Monday, July 05, 2010

Sort Of Related: Nobody’s Angel, by Jack Clark (1996)/Two O’Clock Courage (1945)

For personal reasons, I’m a fan of taxi noir. Two examples of the form recently came my way.

Cabdriver Jack Clark wrote Nobody’s Baby in the 1990s. After repeated rejections he self-published the book. Until Hard Case Crime brought out a new edition last month, the only way to score a copy was to hail Clark’s rig in Chicago.

Eddie Miles has seen plenty in his years behind the wheel, but nothing prepares him for being at the center of two different murder investigations. A veteran driver is shot to death at the same time Eddie prevents a killer of prostitutes from claiming his latest victim. Eddie doesn’t exactly investigate either crime. But he sticks close, his own fate seemingly bound up in the outcome.

Both cases are ultimately solved, but neither is the point of the book. Nobody’s Angel is about broken people in a broken place. Eddie – tired, cranky, certain he’s about to be screwed by the world and whoever’s in the back of his cab – knows only he’s to blame for the sorry state of his life. He struggles to find compassion for his fares, and on the rare occasions when he does it’s powerful stuff. In pared-to-the-bone prose Clark offers a street-level view of the city, always changing and forever breaking hearts.

A cabdriver is the only thing Nobody’s Angel has in common with the frothy nonsense of Two O’Clock Courage. Amnesiac Tom Conway flags down a hack driven by Ann Rutherford. Conway realizes that he’s implicated in the murder of a theatrical producer and Rutherford, as any cab driver would, ferries him around town trying to clear his name. This overplotted B-movie hooey, complete with strained comic relief, is made bearable by Rutherford, who can only be described as adorable, and strong early work from two noir stalwarts. Jane Greer, still Bettejane in her first credited appearance, makes a great venomous party girl. And director Anthony Mann keeps the meter running with some nice business in the backgrounds of shots. For the record, even Eddie Miles would look fetching in Ann’s sporty cap.