Archive for August, 2012

Target Lancer

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Though the book won’t be out till November, we are starting to get some very nice notices on the new Heller. I was pleased (actually relieved) to see Publisher’s Weekly’s highly positive review.

Randy Johnson, at his Not the Baseball Pitcher web site, also has a nice TARGET LANCER write-up.

Asked about what he’s been reading, Bill Crider is quoted as saying he’s enjoying the ARC of TARGET LANCER. Knowing Bill, he’ll probably review the book closer to pub date.

Bookgasm has been very supportive of my work – although there have been occasional less than glowing notices there – but that fine site has posted a fantastic review of BYE BYE, BABY. This is not so belated as it seems: the reviewer is working from the paperback reprint. Incidentally, a surprising number of typos and a few historical goofs have been corrected in that edition. If you are a Heller fan (or maybe fanatic), that’s the version you’ll want to read. There’s a promise of a TARGET LANCER review in the Bookgasm write-up, as well.

Goodreads has a bunch of mostly positive reviews on CHICAGO LIGHTNING that you might find worthwhile.

Keeping up with my movie mentions, I want to recommend two this week. First, PARANORMAN is a first-rate 3-D movie (see it that way) with wonderful stop motion animation and terrific character design. It has kid appeal – it’s about a middle-school outsider who is bullied because he claims to see and talk to dead people – but it works just fine for adults, particularly those interested in horror and fantasy.

Second, HIT AND RUN is a great crime comedy melodrama that stars Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell (wasted on Showtime’s unpleasant HOUSE OF LIES) opposite her significant other, Dax Shepard, who also wrote and co-directed. Shepard, besides being the lucky bastard who gets to live with Kristen Bell (I say this as the lucky bastard who gets to live with the former Barbie Mull), is mostly known for playing villains in film comedies like EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH as well as holding down one of the leads on the TV series, PARENTHOOD. This is the kind of movie I used to see all the time in the ‘70s – quirky, walking the line between comedy and drama, with sharp, natural dialogue, lots of interesting characters, plus plenty of action (it’s a car chase movie). I’m also reminded of Don Westlake’s ‘60s and ‘70s comedy novels. You want to know how good this movie is? Tom Arnold is hilarious in it. So, in a much different way, are Bradley Cooper and Beau Bridges. It is in times in wonderfully poor taste, but in a much smarter way than most bad taste movies – including gags involving prison rape and racial stereotyping. It’s also a tender love story. I haven’t checked Rotten Tomatoes, but I bet at least half the critics hate this. Don’t listen to them.


The First Screen Mike Hammer, R.I.P.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

The first actor to portray Mike Hammer in the movies has passed away. Read Biff Elliot’s obituary here in the Hollywood Reporter.

I count Biff as one of the best Hammers, and obviously a pioneering one. He left an indelible stamp on the role, though, at the time, some (even Mickey himself) expressed disappointment. Biff himself stated that his approach was to make a human being out of Spillane’s comic strip-style character, and I feel he succeeded. I had a brief but warm e-mail exchange with Biff last year and he signed a still from I, THE JURY to me, which I treasure even more today.

Here is a piece I wrote for Classic Images (the great Muscatine-based film publication edited by my pal Bob King) on I, THE JURY, specifically singling out Biff’s performance:

Mickey Spillane was not a fan of the films British producer Victor Saville fashioned in the 1950s from the mystery writer’s bestsellers, I, the Jury, The Long Wait, Kiss Me, Deadly and My Gun Is Quick. So incensed by what he considered a mishandling of his famous private eye, Mike Hammer, Spillane wrote and co-produced THE GIRL HUNTERS (1963), in which he starred as Hammer himself.

Time has been kind to several of the Saville films, notably KISS ME DEADLY (1955), starring Ralph Meeker, directed by Robert Aldrich and written by A.I. Bezzerides. The film had a strong anti-Spillane subtext but was nonetheless a brilliant evocation of Mike Hammer’s violent, sexually charged world. Late in life, Spillane came to appreciate KISS ME DEADLY, which is now considered a noir classic; but he never warmed to the others. With MY GUN IS QUICK (1957), wherein Robert Bray portrayed Hammer, Spillane had a point: it was a slipshod quickie. THE LONG WAIT (1954) (with Anthony Quinn as a non-Hammer protagonist and an array of beauties including Peggie Castle) does have its admirers, with a particularly strong climax involving starkly expressionistic lighting.

Though he counted Biff Elliot a friend, Spillane disliked I, THE JURY (1953). He thought Elliot was too small, though his chief complaints were with the script and such details as Mike Hammer’s trademark .45 automatic being traded in for a revolver, and he howled about Hammer getting knocked out with a coathanger. He found director/screenwriter Harry Essex obnoxious and disrespectful, and was irritated that his handpicked Mike Hammer – close friend, ex-cop Jack Stang (for whom the hero of the posthumously published Spillane novel Dead Street is named, and who appears briefly in I, THE JURY in a poolroom scene) – was turned down for the part.

In 1999, Mickey and I were invited to London where the National Film Theater was showing my documentary, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane,” as part of a retrospective of Spillane films. Mickey did not bother to attend any of the screenings except my documentary. But I was eager to attend a rare 3-D screening of I, THE JURY.

I’d always liked the film, and had argued its merits (and those of KISS ME DEADLY) to Mickey over the years. Of all the Saville films, I, THE JURY seemed to catch best the look and flavor of the novels; it was fun and tough and sexy, and the dialogue had crackle. What had disappointed moviegoers at the time remains disappointing: the most overtly sexual aspects of the plot (a dance studio may or may not be a brothel, several characters may or may not be homosexual) became incoherent due to censorship issues, and the famous striptease finale reduced lovely Peggie Castle’s disrobing to taking off her shoes!

But Elliot himself was a terrific Mike Hammer – an emotional hothead who could be as tough as he was tender. That he was a little smaller than readers might have imagined Hammer only makes him seem less a bully. He fights hard and loves hard, and may not be as smart as most movie private eyes, which gives him a nice everyman quality. It’s a shame Elliot, with a screen presence similar to James Caan’s, was not better launched by the film.

The revelation of the screening, however, was the 3-D cinematography – seen “flat” on TV, the film doesn’t seem to be much of a 3-D movie, with only a few instances of objects and people coming out of the screen. But the 3-D screening revealed the brilliant John Alton’s mastery at creating depth, bringing the viewer inside the images. As one of a small handful of 3-D crime films, I, THE JURY is an unacknowledged 3-D gem.

Crime writer Mike Dennis has published the first TARGET LANCER review, and I’m pleased to report that it’s glowing.

I will finish by expressing my disappointment in the new film, THE EXPENDABLES 2. I love these action heroes, and I even liked the first film, though it was disappointing in many respects. The new one at least has a strong villain (Jean Claude Van Damme!), but the screenplay (attributed to numerous hands, including those of Stallone, normally a good screenwriter) is a lazy mess. When you find out the youngest member, taking one last job, left the service because somebody killed his dog…seems he’d been killing Ay-rabs all day, and that was just one killing too many…you can only wonder if you can make it through your popcorn before the shock of his tragic death. Could Arnold S. and Bruce Willis be any more lame in their humor, most of which is “I’ll be back” jokes? And maybe it’s supposed to be funny when Chuck Norris shows up out of nowhere to save the Expendables, and then wander off. But whose idea was it to play a Morricone theme associated with Clint Eastwood behind Norris? Do you really want to remind your audience that Chuck Norris is no Clint Eastwood?


O’Collins Obects

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

An Irish crime writer, whose work I’m not familiar with, has been hired to write a new Phillip Marlowe novel. It got tons of play, particularly on the Net, and my name was mentioned (with Robert B. Parker’s) in a short list of mystery writers who have previously written Marlowe material. Parker, of course, finished POODLE SPRINGS and later wrote a sequel to THE BIG SLEEP. I didn’t care for either of Parker’s efforts – they surprisingly seem half-hearted, from such an avowed Chandler fan – although a fun TV movie was made out of SPRINGS. My contribution was in the Phillip Marlowe centennial collection (a story that subsequently was rewritten as a Heller and can be found in CHICAGO LIGHTNING as “Perfect Crime”).

As the guy who is continuing the Mike Hammer books, I am probably hypocritical and way out of line in suggesting that this new Marlowe novel seems like a terrible idea. I will defend myself by pointing out that my situation is different, even unique – I was asked by Mickey himself to complete unfinished works in his files. And the truth is, I would have taken the Marlowe gig if offered to me, because Chandler is on my really, really short list (the one that includes Spillane, Hammett and Cain). What rankles – and I am aware of Chandler’s British upbringing – is that the choice wasn’t of an American writer. I’m not the only American typewriter-pounder who would have done this job well – I can think of a dozen off the top of my head, from Bob Crais and Loren Estleman to John Lutz and Ed Gorman. Bob Randisi wrote a hell of a good Marlowe story in the centennial collection. Maybe one of the big boys like Michael Connelly or Dennis Lahane or Jeff Deaver…anyway, there are plenty of better choices than somebody from the UK. I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.

Some years ago (probably at least twenty), I was approached to continue the Lew Archer books. I turned the job down (pshaw, to those of you who think I never say no to a gig) because (a) I have never been a Ross Macdonald fan, and (b) it was a suicide mission. Now I would have taken on any number of other suicide missions (I would still do a Sam Spade novel if anybody offered it), but I felt somebody more attuned to Archer ought to do it. As it turns out, nobody did.

By the way, I am not a Macdonald detractor. I read him when I was a teenager, devouring private eye novels. I liked his books. I just didn’t love them. He seemed to keep writing the same book over and over, and his writing seemed forced and, well, arch. He reached for the similes and metaphors, where they mostly flowed right out of Chandler. But he was serious about what he did and the books were readable, the people more real than most in the genre, and he provided a more overtly literary alternative to Mickey Spillane and Hammer that invited a whole other crowd of writers into the game. So props to him. I just didn’t want to step into his shoes.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll try to read the Irish guy’s book. Probably not. Somebody from South America or Spain or someplace wrote one that I couldn’t get past page one on. But it’s interesting how much attention it’s attracted.

* * *

Ron Fortier has given a good, lively review to TRIPLE PLAY. Check it out.

Unexpectedly, Craig Clarke – long a Heller supporter – has written a fine, insightful review of STOLEN AWAY, perhaps sparked by the new Amazon Encore edition.

And my BATMAN stuff keeps attracting attention, often from people who still want to tar-and-feather me (who was it that said, “Get a life?”), but now and then something surprisingly positive shows up, like this piece.

There seems to be an audio book collecting the Fangoria Dreadtime Stories, many of which are written by me. Here’s a mostly good review here that scolds me for including gratuitous sex. Who, me?

A British web site published a mostly negative but interesting review of Mickey’s early non-Mike Hammer novel, THE LONG WAIT. I waded in disagreeing, and a very interesting, lively bunch of comments followed. Worth looking at.


Totally Recalling the Zombies

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I am preparing to start the new Nathan Heller book, ASK NOT, which is a sequel to the forthcoming TARGET LANCER. In the weeks between novels (as you may recall I completed COMPLEX 90 shortly before leaving for San Diego Con), I tend to take care of smaller projects that have piled up. This week I’m dealing with a Dick Tracy intro, a serial novel chapter, and a radio script, among other things. Also, I’ve cleaned my office, reorganized the basement “book room” (the repository of my authors’ copies), and removed ten boxes of books from my basement library, culling and thinning, seeking room for new purchases. I also took a trip with Matt Clemens to Chicago on the Mike North project (which has stalled) and welcomed my friend Brad Schwartz and his parents into the Collins manse for a fun Sunday afternoon.

Additionally, Barb and I went into Chicago last week and saw the great British invasion band The Zombies (with key original members, singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent) at the same fun nightclub, Viper’s Alley, in suburban Chicago where we saw the Vanilla Fudge a while back. The band was great, although a much more laidback act than the Fudge. Blunstone is a brilliant singer who conveys a sense of joy, even bliss, wrapped up in the songs he sings; his constant smile and his manner are sweet in the best sense. Argent as a keyboard player is clearly the best rock has to offer, and he both inspired and intimidated me. The only downside – and this happened to some degree at the Fudge concert – is the behavior of some of the Baby Boomer crowd. They get drunk and behave as if they are at a Poison concert, trying to insert themselves into the performance, whooping and standing up and making devil horns with their arthritic fingers. God save me from the inebriated, particularly the Baby Boomer inebriated.

The Zombies
Photo by Daniel Veintimilla of Creative Loafing

Barb and I have also gone to a number of movies, and of course last week I commented on the Batman movie, which the critics love and I don’t. We saw the TOTAL RECALL remake, from the director of the entertaining UNDERWORLD series, and the critics mostly hate it. Yet it’s an extremely entertaining, well-made, twisty yet largely coherent action film with some BLADE RUNNER trappings, befitting the Phillip K. Dick source material. Not a great film, TOTAL RECALL nonetheless does everything the BATMAN film tries to but actually accomplishes it. Naturally, the nerds and the critics hate TOTAL RECALL even while extolling THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as one of the greatest films of all time.

My lapse into film reviewing (a habit I have tried to kick) got Ed Gorman’s attention in this nice write-up at his great blog.

Finally, “Skin” got another good review, interestingly from a reader who had never encountered Mike Hammer before (and found the experience something of a shock!).