With a new film noir season on its way. Trevor .1 ohnston charts the strangely productive marriage between the high priests of American pulp and the modern cinema. focusing on unsung heroes like crime writer David Goodis.
In the communal Hollywood dreamscape that lines all our heads there’s a monochrome city where neon streets are lashed with rain; where terse-spoken guys in big box suits recoil at the mercy of bitch-queen women; where the alleyway thud of a blackjack on an unsuspecting skull is the sharp-end evidence of a fatalism as shadowy and enveloping as the blood-soaked night. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond (‘handler‘s taut prose sealed the screen immortality of Bogey and Bacall. with directors like
the blood-soaked night
Huston and Hawks working at the height of their powers — it’s those trench-coated images from The .lIa/Ies'e [fa/eon or The Big Sleep that everyone knows by rote. But they're not the only legacy of this Forties and Fifties gunsel culture. 'l‘here‘s another deeper. darker. cheaper film noir out there that's only just beginning to gain the recognition it deserves.
'l‘hroughout the 'I‘hirties and Forties guys like David (ioodis. (‘ornell Woolrich. and Jim 'l‘hompson knocked out story alter story for trashy detective magazines. It was one of these. Black .llusk that had given Hammett his first break. (ioodis and cos hard-boiled B-team
soon made it into books with hard covers. graduating from the dollars-per-word material of police procedurals. amnesiacs and framed innocents to a more personal. nihilistic vision ofsuppurating humanity’s essential bastardism. l’ulp fiction it may have been. but their clipped melancholic vision of criminal betrayal and dotible-lwtrayal has since fired the cinematic imagination in both Hollywood and France to go that bit more noir than dear old Bogey.
Scottish audiences will have a chance to tread these doomy thoroughfares for themselves when a season entitled For (food/s Sake]. plays the (ilasgow Film 'l‘heatrc in August and visits the Edinburgh Filmhouse in September. (‘ompiled by Adrian Wootton for the British Film Institute. it brings together gleaming new prints of American and French adaptations of the writer David (ioodis‘. and should throw new light on his particular influence on the post-l lammett (‘handler crime thriller.
(ioodis himself. from the little we know about him. appears to have been only a few sultanas short of a fruitcake. Born 1917. he died 1967. and spent most of the intervening time living in Philadelphia. where the seedy narratives of most of his novels are set. But his time in
Hollywood as a screenwriter under contract to Warner's revealed a similar kind of screw-up factor facility for dissipation that dogged the other literary men (Fitzgerald. l’aulkner and West among them) who hacked their way through ’l‘inscltown contracts.
(ioodis's own personal kick was pain in public. He liked nothing better than to hurl himself down steps. bring on an unstoppable nosebleed. or even mangle himself in revolving doors. And for dessert. it was out into the mean midnight
dum—dum bullet art
streets. searching for hefty black women to beat him up.
But that seems to be the price the poet of the hard-boiled has to pay for his dum-dum bullet art. ('ornell \Voolrich (Rear ll'imlmv. The Bride ll'ore Blur/r ) passed his adult years in a wheelchair (haying carelessly lost a leg through gangrene) cooped up in a set ies of residential hotels with his ageing mother. suffering all manner of alcohol-fuelled homosexual guilt before a stroke finally finished him off. None of your redbrick writer-in-residence routine here.
Of ( ioodis's movies. it‘s a shame that he never really had one of'l‘he American screen's great artists to wrap his downbeat narratives in the
8'l'he List 28July— lllAugust 1989