Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More random Notes on Film Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow
1959-Robert Wise
Ed Begley is an ex-cop who has a plan for the perfect score. Harry Belafonte is a musician who owes a huge gambling debt. Robert Ryan is the career criminal whose unreasoning hatred of black people will ultimately destroy him and everyone around him. Odds Against Tomorrow is a beautifully filmed, high tension morality play that manages to be gritty and entertaining while maintaining a deeper relevance. Highly recommended.

Woman in the Window
1944-Fritz Lang
Edward G. Robinson is a stolid professor who finds himself involved with a beautiful artist’s model, played by Joan Bennett. When her jealous lover shows up, Robinson is forced to kill him in self-defense. Covering up the crime is made all the harder when Robinson’s D.A. friend is assigned to find the killers, and the victim’s sleazy bodyguard shows up to blackmail the inept pair.
Robinson is great as always. Bennett is gorgeous. And Dan Durya, as usual, steals every scene he’s in as the sleazy bodyguard. But the last three minutes are annoying—they go for a total cop-out ending.
Aside from that: Solid.
The Stranger
1946-Orson Welles
Edward G. Robinson is a Nazi hunter on the trail of escaped Nazi war criminal Orson Welles, who’s taken up refuge as a respected citizen in a small New England town.
Welles acting and directing are top-notch with this one. Robinson turns in a surprising performance, and even Loretta Young (who I never much cared for) is very convincing as Welles new wife, teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

On Dangerous Ground
1951-Nicholas Ray
Robert Ryan is a hardened city cop, but the ugliness of the job is getting to him, until he’s sent to the country to help investigate a murder. On the killer’s trail, he meets the bitter father of the murder victim and the killer’s blind sister, played by Ida Lupino, and re-discovers his lost humanity in the process.
Ryan is great as the brutal and disillusioned detective, unable to understand or communicate his seething emotions.

They Live By Night
1949-Nicholas Ray
After escaping from prison and meeting a girl (played by Cathy O’Donnell), Farley Granger wants nothing except to go straight and lead a decent life. But this is noir: that ain’t gonna happen. His escapee cohorts turn up and force him into another heist; disaster ensues.
Killer’s Kiss
1955-Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick’s second movie, very low budget but still showing some signs of his genius. A second-rate boxer and the woman he saved from being raped want to start a new life together away from the cesspool of the city, but her former boss has other ideas. A great chase scene over the rooftops of the city toward the end.

I Wake Up Screaming
1941-H. Bruce Humberstone
Entertainment promoter Victor Mature is accused of murdering his young protégé, played by Carole Landis, and with Betty Grable’s help he struggles to stay ahead of the cops and find the real killer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The cover

The cover of The Bastard Hand, you know, sans title and all that stuff. It was put together by graphic artist extraordinare Ron Warren.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Bastard Hand update

Just talked to the illustrious Jon Bassoff of New Pulp Press... Advance reading copies are coming in November, official release date is now March 20... mark your calenders for a book that is "violent, offensive, over-the-top, and occasionally brilliant".

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Random Notes about Random Films Noir

The Dark Corner
1946-Henry Hathaway
Complex and beautifully-shot noir starring Mark Stevens as a P.I. accused of murder—he goes on the lam to find the real killer, and crosses paths with William Bendix as a mysterious white-suited lug who keeps following him, and a shady art dealer played with usual skill by Clifton Webb. Lucille Ball is Stevens plucky secretary.

Criss Cross
1948-Robert Siodmark
Because he can’t keep away from Yvonne DeCarlo, Burt Lancaster (as an armored car driver) is forced into helping pull off a heist by DeCarlo’s gangster beau, played by the one of a kind Dan Duryea. Superior noir with a surprisingly bleak ending.

Dead Reckoning
1947-John Cromwell
Humphrey Bogart is a hard-nosed war vet who storms into a small Southern town to find out what happened to his buddy, who’s disappeared. Terrific tension and suspense. One of Bogie’s better performances, and Lizabeth Scott is also in good form.
Edmond O’Brien is victimized with a slow-working poison, and frantically races to find out who killed him and why before time runs out. A clever premise with lots of great twists and almost unbearable suspense. Superior.

The Hitch-hiker
1953-Ida Lupino
Edmond O’Brien and his buddy head off for a vacation, but things go bad when they pick up a psychotic hitch-hiker with a creepy right eye. Taut suspense; Ida Lupino was the only female director of noir and suspense in her day, and she proves that she’s just as good behind the camera as in front of it, maybe even better.

Dark Passage
1947-Delmer Daves
Based on the novel by David Goodis. Bogie is an escapee from the pen set on finding the real killer of his wife. After plastic surgery, he’s aided by a sultry Lauren Bacall. Not a great movie, but every scene between Bogart and Bacall smolders.

1946-Edgar G. Ulmer
Low-budget and bleak noir classic. Tom Neal accidently kills the guy who gave him a lift, and then sets off on a whirlwind disaster of bad choices and bad luck—especially when he picks up vicious dame Ann Savage, who knows what he did and isn’t afraid to use it against him.
More to come, sooner or later…

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cave-in: a Treatment for a Typical Hollywood Movie Inspired, more or less, by Real Events

First, we move the action from Chile to America, because people don’t want to read subtitles. We make it, say, six men trapped in the mine instead of 33-- 33 is just too many to juggle.
Josh Brolin stars as the gruff but likeable lead, a down-to-earth kinda fella without pretension or artifice. He’s a natural leader, the other miners look up to him.
Then we have Morgan Freeman as the old-timer. The day of the cave-in was supposed to be his last before retirement. All he ever wanted to do was leave the awful mines of Kentucky behind and go live out the rest of his life in, say, California. Or maybe Spain.
Shea LaBouf plays the young guy, full of hope and promise about his new career as a miner. He used to be a computer programmer but wanted to do something “real” and “of the people”. He’s an idealist, and a constant source of good-natured amusement for Brolin and Freeman.
The jerk is played by Bill Paxton. He’s good at what he does, but hates everyone. Being trapped with them in the mine only brings out his dark side.
The coward is Casey Affleck.
After the cave-in, it doesn’t take long for things to fall apart. Paxton and Affleck have an argument, and it turns out Affleck has a gun. He tries to shoot Paxton but winds up killing the sixth guy instead, who’s name isn’t important as he’s a middle-aged chubby guy and we knew from the start he was going to die.
Affleck is subdued, but tensions continue to rise as we learn that Brolin’s wife used to date Paxton, and Paxton never got over her. Also, Paxton was supposed to be the team leader but Brolin got the job instead. LaBouf calls for calm, and Paxton punches him and another fight is narrowly avoided.
Meanwhile, LaBouf’s wife, played by Megan Fox goes to see the big boss, Kevin Spacey. Spacey is a real sleazebag-- he tries to seduce the young wife by promising to get LaBouf out first if she’ll sleep with him. Fox remembers, just in the nick of time, the conversation she had with her husband in which he said “If I’m ever trapped in the mine, don’t make a deal with my boss and sleep with him to get me out first. That wouldn’t be right.” Close one!
Back in the mine, the men start learning that they have more in common than they all realized. They all like bacon, for one, and also, they watch American Idol. Even Paxton starts to lighten up.
But after two months, and with rescue only hours away, Affleck escapes his confinement, finds his gun, and holds everyone at bay. He shoots Brolin, apparently killing him. LaBouf jumps him and takes his gun away. Paxton, who’s realized the error of his hateful ways, helps LaBouf by taking the gun and shooting Affleck dead. They turn to Freeman for leadership, and Freeman obliges with a few helpful platitudes.
The rescue tunnel is complete, and the men start up, Freeman first. He makes it safely to the top. Paxton is next, then LaBouf. LaBouf is halfway up when the rope snaps! Fortunately Paxton’s transformation is complete and he grabs the young man’s hand and hauls him up.
Up top, the media is waiting in droves for the heroes. Brolin’s wife is frantic, wondering where her husband is. Paxton starts to console her, when suddenly Brolin appears at the top of the hole, bloody but alive. “You weren’t gonna leave me down there, were you?” he quips.
As Brolin and his wife embrace, and LaBouf and Fox embrace, Freeman approaches the sleazy boss Spacey and, in front of all the cameras, punches him in the face. Because don’t we all want to see Kevin Spacey punched in the face?
Roll credits.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


“If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God?”
George Deacon

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”

“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”

It’s not going to end well for you, you know. I have a whole big thing planned. The skies are going to split open and all kinds of crazy shit is going to happen. The seas will turn to blood. The dead will rise from their graves. I even hired these four guys to ride down and do some major massacre work for me; I have them on retainer as we speak.
So no, not a good time for you Earth-bounds. Most of you, anyway. A small handful of you will be okay. You’ll get to hang out with me for all eternity when all is said and done. A very small handful. Let’s just say, overcrowding won’t be an issue. The rest of you? Hellfire. Burning for eternity. Cursing yourself for denying me. And it’s not as if I never gave you a chance, so there’s no use bitching about it.
But all that’s a ways off. I’m more or less retired these days, if you haven’t noticed. I’ll peek in from time to time, just to see how much you’ve all managed to screw up without me—never fails to make me laugh—but for the most part I’ve washed my hands of it. You apes are on your own for now. But soon… soon I’ll open up the can of Glorious Whup-Ass and serve it out. Just remember: when you least expect it, expect it.
Gabriel (you know, Gabriel, the arch-angel? Didn’t you go to Sunday school?) has been pressing me to get the show on the road, wrap it up post-haste. A little blood-thirsty, that guy. Sometimes he creeps me out. He knocks on my chamber door at all hours, mumbling something about how the other angels are talking and they’re worried about me and maybe I should get out and cause some havoc, but I just ignore him.
I’m tired, you know. Can’t they let a deity relax for a little while?
They say I got bored. Maybe that’s true. Let’s face it. Your whole universe came into being because I got bored. Even the angels; they wouldn’t be around at all if I hadn’t gotten tired of twiddling my thumbs and talking to myself. Boredom. That’s all it was. That’s all it is.
But yeah, I got tired. And disappointed. You’ve all been an amazing let-down for me, since we’re being all honest and open here. The entire universe did exactly what I expected it to do, and… well, do you have any idea how depressing that is?
Soon, though. Soon, instead of having the rare God-fearing person shed his mortal coil and come over to my place for all eternity, I’m going to destroy it all and move in with you. The Kingdom of Heaven, on Earth, like it says in the Book.
Soon. But for now, I’m just too tired, and too sick of it all.


In the beginning… well, in the beginning, there was me.
It was dark. Nice and dark. A little moist, because I’d never bothered to separate water from earth from sky, etcetera. It was comfortable. You’ve had a little taste of it, but you probably don’t remember—the womb, that’s what it was like, in the beginning.
And there was only me. Me, floating through the black, thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking.
That’s what I’d been doing for a long, long time. Before that, it never occurred to me to think at all—existing was enough. You understand, we’re talking about eternity here. Eternity, right? Long time. There’s no such thing as a human who truly understands that concept, and there is no metaphor or analogy I can use to make you understand it. But eternity is where I make my home; I am eternity. I have no beginning and no end.
For a long time that was fine. I existed. I was a concept created by no one, at peace within my own incorporeal self, although self isn’t really the right word. I was nothing within a greater nothing, moving toward something. And no, I didn’t evolve, smart-ass.
But eventually my slumber started to become dotted with moments of thought. Or something like thought. Vague rumblings from the pit of my core. Notions, you know. Ideas. Ideas about creating change.
The ideas fomented for a long time. And there was only me, like I said, me and my thoughts, taking on strange shapes, needling away at me, disturbing my eons of calm non-thought.
I began to give myself a shape. I didn’t really do it on purpose. But the thoughts were becoming so overwhelming that I needed something tangible to separate myself from them, something I could see and feel. A head. Hands and feet. Other stuff. And once I had shape, eternity became a void and I was floating through it naked and cold.
This was my turning point. I had become conscious of myself.
To be a deity gaining awareness is a remarkable thing. You realize very suddenly that you are all and everything, and that unlimited power is the only thing that defines you. I knew very quickly who I was, I knew the eternity that stretched out behind me and I knew everything that could possibly happen until the end of time, based on the choices I made. There was no happy or sad attached to that; it was only a truth, and truth doesn’t mean anything.
For some time I only contemplated my own existence. I marveled at it. I studied my remarkable form, I dwelled on my remarkable thoughts.
And I wished that I wasn’t alone. I wished there was someone else to see me and feel me and marvel along with me.
But the choices. There were many of them to be made. The first one: Time. Should I create time? If I did, there would be no turning back; imposing linear progression is like getting a tattoo.
My mind reeled with the possibilities.
I thought it over for what you might consider millions of years, but of course there was no such thing as time so millions of years isn’t exactly right. But you get the point, yes? I examined it up and down and back and front. It occupied my mind incessantly. I understood that, unless I created time, I would be alone, always.
I didn’t want to be alone.
Finally, I just did it. Bang-o. Time existed.
Almost immediately—that is, after a few billion years—loneliness and boredom set in. That’s the downside of time, isn’t it? It passes. It passes, and you’re all alone with your thoughts and the things that before were open and full of space suddenly start pressing down on you. I let a lot of time pass, savoring the feel of my loneliness, examining it thoroughly because it was a new feeling for me. Before time, my desire to have a companion was a small and fleeting thing, of no real consequence, but now, now that the eternity of my existence loomed behind and before me, it became an urgent need in my gut. It twisted and writhed and wouldn’t leave me alone. It turned bitter, it turned sweet, it turned wistful and hateful and desperate.
I realize now that I wasn’t lonely after all. I was bored. I was bored nearly to the point of madness.
And so I committed myself and went whole-hog. Time means nothing without a universe to measure it in, so I created the universe. I was in a fever of creative energy, coming up with one beautiful concept after another, willing it all into being with a wave of my hand or a flash of my eyes.
I created a lot of things that you don’t know about, of course, things that the Book doesn’t mention just because it’s not relevant to you and your existence. I created and destroyed entire worlds in the blink of an eye, worlds that you might consider practice. Universes devoid of life or meaning, black holes and exploding suns and molten oceans of star stuff. Some of it was quite beautiful, but really it was all just prelude. I wiped it all away over and over again before finally calming down and getting to the all-important task of making the world as you know it.
This world was meant for my companions, the ones who really understood me, and I knew I had to make it a world of ease and beauty. So I rolled up my sleeves (did I mention that I created the suit, just so I’d have sleeves to roll up? A very nice suit, too) and got to work.
I really did have the best of intentions. It was you lot who messed it all up for me.
In the beginning.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Bam.
Heaven was first, of course, but the Book doesn’t go into that too much because, again, it doesn’t concern you. I willed the angels into being, just a handful of them, let them float around with me for awhile. We all just sort of stared at each other for a few millenia, smiling uncomfortably and not saying much until finally I created the Silver City and plopped them down in it. Very quickly, they managed to get their own little thing going there, making rules and creating a shaky social strata. I knew that, if I needed them, they’d drop whatever they were doing, but I pretty much left them to themselves while they spent all day making up praiseful songs to my glory and punishing themselves severely any time any thought occurred to them that wasn’t directly related to me.
They bored me to tears. The less said about them, the better.
I realized my mistake with the angels—no free will. Free will would wind up being amazingly important to my Big Plan. Honestly, it would make all the difference. If you were to ask me now what all of Creation hinged on, I would tell you: free goddamn will.
I’ll tell you more about the angels later, since obviously they played a part in your story. And I’m sure you all know about Lucifer and how he acted like he was my best buddy and then tried to screw me over. Yeah, later.
So I created Heaven and Earth and it was pretty good. Pretty good, but more than a little pointless since there was no such thing as light and you couldn’t see a damn thing. So I created light—I popped a few trillion stars in the heavens above the Earth, sprinkled like shiny confetti against the inky void. I created the phrase “inky void” just so I’d know where to put them all. One star, your Sun, I set especially close to the Earth. Then I put a little spin on the Earth, so that the darkness and the light would travel along it, depending on which side was facing the Sun.
It sounds pretty elementary when I lay it out like this, but come on. You never would have thought of it.
I called the light “day”. I called the dark “night”. And since “day” finally existed, I decided to wrap it up for a little while.
That night I couldn’t relax. You know how it is, yes? You start a project that really seems to have some potential, you can’t stop thinking about it. Little ideas occur to you while you’re laying there, and you keep having to get up to jot them down before you forget them. I really felt like I was on to something with this Earth business, and interesting concepts kept coming to me all night.
Very early, I got up and had some coffee and started back to work, feeling better than I’d felt in a long, long time.
It turned out to be a disappointing day. I didn’t complete even close to what I had in mind that day. All I accomplished was the firmament—the sky, basically. Separated the waters. It took awhile, because I couldn’t get it exactly like I wanted it. It’s not easy, working with water. There’s free will, and then there’s water, you understand? By the end of the day I threw up my hands and said okay, fine, that’s just fine, whatever. I went to bed that night angry.
But the third day turned out a little better. Actually, a lot better. I managed to get the waters together, and voila, dry land appeared. I called all the gathered water “sea”. I called the dry land “earth”, with a small “e”, not a large one, because I couldn’t think of what else to call it.
“I declare this good,” I said to no one.
That would’ve been enough work for anyone to get done in one day, but I was on a roll now. I stood on this barren orb of water and dirt, and I waved my hands and said, “Grass. Gimme grass,” and grass appeared. I was barefoot at the time, and the grass tickled the soles of my feet as it sprouted up out of the dry earth and I felt downright giddy.
“Trees,” I said. “Fruit trees and maple trees and oaks and elms.”
I was making the names up off the top of my head, but it didn’t matter. I spoke their new names, and they came forth heaving from the breast of the earth, beautiful and creaking, spewing dirt everywhere as they emerged like monoliths from the deep, stretching skyward, and the blooms exploded on them, all white and purple and green and tears came to my eyes, it was so impossibly lovely.
It was me. I was doing this. I laughed and laughed, tears streaming down my face. I laughed until I started feeling dizzy—one side effect I hadn’t counted on was oxygen. A happy accident, that.
“I declare this awesome!” I said.
That was the third day. An absolutely terrific day. I still remember every detail of it, it was so fantastic.
The next morning, I looked upon all the work of the previous three days and a dark depression came over me. It was no good at all, none of it. What had I been thinking? The trees just sort of… sat there, breathing weird chemicals into the air. The seas just lapped pointlessly at the shores. Clover and wild violets had already started choking the life out of the grass I’d created.
I sat down on a hill that overlooked a wide swath of forest, gazing at the treetops as they swayed mockingly in the breeze. The Sun beat down upon my creation.
The air smelled suddenly like patchouli, and Gabriel and Lucifer appeared next to me. I didn’t look at them. I just sat there, frowning down at the forest below.
“It’s… interesting so far, Creator,” Gabriel said. “I’m… curious… to see where you’re going with it.”
“I didn’t ask your opinion,” I said.
“No, Creator, of course not. I beg your pardon.”
Lucifer said, “It’s beautiful,” and his voice was husky with emotion.
I glanced up at him. His smooth, flawless face glowed with something strange, something I couldn’t identify. His eyes were wet.
“What?” I said.
“I’m sorry, Father,” he said, still not looking at me. It bugged me that he was addressing me without looking at me. “I know you didn’t ask, but… it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. How wonderful it would be to… to live here.”
I stood up, annoyed, brushed the dirt off my hands. “Yeah, well, you’re right, I didn’t ask you.”
Lucifer finally tore his gaze away from the forest and met my eyes. “No, Father. I’m sorry.”
I scowled. “Forget it. Both of you, get lost.”
They bowed, backing away from me, mumbling stuff about praising my name, exhalting my glory, and in a flurry of wings they flew off, back into the heavens.
I didn’t know what had brought them down to my new creation, and I didn’t care. Probably wondering why they hadn’t seen me for a few days, probably wondering if I was lavishing attention on something other than them. Jealous bastards, the angels.
“Live here, “ I said to myself. “Right. Like I’d let them live here,” and that, of course, was when it occurred to me what the missing piece was.
Life. I needed something to live here.
Lucifer was always good for that sort of thing. He had a way of… inspiring everyone around him, even when he didn’t mean to. Or at least, I assume he didn’t mean to. You probably already know that he was my favorite, and it was just for reasons like that he was always on my A-list. And there was something else besides, some strange will he had that the others lacked. The angels were created without free will, but Lucifer, sometimes, seemed to have it anyway. I made them all to do nothing but praise me and stand around looking awesome, but Lucifer… well, I don’t know. There was a hint of something else in his eyes, even in the earliest days, that set him apart from his brethren.
And he always called me “Father”, too, while the other angels addressed me as “Creator”. I liked that. I don’t know why.
But I have no intention of getting into all that Lucifer business right now. It’s a sore subject, if you want to know the truth, and I’m a little preoccupied with telling you about bigger things.
So, where was I? Life, yes. Life, I decided, life was what this rock needed.
The next morning, I started with the seas. Whales, they were the first creatures I created, and they’re still one of my favorites. I followed that up with a sprinkling of sparkling fish and crawling crustaceans, a liberal dose of microscopic life-forms to start the food chain rolling, plankton and algae and what-not; the seas became my own personal seafood gumbo.
The skies above: birds. Hundreds, thousands of varieties of them, fluttering and cawing and chirping and screeching. Big birds like hawks and eagles. Little birds like finches and warblers. The sky was alive with them by the time I was done.
I said to them, “Go. Go and have fun, and make little birdies.”
It was good. Or at least, it was a good start. I went to bed that night knowing exactly what I needed to do the next day.

The Innocent

Vin Zandri's new book, The Innocent, is actually a reprint of his powerful first novel, Catch As Catch Can. Big fan of this novel. And I had the honor of writing the introduction!