The Black-Eyed Blonde

[Amazon Link]

Or: Someone in charge of the Raymond Chandler Estate apparently decided they could shake a few more bucks out of the fans of private eye Phillip Marlowe. And so British author Benjamin Black steps into Chandler's very large (gum)shoes.

And I'm one of the fans they successfully shook some bucks out of. I've read all the Chandler books, I've read Robert B. Parker's efforts at the sequel thing (not great), and I've seen most of the film/TV versions of Marlowe.

(Not that it matters but: IMDB has an impressive list of the actors who've tried to get Marlowe right: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Elliott Gould (a revisionist take), James Garner, Robert Mitchum, and more. To my mind, Bogie's in first place of course, but Powers Boothe came very close second in the 1980s HBO series he did.)

Marlowe is put on this case by the titular Blonde: the captivating Clare Cavendish. She wants him to find Nico Peterson, a guy who (it turns out) just about everyone thinks was killed in a grisly hit-and-run outside of the Cahuilla Club, a reputable Palisades nightspot. But Clare is pretty sure she saw him alive and well in San Francisco post-alleged-mortem.

Nothing about the case makes sense, but Marlowe is infatuated with Clare. And (since he's Marlowe), the trail leads him into interactions with all sorts of colorful characters. Also, he gets beat up, tied up, and nearly drowned. Just the usual thing.

Look on Amazon, and you'll see all kinds of love-it and hate-it reactions. I thought it was OK. It's been quite a few years since I read any Raymond Chandler, but it seemed to me that Black was able to write some very Chandleresque prose without sounding like a bad Chandler parody. That's hard to do. His Marlowe seems to be a little more introspective and vulnerable than Chandler's, but that's OK. Age will do that to a person.

Without spoilers: there are continuing references here to people and events in Chandler's classic The Long Goodbye. You might want to brush up on that before tackling this.

Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:28 PM EST


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A decent, OK, thriller with some sci-fi elements, kind of the same genre as Minority Report, but with a much lower budget.

The hero, John, is a so-called "memory detective"; he has a sort of psychic power that allows him to send someone into a trance-like recreation of past events, and he will just tag along and observe. John has his problems, as scenes of his unpleasant memories of his wife's suicide keep intruding into the recreations. But he thinks he's recovered from that now, and the memory-detective company sends him off to work for a fantastically wealthy, but secretive, couple with a troubled daughter, Anna.

Anna is locked up in her bedroom, courtesy of a past deadly "incident" that she claims she had nothing to do with. John must determine whether Anna is a dangerous whacko (in which case, it's off to the loony bid, as her stepdad wishes) or the victim of malicious evildoers (as her mom thinks). Anna is clearly very intelligent and perceptive, and John is sympathetic. But…

The movie is loaded with red herrings, loose ends, and ominous foreshadowings. In the cold light of day, I have to admit it was pretty silly. But it kept me engrossed while I was watching it, and that's no mean feat for a movie that doesn't involve spaceships.

Mark Strong plays John; he's a fine actor that is well-known for playing cold-blooded villains. (There's a Jaguar commercial that goofs on this.) So it's nice to see him as a decent vulnerable protagonist.

Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:30 PM EST

Too Late For Tears

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Netflix calls this movie Killer Bait, but it's more commonly called Too Late For Tears; one of those weirdnesses that crops up when an old movie slips into the public domain. Neither title relates very much to the actual plot; for accuracy's sake, it might have been better calledToo Late To Realize That You Shouldn't Have Had Anything To Do With Lizabeth Scott.

Lizabeth plays Jane Palmer, married to Alan (Arthur Kennedy). He's deeply in love (even though Jane's previous husband "committed suicide"), and why not? Jane doesn't look like a murderous sociopath. But by sheer coincidence, a blackmail victim mistakenly tosses a payoff into into their convertible one night on (I think) Mulholland Drive. Alan's impulse is to Do The Right Thing and turn the money in to the cops. Jane, however, is immediately obsessed with keeping the cash at all costs. And, since this is film noir at its noirest, "all costs" means there will be at least a couple corpses involved.

Things aren't helped when Danny, the blackmailer (Dan Duryea) tracks them down and confronts Jane. Also in the picture are Alan's sister, Kathy (Kristine Miller) and a mysterious stranger, "Don" (Don DeFore) who claims to have known Alan back in WW2. Jane needs to outmaneuver them all, with a scheme that involves a lot of ad hoc deception, betrayal, and murder most foul. Will she get away with the loot?

Netflix underestimated how much I'd like this old film noir, but it's the real deal, a story of how one little accident can reveal a character's inner rot and send a lot of the cast into a downward spiral of corruption and ruin. Dan Duryea is especially good as the sleazeball blackmailer who finds that Jane's villainy is too much for even him.

Surprisingly good is Don DeFore, who I remember solely from glimpses on old TV sitcoms: Ozzie and Harriet and Hazel. Here, he's alternatively affable, goofy, and scheming; his big secret is only revealed at the movie's climax.

Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:29 PM EST