Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Spillane on Screen’

Talkin’ ‘Bout Shaft

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

I bought Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft in 1970 at Iowa Book & Supply in Iowa City, on my way to class at the University of Iowa. I bought the first edition hardcover primarily because its black private eye hero was described in the jacket copy as making “Mike Hammer look like a sissy.”

When the film Shaft came out in 1971, Barb and I were there. We were perhaps unlikely fans of blaxploitation movies (then in their earliest stages), but we went to scads of the things, from Cotton Comes to Harlem to Coffy, from Slaughter to Super Fly.

For us, Shaft topped them all, due to the perfect marriage of the opening Isaac Hayes theme, Richard Roundtree’s charismatic performance, and Gordon Parks’ gritty, location-heavy direction. The follow-up, Shaft’s Big Score, wasn’t as good, but the finale was incredible, with John Shaft chased through an industrial landscape by a swooping helicopter. For some reason, the third entry, Shaft in Africa, didn’t make it to many theaters, and we didn’t see it until home video years later; but it turned out to be the best of the three. Unsung hero of the series was producer and Africa screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, the genius behind TV’s Route 66 and Naked City.

Shaft came to TV in one of those rotating anthology “wheels” (like the one that included Columbo and McCloud), but after seven TV movies the series was cancelled, though ratings had been good. The show got a lot of criticism for lacking the grit of the films, but looking at them years later, they seem pretty good (and I liked them at the time), with Roundtree great and the Hayes theme in play. They are available from Warner Archives as a boxed DVD set.

Warner Archives also just released Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa on blu-ray for the first time (the original Shaft has been available on blu-ray for several years), both as individual discs and in a three-disc set of all three features. I had long hoped for this kind of blu-ray release and it doesn’t disappoint. I have not revisited the 2000 Shaft with Samuel Jackson as the nephew of the original, played again by Roundtree. I will get around to seeing it again, but remember finding it just passable.

Now there’s a fifth Shaft film, and guess what? The critics hate it, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Seems the elder two Shafts (a young Millennial Shaft is the actual protagonist) strike them as politically incorrect, gun-loving louts, misogynist and violent. But the audience reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

There’s a reason audiences responded so favorably – it’s a terrific picture. I was in that joyous state I so seldom find myself in, these days, in movie theaters: I was a pig in shit. A lot of advance (pre-anybody seeing it) criticism has been thrown at the new Shaft on Facebook and elsewhere, for being a comedy and for not using the iconic Isaac Hayes theme. On Facebook, the question was posed indignantly: What kind of Shaft movie doesn’t have the Isaac Hayes theme? Many Facebook experts agreed that all real Shaft movies have that theme.

Of course, someone – I believe it was me – weighed in to point out that Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa, two of the original three films, also didn’t have the Hayes theme. Now that I’ve seen the new Shaft, I realize the theme is used a lot – just minus the Isaac Hayes vocal. But the wah-wah pedal-driven theme is used beautifully, when real Shaft-like stuff kicks in, like Jackson walking down a ghetto street, gun in hand, ready to kick drug dealer ass.

I pity the fools (as someone once said) who cannot enjoy this knowingly politically incorrect salute to the original film and its cinematic era. Roundtree doesn’t enter till act three, but he does so with a bang – a number of them. He’s wonderful.

But so is Jackson, much better than he’s been lately in some of his projects, spurred on this time by good material. Jessie Usher is winning as John Shaft, Jr., and the generational interplay between him and Jackson is funny and even at times touching. Director/co-screenwriter Tim Story does a fine job with both his actors and his action scenes.

As for this being a comedy, no – it’s a crime flick with comedy, not even tongue-in-cheek, although it does have an awareness of its absurdity. A scene in an Uber while Jackson tries to explain the film’s convoluted plot to Usher, getting interrupted by a chatty driver, is amusing proof of that. So is Roundtree’s throwaway reference to being called Jackson’s uncle, not father, in the 2000 Shaft.

The original novels by French Connection creator Ernest Tidyman are an odd but worthwhile bunch. Tidyman wrote the first three – Shaft, Shaft Among the Jews and Shaft’s Big Score – while the remaining books employed ghosts who worked from Tidyman’s outlines, with Tidyman apparently doing final drafts.

In my view, Tidyman screwed up Shaft’s potential as a long-running series character by utilizing two different ghosts and not doing all (or anyway most of) the work himself. The final book, in which he rather rudely and unnecessarily kills Shaft off, The Last Shaft, appeared only in England and remains difficult to find. Took me years, and I had begun to think the similarly titled, Goodbye, Mr. Shaft, was the same book.

Author David Walker has picked up the series in both prose and graphic novel from, doing so with respect and skill.

Also of note is The World of Shaft by Steve Aldous, with a Walker foreword. It’s from McFarland, so it’s pricey, but it’s a wonderful book. McFarland has a 25% off sale going right now, so it’s a good time to buy The World of Shaft…and Mickey Spillane on Screen. [Note from Nate: Here’s a link to The World of Shaft and another for Spillane on Screen. Enter code ANN2019 at checkout for 25% off.]

By all means, if you liked the Richard Roundtree Shaft, ignore the idiotic, easily offended critics and have a good time with this funny, exciting tribute to blacksploitation of yore.

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The audio of the new Caleb York, Last Stage to Hell Junction, is beautifully performed by Jack Garrett, whose range of voices is just perfect. I have been lucky to have solid narrators on this series so far, and Garrett continues my lucky streak.

And the book itself has received a wonderful review from Bookgasm. Check it out!

M.A.C.

A Rotten Tomato for Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

NEWS FLASH: McFarland, who published Mickey Spillane on Screen, is having a big sale. If you avoided this book because of its high price, you can get it for 25% off now, by using the code POPCULTURE25 – that puts it at $26.25, a price that is actually not insane!

Celebrate Mickey Spillane’s birthday with the best critical work ever written about him!

* * *

Barb and I completed and shipped Antiques Ravin’ a few days ago. It’s always an intense ride, as she spends many months on her draft and then I spend a month or so expanding and revising, with her closely supervising. My job is largely to polish and expand, dialogue particularly, plus I add a lot of jokes (and there are always plenty before I start my work, which is why the books are very funny) (no modesty about that at all).

I believe we are at a dozen books in the series. That makes the Trash ‘n’ Treasures books one of my biggest successes in publishing, and I owe it all to Barb.

We sent out five copies of the recently published Antiques Wanted to the first five of you to request a copy, as part of our latest book giveaway.

If you’re won a copy of this (or of Killing Town, The Last Stand or The Bloody Spur), do please post Amazon (and other) reviews. The Last Stand has received a lot of attention, but perhaps because of that, Killing Town has gone almost unnoticed by the professional reviewing community. Judging by the positive response of readers so far – and the historic significance of Killing Town as the first Mike Hammer novel – the critical shrug to the book’s existence is frustrating and a little sad.

Speaking of critics….

As some of you may recall, I gave up my role as Mystery Scene’s film reviewer after I made a film myself and found out how fricking hard it is. Making even a bad film is an extremely tough endeavor for all concerned. The collaborative nature of the process, as well as the financial burdens and responsibilities, means that any time a good film happens, it does just that: it happens, almost in spite of itself. A good film, let alone a great one, is something of a miracle.

So for a long time I resisted the urge to write bad reviews of films. And nothing is easier than writing a bad review, particularly in the age of snark. I still refuse opportunities to write reviews of books by other mystery writers for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is conflict of interest.

I remember once when Tony Hillerman wrote a negative review in a major publication of one of the early Heller novels, how much it hurt to be attacked from above like that, how unkind and lacking in grace it was, coming not only from a writer much more successful than me, but from someone who I’d played poker with and with whom I’d socialized in a friendly way.

But, if you follow this update at all, you know that I have given in to my not better angels and written the occasional bad review of a movie. I have in particular reported when Barb and I have walked out. Because we go to the movies, on average, once a week – an effort to get out of the house where we both do our work – we have gotten into the habit of deciding at least in part about what we will see based on Rotten Tomatoes, where professional critics have their reviews averaged into a fresh or unfresh rating.

This habit has proved about as helpful as getting hooked on opioids.

Two cases in point.

The Blumhouse horror film, Truth or Dare, has a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – decidedly unfresh. Stuck in the nearby Quad Cities, while Barb dealt with a Social Security problem her 93-year-old mother was having, I took in that film, just to kill time. While Barb has warmed to horror films some, I still have to go by myself at times, if one doesn’t appeal to her. I went to Truth or Dare.

Which was scary and well-directed, nicely acted, well-written, and everything a horror film of its kind should be. Somewhat similar to the Final Destination films, but stressing characterization in a far deeper fashion, Truth or Dare is creepy, involving fun. But it’s a horror film, and isn’t politically correct like Get Out (also Blumhouse, incidentally), so the critics don’t like it. None of them seem to understand that what a genre film, or any film, must do its work on its own terms.

Okay. So I Feel Pretty (I really do!). Barb and I both like Amy Schumer; loved her TV series, enjoyed Trainwreck, though we skipped Statched because Goldie Hawn’s plastic surgery was too disturbing.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the trailer of I Feel Pretty didn’t grab us, though we probably would have gone had we not read so many bad reviews of it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 34% – definitely not fresh.

Then we heard Bill Maher talk about the film, and specifically the critical reaction to it, on Real Time. Now a lot of liberals dislike Maher, and a lot of conservatives dislike him, too. Which probably speaks well for him. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t have to always agree with people to be interested in what they have to say.

Here is what Bill said about I Feel Pretty:

I do agree with everything he said here, particularly nailing movie critics (book critics, take heed) for taking a filmmaker to task for not making the movie that said critic would have made. This is precisely what Gene Siskel used to do. He always beat up on movies that weren’t done the way he would have (this from a guy whose favorite film was Saturday Night Fever). I hope Siskel is in Purgatory right now, where he is not allowed to move on until he makes a movie as good as Plan Nine From Outer Space (good luck).

Anyway, Barb and I went to I Feel Pretty and it was very good. Funny as hell, with Schumer’s performance particularly strong (Michelle Williams is remarkable, too). Its message about self-esteem (including the pitfalls of too much of it) is clear and positive, without shortchanging the laughs. A perfect Sunday afternoon matinee movie.

Rotten Tomatoes, you deserve a basket of them tossed at you, one at a sloppy time.

* * *

Here are this year’s International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Award nominations (and I’m pleased to be among them):

Short Story:
“Banana Republic” by Jonathan Maberry
“Ganbatte” by Keith DeCandido
“Murderers’ Row” by John Jackson Miller
“Pacing Place” by Bob Mayer
“Rear Guard” by Sarah Stegall
“Storm Blood” by Peter Wacks and David Boop

Adapted Speculative and General:
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by James Goss
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter by Tim Waggoner
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Christie Golden
Kong Skull Island by Tim Lebbon

Original Speculative:
The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Solar Singularity by Peter J. Wacks, Guy Anthony Demarco, and Josh Voight
Halo: Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck
Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden
Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack
Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices by Yvonne Navarro

Original General:
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Fatal Prescription by Michael A. Black
The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet A Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

YA Original:
Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space – The Cold by Cavan Scott
Warriors Three: Godhood’s End by Keith R. A. DeCandido
X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

Audio:
Doctor Who: Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett
Doctor Who: Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton
Warhammer 40,000: Agent of the Throne, Blood and Lies by John French
Torchwood: Cascade by Scott Handcock
Torchwood: The Dying Room by Lizzie Hopley

* * *

Here’s one of the few Killing Town reviews so far. It’s from Ron Fortier and it’s a beauty.

A nice mention of Antiques Wanted can be found in this fun blog.

This is a quirky but positive review of the audio of Murder Never Knocks, which the reviewer calls Murder Never Knows (which does indicate a certain lack of regard to detail).

Take a look at this fun review of The Last Stand (with kind words about “A Bullet for Satisfaction”).

Finally, here’s a nifty write-up about Spillane, with an emphasis on the novel The Girl Hunters, from top-flight tough-guy writer, Wayne Dundee. I hope Wayne is following the posthumous Hammer novels, and is aware that Complex 90 is really more of a sequel to The Girl Hunters than even The Snake.

M.A.C.

A Tale of Two Birthdays

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Before I dig in this week, be sure to check out the incredible Wall Street Journal article on Mickey’s centenary and my role in it.

I was born March 3, 1948. Mickey Spillane was born March 9, 1918. I just turned 70. Mickey is about to turn 100. My friend, mentor and collaborator was almost exactly thirty years older than me.

When I told my agent, the great but always skeptical Dominick Abel, that I was going to do everything I could to get notice for Mickey’s centenary, he had his doubts. I reminded him that Mickey was the best-selling American mystery writer of the 20th Century (possibly best-selling writer of that era period), and he reminded me that the 20th Century was a long time ago.

As we say in comics, sigh.

But I had a plan, involving the first, previously unpublished (unfinished-till-now) Mike Hammer novel (Killing Town) and the very last novel Mickey completed on his own (The Last Stand). I felt those bookends could attract attention, and a PR person at Titan (which includes Hard Case Crime) agreed with me. Her name is Katharine Carroll and she has done a stellar job, and continues doing so. That Wall Street Journal piece is her doing, as is coverage in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal (see below), Booklist and much more. She also landed a Playboy spot for the opening chapter of Killing Town – that issue of Playboy is on the stands now. If you buy it, you will see how big I like to see my byline (a combination of healthy ego and poor eyesight). I have spent so much time staring at my huge byline that I keep forgetting to look at the nude women.

The Titan news release about the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel (four issues to be followed by a collection) is all over the Net, as well as the Hollywood Reporter (link provided last week). What Titan’s publisher, Nick Landau, and Hard Case Crime’s editor, Charles Ardai, have done for Mickey and me is fairly amazing.

I just completed a massively long interview with J. Kingston Pierce, who is scary in the knowledge and precision of his questioning. That will, I presume, appear on his essential mystery-fiction site, The Rap Sheet, before long.

So Mickey is 100. And I am 70 (a fact noted fairly widely on the Net also). I admit I find this a sobering birthday. When you are in your sixties, life still seems to stretch ahead some. When you are in your seventies, not so much. I look around and my film collaborator, actor Mike Cornelison, is gone…for some time now. Ed Gorman has passed. Bill Crider is gone. That the universe can reclaim that kind of talent and energy is unspeakably sad.

I now look at the books I still want to write and don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all. I wonder if an indie film project rears its head if I can still direct. Stress is a motherhumper after you’ve had open-heart surgery. I find myself working harder than ever, and as fast as I can manage without a negative impact on the quality of the work and the state of my health. Barb wants me to slow down, but I quite honestly feel my best when I’m working.

We spent the birthday weekend with son Nathan, daughter-in-law Abby and the preternaturally smart and funny Sam, our two-and-a-half-year old grandson. It is with sadness and humility that I must report to you that Sam is smarter than all of your grandchildren (put together), should you have any. Don’t bother trying to correct me. You might as well tell a Trump voter the truth about their guy.

At my birthday I reflect on how lucky I am and continue to be. Let’s start with the smartest, most beautiful and talented wife on the planet, Barbara Collins. Let’s continue with a great son and his growing little family. Let’s continue with my ability to avoid a real job while making impossible career dreams come true…continuing Dick Tracy after Chester Gould, completing Mike Hammer from Mickey’s unfinished manuscripts (for a dozen years!), Ms. Tree, the unstoppable Nate Heller, the resurrection of Quarry, making an unofficial sort of sequel to The Bad Seed with Patty McCormack herself, finally (with brilliant Brad Schwartz) setting the record straight on Eliot Ness and Al Capone (the upcoming Scarface and the Untouchable), playing in a band with some of the most gifted musicians in the Midwest, and, oh hell…lots of other stuff. Little things, like a Grandmaster “Edgar” from the MWA (did I ever mention that to you?).

It’s always seemed special and (ridiculous, I know) that Mickey Spillane and I have birthdays just a few days apart – his 9 is even divisible by my 3 (and you thought I couldn’t do math). And yet here we both still are, writing books together.

Even if the 20th Century was a long time ago.

* * *

Here’s some nice coverage of The Last Stand and the centenary at Library Journal, by way of an interview with me.

Check out this great review of The Bloody Spur at Gravetapping.

To help celebrate Mickey’s centenary, that gifted writer Raymond Benson has reviewed Mickey Spillane on Screen (by Jim Traylor and me) at the Cinema Retro web site.

Here’s a quirky (I think) positive review of Quarry’s Climax.

You have to scroll down a ways for it, but there’s a nice look at the Quarry TV series at Hardboiled Wonderland.

Finally, I was wished a nice happy birthday by Comics Reporter…and an old friend of Terry Beatty’s and mine.

M.A.C.

Catching up with Me

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Crusin’ at Muscatine’s Brew July 4

My pal Ed Gorman – one of the best writers around, and at least as good a friend – did an interview with me that I’d like to share with you. Here goes.

* * *

1. Tell us about your current novel.

There are a couple of things that will become available soon. One is the complete version of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel. It was written in 2002 to accompany the release of the film, but DreamWorks licensing made me do a drastic cutting/rewrite, eliminating 30,000 words and any dialogue or action that wasn’t included in the book. I am very grateful to Brash Books for negotiating with DreamWorks for the real, complete novel to finally be published.

About the same time, Hard Case Crime will be bringing out QUARRY IN THE BLACK, obviously a new Quarry novel with what I think or hope is an interesting setting — George McGovern’s presidential campaign and a black leader in St. Louis who is supporting that ticket with public appearances. If you ever wanted to see how Quarry would behave at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, now is your chance.

And Otto Penzler is bringing out A LONG TIME DEAD, collecting eight Mike Hammer short stories that I developed from Spillane fragments. That’s exciting in part because there’s never been a Hammer short story collection before.

2. Can you give a sense of what you’re working on now?

I just finished a Mike Hammer novel, THE WILL TO KILL, working from a few chapters in Mickey Spillane’s files. It’s very unusual for a Hammer, because the mystery is right out of Agatha Christie, with greedy children fighting over the proceeds of a murdered patriarch’s estate.

Not too long before that, I did my pass on the new Barbara Allan mystery, ANTIQUES FRAME, co-written with my wife Barb. That was my first project after open-heart surgery and a minor stroke, and it was very gratifying to be able to get back up on the horse and ride so quickly. just weeks after the surgery.

Next up is EXECUTIVE ORDER, the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller, in collaboration with Matt Clemens.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The greatest pleasure of a writing career is having one. The notion that I could ever hold down a normal job is highly suspect.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I don’t know if there’s a dis-pleasure for me. I really love this life. The things that frustrate me are minor in the bigger picture. For example, I despise having copy editors rewrite me, and have spent way too much time in my life putting various Humpty Dumptys back together. It’s always disappointing when a novel is critically ignored or particularly when the public ignores it. When a publisher drops a series, it can be crushing—I had to wait ten years before I felt I could re-launch Nathan Heller, and a lot of time was lost there.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

For the publishing world itself? Don’t judge an author by how well his or her last book sold. Judge each book on its own merits, and that includes proposed novels from authors whose professionalism isn’t in question.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you’d like to see in print again?

So many of my favorites are back in print again in the POD and e-book fashion. But it would be nice to see Horace McCoy, Mike Roscoe and Roy Huggins out there in a more major way. I was pleased to see Ennis Willie finally get some attention, but unfortunately it’s faded somewhat.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

Mine is easy to remember. I got the letter (my agent at the time never called me) on Dec. 24, 1971—BAIT MONEY, the first Nolan novel, had sold on Christmas Eve! When I told Donald E. Westlake about it—he’d been a mentor to me—he said, “Sometimes God behaves like O. Henry, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

* * *

Here are a few things on the Net you may enjoy.

First, this is a rare (and detailed) review of MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN by Jim Traylor and me. The author gives me all the credit, which is wrong, but otherwise it’s an interesting read on what is apparently a very right-wing web site.

Take a gander at this early review of the Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD.

Finally, one of America’s greatest mystery book stores, Mysterious Bookshop, has signed copies (available by mail) of BETTER DEAD.

M.A.C.

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