…I Spoke Too Soon

August 1st, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Remember how last week I talked about how good the summer movies were, and how Barb and I didn’t seem to be walking out of movies anymore?

Then Atomic Blonde happened.

This was one I was really looking forward to – Charlize Theron as a spy in ‘90s Eurotrash-ville, showing off stylish clothes of the era, a popcorn flick with lots of action and a striking visual sense. Based on the trailer anyway.

And Charlize looks great. The visual style and the ‘90s fashions also look great. Lots of style, plenty of style, oodles of style.

No substance.

But you know what? I don’t care as long as I’m entertained. Hold me past my popcorn and I’m yours. But after forty-five minutes, Barb and I bailed. Life is too short.

Here’s the thing. The script sucks. It sets up a convoluted structure, where Charlize is getting debriefed (and not in the fun way) by solid actors Toby Jones and John Goodman. But the flashback-and-forth stuff tries to disguise a shopworn espionage set-up. Guess what the Maguffin is? Somebody has stolen a list of all the Western secret agents and if it’s found and they are exposed blah blah blah. Oh, and agent Jane Blonde…you are also try to uncover the traitor in our camp.

Then when you get to the airport, Jane, be sure to climb into the suspiciously waiting car not driven by the guy who’s supposed to pick you up. If you’re confused, just watch the start of Dr. No. You remember Dr. No, don’t you? It was released in fricking 1962!

Then, kids, stay tuned for mindless carnage and Charlize taking lots of baths in tubs full of fake ice cubes between stints of trying to convince you she’s a martial artist and…whoops, the popcorn’s gone.

Us, too.

* * *
The Prowler

So what have I seen that I liked lately?

Bizarre as it may seem, I caught up with two very well regarded films noir that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. Both looked splendid on Blu-ray.

The Prowler, directed by the sometimes obtuse Joseph Losey, is a terrific 1951 crime movie ghosted by blacklister Dalton Trumbo, also responsible for the script of the great Gun Crazy. Van Heflin plays against type (he’s not the friendly rancher of Shane here) as a sort of male “femme fatale” who ensnares lonely housewife Evelyn Keyes in a Postman Always Rings Twice variant. Heflin is a sleazy, smirky cop, and we don’t even see the husband/victim till the murder – previously just been a disembodied voice on the radio. Wonderful.

On Dangerous Ground is from 1952. I can’t believe I never saw this before! The stars are Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino and Ward Bond, and the direction is by Nicholas Ray, produced by John Houseman. Despite this pedigree, the key credits are writer A.I. Bezzerides (who penned the screenplay for Kiss Me Deadly) and composer Bernard Herrmann, who for this low-budget B offers up a haunting score that prefigures every major noir/crime score of his to come. Ryan is a tough cop, as beaten down by his job as the punks he batters confessions out of. Bezzerides is clearly taking Spillane on, three years before Kiss Me Deadly (!), lambasting both tough-guy brutality and eye-for-an-eye justice, by way of Ward Bond’s out-of-control bereaved father. Ryan encounters blind Ida Lupino, a gentle soul who reveals his own metaphorical blindness. The narrative moves a little too fast to be credible, but forget it, Jake – it’s melodrama-town.

* * *

With luck, when you read this, I will have delivered the manuscript for Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. Almost 900 pages, including end notes and bibliography.

So today’s update is brief.

I have things to do.


Walk Out! Girl, Don’t You Walk Out….

July 25th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins
Quarry's War

The Quarry comic book mini-series (which will later be collected as a graphic novel) was officially announced at San Diego Comic Con, where I was not in attendance. The splendid cover is included here for your enjoyment, although my enjoyment is hampered by the fact that my name isn’t on it.

I trust this is an oversight that will be rectified by Hard Case Crime Comics, though I admit it rankles when the writer of the other comic book announced did make the cover of that number one issue.

I will leave it to you whether to file this under “What am I, chopped liver?” or sour grapes.

In the meantime, here’s the Booklist advance review of Quarry’s Climax:

Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2017. 240 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781785651809). e-book, (9781785651816).

Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with ‘Climax’ in the title only for the characters).

— Bill Ott

* * *

The title of this week’s update is a line from the Monkees’ “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” which Crusin’ covered for a Monkees tribute CD some years back. But the subject is not rock ‘n’ roll – rather, the now legendary tendency of my wife Barb and myself where walking out of movies is concerned.

We were walking out of so many movies, readers of this weekly update were wondering what movies I might actually be able to tolerate, or perhaps even (choke) like. But others have noticed that there have been no reports of such walk-outs lately.

One possible reason for all the walk-outs has been a spate of overblown, mediocre would-be blockbusters, frequently cribbed from comics or otherwise pop-culture retreads. The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island are typical. CHIPs and Baywatch are the kind of movies where you consider walking out during the trailer, which is all we saw of them.

The truth is, though, something strange happened this summer, at least so far: the blockbuster movie releases have been…how can I put it…good. Here’s a rundown on them, just little mini-reviews to pop like Milk Duds. And what part of the cow is the “dud,” anyway? A few of these I’ve already commented on, in passing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. A lot of care went into making sure the quirky humor of the first film was maintained, and it paid off. Casting Kurt Russell was a very good move. These movies know exactly how to walk you up to sentimentality and then drop the trap door on you.

Wonder Woman. Chris Pine, channeling William Shatner in the manner of the recent Star Trek movies, contributes humanity and humor while lead Gal Gadot brings provides charm, beauty and athleticism in an epic origin tale craftily set in a vivid Great War setting. And it’s surprisingly faithful to the Golden Age comic book.

The Mummy. The weakest of the non-walkout-worthy summer blockbusters is nonetheless a lot of fun, with Tom Cruise (no matter what you may think about Scientology) bringing his genuine movie-star charisma and skill to the party. A female mummy (Sofia Boutella) is a nice twist, although too much back story and the clumsy inclusion of Jekyll/Hyde (Russell Crowe) is a lame attempt to build a franchise nobody is waiting for.

Baby Driver. A reminder of what it felt like to go to the movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, this is a slick, fast-moving crime film that is propelled by music and moves from one phenomenal, and mood-changing, set piece to another. It’s an outrageous melodrama, with compelling, often larger-than-life characters. Not sure the proposed sequel is a good idea, though.

Spiderman – Homecoming. It took some doing, getting Barb to go along, and she wasn’t won over immediately. But this third reboot (who’s counting?) manages to both re-imagine and yet be quite faithful to the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original (how I wish I had hung onto Amazing Fantasy #15). Tom Holland is a winning Peter Parker/Spidey, though the heart and soul of the movie, oddly enough, belongs to the villain, the wonderfully cast Michael Keaton. Only real flaw is how hard the film works to invoke other aspects of the Marvel film franchise universe, with much more Avengers and Iron Man stuff than necessary. It’s too much salt on an already well-seasoned popcorn.

War for the Planet of the Apes. This may be the best Planet of the Apes movie of all, and as good as the two previous ones are (Rise and Dawn), that’s saying something. There is a grandeur and even majesty to this one, and the believability of the apes is complete and stunning. But it’s also emotionally wracking, action-packed and even frightening. Give Andy Serkis an Oscar already, would you, Academy?

Dunkirk. I’ve never been a Christopher Nolan fan, but I am now a convert. This is the year’s best movie so far. It’s demanding – for Americans, the various Brit accents may mean losing this line or that one, and there’s no Pearl Harbor back story: you’re just thrown right into four or five storylines that crisscross over the running time. The Hans Zimmer score is ruthlessly relentless, and a relaxing time at the movies this isn’t. A few have complained that the film lacks any overview, but the situation is simple: the Germans have driven the British and the French armies to the coast of France with the Channel between the Brits and home. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers are trying to get home, and the advancing German army as well as their fighter pilots are trying to stop that, while British civilians in their own little boats are heading across the Channel to take soldiers home by the handful. That’s all you need to know. There is heroism and cowardice and various other shades of humanity, but also a sense of patriotism in a just cause that today somehow seems remote. Churchill’s famous speech, read by a soldier from a newspaper, is a reminder that giants once guided government.

* * *

My pal Bud Plant has found a supply of the first Ms. Tree trade paperback. It’s cheap and it’s here.

The Hard Case Crime announcement of Quarry’s War made at SDCC was picked up all over the Internet.

Finally, here’s news of the live performance of Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder next January in Florida. It stars my buddy Gary Sandy, who appeared in Mommy’s Day.


Nate Heller’s Girl Amy

July 18th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

The History Channel’s documentary on Amelia Earhart as a Japanese POW in Saipan has been called into question. “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which I watched on July 9, was two hours with seemingly an hour of commercials, a docudrama restaging an investigation into Earhart’s (and navigator Fred Noonan’s) disappearance at sea eighty years ago.

Utilizing a documentary style more suited to Bigfoot, ancient aliens or maybe an episode of Pawn Stars, the show did a fairly good job of summarizing the theory I explored in the 1999 Heller novel, Flying Blind. Islanders were interviewed, actual locations visited, a supposed gravesite excavation undertaken, and so on. Admittedly, it had a real Geraldo/Capone vault feel.

I know a lot of Heller fans were watching, the media having gone gaga over a supposedly newly discovered photo of Amelia and Fred on a Marshall Islands pier taken just after they disappeared in 1937. Forensic examiners declared the vague figures in question were “very likely” to be Earhart and her navigator.

The ratings had barely settled when Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano called foul on the photo, citing the inaccuracy of the declared date, saying the picture had been published in a Japanese-language travel book in 1935, two years before Amelia, Noonan and their Lockheed fell off the planet.

I chatted with my son Nate about this, and shared some thoughts, seeking his wisdom as someone who knows a lot about Japanese culture. Nate has lived in Japan and, as many of you know, works as a freelancer translating Japanese books, manga and video games into English. The kid knows his stuff. (The “kid” is also in his early thirties.)

My reaction was this: the media was instantly accepting of the validity of the photo; and then just as immediately took the debunking at face value. What amused me was how many “experts” on line and on cable news said that if the Japanese had taken Amelia prisoner, and then she died in captivity (possibly executed), their government would surely have come forward and told us. After all, we’re friends now, right?

I’m sure the friendly folks who brought us Pearl Harbor would say “So sorry” and admit to imprisoning and slaughtering one of America’s most beloved historical figures. Right?

This isn’t to say that I think the debunking is fake. It does strike me that no one in the United States (that I know of) has examined the book in question – that the evidence comes only from Japan. And it’s all too typical that we immediately accept the debunking, just as quickly as we did the new “evidence.”

Nate has looked into this and thinks the blogger is legit, and the debunking is likely the real thing, not a Japanese government-engineered hoax, to save face. But I maintain the latter is a possibility.

And despite the Loch-Ness-Monster-is-Real approach of the “documentary” from History Channel, the Saipan theory is more than just a theory – it’s the basis of a Nate Heller book! And most likely true.

Speaking of Nate Heller, Better Dead just won something that I had almost nothing to do with, but which nonetheless pleases me very much – a “Best Cover” award!

And, for those who are wondering, I will spend much of the second half of this year working on a new Heller novel. The Better Dead mass market paperback won’t be released until the next hardcover comes out (which I have to write first).

* * *

Here’s another one of those movies-you-didn’t-know-were-from-comics articles, with nice M.A.C. mentions.


Browsing at B & N

July 11th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Remember a few weeks ago when I encouraged everyone to buy books at their favorite brick-and-mortar store? By this I wasn’t suggesting that you find a store where you can buy brick and mortar. Rather, I was hoping you would not spend all of your money online, hastening the death of retail.

One of the bookstores I encouraged you to frequent was Barnes & Noble. With Borders gone, and some communities having no indie bookstore, B & N is about all that’s still standing. We have a BAM! (Books-a-Million) in nearby Davenport, and I trade there a lot. If you’re a member of their frequent buyer club, you get a discount coupon for at least $5 on a $25 purchase every week. Nice store.

Barnes & Noble is good about giving members of their club 20%-off-a-single-item coupons frequently. These are nice little surprises in the snail mail every couple of months. Such things take the sting out of buying a book or blu-ray at a price higher than the online option. B & N is weird in that department, by the way – they are routinely cheaper online, and the stores don’t (or won’t or can’t afford to) match their own online price.

A bigger problem is that B & N corporate has made some decisions about their brick-and-mortars that are not helping the whole decline of retail thing. And now a personal story. (Warning: I’ve told better ones.)

I tend to work six days a week and take one unashamed day off. But when I am really swamped, as I have been lately, Barb and I will take half-days off, usually a morning where we drive to the nearby Quad Cities, have breakfast or an early lunch, shop at BAM! and B & N (that’s where I go – Barb usually has other retail destinations), and are back very early afternoon for more work. Such is our devotion to our readers. And the bill collectors.

On my last two trips to the Davenport Barnes & Noble – a lovely, big store with very nice and often knowledgeable staff – I have had several of those 20% off coupons burning a hole in my billfold. Now I am about as hard to get money out of at a bookstore as convincing a sailor on leave that debauchery is worth paying for.

And twice I have spent not a dime.

Here’s the problem. Barnes & Noble has been rearranging their stores in a fashion that indicates either (a) someone is secretly trying to end the brick-and-mortar aspect of their business, or (b) is desperately trying to get fired. For some years, B & N has had – in each section (Mystery, Biography, what have you) – a display at the head of that section that showcases new titles, face out. The corporate genius in question has decided to instead salt those new titles through the existing stock. Occasionally the new titles are face out, and of course the bestseller type books sit out on various new releases tables.

But for the most part, as a shopper, you either have to have the patience to sort through everything in a section to find new titles, or know exactly what you’re looking for. In the latter case, it’s obviously easier to do that online.

Someone clearly doesn’t understand the shopping experience. Someone associated with bookselling actually doesn’t seem familiar with the term “browsing.”

If searching within a section (Science Fiction, Humor, whatever) isn’t enough to frustrate you, might I suggest the B & N blu-ray/DVD/CD section? (Not all B & Ns have those, but many do.) To further make your shopping experience a Bataan Death March chore, B & N has abandoned individual sections to put all CDs (except classical) together, alphabetically. So you can pick up both the Sid Vicious and Frank Sinatra versions of “My Way” in the same area, if you know your alphabet.

For a blu-ray collector like me, the best (and by that I mean “worst”) is yet to come. The blu-ray section is no more. Instead, a massive section combining DVDs and blu-rays now awaits your browsing pleasure (I also don’t really mean “pleasure”) (sarcasm is fun). Blu-ray buyers tend to be snobs – they avoid DVD unless absolutely necessary. I’m not sure my son buys any DVDs any more. And I would under no circumstances buy a DVD of something available on blu-ray.

Also, the new release blu-rays were formerly displayed on a little shelf above the bins. No more. End caps and other displays may showcase new titles, but again blu-rays and DVDs are mixed.

This may in part reflect the cutting back on help in that section of the B & N stores. With no one to ask, “May I help you,” there are fewer places to look. If you know your alphabet, you’re in business! Hope you have plenty of time on your hands and don’t have to get home to entertain America with your fiction.

What these new policies at B & N are doing is discouraging the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It’s now not only cheaper and easier to shop online, it’s no longer less fun. By which I mean, it’s more fun.

I still encourage you to shop at B & N, but also to politely complain about the new user-unfriendly sections throughout their stores. If I can go there twice on shopping expedition and return with my 20% off coupons still tucked away, something is seriously, seriously wrong.

* * *

Here’s a nice Jon Breen EQMM review of A Long Time Dead. Jon doesn’t really like Mickey Spillane, but he likes me. Watch him deal with that. (Answer to his question: Collins.)

This is an article on the newly turned-up photographic evidence that supports my Amelia Earhart theory as expressed in Flying Blind – back in 1999! That book is mentioned in the comments.

Here’s yet another of those write-ups about movies you didn’t know were from graphic novels, with Road to Perdition nicely mentioned.

Finally, here’s a lovely review of Quarry’s Vote.


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