“HOLLYWOOD.” An episode of Law & Order: LA, 29 September 2010. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Skeet Ulrich, Corey Stoll, Regina Hall, Wanda De Jesus, Alfred Molina. Guest Cast: Shawnee Smith, John Patrick Amedori, Danielle Panabaker, Wyatt Russell, Jessica Lu.
Created by Dick Wolf; developed by Blake Masters. Director: Allen Coulter.

   Actually there was only one season. The series was a mess, and half the cast disappeared before it was over, to be replaced partway through by an entirely new group of attorneys and police detectives. It was a spinoff of the original Law & Order, which had just finished its 20-year run the previous spring.

   I will let anyone who knows more about the problems the series had go ahead and talk about them in the comments. I’ve not seen any more of the series than this first episode, and I confess that I simply wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening back then. (All I know is what I read online using Google.)

   The setting of the first episode was of course a natural, that being Hollywood, which is probably the first place people think of when they think of L.A. They didn’t have to think too hard to come up with a plot, even though it turns out to be a complicated one. The essence, though, is the convoluted relationship a young female actress slash party girl has with her mother, who has been guiding her and mentoring her and (no surprise) trading in on her daughter’s notoriety and fame for quite some time.

   What I really wanted to bring up again, following Michael Shonk’s recent article about 30-minute TV dramas, is that this first episode of Law & Order: LA is only 40 minutes long, after the commercials have been removed. In this case, forty minutes was simply not long enough, especially for a first episode.

   With both cops and later on lawyers involved, not to mention a story to tell, plus a lot of people who are interviewed by the police or otherwise connected to the case, there is little chance for any of them to get more than two minutes at a time of screen time. When the show was over, I knew who did it and why, but of the primary players, I couldn’t even have told you their characters’ names (or the stars’ names either, for that matter; I didn’t recognize any but one of them). One of the leading suspects was on screen for his two minutes early on, and when his character was brought back into it again toward the end, I barely remembered seeing him before.

   The actors have to talk fast to get all of the story in, too fast for me most of the time, and the locations are switched so quickly they have to identified by the equivalent of silent film insert cards. It’s an approach that works fine when viewers have been watching a series for many years, but not for a very first episode of a spinoff, already cramped for time. Not for me, anyway.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE JAYHAWKERS. Paramount Pictures, 1959. Jeff Chandler, Fess Parker, Nicole Maurey, Henry Silva, Herbert Rudley, Frank DeKova, Don Megowan, Leo Gordon. Director: Melvin Frank.

   The Jayhawkers, a late 1950s Western set in Bleeding Kansas, doesn’t have the most unique plot. Although the score by Jerome Moross is quite memorable and can be listened to here, the film’s cinematography isn’t all that captivating. And while Melvin Frank’s direction is perfectly adequate, his workmanship isn’t really Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher territory.

   So what makes The Jayhawkers – at least in my estimation – really worth watching? The characters.

   Well, one character in particular. The villain. His name: Luke Darcy. Modeled, at least in part, on abolitionist firebrand John Brown, Darcy is skillfully portrayed by Jeff Chandler in such a manner that it’s next to impossible to conceive any other actor having the role. Sometimes an actor seems as if he were just destined for the part. That’s certainly the case here.

   To appreciate The Jayhawkers, you really have to consider the film as primarily a character study of Luke Darcy rather than as a standard drama set on the eve of the Civil War. Darcy’s an imposing man, both by height and temperament. A psychologically nuanced figure rather than a caricature, he devours the classic texts of strategy and warfare, drinks red wine, and chases women. And he’s got a grandiose future planned. He’s going to be the authoritarian ruler of an independent Kansas, a tall Napoleon on the wide Prairie.

   Darcy’s not invincible, however. He’s got an Achilles Heel. He is pathologically afraid of being caught and hanged by the authorities. Nothing frightens him so much as the image – one he seems to play out repeatedly in his own mind – of him dangling, lifeless from the end of a rope. He finds the whole notion sickening, a disgusting clownish spectacle for the masses. It is little character details like this that makes Darcy a unique, if at times almost sympathetic, villain.

   But make no mistake about it. He is a villain and has done some horrible things in his time. For instance, he is responsible for seducing and abandoning another man’s wife. That man, Cam Bleeker (Fess Parker) makes it his mission to find and to kill Darcy. But things get complicated along the way.

   Rounding out the cast: Nicole Maurey as Cam’s potential love interest and Henry Silva as one of Darcy’s hired gunmen. All told, it’s a better than average Western, one that benefits greatly from Chandler’s imposing presence and his ability to convey a quiet rage that lurks just beneath a man’s seemingly calm and controlled surface.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


FATHER BROWN. BBC, UK, 2013 to date. 35 episodes. Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price, Hugo Speer, Tom Chambers. Created by Rachel Flowerday and Tahin Guner. Inspired by the stories of G. K. Chesterton.

   So, Father Dowling — no, wait, this one is British and there is no cute nun — Father Brown, that’s right Father Brown, is watching this couple making out; Father Brown is climbing over a fence; Father Brown has been poisoned; Father Brown has a broken leg and is being held hostage by a killer policeman; Father Brown pretends madness to go undercover in an asylum; Father Brown is trapped beneath a castle in a dungeon; Father Brown has to stop a bomb …

   Father Brown (Mark Williams) has a nosy housekeeper (Sorcha Cusack), a randy aristocrat friend (Nancy Carroll), her semi-honest roguish chauffer (Alex Price), a full time parish in Kembleford in the Cotswolds (where there are more murders than Chicago and Miss Marple’s St. Mary’s Mead combined) at St. Mary’s, and two policeman whose lives he is the bane of (Hugo Speer and Tom Chambers who replaced him).

   Father Brown is tall, hardy, and about as meek as a truck driver.

   Father Brown wouldn’t know a paradox if it hit him with a lorry.

   They have actually adapted a few stories by Chesterton. Not that you would know it unless you looked at the title, the only thing vaguely resembling Chesterton.

   That awful television movie with Barnard Hughes was better than this. Walter Connally’s wholly miscast Father Brown was better. Kenneth More, seemingly miscast, was brilliant as was Alec Guiness, also seemingly miscast. Mark Williams is just miscast. It is difficult for a man his size to appear to be a meek, blinking, slightly pudgy, and unassuming priest with the power of an Old Testament prophet. This Father Brown has the power of a Jessica Fletcher.

   The time is the 1950’s, God knows why since the stories end twenty years before that. Father Brown, who traveled extensively in the stories, is a parish priest and served in WWII. He deals with ex-Nazis and refugees and once with radiation poisoning. He seldom leaves Kembleford and his church, St. Mary’s. No one much respects him. Flambeau has a British accent, they couldn’t be bothered to hire an actor who could at least fake a French accent.

   You know it isn’t Chesterton because communist and atheists tend to turn out to be innocent. You know it isn’t Agatha Christie because the young lovers almost never turn out to be the murderers.

   This Father Brown never rises to the occasion. He never blinks behind his spectacles while transformed into a figure of Biblical strength. He never simply observes because he knows human nature and intuits the truth. He is never for one instant of film Chesterton’s priest in anything but name.

   It’s an attractive enough series, and I might like it if it wasn’t the only Father Brown we will get. The actors are personable, and the mysteries no worse than usual, but of course it could be so much more, and instead it is, as I said, “Murder, He Prayed.”

   If you are not an admirer of Chesterton’s stories you may not get why I feel such rancor for this unassuming little series. Try to imagine though they made a situation comedy out of The Great Gatsby. Try imagining they cast Pee Wee Herman as Sherlock Holmes. Try to imagine that the only Shakespeare there was to read was the Lamb’s version.

   You are not going to get good television from people incapable of respecting their source. You are going to get this, a series that disappoints week after week, hints at Chesterton (admittedly not easy to film though the More series did it), but never fulfills the promise. You get what seldom happens on series shown on PBS, the lowest common denominator, just like network television.

   This one wasn’t even designed to be shown at night in England. It was an afternoon series according to Wikipedia.

   This might have worked despite all that if they respected the original in any way, if they understood what made Chesterton’s stories work, what made Father Brown a rival of Sherlock Holmes — the rival of Sherlock Holmes.

   This Father Brown isn’t even a rival of Jessica Fletcher.

   If you like it despite all that, fine. But don’t kid yourself that anyone connected to this ever read a single Father Brown story and understood it or what gave it power. Father Brown the comic book would be better.

RAYMOND KHOURY – The Devil’s Elixir. Dutton, hardcover, December 2011. Signet, premium paperback edition, August 2012.

   This is the third in a series featuring FBI agent Sean Reilly and his close lady friend, Tess Chaykin, who’s been along with him on his two previously recorded adventures, neither of which I’ve read, nor did I need to. This one stands on its own very well.

   In physical size, the book’s a bruiser. It’s over 500 pages of tall premium paperback pages long, almost all of cramjack filled with small print, and after a month or so of short reading bursts just before bedtime, I’ve finally finished it. It begins with Michelle Martinez, one of Reilly’s former girl friends calling on him for help. Her boy friend is dead in a house invasion, but she and her four-year-old son luckily managed to escape their assailants, a gang of guys with guns completely unknown to her.

   Reilly rushes cross-country to be at her side, which is when she tells him that her son is his. After that, all hell breaks loose. A Mexican crime lord is trying to track down the formula for a wildly hallucinogenic drug discovered centuries ago by Indians dwelling deep in Mexico’s densest inland jungles. Hence the title of the book, of course.

   Let me not dwell on the 500 pages this book is long. Khoury’s writing style is one that can be skimmed read very quickly. There is a lot of action, ending in many deaths and much destruction, and before you reach the end, any doubts you have have about the existence of reincarnation will be shaken to the core. Well, maybe.

   I hope I won’t be spoiling anything for you by telling you that all ends well, except for the bad guys and one loose end that will carry over to the next book in the series. My one complaint might be that after so many pages, the end for the main bad guy, a particularly nasty gentleman at that, comes far too quickly and easily.

   All in all, though, I’d have to say that I got my money’s worth from this book. But while it’s solid enough entertainment — nearly a month’s worth, for me — here I am at the end of this review, and I find that I’m struggling with something crucial. I can’t find anything to point out to you about the book that would tell you why I’ll be reading another of Sean Reilly’s adventures any time soon, for I’m sure I won’t. If your results have varied, feel free to let me know.

INTRODUCTION: The following discussion between Michael Shonk and Randy Cox has been taking place mostly in secret, as a series of comments following a review, of all things, a sci-fi movie called The Monolith Monsters. The discourse changed, as it sometimes does, into a conversation about TV viewing in the past and carrying over into the future.

I thought the exchange interesting and even important enough to rescue from a comments section already several days old and in an out of the way place where no one would be likely to come across it. Please read and enjoy, and feel free to respond on your own, if you wish.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 1:16 pm e

Randy, I am sure Steve doesn’t mind us using this place to have a virtual email exchange:)

I remember back in the 70s when I memorized the TV schedule and made sure to watch every show at least once.

Now I rarely watch TV series on TV. I find my favorites and buy season pass at iTunes. Many of the new series offer the premiere episode for free there so I pay less and less attention to what is on TV tonight. At the moment I am considering either Netflix or Hulu to add to Acorn for streaming TV series so I can watch whatever I want to watch depending on my mood.

There is some great stuff on TV today no matter what your taste. I buy season passes for BLACKLIST, JUSTIFIED, PERSON OF INTEREST (speaking of comic books), and SHERLOCK (whenever its on). I watch regularly ARCHER, DOCTOR WHO, and VENTURE BROTHERS (whenever it is on). Acorn gives me a better and more up to date British fix than PBS and BBC America. YouTube offers me the past. I just finished watch season one of MR ROSE and now am watching ADAM ADAMANT. My TV offers me sports and the El Rey network.

TV has never been better…I just don’t watch much of it on my TV.

Randy Cox Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 4:29 pm e

Michael,

While I still watch some TV shows on TV I have found that I am able to enjoy them more fully on DVD. The lack of commercial breaks helps me to concentrate on the story.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 6:39 pm e

I have DVDs as well, heck I have three DVD players, one with a VCR. I did have to adjust to the lack of commercial breaks, especially if the show aired on the Big 4. Shows that air on commercials networks are written differently from movies or those on networks such as HBO. Every commercial break demands a mini climax and tease to hook you and get you to stay and wait for the show to return. Even without the breaks on the DVD the story still has them. The TV shows on networks with no commercials can tell a story with a pace and structure that increases the drama rather that make artificial stops to keep the audience from straying. It is one of the seldom mentioned and lesser reason shows such as GAMES OF THRONES work better on HBO and suffers if copied by any major commercial network.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

I have also discovered that I can fall asleep just as easily in front of a DVD story as a TV show.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 6:30 pm e

Michael, I’ve been working my way through the 1966-71 Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows via Netflix. I guess you certainly can’t call it a decent story and the acting is only so-so. Steve was once tempted by a deal for getting the entire series in one chunk. If he succumbed we haven’t heard about it.

I watch a few episodes and then take a break.

michael Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:10 pm e

I remember DARK SHADOWS. i grew up in a neighborhood of about a dozen and a half kids my age. One summer we would all run inside to watch DARK SHADOWS. Then school demanded our time again and I never saw another DARK SHADOWS.

Binge viewing, watching multiple episodes of the same TV series, is nothing new. We did it with VCRs and once holiday TV marathons (such as Thanksgiving of TWILIGHT ZONE) became popular. But it seems so easier on streaming. It really gives you the feel and rhythm of the series that you miss waiting a week or more between episodes.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:58 pm e

I was really a fan of Dark Shadows in its day, but I could only see it during vacations and breaks from the college where I worked. One of the first episodes I saw was the one that introduced Barnabas Collins and I also remember the very last episode where they lampooned the show with the final voiceover that said that investigation proved this was no werewolf after all, but just a wild animal.

I saw a few episodes when it was syndicated and I remember seeing a few of the VHS copies of episodes and thinking that to collect those was madness because there were more than 1,200 episodes. Then came DVDs and I came upon a collection of the very first episodes before Barnabas Collins and bought it thinking it might be fun to see how it all began.

At some point I came to my senses and realized that to get all of the dvds would be expensive and (as my brother said) I might not want to watch them more than once. So I started subscribing to Netflix. Each disc has 10 episodes and that’s enough. I need frequent breaks because I lose track of the story, even with the aid of good episode guide.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

Michael,
I should probably add that I turned 30 when Dark Shadows began so there was none of this “running home from school to watch” that I read about so much. I started watching mainly because one of the actresses was from my state of Minnesota and would be mentioned in the entertainment column of one of the Twin Cities newspapers. I tried one episode and was not impressed, but the one I tried sometime later that ended with a hand reaching out of a coffin to grip Willie by the neck was memorable!

You mentioned SHERLOCK in number 32. The Brits don’t beat a good thing to death and there have been only 3 series with 3 episodes each. (I think another series is planned.) It’s fun to see how they will twist elements from the original stories to fit the 21st century.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 2:42 pm e

Much has been made about the difference between the e-book and print, but in reality it has not changed the basic way we read a book – words, sentences, chapters, etc.

The digital world has changed how we watch TV. And more is coming. From days of limited choices to a possible future that will offer us an unlimited number choices much like books do, from days when you had to adjust your schedule to fit your TV watching to days when you can watch nearly any TV series from any year whenever you fell like it. From small black and white only pictures to 60inch TV screens with Ultra HD 4K (and beyond). TV entertainment itself has changed from Ad agency run TV shows to independently made shows airing on YouTube.

The future of publishing has settled in and while the e-book will become an increasing popular format, print will survive.

It is the future of the visual medium, TV and film that are in chaos. How will viewers enjoy the visual programs of the future remains unknown.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 7:45 pm e

And what will be the next new thing?

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:33 pm e

Too many possibilities to be sure. Mobile and streaming seems to be where the money is heading.

A la carte cable will fail. One the political clout of the huge multi-corporations that own the networks (such as Comcast) will slow the process until the companies will be able to find a profit with that system or control its replacement system (most likely streaming which is cheaper). Two, why spend money for one network if you only watch one program? Logically the next step for cable providers if it wishes to survive is find a way to offer programs not networks in its packages.

The networks were created as a distributor of programming. It is a function not necessary anymore. This is why the corporations that own the networks (and CBS) are involved in cable networks and their own production studios. And why they, especially CBS, are interested in their own streaming services.

What will probably happen is the content providers will drop the middle man and sell directly to the viewer. Watch what happens to HBO Go and the CBS streaming that will start soon. It could be an early sign of the future demise of cable.

Free TV future is really hard to predict. The broadband its on is worth a fortune. Politically, it would be unwise for free TV to vanish – the poor and those who don’t want to pay for TV would be upset as well as the rich powerful people who own and run your local TV station. I see free TV following the example of free radio with nearly all live programming.

Who would have guessed what the cellphone did to the land phone?

The discussions I have read see the future home with a large 60 inch+ TV screen in the home’s living room. It will be connected to a box such as Apple TV which will connect you to all your mobile devices including video games and the single desktop computer you have in your bedroom. You will attach a sound system such as Bose for theatre like sound.

Programs will stream into the main TV or your mobile devices. Pictures will become more and more lifelike but will still try to keep the feel of film. Film will be like LP, where a small but supportive group keeps the format alive.

Movie theaters will survive, people will always need a place to go, but it needs to find some solutions to the major problems it faces. It needs to find a way to make a profit while lowering costs to the moviegoer, not only for the ticket but the popcorn and drinks as well.

There will be fewer theaters and bigger ones. The movie house needs to return to being an event (see today’s IMAX) and because of that the studios will continue to focus on the huge blockbusters and send its smaller movie stories to the local household via TV and streaming.

The technology can do all of this and more if the big money and politicians let it.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 pm e

It’s still a bit of a case of 99 channels and nothing’s on.

Regarding landline phones, I called on someone at his apartment complex and pushed the buttons beside his name at the door to tell him I was there and heard the voice tell me the number was not in service. I say down and waited and he soon came out to tell me the device didn’t work because he doesn’t have a landline phone.

I was watching the special features on a DVD and all the behind the scenes stuff. PBS makes specials out of this sort of thing to promote the new seasons and raise money. Sometimes the interviewees pat themselves on the back a little too much, but they certainly wouldn’t bad mouth their bread and butter.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 10:32 pm e

Randy, looking for something to watch in this possible TV future will offer more choices than a library has books. I have heard people tell me there is nothing to read, so you could be right.

NOTE: Michael and Randy continued their conversation briefly in its old location, unaware I had diverted it over here:

Randy Cox Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 12:22 pm e

Lots of choices require much thought and decision, maybe more than we have time to decide. Shows will be available in so many venues just like movies. You used to have to wait for a movie to show up on TV so you could see it again, then wait until it would be available on VHS then DVD. I remember someone telling me the waiting time between versions would someday be non existent and the DVD would be released along with the film premiere (maybe on the way out of the theater). Have we reached the point where a TV show could be launched and canceled in the same breath?

michael Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 4:09 pm e

Randy, movies and TV programming will remain separate as long as there are movie houses. The economic system of the two is different.

But I am sure you remember the direct to video movies of the past. Those are not as successful as in the past. Why, I am not sure, it may be caused by the increase in piracy. Why buy a cheap rip-off of the current hit film in the theaters when you can download the hit film itself.

The time between films and released on DVD and streaming has shorten perhaps due to piracy.

TV shows today are available to download on iTunes a day or two after the episode aired. It is one of the reasons the networks have pushed Nielsen to find a way to count us computer TV viewers.

For example, I buy a season pass at iTunes for TV series I would have bought the DVD. I bought the season pass for PERSON OF INTEREST shortly before the season premiered. Every week a day or so after the newest episode aired I am emailed letting me know it is ready to watch. If I were to wait for the DVD I would have to wait months after the season had ended.

TV programs have been cancelled after one episode. One of the most famous was TURN-ON (February 5, 1969 ABC). Tim Conway was the host and has joked the series was cancelled midway through the first episode.

Today, the Big Four networks are trying the direct to series route for some. MICHAEL J FOX SHOW was the most famous where no pilot was done and a full season of episodes were ordered.

Now a few of those such as Fox’s HIEROGLYPHICS that received a full season order was cancelled during filming without ever reaching the air.

PETER LOVESEY – Bertie and the Seven Bodies. Mysterious Press, US/UK, hardcover, 1990; paperback, US, 1991. Arrow, UK, paperback, 1991.

   Bertie in this case refers to Edward VII (1841 – 1910), but with the story taking place in 1890, when he was still Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to his mother, Queen Victoria. It is Peter Lovesey’s delightful conceit that Bertie, as he was commonly known, besides being a notorious playboy and philanderer, fancied himself as detective of some merit, even though the results are usually far off the mark, and quite amusingly so.

   A phase of his life, previously unrecorded, that continues the affair of the seven bodies, which takes place in an English manor where an array of English society has gathered for a weekend of shooting, perhaps the last of the season. But when the deaths start occurring, each tied to the day of the week, it is up to Bertie to solve the case before the police are called in. The scandal it would cause, you know, not to mention Bertie especially not wishing the story to reach the Queen’s non-approving ears.

   So not only is the story comic and light in nature, except for the deaths, of course, but Lovesey also makes sure the mystery is well-clued as it could be. Bertie and company come up with any number of explanations, which an appropriate of who the killer might be, all of them very convincing, only to have some small detail not fit, with the whole house of cards falling only to need another to be built up again.

   I hedged there at the beginning of the previous paragraph in my statement that the story is as well-clued as it could be. It is a minor tour de force for Lovesey to have constructed a tale with so many possible solutions, but the key to case is not discovered until page 209 of a 228 page book, and I challenge anyone to put the pieces of the plot together before then. But when everything falls into place as smoothly as it does here, all is forgiven.

   Highly recommended.

   The Albert Edward, Prince of Wales series –

      Novels –

Bertie and the Tinman (1987).
Bertie and the Seven Bodies (1990).
Bertie and the Crime of Passion (1993).

      Short stories (may be incomplete) —

Bertie and the Fire Brigade. Royal Crimes, Maxim Jakubowski & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, 1994.
Bertie and the Boat Race. Crime Through Time, Miriam Grace Monfredo & Sharan Newman, editors, 1997.

THE GETAWAY. National General Pictures, 1972. Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Al Lettieri, Slim Pickens, Richard Bright, Jack Dodson, Dub Taylor, Bo Hopkins. Screenplay by Walter Hill, based on the novel by Jim Thompson. Director: Sam Peckinpah.

   I’m going to disagree with Roger Ebert about the merits of this film. I think it’s terrific, a flawed masterpiece, if you will, and if you want to read all about the flaws, you can read Roger’s review, available online here. He seems to have picked up all of them.

   To tell you the truth, though, the first time I saw this movie, I was rather underwhelmed myself, but for two reasons that Roger doesn’t mention. Well, maybe three. I’d have to agree that Ali McGraw as never much of an actress, that Steve McQueen was always Steve McQueen in whatever movie he was in, and (playing My Grumpy here) the long sidebar with Sally Struther’s character (the wife of the veterinarian that McQueen’s fellow bank robber kidnaps to medicate his broken collarbone) was totally unnecessary and quite frivolous besides.

   The second time through, none of Roger’s quibbles mattered, nor any of mine as well. I enjoyed myself thoroughly all the way through. The photography is brilliant. The little bits of business tossed in here and there all came together, and the action is spectacular. It is not non-stop action, however, as the story takes the time to focus on the rocky romance that develops between the two leading characters for long stretches of time. And the ending was even more enjoyable the second time, maybe because of the anticipation. (If Slim Pickens ad-libbed his conversation between the runaway couple, as I’ve been told, my admiration for his ability as an actor is even higher.)

   I think Ali McGraw does everything that was asked of her, including not giving her a lot of dialogue. But the uncertainty in her face I saw the first time fit right into place the second time, as she does not know how Doc McCoy (McQueen) will react when he learns what she did in order to get him sprung from jail when after the parole board turns down an early release. And react he does, probably in a way that wouldn’t be permitted in a movie today.

   As for McQueen being McQueen, wasn’t Bogart always Bogart? Gable always Gable? Scott always Scott? McQueen’s presence on the screen is always a plus. What was I thinking? The business with Sally Struthers, well, I’m still not so sure about that, but in parallel and it contrast with the McCoys’ journey, I grew to accept it the second time around.

   The story, which I think it’s about time I got around to telling you about, is about a bank heist gone bad, and the problems that result when both big things and little things go bad. Mostly big things, such as having a con man steal the key of the train locker containing the loot, and hiding in a grbage dumpster just before the truck comes along to pick it up.

   This movie’s in my top twenty now, no doubt about it.



JIM THOMPSON – The Getaway. Signet #1584, paperback original, 1959. Reprints include: Bantam, paperback, movie tie-in edition, 1973. Black Lizard, softcover, 1984.

   I don’t own a copy of the Signet book; in fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a copy. (The least expensive one on abebooks.com is $60.) For some reason, and I’m not sure why I thought this, but I’ve had it in my head all these years that the Bantam edition which I’ve just read (after watching the film) was a paperback adaptation of the movie. Wrong. It was just the opposite. The movie was based on the Signet paperback published in 1959.

   And surprisingly enough, within the restrictions of big studio movie-making, the adaptation is reasonably well done. Up to a point, that is, and I’ll get back to that shortly.

   But the Doc McCoy in the book is a killer as well a bank robber, and a vicious one at that. There’s no way that Steve McQueen could play a villain as cold-blooded as his character is in the novel. In the movie, Doc McCoy is a killer when he needs to, and only then. His companion in crime, his wife Carol, who helped bring about his parole by sleeping with a member of the parole board, is also not as good-looking as Ali McGraw, nor do we have any feeling of sympathy or rapport with her. She (Carol in the book) has made her bed and all we’re waiting for is how far that will get her.

   The story of the two increasingly desperate movie stars fugitives on the lam eventually diverges from the book around page 132 with just over 50 pages to go. Or to better phrase that, this is where the movie ends. The movie has a much happier end than the book does, and that it putting it mildly. What follows is either a totally allegorical fantasy, or a getaway that only ends when the pair of fugitives reaches safety in Mexico pure hell.

   Let me tell you this. One “refuge” the couple on the run find themselves in is a pair of tiny cramped caves in a cliff along the California coast just above the water line. When Carol manages to maneuver herself around in the dark so she can sit up, then finds that she cannot move an inch to lie down again, it was two AM in the morning and I had to stop reading, right then and there.

   I’ve not read enough Thompson to say, but other people tell me that this is one of his best. Now I know why.

THE GETAWAY. Universal Pictures, 1994. Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen, James Woods, David Morse, Jennifer Tilly, James Stephens, Richard Farnsworth, Philip Hoffman, Burton Gilliam. Screenplay by Walter Hill & Amy Jones, based on the novel by Jim Thompson. Director: Roger Donaldson.

   There were a few changes made from the earlier version of the film, but in a way, only a few of any consequence. Instead of robbing a bank, Doc McCoy and two others hold up a dog racing track instead, and some additional back story was added, but not particularly for the better. Personally I think that when back story is added, it takes away from the mystery behind the characters. Not always, but often enough.

   Walter Hill was the screen writer of both films, with the addition of Amy Holden Jones on the second. Perhaps that helps explain why in the scene in which McCoy slaps his wife around when he learns what she had done to help free him from prison, Carol (Kim Basinger) slaps him right back.

   There are some subtle changes that are more difficult to put words to. Alec Baldwin, whatever his accomplishments, does not have nearly the screen presence of Steve McQueen, and while Kim Basinger is a much better actress than Ali McGraw, I somehow found Ali McGraw a more fitting actress for the character, at least the cinematic one.

   The sex scenes are far more explicit in the later movie, and the action seems more violent, but somehow I don’t believe either facts are to the second film’s advantage. The most striking difference between the two films [SPOILER ALERT] is that I found the happy ending rather appropriate [NOT IN THE BOOK], but in the second film, I wondered a whole lot more if I cared that these two rather unpleasant people were going to get away with it.

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