Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. A cult following has sprung up around his directorial debut, the savage black comedy Lord Love A Duck. I’m not in that number; the movie’s too bilious and scattershot for my taste. But it’s the rare comedy that left me feeling uneasy at the end, which is a point in its favor.

Axelrod’s interview in Patrick McGilligan’s Backstory 3 is a freewheeling marvel. He dishes on working with Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, analyzes why the movie version of his play The Seven Year Itch failed (thanks to changes dictated by the Breen Office, “the goddamn premise didn’t make any sense”), and tells how he briefly convinced Truman Capote that the film of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was going to be called Follow That Blond.

Somewhere in that illustrious career, Axelrod found time to pen a Gold Medal paperback, which Hard Case Crime has brought back into his print. Blackmailer is kind of a Gold Medal Lite, about a Manhattan editor caught up in a daft plot involving a Hollywood bombshell, a tough-guy talent agent, and a manuscript that might be the last book from a Hemingwayesque author. It’s lighter and more urbane than standard Gold Medal fare, and it works surprisingly well. Only someone truly on the inside of show business could have concocted that ending.

Blackmailer includes a passage that perfectly captures the joys to be found in B-movies, especially when compared to big-budget films that are “completely sterile from the very beginning.” Sure, B’s may be “slapped together by someone who thought if he could make a movie fast enough and cheap enough he could probably make a few dollars.” But they’re not sterile. If you’re lucky, they’ll include talented performers “acting for their own enjoyment – for personal kicks,” who might convince you that they’re actually fighting for their lives. It’s a great scene for movie buffs.

TV: Entourage

I’ve complained about the show’s greatest implausibility before – that a group of four guys from Queens doesn’t include a single Mets fan. Then, in Sunday night’s episode, Johnny Drama (Emmy nominee Kevin Dillon) turned up wearing a 1986 Lenny Dykstra throwback jersey. I have chosen to interpret this as proof that the show’s writers have acknowledged their error, and that they read this blog.

Miscellaneous: Links

Hell hath no fury like a comic whose material has been stolen.

Today’s bounty at The Obscure Store includes demonic taxicabs and prison riots over Woody Allen.