By Russel D McLean
At Bouchercon this year, I was lucky enough to be involved in two brilliant panels. The first was called WOMEN TROUBLE, and boy was that ever an apt description… tasked with trying to control the femmes fatales that are Christa Faust, Lori G Armstrong, Karen Olson, Judy Clemens and Lauren Milne Henderson (also known as Bonkbuster author Rebecca Chance), I was expected to be eaten alive but thankfully came out relatively unscathed.
However, as much fun as the panel was (and boy, it really was) this week I’m talking about my other panel – SHADOWS RISING – which concerned films for the discerning crime fan. The panel was chaired by Jeremy Lynch and also featured Todd Ritter, David Corbett, Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby (all of whome are well worth reading).
Oh, yes. We were talking movies. But of course, as it turned out, we needed a lot longer than we got. Which was a shame because we were just about to hit one of my favourite movie periods when the time ran out. Yup, in movie terms, I adore the late 60’s and pretty much all of the70’s. While I appreciate and can articulate my love for the dark noir of the forties and fifties – we didn’t progress beyond this period, having so much to talk about! – there’s something about the gritty naturalism of this period of film-making that really grabs me.
So here are my choices for the time period we never got to discuss:
One of those films that would later be “defiled” by modern Hollywood in the form of Mel Gibson vehicle PAYBACK*, the original is a powerhouse of a movie. Lee Marvin’s “Walker” would come to colour the way I viewed the Parker character from the source material (Richard Stark’s THE HUNTER) and embody, to me, the ultimate criminal bastard. He’s cold, tough and deadly. He says more with a look than a little boy like Gibson could say with a thousand tough-guy speeches. He owns the screen every second he’s on there, and his refrain of “I want my money” is delivered so coolly and devoid of the kind of faux-anger lesser actors might employ that it sends a chill down your spine.
Okay, I admit, the scene in the nightclub has dated a little (it’s pretty groovy, man) but a couple of slips aside this is an absolute masterpiece of tough guy cinema and one of my favourite all time movies. Which is why it’s a crying goddamn shame that it ain’t available on DVD here in the UK…
One of those rare UK crime movies I love, GET CARTER is perfection from start to finish. The opening score is brilliant and contrasts beautifully with the dull grey of 70’s Newcastle. And Caine is perfection. A very British Walker, I suppose, his tough guy menace is on a par with Marvin’s. Again its in the spaces between the action that Cain really shines. Just a little or a little movement shows you he means business. This is a gritty, dirty and brilliant little movie that capitalises on its UK setting in a way very few films ever manage.
Again, like Point Blank, Get Carter was subjected to Hollywood remake. In 2000, Sylvester Stallone foolishly moved the story to the US and created one of the great cinematic turkeys. Although I do believe he at least gave Caine a cameo.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Was my third choice. It was narrowed down from a further short list that included later films like Serpico and Bullitt. So why plump for the earlier In The Heat of the Night?
Well, the answer was simple: it was a film that showed me a world utterly alien to me. I grew up in a tolerant Scottish household that taught me to treat all people equally, and here was a world where a black man had to fight for respect, had to struggle against ignorance and fear because he looked different. It was a world that was shocking to me to discover, and the sheer power of the performances from both Poitier and Steiger had me glued to the screen. This is one of those films that shows crime fiction can be the ideal way to explore social and political issues. And of course, its got that great Ray Charles theme. What else could you ask for?
There were two more periods, of course, we had left to cover. And while my brief comments were recently put up by Jeremy Lynch on the Crime Spree blog, I really felt I had to expand and say what I would have if I had the chance to expand on my ideas and thoughts on what I consider to be just a smattering of the movies that for me define certain decades.
So unless something else crops up, I guess next week I’ll be talking eighties. Which probably means I have to mention my special “sacred cow” that resulted in a several minute long rant that I think took much of the audience by surprise…
*Jay Stringer and others defend this movie, especially the “director’s cut”. But I refuse to listen. Seriously, PAYBACK is a bad movie. Deal with it.
Actually, GET CARTER was remade the year after as HIT MAN (directed by MIAMI BLUES and GROSSE POINTE BLANK's George Armitage). And as much as I know we're all supposed to love GET CARTER, it hasn't aged at all well, and I maintain that Michael Caine is the least convincing Geordie ever. There are also moments in his performance that rival Burton's scenery-chewing in VILLAIN.
But I would absolutely agree with POINT BLANK and ITHOTN, and maybe throw in some more of Lumet's work from the 70s (THE OFFENCE, DOG DAY AFTERNOON), a bit of late Lee in PRIME CUT, some more Stark in THE OUTFIT, and further afield, the 60s and 70s were the key period for Jean-Pierre Melville: LE DOULOS, LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE, LE SAMOURAI and LE CERCLE ROUGE. I could go on, but I'm boring myself now.
What was your sacred cow of the 80s? If it's THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY I'll have to hurt you.
I have seen In the Heat of the Night a half dozen times, and it gets better with each viewing. I think it's the movie that shows the true measure of Sidney Poitier, because most actors would have been invisible next to Rod Steiger.
Three good choices. GET CARTER is my favorite of the three, though it's been a while and I may have to watch POINT BLANK again.
ITHOTN stands apart as not just a great crime movie, but an important movie.
One of my favorites from the seventies is Monte Hellman's COCKFIGHTER based on the Willeford book and staring the great Warren Oates. You can't not love it.
Oh hell yes. Anything with Warren Oates is an automatic inclusion.
I had completely forgotten about COCKFIGHTER, but it was a great movie, very evocative of the 1970s.
Russel, I did a blog on my own website some time back about my favorite film noir classics from 1970-present (I also did one on pre-1970 noirs). You might want to check it out and see if you agree.
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