Posts Tagged ‘Eliot Ness’

Goodbye, Jerry; Hello, Nashville

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

I already did a brief post on Facebook about the passing of Jerry Lewis. I predicted that along with the tributes there would lots of snark, as some people feel the right moment to dis somebody is right after that person dies.

I understand Lewis was both a complicated man and an inconsistent artist. My late friend Bruce Peters used to say, “The only thing funnier than Jerry Lewis at his best is Jerry Lewis at his worst.” And there’s some truth in that. He could be such a putz when he got in self-trained intellectual mode on talk shows (Martin Short, a fellow Lewis lover, could nail that perfectly). He could be notoriously thin-skinned with interviewers and he indulged in outrageously politically incorrect humor right to the end – Barb, Nate, Abby and I saw him in St. Louis not long ago, and he told an Asian joke that was in terrible taste (but I laughed at it, because at 69 I already understand what it is to be of another era and feel the urge to make your own generation smile and younger people squirm).

But I wasn’t always 69. Once I was six, and seven, and eight, and all the ages along the way through junior and senior high school, years when at the Uptown Theater in Muscatine, Iowa, I saw every movie Jerry made. I saw many of Dean and Jerry’s movies that way, too, but also saw them tear it up on TV, manic magic as performed by no other comedy team in history. Nobody could make me laugh harder, and I still find Dean and Jerry a perfectly mismatched pair. I remember seeing Pardners and being so relieved that Dean and Jerry were obviously still pals and partners and, despite what we’d been told, would never ever split. Right up till the day Dean Martin died I was hoping for a genuine reunion of the two. They were, as I said elsewhere, the comedy Beatles.

Jerry could be cloyingly sentimental in his films. This made some otherwise interesting movies – Cinderfella, for example – occasionally unbearable. And he had a thing for clowns that misses me entirely. On the other hand, his infamous unreleased The Day the Clown Cried seems pretty good to me, based upon the clips and readings from the script that were assembled a while back, despite its legendary reputation as an embarrassing disaster. A guy who could be as overbearing as Jerry, and who represented show business at its most phony/traditional, made a great target for smug people of my generation who turned on the whole Rat Pack crowd as part of our general anti-Establishment stance.

It was easy for us to forget that Jerry was an anarchic presence in a dull decade, he and Dean perhaps the first sign of the rebellion that was to come, a bridling against the cookie-cutter post-war world that would soon know Brando and James Dean. Like Elvis and Spillane, Jerry Lewis – and in his way, Dino, too – were rebels serving up gleeful chaos even as they let us know that all was not calm beneath the pablum-paved Arthur Godfrey surface of ‘50s America.

And when the sixties kicked in – really kicked in – it was tough on Jerry. He famously considered his screen persona to be eternally nine years old, and this worked for a long, long time, because of his naturally youthful looks. But when the hippie era asserted its glassy-eyed self, and the sexual revolution changed movies, he started looking like a guy approaching middle age, and his brand of traditional show biz was soon attracting derision from the Baby Boomers who had loved him. He started making some truly dreadful movies with sex farce aspects – Three on a Couch, for example, and Way…Way Out.

And when he took on the Nazis in Which Way to the Front? (not long after Mel Brooks and The Producers), his comic timing seemed oddly off – as a director, his usual mastery of cutting was absent. And yet there are very funny moments toward the end of that generally dire film – Hitler has never been funnier, not even when Dick Shawn was playing him. Jerry’s willingness to do whatever it took to get a laugh would, even in those misjudged circumstances, shine through. Even his comeback comedy, Hardly Working, for all its sketchiness and awkward product placement, had sublime moments of Lewis hysteria, as when a porthole in an art gallery issues gushing water, with Jerry breaking the fourth wall to ask us if we’d seen that, too.

I always watched the telethons selectively. I wanted to see the parts where Jerry himself was performing or interacting with guests. (I saw the Dean Martin reunion, orchestrated by Sinatra, as it happened.) And I sat through Jerry’s excruciating yet strangely thrilling performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at least a dozen times.

So, yes, he was not perfect. But I’m here to tell you that he will join the pantheon of great screen comics. He’ll rank with W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, and Keaton. He’s already outdistanced such contenders as Danny Kaye and Red Skelton (meaning no disrespect to either – I am a guy who adores the Ritz Brothers, after all). I hope Abbott and Costello will last, and Bob Hope, too (his pre-1960s comedies and the Road pictures with Crosby remain hugely entertaining). The Stooges seem impervious, which for Baby Boomers is a sweet surprise, though when we’re gone that may not continue. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the best of Jerry Lewis will endure.

Like what, you ask?

Well, while the Martin & Lewis films don’t always capture the boys at their best, a handful do – Artists and Models (the comic book movie), Sailor Beware, You’re Never Too Young, The Caddy, Living It Up, The Stooge, Hollywood or Bust and Pardners. That’s quite a few, actually.

For Jerry at the top of his game, try The Nutty Professor, The Ladies’ Man, The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Errand Boy, all of which he directed and co-wrote. His collaborations with Frank Tashlin are mostly worthwhile: It’s Only Money, The Disorderly Orderly, and Who’s Minding the Store among them. And of course there’s The King of Comedy.

Fanatics, like myself, have everything of Jerry’s on DVD and Blu-ray – including things you can only acquire from overseas. I even have bootlegs of the two (terrible) movies he made in France.

Nonetheless, France was right: he was a genius. Not everything I’ve said here is flattering about him, but make no mistake – I loved this man and his work. For probably twenty years I’ve dreaded the day when I would learn of his passing. I knew part of me would die with him.

So I’ll be as cloyingly sentimental as Jerry and say that he won’t be gone as long as his films are with us, including moments like this:

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I am a guest of honor at Killer Nashville this weekend (Aug. 24 -27). Barb will be along, and we’ll be very active, doing scads of panels. It’s our first time at this event.

I’m receiving a life achievement “Legends” award – read about it here.

Here’s where you can get more general info about the conference/convention.

And here are the panels one or both of us are on:

Friday, Aug 25
2:20pm panel: M.A.C. Bad Boys and Girls (Hickory 20)
4:40pm signing: M.A.C.
5pm Author Readings (Birch MM)

Saturday, Aug. 26
12:30pm Road to Perdition interview; M.A.C. (Birch 34)
2pm panel: Barb; How to Write Cozy Mystery Series (Hickory 37)
3pm panel: M.A.C./Barb; Art of Collaboration (Sycamore 43)
5:10pm signing; M.A.C./Barb (Azalea S8)
7pm Awards Dinner (Birch KNA)

Sun. Aug 27
9:50am panel; M.A.C. Writing the Scene (Sycamore 49)
9:50am panel; Barb One Night: Lovers, Minor Characters (Redbud 50)
10:50am panel; Barb That’s Funny (Sycamore 54)

I have been in Nashville twice before. In 1967, to record “Psychedelic Siren” with the Daybreakers. And in 1994, to scout locations for The Expert with director Bill Lustig.

* * *

Take a look at these nice comments about Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman Elseworlds graphic novel, with a suggestion that it should be animated.

This nice look at Road to Perdition is, as usual, based on its being derived from a comics source.

Finally, here’s a nice review of The Pearl Harbor Murders (actually of Dan John Miller’s audio of it) with an overview of the entire “Disaster” series.

M.A.C.

Toe Hold

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

This will be a brief update, because I have just returned from having Cortisone shot into my arthritic big toe. It doesn’t hurt but I am woozier than usual. Yes, after defeating open-heart and lung surgery, not to mention whooping cough (but I guess I did just mention it), I am facing defeat at the hands of a toe.

But it takes more than excruciating pain to stop me from entertaining my public. My wife will, however, tell you that living with when I am not just a pain but am in pain is no effing picnic. Just yesterday she lovingly reminded me that I am more trouble than I’m worth.

I knew that, but an occasional reminder comes in handy.

I’m preparing to get back to writing the new Mike Hammer comic book mini-series (issue #1 delivered) and fighting that just-stepped-off-the-merry-go-round feeling from having shipped Scarface & the Untouchable, co-written by Brad Schwartz. What an incredible collaborator! The level of research into Eliot Ness that Brad pulled off is staggering. Very proud of this – almost 150,000 words, not counting end notes!

A quick note on a movie that you should seek out, either streaming or on Blu-Ray (it’s available cheap, lots of places): Train to Busan, a South Korean film that’s on the list of all-time high-grossers (in several senses) in that country. I avoided this for a while because it’s a zombie movie and I’m kind of zombied out.

But this rivals any zombie movie I’ve ever seen, including Romero ones, and has a lot more going on that just the undead trying to catch a train, or claw their way off one, either. The story is about a business-oriented father and his neglected child, and the theme is our responsibility to each other. It’s always scary as hell. I found it more reminiscent of John Carpenter’s great Assault on Precinct 13 than any zombie film, and that’s high praise indeed.

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For the month of August, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union, and Executive Order are $1.99 each on the Kindle Store. Check them out at these links:

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That top-notch scribe Ron Fortier likes Murder Never Knockssee what he has to say about it!

Here is JournalStone’s announcement of The Will to Kill on audio.

And here is their announcement for Hardboiled Horror, an anthology of noir horror yarns that includes a new one by me and my frequent cohort in crime, Matt Clemens.

Check out this terrific piece on tie-in writing (from the Atlantic, no less!) that includes sage wisdom from an expert (humility prevents me from saying more).

Here’s a podcast on Wild Dog that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet.

Finally, here’s a new review of The Baby Blue Rip-Off, which I wrote forty or fifty years ago (the book, not the review….).

Cruse Control

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

I realize, as the writer entrusted by Mickey Spillane to complete his Mike Hammer novels-in-progress, that I have a good number of conservative fans. Few if any of them are concerned that my views are too left-leaning for the task – I don’t write my point of view when I’m doing Mike Hammer, I write his.

Also, I try not to indulge in politics here. I don’t want to alienate readers, or collaborators who might hold other opinions.

But I would be remiss not to share an opinion in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy. Here it is: you don’t need an assault rifle to kill a deer, unless Bambi has one, too.

* * *

My first Crusin’ gig post-heart-surgery went well, if not perfectly. It was a hot, humid afternoon in Muscatine, Iowa, though a nice breeze rolled in off the river. The event was open to the public, designed as an after-work event for downtown merchants and businesses. Our host, the First National Bank, did a great, fun job creating a 1970s class-reunion vibe. On the slight downside, this tended to make us background music and not the main event.

I was a little frustrated that I had to curtail my showmanship because of my limited stamina – I feel like I’m just playing and singing, and that’s only half of the job. And during the last half hour of the two-hour gig, I seriously ran out of gas. I don’t think it was terribly (if at all noticeable) by the audience, but I knew it and so did Barb. But I made it. It was a start.


Brad Schwartz and M.A.C.

That was Thursday of last week. On Friday and Saturday, Brad Schwartz and George Hagenauer – both making considerable treks to join me – met at my house to work on the joint Eliot Ness/Al Capone non-fiction book we are doing. We sold the book, based on a proposal and sample chapter, a year ago, and this was our first face-to-face since. There’s a reason for that.

I learned on the set of QUARRY in New Orleans that we’d made the sale…and the night before I’d suffered congestive heart failure. So it’s taken a while for me to get in shape for such a meeting.

But these two guys know their subject inside/out. We talked strategy and scheduling and much more. We also watched two movies about the Capone case – the embarrassingly lousy SPECIAL AGENT (1935) with Bette Davis and George Brent (and Ricardo Cortez as the Capone figure!), and the very, very good UNDERCOVER MAN (1949) with the always top-notch Glenn Ford, directed by Joseph Lewis of GUN CRAZY fame. The latter film is practically a schematic for THE UNTOUCHABLES TV series, though the hero is not Ness but the over-rated IRS agent, Frank Wilson.

* * *

The Rock and Hall of Fame discussion rolls on. Witness Micheal Tearson’s comment:

As for the R&R Hall, that’s been kind of a bugaboo for me. I had to deal with it constantly while I was working on Sirius/XM’s Deep Tracks channel which was pretty closely aligned with the Hall’s own channel (same administrator for quite a while). It became my view that the Hall has long since lost any focus on R&R as more and more artists with little or nothing to do with rock & roll have been honored. My top omission would be Procol Harum (Love is another). I’d also argue they have been very harsh on prog rock by skipping Moody Blues, Yes and ELP, all of whom have had very influential careers.

And “robbiecube”:

As much as I think the RRHOF is a scam, when acts I dig get ignored as disco & rap acts are inducted, I need to vent. And by vent, I mean list the acts I believe should already be in the hall;

Blue Oyster Cult / Procol Harum / Thin Lizzy / Kate Bush / Rory Gallagher / MC5 / Motorhead / Mose Allison / Grand Funk Railroad / Johnny Rivers / X / XTC / Pretty Things / J. Geils Band / Husker Du / The Jam / Deep Purple.

I think Michael’s remarks show that each generation has its own valid complaints about which acts have been forgotten. I certainly can see his prog rock choices as worthy ones.

As for Robbie, I think the same (slight) generational difference is afoot. But I would certainly be in favor of Kate Bush, XTC, Johnny Rivers and Deep Purple. Personally I find a few of the choices less than worthy – J. Geils, Thin Lizzy, Grand Funk – but that’s just taste. And some are just outside my range of musical knowledge – I have heard of Husker Du, but that’s all, and Procol Harem (mentioned by both correspondents) is only “Whiter Shade of Pale” to me. My bad, as the kids (used) to say.

But it certainly indicates how the Rock hall has missed the boat on a ton of significant artists.

* * *

Here’s 10 hitman novels everyone should read (oddly, only one of them is a Quarry, making the other nine pretenders).

Here’s a fun, intelligent look at WILD DOG (although the otherwise well-informed writer refers to my DICK TRACY stint as “short” – fifteen years?!?).

SUPREME JUSTICE is on a top ten list of Supreme Court novels.

Finally, here’s an uncomplimentary look at THE EXPERT. Worth a read, and stick around for my comment.

M.A.C.

What, Me Retro?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I was watching the pilot of the Cinemax QUARRY with my wife, son and daughter-in-law (don’t tell HBO), and Barb turned to me when the character the Broker first entered and nudged me and smiled and said: “You did that.”

Well, I did, but a long, long time ago. About 43 years. At the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where the instructor didn’t like the opening chapters I’d written very much, and most of the class wasn’t wild about it either.

At 67, I suddenly find myself aware of how very long I’ve been doing this, and am gratified that suddenly a lot of what I’d thought to be ephemeral works of mine are turning back up in print, and getting on the radar of a new generation or two of readers. Some of what I’ve written has almost by definition been ephemeral – specifically the movie novelizations and TV tie-in’s – though SAVING PRIVATE RYAN remains in print and a publisher is seeking permission from DreamWorks to do a hardcover edition.

But almost everything else with my byline is available again or soon will be, much of it from Thomas & Mercer, but also such boutique publishers as Perfect Crime, Speaking Volumes and Brash Books.

For these weekly updates, I routinely do a Google search to see what reviews and such have popped up on the Net, for me to provide links here. More and more I am surprised to find write-ups about older books of mine. It’s almost jarring, because often the reviewers are more familiar with the work than I now am.

Of course, the new Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels have sparked interest, and in particular QUARRY (the first novel) has received some gratifying attention. Here’s one such write-up.

And here’s another.

And one more.

Fairly regularly, somebody comes along and praises either the entire “Disaster Series” or singles out one of the books in particular, like this piece that focuses on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

So many of these reviews of older work of mine just seem to appear out of the blue, like this look at the Eliot Ness novel BULLET PROOF.

But nothing could prepare me for this article specifically focusing on the musical side of my years on the planet, discussing both the Daybreakers and Crusin’.

Here, dealing with a somewhat more recent novel, is a nice review of the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER.

Coming full circle, the just published FATE OF THE UNION is pulling in some nice reviews, like this lovely one from Bill Crider, a writer I much admire.

Finally, my pal Ed Gorman brought in Ben Boulden of Gravetapping to review FATE OF THE UNION on Ed’s terrific blog, also a positive review.

M.A.C.