Saturday, May 07, 2011

David Goodis on screen and beyond borders

The 1972 movie ... and Hope to Die crosses a number of borders, notably from print to film (it's based on David Goodis' novel Black Friday) and from the U.S. to France (the movie's original title is La course du lièvre à travers les champs, and its director is René Clément, one of several French directors who adapted Goodis.)

I knew about both before I rented the movie. But I was stunned to see the opening chase scene take place not on a cold Philadelphia street, as in the book, but in front of one of Montreal's iconic most familiar buildings: Buckminster Fuller's United States pavilion from the Expo '67 world's fair.  

This was no case of Montreal filling in for New York or Chicago, either. Characters make several references to Montreal, and the camera lingers at least once on a sign for the real University Street. The cash strewn around throughout the movie looks American, though. Maybe the gang's hideout is just over the border in Vermont,  or perhaps they popped down to the States for a bit of shopping in Plattsburgh.

The movie, like the book, lays bare Goodis' yearning for family, and it features a number of fine performances, notably by Robert Ryan as Charley, the gang's leader and father figure. (The Wikipedia article on Ryan omits the movie. This only adds to the small errors and omissions I have found in Wikipedia's articles on movies. Use Wikipedia at your peril!)

(The screenplay is by the French crime novelist Sébastien Japrisot, whose novels include A Very Long Engagement. You may know that book from its adaptation into a movie starring the adorable Audrey Tautou, whose last name is probably one of the more often misspelled in moviedom. )

Read an appreciation of Black Friday. Read Vincent Canby's highly unappreciative review of the movie from the New York Times.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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50 Comments:

Blogger John McFetridge said...

Looks like an interesting movie.

And it wouldn't be the first time a gang based in Montreal stole " American money (careful, it is a Wikipedia entry ;).

May 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That link doesn't work, but I have no trouble believing American money would stand in for Canadian, even if Wikipedia says so.

The money that I remember in the movie comes not from the big caper, but from the cash that the protragonist, "Froggy," takes from a dying robber. But that's the scene that happens at Expo '67 (don't ask me why it's set there), so the money should still be Canadian.

May 07, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Oops. It was supposed to link to the St. Albans Raid from the Civil War.

The only other movie I know of filmed on the Expo site was "Quintet" with Paul Newman. I think it's a Robert Altman movie.

May 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall that that was a futuristic movie, if not actually set in the the future. Parts of the Expo site might make sense: the monorail, Habitat, or any number of pavilions.

In this movie it was kind of odd. You get a robber fleeing his pursuers in front of the giant geodesic dome, and Jean-Louis Trintignant's character just happens to be on the scene, and, if you're from Montreal, you say, "What the hell are they all doing there?"

May 07, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think Clement directed a Ripley adaptation also, 'Plein Soleil', starring Alain Delon.
The French directed probably the two best Jim Thompson film adapations, 'Coup De Torchon' and 'Serie Noire', so it wouldn't surprise me if they mastered Goodis, also.

Clement's Ripley was a decent film, as I recall, although Wim Wenders' The American Friend' is still my favourite Ripley adaptation.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

_Quintet_ was set in the future. Earth was undergoing another ice age, and the city was threatened by an oncoming glacier. I put up some comments about the film on my blog.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, the best-known French Goodis adaptation, at least here in the U.S., is probably Truffaut's version of Shoot the Piano Player. Clement's Ripley came up during a session on Highsmith on film at Noircon in Philadelphia this past November. The stills looked good, though at least one shot was portentously arty.

The matter of French appreciation for and appropriation of American hard-boiled and noir is a vast subject, of course. One might contrast this with Vincent Canby's assessment of David Goodis in the review to which I linked in this post. Canby called Goodis an "author whose second-rate fiction has occasionally been turned into first-rate movies" -- though not this one, which he ripped.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Fred. I remembered the movie's association with ice. I've also just read your comment that the then-neglected Expo site made a suitable setting for a movie about a looming icy apocalypse.

I ate much cotton candy there as a child, which augured apocalypse for nothing more than my teeth. But I am curious about which sights from the island (Ile Ste.-Helene) I might recognize.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

How could I have forgotten 'Shoot the Piano Player', Peter
Thats a great favourite of mine, even though the film has a much lighter tone than the novel.

'Dark Passage' is a fun movie, also; although I haven't read the novel yet

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just now linked in the body of this post to a post I put up after reading Black Friday. I'd say that novel, too, is darker than its movie adaptation. I also watched the movie adaptation of Goodis' Nightfall some time back. The movie's ending has to be happier than what Goodis wrote.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I love the film of 'Nightfall', also and I don't think was harmed by its switch of location from the novel.
the casting is quite good, also

It compares quite favourably with the novel, which I've been told, though, isn't top-rank Goodis

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian Keith's performance will surprise viewers who remember him only from Family Affair, or whatever show it was where he played the father.

I think you're right about Nightfall's not often being mentioned when Goodis readers list thir favorites. No need for spoilers here but, while the movie has some surprisingly dark moments for a Hollywood production, the ending has to have been grafted onto Goodis' original.

For that matter, I think Dark Passage predated his darkest material. My Goodis-loving friends say that he didn't get really dark until he retreated to Philadelphia from Hollywood.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Vincent Canby was well into his dotage by this stage. There are lots of very embarrassing reviews around this time.

He flubbed Chinatown, Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Taxi Driver, Millers Crossing, The Empire Strikes Back...

But he loved Sleepless in Seattle, Howards End etc.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

How did he flub 'Cuckoo's Nest', Adrian?
I hate it
In fact 'Chinatown' and 'Taxi Driver' are the only ones in that list that I'd care for.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, now I've got to go back and read some of Canby's old reviews -- and see "Chinatown" again. I was not at all overwhelmed the one time I saw it, though I am perfectly willing to believe that this was due to its build-up as one of the great noir/hard-boiled movies ever, etc.

Canby was not necessarily 180 degrees wrong about "...And Hope to Die." It's not a classic, though his assessment was surprisingly harsh. From the movies you list, it looks like Canby had a farily long dotage.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Coincidentally, and wildly off-topic here, I note that Vincent Canby reviewed the last film I watched, Nagisa Oshima's 'Death By Hanging'.
Although he recognised Oshima's talent, he clearly didn't appreciate his frequently surreal, and even slapstick black comedy.
For such a determined political filmmaker Oshima infused a very welcome sense of humour through his political pointscoring

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Now, that's a hell of an endorsement.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

He deserves it, Peter.

Oshima is a filmmaker with a reputation for being difficult, both for his films and as a person but that makes at least three of his films now that I've found very funny, particularly this latest one

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never seen any of his movies. But I often find myself praising dark crime novels for their humor, so he might be worth a try. Thanks.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'Japanese Summer:Double Suicide' might be a good starting off point.
(although some fans I know don't particularly care for it, perhaps because of some of its characters)

As its title would suggest, its frequently very funny(!!), and it plays almost like a cross between the 'Mad Max' movies, Franz Kafka, and 'Assault on Precinct 13'.

'Death by Hanging' is very funny but you might want to ease into his films.

Avoid 'Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence': its not even in the same league as his best films from the 60s

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I almost forgot, Peter: 'Violence at Noon' is a brilliant study of a serial killer, which might be more appropriate to your blog

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide sounds like it has everything, so I probably could find a way to squeeze it in here, too. Looks like Violence at Noon might be epecially interesting visually, but perhaps a bit exhausting, with all those shots.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Celtic

Well I suppose I should actually look up what he said (although that will count as one of my 20 visits to the NYT) this month but I seem to remember that he felt it was a failed comedy. The tone of the movie echoes the tone of the book and its certainly not supposed to be a comedy.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I, of course, didn't recognize the place. I wondered throughout the film if this was a real place or if they spent a lot of money building the set. I thought the setting was one of the strongest points of the film.

I got the film from Netflix.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

One of my favourite "not filmed here" films was Jackie Chan's Rumble In The Bronx. In virtually every shot you can see snow capped mountains or Vancouver Island.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

It's funny, but Canby's review actually makes me want to see the movie. It sounds very fun.It doesn't seem to be available through Netflix, though.

Of course, I love Japrisot. A Very Long Engagement is one of my favorite books. The movie was faithful to the text, but somehow didn't quite capture its spirit, or at least my sense of it. Audrey Tautou was not the way I'd envisioned Mathilde. But then, that's the problem with adaptations.

I also read one of his crime novels, which was good. The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun. I can't say I remember much about the plot, but I enjoyed it at the time.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, interesting Canby should consider "Cuckoo'e Nest" a failed comedy. (It is "Cuckoo's Nest" you're talking about, isn't it?) It has bleak laughs and sentimental moments, but it's no comedy, as I recall.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, you shouldn't let its intimidating technical statistics put you off 'Violence at Noon': as a study of a serial killer I don't think I've seen better.

Adrian, I recall when there long queues trailing around the block for the Stella Rathmines' screening of 'Cuckoo's Nest'
(I think it set attendance records which still stand)
I can't recall whether it had them 'rolling in the aisles', though!!

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, there's nothing wrong with the setting; the dome looks fine. But the Expo site is on an island just outside of town, an odd place for the coincidence of Tony meeting up with the dead robber and his pursuers. Of course, the island setting is never made apparent in the film, so there is no reason for anyone who does not know Montreal well to find it in the least odd.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jackie Chan's Rumble In The Bronx. In virtually every shot you can see snow capped mountains or Vancouver Island.

Adrian, that sounds like a movie with vision. But you never hiked the Van Cortlandt Mountains or climbed Bronx Peak when you lived in New York?

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, this disappointed assessment of the movie from a Goodis lover, blames Japrisot for a shift in tone from the book. I'm not shocked you couldn't find it on Netflix. My loval movie shop had it on VHS only.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I'm willing to take a shot at the movie's 2,000 shots. I just had a flash of being dizzied by ninety minutes of jump cuts.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Well, I'm not surprised to learn that Goodis' work doesn't always survive its various translations.
I should read the books first anyway.

My favorite part of that review:

Those who fall may have it worse than those who live perpetually in poverty. They have a taste of the good life before it was wrenched away. More often than not, these sad souls find themselves in Philadelphia.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, I was surprised when I heard those stats.
It certainly didn't feel like it to me: perhaps their impact was intentionally subliminal.

I've never been one to place too much emphasis on stats, though.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, some of the crime writers who live here say Philadelphia's long, slow decline (since the middle of the nineteenth century) suits it very well to noir.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, when is Philly predicted to hit rock bottom, and what stage has that long slow decline currently at ?

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oshima sounds like a moviemaker as opposed to a show-off. And Philly has been in decline since around the 1840s, so it has long practice.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Got it in one about Oshima, Peter.
And I'm not necessarily an evangelist; just an admirer.

He's also possibly that 'rara avis': a political filmmaker with a sense of humour: Spike Lee, 'nota bene'

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've often noted my surprise when I find a political crime writer who likes a joke and whose protagonist enjoys a good meal. (Circumstantial evidence suggest this a Mediterranean European thing.) So Oshima's sense of humor would be a selling a point.

Speaking of filmmakers vs. show-offs, I watched some of Hitchcock's "Easy Virtue" last night. Even when he was making silents in the 1920s, the man was a filmmaker first, a show-off second. (Actually, he was both. But he had the visual language down from the very first.)

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've had boxsets of Hitchcock's early films for at least two years now;one of these days I'll get around to watching at least one of them.
Hitchcock made at least four films that I never tire of watching, although I'm not one of these people who watch a favourite film 100 times, or whoever.



As with writers, cinematic debuts tend to show the directors obsession with style, and flashy techniques.
As with the best writers, the best directors learn to be its master, not its slave

May 08, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

There's also a scene in the movie " The Score" that takes place on Ile Ste. Helene and doesn't let you know it's an island. I guess the filmmakers like seeing the skyline in the background but I always wonder why they don't use the lookout on Mount Royal.

The same customs building from "The Score" figures in a "not filmed here" movie, "Once Upon a Time in America."

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I'd previously seen Hitchcock's "The Lodger," made in 1927. It looked and felt like a Hitchcock movie, which impressed me tremendously.

We all watch these early movies through eyes that have seen Hitchcock's later movies and with brains that know his style and his reputation. Still, these early silents are filled with an obvious awareness of the power of images, of how judicious, economical cutting can tell a story. "Easy Virtue" manages to make a long, silent courtroom scene visually exciting. That's impressive.

May 08, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

La course du lièvre à travers les champs isn't the easiest movie to find. I congratulate you on tracking it down.

The 1953 David Goodis novel The Burglar was the basis of the 1971 French movie Le Casse, directed by the French/Armenian Henri Verneuil, starring JP Belmondo and Omar Sharif, and scored by Ennio Morricone. I haven't read Goodis, but I suspect the movie's focus on action and its setting in Athens is not a faithful representation of Goodis' novel. But the movie has its own charms.

Incidentally, the same trio of Verneuil, Belmondo and Morricone combined in 1975 to make one of the best French action films of the 70s. The rooftop chase in Peur Sur La Ville, which makes use of the Galleries Lafayette in Paris, is one of the best of its kind. Belmondo's ability and willingness to do his own stunts makes him a cut above later action heroes like Schwarzenegger and Stallone.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, where was "Once Upon a Time in America" shot? I've never seen it, though I did have a Sergio Leone jag a few years ago. Is the uncut version available?

I don't know how "The Score" uses the Ile Ste. Helense setting, but "...And Hope to Die" is interested in the modernistic look of the Buckminster Fuller dome than anything else. The movie does contain skyline shots (I think one of them from the Champlain Bridge), but none looms as large as the dome.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous:

Wow! I don't know what I liked best about that car chase: the oil cans, the Greek dancers, the applauding spectators, or the cars on the stairs.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

La course du lièvre à travers les champs and The Moon in the Gutter were available only on tape at my movie rental store. I don't know that's because of David Goodis' Philadelphia origins.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I recently picked up a DVD of The 'Moon in the Gutter' on Amazon: now I can't find where I put that Goodis anthology I started to read recently!

May 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't know it was available on DVD. I wonder why my local store had it just on VHS. A harbinger of doom, perhaps.

May 09, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

What was that you were saying about the long slow decline of Philadelphia?
Expect to see a Beta-max version on sale, any day now! :)

May 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The store was part of a successful local chain called TLA Video that branched out into festivals, releasing, and catalogue sales. One branch has closed, and the one I go to now is selling many of its DVDs. I have the sneaking suspicion that streaming video and Netflix are forcing it out of business. The tape I rented, I suspect, was a leftover from old stock. If the store has no DVD copies, perhaps it's cutting down on its stock -- not a good sign for its prospects.

May 09, 2011  

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