Saturday, July 25, 2020

Bullet Points: Screen Gems Edition

• For the last 20 months, New York City bookseller and editor Otto Penzler has been counting down, in the electronic pages of CrimeReads, a sometimes idiosyncratic list of what he says are the 106 “Greatest Crime Films of All Time.” This week he finally cracked the top five (thanks to The Godfather: Part II and The Godfather), with just three more picks to go. If you haven’t been keeping up, click here to find links to all of Penzler’s write-ups, from Sleuth (oddly numbered at 107) through Bullitt, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Killing, Strangers on a Train, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, Mystic River … and well, I’m not going to run through the whole lot here. The question now is, what three big-screeners will round out Penzler’s rundown? Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon, maybe? What else?

• Speaking of 1974’s Chinatown, I had forgotten—until reading Max Allan Collins’ latest blog post, devoted in large part to its sequel, The Two Jakes—that the Paramount Pictures presentation “originally had what is said to be a lousy score, and Jerry Goldsmith was brought in at the last minute to write (in a little over a week) what is now considered one of most memorable film scores of all time.” Interestingly, Phillip Lambro’s initial soundtrack was not always derided, according to the blog J.J. Gittes Investigations (named for Jack Nicholson’s P.I. protagonist). It recalls that, early on, “Robert Evans, Paramount’s head of production and Chinatown’s producer, was impressed with [Lambro’s] music, requesting even more and hinting at a possible Oscar for the score …” A later audience preview-screening, though, “was a disaster, and the one solution everyone seemed to agree on was replacing the score.” Goldsmith, who by that time had created music for TV shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Room 222, and for movies including Our Man Flint, Planet of the Apes, and Tora! Tora! Tora!, was brought in to replace Lambro’s score. Nonetheless, Lambro’s music survived in “the theatrical film trailer, TV commercials and radio spots.” Below is, first, Lambro’s proposed main title theme for Chinatown, followed by Goldsmith’s better-remembered opening music.

Eight years ago, Lambro’s Chinatown score was released in CD format by Perseverance Records under the title Los Angeles 1937. “It’s interesting,” concludes Collins, “but not a patch on Goldsmith.”

• The story of Lambro’s missing music reminds me of another episode about which I’ve previously written: How composer Alex North’s soundtrack for the big-budget 1968 science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey was replaced only in post-production by “a variety of classical works, among them Richard Strauss’ ‘Also sprach Zarathustra,’ which served as the main title theme.”

• This is most welcome news: Deadline reports that PBS-TV’s Masterpiece “is set to co-produce and broadcast [the] murder mystery Magpie Murders, a six-part drama series based on Foyle’s War creator Anthony Horowitz’s best-selling novel.” Like my colleague Ali Karim, I loved Horowitz’s 2017 whodunit, and am pleased to hear that the author will pen the screenplay for Magpie Murders, which “revolves around the character Susan Ryeland, an editor who is given an unfinished manuscript of author Alan Conway’s latest novel, but has little idea it will change her life.” Deadline quotes Horowitz as saying, “Magpie Murders is my most successful novel and it wasn’t easy to adapt. But I think the result is a completely original drama that will delight and beguile audiences in equal measure.” The series will stream in Britain on BritBox UK.

• While no air date has yet been announced for that small-screen adaptation, we do know that Horowitz’s print sequel to Magpie Murders, titled Moonflower Murders, is due out in the UK in August from Century. A U.S. edition will appear in November from Harper.

• I still haven’t warmed up to Will Davenport, the Anglican vicar-cum-sleuth—played by Tom Brittney—who replaced James Norton’s Sidney Chambers in Season 4 of Grantchester. He’s a far less well layered figure than Chambers, and his inconsistent reluctance, in Season 5, to engage in a romantic relationship with enticing newspaper reporter Ellie Harding (Lauren Carse) tested the bounds of credibility. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to hear learn that this 1950s-set series has been renewed for a sixth season. Maybe more time spent in the company of the great Robson Green, who plays Detective Inspector Geordie Keating on the show, will polish Brittney’s presentation.

• Also given extended life is HBO-TV’s Perry Mason, though it’s still only five episodes into its eight-installment premiere season. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Francesca Orsi, HBO programming executive VP, as saying: “It has been an exciting journey to work with the immensely talented team behind Perry Mason. Viewers have relished being transported back in time to 1930s Los Angeles each week, and we are thrilled to welcome the show back for a second season.” As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on this rebooted Mason. I like the period setting and the corrupt fragrances of pre-World War II L.A. that flood through it. I’ve enjoyed, too, watching the immensely talented John Lithgow play a veteran but troubled attorney; Chris Chalk portray African-American policeman (not yet shamus) Paul Drake; and Tatiana Maslany serve up an engagingly melodramatic performance as a religious evangelist and celebrity cut from the same con artist’s cloth as Aimee Semple McPherson. But screenwriters Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald appear more interested in supplying their principal players with unexpected back stories (Mason as once a heavy-drinking, low-rent private investigator living on his family’s decrepit dairy farm; Della Street as a closeted lesbian and aspiring attorney) than they do in capturing the essence of Erle Stanley Gardner’s storytelling. Up to now, at least, this show has only nominally been Perry Mason. Last week’s episode, however, found actor Matthew Rhys’ Mason finally passing the bar (even if we were witness to none of his studying for that qualification), so he can commence his defense of Emily Dodson, a mother allegedly complicit in the abduction and killing of her only child. Maybe over the final three episodes Mason can prove himself worthy of his moniker. If so, I’ll be happy he has another season in which to develop his courtroom prowess.

• TNT-TV’s The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, the eight-episode mini-series follow-up to last year’s acclaimed Victorian-era thriller, The Alienist, was supposed to have premiered tomorrow, July 26. Instead, its kickoff was moved forward by one week, though TNT didn’t explain why other than to say it was “an effort to continuously bring consumers thrilling, event television at a faster pace.” The opening two installments of Angel began streaming last Sunday, though I’ve only had the chance to watch one so far. Collider explains that this sequel, based on Caleb Carr’s 1997 novel The Angel of Darkness, finds “Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning)—previously a secretary for Theodore Roosevelt—now head[ing] up her own detective agency. Meanwhile, John Moore (Luke Evans), previously an illustrator, is now a reporter for The New York Times; and Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) … well, Dr. Kreizler is still putting his expertise as an alienist to good use. When a kidnapped baby turns up dead and displayed in grisly fashion, followed by the kidnapping of another baby, Sara suspects a serial killer may be on the loose. She reconnects with Laszlo and John to try and find this recently kidnapped child before it’s too late, and as happened in the show’s first season, their investigation leads them down some shady paths.” Two more episodes should drop tomorrow.

• Adrian McKinty’s haunting child-abduction thriller, The Chain, was recently named as the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and now it’s bound for cinematic adaptation. Deadline reports that “In a seven-figure deal, Universal Pictures has optioned The ChainBaby Driver helmer Edgar Wright will direct, while Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Golden Circle and X-Men: First Class) is writing the script. The novel had been in talks to be acquired by Paramount before it was published last July by Little, Brown/Mulholland, but the deal never crossed the finish line. It has come together quite nicely in this new iteration. Working Title’s Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan will produce alongside Complete Fiction’s Nira Park and Wright, and The Story Factory’s Shane Salerno.”

• Blogger B.V. Lawson brings word that Mad Men alumnus Jon Hamm “is set to star in and produce a feature film reboot of Fletch, the brazen investigative reporter from Gregory Mcdonald’s 1970s and 1980s Fletch mystery novels. The new film adaptation will specifically be based on the second book in the Mcdonald series, Confess, Fletch [1976]. In a mysterious chain of wild events, Fletch finds himself in the middle of multiple murders, one of which implicates him as a prime suspect. While on a quest to prove his innocence, Fletch is tasked with finding his fiancée’s stolen art collection, the only inheritance she’s acquired after her father goes missing and is presumed dead. Zev Borow, consulting producer of the Lethal Weapon TV series, will be penning the feature adaptation.”

• This is coincidental, I’m sure, but less than a week after The Columbophile blog completed its countdown of what it says are “The 100 Greatest Columbo Scenes of the 1970s,” The New York Times’ Elisabeth Vincentelli is out with a delightful essay contending that “Columbo was all about sticking it to the man.” She opines:
Columbo” is one of the very few American series fueled by class warfare. Whether they are driven by coldblooded entitlement, delusions of grandeur or simple greed, the murderers treat the self-deprecating, ostentatiously low-grade cop with seething annoyance, willful condescension or hypocritical benevolence.

It is hard to overstate how satisfying it is to see smug
criminals get caught right now. Imagine the joy of seeing a rebooted Columbo go after hedge-fund managers, big-game hunters, studio chiefs, YouTube influencers, real-estate magnates or celebrity chefs who picked killing as an acceptable problem-solving method.
• It’s been more than a few years since I last sat through the 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. But Andrew Catmel’s recent appreciation post about that Stirling Sillipant-scripted picture makes me think a rewatch might be in order.

• Here’s a bit more nostalgia: To get us through the COVID-19 lockdown, CrimeReads recommends digging into an “iconic” 1970s crime-fiction series, whether it be Robert B. Parker’s Spenser yarns, the Kate Fansler stories by Amanda Cross (aka Carolyn Heilbrun), Donald Goines’ four Kenyatta novels, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho books, or half a dozen other choices.

• Are you missing the surprises and camaraderie of crime-fiction conventions? This may be the next best thing. As In Reference to Murder explains, “The virtual Harrogate Festival, ‘HIF Weekender,’ will be available for free this weekend. Events will include interviews with Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Mark Billingham; a panel celebrating debut authors; the live-streaming of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, and much more.”

• Who knew there was a Japanese term for “a person who owns a lot of unread literature”? Not that I’m guilty of tsundoku

Bloody cool! A Victorian vampire-slaying kit!

• Two podcasts worth tuning in: Episode 53 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast looks back at Kendell Foster Crossen, who—under the pseudonym M.E. Chaber—penned 23 novels starring insurance investigator Milo March. (Steeger Books is currently in the process of re-releasing all of those works in both paperback and e-book formats.) And in her latest edition of Shedunnit, the remarkably sweet-voiced Caroline Crampton considers the many instances of detectives undertaking investigations whilst on holiday.

• One cannot help but wonder at the provocation behind a new “Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy” from organizers of the annual Bouchercon convention, and applying to “all attendees at future Bouchercon events.” An e-mail note sent out by registration chair Teresa Wilson cites “recent events,” but provides no specifics. Nonetheless, the policy seems clear. It reads, in part:
For over fifty years, we have observed all applicable laws and regulations, and have practiced strict adherence to the highest standards of conduct. Harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. We view harassment as any behavior, whether physical, verbal and/or emotional, that threatens, alarms, or makes someone uncomfortable. Examples may include, but are not limited to the following: verbal or written comments and/or innuendos of a sexual or violent nature, unwanted physical and/or sexual contact and/or advances, ethnic and/or racial slurs or epithets, recording or photographing individuals without consent, following or stalking and/or unwanted coercive behavior of any kind.

Any member who believes that they have been or are being subject to a violation of Bouchercon’s Code of Conduct & Anti-Harassment Policy, or who witnesses a violation, is encouraged to immediately report any such violation to the event organizer or a Bouchercon® Board member. Contact with the hotel, convention event space owner and/or operator or police is also encouraged. All such reporting shall remain confidential. In the event there is a formal legal investigation, all contact information shall remain confidential and protected against unnecessary disclosure—including the identity of the accused individual, the individual reporting the violation, and that of any witness. Should they desire to do so, individuals may consent in writing to Bouchercon® event Local Organizer Chair(s) to disclose their identities.

Any attendee asked to stop any behavior deemed to be harassing, is expected to comply immediately. If the situation is of an urgent nature, such as the fear of immediate, physical danger, the victim of the harassment should immediately contact hotel staff, convention event leaders, or the police.
Taking advantage of a limited-time discount deal, I registered for Bouchercon 2021, in New Orleans, way back in March, but was asked only earlier this week to study the new Code of Conduct and respond “with a simple statement saying you’ve read and agree” to its provisions. (Updated procedures now make such compliance part of the regular registration process.) I had no qualms about agreeing. But this all leaves me curious as to what went wrong at some previous gathering to make such a document necessary.

• While others (including yours truly) announced their favorite 2020 crime and mystery novels—so far—in June, two familiar contributors to the MysteryPeople blog waited until now to weigh in. Meike Alana offers her 10 top choices, among them Scott Phillips’ That Left Turn at Albuquerque, Jennifer Hillier’s Little Secrets, James Ziskin’s Turn to Stone, and Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. In the meantime, Scott Montgomery’s 11 picks range from Amy Engel’s The Familiar Dark and Joe R. Lansdale’s Of Mice and Minestrone to Kathleen Kent’s The Burn and Walter Mosley’s Trouble Is What I Do.

• Looking for some crimes in cooler climes to get you through the depths of this coronavirus summer? In The New York Times Book Review, Tina Jordan and Marilyn Stasio recommend works by more than 40 Scandinavian noir writers.

• Canadian journalist Dean Jobb revisits an 1882 murder, in Chicago, that took place at one of that town’s swankest hotels, pitted a singer turned prostitute against the scion of an Illinois banker, featured claims of insanity, and—unusual for the Gilded Age—put not only the accused murderess on trial, but also “her abusive lover,” the deceased. A terrific piece, one that I wish I’d written!

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