Learn the Art of the Grift From Films by K A Laity

Anne Billson, Crime Fiction, Films, Jim Thompson, K A Laity, Nightmare Alley, Punk Noir Magazine

thesting

Crime Reads posted ‘10 of the Greatest Con Artist Films of All-Time’ which might better be called ’10 Con Artist Films I Have Seen’ – only joking (or am I?). Well, in any case as I am sad over Tim Brooke-Taylor dying let me distract myself by suggesting a few other films you might want to see about con artists. First, a couple he mentioned:

THE STING (1973)

Jobb calls this the ‘granddaddy’ of con artist films which I guess makes me an ancient wood witch of untellable age (quite possibly true). One of the things I would add to this being a fine film that holds up well to re-watching (quite true) is that it is largely swiped from the brilliant non-fiction book by David Maurer, The Big Con. I’ve written about it before and it’s well worth reading if you are at all interested in the con, the games and the beautiful language of it.

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988)

Any one who talks about this film and does not give full props to the amazing Glenne Headley is missing the reason it works beyond admittedly funny set pieces like Ruprecht. The real art of the con is where you’re not looking.

But wait, there’s more!

THE LADY EVE (1941)

You want to actually go back in time a little: this is a superb film you need to memorise every line of dialogue from. Preston Sturges is rightly praised for his direction and infallible comic timing. Casting, too, is a real skill: Barbara Stanwyck is *chef’s kiss* and Henry Fonda never more charming. William Demarest! Charles Coburn! Fast-talking, con-pulling, ruse-using delight.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947)

You know I was going to bring this up. The spook racket is a great con. Read more here. In short, creepy, scary, scarring – and the almost-childlike delight Stanton gets when he realises for the first time he has the gift for grift. Magnetic. Yeah, Guillermo del Toro is doing a remake. I’m anxious. Cate Blanchett gives me hope.

THE THIRD MAN (1949)

The three cats are the real clue as Anne Billson would tell you. Everybody quotes the cuckoo clock speech, which is a lie itself and misdirection, which is Lime all over. Lime is a profiteer, whose effects his pal Martins belatedly sees. Again, a superb cast makes every frame of this gorgeously shot film sing. Carol Reed and Robert Krasker shoot Graham Greene’s story better than even he might have imagined and of course Alex Karas’ soundtrack is indelible.

THE MUSIC MAN (1957)

The grift in song: consider it a palate cleanser between old Hollywood and new.

 

PAPER MOON (1973)

There was something in the water that year. Oh, maybe it was in the White House! Anyway grifters were on the mind of America. This film: I can’t stand Ryan O’Neal even before I heard what a louse he was. He was the vacuum at the center of an otherwise stellar rebirth of screwball in WHAT’S UP, DOC? But this film is sublime, mostly due to his daughter Tatum and the comic grace of Madeline Kahn.

THE HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)

It’s easy to overdose on Mamet’s macho hard guys. Lindsay Crouse’s cool, controlled shrink makes this magic. Oh also the late Ricky Jay. Magnificence. Joe Mantegna plays the edges of his character with superb flexion and Crouse watches him with such fascination and admiration that he never suspects there’s something more to her. Great cameo from William H. Macy.

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

You already know this. It is amazing that in such a stellar and hilarious cast Kevin Kline still manages to be above and beyond.

THE GRIFTERS (1990)

Brutal three-hander based on the disturbingly Oedipal Jim Thompson novel that brings the magnificent Anjelica Huston into direct walloping competition with Annette Bening over an over-his-head John Cusack. The slick screenplay by Donald E. Westlake puts the best of the novel into Stephen Frears’ hands and he runs with it. Delightful cast, right down the line to Pat Hingle, J.T. Walsh, Charles Napier, Xander Berkeley, and Juliet Landau as the young Lily.

Get educated. There’s loads more, but this is enough to get you rolling.

 

K A LAITY IS GETTING AWAY WITH IT HERE

k a laity noir

John Wisniewski interviews Maxim Jakubowski

Anthology, David Goodis, Films, International Noir, Interviews, Jim Thompson, John Wisniewski, Maxim Jakubowski, Mike Hodges, Pulp, Punk Noir Magazine, True Brit Grit, Writing

JW: When did you begin your career as a writer /editor of pulp writing,  Maxim?

MJ: I never meant to specifically be involved in what you term ‘pulp’. From early childhood I was an avid reader and quickly found out that I actually wanted to write stories and all followed from there. My early tastes (and career) were for science fiction and fantasy, although I also read a lot of crime and I began publishing my first stories in magazines in France, where I was then living, from the age of 16. But because I was bilingual I read and was aware of what was being written in English and one day convinced a Paris publishing house to allow me to edit a volume of the latest in British SF, and that became my first anthology.

JW: Any favourite pulp writers?

MJ: Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Fritz Leiber, many of which I Iater had the opportunity to publish when I began work in publishing per se 

JW: What makes a good crime/suspense novel?

MJ: If I knew, I would have written it. As it is I keep trying again and again and as soon as a new novel of mine is published, I realise I can do better and start another! It’s very much in the eye of the beholder, the right alchemical blend of locale, characters, plot and feelings.

JW: What did you think of the film version of Get Carter? Do crime novels tend to make good films, when adapted? 

MJ: I’m a great fan of it (and actually director Mike Hodges is a good friend of mine; and I published his first novel a few years back). Although it differs greatly from the book which is equally good. Generally I prefer original scripts to book adaptations, but a few do stand out like Carter or Falling Angel or turn out even better in the case of The Godfather, which maybe points to the fact that mediocre books can make great movies while important ones do not, as they already occupy a level which even film at its best can’t reach.

JW: Are there any writers that you could tell would become a huge successes through their early writing? 

MJ. Lots of new writers have impressed me immensely; even more so as for past 6 years I’ve been a judge for the Crime Writers’ Association First Novel Dagger so seen a lot of debuts, but as to predict who is going to be ‘big’, so much depends on marketing spend and promo publishers allow it and the unpredictable quirks of the book trade. Have spent most of my life in book publishing and all too aware that quality is not always the issue. Right now my two tips for the future are Chris Whitaker and Lou Berney but who knows if they will make it big. 

JW: Do you have a new collection of stories that you are editing, Maxim? 

MJ: Am currently editing the 3rd volume in what I hope will become a regular series of anthologies, each on a different mystery theme, for US publishers Mango. First one, Historical, has just been published. Next, Amateur Sleuths and Private Eyes is delivered and out in autumn and now working on 3rd, Impossible Crimes and Puzzling Deaths, for 2020. And my fairly major general crime anthology Invisible Blood appears in UK and USA next month, with stories from many of the biggest names in the genre, including a new Jack Reacher tale by Lee Child. 

I had taken 4 years off editing anthologies as I was busy on a series of books outside the genre, eleven in all, most of which made the Sunday Times bestseller lists, albeit under a pseudonym.

MAXIM JAKOWSKI’S WIKIPEDIA PAGE IS HERE.

Maxim

2 From Jake Hinkson by Paul D. Brazill

Albert Camus, All Due Respect, Blue Collar Noir, Crime Fiction, Euro Noir, France, International Noir, Italy, Jake Hinkson, Jim Thompson, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

jake hinkson 2

THE DEEPENING SHADE

An alcoholic cop, a Jesus freak, a pregnant homeless teenager, a stripper, a cop in debt to a gangster, and the manager of a fast food joint who is in the wrong place at the wrong time are all  part of the rich and varied cast of characters in The Deepening Shade, Jake Hinkson’s superlative short story collection.

The writing is vivid, lyric and brutal. The stories are powerful and involving. The characters are human, all too human.

Every story in this collection is a gem but standouts for me were Makers And Coke, Night Terrors, The Serpent Box and Our Violence.

The Deepening Shade

HELL ON CHURCH STREET

Paul is a troublemaker. A rough and ready kind of guy, he loses his job in a Mississippi plastics factory after getting into a fight with the Foreman.

So, he hits the road and ends up in Texaco. Running low on cash, he decides to rob a fat man and steal his car. But things don’t go to plan.
The fat man introduces himself as Geoffrey Webb and he tells the harrowing story of his time as a youth minister at a small Baptist church in Arkansas and his seemingly inevitable descent into something painfully close to a literal hell as his life spirals out of control and ever downward.
Hell On Church Street  is Jake Hinkson’s impressively confident debut novel and it is simply magnificent.
An incredibly dark but richly hued blend of Jim Thompson‘s brand of noir and Camus’ The Fall, Hell On Church Street is both gripping and chilling. Beautifully written, perfectly paced and full of harsh insights into the innate duplicity (and self-duplicity) of human beings. Absolutely brilliant.
Hell On Church Street is currently out of print in English but hopefully this will be rectified soon. However, it is, along with more of Jake Hinkson‘s books, available in Italian and  French
Hell On Chirch Street in French

Short Story in a Song/ Noir Songs: Richard Harris—MacArthur Park by Graham Wynd

Graham Wynd, Jim Thompson, Jim Webb, K A Laity, Music, Noir, Noir Songs, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Story In A Song

 

 

For some, the opening notes of ‘MacArthur Park’ provoke joy—for others panic, especially if it’s on a tinny car radio and there’s no escape for the next seven minutes. Songwriter Jimmy Webb has said many times that he’s given misleading answers to the perpetual question of just what the hell this mock epic pop song is all about.

 

‘My fallback position after all these years is I will tell you that I’ve told deliberately false stories to people.’

 

One of the reasons for his coyness on the question might be the murderous history behind it. Inspired by reading too many Jim Thompson novels (always a bad idea) after a bad break up, Webb sought to put himself into the mind of a serial killer. He chose MacArthur for its association with gruesome murders, but the more direct inspiration came from the so-called ‘trash-bag murders’ (never mind that the victims were all young men and boys) making headlines in mid-60s Los Angeles.

 

Instead Webb imagined a killer desperate to control an elusive woman and unable to do so, killing her. In spring—a time of renewal—he was burning ‘in love’s hot fevered iron’ as she ‘ran one step ahead’ or if she was wise, many steps. But he catches her. He keeps her ‘yellow cotton dress’ as a memento, remembers the life he squeezes out of her like the chirps of birds, ‘tender babies in your hands’—transferring the act of murder to her hands instead of his own. The old men playing checkers offers a winking nod to Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal (of course death and the crusader play chess but that doesn’t scan).

 

It’s his first murder and he is sentimentally attached to its memory: ‘there will be another song’ for him, another dream, another murder, but this one will remain important: ‘after all the loves of my life / You’ll still be the one.’ Cold comfort for her after he has drunk the wine while it was warm (a hint of cannibalism or at least haematophagy). For the narrator his power grows with each murderous thought: ‘I will take my life into my hands and I will use it’ seems to suggest that the lives he lusts for belong to him. By killing he ‘win[s] worship in their eyes’ and yet as he extinguishes the life his sorrow returns, for ‘I will lose it’. He has to repeat the act, vowing ‘I will have the things that I desire’ completing his rendering of the women into mere objects that he will claim.

 

The famous surreal chorus is the moment of his psychic break. All reality slips sideways. The grass melts. The cake (his sanity) dissolves in the rain, a repetition of the moment when he decided murder was the only way to keep her forever. The knowledge of his horrible act returns (‘I don’t think that I can take it’) and just as fiercely gets thrust away (‘Oh no!’) again and again.

 

The orchestration and Richard Harris’ impassioned delivery sell the morbid tale with all the trappings of romance and heartbreak (rather like the film version of Hughes’ In a Lonely Place), building sympathy for a cold-hearted killer. Or I just dreamed it.

Find out more about GRAHAM WYND here.

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