RIP James Garner.  I’ve discussed his iconic role as Jim Rockford before.  Garner’s demise has prompted to revisit an undervalued cinematic role, however, as Philip Marlowe in 1969’s Marlowe.  Based on Chandler’s The Little Sister, Marlowe probably resembles Mannix a bit more than The Rockford Files.

"You take this back to your leader, Mr. Wong.  Tell him you met the last of a dying dynasty: King of the Fools.  Unassailably virtuous, invariably broke."

I’m not sure if Marlowe was unassailably virtuous (see my previous musings on Marlowe), but Marlowe certainly captures Chandler telegraphic cadence, even in the Swingin’ Sixties.  

With Garner’s death, the only living actor to have portrayed Marlowe on the big screen is Elliott Gould (from Robert Altman’s brilliant but decidedly not Chandleresque The Long Goodbye).  Several small-screen Marlowes (Powers Boothe, Danny Glover, Jason O’Mara from the never-shown ABC pilot) are still with us.  I’d say its high time for more Marlowe adaptations—good ones, dammit.

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Pencil Thin Moustache

"I wish I had a pencil thin mustache," sang Jimmy Buffett.  He wanted “the Boston Blackie kind.”  It’s hard for me to fault with old Jimmy.  He was a helluva songwriter before he decided to helm the floating fantasy island that his concert tour has become.  

I guess I found fault with him.  But not for wanting the moustache.  Or for the song, a general ode to nostalgia.  It’s all charming.

But I don’t want a pencil thin moustache.  I have one.  They say a pencil moustache is villainous.  Tell that to Boston Blackie.  They say a pencil moustache is effeminate.  Tell that to Sonny Liston.  

No, their objections aren’t worth a damn and I have a pencil thin moustache.  Wasn’t easy at first.  I tried a long time to get it right.  Now that it’s right, it stays right.  It’s easy.  It’s neatly trimmed, and slants down from under my nose to end in a sharp point on either side.  I’ve gotten comparisons to Clark Gable.  It’s more David Niven or William Powell.  But it was meant as a compliment, so I took it as one.

It looks good under a fedora or over a bow tie.  With a pipe jutting out just beyond it.  I keep it sharp and it keeps me sharp.  

I don’t wish I had a pencil thin moustache.  I don’t need to.  

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causeiloveto said: I have very briefly read/skimmed some of your pieces on here and I just want to say that they're fantastic. :3 The way you control/use tone is quite refreshing. Can you recommend any excellent novels for someone who hasn't read much Noir, but wants to?

Thank-you for your kind words.  I’m really just playing around, trying to approximate the tone of an earlier era while I blow off steam.  And there has been a great deal of steam to blow off recently.

I actually read a great deal more hardboiled fiction than noir, though these distinct categories are frequently collapsed into one (I suppose my username is guilty of doing just that).  I have sketched the differences previously, and I think there is gold to be mined in both hardboiled and noir.

Raymond Chandler is the master of hardboiled fiction, and his rough-but-righteous private detective Philip Marlowe set the gold standard for hardboiled fiction.  I’d say start with his first novel, The Big Sleep, and go from there.  I’m also partial to John D. MacDonald’s beach bum-philosopher and unlicensed private eye Travis McGee.  Each McGee novel can be read by itself, but the series starts with The Deep Blue Good-by.  MacDonald also wrote standalone novels that are also excellent.

James M. Cain is to noir what Chandler is to hardboiled.  Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice are quintessential noir: a corrupt man willingly led astray, bringing about his own destruction.  Elmore Leonard (Out of Sight, Rum Punch) writes grimly ironic noir, and James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere) tells concisely sprawling, gritty noir epics usually centered on the LA police department.  I think Ellroy’s telegraphically terse prose with his flawed characters makes for a great blend of hardboiled and noir.  

But I think the best combination probably comes from Dorothy B. Hughes, one of the few notable women in the midcentury hardboiled/noir school.  She uses hardboiled characters in noir plots to brilliant effect.  Hughes’ In a Lonely Place is a great place to start.

And readers, as always, feel free to chime in with recommendations.

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Languid

We were debating music criticism.  A lot of people have been the past week.  I’m generally in favor of any criticism.  He handed me an album.  On top was a magazine clipping.  A review by a critic he liked.  The folksinger was called “gorgeously languid.”  It struck a chord.

Languid.  Means slow.  I’m pretty damn slow lately.  But not languid.  Sure as hell not gorgeous.  I’m glacial.  Fatigued.  Stalled.  Drained.  Sapped.  I’ve languished.  But I didn’t end up languid. I’m stuck, and the wheels were spinning.  Now the gears are grinding to a stop.

Languid.  It sounds effortless.  Languid.  And still gorgeous.  Things had been hectic.  Things had been ugly.  I was hectic and ugly.  I reached for the record.  I needed gorgeous.  I needed languid.  

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While we’re on the subject of Bond continuation novels, William Boyd’s Solo is the most recent.  The previous installment was the lamentable Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver—the best thing about it is a cocktail recipe, unnamed in the book but referred to as a Carte Blanche despite other drinks with that name.  Unlike Carte Blanche, Boyd’s Solo mercifully spares us the details of Bond’s iPhone.
Solo is set in 1969, several years after The Man with the Golden Gun (Fleming’s final, posthumously published, Bond novel).  It was good to see 007 navigating Cold War politics again (why don’t the moviemakers try that out?), but Solo deviates from the Fleming mold in other ways.
Unlike Kingsley Amis, Boyd does not embrace genre fiction.  Instead, Solo seems more like James Bond as written by John Updike.  Boyd gives us a more literary, introspective Bond.  Fleming’s heroes are surprisingly deep, though never at the expense of delivering a cracking potboiler.  Boyd’s plot is seemingly borrowed from John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink, and is not terribly compelling.  It serves to facilitate Bond’s navel-gazing, but not his heroics.  

While we’re on the subject of Bond continuation novels, William Boyd’s Solo is the most recent.  The previous installment was the lamentable Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver—the best thing about it is a cocktail recipe, unnamed in the book but referred to as a Carte Blanche despite other drinks with that name.  Unlike Carte Blanche, Boyd’s Solo mercifully spares us the details of Bond’s iPhone.

Solo is set in 1969, several years after The Man with the Golden Gun (Fleming’s final, posthumously published, Bond novel).  It was good to see 007 navigating Cold War politics again (why don’t the moviemakers try that out?), but Solo deviates from the Fleming mold in other ways.

Unlike Kingsley Amis, Boyd does not embrace genre fiction.  Instead, Solo seems more like James Bond as written by John Updike.  Boyd gives us a more literary, introspective Bond.  Fleming’s heroes are surprisingly deep, though never at the expense of delivering a cracking potboiler.  Boyd’s plot is seemingly borrowed from John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink, and is not terribly compelling.  It serves to facilitate Bond’s navel-gazing, but not his heroics.  

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Respite

It was cold.  It had been cold.  It would be cold for some time.  Wasn’t much I could do about that.  It was a cold winter.  I could bitch, sure.  But I better get used to it.  It was a cold life.  That wasn’t gonna change either.  And I wasn’t hoping for any change.

I was hoping to smoking a cigar.  Even though it was too cold.  Not much of an excuse.  It would always be too cold.  So I lit up a stogie and sat down.  The day was overcast and about 35,  Wind that stung bare hands.  But nothing was going to break my date with my own vices.  So I puffed away.  The thick smoke matched the hazy sky.  Just doing my part to contribute to the atmosphere.  

The cigar was a companion I needed.  But we weren’t alone.  Philip Marlowe was there, too.  In a wrinkled old paperback.  The Long Goodbye.  I had already read it, but I didn’t want the goodbye to be that long.  Plus, I needed Marlowe.  No alpha male, that Marlowe.  Not the smartest, either.  Just stubborn in a cold world.  Refused to give up.  I understood him out there.  And I think he would have understood me.

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Here it is.  The first Bond continuation novel.  After Ian Fleming’s death in 1964, his estate released several previously unreleased works by Fleming, and then commissioned Kingsley Amis to write a new Bond novel.  Amis, always a fan of literate potboilers, was happy to oblige.  Amis wrote under the pseudonym Robert Markham, though his involvement in the project was common knowledge.  

Colonel Sun may be the closest of any Bond continuation novel to Fleming’s original work, though I’d reserve that honor for Sebastian Faulks’ panned (but enjoyable) Devil May Care.  Still, Colonel Sun is an important bit of prose for Bond fans, and vastly exceeds many of the subsequent Bond continuation novels.

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The local radio station was talking about this song the other day.  The deejay (do they still call them that?) said it reminded her of film noir.  I wasn’t sure how.  But it’s a damn good song.  Can’t beat Nick Waterhouse for vintage musical stylings.  And “Dead Room” sounds like a noirish song title, if I’ve ever heard one.  

Eh, not everything retro is noir.  Though “Dead Room” does have a grimy directness that’s not far from pulp.  But don’t think about it too much.  Just enjoy the damn song.

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Don’t tell a book by its cover, they say.  Well, sometimes it works.  Mike Dime’s cover obviously apes classic pulp art without quite achieving the same quality.  And Barry Fantoni’s prose is pretty much the same.  Mike Dime is pure PI pastiche.  The book can be funny, and you know what they say about imitation and flattery.  But Fantoni is a skilled mimic rather than a master.

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Today is the great Mickey Spillane’s 96th birthday.  (He was born 9 March 1918.)  Spillane was the king of hardboiled, double-fisted, anti-communist scribes.  Maybe that isn’t so popular anymore.  But the realm of hardboiled fiction would be a lot poorer without Spillane’s (and Mike Hammer’s) unambiguous, unironic (and sometimes unintentionally over-the-top) masculinity.  Make what you want of Spillane’s politics, he’s one of the hardboiled greats.

Speaking of great, a great way to spend Spillane’s birthday with him is to check out the 1963 film The Girl Hunters, where Spillane plays Hammer.  Which is to say, Spillane plays himself.  The films itself is not great.  Spillane’s performance is not iconic by any means, but it is memorable for being one of the very few times an author has played his literary creation on screen.

Sure, Kiss Me Deadly is a far better film (and much farther from its source material).  But Spillane-as-Hammer is worth checking out.  And the ripe Shirley Eaton is certainly worth checking out, a year before Goldfinger suffocated Jill Masterson.  Eaton’s role as in The Girl Hunters as Laura Knapp is considerably less iconic, but certainly adds to the film’s appeal.  

This is pulp fiction on the screen.  Blunt, lurid, unpretentious.  The Girl Hunters is hard to find on DVD (it used to be on youtube, though no more).  But it is available to stream free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime.  It’s hardly a classic, but worth a look.

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