Posts Tagged ‘Blue Christmas’

True Noir, Dick Tracy and King Kong

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024

The crowd-funding campaign for True Noir: the Nathan Heller Casebooks at KickStarter is set to go live on May 1. I have delivered the first of ten-episode scripts (the production is based on my novel True Detective) and everyone seems pleased. Director Robert Meyer Burnett has started casting. Todd Stashwick of Star Trek: Picard and the 12 Monkeys TV series has been onboard to play Nate Heller for a while now, and in fact you can hear the 12-minute sample starring him – our “proof of concept” – as Nate right now. Right here:

Longtime readers of the Heller saga will recognize this as the beginning of Stolen Away, but that was just chosen as a way to intro newcomers to Heller and to give director Rob Burnett a chance to get the concept on its feet. We’re starting with True Detective, the first novel of course. In addition to Todd, several other notable actors have signed on, including a favorite of mine, Jeffrey Combs of the Re-Animator movies, as Mayor Anton Cermak. The image we’re sharing here is still in progress but you should get a kick out of it.

Jeffrey Combs as Mayor Anton Cermak in True Noir

I am about to dive into the remaining nine scripts (each episode should be in the 35 – 40 minute range) and this is now my current major project. I have a very busy remainder of the year ahead: the last scheduled Mike Hammer novel (Baby, It’s Murder), another Antiques novel (we have just signed to do two more!), and what looks to be the final Heller.

This past week was a busy one. Work on preparing the materials for the VCI/MVD release of Blue Christmas continued, with producer Chad Bishop in the lead. I recorded three (!) Blu-ray commentaries – Chad and I did the Blue Christmas commentary (and he did a great job), and for VCI I recorded commentaries for two mid-‘40s RKO Dick Tracy movies: Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. These are for an upcoming Blu-ray release of the four RKO features, a boxed set that looks to be a jam-packed affair with multiple commentaries and much more.

I had done commentaries for the other two Tracy films (Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy’s Dilemma) in 1999 for the late Cary Roan, and these are included. Now, a quarter of a century later, I found myself completing the quartet of B movies for Robert Blair at VCI. I’ve always been fond of these films, though the sometimes lauded Gruesome is by far my least favorite, but did not expect to revisit them ever again.

As I have expressed here on occasion, my bitterness over being essentially fired from Dick Tracy – the strip that I had, in my estimation and that of others, saved from cancellation – had been deep and abiding until I was called upon by editor Dean Mullaney (who had first published Ms. Tree) to put on my Big Boy pants (so to speak) and write introductions for the IDW volumes that would collect the complete Chester Gould. I took on that task, spanning a number of years, and reminded myself how much I liked the strip and basically came to terms with the firing that frankly opened the door on much else good that has happened for me. Probably no Road to Perdition, for example, had I still been on Dick Tracy.

This is not to say I don’t retain some bitterness. I was told by a reliable source that the Joe Staton and Mike Curtis team (who’d been approached to take the strip over after Dick Locher’s passing) asked why the Trib wasn’t returning to me. The editor there (a newer one I had never met) reportedly said, “Why would we make the same mistake twice?”

Nonetheless, revisiting Tracy in both the IDW volumes (a long-running series now completed) and again last week by way of those four fun RKO B-features was indeed like Old Home Week. Tracy was my childhood introduction to crime fiction (and comics), and the first big break of my career.

Speaking of Road to Perdition, I was pleased to see the movie version again turning up with some very impressive neighbors — number 17 on Ranker’s list of The 90 Best Mafia Movies Of All Time.

By the way, when I recorded the two Tracy commentaries I did so with my longtime collaborator Phil Dingeldein at my side. Phil is the Director of Photography on most of what I’ve done in the world of indie filmmaking starting with Mommy (1994) and continuing through this year’s Blue Christmas. Between the two recording sessions for the pair of Tracy movies, Phil and I took lunch and discussed the revision I did recently of my script for a proposed film of Road to Purgatory, my prose sequel to Perdition. It’s a low-budget version (not “low” in my usual scrounging sense, but the Hollywood sense) designed for me to be able to direct myself.

That, frankly, is part of why I undertook doing Blue Christmas and am preparing another feature to shoot late this summer – I want to see if the Old Boy still has it in him. And I’m not referring to Phil.

Road to Purgatory has been the dream project for a long, long time. We’ll see if a dream is all it is.

* * *

For several years now I have spent Saturday afternoons with my grandson Sam, watching movies. We began with animation, including classic Warner Bros and the Fleischer Popeye and Superman cartoons. After that it was 3-D Blu-rays that were mostly CGI – Pixar and others – with occasional live action like the Spy Kids movies (some of which are also 3-D – my obsolete 3-D screen got a workout).

In recent months we’ve delved into comedies, in particularly the Pink Panther movies (skipping the first two) and The Great Race, the latter being more of writer/director Blake Edwards at his comic best. I’ve been edging up on some things that I loved as a kid, and Sam’s father Nate also loved (though not Lone Wolf and Cub yet – Sam is just eight!) (of course so was Nate at the time).

So this week we watched the 1933 King Kong. Barb had warned Sam that the first half hour or so was pretty boring, a lot of it on the ship sailing to the island with Skull Mountain. But Sam never wavered. He wanted to see the whole thing. When Kong arrived in all his gorilla glory, I explained stop motion to Sam – that Kong was mostly a puppet recorded incrementally, and that also a giant head and hand had been used. He did not get frightened but he was into it.

At the end I searched YouTube and found a colorized clip of the fight between Kong and the T-Rex. Sam told me to make sure I stayed with it till we saw Kong flapping the defeated dead T-Rex’s jaw, which was his favorite part (mine too).

Then Sam announced that he liked the black-and-white version better.

There is hope for the world.


Cut it Out!

Tuesday, April 9th, 2024
Cutout Cover
Digital Audiobook:
Audio MP3 CD:

Barb and I have a new book out, Cutout, a novella, and we’re assured it’s coming out in paperback as well as audio (from the great Skyboat) and Kindle (from Amazon of course). But right now all we have info on is the audio and e-book.

While I am the co-author, this is Barb’s baby – her vision and her strong first draft (that I just fiddled with a little) carried the day. I think it’s one of the best books we’ve done together.

Here’s some info:

Cutout (2024)
A Novella by Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins

A young woman from the Midwest, recipient of an unexpected college scholarship, is recruited into a lucrative courier job that shuttles her from Manhattan to Washington, D.C. There’s a slight drawback: the previous two “cutouts” died by violence.

Sierra Kane – who has bounced from one foster family to another – faces an uncertain future when she receives an unapplied-for scholarship to Barnard College specifically designed for orphans whose academic records are merely above average. A second unexpected boon comes her way when another recipient of that somewhat mysterious scholarship offers her a part-time courier job.

Soon Sierra is caught up in a whirl of espionage and murder, with a new boy friend who may or may not be part of a plot, a college mentor with a possible agenda of her own, and an FBI agent who rebuffs Sierra’s plea for help.

It’s a classic story of a small-town girl caught up in an overwhelming big-city world; but Sierra Kane is a young woman whose curiosity and determination will lead her to the truth…and into more than one deadly confrontation.

Married writing team Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition) and Barbara Collins (Bombshell) – whose Antiques mystery series is a long-running mystery fan favorite under the name Barbara Allan – have crafted a novella that is at once as timeless as a fairy tale and as modern as a headline.


* * *

M.A.C. in the Q and A session with a packed house at the Cedar Rapids Film Festival.

Our two Saturday, April 6 screenings of Blue Christmas at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival – held at the Collins Road Theatre, where our C.R. premiere went down last month – were extremely well-attended and received. I had good comments all day from particularly those who’d been part of the packed house for the 1:05 p.m. showing.

We were one of the three nominees for Best Feature at the fest, but lost out to the wacky anthology Friendly Faces (sporting eight directors) and the nicely shot, well-acted Knee High. In a heavy field of submissions, just snagging an Official Selection slot is a positive.

Three of our Blue Christmas actors were on hand – Rob Merritt, Dave Juehring and Chris Causey. Also great to see them and chat (about our next project!). Too bad individual awards weren’t given out for acting, direction, writing, etc., but the format skews heavily toward students and pro-am.

M.A.C. with Collins Road Theater honcho, Bruce Taylor

We are not planning to attend very many (if any) other festivals, since we already have physical media (VCI) lined up and representation to the streaming services (MVD). Right now no public screenings are scheduled (with the exception of one at 10 a.m. on May 4 in Forest City, Iowa, as part of an Iowa Motion Pictures Awards mini-festival). We anticipate getting into a good number of Iowa theaters with Blue Christmas, judging by the interest expressed by the Fridley movie chain, the Collins Road Theater in Cedar Rapids, and the Last Picture House in Davenport. Our premiere events at two Fridley theaters – the Fleur in Des Moines and the Palms 10 in Muscatine – had sell-out crowds. We think we can do well with limited runs during the holiday season at these venues.

* * *

You have to scroll down to see it, but there’s a request for my brief newspaper run on Batman (with the late, great Marshall Rogers on art) being reprinted. This article is a reprint itself, a 2010 column by another late, great: Greg Hatcher.

You don’t have to scroll down very far to see the recommendation for watching Road to Perdition at Amazon Prime. At the C.R. film fest, supposed young film buffs would come up to me and say, “I’ve heard of Road to Perdition, but I’ve never seen it.” Now’s your chance.

Here’s a nice review of the Ms. Tree collection, Heroine Withdrawal.

Here’s another variation on Tom Hanks extolling the virtues of a certain film of his he thinks doesn’t get enough attention:

Finally, Road to Perdition is number eighteen on this list of the best 90 Mafia movies.


Cedar Rapids Film Festival & True Noir

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

This week we have our only film festival screening (to date, anyway) for Blue Christmas. It’s at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, which holds its 21st edition April 5-7, 2024 at the Collins Road Theatres, 1462 Twixt Town Road, Marion, Iowa. CRIFF (in their words) will celebrate the work of filmmakers from across the state, throughout the country, and around the world, all with connections to Iowa.

Here’s the festival’s official listing:

Blue Christmas
Professional Narrative Feature | 1h:20m
Sat 9:00am & 1:05pm

Max Allan Collins – Writer/Director
Chad Thomas Bishop – Producer
Phillip W. Dingeldein – Director of Photography

In 1942 Chicago, private eye Richard Stone is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his late partner on the anniversary of the murder. Escorted by three spirits, Stone must visit his past, present and future to find the killer…and redemption.

Iowa Connection: The entire cast and crew is from Iowa… wow!

Star Rob Merritt will be in attendance for the 9 a.m. screening, and Barb and I will be there for the 1:05 p.m. screening. Other cast and crew members may surprise us at one or both screenings, and I will be there for the awards on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m., hoping to take home some gold or silver.

We are also entered in the Iowa Motion Picture Awards, which are presented May 4 at Forest City, Iowa, at the awards event. That is a competition but not a film festival. My films have done well at this event in the past, and just last year I won Best Director for Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder. Barb and I plan to attend.

We are considering a few other regional festivals, but the reality is that we already have our home video distributor in VCI, whose partner label MVD will be taking us out to streaming services.

And the Iowa-based Fridley chain, as well as the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids and the Last Picture House in Davenport, have expressed interest in running Blue Christmas this coming holiday season. So further festivals, if we choose to enter any, will be for fun and a little recognition; but it’s the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival and the Iowa Motion Picture Awards that could prove beneficial to marketing. Every indie film likes to have a few Laurel Wreaths for bragging rights.

The support we’ve received from the Fridley chain, Bruce Taylor at the Collins Road Theatre, and our pals Beck and Woods at the Last Picture House has been enormously gratifying, as has been the audience response to our little movie. As I’ve said before, I am well aware that we have a certain home court advantage here in Iowa. But it feels good nonetheless.

Seeing Blue Christmas on huge movie-theater screens, as opposed to at home screening or on physical media, has been an unexpected treat.

As the news regarding Blue Christmas will be taking up less of my weekly updates – at least till Christmas season 2024 – I want to take this opportunity to thank my talented cast (toplined by Rob Merritt and Alisabeth Von Presley) and my key partners, producer/editor Chad Bishop and Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein, for making this $14,000 production look like a million bucks.

Also, thanks to my bride Barb, who swore she would have nothing to do with this one, and then at the last minute dug in and did her usual stellar job.

* * *

I am about to begin scripting our fully immersive audio production (calling it a podcast doesn’t quite cut it) of True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks, based on the first Heller novel, True Detective. This will be ten scripts designed to run around forty minutes or so each. I’ve already broken the book down into those ten episodes in an outline/synopsis that runs 70 pages.

So it’s a massive project.

Director Robert Meyer Burnett – whose Robservations, among much else on YouTube is well worth following (I do) – did a fantastic job with an exemplary voice cast in doing a sort of pilot (a twelve-minute version of the opening of Stolen Away) that will be part of a crowd-funding campaign launching soon. Rob (who, among much else, directed the cult-fave Free Enterprise with William Shatner) created in the pilot a virtual movie for the ears.

Starring as Nate Heller is Todd Stashwick, who appeared memorably on the recent third season of Picard as Captain Liam Shaw. A fan favorite among Star Trek enthusiasts (of which I am one), Todd is a Chicagoan who brings a great grasp of that key city to the proceedings. His casting, both for his Chicago and Trek cred, is a masterstroke on Rob Burnett’s part.

Barb and I have been Star Trek fans since college days (original series and, later Next Generation), and I cast Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Gene’s widow) in Mommy, knowing the value of Star Trek to then vital cast listings on video boxes (we were a chain-wide buy at the then-dominate Blockbuster). I knew Majel through Big Entertainment, the comic book company where she and Leonard Nimoy were doing titles when I was doing Mike Danger with Mickey Spillane. We also had Mickey in the cast and scream queen Brinke Stevens (who I knew from the San Diego Comic Con, where we became friends) as well as Jason Miller for his Exorcist value (and acting talent). Miller came on board because he liked the Mommy script, and since he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, that was a hell of a compliment.

By the way, if you’ve read Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me, you may recall that Gene Roddenberry and Mickey Spillane were pals and planned several projects together (that unfortunately did not come to pass).

Anyway, I want to share with you this fabulous poster for the upcoming audio drama, which I feel represents Heller better than most of the original cover art ever did (excepting the excellent recent Hard Case Crime packages).

More about the crowd-funding effort will be shared here in the days and months ahead. But for now feast your eyes on this….

True Noir poster


Blue Christmas at The Last Picture House

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

Today I’m sharing a few photos from our Muscatine, Iowa, premiere screening of Blue Christmas and more than just a few pics from the last stop on our premiere tour, The Last Picture House.

Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the “snake” Larry Turner in BLUE CHRISTMAS), Rob Merritt (Richard Stone) on the red carpet at the Muscatine Premiere showing of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine's Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine’s Palms 10.

All of these theaters – the Fleur in Des Moines and the Palms in Muscatine (both of which are Fridley Chain venues), as well Bruce Taylor’s Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Davenport’s Last Picture House – have been incredibly supportive, and the turnouts have been stellar. Cedar Rapids, Muscatine and Davenport were all sold out, strictly capacity crowds with tickets at a premium.

First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.

The response from the audiences has been great, but of course we are careful not to get too full of ourselves, as we are well aware we have a home court advantage. Still, it feels very good. As I’ve said here before, Blue Christmas was designed for streaming and home video, and seeing it up on these huge movie screens, with booming movie-theater sound, has been frankly thrilling to our little army of actors and crew who turned six days and $14,000 into a credible movie – in a world where Hollywood thinks $5 mil is low budget.

I was blessed with a terrific cast, all from here in Iowa, and a crew that included my producer (and editor and much else) Chad Bishop, longtime partner and D.P. Phil Dingeldein (aided by First Camera Assistant Liz Toal), and our lead actors Rob Merritt, Alisabeth Von Presley and Chris Causey. But really everyone in our cast of 24 (!) and tiny crew of half a dozen (!) hearty souls came through for me and for the production.

At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.

We have one more stop on this mini-tour – Blue Christmas is an official selection of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival and will be shown at 9 a.m. and at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Road Theater (1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302 – Marion runs side by side with Cedar Rapids). Tickets are $10 advance and $12 after April 4. I will be there for the 1 p.m. screening.

This will be the last opportunity to see the film before this year’s holiday season, when we’ll be in a number of Iowa theaters as well as available on Blu-ray from VCI Home Entertainment (MVD is handling streaming marketing, but it’s too early days to know what streamer or streamers will make it available).

The real final stop of our mini-tour will be for the Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, an event held in Forest City, Iowa, on May 4. But this is a competition, not a festival.

My apologies to my readers and friends (not exclusive groups) who have been subjected here of late to pretty much nothing but news of this indie film production. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Heller, Quarry, Antiques news very soon.

And serious work on True Noir the Nate Heller podcast starting with a 10-episode adaptation of the first novel, True Detective, begins this week.

* * *

According to this excellent article on Road to Perdition (the movie), James Bond was not Daniel Craig’s best role!

Finally, here’s a video about the upcoming Nate Heller podcast series. Check it out!