Posts Tagged ‘Bye Bye Baby’

Required Viewing List

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

As a writer, I often get asked what current books I’m reading, and my answer – part of which is that I read almost no contemporary crime fiction – always frustrates people. But I also mention the long list of classic mystery and crime writers whose work influenced me – Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and half a dozen more – which seems to salve the wound.

In my case, however, movies are as big a part of the mix as prose fiction. Television, too, since I’m part of the first TV generation. Someday I may write about the TV shows that really influenced me (I’ve often mentioned the private eye craze of the late ‘50s and its impact on my work) but today I want to be self-indulgent (what a shock) and list my favorite sixteen movies with a few words about each.

The Max Allan Collins Required Viewing List
Vertigo

1. VERTIGO (1958). Hitchcock is my favorite director, but this is more than just my favorite film of his – it’s my favorite film period. Few people notice that it’s a private eye movie, but ex-cop James Stewart gets hired to investigate an old friend’s wife’s odd behavior, so that’s what it is. VERTIGO is romantic and tragic with two great performances at its center – Stewart is heart-breaking in his cruelty, and Novak has a painful vulnerability. Critics of the time almost always said she was a lousy actress…uh, what were their names again? Oh yeah, the critics are forgotten and she lives forever. Too bad she got in a miff lately about the re-use of the great Bernard Herrmann love theme in the current, wonderful THE ARTIST. The resonance of its use there brought tears to these sentimental eyes. By the way, I am convinced that my very real vertigo was caused by first seeing this movie at a tender age (I was in the fourth grade).

Kiss Me Deadly

2. KISS ME DEADLY (1955). I’ve spoken elsewhere about this at length (I hope definitively in the forthcoming MICKEY SPILLANE ON FILM written with Jim Traylor), so I’ll be uncharacteristically brief on the subject here. What makes it my second favorite film (and not first) is its lack of heart. The terrible warmth of VERTIGO wins out over KISS ME DEADLY’s heartless meltdown. But I have watched no other movie as many times.

Gun Crazy

3. GUN CRAZY (1949). The greatest of all Bonnie and Clyde movies, which on a list that includes Arthur Penn’s classic is really saying something. It captures the tragic violence of a criminal couple in a manner rivaled only by James M. Cain at his best. Two little-known actors, Peggy Cummins and John Dall, give performances for the ages, and my second-favorite director, Joseph H. Lewis, does the same. The outrageous set-piece robberies have never bested nor matched.

Chinatown

4. CHINATOWN (1974). This, more than any novel, established the private eye in the mid-twentieth century as a sub-genre, and is undoubtedly the greatest original private eye film – few of those derived from Hammett, Chandler and Spillane could rival it (probably only MURDER, MY SWEET, THE MALTESE FALCON and KISS ME DEADLY – the Hawks BIG SLEEP is too shambling and confusing an affair for all its attributes). Nicholson’s definitive performance as cocky Jake Gittes meets its match in Faye Dunaway’s apparent femme fatale and uber-villain John Huston. The script by Robert Towne and score by Jerry Goldsmith set the private eye gold standard. And CHINATOWN is the rare private eye film that, for all Jake’s worldly cynicism, has the VERTIGO-like heart and tragedy that the other great private eye movies cited above sorely lack. The sequel, THE TWO JAKES, is much better than its reputation, by the way.

Phantom of the Paradise

5. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974). How ironic that that steaming piece of cheese, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, is so popular, and the great rock ‘n’ roll PHANTOM remains a cult item. Paul Williams delivers a fantastic performance and a score equal to it, parodying various rock styles and prescient about several fads to come (a Kiss-style group pre-dates Kiss here). Jessica Harper is charismatic and sings hauntingly well, and William Finley is the perfect sad, crippled, demented Phantom. For a long time Brian DePalma was my favorite contemporary director. He’s had some bad stumbles over the years, but at his best he’s hard to beat. This is the only time, however, that he perfectly merged his comic and melodramatic impulses (well, SISTERS also does it, even more blackly). I also like OBSESSION, which is a wonderful twist on VERTIGO, not the mere rip-off it’s often dismissed as.

6. HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941). I have loved this movie since childhood and it’s one I can watch again and again. Robert Montgomery was never better as the boxer whose soul is plucked too early from his body by an over-eager angel, and gets to earn another shot at the title. It has interesting crime and even noir elements, and the ending makes me tear up just thinking about it. Yes, I tear up at movies a lot. Not so much in real life. The remake, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, is excellent but very much the lesser of the two films.

7. MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947). This is a perfect piece of Hollywood filmmaking, funny and touching, and maybe a fantasy…we’re never quite sure, which is part of the delight. John Payne might have been a major star had he been given more roles like this, and Maureen O’Hara was never lovelier, at least not in black-and-white. And whatever happened to that delightful kid actor who played her daughter? Natalie something? Then there’s Edmund Gwenn, on loan-out from Hitchcock, transforming the oddly disturbing mythic figure of Santa Claus into a flesh-and-blood being. The courtroom scene is among the best ever filmed, and certainly the funniest, and the post-WW 2 location shooting (including the Macy’s parade) is a real time-machine ride. The other great Christmas films are Alistair Sim’s SCROOGE and Jean Shepherd’s A CHRISTMAS STORY. No other films need apply.

8. HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (1967). Why weren’t more Broadway musicals transferred to film in a faithful fashion like this one? Robert Morse as J. Pierpont Finch is the most lovable bastard imaginable as he climbs to the top over one worthy body after another. His loveable charm – aided by outrageous mugging (he is essentially Jerry Lewis Goes to Grad School) – merges with a flawless Frank Loesser score in an eye-popping pop-art film by director David Swift (the sight gags were by cartoonist Virgil Partch). No other film captured Morse’s boyish charisma, but this single performance will see to it he lives forever. Big props to TV’s MAD MEN for including Morse in their cast.

9. MURDER, HE SAYS (1945). Simply the funniest murder crime movie ever made. Fred MacMurray is the census taker embroiled in mysterious backwoods doings (“It’s a lit-up dawg!”) and his homicidal hostess is Marjorie Main. Lovely Helen Walker (initially doing a cigar-smoking Bonnie Parker turn) is the love interest (she was wonderful in the excellent Tyrone Power noir NIGHTMARE ALLEY as well). “In town police is” indeed. This is finally out on DVD, available at TCM’s web site.

10. THE SEARCHERS (1956). When they tell you John Wayne couldn’t act, pop this one in the deck. John Ford is at his Monument Valley best here, offering up a revenge drama that deals with the cost. In an era where so much is blunt (said the author of the Quarry novels), the quiet way Ford and his screenwriters lay in back story is a revelation. We know that Wayne and his brother’s wife had been lovers, but are never told. Is Natalie Wood his daughter? Is Jeffrey Hunter his son? We are made to wonder, and work it out for ourselves.

11. GROUNDHOG DAY (1993). One of the few truly great traditional Hollywood movies of the last thirty years, and the best film Bill Murray ever made, making it sad that he insists on trying for respectability in precious indie twaddle (how could Wes Anderson begin with RUSHMORE and wind up where he is?). Harold Ramis, that notable SCTV grad, reworks IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in an imaginative manner that rivals that classic. Comedy and tragedy have seldom been juggled so effectively, nor have the joys and disappointments of living been depicted in such a seemingly offhanded yet devastating way.

12. LI’L ABNER (1959). Another faithfully recorded Broadway hit and a wonderful realization of Al Capp’s great comic strip – probably the greatest of all comic strips. Much underrated as a musical (lively, tuneful score by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul, fresh off SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) and as a satire (“What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA”). Plus, it has Stella Stevens, Julie Newmar, Leslie Parrish and dozens of other ravishing starlets of the late 1950s, not that Peter Palmer’s wonderful lummox Abner ever notices.

13. THE GREAT RACE (1965). Yes, it’s bloated, but this is one of the rare Hollywood big-budget excesses that succeeds. The opening half hour or so is as funny as anything you will ever see (“I’d like to see the Great Leslie try that one!”), and this only re-teaming of SOME LIKE IT HOT’s Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis satirizes various genres (the western, the swashbuckler) while launching a massive pie fight and one wonderful sight gag after another. Blake Edwards was an uneven director to be sure, and coming up with a list of five or six terrible films of his wouldn’t be tough. But this is the guy who created both Peter Gunn and Inspector Clouseau, so respect must be paid. Blu-ray, please!

14. ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959). Possibly the greatest courtroom drama of all, this one has James Stewart at the top of his mature powers encountering the new breed of young method actor – Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, Lee Remick – and besting them, barely breaking a sweat (yet they’re terrific, too). It’s a changing-of-the-guard movie, with Golden Age actors like Eve Arden and Arthur O’Connell rubbing shoulders with Orson Bean and Murray Hamilton, with traditional studio-bound filming traded in for location shooting in smalltown Michigan Shocking and sexy in its day, with an ending Hollywood wouldn’t have tried even a year before, the film still makes an impact, as does the Duke Ellington score – did Mancini’s PETER GUNN music for Blake Edwards pave the way for that? Otto Preminger is another uneven director, though seldom an uninteresting one, and it all came together for him here. Recently released on Blu-ray by Criterion.

15. EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982). Bewilderingly underrated, this is probably the greatest Agatha Christie film derived from a novel (from a play, that would be WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION). While the definitive television Poirot is clearly David Suchet, the best of the big-screen Poirots is Peter Ustinov, who is funny and sly and shamelessly scene-stealing here. The all-star cast is as impeccable (Diana Rigg a standout) as the Cole Porter-derived score and the exotic vacation paradise. There are few better ways to while away a Sunday afternoon than watching this one, which is also a very clever, memorable mystery with a solution that is as fair as it is impossible to reach. Absolutely the best Poirot summation-to-the-suspects in any medium.

16. START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970). Let’s get this out of the way: this movie is a mess, really something of a shambles. But it is so goddamn funny. Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland, doing a Corsican Brothers turn, might have been among the screen’s greatest comedy teams, had they ever worked together again. Wilder is at his manic best here, and this is a reminder of how funny he could be at the outset of his slightly disappointing career. I’ve always felt that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (worthy of being listed here) was the downfall of both Wilder and Mel Brooks. Together, they were Lennon and McCartney. Apart they were…Lennon and McCartney. Brooks without Wilder’s inherent sweetness became strident, and Wilder without Brooks’ cynical edge went soft. To see Wilder at his most hysterical in several senses of the word, you need to track down this French revolution farce. Another Wilder obscurity worth tracking down: QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX.

* * *

A nice review of BLOOD AND THUNDER has popped up, illustrated with the new Amazon Encore cover. Looks like the Amazon reprints are creating new interest in Nate Heller.

Here’s a nice mini-review of the Quarry short story “A Matter of Principal” in the new e-book anthology from Top Suspense, FAVORITE KILLS.

And a really nice write-up about Heller in general and BYE BYE, BABY in particular appears here.

Finally, my buddy Ed Gorman reprinted some of my diatribe about the use of the word “hack” at his great blog, and went on to write his own piece on the subject. Check it out!

M.A.C.

Mike Danger Loses A Friend

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

For those of you out of the comics scene loop, I’m sorry to report that Eduardo Barretto passed away recently. Eduardo was the initial artist on the MIKE DANGER comic book, drawing the first six issues, and while other good artists followed, nobody came close to his classic approach. He also drew my Eliot Ness/Batman graphic novel, SCAR OF THE BAT, providing the best Bat-art I ever got.

My collaborations with Eduardo were long distance, and we only met once, briefly, at a San Diego Comic Con. He was about to go into a meeting with an editor, and we pretty much passed like ships in the night. But I loved his work and regret I didn’t get a chance to work with him again. He was on the very short list of artists I suggested for ROAD TO PERDITION.

There were a lot of nice write-ups about Eduardo in the wake of his passing, but here’s a nice representative one.

Crimespree 44

I am pleased and honored to be a cover boy again, this time on CRIMESPREE 44. The interview, conducted by editor Jon Jordan himself, has some glitches and typos but is otherwise a particularly good one, I think, thanks to Jon’s questioning. If you can’t pick up a copy at a mystery bookstore, you can just pay $6 through Paypal to Jon@crimespreemag.com, or send a check for $6 to:

Crimespree Magazine
536 South 5th St
Milwaukee WI 53204.

It’s also available as an e-book from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble online.

My pal Leonard Maltin called recently to say how much he liked BYE BYE, BABY. He even included it in his seasonal wrap-up on new and notable Hollywood-oriented books.

At Bookreporter.com, several regular reviewers were asked to present best 10 books of the year, and Tom Callahan included BYE BYE, BABY on his.

We also received some Best of 2011 honors at the cool Sons of Spade site.

I was asked to write about one of my favorite authors, Ed McBain, for Amazon, and you can find my piece (and others) right here. If you like my work and McBain’s, you’ll want to take a look.

A nice CONSUMMATA review popped up here. That little book has generated nice online buzz (and was recently part of a Titan giveaway promotion at Ain’t It Cool News); no link, ‘cause the contest’s over….

You may find this review of the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION of interest. It’s quite insightful, but has the unusual perspective of a reviewer who likes the book but does not like the film. I like the film a lot, but I am always up for hearing from people who like the book better….

That gifted comics scribe John Ostrander said some nice things about CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

Finally, let me wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas this week, and a happy holidays in general. This has been a rough year in many ways – the loss of Eduardo Barretto is a reminder of other losses, including Chuck Bunn from Crusin’ and my longtime film collaborator Mike Cornelison. My mom at her nursing home no longer recognizes Barb and me. I have always gotten misty-eyed at that line in “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” that says we’ll all be together “if the fates allow.” The fates have been kinder in other years.

Still, I am remarkably blessed. I have a beautiful, funny, talented, supportive wife in Barb – did I mention beautiful? – and a talented, funny, supportive son in Nate (I would call him “handsome,” but as much as we look alike, that would be inappropriate). My career manages to roll along nicely despite a marketplace that resembles a back-alley in Iraq. I have so many friends, many of whom collaborate with me – like Jane Spillane, Matt Clemens and Phil Dingeldein, among many others (you know who you are, or anyway I hope you do) – who make my life a particularly full and happy one. Among those friends are the readers who support my work and stop by this weekly update. I raise a rum-spiked glass of egg nog to you all.

M.A.C.

Honor To Be Nominated

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
Road to Perdition
Road to Perdition 2: On The Road
The Romantic Times Awards nominees have been announced, and I’m pleased to report that BYE BYE, BABY is among the nominees for Best Historical Mystery, as seen here.

My radio play version of REINCARNAL is available for a limited time FREE at Fangoria’s website. Producer Carl Amari did a great job on this! So much so that I’ve written a screenplay based on the original story and the radio play.

RETURN TO PERDITION continues to get some very nice attention, in particular a USA TODAY article that got picked up all over the Net.

Among the mostly favorable reviews, my pal Bill Crider – a terrific mystery writer (and blogger) – gave one of the most insightful.

The LA Times even picked RETURN and the two new reprints of the early ROAD graphic novels for their comics-oriented gift book section.

Barb and I continue to listen to the new Nate Heller audios as read by Dan John Miller. Audio File Magazine agrees with me that he makes a great Heller. Check out this review.

A guy named Ed who is not Gorman has nice things to say about THE CONSUMMATA.

And I did a lengthy phone interview with Bryan Young that he split up in a couple of places, first at Big Shiny Robot and more at his own site. This is a warts-and-all transcription, and not the smoothest of reads, but we get into some interesting topics.

Finally, happy Thanksgiving to all of you. There have been some tough losses this year (Chuck and Mike in particular) but I remain thankful for my great wife and son, and those of you kind enough to read my books. You provide the feast.

M.A.C.

On The Road With Vanilla Fudge

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Return to Perdition

The final (chronological) entry in the ROAD TO PERDITION saga, RETURN TO PERDITION, is available now. So are handsome new editions of ROAD TO PERDITION and ROAD TO PERDITION 2: ON THE ROAD.

I’m very pleased with how RETURN TO PERDITION has come out, and my longtime MS. TREE collaborator Terry Beatty has done a great job capturing a ‘70s feel for the final blood-and-sex-drenched chapter in the O’Sullivan saga.

Response so far has been great. Publisher’s Weekly gave us a fine review and so did Ain’t It Cool News.

Craig Clarke has nice, smart things to say, too.

And we’re turning up at various comics (and other pop culture) sites with write-ups like this one at Criminal Complex, this one at Bloody Disgusting, and IGN, too.

THE CONSUMMATA continues to get strong reviews, like this one.

And that talented writer Mike Dennis likes QUARRY’S EX.

The Simon and Kirby CRIME collection I wrote the intro to is getting some attention, as well.

CHICAGO LIGHTNING, the new Heller collection, got a great write-up here, though what I have to do with “faith fiction” is a mystery to me.

And BYE BYE, BABY rates a smug dismissal from a guy at Huffington Post, who spends a lot of time on a book he feels superior to. He starts out saying he can’t understand why anybody would still be interested in Marilyn Monroe, qualifying as an idiot right out of the gate. He claims I don’t give a solution to the mystery of Marilyn’s death, which of course I do, and says my writing – like the sex scenes in my book – are “gratuitous and mechanical.” Okay, well, unless you’re making babies, all sex is gratuitous, and let’s have more of it, sez I. It’s also by definition mechanical, as in INSERT A into B – STIR. He appears to have listened to the audio, not actually the book, and I include this here mostly because he’s smart enough to acknowledge what a great job Dan John Miller is doing reading the new Heller audios.

Vanilla Fudge
Vanilla Fudge on stage at Vipers Alley.

Last Thursday, Barb and I went to a place called Viper’s Alley in Lincolnshire, Illinois (Chicago area) to see my favorite American band from the Sixties, Vanilla Fudge. These guys were incredibly influential, really the fathers of Metal, but what I loved were the over-the-top, melodramatic symphonies they conjured out of songs like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Shotgun,” “Some Velvet Morning,” and “She’s Not There.” B-3 organist and lead singer Mark Stein was my musical idol back in the day (really, still is), and had an enormous influence on both my singing and keyboard playing.

Vanilla Fudge
Chatting with legendary guitarist Vince Martell.

The Fudge was only together for a few years, and around ‘68-‘69, I missed several opportunities to see them at the Col Ballroom in Davenport because my own band had a conflicting gig. In recent years, the Fudge have begun to appear (and occasionally record) again, at first without Stein, but more recently with him. Great bassist Tim Bogert has stepped down from touring (health problems, I believe) but the other three – Stein, guitarist Vince Martell, and drummer Carmen Appice – are still appearing with a strong fill-in bassist, who does Bogert’s distinctive parts perfectly.

Vanilla Fudge
Chatting with one of rock’s great drummers, Carmen Appice.

Anyway, they were fantastic. The venue was intimate for this kind of thing, and the band was very unpretentious for as wonderfully bombastic as their playing is. They did their entire first album, which has recently gone platinum (“Took long enough,” Stein said) and then selectively material from later albums like “Season of the Witch” from the classic Renaissance and “Dazed and Confused” from their recent Led Zeppelin tribute album (Zeppelin first toured opening for the Fudge). Appice, as rock fans out there know, is one of the three or four greatest drummers in the history of rock, and did an amazing drum solo. And yes, they did all the high harmonies, awash in Stein’s B-3 organ with its Leslie speakers distorting just enough.

Vanilla Fudge
With Mark Stein, the lead singer and keyboard of Vanilla Fudge.

Afterward, I was able to meet the band members and get CD’s autographed. They were gracious and very down-to-earth.

I didn’t get to see Bobby Darin live, or the Beatles, but the other group on that very short list has been finally checked off (I’ve already seen Weezer…twice).

M.A.C.