Goodis gets down and dirty while Hooks takes it up a notch.
This cover for David Goodis's 1956 novel Down There was painted by Mitchell Hooks, one of the unique talents of the paperback art era. Hooks worked in different modes. Often he utilized the type of line art you'd find in a high quality comic book or graphic novel, such as here and here. Other times he used color blocking for his backgrounds, such as on the above cover and the one you see at this link. He also used a lot of color bleeds, an example of which you see on his brilliant front for Madball, the second one at this link. And he worked in a more realistic mode too, when the mood struck. For Down There he mixed techniques, using a bleed in black to impart a film noir feel, and pairing his two figures with his trademark color-blocking. The effect is magnificent. Hooks was simply a highly versatile artist who always managed to surprise, and that makes his work a constant pleasure to seek out.
His cover for Down There fits Goodis like a glove. The novel is the unrelentingly grim story of a man whose piano playing genius saves him from a life of crime and transforms him into a classical music star, but who is inexorably dragged back into the depths of violence and revenge when his criminal brother needs protection. We soon learn that there are two brothers, both crooks, both neck deep in organized crime trouble. The reader catches no breaks—Goodis is matter-of-factly dark, spinning the tale from the point-of-view of an emotionally crippled main character, and crushing hope in heartwrenching ways that make the turning of pages a real effort at times.
Why put yourself through something like this? Well, it's very stylish, so much so that French director François Truffaut fell in love with it and adapted it to film in the form of Tirez sur le pianiste, known in English as Shoot the Piano Player. Truffaut was world famous after winning best director at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival for Les Quatre Cents Coups, aka The 400 Blows, so choosing Down There for his next project says plenty about the book. Goodis was well received by French directors in general. Other adaptations of his work were made by Pierre Chenal, Jacques Tourneur, Henri Verneuil, Francis Girod, René Clément, Gilles Behat, and Jean-Jacques Beineix. That's just remarkable. We'll probably watch some of those films, and you can be sure we'll revisit both David Goodis and Mitchell Hooks imminently.
These thieves will probably steal the entire film festival.
This poster for the 1957 film noir The Burglar looks pretty low rent, doesn't it? The movie is modestly budgeted too, but money isn't everything when it comes to making art. The film, which plays at Noir City tonight, opens with a nocturnal suburban heist that leaves a trio of break-in artists headed by Dan Duryea with a gaudy piece of $150,000 jewelry they can't hope to fence until the heat goes down. That means they have to wait, and with this mismatched group that means the pressure goes up. There's a fourth person in the mix. Jayne Mansfield, star of the promo poster, is the crew's eyes and ears, casing places they want to rob.
The Burglar is an early role for Mansfield, coming three years into her career, but it also arrived in cinemas a year after the big Twentieth Century Fox musical comedy The Girl Can't Help It, which featured her in full sex kitten mode, with the corset-crunched hourglass figure and helium voice. The irony is The Burglar was actually filmed before The Girl Can't Help It, but Mansfield's milieu had been set in stone by Fox's expensive hit. The Burglar challengingly asks her to be by turns innocent, tough, frustrated, terrified, and vulnerable. Basically, it asks too much this early in her career. But she gets by far the best line, when asked by Duryea at one point why she's being so fickle and difficult:
“You don't know? You really don't know? Well look at me! I'm a woman! I'm flesh and blood and I've got feelings!”
That one might bring the house down. A better actress might have nailed this dialogue, which was written by David Goodis working from his own novel, but as delivered by Mansfield the bit is funny, and actually goes on to hit other comedic notes. Though The Burglar demanded too much of the inexperienced Mansfield, she hurts the final product little, because the movie comes across like a sneaky parody anyway. With one partner in Mickey Shaughnessy who's creepy and rapey, and another in Peter Capell who's as highly strung as a banjo, head crook Duryea has assembled by far the worst gang in film noir history. There's no thought—not even for a second—that these three are going to achieve their goals.
But the movie is 190 proof noir—a knock-you-on-your-ass cocktail of nearly everything cool about the form. You get voiceover, flashback, nightmares, a loyal good girl led astray plus a femme fatale played by Martha Vickers, outrageous shadows, angular framing, hard-boiled dialogue, one crooked-as-fuck cop, a brassy, jazzy score, and beautiful night-for-night location work from director Paul Wendkos and cinematographer Don Malkames. And as bonuses you get a funhouse scene that's pure genius, and a high diving horse. The Burglar is sure to please all fans of old movies, but for noir lovers and lucky Noir City attendees in particular, it's nothing less than a landmark. You can learn a bit more about the film in the post below.
There's no amount of loot that can fill an empty soul.
Yes, we read the novel The Burglar right after watching the movie. We could have done it the other way around, but this seemed to make more sense. We went into the book wondering if the movie's merits were due to director Paul Wendkos or author David Goodis. Turns out it was both. Goodis wrote the screenplay, and his adaptation reshapes several crucial elements. Primarily, the movie has police procedural elements the book doesn't, and a take on the problem of sexual harassment that feels very 2019. On the other hand, an aspect of the novel we're surprised survived is the relationship between Gladden (Jayne Mansfield in the film) and Harbin (Dan Duryea). In both book and film Harbin takes over parenting Gladden when her father is killed, making them father figure and quasi daughter. In the film Mansfield even calls Duryea her foster father. That's pretty provocative, considering she wants to make the eight-limbed mattress monster™ with him.
Overall, it's no surprise the novel became a movie—it's great. The emotional desperation of Harbin, Gladden, and the other woman Della (played by Martha Vickers in the film) verges on painful to endure as a reader. They latch onto each other with a ferocity that's only matched by a fourth character's deadly lust for the stolen jewels. All this intensity comes in addition to a brilliant plot set-up for the entire exercise. We don't know if we'll ever again pair movie watching with immediately reading the source material, but it was interesting this time. Did it take the fun out of the book, knowing what would happen? Not at all. Goodis's novel is different enough that we weren't sure what would happen, actually. We owe this enjoyable read entirely to the Noirfest. We might have stumbled across the book randomly at some point, but without the movie to take us there, probably not.
Edit: Okay, we'll quit with the eight-limbed mattress monster™ bit. It was funny at first. You had to be there.
My life has gone horribly wrong, but at least I still have my digni— Oh, great. My fly was open this whole time, wasn't it?
In David Goodis' 1954 thriller Street of No Return, a down-on-his luck nobody named Whitey, who had been a great singer years ago only to lose his voice, career, and sobriety—thanks to a dame, of course—finds that even for a man at rock bottom things can get worse. And it involves something more serious than discovering his fly is open, though that would be funny. What happens is an impulsive act of compassion drags him into a pit of murder and corruption, set against the backdrop of Puerto Ricans-vs-cops race riots in Philadelphia. There are plenty of reviews of this online, so for details just look around. This one caught our eye because of the intricate and gritty cover art, yet another top effort from Barye Phillips.
What's in the box? Uh, you know, lipstick, gum, cigarettes, the souls of men I consume. The usual.
Above, really nice front and rear cover art for The Blonde on the Street Corner by David Goodis, which was published by Lion Books as a paperback original in 1954. Set in Philadelphia during 1936, the book examines a bunch of guys who have big dreams but no money, no motivation, and no ideas how to escape dead-end Philly. The narrative is basically plotless, like the characters' lives. Talk about a great depression. The cover art, by Robert Maguire, is beautiful but the blonde depicted is nothing like the blonde Goodis writes about. Goodis's blonde is overweight, married, and in her mid-thirties. She does have a sexual aura, though, and certainly fits the mold of a femme fatale. This is considered lesser Goodis, but it's still good enough.
I don’t know what you think you’re doing out there, but supper better be on the table in three minutes or you’re in big trouble.
For some reason when we first saw this cover it just screamed fed-up homemaker to us. Probably because we have this thing about guys in suits. We just know they’re always up to no good. But the art, which is by Ray App, actually depicts a woman who thinks a detective has failed to properly investigate the death of her husband. The moment is basically: “Re-open the case or I’ll jump.” We prefer our interpretation.
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