MacDonald paves the way for two brilliant film adaptations.
John D. MacDonald's The Executioners should be studied in screenwriting classes as an example of what great movie minds can do with good base material. The book was made into two movies, both called Cape Fear, the first in 1962 with Robert Mitchum playing an iconic villain, and the second in 1991 with a lean and terrifying Robert DeNiro in the same role. You probably know the novel's basic set-up: a young man's testimony sends a savage rapist to prison, but years later as a middle-aged lawyer, he's astonished to find not only that the rapist has earned an early parole, but that he has one thing on his mind—revenge. MacDonald gets the entire backstory of the rape, trial, and imprisonment built in the first twenty pages, then kicks the tale into high gear as the hero tries to save his family from several potentially horrible forms of retribution.
The book is great, but even so it's of minimal scope compared to both film adaptations. The 1962 Cape Fear rearranged the book's climax into something more intense and physical, while the 1991 Cape Fear, which was directed by Martin Scorsese, took the pedophile sexual predator subtext of the novel and dragged all its dark ugliness right out into the open. Both adaptations made wise, bold choices, both were acclaimed by critics, and both pushed the envelope while daring audiences to endure the ride. So what you have here is a book that is among MacDonald's best, and two movies based upon it that are both among the best cinema of their era. That's some trick. We suggest you make time for all three. It will be well worth it.
Scorsese and DeNiro drive the message home.
And as long as we’re on the subject of movie posters, above you see the amazing Japanese promo for Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro’s noir-influenced howl of anguish Taxi Driver. After being released Stateside in early 1976 it premiered in Tokyo today the same year, and it is simply one of the best pieces of cinema ever produced in the U.S. In a country where outrage is increasingly an accepted form of communication, its story of a broken soul trying to cope with his own formless anger—not using his mind, but using his gun—resonates ever more strongly each day. People see DeNiro’s character Travis Bickle differently. Some see him as a fairly regular guy. Others see him as a mutant. Maybe it depends on one’s own level of anger. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader aren’t ambiguous about it—Bickle is a mutant who can blend in only because he’s surrounded by people so overworked or beaten down or self-involved or dwarfed by circumstance that they don’t notice that something is very wrong with him. Taxi Driver shows a man dealing with a sickness of anger, suggesting that the urge to commit violence is a cancer that could infest anyone if they aren't careful. It's a good message for times like these.
Elusive Whitey Bulger captured in California.
No, Whitey Bulger isn’t a thing, but a person. James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious gangster who had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for sixteen years and was the template for Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, was captured last night in Southern California. Bulger had once been leader of an Irish organized crime syndicate called the Winter Hill Gang, and worked for twenty years as an FBI informant in Boston. But he was dropped from the Feds’ roster in the early 1990s and dropped out of sight himself in 1995 when his FBI handler John Connolly, Jr. tipped him off that an indictment was coming down. Bulger was arrested yesterday at a Santa Monica apartment complex and now will face a full slate of serious charges—including murder, conspiracy, money laundering, narcotics distribution, and extortion.
Though the FBI has traditionally worked with criminals to help secure evidence against other lawbreakers, the agency’s relationship with Whitey Bulger was sharply criticized once it became public. At the time, the FBI was determined to cripple the Italian Mafia in Boston, and saw a partnership with Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang associate Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi as an acceptable bargain. But the relationship quickly became messy as the agency turned a blind eye to Bulger and Flemmi’s ongoing crimes. Flemmi himself testified in court in 1998 that the FBI gave him a free pass on numerous murders and attempted murders. He described it as having a “license to kill.”
At one point, who was operating who came into serious doubt, as John Connolly—at Whitey Bulger’s behest—passed along a case of wine and an envelope of cash to John Morris, Connolly’s supervisor in the FBI. Morris later copped to accepting thousands in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi. And in the most bizarre twist, the already wealthy Bulger somehow won $1.9 million in the Massachusetts lottery but went on the run before he was able to claim his prize, leading to the sight of his sister marching into U.S. Appeals Court in an attempt to win rights to the cash. Safe to say that as convoluted a story as Scorsese filmed in The Departed, the truth was infinitely more complex. Whether that truth will ever come out is in doubt. Bulger, eighty-one years old, is certain to die in prison.
Robert De Niro was all the rage in this Martin Scorsese tour de force.
We flirted with the idea of saving this Japanese promo art for Raging Bull until this date next year, but then we stopped kidding ourselves, because, one—we lack self-discipline, and two—who's to say we'll even be here next year? So here you go. We’ll have more on this film later, but for now, just dig the art. Raging Bull premiered in Japan today in 1980.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
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