Posts Tagged ‘Nolan’

Eliot Ness, Quarry, Writing Series Characters and More

Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

My YouTube appearances with Heath Holland at his Cereal at Midnight continue, with what I think is the best so far: a discussion of Eliot Ness on screen, kicked off by the current Blu-ray edition of The Scarface Mob from Eureka.

Also on the YouTube front, Robert Meyer Burnett, on his Robservations and Let’s Get Physical Media, continues to provide updates on his audio “movie for the ears” adaptation of my novel True Detective. It’s called True Noir: The Casebooks of Nathan Heller, and I am writing the scripts myself. I have delivered the first seven of ten of what will be a fully immersive audio presentation directed by Rob, with an incredible Hollywood cast, and will run at least five hours.

Todd Stashwick of Picard and Twelve Monkeys (and much else) makes a terrific Nate Heller. If this project resonates with the public, look for three more Heller novels to become movies for the mind, all adapted by Heller’s creator himself.

You know – me.

* * *

Paperback Warrior posted the cover of the upcoming (it’s a fall release from Hard Case Crime) Quarry’s Return. That was a post on X, which I guess is what they’re calling Twitter now. It’s from Elon Musk, who named a ship after Ms. Tree, then didn’t follow up on his people asking to license the name from Terry Beatty and me. Somehow I’m reminded of the penny-pinching kazillionaires in classic Li’l Abner by Al Capp.

Quarry's Return

But since this cover image is floating around out there, I thought I should share it, though we’re a few months away from the novel’s release. I didn’t expect to be writing another novel about Quarry in his (ahem) later years; but sequels have a way of worming into my brain as if I were a Presidential candidate and then percolating there (that’s what we writer folks call a mixed metaphor).

Now I have a notion for yet another “old Quarry” story that is wormily percolating, and we’ll see. I had thought that The Last Quarry would be the last Quarry; but then a whole slew (past tense of “slay”) of ‘em followed, filling in the blanks of his life and varied career. Then came Quarry’s Blood, which was really designed to be the last, only when it was warmly received for a book about a cold-blooded killer, I changed my mind (again). And now here’s Quarry’s Return, with Quarry again a geriatric retired hitman kicking younger ass.

It isn’t that I was planning to retire the character. I figured I might do the occasional younger Quarry novel while I am still above ground. I am never anxious to retire a character completely, in my imagination anyway. It wasn’t hard at all to bring Nolan and Jon back in Skim Deep something like forty years later. I knocked on their door and they promptly answered, not much the worse for wear.

I think the reason why I’ve stayed with my series characters is that good ones don’t come along that often. The only one I’ve really consciously retired is Mallory, because there really isn’t a premise there to generate more novels, and anyway he’s essentially me and that bores my ass off.

But I will never understand mystery and suspense writers who do a new character each and every time. Most of these scribes, well, many of them are simply hanging a new name on the old character. Also, I am too aware of how unsuccessful some incredible writers have been, trying to create a second series character. You may have noticed, if you’ve been paying very close attention, that I like Mickey Spillane – the man and his writing. But what’s your favorite Spillane series character after Mike Hammer? And Velda and Pat Chambers don’t count. (Velda could carry a novel, and some would say she carried a whole comic book series under a separate name. Hint: Ms. Tree. But can you imagine the sheer snooze factor of a Pat Chambers novel?)

So with apologies to you Tiger Mann fans, Mike Hammer can’t be created twice. Edgar Rice Burroughs came close by writing John Carter of Mars, but that character was no Tarzan (and Carson of Venus wasn’t even Carter). Going back to Mickey, his second greatest series protagonist was Morgan the Raider (The Delta Factor); but I had to finish the only other book that character generated (The Consummata) from a few chapters in Mickey’s files.

Barb, a while back (in the throes of writing an Antiques novel and enduring the suffering that process creates in my talented wife), started talking about ending that series, fed up with the difficulties of generating more stories about Vivian and Brandy Borne. I insisted that she stick with it (not that my insistence carried any particular weight) because the Borne girls are fabulous fictional creations, in my unhumble opinion. They live and breathe on the page, and act of their own volition, as all great series characters do.

Here’s the thing: Rex Stout was a genius. His Nero Wolfe books are among the most readable and re-readable novels of any kind ever written. No other two fictional characters live and breathe like Wolfe and Archie. They are as good as fiction gets in the world of the creation of mystery genre recurring characters. Holmes and Watson never breathed as fully, and before Nero and Archie, they were the top.

And yet Rex Stout’s publisher kept after him to create another series. And of course he was a smashing success with his other incredibly famous character, Tecumseh Fox. Right? Right? Okay, how about Alphabet Hicks? There’s a banger of a character! Or how about giving Inspector Cramer a mystery of his own? Or that famous female PI, Dol Bonner?

Nope. One of the few true geniuses of mystery fiction, Rex Stout, stunk up the place with these more contrived creations. So I’m of the opinion that when a mystery writer stumbles upon a character that resonates with the public, said mystery writer should give the public what they want.

Are there dangers? Yes, artistic ones. For example, what if I’d been hugely successful right out of the gate with Nolan, who was after all an homage to Don Westlake’s Parker (“homage,” as we all know, is French for “rip-off”). I might still be writing nothing but Nolan books. I’d have written, say, 40 or 50 Nolan and Jon novels…selling millions…and writing nothing else.

Writers do need to flex their talents. That’s why Robert B. Parker wrote westerns on the side and did his own unsuccessful Dol Bonner-type female private eye novel. So it’s risky, sticking with one series. I do think, with the Antiques books, you have two interacting characters – like Archie and Wolfe – who provide a kind of engine for the story beyond the plot machinations.

Mickey wrote about Mike Hammer throughout his sporadic career. Early on he came to feel he’d characterized Hammer so fully, there wasn’t anything else to say. He compensated by writing Tiger Mann and some standalones, though he drifted back to what was essentially the same protagonist under various names. What kept him artistically sane (not a word used much in relation to Mike Hammer, I grant you) was his decision to make Hammer always reflect where he, Mickey Spillane, was in his life. He allowed Hammer to grow somewhat older (not realistically so, but older) and to allow this indomitable character to have frailties – Hammer went on a seven-year drunk; he was, in several novels (including some I completed) recovering from wounds or otherwise physically impaired. This reflected Spillane’s own advancing years, and the on-and-off nature of his writing career.

Look, every mystery writer – every writer – has to do this his or her own way. I am only suggesting that for me it’s been an interesting, rewarding ride, following my characters through their advancing years (and mine). That was true of Nate Heller in the current Too Many Bullets. It was true of Nolan and Jon in Skim Deep. And Quarry in Quarry’s Blood and Quarry’s Return. And if I ever return to Ms. Tree, you can bet your ass she’ll be in menopause.

* * *

Speaking of Ms. Tree, Terry and I are working on the sixth and final Titan volume of the collected Ms. Tree, which gathers almost everything he and I did with the character and her supporting cast (no The P.I.s, though). She had an impressive dozen-year comics run (1981 – 1993) and represents one of the most gratifying collaborations I’ve ever enjoyed. Terry Beatty and I, I am glad to say, will always be thought of by many comics fans as a team.

Right now Terry is working on helping put together (much as he has on the Titan volumes of collected Ms. Tree) our Dark Horse Johnny Dynamite graphic novel, Underworld, in an improved publication that will happen later this year.

It’s an enduring frustration to me that we both worked on Batman but never together. And that we both did syndicated comic strips (Dick Tracy and Rex Morgan respectively), but not as a team. He’s still doing Rex Morgan, but he doesn’t need me – he writes it himself. I like to think he had a good teacher.

As for Dick Tracy, the VCI Blu-ray collection of the four RKO Tracy feature films – with two new commentaries by me and lots of bonus features – will be out in early August.

Getting back to Ms. Tree, here’s Comic Book Treasury’s best crime comics write-up (it invokes Road to Perdition, but lists Ms. Tree).

And speaking of Collins/Beatty, here’s a look at Wild Dog at Tvtropes. It says: “The series was writted by Max Allan Collins with art by Terry Beatty.” I don’t know who “writted” this otherwise nice piece.

M.A.C.

Heller Is 40, a Blue Christmas Trailer & The Princess Bride

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023

This is the 40th anniversary of Nate Heller (True Detective came out in 1983) and the 50th anniversary of my professional mystery writing career (Bait Money and Blood Money came out in 1973).

I haven’t made a fuss over it, because (a) I was too busy celebrating various Spillane birthdays (Mickey’s 100th and Hammer’s 75th), and (b) I didn’t notice. Several other folks did, and nudged me about it.

So hooray for me, I guess, but mostly hooray for you, for keeping me in business, despite many a bump in the road (to perdition or otherwise). Many a mystery writer, any number more highly touted than me, has come along in these fifty years, but where are they now?

Me, I’m right here with you. And as long as I’m on the right side the grass (the green stuff), I still will be.

Maybe even after that.

* * *

Here is a look at our first trailer for Blue Christmas.

You may have to wait till Christmas 2024 to see the whole movie, as we’re just about to go out to market with it now, with next Yuletide sales our goal. We have an edit that needs just a little tweaking and then we’ll be ready to go.

I want to salute my collaborators, including the remarkable cast led by Rob Merritt, Alisabeth Von Presley and Chris Causey, as well as my longtime director of photography Phil Dingeldein, aided this time by the talented 1st camera assistant Liz Toal. And then there’s Chad Bishop, whose list of efforts on this feature is staggering – producer, editor, lighting tech, sound tech, and playing a major supporting on-screen role (not counting preparing posters and other promo materials).

Blue Christmas Poster

Chad was the editor on Mickey Spillane’s Encore For Murder, which you can pre-order on DVD from Amazon now or pre-order the Blu-Ray of the expanded Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane documentary and get Encore as a 90-minute bonus feature!

* * *

If you stop by here regularly, you already know that the release of the new Nate Heller RFK-assassination novel Too Many Bullets ran into a major snafu when the previous Heller (The Big Bundle) was delayed by a UK doc strike. The two books somewhat collided in the marketplace, and the trade reviewers ignored Bullets – no reviews from the usual suspects, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal. Ouch.

Fortunately, the Internet has been making up for that lapse, starting with a lengthy Heller-centric interview at the great Rap Sheet by longtime M.A.C. supporter, J. Kingston Pierce. Jeff has done two previous in-depth interviews with me over the course of thirty years (!), and this may be the best. He knows just what questions to ask, and the follow-ups, too.

Then Mr. Pierce turned around and wrote Bullets up in his terrific secondary column, Killer Covers. Jeff, your check is in the mail.

And here’s a nice review of Bullets from Reviewing the Evidence (the reviewer has a few quibbles but mostly is flatteringly positive).

And Book Reporter has done a really nice review of Too Many Bullets, right here.

Speaking of The Big Bundle, it will be out in trade paperback from (of course) Hard Case Crime on December 12. You can pre-order that one, too.

* * *

For years now – really, years – I have spent Saturday afternoons with my grandson Sam Collins (Samuel, actually, like Mr. Spade), sharing 3-D movies with him. This goes back to when he was three years old and we watched cartoons – the good stuff, Warner Brothers, Fleischer Popeye and Superman. These weren’t 3-D, but when Sam turned four we switched mostly to movies, and those usually were.

I have seen more kid’s movies than any adult should ever have to endure. Now some are quite good, like pre-Sleeping Beauty Disney. And some are okay, like…well, nothing comes to mind. But a goodly number of kid’s movies are dire. Recently Sam and I watched the latest Paw Patrol movie and a week later – at a movie theater no less – saw the latest Trolls movie.

That was it. That was the straw.

I decided we were going to up the ante and see movies that I felt (that I feel) the eight year-old Sam is ready for. After all, I was a DICK TRACY fan at seven (and this included the Model Jones and Crewy Lou and the Brow stories, twirling bullets through bodies and all). I have been assembling movies to share with him. Ghostbusters and The Great Race (we’ll watch that in two parts) are on deck. We watched Willy Wonka (the original) a month or so ago, and Sam loved it.

So I showed him The Princess Bride on this past Saturday afternoon. And he loved that, as well. When it was over, he said, “It’s a story about a story!”

I do not raise (well, help raise) any dumb grandkids. Obviously. Anything else would be inconceivable.

The Princess Bride poster

M.A.C.

Spillane Nominated, Antiques Is Loved, Blue Christmas Begins, and Poirot Returns

Tuesday, September 19th, 2023

Okay, so the nominations for Quarry’s Blood (Edgar) and The Big Bundle (Shamus) did not result in wins. But how about this: Max Allan Collins and Jim Traylor’s Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction has been nominated for BIO’s Plutarch Award, given to the best biography of the year – as judged by biographers. I have no idea how this Bio nomination might play out.

Still, this feels really good, because this book is one I am particularly proud of, and I know Jim feels the same. Obviously we are hopeful for an Edgar nomination, but a win there seems unlikely as the prejudice against Mickey continues in many quarters, particularly coming from people who never read much if any of him.

On the other hand, we received several nice reviews for the current Hammer, Dig Two Graves, and Barb and I just finished listening (in the car) to the Skyboat Media audio book of it, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki, who does his usual stellar job.

The handful of copies of Dig Two Graves that I had to give away here were snapped up eagerly. I am sorry I didn’t have more to offer than that. It’s out today (Sept. 19) – so Happy Publication Day!

Speaking of good reviews, here’s a honey by Sue O’Brien about Antiques Foe by Barbara Allan (Barb and me) from Booklist:

Antiques Foe
By Barbara Allan
Nov. 2023. 208p. Severn, $31.99 (9781448309627);
e-book (9781448309634)

Vivian Borne, co-owner with her daughter Brandy of Trash ‘n’ Treasures, is thrilled to be invited to be a guest on Nicole Chatterton’s video podcast, Killers Caught, until Chatterton ambushes her on her murder-solving record, with Vivian threatening Chatterton and Brandy abruptly ending the interview. When Vivian goes to Chatterton’s hotel room to retrieve her signed release form to prevent the interview from airing, she finds Chatterton dead on the floor and is quickly arrested as the chief suspect in her murder. When Brandy is attacked and badly hurt, Vivian decides on drastic measures to protect her family. Brandy is gutted by the shocking turn of events, but the investigation continues, led by her fiancé, Police Chief Tony Cassato, leading to a plan to trap the killer. This tale is told in first person by both the flamboyant Vivian and the long-suffering Brandy, with the two talking directly to the reader in numerous humorous asides. Framed by small-town life in Iowa, with interesting details on antiques, this fun cozy includes recipes and tips on collecting sports memorabilia.

* * *

One of the things I’ll be doing here at Update Central in the coming couple of months is discuss the ongoing production of my micro-budgeted movie, Blue Christmas, which I scripted and will direct.

We had disappointing news this week when Gary Sandy decided not to do the production out of solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA strikers. He offered to do the film next year, when presumably the strike will be over, and suggested April. We are already going full-steam ahead and had to turn down this generous offer from Gary, who will very likely be in a future production of ours.

This, of course, will have to mean that directing another movie – designed to be user friendly to its aging director, and to be produced reasonably (all right, on the cheap) – is still something I enjoy doing and am able to perform to my satisfaction despite certain limitations due to health issues.

We held auditions this week and they went very well. I cast many of the local players from Encore for Murder, and two terrific pros from Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities respectively, Rob Merrit and Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt. My team includes Chad T. Bishop, producer (he edited Encore for Murder); Phil Dingeldein, Director of Photography (my longtime friend/collaborator on films); and Karen Cooney, production manager (my co-director of the stage version of Encore for Murder).

Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest

We have an excellent set builder tentatively on board, and Chris Christensen (my Seduction of the Innocent bandmate, and the composer of the scores for Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, Caveman and the award-winning Quarry short, “A Matter of Principal”) has agreed to do the score. Chris also contributed to Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market and Encore for Murder.

Also on the indie film front, I looked at the “check discs” of the Blu-ray of the documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane with Encore for Murder as the bonus feature, a DVD of the same, and finally a stand-alone DVD of Encore designed to go out to Golden Age Radio collectors. VCI is putting all of these out, in partnership with MVD, who do some very interesting stuff, particularly in their “Rewind” line that puts ‘80s and ‘90s video store favorites on Blu-ray.

* * *
A Haunting in Venice poster banner

Barb and I took in A Haunting in Venice, very loosely adapted from Agatha Christie’s Poirot novel, Hallowe’en Party. We had both pretty much enjoyed director/star Kenneth Branagh’s first Poirot outing, Murder on the Orient Express, but it was no threat to the Sidney Lumet original. The second Branagh adaptation of Christie, Death on the Nile, was more Meh on the Vile. But this one is a stunner.

Branagh’s Poirot is better etched here, and his direction is moody and immersive, creating a horror film vibe without shortchanging the very tricky murder mystery. Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver takes some getting used to, but ultimately comes across well. The standout performer is a child actor, Jude Hill, around twelve when this was shot.

It was wise of Branagh to get away from remaking the excellent previous Poirot films (so far, at least, the great Evil Under the Sun has been spared 21st Century re-imagining) and if more of these follow, he might look at the serious, post-war Poirot novels like Taken At the Flood and Five Little Pigs.

* * *

Crime Reads zeroes in on seven novels set in Sin City (Las Vegas) and one of them is Skim Deep. Oddly, my CSI novel called Sin City (co-written by Matthew Clemens) isn’t among them!

Jeff Pierce’s indispensable Rap Sheet shares some things from a recent update of ours right here. Nice write-up, and the lead item!

Screen Rant discusses my version of Robin in (where else?) Batman. My work on that feature seems to be getting a little more respect these days.

Finally, Den of Geek names Road to You-know-where one of the best crime-and-mob movies. Gratifying that this film is holding on so very well as decades pass.

M.A.C.

Quarry’s Return, Rodriguez, Barry Newman & William Friedkin

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023

I have completed Quarry’s Return and shipped it to my editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime and to my longtime agent, Dominick Abel. This included a long day of re-reading the 60,000-word manuscript and another day of entering my tweaks and corrections, assembling the chapter files into one big file, and doing a conversion from Word Perfect to Word, followed by a page-by-page check for glitches (and there were some).

This was something of a test case for me, as I have (as regular readers of this update/blog know) been dealing with health issues. My wife Barb has been encouraging me to slow down the writing process, and I have to a degree, but my approach is dependent to some degree on momentum, so I like to get a book done in as short a time as possible because I believe the narrative drive benefits.

This is the second novel I’ve written this year. The Mike Hammer novel, Dig Two Graves, was written starting in February and March. It’s a fairly short book, about 50,000 words, and I wrote it in three weeks, which impressed and sort of irritated Barb, who spends six months on her Antiques drafts before handing one over to me.

Between the two books I’ve written several book proposals, a short story with Matt Clemens (just sold to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine!), and revised a couple of screenplays. Also, we completed the expansion of the Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane documentary and the edit on Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder, both with VCI releases yet this year.

The month I spent on Quarry’s Return included my hospital visit for a heart procedure, followed by a complication from which I am still recuperating (but doing very well). I only lost about three writing days due to the procedure – writing seems to be something I can do and feel “normal” doing, even when I’m under the weather.

Quarry’s Return is a coda to a coda, the latter being Quarry’s Blood. I did not expect to be writing about the older Quarry again (the Quarry who is about my age), but that’s the story that occurred to me and that my editor liked the sound of. What transpired was a novel that took Quarry back to Port City, Iowa – the site of his first recorded adventure, Quarry AKA The Broker (1976) – which plays into the title and to the coda of coda notion.

Will there be more Quarry? As long as there is more of me, probably…though any subsequent Quarry novel will likely be set in the past, as the other HCC Quarry books have been.

Quarry’s Return feels like a good one, but until I hear from Charles and Dominick, I won’t know for sure. Turning a novel in can be followed by requested rewrites in some cases. To me, it’s a nice combo of the Richard Stark-inspired crime novel side of the series and the Mickey Spillane-inspired private eye aspect of the series…in addition to being a hitman (various varieties of which depend on where a story falls in the timeline), Quarry often acts as a sort of P.I. That’s even got him occasionally nominated for a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

The novel also has my trademark combination of human sentiment and inhuman behavior that no doubt confuses some, and keeps me off some readers’ preferred reading list.

I don’t recall when it’s scheduled to come out. Probably 2024. I’ll let you know here.

* * *

I have several meetings this week as we move into serious pre-production on my micro-budget movie, Blue Christmas. We suffered a blow when (apparently) we did not receive any Greenlight grant money. That parenthetical “apparently” reflects the failure of the program to come even close to when they were supposed to reveal the results of the competition, which they haven’t officially yet.

This blow puts us further into the micro budget area, and decisions have to be made, and will be made shortly. But unless my health intrudes, I intend to will this sucker into existence. I have great help from my collaborators Phil Dingeldein, Liz Toal and Chad Bishop.

I want to spend at least part of the next few years returning to film projects – sort of my last chance to do so.

Phil and Liz and I, and my Hollywood “guy” Ken Levin, are working hard to get my horror film Reincarnal made. Some of you have read the novella it’s based on, the title story in a Wolfpack collection of mine (Amazon link). [And in the soon-to-be-released Max Allan Collins Collection Volume Four: Dark Suspense (Amazon link) – Nate]

I am in early stages of working with Phil, Mike Bawden and the great Robert Meyer Burnett to create a Heller podcast series that would, we hope, seed the clouds for a Nathan Heller movie or TV series. A long ago project that I was working on for (and with) the late Miguel Ferrer – a film based on my novella Dying in the Post-war World – is in the mix.

We still have an eye on getting Road to Purgatory produced. I have the rights back on my screenplay from my novel, the direct sequel to Road to Perdition.

Other things whirling in the currently strike-stalled land of the wooded holly: the recently announced Mike Hammer feature film from Skydance; a Nolan movie from Lionsgate; and an Eliot Ness in Cleveland mini-series from CBS Films.

Sounds glittering and great, huh?

If I were confident about the big-time stuff happening, would I be preparing to do a micro-budget Christmas movie?

I ask you.

* * *

Among the bad things about writing a weekly update like this at my age is how many people I admire do us the disservice of dying.

But two of my favorites have passed and I must comment.

Rodriguez is a musical artist I discovered recently, thanks to my guitarist in Crusin’, Bill Anson, turning me onto him. I’d had the documentary Searching for Sugarman (2012) on my DVD shelf for some time – my agent gave it to me for Christmas years ago – but had not gotten around to watching it. I finally did, and if you haven’t seen it, you need to.

The basic story is simple if incredible. A talented singer/songwriter out of Detroit, Rodriguez made two wonderful albums (Cold Fact, 1970, and Coming from Reality, 1971) that were mostly overlooked by critics and completely overlooked by the public. He returned to a life divided between playing in small venues and doing day labor, taking great pride in the latter. He essentially fell off the national grid, and legends grew up about him dying on stage, sometimes committing suicide at the end of his set. He became huge in South Africa and popular in Australia, as well, and continued to be unknown here until the documentary came out in 2012.

Some of you know that I am not a fan of Bob Dylan the vocalist, though I like much of his songwriting. His nasal off-key singing is fingernails-on-the-blackboard stuff to me, though I find it interesting that both Tom Petty and John Lennon used him as a vocal role model, but did so by restoring the concept of singing in key.

Rodriguez is often compared to Dylan, but it’s a pretty shallow comparison. You can’t deny Dylan was a prolific singer/songwriter, and his catalogue of compositions is staggeringly large and impressive. Rodriguez did two albums of beautiful melodies and poetic skill in a warm, eccentric vocal style that displayed a limited vocal range but is the perfect vehicle for emotional material delivered from a cool distance.

He’s great.

And he’s gone, at 81. After his discovery made him if not a household word but at least well-known among popular music buffs, new albums from him were limited to a couple of live performance CD’s. He copped to having continued his songwriting all those years, but no new album emerged. I am hopeful that there’s a vault somewhere at his regular label, Light in the Attic Records, that will bring more of his material to light.

* * *

My friend Bob King edits the great Classics Images (published right here in Muscatine, Iowa), in which he covers all kinds of wonderful mainstream and obscure aspects of classic Hollywood. I always check the obituaries (like George Burns, I’m checking to see if I’m there) and now and then a shock comes to the system: Barry Newman has died at 92.

Barry Newman was – no, damnit, is – one of my favorite actors. He came out of the gate fast and was a popular leading man and unlikely action star in the 1970s. He top-billed the cult classic Vanishing Point (1971) as well as Fear Is the Key (1972), and The Salzburg Connection (1972). He later became a star of TV movies, headlining twenty films in the ‘80s. Later he turned up now and then in bigtime films like Daylight (for which I wrote the novelization), The Limey and Bowfinger. But largely he fell off the radar. I never understood that and still don’t.

He made his first splash in The Lawyer (1970), which was based on the Sam Sheppard murder case and evolved from an intended biopic of then famous attorney F. Lee Bailey. His charismatic performance as the title lawyer, Anthony Petrocelli, led to a TV movie (Night Games 1974)) as that character and the two-season, Emmy-nominated Petrocelli TV series (1974-1976). The showstopping aspect of The Lawyer was Newman’s outrageous courtroom performance topped by his summation to the jury, in which he presented an alternate version of the crime to interpret the facts that ultimately got his client sprung. This trademark jury summation followed Newman and the character into the series.

Much of Newman’s success in The Lawyer is due to the dynamic direction of Sidney J. Furie, who put Michael Caine on the map in The Ipcress File (1965). But Newman rose to the occasion.

The Lawyer Episode Guide Cover

I got in touch with him a few years ago, in part because I’d written an introductory piece about The Lawyer and Petrocelli for a Bear Manor Media book about the TV series. Mostly I wanted to get in touch with him because it was The Lawyer (more than The Fugitive) that made me want to do a Nathan Heller novel about the Sheppard case.

When I called him – this is typical Newman behavior – he answered in an old man voice and pretended to be his own grandfather. When he determined who I was, and that I was worth talking to, he became Barry Newman again and might have been thirty or thirty-five, judging by voice alone. We had several wonderful phone conversations and I sent him my Sheppard “Nathan Heller” novel, Do No Harm (2020). He is thanked and recognized in both the text of the novel and the afterword.

He was very complimentary about my essay about him and his work on The Lawyer, and was nice enough to say that my piece was his favorite thing in the Bear Manor Media Book, which you can buy here.

The TV series is available here.

Unfortunately The Lawyer is not available legally on physical media, other than in the wonderful but expensive Sidney J. Furie boxed set currently out of print (but you can find it on e-bay).

The Lawyer is available on Amazon Prime.

I intended to call Newman to congratulate him on the Blu-ray box with The Lawyer finally doing him and that film justice. But I hadn’t got around to it. I do know that he and director Furie were trying to put a movie together with Newman starring. This was just before Covid hit.

But somehow I find it reassuring that in his late eighties, Barry Newman was looking for the next project.

* * *

I mentioned here that Robert Meyer Burnett’s enthusiasm for To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) had found me ordering a film that I’d despised in the theater on its first release.

I do occasionally discover a film I’d not enjoyed years ago turning out to strike me differently today. But I am more inclined to continue liking the films that I liked then. If you had asked me for a list of my favorite films, in 1985, I’d have said, Vertigo, Kiss Me Deadly, Gun Crazy, Chinatown and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (can you spot the non-noir in that list?). I would have cited Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Lewis as my favorite directors, and James Bond as my favorite film series. Hardly any change.

Revisiting To Live and Die in L.A. was a different ride. First off, its star – William Peterson – I have always liked, going back to Manhunter (1986) and Long Gone (1987); and I did (with Matt Clemens) my long run of CSI novels, comics and even video games with Peterson playing Gil Grissom not only on TV but in the theater of my mind. He even spoke my dialogue in the CSI video games.

What quickly became clear to me (I’d probably noticed this on first viewing, too) was that director William Friedkin was doing a West Coast variation on his very successful East Coast cop thriller, The French Connection. I’ve liked a lot of what Friedkin did, but I don’t think he ever topped The Exorcist and The French Connection.

His work generally strikes me as that of someone who is a great storyteller but not a great writer. He is at his best adapting a novel or play or non-fiction work. Left to his own devices, he can create a vivid movie filled with compelling scenes, and To Live and Die in L.A. certainly qualifies in that regard.

And it’s based on a book, but not a particularly good one. I don’t like to comment on other novelists’ stuff, so that’s all I’ll say.

But this narrative, as presented by Friedkin, has so many cliches, it’s no wonder it pissed me off in 1986. And, look, Friedkin was thinking about doing my True Detective and did this movie instead, which at the time undoubtedly pissed me off. Still, this is a movie that begins with the young lead character’s veteran cop partner having only three more days on the job, with only one dangerous gig ahead. This is a character who says the immortal line, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

It’s also a cop movie where the naive, idealistic new partner eventually becomes the continuation of the corrupt veteran partner who has died in the line of duty. That this is an unbelievable character shift is in no way justified.

Many of the semi-improvised scenes work, a good number do not. It does have some interesting female characters and a car chase designed to out-do the famous one in French Connection. And it comes very close.

I now like this movie, with reservations. Like a beautiful pock-marked woman. SPOILER ALERT: …… killing the lead with fifteen minutes of the movie left was a bold move that irritated me then and makes me smile and nod now.

Incidentally, I accidentally ordered the Blu-ray, not the highly regarded 4K disc. They share the same transfer and special features and I thought it looked fantastic.

I should say that the fuss over 4K may be at least partially dependent on the size of your TV. I have three TVs – a 55″ flat screen in the living room (with a shallow viewing distance between my recliner and the screen), a 45″ TV in my office, and a 19″ tube TV also in my office, for viewing laser discs. The 55″ is from a brief period where you could find monitors that could present both 3-D and 4K. My 45″ is 3-D but not 4K.

Why do I mention this? Because some people say that you need 65″ or larger to appreciate the difference between Blu-ray and 4K. This isn’t entirely true, but there’s something to it. The Blu-ray of To Live and Die in L.A., which I almost sent back unopened to exchange against the 4K, really does look excellent on my 55″ screen.

And for me having the ability to screen 3-D is a must. I have too deep a 3-D library to feel otherwise.

I am also not as attuned (shall we say) to sound. I have a sound bar with a sub woofer and to me everything sounds great. Terms like Dolby Atmos and DTS and 7.1 are outside my area of interest and expertise. For one thing, the reality of my life is that once Barb goes to bed (at 10 pm) I can’t watch anything loud, anyway. I usually watch with subtitles, and still get scolded by the angry woman who storms out, my charming understanding bride having been somehow absconded and replaced by this unforgiving one.

It’s not unlike my situation where my collector gene comes in conflict with my realization that at my age, I have better ways to spend my time and money than upgrading everything from Blu-ray to 4K, and spending big bucks on collector sets with lobby cards and booklets and do-dads that I’ll look at once, smile, and stow away.

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Here’s an article about filmmaking in the Quad Cities, covering a gathering at Phil Dingeldein’s dphilms stuido.

M.A.C.