Posts Tagged ‘The Wrong Quarry’

Stan Lee, William Goldman, Orson Welles and Much, Much More!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

By the time this appears, Brad Schwartz and I will have made our Chicago appearance at the American Writers Museum. But as I write this, Barb and I haven’t even left Muscatine yet. So any report will have to wait till next time, when I’ll also talk about Thanksgiving with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam and Lucy.

But there’s plenty to talk about first. Let’s start with two great names in American pop culture, both writers, who met their final deadlines recently.

I interacted with Stan Lee any number of times. Coincidentally, the first and most memorable was at WGN in Chicago, where Brad and I will be taping something the day before this update appears. Brad and I will be doing television, but Stan and I did a radio show, where he fielded questions about Marvel and I did the same about the Dick Tracy strip, which I was writing then. I’m guessing this was early ‘80s. Stan was friendly and everything you’d expect him to be, and we got along fine. In future, I would encounter him at comics conventions, mostly just saying hello. He always seemed to remember me, but I doubt he did.

While I have little interest in Marvel today, and have only written a handful of things for them, I was a big fan in junior high and high school (and even college). I knew of Stan Lee by his byline on pre-superhero monster comics and even Millie the Model (I read lots of different comics). I’m sure it made an impression on me that this was a writer getting a byline on comics without doing any of the drawing. I bought all his early superhero stuff at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, including the first issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and The Avengers. I knew of Jack Kirby, too – I subscribed to Challengers of the Unknown in grade school. Kirby was why I was buying monster comic books featuring creatures like “Fin Fang Foom,” “Mechano” and (yes) “Groot” (many Marvel super-hero characters had earlier incarnations as monsters).

How long was I a Marvel fan? As long as Ditko (and then John Romita, Sr.) was drawing Spiderman and Kirby Fantastic Four, I was in.

What I liked about Stan was the humor he brought to his super-hero work, and the way he interacted with fans. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Some have tried to diminish his work by saying he screwed over Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but I know nothing of that and don’t want to know. What I know is he entertained and inspired me, and was friendly to me in person. Excelsior, Stan.

I never met William Goldman, who was a friend of Don Westlake’s – occasionally Don told me stories about his buddy “Bill.” I admired Goldman as a novelist (Soldier in the Rain, Marathon Man), although his screenwriting was where I think he really made an impact. He brought a storytelling touch to the form that made scripts read like, well, stories, not blueprints. He did this to save his sanity and also to make the screenplays compelling to the studio execs and directors who read them.

Goldman is, of course, the man who revealed to the world that the first and only rule about Hollywood is, “Nobody knows anything.” And he gave us the book that became the film Princess Bride. I wrote the novelization of his Maverick, not his best screenplay by a longshot but still good and a pleasure to turn into a novel that some (myself included) consider superior to the film. I like having a small connection to the man.

By any yardstick, William Goldman was a writer who left the world a better place for what he did while he was here. Let’s say it all together now: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

* * *

So Netflix is making theatrical movies now, and streaming those movies even as they are hitting theaters. This is a tragedy, because it almost certainly means I will have to buy an even bigger TV.

So are the movies any good? Having seen two, I may not have enough to go on. But both are worth talking about.

First, Outlaw King. This historical epic is essentially a sequel to Braveheart, although only the dismembered arm of William Wallace appears (apparently not contributed by Mel Gibson). Reviews on this have been mixed, but Barb and I thought it was terrific. Pine was fine (sorry) as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who faced seemingly impossible odds in a struggle to win independence from Britain – as an American whose grandparents on my pop’s side were name MacGregor, I can relate. The filmmaking is first-rate, with an opening shot that goes on forever without a cut, just a dazzling piece of work from director, co-screenwriter David Mackenzie. There’s even a decent love story. Barb was happy with Chris Pine’s nudity (me not so much) but the final battle scene was a bloody wonder, making Braveheart look like a garden party. High marks for Netflix on this one.

Then there’s The Other Side of the Wind. Netflix backed this assembly of footage from 96 hours Orson Welles shot between 1970 and 1976. Welles was attempting something new, influenced and I think intimidated by the American wave of young filmmakers that included Dennis Hopper (who appears in the film) as well as Coppola, DePalma and Scorsese.

To call the production troubled is like saying Citizen Kane is pretty good. Cast members came and went, sometimes due to availability; locations meant to suggest California include Arizona, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium and sometimes even California. The cast is stellar, to say the least, but the shifting players means nothing really coheres – Peter Bogdanovich plays (not particularly well) a role based on himself that was originally acted by Rich Little, who left the production to meet a prior Vegas gig. Lilli Palmer is in a few scenes (shot in Spain), interacting with almost nobody, though it’s supposed to be her house where the interminable Hollywood party is happening. John Huston reveals how limited his bag of acting tricks is, and does himself nothing but harm.

It’s a mess – something of a glorious mess, and that it works at all is due to editor Bob Murawski somehow stitching it all together. Cuts come quickly, from black-and-white to color and back again, creating an auto accident of a movie about a filmmaker’s (off-stage) auto accident. Much of Wind is a film-within-a-film spoof of pretentious European films of the Antonioni variety (at least I hope it’s meant to be a spoof) starring Welles’ female companion/partner, Oja Kodar, billed as co-writer, who is mostly nude (I did enjoy her nude scenes more than Chris Pine’s).

It’s a hateful, ridiculous film, clogged with Welles bitterly attacking Hollywood in general and critic Pauline Kael in particular (via Susan Strasberg, quite good), with side dishes of bile reserved for his supposed friend Bogdanovich, among others. But it is of course fascinating as well, and probably required viewing for any real film buff.

Better than The Other Side of the Wind is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a Netflix documentary, itself feature-length, that looks at the making of the beleaguered film.

For all the hoopla surrounding The Other Side of the Wind supposedly having been finished along lines that would have satisfied Welles (who did leave about 45 minutes of the two-hour feature in an edited form), a similar situation with a great French filmmaker has led to a different approach and a much better film than Wind or even the documentary about it.

Available from Arrow on Blu-ray, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is a 2009 documentary by Serge Bromberg that deals with another legendarily unfinished film. Clouzot, the genius who gave the world Diabolique and Wages of Fear among other masterpieces, stumbled in 1964 with his film, Inferno. Similarly to Welles, Clouzot was dealing with changing times and specifically the changing approach to filmmaking represented by the French New Wave. As far as I’m concerned, no New Wave filmmaker can touch him, but filmmakers are human and Clouzot allowed himself to get caught up in fascinating but largely pointless visual experimentation. He landed the leading starlet of the moment, Romy Schnieder, and cast an actor who’d been in a previous film of his, Serge Reggiani, in a story of sexual obsession and jealousy. It’s essentially James M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice, if the older man with a younger wife is only imaging an affair she’s having with a younger man, and is driven mad to the brink of violence.

Working from fifteen reels of film, with most of the soundtrack missing, the documentation assembles the unfinished Inferno into sequences that appear, roughly, in narrative order. But these scenes are interspersed with revealing test films and interviews with cast and crew. Some of the missing scenes (there actually don’t seem to be that many) are staged with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin, who provide dialogue. The imagery, particularly of lovely Schneider, is stunning. Like Welles in Wind, Clouzot shot in both black-and-white and color; but the French auteur had a method to his madness – the color footage, which was processed to have bizarre coloration, represents only the would-be cuckold’s warped imaginings.

Clouzot ultimately crashed with Inferno because his authoritarian treatment of actors drove his leading man to quit, shortly after which the director had a heart attack and production was halted, never to be resumed. (Clouzot did make another film, La Prisonniere, before his death in 1977.)

Unlike Wind, Inferno might have been a great film, had Clouzot (who wrote the script, as usual) been able to finish it. (Claude Chabrol shot the screenplay years later, but I haven’t seen that…yet.)

* * *

And now, my final verdict: Rotten Tomatoes, and the largely rotten reviewers whose opinions it gathers, is officially worthless.

Barb and I were very much looking forward to Widows. We were aware the source material was a two-season 1980s series from the dependable Lynda LaPlante, creator of Prime Suspect (but we had never seen it). The idea of a group of widows who take over for their late heist-artist husbands seemed pretty foolproof. The reviews for Widows are mostly raves. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 91%.

SPOILER ALERT: it stinks. We walked out, but not until we’d been subjected to an hour of poor direction and stupid scripting. Steve McQueen (much better an actor in The Great Escape than a director here) (yes, I know the British McQueen won a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave) co-wrote with Gillian Flynn. I suspect the original LaPlante series was good.

Virtually every sequence of Widows begins with a disorienting shot (for example, a substance that turns out to be hair being teased, when the camera pulls back; and a lengthy pointless sermon by a hypocritical black-church preacher, in close-up forever before revealing his stereotypical congregation). A sadistic diminutive thug (so sadistic he tortures a wheelchair-bound victim – he’s a baaaaaaad man!) constantly does things for no reason other than to shock the audience. Scenes go on endlessly, and are often staged in a ridiculously show-offy manner – how about a conversation between a Chicago candidate for alderman and his Lady Macbeth of a wife entirely from one-locked down angle on a car in motion, with no view of the people talking.

I seldom hate a film. I hated this. I knew at once (a real SPOILER ALERT sort of coming) where it was headed when Liam Neeson’s character was killed in the first five minutes (maybe I should saying “apparently killed”). I checked on line to see if I was right. And of course I was (Barb, too).

So Rotten Tomatoes gets a 0% fresh rating from the Collins household.

* * *

Paperback Warrior has posted an excellent review of Quarry’s Choice. This is really a wonderful, smart write-up of what is one of my two favorite books in the series (the other is The Wrong Quarry).

If you want to hear me talk about something that isn’t movies, go to Mystery Tribune for an interview with me on the new Mike Hammer: The Night I Died graphic novel.

Crimespree is giving away Scarface and the Untouchable. But, of course, you’ve already bought a copy.

The new issue of The Strand has the Spillane/Collins short story, “Tonight, My Love.” An important piece of the canon, though brief. It’s the holiday issue and a fine way to end the year in a Spillane centenary fashion. Check it out.

And here is a page with info about the next Caleb York western novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Next May, but why not start wanting it now?

M.A.C.

“The Will to Kill” Coming to Audio

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

This is one of those Good News/Bad News situations, only it’s really Good News/Bad News/Good News.

Stacy Keach
Stacy Keach

Many Mike Hammer fans – myself included – were dismayed when Blackstone Audio ceased releasing the new Hammer novels on audio, performed by the great Stacy Keach, starting with the current Will to Kill.

All of the previous Spillane/Collins “Hammer” collaborations, read by Stacy, remain available on Audible and elsewhere – they include The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90, King of the Weeds, Kill Me, Darling, and Murder Never Knocks. In addition are the two Audie-honored radio-style, full-cast audios, The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 2: The Little Death and The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 3: Encore for Murder. (There’s also a volume one that Stacy appears in but I did not write, more keyed to the ‘80s TV show than the novels).

Now a new audio publisher, JournalStone, has stepped in, with The Will to Kill first on the docket. Efforts to secure the rights to the short story collection, A Long Time Dead, are under way (I don’t personally hold those). That’s the very good news.

But the bad news is that Stacy Keach is stepping down.

Having ten works of mine (and Mickey’s) with the participation of perhaps the most famous screen Mike Hammer has been a privilege and a gift. I can’t convey what a thrill it’s been hearing Stacy’s voice roll out of those speakers, playing Hammer in stories I co-wrote. I remain thrilled and grateful to Stacy, and he and I will continue to explore projects (both Spillane and otherwise) to do together.

In the meantime, JournalStone has accepted my suggestion for a new audio Mike Hammer in the form of Dan John Miller.

Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife Tracee Mae Miller
Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife
Tracee Mae Miller

Dan is singer-songwriter and actor from Detroit, currently guitarist and lead vocalist for the gothic country-garage band, Blanche, which also features his lovely wife, Tracee Mae Miller. He has appeared in a number of films, notably Walk The Line, playing Johnny Cash’s guitar player Luther Perkins. Among his many outstanding musical accomplishments, Dan collaborated with Jack White in the band Two Star Tabernacle. (He is also a man of great musical taste, once calling Crusin’s “First Step” on the Bullets CD “the perfect rock ‘n’ roll song.”)

For our purposes, however, it’s his work as one of the top audiobook narrators in the field that is most pertinent.

Dan was named a Best Voice by AudioFile magazine for performances of Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline and Philip Roth’s My Life As a Man. In 2009, he was nominated for two Audies, as well garnering an Audiofile magazine Golden Earphone award, and a Listen Up! award from Publishers Weekly.

Even more important, for anyone likely to be looking at this update, is that Dan John Miller has been the voice of Nate Heller for several years now. He has recorded every Heller novel to date, from True Detective to Better Dead, as well as the short story collection (Chicago Lightning) and novella omnibus (Triple Play). He has done an outstanding job and – much as I’ve looked forward to hearing Stacy as Hammer – the new Heller novels of recent years have only seemed “real” to me after Dan has brought them to life.

At my urging, other audio publishers have tapped on Dan’s shoulder for the Mallory series, entries in the Disaster series, a Quarry (The Wrong Quarry), and the Reeder and Rogers series, currently Executive Order. He brings tough characters to life with both an edge and warmth, and I am very fortunate to have him agree to pick up where Stacy left off with Mike Hammer.

No release dates yet. In fact, I may be a trifle premature here, because some of the negotiations remain under way. But everything looks good – and will sound good.

If you’re a fan of my work, I couldn’t recommend Stacy and Dan – and their respective contributions to the Collins canon – to you more highly. The JournalStone releases will be available on CD, and as downloads from Audible.

Stay tuned.

* * *

Appropriately, Ron Fortier has posted a nice review of The Will to Kill.

Here is a rather unflattering review of the same Mike Hammer book. I generally do not respond to critics, but I have asked my grandson Sam to reply for me. You will see his reply below the link to the review.

Finally, here’s a positive review of The Wrong Quarry, one of my favorite books in the series.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

I have mentioned in passing some health issues I’ve been dealing with, and perhaps I’ve even been a little coy about it. It’s not been my intention to burden my friends and readers (not mutually exclusive categories) with a boring account of what we’ve been dealing with. I say “we” because Barb has been at my side throughout, as you might imagine, but your imagination cannot do justice to just how fantastic she’s been.

I’m going to make this brief, because even if you’re concerned – and if so, thank you – you shouldn’t have to be bored with the details of somebody else’s health problems. Still, I’m a novelist, so this will most likely go into the situation in more depth than I should.

We’ve been dealing with this for a good eight months. I first got sick (somewhat ironically) when we visited the set of QUARRY in New Orleans late last May. The path has been torturous and frustrating, as it took a while to get this diagnosed, and it really shouldn’t have been. The roughest patch was a period of three weeks when I couldn’t sleep – couldn’t find a position that was comfortable enough – and for that period, I was getting maybe an hour a night.

The problem is a heart valve that needs replacing. There’s also a bypass, and before any of that can happen, I need to get one of my carotid arteries unclogged. The latter appears to be a fairly routine procedure. Open-heart surgery, however, is rather more sobering. But I have top-notch surgeons for both operations, and I feel confident I’ll be back at the old stand before too long.

This has stretched out maddeningly because when the condition was discovered, I was already in pretty bad shape. I needed to get myself back in shape, which consisted of medication and a few preliminary procedures (i.e., getting a jump start to correct an irregular heartbeat that had presented itself). For frustrating reasons (but good ones), I’ve had this surgery postponed on me something like eight times. In fact, Barb wishes I weren’t writing this, because that could happen again.

But right now the plan is for me to go in for the first of the two surgeries on Monday, January 4 (tomorrow, as I write this). And the heart surgery is set for January 5. If you are one of those loyal souls who check out this update the moment it appears each Tuesday morning, it’s likely I’ll be in the operating room as you read this.

There’s a chance – I honestly think not much of one – that my heart surgeon may postpone again, if he thinks I need more time to recover from the first procedure. If that’s the case, my son Nate will update this. He will also post updates on my status here and on Facebook in the several days following the procedures.

[Update from Nate: (Monday Jan. 4, 10 PM) Dad did have a minor complication after the first, successful procedure, and the docs are erring on the side of caution by (again) postponing the second surgery until some time next week. He is doing well and should be back home Tuesday to begin recuperating for the main event.]

You are welcome to post encouragement here and on Facebook, but I held this back so things wouldn’t get out of hand. I also accept prayers and positive thoughts and cash money.

The heart valve/bypass procedures will be followed by some rough weeks of recuperation – the first several, obviously, the most challenging. My next novel deadline isn’t till April 1 (no fooling), so I intend to take my first protracted “vacation” from writing in, well, as long as I can remember. I have been healthy as a horse my whole life (I was asked if I’d ever had surgery before, and I said, “Just my birth”) so there’s no precedent. Before you feel too sorry for me, know that I will be watching a lot of Blu-rays and reading a good number of the books that have piled up around here, and will be given even better treatment than usual by my lovely wife.

It’s possible I may get back to work sooner than the projected six weeks. I’m proud of myself that during this nasty period, I still wrote two episodic TV episodes (one of them for QUARRY) and the Mike Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. And you may have already realized that I never missed one of these weekly updates.

Okay, we all know what’s important here – these weekly updates. I am going to write another three updates, in advance, dealing with forthcoming books. At that point, I am hopeful that I will be back doing this.

I am told I am “low risk.” Like anybody, I don’t hear the “low,” just the “risk.” So without getting too sentimental (or for that matter pessimistic) about it, I want to give all of you my heart-felt thanks. This has been a great career, and it will continue to be.

* * *

My pal Ed Gorman has been kind enough to pay tribute to Quarry by reviewing two of the recent books in the series. The review of THE WRONG QUARRY is a reprint, but the QUARRY’S CHOICE write-up is brand-new and a real corker.

The first novel in the series, QUARRY, got itself onto this fun top-reissues-of-last-year list. I’m on it with one of my favorites, the late great Ted Lewis. As usual, I deplore all such lists…unless I’m on them.

Here’s a nice (if somewhat guarded) Kindle Taproom review of FATE OF THE UNION.

Now check out this even-better FATE OF THE UNION review.

* * *

Finally, I need to mark the passing of actor Wayne Rogers, who provided one of the best classic PI performances of all time in the too-brief CITY OF ANGELS TV series (1976). That series, and the Huggins/Cannell-created character Jake Axminster, had a huge impact on Nate Heller. Rogers, despite the short run of ANGELS, made such an impact as a private eye that he wound up playing a similar recurring character on MURDER SHE WROTE. He also portrayed real-life private eye Raymond Schindler in PASSION AND PARADISE (1989), about the Massie case, which I wrote about (including Schinder) in DAMNED IN PARADISE.

M.A.C.

A Real Bookstore

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014
Centuries and Sleuths Signing 2014
Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins with fan Andy Lind

Barb and I did a signing at one of our favorite bookstores, Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, Illiniois, this Sunday past. The turnout was modest but included some of our most dedicated fans – one of whom brought two cartons of doughnuts! (Thanks, Rick!) The relatively small group meant that these hardcore fans could ask all kinds of knowledgeable questions, and that was a real pleasure. Among them were Andy Lind – Cedar Rapids fan relocated to Rockford who came all that way – and Mike Doran, old TV expert par excellence and frequent poster here.

Hosts Augie and Tracy Aleksy are ever gracious, good-humored and interested in what authors have to say. We signed some stock for Augie, and since we are doing no more signings this year (and probably few to none next), you may want to pick up signed copies from Centuries and Sleuths. You can call Augie at 708-771-7243, and the e-mail is csn7419@sbcglobal.net. He has signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS, ANTIQUES CON, THE WRONG QUARRY, and – yes – SUPREME JUSTICE. He has a good quantity of signed ANTIQUES and Hard Case Crime QUARRY titles, too.

What makes Centuries and Sleuths unique is the combination of history and mystery – not just historical mysteries, but books on history. Right now Augie is concentrating on World War One (“celebrating” its 100th anniversary), and has all sorts of non-fiction titles available on the subject, but also fiction. He’s ordering in THE LUSITANIA MURDERS, for instance, in its Thomas & Mercer paperback edition.

Walking into a bookstore like Centuries and Sleuths is a reminder of what makes book buying such a pleasure in a real store with an expert hand-selling owner who really cares. If you are lucky enough to have a good indie bookstore, particularly a mystery bookstore, within your home area, please support them.

As a guy published by Amazon, I buy a good number of books there. But I have a simple rule that I try to follow. If I spot a book in an actual store – and it’s a book of which I was unaware – I buy it there. I don’t look it up on Amazon to get the cheaper price.

I have another rule that pertains to bookstores where I do a signing – I always buy a book there. It amazes me when authors do signings at bookstores and don’t repay the venue with a purchase. Maybe not all authors like books.

* * *

Here’s a nice little write-up about COMPLEX 90.

And out of nowhere comes this fun write-up on the film THE EXPERT for which I wrote the screenplay. The writer doesn’t know the extensive backstory – such as my working for many months on a DIRTY DOZEN version for older actors, then when Jeff Speakman was cast at the last minute had to throw together a very different version – but his views are smart and entertaining.

The Kindle Taproom has a swell write-up on my favorite of the Mallory novels, A SHROUD FOR AQUARIUS.

Finally, a writer picks his five favorite Mike Hammer novels, and there are some interesting surprises, including his favorite (the undervalued SURVIVAL…ZERO!) and THE BIG BANG.

M.A.C.