Posts Tagged ‘Wild Dog’

Shock Value

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

I recently received in the mail from the UK the Arrow Films blu-ray box set of Shock Treatment, the much unloved sort of sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will now discuss this a little – not in depth, because for you to have access to this, you’d have to have an all-regions blu-ray player, which still isn’t very common (though they are not expensive).

Shock Treatment is high on my list of things that I love that I’m not supposed to. (Also on this list is another movie sequel – the Chinatown follow-up, The Two Jakes.) I am one of the few people you’re likely to run into who saw Rocky Horror in a movie theater on its first run. I was at the time teaching cops English in the Quad Cities (with my back to the firing range at the Davenport PD) and had a long stretch of time between the morning and late afternoon sessions. This I would fill with a movie. So it was that I found myself the only person in a very big theater watching Rocky Horror.

I liked it, and bought the soundtrack (vinyl days). When it became a cult hit, I disliked the talking-back-to-the-screen and dress-up midnight-show screenings, because I actually wanted to hear, see and enjoy the film. That’s how strange I am.

Anyway, Shock Treatment was, on one level, a misguided attempt to create a cult film; its first run in theaters was as a midnight show, and the movie itself was brimming with colorful characters in colorful costumes for Rocky Horror-ites to dress up as.

But it was also a fairly acid criticism by creator Richard O’Brien of America in general and Rocky Horror fans in particular, although you had to be smart to get the latter. Whereas Rocky Horror was about “don’t dream it, be it,” and letting your freak flag fly, Shock Treatment was a critique of everybody wanting to be a star in the “me” decade, which in 1981 had just begun. One of the big production numbers had much of the cast dancing with wheeled full-length mirrors.

Even detractors of Shock Treatment will occasionally admit that the score is at least as good as Rocky Horror and probably better – the soundtrack is a virtual compendium of “New Wave” at its best. I was sold on Shock Treatment going in, because I knew that Janet (of the Brad and Janet duo) was going to be played this time by Jessica Harper, the mesmerizing Phoenix of Phantom of the Paradise, who brought her Karen Carpenter-like alto to all the great Paul Williams music in a film that is on my shortest short list of favorites. And Shock Treatment seems to have been more heavily influenced by Phantom than by Rocky Horror, oddly enough.

Shock Treatment presents the residents of Denton, USA, as the members of a studio audience, who even sleep in that studio. As they watch monitors and live broadcasts, they are caught up in the lives of the various local people who have become the stars of game shows, religious programming and reality TV.

Now here’s the thing: when Shock Treatment was made in 1981, reality TV didn’t exist. Nor did MTV, though the DTV of Shock Treatment seems to be a parody of it, right down to the logo. I had probably seen Shock Treatment fifteen times, easily, on its initial release and later on a laser disc I got from Japan. But I hadn’t watched it in at least ten years.

I had realized the film was remarkably prescient long ago, but seeing it again I was staggered by how much it seemed to be a satire on Trump’s America. It not only predicts and defines MTV and reality television, Shock Treatment includes “selfies,” anti-Mexican Americanism, anti-gay Americanism, and the fast food culture. Most shocking (so to speak) was seeing the movie’s climax in which the much-manipulated studio audience is handed out matching baseball caps with a dumb slogan to wear for the rally-like appearance of a Trump-ish figure whose slick-haired resemblance to Donald Trump, Jr., is downright creepy.


Cliff De Young as…Don Jr.?

This satire of Trump and his followers would seem too on-the-nose and heavy-handed, if it were done today…and not thirty-six years ago.

I don’t expect anybody reading this to send to the UK for the Arrow box set (and Arrow doesn’t have the rights to release the package in the US). But there’s a DVD available, as well as a double feature DVD with Rocky Horror.

* * *

Another movie walk-out: The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I am partial to Ryan Reynolds as a quipster, but Samuel Jackson must have really good material to be tolerable, and this one doesn’t have that. The tone is an uneasy combo of extreme, nasty violence and supposed dark humor, with tons of lazy f-wording. We bailed when Reynolds and Jackson, hitchhiking, were picked up by a van that turned out to be transporting cute nuns. Jackson says to the girls, “Whose lap am I going to sit on?” The nuns blush and titter, and we are gone.

* * *

Bookgasm has often been very good to me, but this review of Quarry’s Climax rubbed me the wrong way.

Anybody has a right not to like a book, and say so; but this reviewer (who has liked other Quarry novels and has a few nice things to say even here) accuses me of “a disturbing lack of commitment.” That’s a combination of personal insult and mind-reading that goes over the line.

I will counter this review by sharing these Quarry’s Climax reviews with you:

Publisher’s Weekly on Quarry’s Climax:

Set in 1975, MWA Grand Master Collins’s taut 14th Quarry novel (after 2016’s Quarry in the Black) presents a peculiar challenge for the professional hit man. Instead of simply killing his target, Quarry is tasked by his employer, the Broker, with protecting Max Climer, the Memphis-based publisher of a raunchy skin magazine called Climax, from a hit that has been assigned to parties unknown—and then eliminating the rival hit men. Quarry travels from his home in Paradise Lake, Wis., to Memphis, where he joins forces with his longtime partner, Boyd, a proficient assassin, and the two plunge into the city’s underworld in search of those out to get Climer. One of the book’s pleasures is watching the cold-blooded Quarry make tactical decisions with utter logic. Fun, too, is Quarry’s raffish way with the women he meets at every turn, leading to several colorful (and explicit) assignations. Numerous ’70s pop culture references leaven the criminal proceedings in this deft exercise in the business of violence.

Booklist on Quarry’s Climax:

Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story
is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with Climax in the title only for the characters).
* * *

Here’s an interview with the guy who plays Wild Dog on Arrow (still haven’t seen it, but the blu-ray set is on its way).

And finally here’s a Wild Dog podcast.

M.A.C.

Toe Hold

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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….

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

Dinner With Perry and Della

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Barbara Hale is gone.

She was 94, so it’s not exactly a tragedy, but it still hurts. Few actresses have done more with so underwritten a part as Ms. Hale did with Della Street on Perry Mason. She brought humor and intelligence to the role, and her genuine connection with both Raymond Burr and William Hopper brought a sense of reality to a fairly ridiculous if enormously entertaining concept – the defense attorney who (almost) never loses a case.

I was lucky enough to meet Barbara Hale and spend some time with her. Here’s what happened.

Back in the late ‘80s, I got the chance to collaborate on a project with Raymond Burr. Now, coincidentally, I had for some time been collecting the old Mason shows on VHS, and reading the Erle Stanley Gardner novels as crime-fiction comfort food, even collecting Mason first editions. Barb was a fan of the TV show, too, so it was a mutual enthusiasm, which is always nice for husband and wife.

Getting the chance to meet Burr, and work with him, was a dream come true. I made three trips to Denver, where the Mason TV-movies were being shot, and spent a lot of time with Raymond (he preferred that to “Ray”). He was an interesting guy, warm and generous and puckishly funny. The high-end hotel where I was staying had a residential wing where Burr lived during production of the films. I went to his suite, knocked on the door, and he answered, wearing a railroad engineer’s cap and coveralls – he had an elaborate model railroad set-up that threaded through the various rooms of the apartment. And the trains were a rollin’!

He and I got along fine. The first trip we didn’t work – we just got to know each other, and he regaled me with tales of his long and fascinating, much-travelled life. I heard about the Ballets Russes, where his career had begun, and of such world figures as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, as well as his experiences touring with the USO in Vietnam. I told him we should just skip the idea of doing a thriller and put together his autobiography. But he was adamant that he would never write that book, after spending hours convincing me it would be important and fascinating. His bisexuality, which he fairly openly referred to in our conversations – his frankness was part of my acceptance as a friend – was something he never wished to discuss in public.

On the other two Denver trips, we worked – plotting an espionage thriller in the morning and over lunch, with me working several hours in the mid-afternoon in my hotel room to put our thoughts on paper, joining him again an hour or two before supper. Every meal I had on these trips was with Raymond.

One meal was particularly memorable. Barbara Hale was arriving to shoot the next Mason TV movie, which was about to begin production. Raymond asked me if I would like to meet her and go out with them for dinner at the best steakhouse in Denver. I would have gone to the worst diner in Paducah for a chance to do that. I called Barb and said, “Guess who I’m going out to dinner with tonight? Perry and Della!” She said she hated me, but sounded sweet saying so.

Barbara Hale would have been 66 at the time – two years younger than I am now – but I remember being almost startled by how lovely and young she seemed to me, and, frankly, sexy. She came across older on television in the Mason movies. There was a genuine chemistry between us, and the fact that I could make Della Street smile so easily was just about as good as it gets.

We definitely hit it off, and she was impressed that I knew about her career right down to her appearing in small roles in various RKO movies of the ‘40s, like The Great Gildersleeve entries. In the limo on the way to the steakhouse, sitting between her and Raymond like their overgrown child, I told Barbara how much I loved her in Jolson Sings Again. Raymond, with his ever-present twinkle, said, “Oh, I agree. She was wonderful getting down on her knees in blackface.” She giggled and batted his arm and he giggled back. These two loved each other. Was I really here?

At the steakhouse – where actor Tom Bosley (filming the Father Dowling mysteries in Denver) stopped by to pay his respects – we had a long dinner during which I questioned Raymond and Barbara incessantly about the original Mason show. I had brought along the hardcover first edition of a Mason novel that had Barbara and Raymond pictured together on the back cover – I got this signed by both of them. They had a great time reminiscing about the original show and I only wish I’d secretly recorded all of it.

The TV movie they were shooting, The Case of the Musical Murder, had Debbie Reynolds as a guest star, but she wasn’t around while I was. I did get to go on set several times and watch scenes being shot, and also had several nice conversations with William R. Moses, who had just begun playing Mason’s young assistant on the show. For the first nine movies, Barbara Hale’s son, William Katt, had played Paul Drake, Jr., and Moses was essentially replacing him. I didn’t know why and was tactful enough not to ask.

But I did, at our steakhouse dinner, tell Barbara in front of Raymond what a great job I thought her son had done in that role. She beamed at that. The next day, when Raymond and I picked her up at her suite for lunch, she took me aside and gave me a hug, and whispered, “Thank you for what you said about my son.” Katt, it turned out, had left the Mason movies for a (short-lived) series of his own, and apparently Raymond was not happy about it.

Still, the affection between the two performers was obvious. Raymond told me over lunch one day that he planned to end the series of movies with one in which Mason and Della finally got married. The films began to include genuine expressions of love between the characters, even a kiss or two (the original series had been much more coy about what was an obvious long ongoing relationship between boss and secretary).

Unfortunately the project with Raymond (and I do apologize for speaking of him so familiarly) did not go anywhere. The New York editor who had put us together wanted a mystery, and even suggested a courtroom-oriented one, with the world-hopping thriller we proposed not doing the trick. The editor clearly wanted something like Perry Mason or Ironside. Raymond Burr, with all his international interests and travels, wanted something wider-ranging and in the espionage field. I later learned that two other writers were put together with Raymond Burr and in each case the actor’s strong personality guided them to espionage, and each time the New York editor bridled.

Of course Perry and Della never got married. Raymond Burr’s death in 1993 pre-empted that.

While I regret I never shared the Burr byline on a book or even series of books, I still relish the memory of the collaboration.

After all, it’s not everybody who gets to spend an evening with Perry and Della.

* * *

Arrow is giving some info about Wild Dog’s origin. Still haven’t watched an episode.

Here’s a fun look at Mike Hammer in the movies and on TV (though the writer, who quotes me occasionally, does not seem to have read Mickey Spillane on Screen by Jim Traylor and me).

Here’s an article about the Quarry books and a discussion about what order to read them in, with several options.

Finally, here’s an essay that thinks Cinemax ought to give Quarry a second season. My bank account agrees!

M.A.C.