Posts Tagged ‘Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother’

Not Just Yet, Bobby

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Actor Robert Forster died last Friday at age 78. He was a terrific actor, probably best known for Jackie Brown (for which he received an Oscar nomination), but more recently he appeared in both Breaking Bad and the latest iteration of Twin Peaks. I met him once and got to spend a little time with him.

I ask your patience while I establish a little context for what follows.

Some of you may know I wrote a movie called The Expert (1994), which wound up an HBO World Premiere. How I came to write it (and the slings and arrows that followed) is worth its own entry here. But suffice to say I made several trips to L.A. to work with director William Lustig on what was, initially, meant to be a remake of Jules Dassin’s great prison picture, Brute Force.

I got this opportunity because Lustig and his producing partner, Andy Garoni, optioned my Nolan and Quarry novels with an eye on having me do the screenplays. They knew I had never written for the screen before but they liked the books, found me knowledgeable about film, and I talked a good game. So I was invited onto their latest project, then still called Brute Force. As it happened, I needed a lot of help, and Lustig became my teacher, with Garoni assisting.

Lustig, who I got along with very well, was a brutal taskmaster but also a coddling parent. I would put in several hours at Lustig’s place; between sessions, he would take me to either a deli-style restaurant for a meal (corn beef, pastrami, swiss cheese, Russian dressing and cole slaw on rye please) or to somewhere I could slake my laser disc addiction. Bill had the same laser disc jones, and once took me to a laser disc store famously frequented by film directors (Lustig being one, but also people like Brian DePalma and Joe Dante). I didn’t buy much there because it was full retail, but Lustig also helped me hit several Tower Records (R.I.P.) and I scored mightily.

Bill was friends with Forster, who had appeared in several Lustig-directed pictures, including Vigilante and Maniac Cop 3, and – as a treat for me – he invited his pal Bob to have lunch with us at an excellent deli, the name of which escapes me.

I was a fan. Robert Forster had been a big-league movie star out of the gate (Reflections in a Golden Eye and Medium Cool) and then became a TV lead on Nakia and Banyon – the latter was a pioneering period private eye show, with Forster’s Banyon inhabiting a Bradbury Building office prior to both Jake Axminster and Nate Heller (but not Mike Hammer). And for several decades Forster was a top network TV guest star.

To say Robert Forster was warm and down-to-earth, at our luncheon, would be an understatement. He was appearing in a play and, as I recall, he had to drive a distance to the theater – he was doing a friend a favor when another actor had to drop out. But he lingered with us, chatting as long as he dared without risking being late for curtain. He came prepared to meet a fan, bringing gifts for me – a lovely black globe-shaped paperweight, which I still have and display, and a VHS copy of his private eye movie, Hollywood Harry.

What I remember most vividly from the lunch is an anecdote Forster shared, clearly intended to help me on my own learning adventure in film, which I was attempting under Lustig’s guidance.

The actor told me how intimidated he was, when he landed his first film role in a very big-time production, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). He’d be co-starring with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, and directed by John Huston. He’d been spotted on Broadway, and Huston gave him the role after an audition.

Thus began, over several months, a process in which Forster asked the director, “Mr. Huston, do you have any special instructions for me?” Huston would always reply, “Not just yet, Bobby. Not just yet.” At every encounter with the crustily friendly legendary director, Forster would ask again. Not just yet, Bobby. After the table read of the script – not just yet, Bobby. After the wardrobe fitting – not just yet, Bobby. After make-up tests – not just yet. Half a dozen times or more – any special instructions? Not just yet, Bobby.

Finally the time came to shoot the first scene, the lighting ready, the camera in place, Forster about to make his on-screen debut in the company of Taylor and Brando. This time Forster didn’t ask, but Huston said, “Bobby? Now.” Yes, Mr. Huston. The director walked him over to the big 35mm camera aimed at the empty set, slipped an arm around his young star and eased him close, so that Forster could look right into the viewfinder at the Panavision rectangle.

“Fill that with something interesting,” Huston said.

Great advice.

My pal Leonard Maltin wrote his own reminiscence about his good friend and you should check it out.

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Road to Perdition is one of Paul Newman’s best films, it says here.

Here’s a lovely Ms. Tree piece.

Road to Perdition is featured in this dubious list which names ten crime movie masterpieces that you’ve probably seen (except you’ve probably seen them all, if you’re reading this).

Here’s a nice review of Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market.

A good Ms. Tree review here.

Finally, my brief Batman comic strip run is discussed here. I didn’t really “ghost-write” it though – my name was forced off the strip (like me!) by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry Book Giveaway and…Rambo!!!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

I have a whopping 15 advance copies of Killing Quarry (the book will be on the stands in November).

A number of you were nice enough to volunteer to review pretty much anything of mine, when I went on a recent self-pity binge. I am going to ask you a favor, because it will help me get these books out to you. Go ahead and enter this giveaway, even though not long ago you sent me info; it will make things move quicker. Here are the rules.

Write me at macphilms@hotmail.com. You agree to write a review for Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your own blog or review site (if you hate the book, you are released from this commitment, but can review it anyway if you wish). USA addresses only. It’s important that you send your snail-mail address. Also, if you’re one of the kind people who volunteered to review my stuff recently, remind me of that.

These are ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) but they are identical to the coming trade edition – I had made my corrections and revisions beforehand. I would be glad to sign and personalize your copy if you request it.

Thank you for your interest and support. A Girl Can’t Help It giveaway will follow in January or February.

* * *

Rambo: Last Blood has a 27% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. That was almost enough to scare me off, until I noticed the audience score was 82%. Somewhere there’s a disconnect.

I decided to check out the negative reviews, and here’s a typical excerpt: “…less an escapist action movie and more a dramatized manifestation of the most notorious sentences from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement speech (Matthew Rozsa).” This political, politically correct tone infected most of the negative reviews on view at Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, I read that the author of First Blood, David Morrell, had given his thumbs down to the film. More about that later.

I hardly ever talk politics here. Most people familiar with me and my work know that I am a left-of-center individual. But I have friends and business associates who have different views, and having damaged some friendships over this nonsense, I now try to keep my opinions to myself. I mention this only because I liked Rambo: Last Blood very much, as did my equally (maybe more) liberal wife.

Before I get into that film itself, let’s revisit the first four Rambo films, briefly (my wife and I watched them, one a night, after seeing the new one).

First Blood (1982) is the best film, a fairly faithful rendering of Morrell’s fine first novel (again, more about this later). It is set stateside and deals with both PTSD and smalltown prejudice against long-haired apparent hippies (a brilliant mix) and is a rousing action film that builds and builds to an emotional outburst from the taciturn Rambo about the rage in him and what fueled it.

Rambo: Second Blood (1985) is a fun action film, fast-paced and impressive in what it pulls off without CGI. This is where Rambo becomes iconic in the way Mike Hammer and Tarzan are iconic. A structure that would follow all of the coming films to at least some degree has (act one) Rambo reluctantly getting involved in a mission, (act two) Rambo playing cat-and-mouse games with his pursuers in a jungle setting, and (act three) Rambo kicking ass in a large-scale battle sequence. This really is the Morrell structure moved from America to Vietnam, with Afghanistan, Burma and Mexico substituting in subsequent entries.

Rambo III (1988) is pretty much the same movie as the second one, but bigger and with a few variables – Rambo is captured and tortured in the previous film, but this time his commander – played by the always dependable Richard Crenna – gets the torture routine. The difference is the stoic Rambo, when he does speak, utters quips right out of the Schwarzenegger playbook – this, for instance, is the one where Rambo tells the bad guy, “I’m your worst nightmare.”

All of these movies benefit from rousing Jerry Goldsmith scores that invoke John Barry’s Bond themes.

Rambo (2008), which is also known as John Rambo and was at one point actually called First Blood, comes about twenty years later and manages to be anti-war even as it bathes the screen in blood. It’s fast, entertaining and gritty, and the CGI ups the ante (although I am not a fan of computer-generated blood).

Now let’s talk the current movie, the fifth Rambo, called simply that. I am going to do a plot summary, so skip the next three paragraphs if you’re spoiler sensitive.

John Rambo is on his Arizona ranch where he rides horses when he isn’t obsessively digging tunnels and almost subconsciously preparing for a battle that may never come. His Hispanic housekeeper, with whom he has a warm mother/son relationship, has a teenaged daughter to whom Rambo has been something of a surrogate father. The girl is obsessed with facing her actual father, who deserted her and her mother, years ago; he’s in Mexico and it’s made clear that Rambo cleaned this abusive a-hole’s clock but good, once upon a time.

The girl winds up in Mexico, rejected by Daddy, then roofied and dragged into forced prostitution. Rambo goes looking for her and gets his expected torture scene – this is roughly act one of the usual structure, as earlier Rambo tried hard to talk the girl into not going looking for her despicable old man. After being rescued by an undercover female reporter, who gives him first aid and information, Rambo then goes back to rescue the girl.

This leads to mayhem (act two, minus the cat-and-mouse stuff) as he makes the rescue. But the brutalized and now dope-addicted girl dies on the way home. Rambo, having killed the number two bad guy, goes home and sends his housekeeper away and preps for war with bad guy number one and his minions. Act three is the big battle scene as the bad guys attack, like Apaches on a fort manned by a single brave soldier; and here an underground cat-and-mouse game finds its home within the larger battle.

Throughout this fifth film, Rambo is shown to still be suffering from PTSD, for which he takes (and eventually abandons) medication. A smaller film than the preceding Burma chapter, number five is a solid entry and employs some of the most startling deaths this side of an Evil Dead movie.

And that similarity made me reflect on why the Rambo films entertain – it’s, in part, because they invoke several genres all at once. Rambo is Tarzan, master of the jungle and jungle tactics. Rambo is Mike Hammer, taking vengeance (the main bad guy always gets it good). Rambo is John Wayne – in the current film, he’s specifically the surrogate father of The Searchers– with horseback action heavy in numbers three and five.

But this new film makes it clear, too, that every Rambo is an inverted horror film of the slasher variety – he is Jason or Michael Myers as the hero, stalking and killing and sometimes in a shockingly amusing fashion. Stallone is a master at talking to all our worst but also best instincts – family is important in these films, loyalty and friendship (another Hammer quality), even compassion.

If Rambo (2019) is a smaller film than the preceding entry, and perhaps not quite as epic as what would appear to be the final chapter might be, it’s a terrific action movie, well-executed with a legendary, charismatic star at its center.

What has made many of my fellow liberals, particularly those farther left than yours truly, go apoplectic, is that the bad guys are Mexicans. They ignore an obvious fact: so are most of the good guys – the Hispanic daughter, her grandmother, a doctor who tends to Rambo, the female journalist who helps him and whose own sister went down the same horrifying path as Rambo’s surrogate daughter. Idiots who see the shot of the Trump border fence (actually erected under Obama) see proof that this film is one big red MAGA hat. They don’t notice that the next shot shows Mexican bad guys coming out of a tunnel under that “big beautiful wall,” delivering them in the good ol’ USA.

The reviewers, whose gentle sensibilities have been ruffled by a straight-forward revenge melodrama, seem convinced this film was designed to pander to Trump lovers. I just watched the special features on the previous Rambo movie – the one that came out in 2007 – where in the “making of” documentary, Stallone tells the story of the film to come – Rambo back in Arizona, with the surrogate daughter who goes to Mexico and gets kidnapped into prostitution. This would have been conceived around 2005 – uh, Trump wasn’t president then, was he? I forget. Yet I do recall the review I quoted that insisted the film was inspired by Trump’s campaign announcement speech.

Why does Dave Morrell hate the new film? He has said it left him feeling “degraded and dehumanized.” I understand the complicated feelings writers have about their work being adapted to the screen. I also understand how frustrating it is to be left out of the creative process (Rambo’s creator had some early talks with Stallone about the story, but they stopped in 2016). When my Quarry was adapted for Cinemax, the most distinctive aspect of the character – his dark sense of humor – was largely gone. But I got over it. Well, I cashed the check.

I’m not a close friend of Dave’s, but we’re friendly acquaintances who shared a mentor in Don Westlake. Dave taught at Iowa City and I used to run into him now and then; we would talk, mostly about Westlake.

One memorable encounter between us in Iowa City, at a bookstore – Prairie Lights, I believe – we have both written about. He had been offered the novelization job for Rambo II and was uneasy about accepting it. Here’s his version from his website:

I killed Rambo (in the novel First Blood), and now in the novelizations he would be alive. The logic really bothered me. One day, I crossed paths with my writer friend, Max Allan Collins (among other things, he wrote the wonderful graphic novel, Road to Perdition), who said that the problem was easily solved. “Just add an author’s note,” he told me, “in which you say something like, ‘In my novel First Blood, Rambo died. In the films, he lives.’” So that’s what I did.

Two other ironies or at least odd resonances occur to me. First, I had not written any novelizations yet when I suggested Dave ought to take that gig. Second, the next time I ran into him, he was doing a book signing at B. Dalton in an Iowa City mall, and Barb and I were on our way to see Rambo II in that mall’s theater. I believe he was signing the novelization, and I think he signed one to me, but I’ll be damned if I know what became of it.

Dave and I have a bond. We created (as best we can tell) the first two Vietnam vet PTSD anti-heroes in Rambo and Quarry. And we both based those heroes, at least in part, on Audie Murphy.

Here’s what I know about David Morrell: he is a great guy and a great writer. I respect his opinion on the latest Rambo film, and hope he will tolerate mine.

* * *

Check out this amazing podcast largely about Quarry, and specifically about Quarry’s Choice. The reviewer (there are two, both of whom like the Quarry character, one a huge fan) puts Quarry and me in a pantheon of three, the others being Richard Stark and Parker, and Donald Hamilton and Matt Helm. I admit to be blown away by being compared to these greats.

Here’s a fun You Tube review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother.

The excellent True West magazine gives me a nice boost for Last Stage to Hell Junction in their current issues and on their website.

Finally, here’s a terrific review of Scarface and the Untouchable…from a gun enthusiast!

M.A.C.

What Can You Do Today?

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

I know what you’re thinking.

What can I do today for Max Allan Collins?

Thanks for asking. Here are several suggestions.

Girl Can’t Help It – the sequel to Girl Most Likely – comes out on March 10, 2020. So does the new Nate Heller novel, Do No Harm, the first in several years – the Sam Sheppard Murder Case novel. I am prolific enough that this kind of thing (dual publication) happens from time to time, because I work with more than one publisher (and they do not coordinate releases with each other). This causes certain problems, as you might imagine, because promoting two books at once is less than ideal.

The future of other books featuring the respective series characters in these two very different novels is riding on the success of these new titles. That’s hardly unusual in the publishing world today, where publishers who for many decades gave writers like me multiple-book contracts now offer one-book contracts. The freelance writing trade has always had its insecurities, but this is a new low.

What can you do to help? Advance order one or both novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM! or whoever your favorite on-line bookseller is. That will help me out while not putting you in the position of having to buy two M.A.C. novels at the same time next March, straining your wallet and the credulity of the B & N clerk.


Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

What else can you do?

If you have a reviewing blog or such-like (these updates of mine fall into the “such-like” category) you can e-mail me your snail-mail address and I will get you an advance copy of the book you wish to review, as soon as it’s available. Advance reading copies (ARCs) will be available fairly soon. If you want to review them both, just say so.

You will not be expected to write a rave, just to write an honest review. Mixed reviews are fine and negative reviews are legal (but be gentle). Write me at macphilms@hotmail.com.

This is only for on-line reviewers. Help me build a mailing list for readers of mine with review columns (or who review at times within a more eclectic column, like, oh I don’t know, this one).

For the rest of you, I will be doing giveaways when we get closer to the pub date of both books (which, as I say, is the same date). A new Quarry (Killing Quarry) is coming in November of this year. The Untouchable and the Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me is set for next May – another massive tome, and in conjunction with Scarface and the Untouchable will be the definitive work on Eliot Ness. There will be a new Caleb York novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, also in May.

So there will be plenty of M.A.C. to read. But if you are a Nate Heller fan, I do need your support, because there’s nothing harder to keep going than a long-running series that doesn’t star a household name like Bosch or Reacher. Even my Mike Hammer novels (and Hammer is a household name, or used to be), co-written with Mickey, are almost never reviewed by the trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal). There are exceptions, of course – Killing Quarry has been reviewed by all those except Library Journal (so far), and very favorably.

What’s on the docket for Heller are two novels completing the Kennedy cycle – both RFK-oriented one dealing with the Hoffa feud, the other with Bobby’s assassination. But I have no contract for those books yet. I am considering Martin Luther King, Watergate and the Zodiac to round out Heller’s career, but I have to have a publisher to do that. And it takes readers to encourage a publisher.

So. As I recall, you asked what you could do for me. Let publishers know you’re interested. Pre-order both Girl Can’t Help It and Do No Harm, and do so with my thanks. And Krista and Keith Larson’s. And especially Nate Heller’s.

* * *

Speaking of Do No Harm, here’s a nice advance write-up from Craig Zablo.

Nice Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother write-up from Mystery Tribune.

Here’s another nice review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother.

M.A.C.

Ms. Tree Gets Hers Today

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Paperback:
E-Book:

Today is the publication date of Ms Tree 1: One Mean Mother from Titan. I don’t know how much presence it will have in the graphic novel sections of Barnes & Noble, BAM! and so on, but it’s available from the usual online suspects (Amazon has it for $17.49, 30% off the retail price).

I’ve already gotten some complaints over my beginning the reprint series with material from the last iteration of the comic book, DC’s Ms. Tree Quarterly. We did ten graphic novellas there, and One Mean Mother gathers five of them, which together form a graphic novel, admittedly an episodic one.

The remaining DC graphic novellas are free-standing, and will make up the second of these five collections, which will comprise the complete Ms. Tree – almost. A few crossovers are not included (notably the P.I.s mini-series, which co-starred Mike Mauser) and the story in which Ms. Tree tracks down a certain long-missing private eye, which will appear next March in Craig Yoe’s Johnny Dynamite collection, which Terry Beatty and I are editing. (I am working on the intro today.)

But these five volumes are the body of work that I am very pleased to have in this format. Why start at the end? Well, I feel it’s our best work, and it was done in color, so I’m just putting our best foot forward. I have been told that when several volumes collecting a strip or comic book feature are published, the first volume sells the best and the sales gradually go down. Also – though it was many years ago – the first issues of Ms. Tree (and the serialized “origin” in Eclipse Magazine) have already been collected in three trade paperbacks.

Our celebrated letters column (SWAK!) will not appear or even be excerpted. They are so politically incorrect, I would probably be jailed, or at least shunned. Times have changed, although not enough to make our then topical subject matter seem dated. It’s a sad fact that most of the crimes and problems these continuities deal with – abortion clinic bombings, gay bashing, date rape – are still very much with us.

If you aren’t familiar with Ms. Tree, she is basically a take on what would have happened to Mike Hammer’s secretary/partner Velda had she and Mike married, and the groom been murdered on their wedding night. The answer is two-fold – she would take over the business, and her first case would be tracking down her husband’s killer. This does not mean Ms. Tree is Velda – each is her own woman. But that “what if” notion was our starting point.

The other thing you should know is that Ms. Tree was the first of the wave of tough female private eyes that became an ‘80s phenomenon in mystery fiction – pre-dating the great V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Milhone by my friends Sara Paretsky and the late Sue Grafton respectively.

We’re proud of that fact, which was noted in a really nice three-part article here (Ms. Tree gets a lot of space in Part Two but the entire article is worth visiting).

Even if you have the original comics, this series of Ms. Tree volumes is something you need for your bookshelf. You also need to tell your friends about the books and urge them to get onboard. I’m just trying to be helpful.

Comics scripting has always been a secondary part of my career, and to some comics fan I’m still best known for my “abysmal” year of Batman (subject of a recent podcast by nimrods with nothing worthwhile to be doing). To most, Road to Perdition is my claim to fame (or anyway less infamy), and I do think that graphic novel, in many respects, is my best single work. Others might cite my fifteen years writing the Dick Tracy strip, and I’m of course proud of that. But I think the most influential and probably important work was what Terry and I did on Ms. Tree. We didn’t just jumpstart female private eyes, we re-introduced tough crime/mystery to comic books, and paved the way for a lot of people to do their own good work (some were fans of ours who frankly seem to have forgotten that).

So if you are a reader of my prose fiction, and think comic books are for the boids, you really should bite the bullet and buy these five books, as the volumes gradually emerge from Titan. No less an expert than Kevin Burton Smith of the great Thrilling Detective web site considers Ms. Tree my greatest creation, topping even Nate Heller and Quarry. I’m not sure he’s right, but I’m not sure he’s wrong, either.

One thing is indisputable – Ms. Tree was the longest running private eye comic book to date…sixty issues plus various “specials.”

Lots of coverage on the net about the first of the Ms. Tree collected volumes has popped up. Here’s just one.

Jerry House did something everyone should do: he read seven novels by me in a week and a half. See what a piker you are? Then he produced one of the coolest, and I will immodestly say insightful, pieces ever written about my work.

Finally, here’s a really nice look at the Cinemax version of Quarry.

M.A.C.