Posts Tagged ‘noir’

Cocktail noir

Cocktail Noir—Gangsters, Gin joints, Gumshoes and Gimlets

Greetings Crimeziners, it is time once again to uncork the office bottle and enjoy the enchanted thrall of the shimmering golden optics, as we throw back a five-fingered helping of Scott Deitche’s boozetastic quaffing companion Cocktail Noir.

Connoisseurs of crime will undoubtedly know Scott from his marvelously named column Libation Lounge, a regular feature in Cigar City Magazine and his books such as The Silent Don a study of Floridian crime capo Santo Trafficante Jr.

It was with great pleasure therefore that Crimezine cocktail wrangler Consuela served up Mr. Deitche’s delightful tome along with our customary glass of smooth sipping breakfast Cognac.

This is an ambitious book and fast with it. We are treated to a mixocological methodology of every noirish cocktail you can imagine. If Bogart drank it, it’s in. If Chandler drank it, it is in. In fact, this book contains the recipe of every bad-assed beverage you can shake an AA meeting at, and more besides.

Given that just about every noir fan you can mention is an inveterate boozehound, one wonders if this service is necessary. But Deitche ups the ante, by giving us a fascinating run down of gangster bars, big screen boozing and favorite crime author tipples.

We get the usual suspects of course Hammett, Chandler, and Jimmy Cain. It is no secret these cats were hardcore boozers, as Chandler wrote in The Lady in the Lake—“I smelled of gin. Not just casually, as if I had taken four or five drinks of a winter morning to get out of bed on, but as if the Pacific Ocean was pure gin and I had nosedived off the boat deck. The gin was in my hair and eyebrows, on my chin and under my chin. It was on my shirt. I smelled like dead toads.”

Dead toads indeed—on a Bouchercon morning perhaps?

By way of contrast, author Dennis Lehane of Gone Baby Gone fame confesses, rather anticlimactically, that he enjoys an occasional bottle of Becks beer. One wonders what achievements Chandler et al could have made if they had forgone their dedication to the sacred sauce in favor of literary achievement.

Fear not though Crimeziners, Cocktail Noir is entirely devoid of killjoy questioning. Instead we get a breathlessly fast paced super-session of boozy indulgence. Czar of noir Eddie Muller is quoted as saying “Nobody made getting loaded look more glamorous.” He is talking about Dashiell Hammett’s sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, who swill back cocktails like they are practicing for a three-day weekend with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald—but he could equally be talking about this crimetastic little book.

Like any good boozy session, this book is over too fast. For those unfamiliar with the noir scene Cocktail Noir will provide many revelations and deliciously sizzling starting point for further investigations; while more experienced boozehounds will no doubt value this tome as a compendium of crimeish cocktails that will jumpstart the very blandest of mornings.

As a postscript it should be mentioned, that the term Noir was coined by French film critic Nino Frank, while talking about the work of legendary author Cornell Woolrich. Many of Woolrich’s books, and the multiple films that were based on them, had black in the title—most notably Black Angel (1946), The Bride Wore Black, and The Leopard Man (1943) based on the book Black Alibi. In keeping with the Noir tradition, Woolrich died of alcoholism in 1968.

Cocktail Noir Crimezine

Cocktail Noir by Scott M. Deitche


Cocktail Noir is available November 2015 from Reservoir Square.
ISBN 978-1-94194-700-5

Cornell Woolrich

Portrait of the writer as a young man—The youngCornell Woolrich

Let’s get this straight right from the get go Crimeziners, Blues of a Life Time, The autobiography of Cornell Woolrich is many things, what it most emphatically is not is an autobiography of the godfather of Noir Fiction.

What we do get is five posthumously published short stories, that throw a deeply sanitized glimpse into the bizarre and dysfunctional world of one of crime fiction’s most influential writers.

Remington Portable NC69411 is an episodic account of how Woolrich became a writer whilst still at Colombia University in the 1920’s. We hear about the writer’s nerdish innocence, his writing habits and his hollow craving for companionship. For a 21 year old man living in New York City, at the height of the roaring twenties, poor Corny’s life seems unbearably dull.

Next up, we get The Poor Girl, a story of Woolrich’s “first love” with a young woman, a story made all the more poignant, as Woolrich was a life long homosexual, who’s three month marriage to Violet Blackton—daughter of silent film producer J. Stuart Blackton—ended in disaster. Woolrich is reputed to have used their honeymoon cruise as an opportunity to pick up sailors. Of course none of this is mentioned in this coy autobiography, which is something of a missed opportunity, given its posthumous release.

Just as one thinks things cannot get any worse for poor old Corny, they inevitably do. In the story Even God Felt the Great Depression, we hear a shocking first hand account of how bad things could get in the early thirties.

It is here we realize for the first time how close Corny was to his mom—they were close—very close. He lived with her in a succession of seedy hotels, most notably the Hotel Marseilles on Broadway and West 102nd street. In President Eisenhower’s Speech, we find mom listening to the radio, whilst Corny paces the corridor as the Hotel is on fire—should he disturb his mom’s favorite show and evacuate the building—or present a face of stoicism despite the advancing danger? The results are farcical and anticlimactic and we never get to know the inside angle on his true relationship with mom, but by this time, the dedicated reader is peering closely between every single line. The relationship with his mom proved all consuming, Woolrich lived with her for 25 years after his failed marriage and specified that he share a double crypt with his her when he died in 1968.

In the last story in the book The Maid Who Played the Races, the entire premise for the story is a misunderstanding. While staying in a Seattle hotel, a maid asks  Woolrich about his profession. Corny replies he is a writer, which in his broad east coast accent is mistaken for Rider, and the maid assumes he is a Jockey. Oh, the hilarity.

The frustrating thing about this book, is it tells almost nothing about Woolrich the man. There is no talk of the Hitchcock movie Rear Window, which was based on the Woolrich story, “It had to be Murder” Although Corny whines at length about Hollywood—and the raw deal it gave him.

Nor is there any mention made of Film Noir, a term that was coined by the French after Woolrich’s “black” titled stories, such as The Bride Wore Black and Black Angel, and Black Alibi.

No mention either of Woolrich’s yellow alter ego the commie hating, dope bashing, William Irish. That’s right Crimeziners closet case Corny was bashing stoners, homo’s and reds wayyyyyy before the fashionable fifties. And yet he claims no credit here, nor does he make any mention at all of the very many excellent and genre defining stories he wrote under his own name, which for a writer who is often mentioned in the same breath as Chandler, Hammett, and Cain—is more than an oversight, it is unforgivable.

It is often mentioned that Woolrich died due to sepsis caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes. This is only partially true. Woolrich was a life long Alcoholic, an attribute that exacerbated his diabetes-which in turn led to the sepsis. He died alone in a New York City hotel room, weighing in at only 89 pounds, Woolrich was so ill at this point, that he failed to attend the 1968 premiere of Truffaut’s classic film, The Bride wore Black. He bequeathed his estate of almost a million dollars to Colombia University.

Raymond Chandler Black Mask

Black Mask: noir legends

The Long Goodbye is not typical of Chandler’s crime novels, but it may be the closest he ever came to writing a novel that can stand as a work of literature, independent of hard-boiled, or detective trappings. That observation to the side, if Michael Connelly came to the writings of Chandler after viewing this Altman fiasco [1973 Altman flick the Long Goodbye] then this speaks more about the quality of Chandler’s talent than the accidental association of Altman’s film with Chandler’s writing. The film opens, with Elliot Gould playing coy games with cats that have nothing to do with Chandler’s characterization of Marlowe, nor do these antics reveal anything about the wit and language of Marlowe—the narrator of the novels. Gould’s character is underdeveloped, immature, and not very witty or clever. Chandler’s Marlowe is always surprising in the way his language reveals his character. Chandler always delights, with similes and metaphors never read before in any other American novel, let alone any other detective novel.

Altman’s film is muddled and unsurprising, its mundane revelation of character confusing. I dislike this film but that does not mean I dislike Altman. Many of his films are excellent. Altman takes chances—many of his films fail as a result.

Because I think Altman’s The Long Goodbye is a failure, does not mean I think the same of Chandler. Because the Altman film introduced Connelly and others, to the writing of Chandler, I feel this may have influenced these readers into reflecting back on the film some of the reading glory they experienced in their initial exploration of Chandler.

I guess I was lucky to have discovered Chandler as an inquisitive pre-teen reader, and I continued to read Chandler, both his novels, and later his short fiction—some of it only revealed within the last thirty years or so—in the noble collection, Killer in the Rain, because Chandler abhorred the publication of his formative pulp short stories, which he used to produce his early novels. But I enjoy reading these early tales, which Chandler cobbled together to form his early novels even more than reading his more “pure” short fiction. I enjoy observing how he constructed his novels from his short fiction.

I enjoy reading everything I have ever discovered by Chandler, including his final novel and screenplay Playback. I even enjoyed his screenplay for the Alan Ladd script, The Blue Dahlia, which Chandler admits he wrote while mostly drunk.

In my opinion Chandler is the greatest stylist of the Black Mask school. I do not think he wrote the best mysteries however, The Maltese Falcon, and Red Harvest, both by Dashiell Hammett, are the two greatest detective novels, along with short story The Glass Key—all of which originally appeared in Black Mask Magazine.

I think The Long Goodbye may be the closest Chandler, or any Black Mask contributor, ever came to writing a classic literary novel. I also think that Chandler is the finest writer to have appeared in Black Mask. Hammett’s Maltese Falcon is an iconic work of American literature. Its dialogue is unsurpassed in detective writing. But Marlowe’s narrative voice is a work of genius—and Chandler’s use of poetic imagery in his similes and metaphors is unsurpassed, in the popular novel—perhaps even in the literary novel. In addition, Chandler’s physical and psychological description of the American city, specifically Los Angeles & Hollywood is unsurpassed. Chandler excels in his descriptions of the movie industry, wealthy socialite society, and the poseur social scam artists who inhabit this world.

But I stand by my original impression of Altman’s The Long Goodbye: it was a failure as a Chandler film; it was a failure as an Altman film; and it was an embarrassment as an Elliot Gould film. Many years ago, Gould narrated a number of Chandler’s longer short stories. He did an outstanding job in these narrations and he was proud of this work.

I spent time on Temple Campus speaking with Gould. And later we had a few phone conversations after he returned to the west coast. We spoke of Chandler, and he mentioned the audio readings a number of times with pride. He never once mentioned the Altman film, which by the way, I saw when it was originally released in the theaters. I remember wondering what Altman and Gould thought they were doing when I watched the first 15 minutes or so of the film—with the business with the cats.

Chandler was very fond of cats. He was sentimental and wrote with great sadness about the passing of his oriental cat who can be seen with Chandler on the back cover of many books. The Altman business with the cats was entirely out of character for Marlowe. And it got the film off to a poor start. Not that the film ever found a good place to go to!

Visit a screening of The Long Good Bye 3/25/2012  in Santa Monica Library, Los Angeles. Meet Elliot Gould and Michael Connelly after for a Q&A session

Noir city X Crimezine Eddie Muller

Crimezine chum Eddie Muller

Czar of Noir Eddie Muller, organizer of  Noir City X, can be seen above working out the final details to his latest novel inside Dashiell Hammett’s  San Francisco appartment. Six films, either written by Hammett, or based on his writings will be shown at the festival including the Famous Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey  Bogart.

The 10th San Francisco Film Noir Festival is happening Jan. 20-29. at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco. Opening night double feature, Jan. 20 is Dark Passage, and The House on Telegraph Hill.

The festival hosts an  evening with Angie Dickinson, who will appear in person, Jan. 21.  Movies screened will be: The Killers and Point Blank. The closing day Jan. 29. features six Dashiell Hammett films. Noir City Passports, are good for all the festivals Castro Theatre events, they cost a very reasonable $120. Individual double features are $10, except for Angie Dickinson night, which is $15. For complete programming at the Castro Theatre, call (415) 621-6120,

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Cheer up luv: it’s a noir marathon weekend!

Crime is happening down at the L.A. County museum of Art’s Bing Theatre and it is happening BIG. Noir fans will be happy to hear that Bogart is Back! The great man stars in Nicholas Ray’s acclaimed 50’s Noir classic “In a Lonely Place” The film will be screening Friday, with Robert Altman’s  classic 1973 version of Raymond Chandler’s, “The Long Goodbye” with a crumpled Elliot Gould, as hard drinking gumshoe Phillip Marlowe.

In further cinematic  hijinks Luis Brunel’s surreal 1962 film “The Exterminating Angel” is showing, followed by David Lynch’s super weird Mystery thriller “Mullholland Drive”.

But if you feel  like you still need some Noir action, head down to the Aero theatre in Santa Monica where they are showing the 1974 Film Noir masterpiece “Chinatown” along with the 1990 sequel “The two Jakes” where Oscar-winning screen writer Robert Towne will be making an appearance.

If you don’t live in LA, or you cannot make these showings Crimezine whole heartedly recommends you see the movies anyway, Netflicks—make ’em work for you.