Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Bullet Points: Never a Dull Moment Edition

• Renowned movie and TV composer Billy Goldenberg—who died on Monday, August 3, at age 84—was the son of two musicians and took his first breaths in Brooklyn, New York, in 1936. He began his Hollywood career directing music for TV programs such as Hullabaloo and 1968’s Elvis: The Comeback Special. As Variety recalls, “In late 1968, Goldenberg became assistant to Universal TV music director Stanley Wilson, who assigned him scores for series [such] as Ironside, It Takes a Thief and The Name of the Game. He met [director Steven] Spielberg on Name of the Game and later did the director’s television work, including Night Gallery, Duel and three installments of Amazing Stories in the 1980s.” Goldbenberg wrote the music for 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, the teleflick that served as the actual pilot for Columbo, and went on to create the music for “Murder by the Book,” that series’ first regular episode. Among his other crime-drama credits are the themes for Harry O, Banacek, Kojak, and Delvecchio. When asked about Goldenberg’s contributions to the TV mystery field, Gary Gerani, a screenwriter and film historian now working on a documentary about the composer, offered these comments:
Billy Goldenberg certainly didn’t invent crime and mystery TV music. But what he brought to the genre was a perverse, transcendent elegance, something missed even by immortal composers like Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. Having followed his career from the very beginning, I think it’s significant that Broadway-based Goldenberg began his TV-film work with supernatural music (Fear No Evil, Ritual of Evil, Night Gallery). This led his aural ideas and arrangements in a darkly surreal direction … ”romantic mysticism” he called it. It was just a short walk from the demonic investigations of Dr. David Sorell (Louis Jourdan) to the insanely upper-class, full of themselves, larger-than-life villains facing Columbo. And in all of this … beauty. Elegance. Class. Billy was able to find an elegant “inner life" even in the bald-headed, lollipop-slurping countenance of Telly Savalas, his Kojak theme finding something eternal in the man and his city.

What will Mr. Goldenberg be remembered for? The Spielberg collaborations, of course; before John Williams, Goldenberg was Spielberg’s go-to composer, with
Duel a very high-profile title on Billy’s résumé. And his Bartok-inspired supernatural music clearly defined the TV-movie flavors of the ’70s. But Columbo, beloved by fans all over the world, is probably the pop-culture property he’s most identified with. [His] Ransom for a Dead Man score was essentially the next step from his more cosmic television movies. This score influenced the “elegant beauty” style of music used in most detective TV shows produced by Dean Hargrove later in the decade, and beyond; even Murder, She Wrote’s harpsichord owes something to what Billy brought to the genre with Ransom. His approach captures the off-center personality of the Columbo episodes themselves far better than Henry Mancini’s [NBC] Mystery Movie theme, which is loads of fun, but clearly doesn’t belong in the same provocative, “perverted melodious” universe as Goldenberg’s creations. So yes, it’s fair to say that Billy Goldenberg’s compositions defined the signature sound of the 1970s mystery movie, and much of what followed in its wake.
Goldenberg collected almost two dozen Emmy nominations during his lengthy career, winning for such small-screen gems as Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975) and for miniseries including The Lives of Benjamin Franklin (1974) and King (1978). The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) carries an extensive list of his work.

(Above) The opening scene from Ransom for a Dead Man—with music by Billy Goldenberg—finds a lawyer (played by Lee Grant) assembling a ransom note for her husband (actor Harlan Warde), editing a tape recording to prove that he was indeed snatched, and finally shooting him in their living room.

• Also lost last week: journalist and author Pete Hamill. A longtime, much-admired New York City newspaperman, Hamill also published in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Esquire. (A variety of his pieces can be read here, with one of his best-known Esquire features available at this link.) On top of all those credits, he penned close to a dozen novels, recalls Jiro Kimura of The Gumshoe Site, “including A Killing for Christ (Little, Brown, 1968), his first novel which was a thriller about a plot to assassinate the Pope in Rome.” Hamill produced, as well, a quartet of action-packed thrillers starring Gotham freelance reporter Sam Briscoe, beginning with 1978’s Dirty Laundry (about which I wrote in CrimeReads) and running through 2011’s Tabloid City. Kimura goes on to note that Hamill’s “mystery short stories include ‘The Men in Black Raincoats,’ first published in the December 1977 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and ‘The Book Signing’ (first published in Brooklyn Noir; Akashic, 2004), which was an Edgar nominee. His teleplays include Laguna Heat (1987, based on the novel by T. Jefferson Parker) and Split Images (1992, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard).” Click here to enjoy New York magazine’s fine tribute to Hamill, who passed away from heart and kidney failure on August 5. He was 85 years of age.

• Like so many other crime-fiction gatherings, Belfast, Ireland’s NOIRELAND International Crime Fiction Festival has had its ups and downs this year. A one-day event had been planned for March 28, only to be postponed until October due to the novel coronavirus. And now … “Sadly, it seems we were a little optimistic!” writes festival manager Angela McMahon. “The risk to public health from COVID-19 is still significant and unlikely to change for some time. As the well-being of our audiences, our authors and our many wonderful volunteers is paramount, we have concluded that in the circumstances we cannot go ahead with NOIRELAND this year.” She promises that tickets will be refunded over the next couple of weeks.

• Also cancelled was this year’s Pulpfest. Nonetheless, organizers announced that the winner of that planned convention’s 2020 Munsey Award is Mike Ashley, “the author or co-author of numerous works related to the pulps, science fiction, and fantasy. … Ashley has also edited many anthologies and single-author collections, often drawing work from the pulps. He is currently part of a team compiling an index to the most important British popular fiction magazines published between 1880 and 1950, including all the British pulps.” In 2003, Ashley’s Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction captured the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work.

• Plans are quite different for another annual get-together, the Crime Fiction Weekend at St. Hilda’s College, University of Oxford. The two-day conference (August 14-15) will take place entirely online. As publicity committee member Jean Harker says in an e-mail note, “This year’s theme is ‘All Our Yesterdays: Historical Crime Fiction’ … and speakers include Andrew Taylor, Mick Herron, Andrew Wilson, Elly Griffiths, Anna Mazzola, etc.” She adds that “St. Hilda’s alumna and Honorary Fellow Val McDermid will preside over some of the proceedings. There will also be a tribute to Dame Agatha Christie as we celebrate the centenary of the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles—and a solve-it-yourself Whodunnit playlet written by Andrew Taylor and acted by a cast of crime writers.” Click here to find the full program. Proceedings are supposed to be recorded and made available to ticket-holders for a month. The ticket price is £30, with a discount available to students. You can register here.

• As the coronavirus lockdown continues, you may be curious to know how retired Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus (soon to return in A Song for the Dark Times) is managing the isolation. His creator, Ian Rankin, answers that question in this delightful scripted video short starring Emmy Award-winning Scottish actor Brian Cox. It imagines Rebus coping with the absence of pubs, the need for exercise, the ubiquity of Zoom communications, and much more. (Hat tip to Randal S. Brandt)

• I’m just in the midst of reading Sam Wasson’s The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood (Flatiron), and here comes news that Ben Affleck is spearheading a film based on that character-rich tale about the making of Chinatown (1974). The Hollywood Reporter says he’ll pen the script and direct the picture, and co-produce with Lorne Michaels, “who initially nabbed the rights to the book.” Let’s hope for the best from this project.

• In other story-to-screen news, The Killing Times brings word that Megan Abbott’s next novel, The Turnout—to be published in the summer of 2021—is already scheduled for television treatment. It says the story “is set in the hothouse world of a ballet school led by the Durant sisters, Dara and Marie, and Dara’s husband Charlie. Their connection is intense, forged by a glamorous but troubled family history. But after they hire Derek, a charismatic, possibly shady contractor to renovate the studio, Marie throws herself into an intense affair with him that threatens their tight bonds and brings forward family secrets until an act of violence overturns everything.”

• Meanwhile, it’s been reported that actress Elisabeth Moss (The West Wing, The Handmaid’s Tale) “will be developing Araminta Hall’s forthcoming Imperfect Women as one of the first projects of her new production company, Love & Squalor Pictures.” Publishers Weekly calls that novel a “heart-wrenching psychological thriller.”

• Netflix has chosen September 3 as the debut date for Young Wallander, its six-episode series inspired by Henning Mankell’s tales of Swedish police inspector Kurt Wallander.

• Here’s a show I didn’t expect: HBO’s The Undoing, a psychological drama starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Variety explains,
The six-episode series follows Grace Fraser (Kidman), a successful therapist who discovers that her husband Jonathan (Grant) may be wrapped up in the death of another woman. She must unravel a chain of mysteries to reclaim her family’s life. The limited series, based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s [2014] novel You Should Have Known, is written and executive produced by David E. Kelley. Susanne Bier, Per Saari, Bruna Papandrea, Stephen Garrett, Celia Costas and Kidman also executive produce. Bier also directs.
The Undoing is slated to start its run on October 25.

• And Netflix is offering images from its adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic novel, Rebecca, which was already so well filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. Netflix’s interpretation will premiere on October 21. As Deadline explains, “Lily James and Armie Hammer lead the cast this time out, playing the aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier in Hitchcock’s version) and his new wife (previously Joan Fontaine), with Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers.”

• August brings what would have been Earl Derr Biggers’ 136th birthday, were the creator of Charlie Chan still around to enjoy such festivities. (He perished in 1933, aged 48.) To celebrate, Lou Armagno, who blogs at The Postman on Holiday, has compiled a “musical montage” of compositions and musicians associated with Biggers’ Chinese-American detective, the majority of which relate to the 44 vintage Chan films. Among the many things I hadn’t know before: David Raksin, who created music for the 1941’s Dead Men Tell, starring Sidney Toler as Chan, would three years later compose the eerily beautiful score for that film noir classic, Laura.

Laura seems to be burning bright in the zeitgeist lately. Otto Penzler placed that 1944 Gene Tierney/Dana Andrews picture at Number 6 in his CrimeReads countdown of “The Greatest Crime Films of All Time.” And in Loren D. Estleman’s new, sixth Valentino mystery, Indigo (Forge), his imperfect film detective is presented with the original Laura Hunt portrait painted for that movie.

• Regarding Penzler’s picks, he’s identified his top two—Chinatown (1974) and The Maltese Falcon (1941)—but we’re still waiting to see which motion picture he thinks belongs at the top of the heap.

• In a new interview with Hollywood Soapbox, Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai talks about his company’s initial inspiration, forthcoming works by Ray Bradbury and Max Allan Collins, and the importance of original cover artwork for HCC titles.

• Speaking of Hard Case, Entertainment Weekly has revealed the Paul Mann-painted cover of Later, Stephen King’s third contribution to that paperback line (following 2005’s The Colorado Kid and 2013’s top-selling Joyland). Due out in March 2021, Later is described by Ardai as “a beautiful story about growing up and facing your demons—whether they’re metaphorical or (as sometimes happens when you’re in a Stephen King novel) the real thing. It’s terrifying, tender, heartbreaking and honest, and we’re so excited to bring it to readers.”

• When it comes to crime- and mystery-fiction blogs, patience is sometimes rewarded. In July 2018, Brooklyn writer, critic, and musician Cullen Gallagher put up what appeared to be the final contribution to his fine site, Pulp Serenade: an interview with author Paul D. Brazill. Given Gallagher’s previous posting prolificacy, though, I hesitated to delete Pulp Serenade from The Rap Sheet’s blogroll—and now my restraint has been vindicated. Almost a full two years after Gallagher seemed to disappear, he suddenly returned in mid-June with a flood of posts, some of them reprints but others new (such as his reviews of S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland and Lawrence Block’s Dead Girl Blues). I don’t know how long his renewed commitment to Pulp Serenade will last, but let’s hope it will not flag any time soon.

• So what’s happened to Reviewing the Evidence? Created in 2001 by Barbara Franchi, it has more recently been managed by Yvonne Klein. However, the last time that site saw an update was back in January of this year. I hope the pandemic has not spelled an end to RTE. I recently sent an e-mail inquiry to Klein, but have not yet received a response. If anybody out there knows about the site’s future, I hope they’ll reveal it in the Comments section at the end of this post.

• This could be interesting. From In Reference to Murder:
Independent publisher Canelo is launching a new crime fiction imprint, Canelo Crime, and has promoted Louise Cullen as publishing director to oversee the list. The imprint will launch with a selection of eight titles, including novels by Rachel Lynch and Nick Louth, due for release on September 24. Cullen is now actively seeking new novels with “bestseller potential” for inclusion in the imprint in 2021 and beyond, with a target of 15–18 new releases next year.
• If you’ve ever wondered what it would like to be in the company of prolific Texas author James Reasoner, click over to this YouTube interview he did with Paul Bishop of Wolfpack Publishing and fellow writer Robert Vaughan. By the way, Reasoner just declared that he’s finished work on his 386th novel. I suddenly feel very lazy …

• Tied to the recent release of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology (Morrow), which he wrote with A. Brad Schwartz, author Max Allan Collins submits to The Strand Magazine’s blog a list containing “10 Additional Surprising Facts About Eliot Ness.”

• Collins also posted a piece in CrimeReads that answers the question, “Whatever Happened to Eliot Ness After Prohibition?

• Let me recommend one other story in CrimeReads: Andrew Cartmel’s look back at the “lost classics” of 20th-century hard-boiled author Charles Williams.

• I’m not much for audiobooks, since I can generally read a work faster myself than somebody else can read it to me. However, I have enjoyed listening to Phoebe Judge’s presentations at Phoebe Reads a Mystery, a podcast I first heard about from blogger Dave Knadler. Since the novel coronavirus struck, she’s been recording chapter-by-chapter deliveries of classic works, some of the most recent being Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anna Katharine Green’s The Leavenworth Case, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Links, and Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. While I still shy away from audio versions of new novels, I find that I quite enjoy revisiting books I have already read, transported into another time and place by Judge’s soothing voice.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Given his list so far, could Penzler's top crime movie of all time be anything other than The Third Man?