Sunday, February 07, 2010

Book: Hardboiled Hollywood, by Max Décharné (U.S. 2010)

My first problem? This new reprint of a 2003 No Exit book is called Hardboiled Hollywood, yet two of the eleven movies in it – Hell is a City and Get Carter – are as English as Bobby Charlton eating crisps at a snooker match.

The bigger problem? It’s subtitled The True Crime Stories Behind the Classic Noir Films. Which led me to believe that it would be about the true crime stories behind the classic noir films. Silly Vince. In truth not even half the movies covered have specific historical antecedents, and those are dispensed with in cursory fashion. Some prime candidates are overlooked; despite numerous references to James M. Cain there are no chapters on Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, both inspired by an actual murder. Instead the focus is on the well-trod ground of the making of the films themselves.

(ASIDE: In the interests of completeness I’ll also say that it’s appalling publisher W.W. Norton would release a book with jacket copy citing “Anthony Perkin’s” performance in Psycho. Here’s the rule: if you’re not sure where the apostrophe goes, leave it out. Better we think you forgot it.)

That said ... misleading title aside I enjoyed Hardboiled Hollywood. Décharné knows the terrain, writes with passion, and consistently turns up overlooked perspectives. Here’s a great quote from the Spectator on Nicholas Ray and They Live By Night: “If the director had taken the trouble to be French, we would be licking his boots in ecstasy.” The Get Carter material is particularly strong, with Décharné rightly taking director Mike Hodges to task for his misinterpretation of the word “nails” in Ted Lewis’ source novel Jack’s Return Home. Décharné correctly points out that the Parker in Richard Stark’s The Hunter is smarter and more ruthless than Lee Marvin’s incarnation in Point Blank. And it’s good to be reminded that Bonnie and Clyde were not folk heroes but venal small-time killers.

There’s some bait and switch involved, but Hardboiled Hollywood is worth reading.

Miscellaneous: Golden Boot Link

Author and noir historian Alan K. Rode attends the Golden Boot Award ceremony for legendary stuntman Bob Hoy.