Posts Tagged ‘The Big Showdown’

Our Audie Murphy Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Killing Town, the “lost” first Mike Hammer novel, is now available on audio read by the great Dan John Miller. Read about it here. If you support this audio (and the previous Journalstone Mike Hammer release, The Will to Kill), more will follow!

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I am writing this week’s update on Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like a good time to say a few things about Audie Murphy.

First, let me share with you a part of my prep for writing the Caleb York novels for Kensington (under the Spillane & Collins byline) – essentially, how I get into the mood.

I am about to start the new Caleb, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Whenever I do a York novel, Barb and I have an appropriate western film festival, watching an “oater” each evening. For the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York (from Mickey’s screenplay, which started it all), we watched John Wayne westerns, as Mickey had written the screenplay for Wayne’s Batjac productions, though it had never been produced. My favorites, predictably, are The Searchers, Red River and Rio Bravo.

For The Big Showdown, we watched Randolph Scott, including all of his outstanding Budd Boetticher-directed westerns. For The Bloody Spur, our nightly western was a Joel McRae. And I have been gathering Audie Murphy’s westerns (and his other films) for several years now, with an eye on the festival Barb and I are beginning now.

Audie Murphy, of course, is celebrated as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He received every military combat award, including the Medal of Honor, having – at age 19 – held off by himself an entire company of German soldiers for an hour, then (while wounded) leading a successful counterattack.

Murphy was a Texas boy from sharecropper stock who learned his skills with a rifle by putting food on the table for his six brothers and four sisters, after their father left their mother, who died when Audie was a teen. Murphy lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army, not long after Pearl Harbor (the Marines and Navy having turned him down).

After the war, making the cover of LIFE Magazine for his courageous service, he was taken under the wing of the great James Cagney. From the late forties until his tragic young death in 1971, Murphy was a movie star. Aside from a few A-pictures (like The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, both directed by John Huston), and several contemporary offerings, Murphy specialized in westerns, as well as a western TV series, Whispering Smith.

But his biggest success was starring as himself (a role he reluctantly accepted) in the film version of his autobiographical war account, To Hell and Back. He was a skilled horseman and a successful songwriter, his work recorded by such stars as Dean Martin, Harry Nillson, Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Dean, among many others. And, not surprisingly, he suffered from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He slept with a .45 automatic under his pillow.

Stopped for speeding, Murphy pulled over and, when the officer noticed the .45 on the seat next to the easily recognizable Audie, the cop smiled and said he was a big fan and wanted an autograph. Murphy provided it. Accosted by a gangster at a horserace, Murphy stared him down and said, “I killed sixty of you bums in Sicily – one more won’t make a difference.” The thug moved on. Many a brawny challenger who figured he’d pick a fight with Murphy was quickly and brutally dispatched by the five-foot-five war hero turned movie star.

Or so go the stories. More easily verified is Murphy’s refusal to do ads for cigarettes or liquor, not wanting to set a bad example for young people. He died in a small plane crash.

My character, Quarry, was in part inspired by Murphy. David Morell told me Rambo had the same source. And Robert Stack said his Ness portrayl was inspired by Murphy.

Around Memorial Day, and all year frankly, Audie’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is among the most visited. He is probably remembered more for his incredible valor as a teenaged war hero than for his movie career, and while that’s understandable, I’m here to tell you he was a fine actor.

In his day – and still today – his ability to star in a film is perceived as a sort of “talking dog” thing – the dog doesn’t haven’t to say anything impressive to qualify for that distinction. My feeling is the studios (chiefly Universal) often felt they had to pair Murphy with a strong character actor – Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Barry Sullivan – to carry him.

But anyone at all savvy about film and film-acting can look at Murphy in almost any of his pictures and see how his instinctive, charismatic under-playing seems modern and real while many of the actors around him appear to be shouting and hamming it up. He is present in every scene, quietly reacting, watching, then delivering lines naturally and effectively.

And in scenes of violence, just who this baby-faced boy/man is always comes to the fore. He’s a killer. Real deal. Not a murderer, but a soldier who unflinchingly does what he has to. But he’s not one note: he can be boyish, he can be scary, he can be romantic, he can be funny, he can be tough as hell – as much as I like Randolph Scott (and that’s a lot), Murphy has far more colors to his palette.

We’ve been watching him for a week or so now, and not all of the movies are good – toward the mid-1960s (particularly when he’s not working at Universal), his films are programmers, bottom-bill fodder for drive-ins. But he made some fine westerns, too, and worked with such great genre directors as Don Siegel, Budd Boetticher and Jack Arnold.

My favorite, the latter director’s work, is No Name on the Bullet. Murphy is an assassin who comes to a small western town, quietly checks in at the hotel and minds his own business – only his business is killing someone while he’s in town…but who. Everyone in the community seems to have a secret worth killing for. It’s a very Quarry-like role. The quiet killer side of him is in evidence – the film is thoughtful, a sort of High Noon turned inside out, and Murphy is great. Just great.

In collecting Murphy’s films, I’ve had to order DVDs and Blu-rays from all over the world. A few are available here (including No Name on the Bullet), and there’s a nice boxed set from Turner Classic Movies – check it out.

Oddly, Murphy is considered a major star in Germany. Think about that – our decorated hero is revered by the losers, and patronized and even ignored by the winners. This is much odder than Jerry Lewis being lionized in France (though the French are right about Lewis, and they like Murphy, too, for that matter).

Salute this Texas sharecropper’s son, while Memorial Day is still in the air, won’t you? For his service to his country, by all means. But track down some of his movies. He was a real movie star, and – unlikely as it seems – a fine actor.

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The forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable is one of the ten summer books Chicago Magazine recommends.

Here’s a fine review of Killing Town.

Check out this advance look at the first issue of the Hammer four-issue comic book mini-series.

The Quarry TV series gets some love here.

Finally, here is a wonderful review of Antiques Wanted by a reviewer who really gets what Barb and I are up to.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Comics!

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

The first of the four-issue serialization of Quarry’s War, the character’s first graphic novel appearance, goes on sale November 29. There are three alternate covers, designed to fleece you, er, give you an opportunity to choose the one you like best.

This link will take you to all of the covers plus a five-page preview.

The four issues will be collected as a trade paperback, though I don’t know when – sometime next year. To some degree, this project happened because of the TV show, and since Cinemax did not take Quarry past the first season, I can’t be sure there will be another graphic novel.

What this did provide me with was an opportunity to explore Quarry’s back story more thoroughly and do something about his Vietnam experiences. The first three issues are evenly divided between Vietnam and a post-Vietnam assignment from the Broker. The fourth issue kind of pulls both story lines together.

The graphic novel was, in part, a response to the Cinemax series with its Vietnam emphasis. But mostly the visual format of comics made it the perfect place to show what Quarry’s life was like overseas, as well as explore his beginnings from boot camp to the Broker first knocking on his door.

Also, his restrained response to the guy who’d been cheating with Quarry’s Joni.

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I am two chapters in on Do No Harm and, while it’s a pleasure to be with Nate Heller again, brother is it hard. I kidded myself thinking this would be an “easy” Heller. The case is complex and I have a time-hopping structure that may make me (but I hope not you) dizzy.

I managed to get a little work done over Thanksgiving and the long weekend. But with Nathan, Abby and two-year-old Sam visiting, that wasn’t always easy – also, I was busy falling off my stay-away-from-sugar-and-starch diet, eating the equivalent of an entire pecan pie over a three-day period. In my defense, Barb makes the best pecan pie anywhere. Ask Nate.

Also, I am embarrassed to report that there is sad news for the rest of you: none of you have children or grandchildren as cute and smart as Sam Collins. My apologies.

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A very nice Big Showdown review by that fine writer James Reasoner can be found here. Mr. Reasoner has forgotten more about writing westerns than I will ever know, so this one felt especially good.

And speaking of the late/great Quarry TV series, this blog concludes with a look at the episode I wrote.

Full confession: my work on the Quarry series was stretched out over two episodes (the next one after the one reviewed here). The other writer and I were each assigned a solo writing credit for one episode for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. I also wrote (and was paid for) an episode for season two, which of course was never filmed.

M.A.C.

“Please Sir, I Want Some More…”

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers has announced the Scribe Award Nominees for 2017, and I pleased to have three nominations.

Acknowledging excellence in the tie-in field, the IAMTW’s Scribe Awards honor licensed works that tie in with other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. They include original works set in established universes, and adaptations of stories that have appeared in other formats and that cross all genres. Tie-in works run the gamut from westerns to mysteries to procedurals, from science fiction to fantasy to horror, from action and adventure to superheroes.

The Scribe Award winners will be announced at ComicCon San Diego in July. The exact day, time and location of the Scribes Panel including the award ceremony will be announced once it’s known. I am weighing whether or not I’ll be attending this year – if I am, I will host the panel. If not, I have a distinguished author lined up to take over for me.

Here are the nominees:

Adapted – General and Speculative
Assassin’s Creed by Christie Golden
Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
Suicide Squad by Marv Wolfman

Audio
Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire by Roy Gill
Torchwood: Broken by Joseph Lidster
Torchwood: Uncanny Valley by David Llewellyn
Doctor Who: Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

General Original
24: Trial by Fire by Dayton Ward
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner: Missile Intercept by Michael Black
Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins
Tom Clancy’s True Faith and Allegiance by Mark Greaney

Short Fiction
“A Dangerous Cat” by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
X-Files “Drive Time” by Jon McGoran
X-Files “An Eye for an Eye” by George Ivanoff
X-Files “Love Lost” by Yvonne Navarro
X-Files “XXX” by Glenn Greenberg

Speculative Original
Assassin’s Creed: Heresy by Christie Golden
Warhammer: 40,000 Warden of the Blade by David Annandale
Star Trek: Elusive Salvation by Dayton Ward
Supernatural: Mythmaker by Tim Waggoner

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Edgar winners 2017
Edgar winners 2017

My thanks to all of you who wrote comments here or dropped me e-mails, or even called, to congratulate me on the MWA Grand Master award.

Your kind thoughts, and this award, mean a great deal to me. My career has included so many different kinds of things that an award for the body of work is especially meaningful. For example, no Edgar category is available for a graphic novel like Road to Perdition; no category acknowledges something like the long-running Ms. Tree. A series like Nate Heller or Quarry, however well-received and influential, rarely has one of its entries singled out for an Edgar nomination.

So this feels especially gratifying. Thank all of you, including the MWA.

Thank you, too, those of you who requested books in our recent giveaway and are starting to post Amazon (and other) reviews. For the rest of you, Amazon and B & N reviews (and they can be very brief) would be much appreciated for the new books – Executive Order, Antiques Frame (Barbara Allan), The Will to Kill, and the paperbacks of Murder Never Knocks and The Big Showdown.

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I know what you’re thinking – what movies have you walked out of lately? Well, Barb and I have been trying to be smarter, making our movie selections more discriminately.

That doesn’t mean we skipped Fate of the Furious – we just went in with our eyes open. And it was the big, dumb fun we expected, if even bigger and dumber. Dumbest thing? The great Jason Stratham phoning Vin Diesel to report the latter’s kidnapped baby boy has been saved before the gunfight to do so begins. Well, that and just about every law of physics being broken. Best laugh: the sincere family prayer at the end from Diesel. Yes, I enjoyed the film, but I hated myself in the morning. No – in the parking lot.

Needing no apologies for liking it is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, one of the best films of its kind I’ve ever seen. A perfect continuation of the first installment (in which this one is carefully set up), Guardians 2 combines thrills and laughs with offhanded skill – whenever it threatens to get sentimental, the movie quickly slaps us silly with a cynical pay-off or aside…somehow never undercutting the growing affection the characters have for each other. What director/co-writer James Gunn has done is draw far less on Marvel’s convoluted universe and more on Firefly/Serenity and classic Star Trek, which was a very good call indeed.

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Check out this great review of The Big Showdown at Gravetapping.

I receive a nice mention at this Detectives Without Borders posting.

And this one, too.

Here’s a piece about villains who had balls enough to visit the Batcave, featuring my Tommy Carma.

Finally, here’s a nice review of Better Dead, posted a while back that I only just ran across.

M.A.C.

The Big Time

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The picture was taken at the Muscatine, Iowa, Wal-Mart, showing the paperback edition of The Big Showdown for sale on its shelves. This, my friends, is truly the big time. I haven’t spotted a book of mine here since the heyday of the CSI tie-ins.

I’d had reports of sightings of The Legend of Caleb York at Wal-Marts here and there around the USA, but it didn’t make it to my hometown, where the book area is fairly modest. Romances make up the biggest number of titles, but westerns are also a staple. Mysteries/thrillers of mine don’t make the cut.

While the new Mike Hammer novels, and the several non-Hammer Hard Case Crime posthumous Spillane titles, have all done modestly well, the success of Spillane as a western byline might just have more impact. And Wal-Mart is a big part of that, because they are one of the few book outlets that support Westerns, big time.

And the Spillane byline has real resonance with the older audience that buys Westerns. Not all Western readers are Baby Boomers like me, who recognize the name of the bestselling fiction writer of the 20th Century. But a good share are. Mickey’s friend Louis L’Amour, who died in 1988, is still one of the top names in the Western field.

Mickey, of course, viewed Mike Hammer as a Western-style hero moved to the urban frontier. He often said that Hammer “wore the black hat,” but was a good guy nonetheless.

Though I’ve been a fan of Western movies and TV since childhood – what Baby Boomer male wasn’t? – I never considered writing a Western novel. I’ve only read a handful in my life. But one of my earliest obsessions was the Maverick TV show, and a good deal of Bret Maverick got into Nate Heller. And I watched all those shows – Bat Masterson, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke (when it was thirty minutes), Yancy Derringer and so many more.

And some of my favorite films are westerns – The Searchers, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, Red River, The Tall T, Comanche Station, Ride Lonesome, Seven Men from Now, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My character Nolan drew from the Italian westerns of Lee Van Cleef – The Big Gundown, Death Rides a Horse, For a Few Dollars More.

So maybe it was inevitable that, before I rode off into the sunset, I’d be writing some Westerns. I had already written the novelization of the movie version of Maverick and the Wyatt Earp Meets Al Capone novel, Black Hats (new edition coming from Brash Books).

Plus the unproduced screenplay of Mickey’s that started it all, The Saga of Calli York, was written for his pal John Wayne. (“Calli” a now inappropriate nickname for “Caleb,” the former dropped from the books.) You’ll note quite a few Wayne titles among those listed above. I had only intended to write the one book, novelizing that screenplay, but my editor at Kensington Books insisted on three novels. And now I’ve signed to do two more.

This marks the first time Mickey’s byline appears with mine on books to which he didn’t contribute any writing. But the Caleb York yarns use his characters and situations and are a legitimate extension of the vision he developed in the screenplay – a winning combination of the Western myth of those John Wayne and Randolph Scott westerns and a more violent, pre-Leone approach.

The sex is there, too, but somewhat soft-pedaled. Apparently Wal-Mart will go for the tough stuff, but nothing smutty. Maybe that’s why Nate Heller never made it on their shelves….

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I had a fun e-mail from my old pal Steve Noah that I’d like to share with you.

“Max,
Am in Kigali, Rwanda at 1:20 AM finishing EXECUTIVE ORDER and thought you might be interested to know that the clever lighting of the Washington Monument you mention on page 233 was provided by Musco Sports Lighting, with ties to Muscatine.
Best,
Steve”

My thanks to Steve for this fascinating info.

Musco is a very famous lighting company, much used in big-time sports and by Hollywood. The “Musc,” as you may have figured out, stands for Muscatine, the river town of 23,000 where Barb and I have always lived.

The Musco operation is adjacent to the junk yard where the climax of my movie Mommy was shot in 1994. They provided the lighting. I often joke that they just turned their lighting trucks around and pointed them our way, but really they did much more than that.

I’m honored that this incredibly famous company supported my small filmmaking endeavor.

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Wild Dog is a regular on Arrow, now. Still haven’t seen any episodes. I’ll watch when I receive a check.

M.A.C.