Posts Tagged ‘Encore for Murder’

Back in Business

Tuesday, January 9th, 2024

Somehow it’s the first week of 2024 and it seems to be business as usual around M.A.C. Productions. Which means we are busy but there’s nothing “usual” about it. But it’s all good news, and good problems, so despite the Buck Rogers sound of the date on my calendar, I am rarin’ to go.

First news to share is that we have lined up four Iowa premieres for Blue Christmas in February and March.

We will have the World Premiere in Des Moines at the Fleur Theatre on Saturday, February 24. The Fleur is a terrific venue. They have a quote from me on the wall! We had a big Road to Perdition event there on the film’s release, and a few years ago I introduced (and spoke after) a screening of Kiss Me Deadly.

Our Cedar Rapids Premiere will be Wednesday March 13 at the Collins Road Theater. Another great venue, Collins Road Theater (love that name) is very supportive of independent film, hosting the Cedar Rapids Film Festival.

(We are entered in the fest and, if selected, there will likely be another Collins Road screening of Blue Christmas on the weekend of the fest, April 5 – 7.)

We will have our hometown Premiere at the beautiful Palms 10 Theater here in Muscatine on Saturday, March 16. It’s a treat and a privilege to have our film made available to our friends and family so close to home. We’ll go the Red Carpet route and everything.

On Saturday March 22, the Quad Cities Premiere will be held at the Last Picture House in Davenport. This is the brand spanking new theater that is the brainchild of the Quiet Place//65 filmmakers (local boys!), Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. Their support of their home-state filmmakers is much appreciated.

We – Chad Bishop, Phil Dingeldein and I (the executive producers of Blue Christmas) – are very grateful to the various managers of these theaters for welcoming us onto their screens. It came together remarkably quickly and is extremely gratifying.

Chad and I will be participating in a Q and A session after each screening with various cast members present. Phil Dingeldein will be there as much as his busy schedule allows, as will star Rob Merritt and his co-star, Alisabeth Von Presley. Alisabeth and Rob have been confirmed for the Cedar Rapids premiere.

As you may know, we shot the principal photography in Muscatine Community College’s Black Box Theater, and we are working out details for a screening there as well for students and teachers.

If you were a contributor to the fund-raising effort, and were promised admission to a premiere, please write me at and let me know which of these premieres (choose one, please) you would be able to attend. More details will follow.

I’m centerstage with my back to the camera, directing Alisabeth Von Presley and Rob Merritt in Blue Christmas; left of me is Liz Toal, first camera assistant, and I’m blocking my buddy Phil Dingeldein, at right.

A lot of people who keep up with these updates helped make this film possible, and we are very grateful. I frankly thought I’d hung up my indie film shootin’ iron with Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life (2006). But Encore for Murder came together so well as a play, we shot it at the last minute and soon the ol’ juices were flowing. Which in a man my age isn’t pretty….

I will tell you, with no modesty at all, that Blue Christmas came out most satisfactorily (as Nero Wolfe might say). That our cash budget was $14,000 indicates just how remarkable a feat this was. (The budget would sky-rocket if everyone, myself included, who took no remuneration were actually…you know…paid.)

Heath Holland at Cereal at Midnight on YouTube showed off on both the Blu-ray of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (which includes Encore for Murder as a bonus feature) and the DVD of Encore on his wrap-up of new releases. Thank you, Heath! (I am recording an interview with Heath tomorrow.) You can also rent both the documentary and the recorded Golden Age Radio-style play on Amazon Prime and VUDU.

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And so the writing year begins.

I have just completed what I’m calling Conversations With Nathan Heller, a 13,000-word look at the entire Nate Heller novel series to date. The format is that I am visiting Heller at his Boca Raton digs to interview him before beginning each book in the series. This has been done for Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press, and was just shipped yesterday. What Otto’s reaction will be is hard to say, but obviously I hope he likes it. The title may change – that will be up to Otto, at least to some degree – but I think any Heller reader will get a charge out of it.

No idea when this will be published, but I will keep you informed here. I’m told there will be a square-bound hardcover edition.

Additionally I have corrected and tweaked Quarry’s Return, the copy edited version on its way back to editor Charles Ardai. The novel is scheduled for December, I believe. Going to be a busy December, with Blue Christmas possibly playing in some regional theaters (we’re working on that).

In the meantime, Barb has been working on her draft of Antiques Slay Belles – another Christmas book! I will start my draft yet this week.

After that I will be starting the massive podcast script combining the novels True Detective and True Crime (the first two Hellers) into one massive dramatic piece.

Stay tuned.

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I received today copies of the fifth Ms. Tree collection, Ms. Tree – Heroine Withdrawal. It’s (as Chester Gould used to say) a honey. Just physically lovely. I am so grateful to Nick Landau and Vivian Cheung at Titan for keeping after to me to do these Ms. Tree collections with them (a shout-out to the great Andrew Sumner).

I also received two books from Gary Kato, who helped Terry Beatty out on Ms. Tree from time to time – Peter Pan in Return to Never Never Land and Satin’s Ways – both written by my pal Ron Fortier. Both are published by Redbud Studio.


So Long, Christmas! Hello Blue Christmas!

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

I am writing this on Christmas Day 2023, still in the warm glow of a Christmas Eve with Barb, wherein party mix, little smokies in BBQ sauce, and champagne – combined with our annual gift-giving and a screening of A Christmas Story – added up to a wonderful evening.

The only drawback was not having our family (son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby and two grandkids, eight-year-old Sam and five-year-old Lucy) here to celebrate with us. They are in Texas with Abby’s family (we had an early “Christmas” with them a few days ago, before they headed out) and we missed them. But there’s something to be said for a couple sharing a cozy Christmas Eve.

Still, I hope next Christmas will be the usual family affair.

And I also hope next Christmas there will be a Blu-ray (or access via a streaming service) (or even a theatrical screening) of my latest film, Blue Christmas. This not-at- all lavishly budgeted feature has been completed by editor/producer Chad Bishop and myself, with our fellow producer Phil Dingeldein due to come down to Muscatine later this week for a look at the finished product and a final okay.

I returned, after a long absence, to indie filmmaking after last year’s Encore for Murder, the Gary Sandy-starring Mike Hammer Golden Age Radio style play that we shot and edited into something that might be called a movie. Whatever it is, it’s out on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment, and as a special feature on VCI’s Blu-ray of my expanded documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Both Encore and Spillane are also available on VUDU and Amazon Prime for streaming.

The Encore for Murder experience is what prompted me to get back into the indie game, and I’m glad I did because I’m proud of our little movie, Blue Christmas, and hope it will join the favorites on many of your Christmas Season video viewing lists next year at this time.

We are waiting for word from a video distributor (who had expressed a strong interest in the project) and I should know soon whether Blue Christmas will be available on Blu-ray and on streaming services before long or whether it will wait in the wings till next Christmas season. That will be up to the distributor. I do know we’re doing a handful of festivals early this coming year (tomorrow, as I write this!) (the year, not the festivals).

I have enjoyed collaborating with editor Chad and director of photography Phil on this project, as well as our talented cast, many of whom appeared in Encore. Our top-billed stars are Rob Merritt – a mainstay of Iowa independent film – and Alisabeth Von Presley, who appeared on both American Idol and American Songwriting Contest on network television. Also above the title is Chris Causey, who appeared as Norman Baker in Chad Bishop’s The Man in Purple. Very hardcore fans of mine may recall that real-life “cancer quack” Baker was the fictionalized subject of my early novel, No Cure for Death. That both Chad and I did projects about Baker indicates why we are kindred spirits.

Chad’s short, ambitious film can be seen here.

Chris Causey also appears as Mike Hammer’s cop pal, Pat Chambers, in Encore for Murder.

* * *

As is the case with a lot of physical media collectors, I usually buy a Blu-ray – or lately a 4K disc – of any movie I’ve enjoyed seeing in a theater. In last week’s update I discussed the 4K’s of the new Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible movies. Since then we’ve watched at home Oppenheimer and The Equalizer 3 on 4K, having seen and liked them at the Palms Theater here in Muscatine.

Of the four movies mentioned above, the least discussed – the least taken seriously – is The Equalizer 3. On our second viewing of all four, I would rate The Equalizer 3 highest. I realize that’s not a popular view. And perhaps this very Spillane-derived film is one I would be destined to like, even prejudiced to rate highly, since it’s essentially a Mike Hammer vengeance reworking. But I would argue its direction and acting (particularly Denzel Washington and Elle Fanning) are superior examples of the craft. And the script is assembled as if by a Swiss watchmaker.

On second viewing, Oppenheimer continues to impress but the experience is now less overwhelming and its flaws start to reveal themselves. Christopher Nolan’s insistence on shuffling the narrative deck – which flashback am I in now, or is this a flashforward? – reveals the pretentious flaw in this gifted craftsman’s approach. He must be celebrated for getting terrific performances from all concerned. But the narrative’s weaknesses – ironically concealed somewhat by that pretentious deck-shuffling – are jarring.

What weaknesses am I talking about?

The depiction of Oppenheimer’s married life should either have been left out or depicted more fully. The worst realized character is Oppenheimer’s wife, Emily Blunt. The film indicates its protagonist’s womanizing without to any degree explaining it. The wife’s inclusion seems almost grudging.

More problematic is the structure. The last third of the film abandons Oppenheimer as protagonist and focuses on the efforts to paint him a left-wing risk by Lewis Stauss, well-portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. The daunting length of the film is unnecessary – this whole final section could have been replaced by one of those cards that briefly discuss the ramifications that followed a preceding film. Making your protagonist a bystander for the last third of the movie is incredibly bad storytelling.

Is Oppenheimer a bad movie? No. It is worthwhile and intermittently brilliant. But badly flawed.

On the other hand – and I realize I am to some degree comparing apples and oranges – The Equalizer 3 tells its story in a straight-forward yet bold manner. It waits until the very end of the movie to reveal what motivated its hero to undertake his righteous mission. It makes the stakes that hero faces high indeed, endangering the very people he hopes to protect; but it resists giving us cheap-shot deaths of those people, just to throw more gasoline on the vengeance fire. This director – Antonine Fuqua – deserves the kind of attention someone, like, say, Christopher Nolan is getting.

I liked all four of these movies, by the way. I just think Oppenheimer is the most overrated of the four. And of course it has an obvious weight over the likes of Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible. But a traditional narrative well-crafted, like The Equalizer 3, that accomplishes what it sets out to do will always please me more than one whose self-importance and ambition overwhelm the final product.

Let me say, too, a filmmaker who has never had to deal with a huge budget and all the difficulties that come with it, should tread lightly. I recognize the accomplishment of all four directors and their screenwriters – the degree of difficulty is immense.

I always hesitate to criticize movies, and I never criticize novels. Doing so lacks grace coming from a fellow storyteller. So I avoid discussing novels here, and don’t take money for my film opinions, having turned down opportunities to write reviews professionally; some may recall that I once wrote the Mystery Scene movie review column but stepped down after experiencing actually working on a film. This blog is the only place I allow myself to express these personal cinematic opinions, which I share with the readers who are good enough to follow my fiction and drop by here.

The next time I write you good people it will be, astonishingly, 2024.

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The great J. Kingston Pierce, at the indispensable Rap Sheet, has chosen both Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me, and Too Many Bullets as among his best books of 2023.


Too Many Bullets on “Best of Lists” and Spillane Cheap!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2023

Encore for Murder – for those of you who don’t have a Blu-ray player or already have a version of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane that satisfies you – is available at a great price from VCI Home Entertainment. Such a deal.

For those who do have a Blu-ray player, and would like to partake of the newly expanded version of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (with Encore for Murder as a bonus feature), VCI has it on sale for $14.98! (Regularly $29.95.). They also have the double-feature Blu-ray of Mommy and Mommy’s Day for $17.48 (regularly $34.95). By the way, Mickey Spillane is an actor in both.

Also, Encore for Murder is available for rental on Vudu.

And so is my documentary (again, this is the new, expanded version) Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.

Here’s a nice review two-fer of my novels Too Many Bullets and Dig Two Graves (with Mickey Spillane) from Jerry’s House of Everything.

Borg has a great review of Too Many Bullets right here. It’s terrific that Internet reviews are picking up the slack after the four trade publications completely ignored this Nate Heller novel.

* * *

I am pleased to report that Too Many Bullets has finally started popping up on some “best of the year” lists.

The very knowledgeable Kevin Burton Smith of the great Thrilling Detective website has Bullets on his list.

At Deadly Pleasures, both Ted Hertel (a longtime Heller booster) and George Wagner have Too Many Bullets on their “best of” lists. (You’ll have to scroll down to find these.)

Also, Stuart Shiffman at has the Spillane bio by Jim Traylor and me at the top of his list of best books. Here’s what he has to say about it:

SPILLANE: King of Pulp Fiction by Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor
My review (linked here: noted that “[g]reat biographies must capture the individual portrayed — his spirit, his accomplishments, and the times in which he lived and worked. SPILLANE does all of this so expertly that it reads almost as well as a Spillane novel.” A truly entertaining biography.
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Blue Christmas has finally wrapped – in the sense that Chad Bishop and I shot our final Second Unit location shots this week, and have edited this new material into the movie. Son Nathan and grandson Sam both made it into the final product (and the revised trailer, below).

Sam Collins, in his film debut, with Chad Bishop, producer/editor.

(left to right) Nate Collins, Sam Collins, Chad Bishop, Max Allan Collins.

We hope to have a few screenings in early 2024 – a “sneak preview,” a Muscatine premiere, and a Quad Cities premiere, ideally. Whether it will stream earlier than Christmas season 2024 remains to be seen (and whether it is on physical media sooner than that is also as yet undecided). But I am very proud of this little movie, which we practically had to will in existence.

At his request, I showed my eight-year-old grandson Sam (who is in Blue Christmas, remember) the Alistair Sim Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol. He gave it a ten.

Barb and I also watched (having first seen both at the Palms Theater here in Muscatine) the new Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones movies on 4K Blu-ray. We like both better than a lot of people, including a good share of critics. The Mission: Impossible is admittedly just one impressive action set piece after another, linked by a gibberish plot. But Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is getting a bad rap. While its one car chase scene is a bit of a yawn compared to anything in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (not exactly a snappy title), Indiana Jones is firmly rooted in Professor Jones’ love for archeology, and along the way examines how a hero can be battered down by age and tragedy but can fight his way back.

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No card from Paul Reubens this year. But as Pee-Wee Herman will live forever, let’s pretend he sent one.


Spillane Doc (and Encore for Murder) Pre-Order

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane expanded version cover

The new, expanded version of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, is available now for pre-order at Amazon. It ships on December 12.

This Blu-ray disc includes as a Bonus Feature Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder, the Golden Age Radio-style play with Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer, a 90-minute offering. (The doc is 61 minutes, so the Bonus Feature is half an hour longer than the main feature!) As you may know, Gary performed in Encore at Owensboro, Kentucky, and later in Clearwater, Florida. This presentation, about a year ago, was in my home town of Muscatine, Iowa, with Gary appearing with a particularly strong area cast. Many of these cast members are in my film Blue Christmas, currently in post-production.

Encore for Murder DVD cover

Encore for Murder will be available separately as a DVD, also on Dec. 12. It too can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

* * *

Editor Chad Bishop and I have completed the edit of Blue Christmas with the exception of the opening credits sequence, which requires Second Unit photography and editing of stock footage. We have been waiting for snow to do the exterior shots and we have some today, so that may yet happen.

Chad and I met on the production of Encore for Murder and about a year ago began planning Blue Christmas. We thought we had a good shot at a $50,000 grant, but it fell through. We did a crowd-funding effort, in which some of you generously contributed, and raised around $7000 – hardly enough to mount a feature film (the operative term is “Yikes!) but neither Chad nor I nor Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein (my longtime collaborator) took any up-front pay. We share ownership of the final product.

I rewrote the script to utilize a single set and was able to secure the Black Box theater at Muscatine Community College, thanks to their generosity to a former student there (and teacher).

I am very pleased thus far. My underpaid cast was terrific, with Rob Merritt making a perfect Richard Stone (the Heller-ish private eye at the center of this Maltese Falcon/A Christmas Carol mash-up).

Barb swore up and down that she was not going to participate in my return to indie filmmaking; but of course she did. Son Nate did also, filling in on boom operator duties and even running camera at times. I admit pushing the “let’s put on a show” thing past the breaking point. I am pretty sure it was what sent me back into a-fib by the end of the week-long (double “Yikes!”) shooting schedule.

Already I’m very proud of this one.

Stay tuned.

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I continue to need your help with the new Nate Heller novel, Too Many Bullets. And the previous one, The Big Bundle, could use a boost, too.

The accidental collision of these two titles being (essentially) published in the same year has damaged them badly. Unusual for any Heller, neither book had turned up on any year’s end “Best Of” lists – it’s as if they don’t exist at all. As I’ve mentioned before, not one of the trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Booklist) reviewed Too Many Bullets – and in the past they have covered every single Heller novel, including The Big Bundle. But because it appeared as though I had published two Heller novels in the same year, the second of those (yes, Too Many Bullets) got ignored.

In reality, The Big Bundle was published in 2022, but was held up in a dock strike till several months into 2023. That made it collide with the already scheduled Too Many Bullets.

What can you do to help?

Well, as my late friend Paul Thomas used to say (quoting his father), “If you’re looking for sympathy, it’s in the dictionary between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis.’”

What you can do is buy and read Too Many Bullets, in which Heller reveals what really happened in the RFK murder case, and then (IMPORTANT) review it at Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere. In other words, get the word out. Reader reviews have been pretty much excellent, except for the occasional “I’ve been reading him for years but he sucks now” school of thought.

Otherwise, without your help, I can guarantee you that Too Many Bullets will be the last Heller novel.

Too Many Bullets cover
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook: Kobo Google Play
Too Many Bullets cover
Paperback (coming Dec. 12):
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:
Audio MP3 CD:
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Road to Perdition is one of fifteen mystery comics that a recommended here.

And Paul Newman’s wonderful performance in the film version of Perdition is discussed here.