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.”