Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Wooden Overcoat

I've just begun another of the books I bought on David Thompson's recommendation at Houston's Murder by the Book (May its profits increase!): The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch.

I've waffled over whether the book is too cozy for my taste, but an informative short biography of Branch, available on the Rue Morgue Press Web site and as an introduction to the novel, may have resolved the issue in the book's favor. The biography likens Branch's "madcap black humor" to that of such British movies as Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Branch published the novel in 1951; Ealing Studios released Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1949. Throw in another Alec Guinness movie, The Ladykillers, and there's reason to regard The Wooden Overcoat as a literary version of a subgenre I'd known previously only through movies: the macabre cozy. (Be sure to watch the original Ladykillers and not the wretched Tom Hanks remake.)

(Branch's novel offers one big surprise in its opening chapters, at least for me. And wooden overcoat is slang for coffin. At least one source says the expression may be of U.S. origin, while others call it Cockney rhyming slang, without, however, explaining the derivation.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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8 Comments:

Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Tom Hanks is returning to his early habit of making bad movies. Too bad.

December 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

The originaly Ladykillers is a great flick. I second Peter's recommendation. It's nice to see Alec Guinness, who was a marvelous actor, in something other than Star Wars, and to that end I'd also recommend Bridge on the River Kwai where he really shines.

December 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, the Ladykillers remake is a few years old now. I'm not sure where it fits in the Hanks oeuvre.

I was reminded when I did a few quick searches before this post that the remake is a Coen brothers movie. One does not hear their admirers brag too much about this one.

December 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, there was also an appealing modesty to Alec Guinness. An obituary resurrected an interview in which he acknowledged that he was not the equal of Olivier or Ralph Richardson of John Gielgud.

Those Ealing comedies are interesting for their macabre humor and for a dark side that I don't think one sees in American comedies, at least not of that era.

December 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter - That is one of the things I too admired about Guinness: his modesty. I remember reading once somewhere (probably IMDb) that Guinness always considered himself a character actor, who just so happened to land these big parts he wasn't really qualified for. His attitude serves as a nice counterpoint to the more typical mindset of A-list celebs. Especially in this day and age, where we have people who are famous...just for being famous.

December 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Modesty is a trait not often associated with actors. Alec Guinness stands out, all right.

December 29, 2009  
Anonymous cathyc said...

Oh. A bunch of comments none of which have anything to do with the book you are talking about.

Well, count me in. I think the start of this book, where they are getting rid of the body is about the funniest thing I've ever read in any genre. And I've read really rather a lot.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, there is much good fun about getting rid of bodies -- and getting rid of them again -- here.

January 10, 2010  

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