Sunday, February 21, 2010

Get Carter gets American — and English

The second Newcastle scene of Mike Hodges' 1971 movie Get Carter has Michael Caine climbing a dingy stairwell of peeling wallpaper and, I think, crumbling plaster.

The scene is quintessentially American, and I doubt that any previous English crime movie had included anything comparable. Moreover, Hodges and Caine knew they were bringing an American sensibility to British moviemaking; check out the book Caine's character reads on the train from London to Newcastle.

But as obvious and as bracing as the American influence is, the movie conveys a strong sense of place. Streets crammed with rows of attached houses are dwarfed by a mammoth, steaming, exhaling industrial complex. And the camera lingers on silent, time-worn faces in the local pub, in the manner of a good documentary. I don't know if this picture of Tyneside in the early '70s is accurate, but it is convincing, and that's what matters.

I also don't know how big Newcastle's Irish population was at the time, but if my uneducated ears don't deceive me, the movie is full of Irish accents, and not bad ones, either. This, too, makes the setting all the more convincing and convincingly English.

This naturally puts me in mind of the debt that current Irish crime writers acknowledge to Americans who went before. Perhaps the strongest such acknowledgement comes from Ken Bruen, who has said that "All my influences are American. That's how I learned to read. That's how I learned to write." And that doesn't make Bruen or Declan Hughes or Declan Burke or any of them any less Irish in my eyes.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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73 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

He's reading Chandler in the movie too.

Times have changed: all those people had to die because of a mild soft porn sex tape, the kind that startlets routinely make of themselves these days and "accidentally" release on the internet. I didnt mind the blokes getting killed - most of them deserved it - but the death penalty for the two sheilas seemed a bit much especially when the kingpin old John (Look Back in Anger) Osborne will only ever do about 18 months.

February 21, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Having only seen this for the first time in the last year, I'd say that what's stayed with me most is the setting and the tone, which is distinctly not American.

However, the plot may show more influences.

February 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think you're right. The movie takes a situation characteristic of American hard-boiled crime fiction. (even the porno reel meets that description. Think of the dirty pictures in The Big Sleep) and makes something unmistakably English of it. That's why I think the movie is of sociological interest in addition to its considerable merits as movie and a story.

For some reason, I don't remember noticing all this sociology when I first saw the movie just a few years ago.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The two sheilas ... " Are you taking the piss, or have you really picked up the lingo?

Interesting point about the two women getting knocked off. One of the deaths was accidental, sort of, though Jack showed no great grief in the close-up as she was being sent to meet her maker. As for the other, don't forget that the script (and maybe Ted Lewis' novel, too) leaves open the possibility that Doreen was Carter's daughter, which might go a fair ways to explaining why he reacted as he did. In any case, as Lou Reed said, those were different times. Perhaps today's soft porn was yesterday's shocking depravity. As Cole Porter said ...

Osborne was pretty good as a heavy, I thought, though one wonders why Carter did not contrive some better way of getting him other than setting him up to take the fall for the second woman's death.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, did you mean he was reading Chandler in the novel? I wondered whether Hodges took that from the book.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

No I thought you were talking about it being in both. I havent read the novel, only the seen the film. WAY too many times. That and The Ipcress Files and The Man Who Would Be King and The Italian Job of that particular Michael Caine era.

Certainly the Saudis would approve of the death penalty for appearing in a soft porn flick.

But going to my original point. What are they going to do Osborne for? Distribution of erotic films? Drug possession? Certainly not manslaughter. 18 months tops. Out in half with good behaviour. And on the other side: (SPOILER ALERT) Carter's dead, his brother's dead, the women are dead, the developer's dead, the hitman is dead.

There's a bit in Point Blank when James B Sikking is about to assassinate Lee Marvin and he just refuses to come out of the shadows. He just doesnt show himself and the mob guy says: "Well how do you like that?" and James B Sikking says "I like it."

I think we're supposed to admire Carter for his singlemindedness and his ruthlessness and his style but his intelligence is questionable at best.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, in the novel Carter read Penthouse and a newspaper during his train journey. Hodges said he chose the Chandler book for the title (Farewell, My Lovely) as a portent of Carter's fate at the end of the movie. When the camera pans away from Carter reading his book we see a guy smoking a cigarette in the corner of the compartment. He's the hitman who shoots Carter in the last scene.

The movie's great but the book is even better.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, have you seen that Maxim Jakubowski's new crime imprint, maXcrime, is publshing a new novel from Mike Hodges next month?

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you're right about Osborne. I think I mentioned that I thought Carter was trying to set him up for the woman found dead on his property, but nothing tied him directly to the murder, and it's not as if a scandal would embarrass him.

I wondered above why a character of Carter's single-mindedness would not kill Kinnear (Osborne's character) rather than try to set him up. And, am I hallucinating, or is there some reference in the movie to life in prison, at which another character, maybe Carter, sneers?

Incidentally, I found two minor errors in Wikipedia's plot summary. I tried to correct them in the article's discussion forum. We'll see if they make it into the main article. I don't know how the correction process works.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, solo. I mentioned that I'd seen the movie before. But this viewing, especially, makes me want to seek out the book.

I've just learned something interesting about Penthouse thanks to your comment. I had thought the magazine was probably founded right about the time the movie was released (1971). It transpires that it had been available in the U.S. since 1969 -- but that it had been founded in 1965 in the UK. At least, that's according to Wikipedia's article on Penthouse, and I found two errors in its article on the movie, so who knows?

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, not only did I not know that Maxim was publishing such a novel, I didn't know that Hodges was a novelist. Thanks.

I watched "Croupier" again yesterday, so I'm on a Mike Hodges kick, as much as such a thing is possible. Too bad that he hasn't made many movies and that some of the ones he did make are not widely available. His oeuvre does include the intriguingly titled "Morons From Outer Space."

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Martin Edwards said...

The novel is just as good as the film, I think - they're both brilliant.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment. The film has come to be regarded as a classic, but I don't think one hears much about the novel these days.

Through Wikipedia and this Ted Lewis Web site, I learned that Lewis wrote a number of novels in his short life, including two more about Jack Carter. This is interesting considering Carter's fate at the end of the film.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think there might be a copy problem in the last Ken Bruen quote.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, recently on this site Bill Crider mentioned Elmore Leonard's advice about not starting a book with weather.

I've read a lot of Leonard and would consider myself a big fan of his writing. But a lot of those ten rules of his are nothing more than silly prejudices.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Jack's Return Home (Get Carter):

The rain rained.

It hadn’t stopped since King’s Cross. Inside the train it was close, the kind of closeness that makes your fingernails dirty even when all you’re doing is sitting there looking out of the blurring windows. Watching the dirty backs of houses scudding along under the half-light clouds. Just sitting looking and not even fidgeting.

I was the only one in the compartment. My slip-ons were off. My feet were up. Penthouse was dead. I’d killed the Standard three times. I had three nails left. Doncaster was forty minutes off.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Hey, I consider the rules of grammar to be nothing but silly prejudices.

But to be fair, Elmore Leonard continues in his rule on weather that, "There are exceptions," and this seems to be one. If you can say something new about rain in England, I say break any rule to do it.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, what do you mean by "copy problem"? Nothing's missing as far as I can tell. If you mean copyright problem, there's none because I heard Bruen with my own two ears. And the quotation marks are placed correctly. "Bunch of them" refers to the Irish crime writers in the first sentence. So, what have I missed?

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I don't know Elmore Leonard's rules, but I'm willing to bet he had his tongue at least partly in cheek even as he expressed his own preferences. Father Knox’s original rules for writing detective fiction incorporate a bit of gentle self-mockery, so Leonard would have honorable precedent in doing this.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha, I got it, Adrian. I've cut out the superfluous "to." Thanks.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I think people should refrain from setting down rules for writing. Good writers don't need them and bad writers won't benefit from them. But I'll forgive Elmore Leonard almost anything. I know quite a few people who don't really like him. To me this is one of life's great mysteries.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, don't worry; those prejudices are breaking down as American newspapers and publishers decide that copy editing is an expendable luxury.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Solo, you won't e too happy, then, about this article in the Guardian today. They've got a whole bunch of writers offering up lists of rules.

And Peter I was hoping for a more selected rule breaking rather than the kind of random approach newspapers are taking.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, good writers might accept the rules as a challenge -- both to write within the rules or, having done so, to break them.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, I like Margaret Atwood's list, its first half especially.

One rules that the Guardian breaks is don't annoy your readers with pop-up ads in your online edition.

Newspapers are panicked, and one thing no newspaper will ever admit is that it is getting worse in any way.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Thanks John. Sarah Weinmann's blog alerted me to that article. And like Peter I was most attracted to the Atwood list. Very practical. Have you ever tried prayer when faced with a particularly intractaable plot point?

February 22, 2010  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, it's too bad newspapers are dying - just when I started reading so many more from all over the world. It seems every second blog entry or website is really just a link to a newspaper article. What will we do when there are no newspaper articles?

And Solo, I have tried everything.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's been a while since I carried a pencil, but I do carry more than one pen.

A number of the lists share the humor of the kind I found attractive in Father Knox's original list. I suspect these writers are suspicious of rules, too, even if they delight in talking about what works for them.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What will we do when there are no newspaper articles? The human race will survive, as it did before newspapers and even before literacy.

God, I'll miss those op-ed pieces from former newspaper men proclaiming that newspapers will survive.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I assume you've read the Big Beat From Badsville parody of Ronald Knox's rules for detective fiction so I know I don't have to point you in that direction.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's very funny stuff.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, here's the irrepressible Donna’s take on Father Knox.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, here's a link to Elmore's ten rules:

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html?pagewanted=1

The only one that really appeals to me is the second one: avoid prologues. Most prologues that I read are there because the writer realizes the opening chapter is crap and is trying to say to the reader: be patient. There's some good stuff coming later.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, all Leonard's "rules" make sense as guidelines.One sees adverbs+said in pulp writing, even in some of the best writers, and it virtually always feels archaic. This may show that fashions change and that a similar set of "rules," if novels persist in this post-literate age, will tolerate matters that current style does not, and vice versa.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, forgive me if I'm off-topic for a moment but I read Olen Steinheuer's Vienna Assignment recently (36 Yalta Boulevard, in your neck of the woods). A solidly written spy story, albeit with an unappealing central character. He doesn't bother with prologues or epilogues. Instead he has preludes and postludes. I'd forgive him that, though. By whatever means, he got me to the end of the book and that's a writers job and there are a lot of writers who fail to do that. Bully for Olen Steinheuer.

February 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you may recall that I said some nice things about Steinhauer's "The Tourist" recently.

I resent prologues for what amounts to the same reason you do. They often seem like a blantantly manipulative effort to pump up the suspense.

February 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Whatever else is going on in a book, I do not like prologues.

Often, a plot is fine with interesting characters.

Suddenly, a prologue is plunked into the front of the book, often in italics and from the mind of the psychopath who's murdering people in the coming chapters.
And it's not even in the same writing style.

Why, oh, why do we need this?

I sometimes speedread my way through them.

February 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

When I come across a prologue, I almost always hope it's short so I can get it out of the way quickly. It drives me nuts when a writer who doesn't need the device nonetheless resorts to it.

A prologue works to the extent that it's part of the story and not just an introduction. One that works nicely is that to John Lawton's A Little White Death because its final line is such a jolt. One that works superbly is that to Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand.

February 23, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Perhaps some prologues work. Have seen too many that don't but seem like afterthoughts after the main part of the book is finished--maybe the author thinks--I must write some thoughts from the mind of the sociopath at the front of the book just in case the reader doesn't know how sick the murderer is or I must mention the main character is in prison now and is telling the main story as a flashback.

Anyway, perhaps there could be more on mystery movies in a blog.

From reading this, I got the original The Big Sleep out of the library and saw it and now am going to see other movies of book classics.

It would be great to see a blog about mystery movie classics or the originals and remakes and comparisons.

Just a thought.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, if you carry out this project to any length, perhaps you could answer a question that occurred to me only this minute: Hollywood is notorious for rewriting books and stories it adapts for the screen, but are mysteries changed more radically? More frequently?

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, I just saw the wonderful, "The Big Sleep," which stands out due to Bogart and Bacall.

I looked at the plot summary online and there are differences, especially with the last section.

The version I saw had old scenes which were deleted and new scenes added for the 1946 version; these showcased Bacall more which Howard Hawks wanted to do.

I don't think the romance exists or exists to the same extent in the book as it does in the movie; after all, Bogart and Bacall were the draw. They were newly married and a celebrity couple in real life.

And their chemistry is in the movie.

But scenes were added in which highlight them together and adds snappy dialogue.

Now I have to read the book to compare.

The website The View from the Blue House has a comparison of the Maltese Falcon movie and book.

I will now read the book and re-see the movie and compare them.

Maybe others have viewpoints on this; there's probably a wealth of movie viewer/readers here.

I am going to try to raid the library's old mystery movies and read more of the classics.

Any ideas?

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Alfred Hitchcock would be interesting for an experiment like this. His movies are a pleasure to watch, and he never hesitated to make the most radical alterations to his sources. Some of his best movies were based on crime novels or stories: Strangers on a Train, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Rear Window.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The DVD of the The Big Sleep includes the 1945 and 1946 versions as well as an interesting feature that compares the two. You could also compare both to the 1978 remake starring Robert Mitchum and to the Paul Newman movie Harper, itself taken from a novel by Ross Macdonald. I did a bit of comparing here.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, the dvd of the Big Sleep which I saw compared the 1945 and 1946 versions, what was cut and what was added, to highlight Bacall.

I don't like Robert Mitchum but I will try to see that version.

I will see The Maltese Falcon again and read it.

This bring up many possibilities, including old Sherlock Holmes' movies vs. the books.

This is a project.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Here is a terrific review of "The Big Sleep," 1945 and 1946 versions, with all sorts of complexities discussed, including in plots, by Roger Ebert.

Ebert also goes into the sizzle of Bogart and Bacall onscreen and why this was built up in the movie.

He also says some of the plot twists aren't explained by Chandler either.

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19970622/REVIEWS08/401010360/1023

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, Mitchum is no Bogart, but it's always interesting to compare old movies based on Chandler's novels to newer remakes. The remakes are far more explicit in matters of race and sex while remaining true to themes in the novels.

This is true both of The Big Sleep and of Farewell, My Lovely. I've seen the 1944 movie with Dick Powell (retitled Murder, My Sweet) and the 1970s remake, with Mitchum.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, another thing I recently heard about Hawks' Big Sleep is that both Hawks and Bogart were infatuated with Lauren Bacall and that "Slim" was Hawks' nickname for his wife. You might recall that that's also the Bacall character's nickname in the movie.

Thanks for the link.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Slim was Bacall's nickname in "To Have and Have Not," 1944, her first film, also with Bogart, one that showcased their onscreen electricity and led to the expansion of her role from that of the character in the book in both this film and “The Big Sleep” – kathy d, you saw this delineated in that great doc that accompanies the DVD version of TBS. Robert Gitt, the UCLA film preservationist for the restoration of TBS as well as dozens of other films (and who narrates the doc) is just about the best in the biz.

“Mitchum is no Bogart” – to which I say, thank God! I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, if Mitchum had had a chance to portray Marlowe as a younger man (when he was actually Marlowe’s age, as he was in one of the great films noir—“Out of the Past”) I truly believe he would have stuck in viewers’ minds. Bogart was a great _star_; Mitchum was, if not great, one of the most underrated actors of the Golden Age. Bogart is always Bogart – what is the difference between his portrayals of Spade vs Marlowe? Virtually none. This is a major reason viewers who haven’t read either Falcon or Sleep don’t know that they both weren’t written by Hammett, both by Chandler, or who wrote which. Of course, many people think the actors make up the dialog as they go along (per William Holden’s screenwriter in Billy Wilder’s script of “Sunset Boulevard”). Chandler was pretty happy with Bogart, however, although he thought Cary Grant most physically resembled Marlowe. He wasn’t happy with Bacall, who “every time you look up, she’s coming in or out of a door” and thought Martha Vickers as Carmen far superior an actress (whose role, naturally, had to be cut back in order to bring Bacall to the fore). Chandler also pointed out that “time after time [Hawks] got dissatisfied with his script and would go back to the book and shoot scenes straight out of it.”

The films are both great and got great directors—Howard Hawks for Sleep (all that wonderfully overlapping dialog that he was so famous for) and neophyte director John Huston for Falcon, and wonderful supporting casts. And only Warner Bros could have brought these two great mysteries to the screen (I know, sounds like a trailer for the films) with those actors and directors. Paramount or RKO could have made good films of the novels but I don’t think they’d have been as memorable. MGM—too slick and glossy.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Huston was having difficulty with the flow of action in Falcon. Someone had a brilliant idea—why don’t we look at the novel? So they did and much of Hammett’s dialog was then spoken verbatim by the actors and at a speed agitated people really talk. What a concept, huh?

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, &^&*^*&^@! Did I mess up the "Slim" detail? Sorry.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“Hollywood is notorious for rewriting books and stories it adapts for the screen, but are mysteries changed more radically? More frequently?”

Peter, I don’t think there is much, if any, difference between book-to-film adaptations among the genres. Many authors have horror stories (some cried all the way to the bank) about how their book was changed. A book written by the husband of a colleague of mine was unrecognizable by the time it was turned into a star vehicle for Julia Roberts. But what he has, that Hammett, Chandler, etc. didn’t are residuals. Once Chandler was paid for the rights to “The Big Sleep” that was all the money he received. Today authors receive money for every time their book-to-movie is aired on TV, when their book-to-movie is repurposed from video to DVD, etc.

As for Slim, you weren't wrong. Bacall _was_ called that by Hawks. It's just that that was her onscreen nickname in To Have and Have Not, and was not written by Hemingway.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I just did a Mitchum search to verify a film title, and I found that IMDb calls him an "underrated American leading man of enormous ability."

I didn't mention this in our previous discussion of Mitchum and Bogart, but I think Michum's heavy-lidded slowness made him far better suited to comic roles than Bogart ever was. I enjoyed his performance in His Kind of Woman, for example.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I have seen what strikes me as sensible advice to novelists worried that adaptations might make hash of their books: It's no longer yours once you sell the rights. Take the money, be happy, and get to work on your next book.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I swear I did not steal my comment from IMDB! Honest! It's just that others feel the same about him as I do. To which I say "Hurray!" I know Big Bad Bob is a particular fave of Turner Classic Movies' host Robert Osborne, for example. Mitchum _is_ wonderful in "His Kind of Woman" -- where he gets to be sly as well as tough -- and his pal Jane Russell was woman enough for him. They also paired in "Macao" (co-starring noir fave Gloria Graham) so check that one out if you haven't seen it.

Maybe it's a girlie thing, but Mitchum has a powerful masculine/sexual presence onscreen that Bogart, who can be very tough and very masculine and very winsome, indeed, just doesn't deliver. (Maybe it's that 5'8" again.) Mitchum was, in the words of a friend of mine "all M-A-N". (He was also 6'-6'1/2" tall.) I'm sorry, but when this topic comes up I seem to have to rush to Mitchum's defense. And he was too much of a man to need support from a dame.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth
The only two films I've really enjoyed Mitchum in were The Night Of The Hunter and Cape Fear. I thought he was brilliant in both of those. But why those two? Because he allowed his emotions to show in both of those films. In everyting else he decided the best way to play the role was to keep his emotions hidden. The result of that decision was that he frequently appeared wooden.

I know you think Bogie was a runt but if you pick Bogie's best dozen pictures, they stack up rather well against Mitchum's best dozen.
And that's not just down to the directors or the screenplays.

I always look forward to watching a movie with Mitchum in it, but I prefer one with Bogie. Perhaps, I'm just lacking in good taste.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I believe you that you're no comment rustler. I was letting you know that you have an ally out there in Web land.

Even Vincent Price was tolerable in "His Kind of Woman," and Russell was surprisingly good. I'd known her mainly through TV commercials and the funny quip that someone made about the advertising campaign for "The Outlaw"

I don't know it the Mitchum thing is a girlie thing, but it was a woman (I don't remember who) who commented that he appeared just a bit too relaxed to be an ultra-tough guy.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I'll let you and Elisabeth duke it out over Mitchum, but it's interesting that you find him wooden. You may be seeing what I see when I call him a tad too relaxed.

And I would never call you lacking in good taste. I'm a Bogie man myself.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, "Perhaps, I'm just lacking in good taste." No, our tastes just differ. What you see as "wooden" I see as "natural" -- this gets back to the "star" vs "actor" issue. Ex, Robert Taylor vs Robert Mitchum in "Undercurrent" -- Taylor, all star, a competent actor, but there's Mitchum, ahead of his time, quiet, contemplative, (a very un-Mitchum-like character!)--the roles should have been reversed but RM wasn't a big star like RT. Mitchum the bone-tired, seen-it-all rodeo rider in "The Lusty Men." Funny, tender Mitchum in "Holiday Affair" (check out that kiss he plants on Janet Leigh in this one). Mitchum the noir cowboy in "Blood on the Moon", etc. etc. Did he get those star vehicles like Bogart? No. He was never top male star at any studio. He was too I-don’t-give-a-damn for that. And, esp. after the marijuana bust comeback, he tended to do the job and then leave town until the next one. But he delivered what seem more like contemporary performances than Bogart did. Bogart was one of the greatest stars of the Golden Age but he would have to be a very different sort of actor to get top work in Hollywood today. Mitchum wouldn't have to go as far. The 2 films you mention are Mitchum at his menacing best but for a borderline-great performance check him out in “The Sundowners,” with fairly-frequent co-star Deborah Kerr.

Mitchum was an anti-star; he checked out what the role called for and then went about trying to be that person. I contend that Bogart, as great as he was, was, well, always Bogart, with the possible exceptions of some of his very earliest pre-stardom work.

I think part of my antipathy towards Bogart is that he got to portray both Spade and Marlowe, thereby forever muddling these 2 very different men in the minds of viewers.

Peter, the "tad too relaxed" you see is what I see as the spring waiting to be sprung, that air of potential threat, menace. I find this more compelling than an actor who is clearly threatening and menacing from the get-go .

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, nae, wee lass, ye hae good taste.

I wonder if the marijuana bust influences people's perceptions of Mitchum, if they feel he was just too relaxed to give a toss.

At this early stage, I have no reason to disagree with your contention that Bogart was always Bogart. When he appeared to be trying not to be in Sabrina, he looked more uncomfortable than any other actor I've ever seen.

Peter, the "tad too relaxed" you see is what I see as the spring waiting to be sprung, that air of potential threat, menace.

We see the same thing, then. Is it The Big Sleep where Mitchum does a voiceover? He gives the impression of mumbling even when he's speaking clearly. And that's just an observation, not a criticism.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Ah, nae, wee lass, ye hae good taste." I've been reading William McIlvanney so I can translate that. Although it's been an age since I was either "wee" or a "lass."

"[Mitchum] gives the impression of mumbling even when he's speaking clearly" -- I ask you, what could be more contemporary than that?! Everybody mumbles/whines/twangs his/her way through films these days.

Bogie has a liquor store named after him near us. But down the road from you in Easton, MD, is Mitchum's Steakhouse. www.mitchumssteakhouse.com/

Booze and beef; we need both of them.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I dinnae care whether a wee lass ye be.

Have you listened to the songs I posted under "Scottish crime in song"? Any song that includes a character named Hairy Mary deserves support.

I ask you, what could be more contemporary than that?! Everybody mumbles/whines/twangs his/her way through films these days.

It's easy to forget that Mitchum acted into the 1990s and therefore crosses into eras that the other names in this discussion never touched. As far as today's passel o' mumbling shufflers, I'd agree that Mitchum could have kicked, say, Brad Pitt's keister. And that steakhouse has an eye-catching home page.

Booze and beef; we need both of them.

Crime-fiction trivia: Hard-hitting Scottish crime writer Alan Guthrie is a teetotaler and a vegetarian.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Allan Guthrie is a teetotaler and a vegetarian" -- well, we need them, too. He could have a salad at Mitchum's.

Ian Rankin's first post-Rebus detective, Malcolm Fox, ("The Complaints") is a teetotaler, although that is because he is an alcoholic. Is there really any such critter as a "recovering" or "former" alcoholic? It's always there, waiting for the weak.

I think I could forgo the beef long before I could forgo the grain or the grape. Weak-willed female that I am.

Oh, and the steakhouse is in Trappe, near Easton.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't about the psychology or physiology of alcoholics, but I do know that Ken Bruen has his Jack Taylor torture himself by buying drinks, lining them up, and not drinking them. The scenes do an effective job of showing how Taylor lacerates himself.

February 26, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'm a Bogart supporter myself...whether in "The Big Sleep," "Key Largo," "The Maltese Falcon," "The African Queen," or whatever--I don't care if his acting is similar, it's fine with me; he had that X factor, whatever that was.

Anyway, it was interesting to see the 1945/1946 versions of "The Big Sleep," and what was changed to illuminate Bacall.

A scene at the end was changed and so was the actress who played Eddie Mars' spouse to a less glamorous actress so that Bacall got the spotlight.

It was obvious that Howard Hawks liked Bacall and wanted to showcase her in the movie but it's too bad one actress lost her part because she was too glamorous.

Anyway, this blog motivates me to both read and see, "The Maltese Falcon," and soon, too.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'm not as big an "African Queen" fan as some, but Bogart manages some effective grimaces of misery when he's towing the boat through a swamp. That's good tough-guy acting, vulnerability division.

I didn't know that was why the actress playing Eddie Mars' wife replaced.

I made a post a while back about the three movie versions of "The Maltese Falcon." The Bogart-Astor-Greenstreet-Lorre version is far and away the best.

February 26, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth,
Maybe you're right. I've always liked Nicholas Ray movies but I still haven't got to see the wonderfully named 'The Lusty Men' yet, and I'm unfamiliar with 'Holiday Affair'. Maybe Bogie got the better parts. Maybe he looked better when he mailed in the performance than Mitchum did.
But when Mitchum was bad he was horrible and when Bogie was bad, well he was still Bogie. He always had those eyes that looked wide awake and he had that delivery. I watched the 1931 version of the Falcon recently and Bogie delivered those Hammett lines a whole lot better than Ricardo Cortez did, and a whole lot better than I believe Mitchum would have done.
If you look at their biographies, then Mitchum was probably the more interesting guy. But if you look at their films, then Bogie had:

High Sierra
The Maltese Falcon
Casablanca
To Have And Have Not
The Big Sleep
Dark Passage
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
Key Largo
In A Lonely Place
The African Queen

Maybe, that's a testement to Bogie getting the better parts. Possibly, it is. I don't even know why I'm bothering with this. I'm a Robert Ryan man myself.

BTW, IMDB has Mitchum down as 6.1, which is a whole lot shorter than the 6.6+ that you mention.

Elisabeth, you can respond in any way you like to this, but if you say anything unpleasant about Gloria Grahame I'm liable to sulk for a week

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've seen a couple of Robert Ryan movies the last few years. He's a hell of a villain, just looks like a bad guy who could have kicked even Lawrence Tierney's can.

Mitchum was 4'11".

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

According to a Web site called, and I am not making this up, celebrityheights.com, Mitchum was 6’1”.

February 26, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, don't you wish you had $1 for every cop, PI, etc. you've read about named Jack? I must have read 6 of them in the last 2 months alone. I can't keep track of them all. Beats Elmer, I guess.

kathy d, Bogart did indeed have that "X factor" -- it's why he was such a great star. Who the camera will love and who it won't is one of the ungraspable elements of film.

solo, No! Didn't I type that Mitchum was six feet - six feet, one-half inch? If not that is what I meant. Heck, even John Wayne wasn't six feet six inches!

And I didn't mean to wander off into the fever swamps on a Bob vs Bogie rant. I just reiterate my biggest beef (no pun intended) -- that, historically speaking and vis a vis the main subject of this crime fiction blog, I wish that Bogart hadn't portrayed both Spade and Marlowe. It was ultimately a disservice to two (or 1 of the 2) of the greatest novels of crime fiction. Bogart's sheer presence shunts aside the sources. And he almost didn't get to be Spade. It was one of the many roles George "what was I thinking" Raft turned down that gave the guy who took his place a star turn.

I'm glad you mentioned "In a Lonely Place" -- perhaps Bogart's greatest performance. He is _everything_ in this role. And, no, Mitchum could not have played this tormented man with anything approaching Bogart.

Me say anything bad about Gloria Grahame?! She was wonderful in IALP and many other films. "The Bad and the Beautiful" -- " James Lee, you have a very naughty mind... I'm happy to say."

Peter, "Mitchum was 4'11"." Them's fightin' words! I think you must be confusing him with Gloria Swanson, who was indeed 4 feet 11 inches and whose nickname was "Young Fella" -- the highest compliment my old boss Cecil B. DeMille could bestow as she was tiny but the only actress who would stand up to the Great Man.

Yeah, Robert Ryan opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Fritz Lang's "Clash by Night." Or the brutal anti-Semite in "Crossfire." Talk about threat and menace!

For the record, I am 5'8", and on the one and only occasion I had the kismet to stand next to Robert Mitchum (while waiting for an elevator) I DEFINITELY had to look up at him. A good 4 or more inches.

February 26, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

To see anything but the Bogart-Astor "Maltese Falcon" would be sacrilege.

That's the only version I've seen and didn't even know there were others.

I liked Robert Ryan but he wasn't superb to me. Now that I think of it I liked a lot of the former stars: Jimmy Stewart, Ray Milland, Gary Cooper, etc.

Have to look up Gloria Grahame and see what she was in.

Just saw "Daisy Kenyon," with Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda and Joan Crawford. Do not like Crawford, but she was good in this melodrama.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I guess I don't know Jacks the way you do. The Thrilling Detective Web site turns up a lot of P.I.s named Jack, though. I didn't look for Elmers.

I could have looked down at Bogart just barely. I would not have felt right doing it, though.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, here's my comparison of filmed Maltese Falcons. The earlier versions are hard to watch if one knows the Huston/Bogart version, but the first one is interesting for what Huston took from it. I discuss this in the comment string to which I have just linked.

I can't offer a comprehensive opinion on any of the older stars, but I remember thinking Jimmy Strwart was the best of them after I saw Rear Window. To give a convincing performance of some emotional range while sitting in a wheelchair the entire movie cannot have been easy.

February 26, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Also, a favorite of mine of the movie classics which I guess was an espionage/thriller type was "Notorious," with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, and of course, Claude Rains.

The famous line, "Mother, I think I'm married to an American agent," is such a classic.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't remember much about Notorious, but that is a classic line, all right. It may be time for me to rent this one again.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Can't remember any Irish accents in get carter but there were a couple of Yorkshire ones. Reet Grand!

Caine's a very convincing Geordie, isn't he? Bonny lad.

I knew a bloke down THAT LONDON many years ago who had Get Carter on video taped off the TV and loved it. However, it turned out that his copy cut off before the end- as Carter strolls down the beach with the gun over his shoulder!!!

March 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, it seems to me that I've read that Caine could not manage the Geordie accent and so used a Cockney accent instead. I've read some head-scratching on the Web about such an accent from a character who is supposed to be from Newcastle. That didn't bother me, since I don't know much about English accents, as I may just have demonstrated. Maybe Yorkshire accents sound vaguely Irish to my uneducated ears.

My introduction to Geordie accents came from Patricia Quigley at Crimefest last year. Her accent is a spectacular example of the kind.

Hmm, so you friend thinks of "Get Carter" as a mildly uplifting comedy whose message is that life's problems can be solved with a nice walk on the beach?

March 20, 2010  

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