Posts Tagged ‘American Gangster’

Mickey Spillane’s Birthday

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Today is Mickey Spillane’s birthday, and after a few announcements, I’m featuring a short piece I did about the first film of I, THE JURY by way of tribute. It appeared in Classic Images last year – Classic Images is a great magazine in newspaper tabloid format that is extremely well-edited by Bob King out of the back of my hometown paper, the Muscatine Journal, where I had my first professional writing job.

Barb’s father, William Mull, passed away yesterday. Bill had been suffering from pancreatic cancer (the killer that took Mickey Spillane out, too, coincidentally). But Bill survived over a year with the disease, which enabled his family to spend time with him in person and on the phone, and say goodbyes properly. He was a fine man with a sly sense of humor, a WW 2 combat vet, a great trumpet player, a successful businessman and the father of seven kids, all of whom grew up just fine. To me, his greatest achievement was helping bring Barbara Mull to the planet.

I am working on ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, which already had been dedicated to Bill by his daughter. Barb did an exceptional job on the rough draft. I think this will be the best Brandy and Mother mystery yet, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the current ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

Also, I have already done a series of revisions on QUARRY’S EX – Charles Ardai is the most lightning fast editor on the planet – and that book has been put to bed and is off to the typesetter.

You Can't Stop MeAntiques Bizarre

We got a great review from Bill Crider for YOU CAN’T STOP ME. If you don’t follow Bill’s great blog, start doing so now. He obviously has incredible taste.

Craig Clarke, another great blogger, had wonderful things to say about ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

The Court Reporter website recently posted a very controversial list of the top 100 crime novels of all time. I mention this because (oddly, it seems to me) I am represented on that list for…ready for this?…my novelization of AMERICAN GANGSTER. Now I’m proud of that book, and it made the NY Times bestseller list, and won the Scribe from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. But of everything I’ve ever written (say, TRUE DETECTIVE or ROAD TO PERDITION or THE FIRST QUARRY)…why that? But I’ll take it, since my policy is that any such list is utter bullshit…unless I’m on it.

And now, in honor of Mickey’s birthday….

I, THE JURY – NOIR IN 3-D
by Max Allan Collins

I, The Jury 3DMickey Spillane was not a fan of the films British producer Victor Saville fashioned in the 1950s from the mystery writer’s bestsellers, I, the Jury, The Long Wait, Kiss Me Deadly and My Gun Is Quick. So incensed by what he considered a mishandling of his famous private eye, Mike Hammer, Spillane wrote and co-produced THE GIRL HUNTERS (1963) in which he starred as Hammer himself.

Time has been kind to several of the Saville films, notably KISS ME DEADLY (1955), starring Ralph Meeker, directed by Robert Aldrich and written by A.I. Bezzerides. The film had a strong anti-Spillane subtext but was nonetheless a brilliant evocation of Mike Hammer’s violent, sexually charged world. Late in life, Spillane came to appreciate KISS ME DEADLY, which is now considered a noir classic; but he never warmed to the others. With MY GUN IS QUICK (1957), wherein Robert Bray portrayed Hammer, Spillane had a point: it was a slipshod quickie. THE LONG WAIT (1954) (with Anthony Quinn as a non-Hammer protagonist and an array of beauties including Peggie Castle) does have its admirers, with a particularly strong climax involving starkly expressionistic lighting.

Though he counted Biff Elliot a friend, Spillane disliked I, THE JURY (1953). He thought Elliot was too small, though his chief complaints were with the script and such details as Mike Hammer’s trademark .45 automatic being traded in for a revolver, and he howled about Hammer getting knocked out with a coathanger. He found director/screenwriter Harry Essex obnoxious and disrespectful, and was irritated that his handpicked Mike Hammer – close friend, ex-cop Jack Stang (for whom the hero of the posthumous novel Dead Street is named, and who appears briefly in I, THE JURY in a poolroom scene) – was turned down for the part.

In 1999, Mickey and I were invited to London where the National Film Theater was showing my documentary, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane,” as part of a retrospective of Spillane films. Mickey did not bother to attend any of the screenings except my documentary. But I was eager to attend a rare 3-D screening of I, THE JURY.

I’d always liked the film, and had argued its merits (and those of KISS ME DEADLY) to Mickey over the years. Of all the Saville films, I, THE JURY seemed to catch best the look and flavor of the novels; it was fun and tough and sexy, and the dialogue had crackle. What had disappointed moviegoers at the time remains disappointing: the most overtly sexual aspects of the plot (a dance studio may or may not be a brothel, several characters may or may not be homosexual) became incoherent due to censorship issues, and the famous striptease finale reduced lovely Peggie Castle’s disrobing to taking off her shoes!

But Elliot himself was a terrific Mike Hammer – an emotional hothead who could be as tough as he was tender. That he was a little smaller than readers might have imagined Hammer only makes him seem less a bully. He fights hard and loves hard, and may not be as smart as most movie private eyes, which gives him a nice everyman quality. It’s a shame Elliot, with a screen presence similar to James Caan’s, was not better launched by the film.

The revelation of the screening, however, was the 3-D cinematography – seen “flat” on TV, the film doesn’t seem to be much of a 3-D movie, with only a few instances of objects and people coming out of the screen. But the 3-D screening revealed the brilliant John Alton’s mastery at creating depth, bringing the viewer inside the images. As one of a small handful of 3-D crime films, I, THE JURY is an unacknowledged 3-D gem.

Message from M.A.C. – July 7, 2007

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Antiques Maul

First off, the paperback of ANTIQUES ROADKILL has just hit the stands as I write this. The hardcover did very well — sales and reviews — and “Barbara Allan” (that’s Barb and me) hope the paperback will boost the series further. The second novel in the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series, ANTIQUES MAUL, will be out in September in hardcover. Barb is working on the rough draft of the third, ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET, right now, and I’ll be getting to my draft in the fall.

We have just signed with VCI home video for ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE to come out very soon on DVD — September 25, to be exact. Phil Dingeldein and I are putting together bonus features right now, including a new short noir film that emerged from another workshop (a la “Three Women” which became part of the SHADES OF NOIR DVD). When we have artwork, we’ll post it here. The film (recording for posterity Michael Cornelison’s definitive Ness) was entered into two regional festivals and won BEST FEATURE at both, as well as BEST DIRECTOR and BEST EDITING at one.

The mini-book tour for BLACK HATS and A KILLING IN COMICS was quite successful, with particularly good turnouts at the Muskego Public Library (where Ted Hertel and Gary Neibuhr expertly grilled research associate George Hagenauer and me) and at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park. Barb and I have been discussing cutting way back on such personal appearances, but these well-attended events were encouraging. We also did very well at the new Mystery Cat bookstore in Cedar Rapids, a used/collectible shop that is a real delight, and worth a trip for midwesterners.

The brevity of the tour had to do with my heavy schedule this year, even heavier than usual. Already this year I’ve written three novels, a nonfiction book and a screenplay.

The nonfiction book is a return to the pin-up world, a biography of my late friend Earl Mac Pherson; Collector’s Press (who did just a wonderful job on HISTORY OF MYSTERY) had a coffee-table book essentially ready to go and asked me to contribute a full 10,000 word bio on Earl. I contributed more art and photos from my own collection, as well — don’t know exactly when this will be out.

The screenplay is my own adaptation of ROAD TO PURGATORY, which we are in the early stages of attempting to mount right here in the midwest with me directing. I’m partnered with some very good people, including longtime crony Phil D., and it’s an exciting venture — if we can pull off the fund-raising, it will be the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted in any medium. The script was submitted to the Iowa Motion Picture Awards and won the Award of Excellence for Unproduced Screenplay.

AMERICAN GANGSTER, my movie tie-in for the Ridley Scott film starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, will be out in November along with the film. It’s a fact-based early ’70s druglord tale and the screenplay was first-rate; this is my first novelization (dreaded word) since THE PINK PANTHER and I’m proud of it. TOR is publishing.

I have also completed a long-contemplated novel based on my late father Max A. Collins Sr.’s experiences in the Navy during World War II, when he was one of a handful of very young white officers in charge of a large body of black sailors loading ammo in the Pacific. The book is essentially my CAINE MUTINY (albeit with a murder mystery at its heart) and I believe it came off very well. My title is USS POWDERKEG, and I hope it will remain such, but you never know — my editor at Morrow may have another idea. Matthew Clemens got involved in this one, doing extensive research and helping develop the plot. This may be published as the second “Patrick Culhane” bylined novel, but that’s up in the air – the jury’s still out on whether the Culhane byline was a good idea or not. Should be out in the fall of 2008.

Criminal Minds: Jump Cut

As you may know, I am no longer doing CSI novels. Instead, my researcher Matt Clemens and I are doing at least three novels based on the hit show, CRIMINAL MINDS. We have completed the first book, JUMP CUT, and it came off very well — working with profilers rather than crime scene investigators was liberating, because a lot of Holmes/Wolfe-style speculation can come into play. The novel will be out in November.

Next up for me is the second Jack & Maggie Starr mystery for Berkley Prime Crime, probably called STRIP FOR MURDER. It’s based on the Al Capp LIL ABNER/Ham Fisher JOE PALOOKA feud. Terry Beatty will again be providing comics panels for chapter headings as well as a “challenge to the reader” comics chapter toward the end of the novel. The response to the first novel, A KILLING IN COMICS, has been very gratifying — after a limp review from Publisher’s Weekly (complaining that the book was not a Nate Heller), online reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable, even glowing. Readers seem to “get” the retro fun of a Rex Stout-ish mystery in the context of the world of post-war comics.

The biggest news I’m saving for last: I have signed with Otto Penzler’s Harcourt line to complete three Mike Hammer novels begun by Mickey Spillane. I am working from substantial partial manuscripts — at least half of each book already written by Mickey. That I will be collaborating with Mickey on at least three Hammer novels is thrilling to me beyond words. This is highly unusual, because I am working not only with his wife Jane’s blessing, but Mickey’s own: he asked me to complete these novels. First up: THE GOLIATH BONE, the final Hammer chronologically. (Other novels will be given time frames according to when they were begun by Mickey.)

Mickey’s file of unpublished material was extensive — another trio of Hammers can follow, if these three do well. This is a very big deal – there are only 13 Mike Hammer novels, and adding another three (or six) to the canon is unheard of for so famous a mystery series.

Dead Street

I have already completed Mickey’s last crime novel, DEAD STREET, for Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime; it will be out in December – I edited the existing eight chapters and completed the last three from Mickey’s notes. I am not taking a byline on DEAD STREET, however, though will be sharing byline with Mickey on the Hammer novels. (My afterword explains the process.)

Also from Hard Case is DEADLY BELOVED — the first ever Ms. Tree prose novel. This came about as an offshoot of the current MS. TREE TV option (with Oxygen Network), though no film has yet been made. MS. TREE co-creator Terry Beatty has done a lovely cover – among the best Hard Case has done, and that’s saying something — and I spent a lot of time revising and polishing, trying to make DEADLY BELOVED a novel that would work equally well for longtime fans of the graphic novel series and readers unfamiliar with the character/series. Look for it in December.

Barb and I may go out on another mini-tour late in the year to promote ANTIQUES MAUL, the ELIOT NESS DVD, AMERICAN GANGSTER, CRIMINAL MINDS: JUMP CUT, and DEADLY BELOVED. But if we don’t have time, I bet you’ll understand….

M.A.C.