Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book: Collusion, by Stuart Neville (2010)

The bloody events of Stuart Neville’s sterling debut novel The Ghosts of Belfast echo in this follow-up. Gerry Fegan, the haunted IRA assassin, has fled to America and found only a temporary measure of peace. Inspector Jack (never John) Lennon of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is searching for his ex-lover and daughter, who have gone into hiding. To find them he’ll have to sort through the collusion of the title, the incestuous relationship between law enforcement, politicians, and Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups. Not to mention deal with a lethal hit man known only as The Traveler. As well as Fegan, heading home with vengeance on his mind.

Collusion doesn’t have as lean a storyline as Ghosts, which makes Neville’s accomplishment with this sequel all the more impressive. He’s written a dense yet nimble thriller that explains the intricacies of Ulster politics without slowing the tempo, and taps into the tension still underlying life in Belfast, where residents are “all smug and smiling now they’d gathered the wit to quit killing each other and start making money instead.” The Traveler is a creation both ferocious and fallible, each quality intensifying the other.

Again running through this meticulously plotted suspense is a supernatural element. Mixing early Stephen King with real-world thrills shouldn’t work but it does, and beautifully. Neville has vaulted to the front rank of crime writers with these two books. Plus I owe him a huge debt for showing me the correct spelling of “Whisht!,” the exclamation uttered by my Northern Ireland-born father whenever Notre Dame was about to score. So he hasn’t been saying it much lately.

Posting a review of a book both scary and scarily good should be enough for this All Hallows Eve but in case it’s not, here’s the end of Paul Lynde’s Halloween special. You may want to dial 91 first.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

PBR: Regeneration (1915)

Rosemarie closes out Silent Movie Mondays at the Paramount Theater.

Before the last in the series of Silent Crime Spree films unspooled our host and organist Jim Riggs reminded us about the early 20th century settlement movement, which established houses in poor areas where middle class volunteers lived among recently arrived immigrants, assisting with social services and education. A settlement house on New York’s Lower East Side provided the focal point of our movie: Regeneration, directed by Raoul Walsh.

The story is taken from My Mamie Rose by Owen Frawley Kildare, which tells the story of his childhood on the mean streets of New York. In the film, three actors play the part of Owen, who loses his mother at the age of 10 and becomes an orphan taken into the neglectful care of the battling neighbors across the hall. Owen at 17 doesn’t have much going for him except a quick way with his fists that lands him where we find him at 25, leader of a gang that rules their small patch of the neighborhood.

Into that rough society comes settlement worker Mamie Rose. Her beauty and kindness appeal to Owen’s better nature. She teaches him to read and under her tutelage he gives up his gangster ways. If there’s anything we learn from crime movies, though, is that you can’t escape your past. Owen’s friend Skinny stabs a cop and needs a place to hide out. Owen obliges and things go downhill from there.

The painted sets and harshly lit interiors are reminders the film is almost 100 years old. Yet some of its images are timeless: young Owen sitting alone in a window watching a hearse carry his mother pull way, children dressed in rags playing in the dirty tenement staircase, and a Madonna-like mother cradling her infant on the steps of a church.

Too sad? I agree. I respect Regeneration for what it does, namely enlivening a hortatory memoir with some well-executed action. Like when the cornered Skinny, after having attempted to violate Mamie Rose’s honor and shooting her in the process, tries to escape by sliding down a clothesline strung high between two apartment buildings. Owen, taking to heart Mamie’s plea to leave vengeance to the Lord, hesitates in pursuing the scoundrel. No such qualms for another young man who loved Mamie Rose from afar. He pulls out a gun and blasts Speedy, sending him plummeting to a messy death. Now that’s how you end a crime spree.

Next up on Silent Movie Mondays, starting in April: films about New York. I can’t wait.

Editor’s note: Rosemarie also participated in Donna Moore’s Ramones flash fiction challenge. Her story is here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sort Of Related: Renko & Scudder, Together At Last

Three Stations, the latest Arkady Renko novel by Martin Cruz Smith, is named after Moscow’s massive railway complex, where a trio of train lines and occasionally lives come to an end. Detective Renko, sidelined by a disgruntled superior and on the verge of suspension, is saddled with the case of a prostitute who OD’d there. He ruffles feathers by determining that the woman was not a prostitute and her death no accident. At the same time Zhenya, the shy teenaged genius who has become Renko’s charge, assists a young runaway whose baby was kidnapped on a train into the city.

Typically the two storylines would intersect. That they don’t is one of the pleasures of the book. As is Smith’s clear-eyed look at contemporary Russia, from the station’s makeshift clans of urchins to a luxury fair for oligarchs now afraid of losing their dachas in the wake of economic collapse. Renko remains a magnetic protagonist, keeping his expectations low and his sense of irony high. Three Stations is a lesser entry in the series but it’s always a pleasure to spend time in Renko’s company.

Sadly, I missed Smith’s panel appearance at Bouchercon. But a strange synchronicity was at work in San Francisco nonetheless. I have only read two mystery series in their entirety, the Renko books and the Matt Scudder novels by Lawrence Block. ARCs of the newest Scudder were circulating at the convention, and I ended up with one. (Thanks again, Megan!)

A Drop of the Hard Stuff won’t be published by Mulholland Books until May 2011, so I’ll keep my comments brief. Like my favorite Scudder novel When The Sacred Ginmill Closes, it journeys back into the ex-New York cop’s life. Scudder is closing in on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety when he crosses paths with a childhood friend who once ran afoul of the law but has succeeded in recovery. He’s working AA’s difficult Eighth Step – making amends to those you have wronged – when he is murdered by someone hellbent on keeping a past sin buried. The book is a throwback in every sense, revisiting the days when Scudder’s grip on his new life was tenuous at best and Manhattan was free of cell phones, still affordable and still dangerous. To walk those streets again was a treat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PBR: Underworld (1927) & Bouchercon, Recapped Redux

Rosemarie continues to attend the Silent Crime Spree at the Paramount Theater in my absence.

At the top of the stairs stands a beautiful young woman in a feather-trimmed coat. A few dark curls peek out from under her cloche. At the foot of the stairs a young man sweeps the barroom floor. He’s unshaven, dirty, maybe a little drunk. As the woman adjusts her coat a feather escapes, floating downward. The man catches it in his palm, regards it with wonder. Did it fall from the wings of an angel?

This romantic moment in Underworld is one of only a few director Josef von Sternberg allows between Feathers McCoy (Evelyn Brent), gangster Bull Weed’s moll, and Rolls Royce (Clive Brook), a down-and-outer whom Bull turns into his elegant right hand man. In no time Bull is calling him Professor and setting him up in a hideout full of books with a secret door to where the hooch is stashed.

While drawn to each other with the inevitability of fate the pair are loyal to Bull, leading to guilt and a painful decision when Bull is sentenced to hang - help him escape or let justice run its course?

Ben Hecht received his first screen credit and his first Academy Award for the original story. George Bancroft plays Bull “as broad as a highway,” to borrow the phrase used by our Silent Crime Spree host and organist, Jim Riggs. Bancroft does play it big, befitting his role as an untouchable criminal in the unnamed big city’s underworld. When he finds something funny, as he often does, Bull doesn’t just laugh, he throws back his head and roars like the king of the jungle that he is. Some audience members found this hilarious. To me it was more than a little chilling.


As Vince mentioned in his Bouchercon recap, we shared panel duty. Here are some high points from the ones I attended:

Heather Graham talking about her short-lived acting career and demonstrating the torso-twisting motion she used in her one and only TV commercial, for an exercise disc. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman, a quick study, picking up the move and breaking it out at key points during the remainder of the session.

Megan Abbott relating how she and co-author Alison Gaylin sent the artist for their upcoming graphic novel a picture of Season Hubley’s boots from Hardcore, so he could reproduce them for their heroine.

Columbo co-creator William Link noting that the only reason he and partner Richard Levinson ever wrote anything was to “amuse, delight and mystify ourselves.”

Books: Hard Case Crime Returns

Word from Hard Case honcho Charles Ardai his own self:

We've got some big news to announce today: After a year's hiatus, Hard Case Crime will be returning to bookstores with new titles in 2011, thanks to a deal we just signed with UK-based Titan Publishing.

Titan is a publisher both of fiction and of gorgeous art books focusing on pop culture such as movie poster art, pin-ups, newspaper comic strips, and Golden Age comic books, and has worked with filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and George Lucas. Titan has been around for 30 years, has more than 200 employees, and in addition to publishing books also has a magazine division, a retail division (Titan owns the famous Forbidden Planet bookstore in London, and until recently co-owned the Murder One mystery bookstore with Maxim Jakubowski), and a merchandise division that produces items such as t-shirts, sculptures, and accessories. We look forward to exploring ways we might develop some cool Hard Case Crime products with them!

But first things first: books.

Hard Case Crime will relaunch in September/October 2011 with four new books, including CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust (sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated MONEY SHOT), QUARRY'S EX by Max Allan Collins (the latest in the popular series of hit man novels by the author of "Road to Perdition"), and two never-before-published novels by MWA Grand Masters (names to be announced shortly).

Additionally, Titan Publishing plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime's backlist from Dorchester Publishing and to resume shipping these titles to booksellers immediately.

New books will be published in paperback (possibly some in hardcover as well!); ebook editions will also be released across multiple platforms. Titan is distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Random House.

We're very excited about working with Titan (indeed, we had offers from five publishers and chose Titan over several that were much larger and better-known) -- they love pulp fiction as much as we do and appreciate that in books like ours the visual dimension is just as important as the storytelling. It's hard to imagine a better home for Hard Case Crime.

Many thanks in advance for helping us to get the word out that Hard Case Crime is coming back!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Miscellaneous: Bouchercon, Recapped

The question was put to me several times over the course of the weekend, and I never came up with a satisfactory answer. No, I have no idea why I’d never been to Bouchercon, the annual gathering of crime fiction writers and readers, before. But attending this year’s shindig was a no-brainer. It was in San Francisco, a city I will use any excuse to visit. And it always helps when the toastmaster is a friend.

Primary regret: I brought not one but two cameras with me, and took neither out of my bag. I have a camera in my phone and never used that, either. I have absolutely no photographic record of my attendance. So permit me to illustrate this recap with a picture of me steering a paddleboat down the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Rosemarie and I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday to get an early start. I began quoting High Anxiety, partially filmed in the convention hotel, in earnest and didn’t let up ‘til Sunday. We started with Neapolitan pizza in North Beach with David Corbett and Leslie “Lu” Schwerin. Next, drinks with Hilary Davidson and a revolving cast of other writers including eventual Anthony Award winner Sophie Littlefield. Then to the hotel bar where my secret sister, the divine Christa Faust, introduced us to Martyn Waites, Russel D. McLean, John Rector and Stephen Blackmoore.

Remember, this was the easy day.

Rosemarie and I divvied up the panels and events as best we could. Scattered highlights:

Toastmaster Eddie Muller, interviewed by Jacqueline Winspear, called Ben Hecht “the complete unheralded genius of twentieth century American letters” and announced good news about the Film Noir Foundation’s efforts to restore 1950’s The Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me!

The Subterranean SF “Litanies of Noir” reading in a secret location, featuring performances by Eddie, Corbett, Megan Abbott, Craig Clevenger and many more, plus live music and a tableful of Maker’s Mark.

Paul Levine recounting a producer’s definition of “the process” for a novelist who’d sold the rights to his work. “You owned a car. You sold us the car. Now you want to drive the car. You can’t drive the car. I drive the car. And you get to wave as it goes by.”

Lee Goldberg interviewing William Link, co-creator of Columbo. Link’s great regret was never asking Orson Welles to be a villain on the show.

Duane Swiercyznski on adapting your own work: “You have to see your novel as a body on a slab.”

A particularly strong politics panel moderated by David Corbett inspired by this post from Barry Eisler on the embrace of thrillers by right-wing media outlets.

Domenic Stansberry on the overlap of noir and tragedy: “You can’t have hubris if you know you’re going to fuck up.”

Discovering that some giveaway book bags had ARCs of A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the new Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block, and having Megan Abbott insist that I take hers. Which I did.

Going out of my way to shake hands with the one and only Bill Crider, the man whose blog I have been shamelessly aping for years.

Jesus, why didn’t I take pictures? To make up for it, here’s one of me lying on a cot at the Intrepid Museum.

Eavesdropping on and occasionally contributing to a conversation between Tony Broadbent and John Lawton about Beyond the Fringe.

Watching Lee Child take generosity to deranged heights by buying the entire con drinks at his Reacher Creature Party, a bash that gave me a chance to meet Eric Beetner and Parnell Hall.

The gigolo accent deployed by International Guest of Honor Denise Mina as she recounted a horrible Scandinavian book tour culminating in a live television interview in which she was asked the single question, “So ... your books are of crime?”

The staged reading of I Can’t Get Started, Declan Hughes’ play about Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. A terrific piece of work that made a lovely change from the usual panels featuring an all-star cast of crime writers including Martyn Waites as Dash, Alison Gaylin as Lilly, Brett Battles as a shamus and Mark Billingham and Christa FFFFaust in a variety of roles.

And finally, the opportunity to reconnect with writers I’d already had the pleasure of meeting like Marcus Sakey and Sue Ann Jaffarian and to introduce myself to others whose work I admire like Steve Brewer, Gar Anthony Haywood, Stuart Neville and Scott Phillips.

The Rap Sheet recaps the awards action. A thousand thanks to Rae Helmsworth and her volunteers for doing such a tremendous job. Rosemarie and I are already discussing a trip to next year’s event in St. Louis. The hook is in but deep, people. And who knows? Next time I might even take pictures.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book: Empire of Dreams, by Scott Eyman (2010)

Scott Eyman opens his suitably epic biography of filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille on the set of Sunset Blvd. Which only makes sense, because DeMille’s cameo in Billy Wilder’s film captures the essence of the man. Yes, he’s a forbidding figure in complete control of his set. But he’s also the only person who shows Norma Desmond any real compassion.

That dichotomy ran throughout DeMille’s life. His films flaunted spectacle and sensation only to come down squarely in favor of the homeliest eternal truths. He was a stern taskmaster who was loyal and generous to those in his employ. Conservative in politics and demeanor, he had a harem of women devoted to him.

Eyman captures all of DeMille’s complexity in his meticulously researched book. He’s forthright when it comes to the films themselves, highlighting the dynamism of DeMille’s silent film work, criticizing his tin ear for dialogue and reliance on simplistic storytelling. The Ten Commandments is “old theater, but great old theater, sometimes ridiculous, always impressive.” The strongest chapter recounts DeMille’s ill-fated 1950 push to impose a loyalty oath on the Directors Guild. Eyman has turned up the minutes of a landmark Guild meeting in a private archive that clear DeMille of scurrilous charges that have been leveled against him for decades, but confirm other sins. Eyman’s unparalleled scholarship has produced one of the best film books in years.

It led me to watch Why Change Your Wife?, one of DeMille’s silents. I can’t call it a marital comedy as Eyman does; DeMille places too much emphasis on the melodramatic and, simply put, never had a sense of humor. It’s an interesting artifact nonetheless that survives because of DeMille’s prescient attitude toward film preservation. The fact that I streamed it directly to my TV via Netflix would have warmed old C.B.’s heart. He was always a forward-thinking man.

Here I watch DeMille’s only Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Movie: Beggars of Life (1928)

Once again, I’m unable to attend the Silent Crime Spree at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. Once again, Rosemarie files her report.

When we first see Louise Brooks in William Wellman’s Beggars of Life, she’s already dressed in boys’ clothes, her trademark bob ready to be tucked up under a cloth cap. Her character, Nancy, doesn’t realize it yet, but she's illustrating a useful piece of advice for young women taking to the road - try not to look like a woman. Another helpful tidbit is get a companion you can trust. Jim, played by Richard Arlen, finds Nancy while sneaking into a house where a savory breakfast sits fresh on the kitchen table. Unbeknownst to him, the man not answering the door has been killed by Nancy, who shot him to stop an attempted rape.

The two hit the road together, pausing only to liberate a ham steak off the dead man’s plate. Posing as brothers, their trip to reach Jim’s uncle in Canada is delayed by train dicks tossing them off freights and the police looking to arrest Nancy for murder.

Another roadblock in their path is Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery). Applause broke out in the theater with Beery’s first appearance, singing at the top of his lungs as he walks along with a barrel of moonshine hoisted on his shoulder. Now that’s a good time guy. Beery is terribly charismatic in the role. With his easy charm in a beefy frame, he reminded me of English actor Tom Hardy (Inception).

It only takes an eyeful of Nancy bending over for the tramps in a hobo jungle to realize she's nobody’s little brother. The rest of the film centers around who is going to get possession of Nancy, Red or Jim, clearly her true love. Louise Brooks is beautiful and magnetic throughout, though she looses some of her glamour when put into a dress at the end of the picture, complete with an unfortunate bonnet.

As always, this Silent Movie Monday featured a bravura performance by Jim Riggs on the Paramount’s Mighty Wurlitzer, impersonating the locomotives with brake squeals, steam hissing and of course the lonesome whistle announcing the passing of another freight into the dark night.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Q&A: Ed Gorman

Odds are many of you reading this already know Ed Gorman. Novelist. Editor. Raconteur. Friend of the website. The man who introduced me to The Whistler. Author of Stranglehold, in stores October 12. And the latest subject of what threatens to become a recurring feature, the VKDC Q&A. Thanks again, Ed.

Q. What can you tell us about Stranglehold?

Dev Conrad is forced to leave the campaign he’s working on and fly downstate (Illinois) to see why another campaign his political consultancy oversees is having so much trouble. Even before he gets there he knows that the dragon lady (a former movie star) hates her daughter-in-law, who just happens to be the Congresswoman running for re-election. The dragon lady is the chief financial backer of the campaign and never lets anyone forget it. Especially her daughter-in-law.

I wanted to highlight the fact that all over the country there are these small political dynasties. Seats are passed from generation to generation. If it’s not the sons and daughters of the former long-serving pol then it’s the nephews and the grandchildren. Writ large this is the Kennedys and the Bushes.

In the case of Stranglehold the candidate’s father was a brilliant and respected liberal senator for five terms. But after being widowed and marrying the dragon lady he began to forget some of his old principles and enjoy himself in the brave new world of fab his new wife introduced him to. Thus his falling out with his daughter who still believes in the principles he set aside. But the daughter had some crazy dark years after her mother died and now they’ve come back on her. Somebody is trying to destroy her career from the inside of the campaign.

Q. You’ve said that Stranglehold owes something to Ross Macdonald. Where do you see his influence on the book? Where would you place Macdonald in your personal pantheon of crime writers?

The Ross Macdonald influence is found in the relationship of the dysfunctional family at the center of the book. The members are isolated from each other and suspect each other of terrible things. Macdonald’s novels and stories are filled with this sense of distrust and betrayal.

In the case of Stranglehold I show how a family can be divided up into warring camps and the effects on all concerned. In this case all the warring has a direct effect on the campaign.

I believe that Ross Macdonald was the finest writer of private detective fiction ever. Flat out.

Q. Stranglehold is inspired in part by your own experience as a speechwriter. The quotations from Jefferson and H.L. Mencken that open the book hint at a certain disillusionment with the process. Did proximity to campaigning turn you off politics? Did you ever work for a candidate whom you considered a good writer?

I think the Jefferson quote states my belief exactly – the moment you decide to run, you begin to change as a person. Subtly at first but by the time you’ve completed a campaign or two you’ve become what you once dreaded – a standard issue pol whose first priority is getting re-elected. This applies to both sides. There are a few exceptions, Senator Bernie Sanders being the sterling example. Senator Al Franken may have the same kind of guts. But face it, by and large both sides have been selling out the middle and working classes for decades. Not to mention signing up for wars so they can wave flags at the next election.

And no, I’ve never personally met a pol who was a good writer.

Q. You also worked in advertising for many years. Are candidates actually sold in the same way as commercial products? Is there any additional satisfaction in crafting a successful campaign for a candidate?

Negative advertising works well for most candidates. Trash your opponent before he or she can trash you. It seems to me that negative advertising works less well in big time package advertising. You can get away with claiming that your pill works twice as fast and twice as well as the other guy’s pill, but that’s different from saying that your opponent slept with his female staffer or that years ago he climbed into the monkey cage at the zoo and exposed himself.

Q. Any chance we’ll see Dev Conrad again?

I’m working on the next Dev now. This is a little bit different for me. It has a fairly unique premise at its center. All the way through the first draft I kept wondering if maybe it was a little too far out there for people to believe. But then just the other day I saw pretty much the same thing in a news story in Politico. Reality is always ahead of you.

Movie Q. What’s a political thriller you think is underrated?

I don’t think it’s under-rated but I think it’s now been passed by – The Ipcress File by Len Deighton. He took an old premise – probably came from Edgar Wallace or one of those early Brits – wedded it to Carnaby Street culture and produced a cynical but very believable Cold War thriller.

Baseball Q. Did you root for a team growing up? Do you still follow them now?

I don’t follow any kind of sports now. I played baseball until I reached eleventh grade at which time I started drinking. I would’ve been much better off playing ball.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Book: Galveston, by Nic Pizzolatto (2010)

On the same day that professional badass Roy Cady learns that he has cancer (X-rays show that his lungs “were full of snow flurries”), his gangster boss gives him a routine assignment with the unusual proviso not to bring a gun. Considering that said boss has recently taken up with Roy’s girlfriend, Roy begins to suspect that he’s in trouble. And he’s right. A bloodbath ensues, and Roy ends up lighting out for the title Texas town where he spent his only good days. But Roy’s got company: a young girl known as Rocky, facing times that match her name.

Of course, that’s back in 1987. In 2008 Roy is somehow still alive and still in Galveston, waiting for Hurricane Ike and his past to wreak havoc.

The first novel by Nic Pizzolatto walks the line between noir and literary fiction, at times unsteadily. The crime elements seem perfunctory, and the notion of Roy, Rocky, and her young sister forming a de facto family verges on preposterous. But once they’re on the road, Pizzolatto’s supple writing slays all doubts. He has a feel for both the Louisiana/Texas landscape, where “the palm trees were shorn of leaves and looked like gnawed ribs plunged into the dirt,” and for the people who live there, the men who “wreck their trucks driving drunk, find Jesus at forty and start going to church and using prostitutes.” The bifurcated structure gives the simple story a Biblical force, turning Galveston into a moving hardboiled parable.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Movie: A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

My work schedule will prevent me from attending Silent Movie Mondays at the Paramount Theater, but fortunately I have resources at my disposal. Here’s my lovely wife and VKDC correspondent Rosemarie.

It had been ages since I’d been to Silent Movie Mondays at the Paramount, but when they advertised their latest series as a “Silent Crime Spree” I knew I couldn’t miss it.

I got there early, not because I worried that the 3,000 seat theater would fill up but because I was hoping that sponsor Trader Joe’s would be making with the delicious giveaways. And were they ever. I filled my pockets with chocolate, lollipops and taffy and settled in among a nice-sized crowd for A Cottage on Dartmoor.

But Anthony Asquith’s thriller was so engrossing I forgot to eat my candy. An escaped convict dashes across the titular landscape to the titular edifice. The woman of the house, her baby asleep upstairs, recognizes the wild-eyed fugitive. This cues a flashback that takes up the bulk of the film in which we meet John, a barber’s assistant, who’s infatuated with Sally, a manicurist. Unfortunately for the intense and somewhat creepy chap, Sally has eyes for a hail-fellow-well-met customer who is only too happy to flirt with her, appearing at the barber shop every other day for any and all beauty treatments on offer (setting up a nice visual gag during the “vibro massage” service). By the time he’s proposed to Sally he has the handsomest fingernails in Britain.

The standout scene takes place in a movie theater. Sally’s beau escorts her to a cinema and John slips into the row behind them, apparently just to torture himself. The 15 minute sequence cuts among the audience members, showing their reactions first to a Harold Lloyd silent then to a talkie, a melodrama that keeps them on the edge of their seats. Never once do we see what’s happening on the theater’s screen, only the crowd’s responses. It’s riveting watching them laugh, recoil and swoon while we do the same right along with them.

Before the screening the Paramount’s organist for the evening, Jim Riggs, a virtuoso on the Mighty Wurlitzer, pointed out a cameo in the talkie sequence. The young fellow whom a schoolboy mistakes for Harold Lloyd is director Asquith himself.

The ending is more pessimistic than I would have imagined, not just in its action, but in what it tells us about Sally’s seeming domestic bliss. Perhaps John wasn’t the only one who wanted to run away from his prison on the moors. For a dark, dare I say noir film, there are more comedic uses of an ear horn than you would imagine and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Movie: Inspector Bellamy (U.S. 2010)

The fiftieth and, alas, final film from the late Claude Chabrol is dedicated to “the two Georges.” One is singer-songwriter Brassens, whose music features in the plot. The other is Chabrol’s confrère Simenon, whose spirit hangs over the proceedings.

Gerard Depardieu’s Inspector Paul Bellamy is a contemporary gloss on Simenon’s Maigret. Good at his job, content in his marriage, given to occasional gustatory excess. He and his wife (the gloriously chic Marie Bunel) are trying to enjoy a well-deserved vacation but must deal with both Bellamy’s ne’er-do-well half-brother and a stranger determined to draw the inspector into his story, which may involve a fugitive fraudster wanted for murder.

Bellamy at times plays like a sketch for a movie more than a finished one. That’s not a criticism so much as an observation on the level of minimalism that Chabrol, at age 80, had achieved. He opens with the Bellamys already accustomed to their mysterious visitor, and he dispenses with transitions almost entirely; scenes end when there’s no more to say and we’re on to the next one. The gossamer plot exists as an excuse for Chabrol to explore his eternal subject, middle-class morality. The best moments are those between Depardieu and Bunel, their long-wed couple still deeply in love but continuing to test each other’s boundaries.

The movie may seem slight, but it sticks with you more than you’d suspect. It’s currently available via IFC On Demand. Here’s the trailer.