Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another Doomed Writer - Ted Lewis



TED LEWISWhat is it about brilliant writing and alcohol? Men like Faulkner, Thomas, Poe, Chandler, Capote,
 Hemingway and Joyce were no stranger to the bottle. Meanwhile, Patricia Highsmith said that strong drink 
enabled her to “…see the truth, the simplicity, and the primitive emotions once more.” 
One of the giants of English Noir crime writing, Derek Raymond, seems to have been in an alcoholic haze 
for most of his adult life. So, what do we make of the short life of Ted Lewis who died at the tragically 
young age of 42 from an alcohol related illness?
Lewis was born in Manchester in 1940. His family moved to the Lincolnshire town of Barton-on-Humber 
in 1947, and Lewis’s formative years were spent in the distinctly unfashionable milieu of what we now call 
Humberside. Despite his parents’ objections, Lewis spent four years at Hull Art School. His experiences 
there make up the narrative of his autobiographical tale of young men and their relationships, 
All the Way Home and All the Night Through, which was published in 1965.
The creation of Carter
By this time Lewis was working as an animator in London, but in 1970, Michael Joseph published the novel 
for which Lewis is best remembered – Jack’s Return Home, which was filmed as Get Carter in 1971
Jacks_Return_HomeThe title  poses a conundrum. In 1960, Tony Hancock and his crew recorded a 
spoof melodrama, as part of The East Cheam Drama Festival. It’s title? 
Jack’s Return Home. If you want a good giggle, click the link, and you will 
be transported back to a Golden Age of English humour. Did Lewis borrow the title 
from scriptwriters Alan Simpson and Ray Galton? I think the clue comes near the 
beginning of Jack’s Return Home, when Jack Carter goes through his late brother’s 
record collection, and finds an LP called This is Hancock, probably the fictional version of Pieces of Hancock, 
which contains the East Cheam Drama Festival sketch.
Get Carter is a screen classic, and was in third place in our list of the 20 greatest classic crime movies. 
The storyline is well known, but the brief outline is that Jack Carter, a London gangland enforcer, returns 
to his home town in North East England to investigate the suspicious death of his brother and in doing 
so sets himself on a collision course with local criminals. The film does diverge from the book, however. 
It is set in Newcastle, but Lewis makes it very clear that the Carters’ home patch is Scunthorpe. Director 
Mike Hodges, did not take the risk of using the Lincolnshire steel town as a location. Mostly because of its 
name, Scunthorpe has something of a comical reputation, and the eventual setting of Newcastle offered 
much more in the way of visually iconic scenery. Also, the book has the time and the space to explore the 
ambivalent relationship between Jack and Frank Carter. Brothers, and yet complete opposites in lifestyle 
choices and character. Brothers divided by career, but bound together by shared childhood happiness.
The Jack Carter Trilogy comprises two more episodes in Carter’s career. Jack Carter’s Law (1974) is a 
prequel to Jack’s Return Home, while Jack Carter and The Mafia Pigeon (1977) is an attempt to make 
Carter’s world a little more cosmopolitan, as he is sent on an enforced holiday to a Spanish resort and has 
to deal with some dangerous foreign villains. Both books are widely considered to be much weaker than the 
original novel. Be this as it may, despite a pretty dire Hollywood remake of Get Carter, Ted Lewis’s stock is 
still quite high in America and this autumn sees his three Jack Carter novels reprinted as high quality 
paperbacks by Syndicate Books, which also brought out a new edition of GBH earlier this year.
PlenderIntroducing Plender
In Plender, (1971) Lewis offered not a sequel, but a searching look at a criminal world 
where violence is a way of life.There is a slightly less grounded feel to the book, as 
Plender – who is violent just like Carter – does not work for common or garden 
gangsters like Jack Carter’s Fletcher brothers. Instead, he is employed as a small 
cog in a huge criminal enterprise known only as The Movement. Billy Rags (1973)
 starts in a maximum security prison, and follows Billy Cracken as he breaks out of 
jail in an ultimately doomed attempt to make the world dance to his tune.
Before we look at Lewis’s final work we need to mention two curiosities. InBoldt (1976) the author takes
 us to the USA, and critics have said that the tale of a white cop in a mid-western town is informed more 
by TV and movie cliches than any real sense of the authentic America. The Rabbit (1975) covers 
similar ground to Lewis’s first novel in that it explores the world of young men growing up in post-war
 provincial England. The absence of professional criminals from the narrative does not mean a lack of 
cruelty – either physical or psychological.  

And GBH…
By 1980. Ted Lewis had been sucked into a spiral of alcohol dependence. He was separated from his wife
 and family and, despite the fame afforded him by the success of Get Carter, had returned to north 
Lincolnshire, and was living with his mother in Scunthorpe, where he died in 1982. GBH was published in 
1980, and in many ways, it is Lewis’s apotheosis. The central character, George Fowler, is not a gun-for-hire 
but boss of his own criminal empire. The book relates the slow unraveling of Fowler’s world. The writing is 
lean, muscular and elemental, and there is not a word or phrase wasted. The sense of alienation is 
heightened by the chapter headings which simply alternate between The Smoke, and The Sea. The Smoke 
is, of course, Fowler’s London heartland, but The Sea is the bleak landscape of an out of season seaside 
town – Mablethorpe. The Lincolnshire resort is somewhere that Lewis would almost certainly have visited in 
his childhood summers, but its tawdry, windswept and wintry dereliction is the perfect backdrop for Fowler’s 
So, what is Ted Lewis’s legacy? His writing lit a torch for those who sought to explore the darker places 
in men’s souls, and Raymond Chandler’s words, The crime story tips violence out of its vase on the shelf, 
and pours it back down into the street where it belongs,” might be an appropriate epitaph. It may be that 
authors cannot write with the violent intensity that Lewis used and remain sociable and sane, but let the last 
words come from another Noir genius, Derek Raymond. In his afterword to GBH he said: 
He is an example of how dangerous writing can be when it is done properly, and Ted Lewis’s writing proves 
he never ran away from the page. No – because with Ted Lewis, the page was the battle.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

To Death Do Us Part: The Deadly Women of Deadly Men.

Married to the Mob

(Graphic content ahead)…
Actress Alice Granville shows off two bullet holes in her arm at Roosevelt Hospital after she was shot by her hitman husband, Pete Donahue, 1931. The mob moll said Donahue shot her at a nightclub party to prove his affection. 
Smitty White was arrested and held at police headquarters in 1942 after her boyfriend Ralph Prisco was shot and killed during a failed hold up.
Twice Janice Drake dined with men who were gunned down the following day. Here she is photographed in 1952 as police take her into questioning after playboy Garment district boss Nat Nelson was murdered in a mob assassination hours after he was seen out with her. She spent countless nights in clubs and restaurants with some of the most senior figures in organised crime despite being a wife (to nightclub comedian Alan Drake) and mother…
Drake suffered her own unhappily ever after when she was found shot to death in the front seat of a black cadillac with mobster Little Augie Pisano in 1959. 
A fascinating look at the female companions of the New York City mafia, full feature on the NY Daily News.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Church and the Devil

A Holistic Approach to Exorcism: New Catholic Perspectives on Demonic Possession by Glendolyn Verna and Joseph Villabuenos, MD
A Holistic Approach to Exorcism: New Catholic Perspectives on Demonic Possession by Glendolyn Verna and Joseph Villabuenos, MD

Mike Monson Delivers a Noir Tale Worthy Of Notice.

Gutter Review: What Happens in Reno, by Mike Monson

What Happens in Reno by Mike Monson is classic noir.  A main character who has plans of grandeur but is destined for disaster, a dame with no allegiances other than to herself, a criminal recently released from prison, and a financial windfall that everyone wants to get their hands on.

When Matt gets money from selling the dilapidated home he inherited after the death of his mother, he intendeds to give some money to his wife to pay for her cosmetic surgery and pay down their ever expanding debt. But once the money is in his hands, those ideas go by the wayside. He quickly decides that a trip to Reno is a better plan of action.

Soon he has everyone looking for him to get their hands on his money. Lydia, who has been supporting Matt through his long stretches of unemployment wants him to give her the money he has promised to her.  Lydia’s new lover, Hunter who was recently released from prison, needs the money to pay off a drug dealer he is avoiding, and his step-son Tanner, who is simply looking to impress Hunter and repaying him for the attention he has been lavishing on his.

If Matt wants to make it out of Reno with any money at all he has to keep his wits about him to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. But nothing is as easy as it seems in the world created by Monson. This is a fun, quick read that  shows great noir is still being published (or re-released in this case).

Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski

Noir's Golden Girl

How they Painted Bond’s Golden Girl

Step One: Actress Shirley Eaton is cast as a gold-painted corpse in Goldfinger.
Step Two: Miss Eaton is assured that death from “skin suffocation”, (although probably not entirely certain about it in 1964), is not a likely outcome.
Step Three: Just in case, a doctor is hired to be on set at all times in fear of possible skin suffocation and her stomach is left bare for the same reason.
Step Four: Miss Eaton spends two hours in make-up … (two hours that the painter will never forget as long as he lives).
Step Five: Although the myth of skin suffocation is based mainly on the incorrect belief that ‘respiration occurs, at least in part, through the skin’, 
there is the worry that skin is the main surface for temperature exchange, and if heat accumulates for too long, locked under the skin, death is a very real possibility. 
The crew films Miss Eaton’s scenes very, very quickly. It’s a wrap in a morning’s work.
Step Six: After filming, Miss Eaton is scrubbed down by the wardrobe mistress and the make-up girl, and sweated off the remaining gold in a number of Turkish baths…
… (You’re probably wondering where those photographs are).
Step Seven: Presumably for good publicity, a rumor is spread that Shirley Eaton tragically died on set from asphyxiation due to the gold paint, 
(just like in the movie plot).
Despite the urban myth following the release of Goldfinger in 1964, Eaton is very much alive today and appeared in a 2003 episode of the series 
MythBusters to debunk the myth once and for all.
Photographs by David Hurn / Movie trivia from IMDB via Imgur

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: Thompson, Cain, Willeford and Goodis

Pulp According to David Goodis

The Noir experience is set on course often by the imperatives of a family unit, which include reverence for a father-protector and sheltering a younger sibling. Necessary in themselves, these could become absolutes, fostering anxieties that wound instead of fulfil loved ones. It is one of Goodis’ major themes and the root of the anxieties, delusions, and hellish nightmares that block fulfillment for his noble losers, men such as Al Darby and Nat Harbin and women such as Al’s wife and Nat’s surrogate sister. 

The writer explores post-war family dysfunctions as Robert Polito shows Jim Thompson did. In The Grifters, Roy and his mother, both con artists, must live apart and keep their cons secret from each other. Perhaps that is why Roy’s mother treats her son like a younger brother. A victim of an abusive father, she also looks at him “with a suppressed hunger.” Thompson’s Lou Ford has a killer inside him. Sexual arousal makes him kill his partner; it is connected to the guilt and fear he felt after his father caught him with a housekeeper. His father eventually had him vasectomized, because he saw his son was a paranoid sadist who had gotten love and hate interwoven. He could not admit that its origin was in the model he himself had been for his loving son. He had used his house keeper to flagellate his sex partners. She seduced Lou as revenge against the father, whose merciless whipping of his son suggests a shadow of incest.

Other noirs about the sexual attraction stimulated by the possibility of incest include Willeford’s Miami Blues and perhaps Woman Chaser (Freddie Frenger and Richard Hudson are attracted to women their mother’s age), Cain’s The Butterfly, and Felice Swados’ Reform School Girl. Michael Avellone’s novelization of Sam Fuller’s film Shock Corridor is as replete with details about mental patients’ incestuous thoughts as Fuller’s own novelization of his film The Naked Kiss is with obsession with pedophilia.

Goodis also sets many of his plots in motion by portraying families as harboring psychosexual dysfunctions (aggressive or submissive fathers, incestuous siblings, hateful and cheating partners). They are also rife with criminal endeavors (extortion, loan sharking, numbers running, housebreaking, drug peddling) rationalized as survival tactics. But the subversive vision is masked by expressions of reverence for the institution itself. That is very desirable to entrepreneurs of mass entertainment, in which, as Robert Warshow wrote, “the reality of the surface” is important.