Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The very last No Rules guest post is written by one of the very first friends I made in the Hardboiled/Noir community, none other than VINCENT ZANDRI. If you don't already know, Vin is the Amazon best-selling author of many, many fast-paced and crowd-pleasing thrillers like THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES and SCREAM CATCHER. He's diverse as hell and one of the tightest plotters around.

A little affection always comes into it when I talk about Vin; sorry, can't help it. Because as well as being a great writer he's also a truly great guy. Back before my own first novel came out, he took the time to lend his insight and sharp ear to this novice, and has remained a steadfast friend ever since.

I'm proud to give you VINCENT ZANDRI, with an essay that couldn't be more timely...

It’s a Wonderful Noir Life

Like a whole bunch of us saps, we grew up watching It's a Wonderful Life, thinking, "Hey, it must be Christmas." Like everyone else, I cried when Mr. Gower punched George in the head, cheered when George packed his bags to leave for some big trip overseas, cried again when his "tired" old man died and he couldn't go.

"Wonderful Life" was filmed and released in 1946 during a special time in US history. The big war to end the first big was over. Lots of soldiers were coming home from Europe and Japan. Many of them had never been away from their hometowns until the war began. Most of them had known what it was to suffer during the depression. Some were wounded and maimed. All were affected one way or another. The trauma of the war became indelibly painted on the faces of these soldiers as they were suddenly thrust into what would soon become Eisenhower "normalcy." Nuclear war was now as real as Christmas snow.

If some of these guys and gals were anything like my 44 year old grandfather, a Captain who walked away from the army after a 20 year career in Panama, Africa, Europe, and other exotic locales only to be forced to make the mad march through the Hurtgen forest while at the same time, suffering 150% casualties to his company, they were disillusioned at best. From what my mother tells me, he went from sipping red wine in France and marching the Champs Elysees to working at a Buster Brown shoe store in Upstate, New York, within thirty days of getting off the big boat. Talk about a life change. The two time purple heart and bronze star recipient probably cashed his first civilian paycheck in twenty years just before heading to the bijou to catch the new "feel good" flick starring Jimmy Stewart, himself a decorated war vet.

I think Frank Capra and the rest of the writers of "It's a Wonderful Life" knew damn well that despite winning the war, another war would have to be fought on US soil. And that one wasn't about a dire economic survival like everyone had realized a few years earlier. You know, like do we eat today or heat the fucking house? But a different kind of survival. Keeping up with the Jones's kind of survival. That kid Petey ain't belting out "Hey dad, did you see the new car next door" for no reason when George barks back, "Isn't our car good enough for you!" Okay, I might have the dialogue slightly wrong but it's a nonetheless discriminate attempt on Capra's part to show the American public what's in store for them for the coming decades as the trees get cut down and the suburbs ariseth out of the ashes of fallen heroes. Such is the price of war, and the fight for freedom.

George Bailey is an everyman who is full of heart and at the same time a selfish individual. He wants to do what he wants to do. He wants to be an existentialist with a big heart. He wants to be an Indiana Jones long before Spielberg's comic book concept of the adventurer is born. He wants to build bridges like Picasso paints paintings. He wants to conquer the world and be his own man. But a gross loyalty to family, job, God, and duty get in his way, and he's forced to give up his dreams for a life of wife, children, a house he can't afford, a broken down old car, and a future that is so bankrupt and dismal, he wants to kill himself. Merry Christmas.

But in 1946, this is precisely the type of man America would come to count on to create a thriving nuclear powerhouse. Existentialists and thinkers need not apply. The US government was out to influence a whole bunch of suburban newcomers by guilting the crap out of them into giving up their dreams now that they had survived the war with their lives. In the end, they succeeded. We beat the Soviets after all. Sort of.

But politics aside, George's character resounds to this day for those young men and women who have harbored huge dreams throughout childhood and adolescence only to see them squandered on a big wedding and a honeymoon that doesn't last longer than the time it takes for the checks to clear. One is only young once, and then suddenly the hopes and dreams turn into a heavy drinking bout at the local and getting kicked out on your ass in the snow. Only then do some of the darkest thoughts you never dreamed you'd be capable of conjuring enter into your head. Usually they are accompanied by violence. Whether it's to yourself or to others or both.

George Bailey stood on a bridge in the falling snow on Christmas eve during WWII and considered severe violence to himself. The scrunched, bulging eyed, black and white agony on Jimmy Stewart's face resonates with all of us who have ever contemplated abandoning home and job for a better (more wonderful) life, even if for a fleeting moment. Despair drips from his eye sockets and his blood radiates with hopelessness. Over a few hours time, George has been handed a tricky gift. The gift of having never existed. The tricky part is that he gets to see what it's like when his mother rejects him and an angel named Clarence thrusts the responsibility of every life of every man on a navy transport being killed because "George wasn't there to save his little brother from falling through the ice" back when they were kids. As if Hitler and Tojo had nothing to do with it. Poor George: manipulated in life, and even more manipulated during his brief tenure as a suicide. This fucker just cannot get a break.

George Bailey, the concept, makes me want to run.

When I see George Bailey, the man and character, holding his ZuZu and her petals in his arms, and his neighbors filling baskets with cash so he can pay off the debt some evil banker has thrust upon him through illegal activity, I stand up and shout for him to leave home. Don't spend another night in Bedford Falls, George. Fuck Christmas. First, go stick a knife in the evil banker fucker's neck, then go pack up the family and move south. Or move to Europe. Or just leave the family altogether and forget the cancers that eat away at you in the form of the American Dream. Live, George, Live!

At the end of the movie, Clarence the guardian angel sends George a copy of “Tom Sawyer”, with the penned inscription. "Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence." Fuck you Clarence! Apparently you had an agenda too. Tom Sawyer was an everyman. A young man who lived on his own terms. Something George Bailey and so many American men will never get the chance to do, simply because they fall into the trap of suburban responsibility, unbearable debt (beginning with college student loans), physical unfitness, family responsibility, guilt, and loneliness beyond compare. Have I mentioned the emasculation of political correctness?

There are dark elements in "It's a Wonderful Life" to be sure. So dark, I rank it up there under certain circumstances with "Seven" and "Angel Heart." In each of these noir films exists a common thread: one man forced to realize his worst, most horrid fears in a hellish, unforgiving world shrouded with false hope, blatantly false advertising, God inspired guilt trips, indifference, and greed.

Happy New Year.


  1. Great post, Vincent. It resonates with me on a very personal level.

    I was born and raised in Seneca Falls, New York, the town on which "Bedford Falls" was based. Frank Capra came through there during WWII and got the idea for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE while he was there. So yes, I actually grew up in "Bedford Falls."

    But unlike George Bailey, I left at 17. My parents tried everything in the book to get me to stay, but it was no dice. I knew there was a much wider world out there and it was calling me.

    I followed my dream, refusing to let it be ground up under the bulldozers of the frenzied rise of suburbia. I became a professional musician and never held another job for 30 years. Then I retired from music and became respectable, turning to professional poker and eventually crime fiction.

    During all this time, I never married (until last year, and that didn't work out), never had kids, never had the suburban life, and I never lived in Seneca Falls again. I go back every so often and I see my high school friends who have fallen into the wife/kids/mortgage trap. They have given up, and it's all over their faces as you so eloquently pointed out in your essay.

    One woman I know back there dreamed of being an interior designer, had it in her, the artistic touch, the drive, everything. She set it aside to get married two weeks after graduating from high school. Years later, she confided in me the same sorrow, the same regret you referenced.

    Thanks, Vincent, for giving voice to what I awkwardly groped around for so many years ago when I left my hometown for good.

  2. Cool post! So angry and dark, I love it. Regarding the married with children trap, the picture you paint Vincent (and Mike), might be very accurate for some, possibly even for many... but I think the attitude of having to "choose" between the white picket fence and living your dreams is a recipe for standing on bridges. A successful relationship/marriage has more to do with who you choose for a partner, I think.

    My parents for example, had four kids and a mortgage, yet neither sacrificed their individual dreams. They also had a great romance. But I've witnessed the opposite in plenty of other people. I've also seen a lot of lonely single people who wish they had someone to love, especially this time of year.

  3. Thanks for having me Heath, and thanks for some great comments...:)

  4. I might have to watch the film again - you've given it a completely different meaning.

    The surrealists were against the concept of the family for the same reasons - they increase conformity.

    I'm not sure it's a choice of one or the other - but it makes it harder.