03.04.17 HOW LAS VEGAS BECAME A STAR
Beautiful leading lady opposite a ruggedly handsome leading man. Bad guys, comic relief, a little music ….. the whole formulaic magilla. Not unlike any other murder-infused love story of 1952. Except that this movie fueled America’s burgeoning curiosity about a mythical oasis where vices were virtues. Where fantasy was reality and a man could change his life with one silver dollar.
The Las Vegas Story was not the first movie to showcase Las Vegas, but it had something going for it that its predecessors definitely did not. Howard Hughes as producer (uncredited) and a budget that afforded Jane Russell, Victor Mature and Vincent Price. Movie stars instead of actors. A step up in class for Hughes’ RKO Radio Pictures, an outfit that generally cranked out movies on the cheap. But Hughes been hot for Jane Russell’s 38D rack since casting her in The Outlaw nine years earlier. And he had been buying up land in Las Vegas even before that, so the man who was himself larger than life upped the ante to glamorize both his leading lady and the town which fifteen years later his casinos would monopolize.
People in the early 1950s had heard enough chatter and seen enough celebrity-infused glossy magazine spreads to know that the fantasy backdrop of The Las Vegas Story was not far from reality. It was the first movie in which America saw Las Vegas dressed in its Saturday night finest. The gowns and the jewels. The lights and the action. The cozy elegance of the casino. And the money. All that money. The Hollywood make-believe was a bit over the top, but not by much. Popcorn munchers were begging to be seduced and this movie did not let them down.
Things were on the upswing in America. The country had gotten past the Great Depression, a double-edged war, and was settling into the pedestrian prosperity that would become Eisenhower’s 1950s. Working stiffs now owned houses, and were no longer restricted to summer vacations of taking the kids to see Aunt Marge. The average American family now had the wherewithal to branch out. To explore. To live. To actually visit the fantastic places they had only read about in magazines or seen at the movies, and Las Vegas was at the top of the list.
Las Vegas extolled the virtues of recreational endeavors that other American cities demonized as scandalous. The town was dangerous yet safe. Elegant yet affordable. Offered mom and dad the perfect opportunity to dump the kids with Aunt Marge and aim the Oldsmobile toward a place where they could rub elbows with movie stars and sports heroes, then catch Bing Crosby for the price of a steak. The glamorous Las Vegas of 1952 was definitely within reach of everyone, and The Las Vegas Story promoted tourism to the masses better than any ad campaign. Sex and celebrity. Action and fun. Riches beyond your wildest dreams. All within reach to anyone who walked through the door. Moviegoers were hooked.
The Las Vegas Story is not unlike any murder-infused love story that might be made today. Beautiful leading lady opposite a handsome leading man. Bad guys, comic relief, a little music ….. the whole formulaic magilla. But then as now, with any movie set in Las Vegas the screen is big enough for only one star. Las Vegas itself. Howard Hughes knew that, much to the chagrin of Jane Russell’s 38D rack.
02.25.17 KILLER NEW KAPU I’A TIKI MUG
Check out the killer new KAPU I’A tiki mug at
Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas by renown
artist Brad Parker. You can get one at the bar
or at FrankiesTikiRoom.com
02.15.17 SEX OR WRITING?
Both can be done on a plane or in the back of a cab.
Great sex can inspire great writing.
Great writing can score great sex.
Conquering a blank page can be a bigger thrill than nailing a ten.
And probably a bigger thrill than nailing the ten again in the morning.
Sex and writing can both be great accomplishments.
Both can be simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.
Both can leave you satisfied or frustrated.
Both will suffer when you write about sex while having sex.
And Dorothy Parker never said: I hate sex, but love having fucked.
02.07.17 HAMMETT PRIZE NOMINEES ANNOUNCED
Congratulations to the nominees for the 2016 North American Hammett Prize for literary excellence in the field of crime writing.
The Second Life of Nick Mason, by Steve Hamilton
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The White Devil, by Domenic Stansberry (Molotov Editions)
Revolver, by Duane Swierczynki (Mulholland Books)
The Big Nothing, by Bob Truluck (Murmur House Press)
02.01.17 THE BEST SONG LYRIC EVER
Some lyrics are poetry. Some are funny and clever. Some are filler. Some are inspiring or tell a story. Some not so much. Are the words of the prophets written on the subway walls?
Selecting the best song lyric is subjective and comes down to what strikes a chord within you as an individual. My personal favorite was written in the 1966 by Arthur Lee:
I’D SIT INSIDE A BOTTLE AND PRETEND THAT I WAS IN A CAN
Every time I hear Love’s “7 & 7 Is” that line reverberates in my head all day. Everybody has a favorite lyric or an opinion of which is the best ever. What’s yours?
01.22.17 2017 EDGAR AWARDS
Congratulations to all the deserving writers nominated this week by the Mystery Writers of America for the 2017 Edgar Allen Poe Awards, honoring the best mystery fiction and non-fiction published the previous year. The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners April 27th at a gala banquet at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
01.21.17 THE TEN BEST NOIR FILMS EVER MADE
The 15th annual Noir City film festival is going on now through January 29th at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. They are screening 24 crime capers from around the world, so what better time to announce my list of the Ten Best Noir Films Ever Made.
1. THE KILLING – 1956
Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the amazing book Clean Break by Lionel White, Sterling Hayden masterminds a racetrack robbery with a great ensemble cast featuring noir regulars Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor and Ted DeCorsia. This is not just the best film noir, it is frame for frame the best movie ever made.
2. BOB LE FLAMBEUR – 1956
Also known as Bob The Gambler, this French caper film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville offers a perfect blend of substance and style. To be more precise: it’s cool as hell. Bob, played by Roger Duchesne, masterminds a casino heist only to complicate matters by hitting a winning streak at the tables during its execution. Stanley Kubrick called this the perfect crime movie.
3. THE BIG COMBO – 1955
A well-insulated mob boss (Richard Conte) makes a monkey out of an obsessed cop (Cornel Wilde) until the flatfoot changes strategy and goes after him through his girl. Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as homosexual henchmen were light years ahead of their time.
4. ASPHALT JUNGLE – 1950
Sam Jaffe portrays perhaps the most fascinating criminal mastermind ever as robbery and double cross propel the action of this character driven caper. Director John Huston sets a gritty urban tone, softened a bit by Marilyn Monroe in an early screen appearance.
5. DOUBLE INDEMNITY – 1944
A woman getting her lover to kill her husband for insurance money is a pretty pedestrian set-up, unless Billy Wilder is directing a script he wrote with Raymond Chandler. Add on-screen sexual chemistry between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and this movie explodes.
6. THE KILLERS – 1946
Based on a Hemmingway story, director Robert Siodmak provided the blueprint for future filmmakers to rise above cops & robbers cliches. This cautionary tale of double cross and murder made stars out of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.
7. BLAST OF SILENCE – 1961
Starkly cold and purposely slow moving, this Allen Baron tour de force traps you inside the mind of a hired killer and doesn’t let go.
8. BORN TO KILL – 1947
Walter Slezak and Esther Howard provide humorous counter balance as psycho Lawrence Tierney murders his way into San Francisco society.
9. 711 OCEAN DRIVE – 1950
Edmond O’Brien is few peoples’ idea of a leading man, but that works to his advantage as he plays a telephone repairman who cashes in big by creating a hi-tech communication system for a national bookmaking syndicate. But greed quickly blinds this cocky average Joe to the fact that he is in way over his head.
10. THE NARROW MARGIN – 1952
Tough guy cop Charles McGraw guards a mobster’s wife on a cross country train trip so she can testify before a Los Angeles grand jury. Co-starring noir darling Marie Windsor and directed by the much underappreciated Richard Fleischer (Armored Car Robbery, Soylent Green, The Jazz Singer).
09.18.16 WHY DO WRITERS OBSESS ABOUT THE GREAT LAS VEGAS NOVEL?
Is To Kill A Mockingbird a better book than The Great Gatsby? Is Catch-22 better than The Grapes Of Wrath? Even in a society obsessed with winning, most people (awards committees not withstanding) have figured out that you can’t debate the merits of apples and oranges to find the best banana. That one writer’s work cannot be anointed as being better than all the rest, because subjectivity demands that such comparisons are simply not possible.
So why do writers obsess so much about creating the great Las Vegas novel?
The logical answer would be that it’s a challenge. A challenge discussed often when Las Vegas writers gather formally or over drinks. A challenge documented every so often by publications like the Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Sun. A challenge of conquering the ultimate blank page, not unlike efforts by those who set out to be the first to climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel. And since no truly great Las Vegas fiction yet exists, overcoming that challenge will make any writer’s great Las Vegas novel the great Las Vegas novel by default.
John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas and Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children are generally regarded as noteworthy Las Vegas books, but they are certainly not great Las Vegas books, if for no other reason than because with a little tweaking the stories could have been set pretty much anywhere. Slide a couple rungs down the ladder to memoirs by writers who passed through, and you will discover that just because Beth Raymer’s Lay The Favorite is about to become a major motion picture doesn’t mean the book was particularly insightful. Then completely fall into the crapper with the likes of Joe McGinniss Jr. who, in writing Delivery Man, didn’t even give the city enough thought to get the streets right.
Don’t get the impression from this that all books set in Las Vegas are lacking in quality. Far from it. There are many entertaining reads including James Ellroy’s partially-set-in-Vegas The Cold Six Thousand, where his skewed world view is as much a hallucinogenic adventure as anything in the classic Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Though I would call Hunter S. Thompson’s book less a novel and more an example of how truth is so often stranger than fiction.
So why do writers obsess so much about writing the great Las Vegas novel?
The real answer is that Las Vegas is a blank slate with little literary history, making the challenge an attainable goal. But as the last microcosm of the American Dream, Las Vegas’ first great fiction won’t be a postcard or a love letter or a memoir of somebody’s pit stop on the way to someplace better.
The first great Las Vegas novel will be written by somebody who lives it. Somebody whose daily existence picks at a scab that will eventually unlock the spiritual undercurrent that drives a city that is like no other. And that novel will be justly applauded until somebody writes a better one. And eventually somebody will write an even better one than that, sparking the inevitable debate about which of those books is the best. Momentarily forgetting that you cannot compare apples and oranges to find the best banana.
09.11.16 10 GREAT NOIR FILMS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE SEEN
Everyone is familiar with classic noir films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity that feature stars like Bogart, Stanwyck and Edward G. But what about the low budget B Movies propelled by cold-blooded killers like Steve Cochran and William Talman? Unlikely heroes like Don DeFore and talented directors like Richard Fleischer? Not to mention the ironic casting of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan who, before they teamed up to propagandize the evils of smoking weed on TV’s Dragnet, appeared together several times as movie bad guys.
There are over 700 film noir titles and, good or bad, there is something redeeming about every last one of them. Here is a list of ten must-sees you may have overlooked.
ARMORED CAR ROBBERY – 1950
Directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring William Talman & Charles McGraw
PRIVATE HELL 36 – 1954
Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Ida Lupino & Steve Cochran
FEMALE JUNGLE – 1956
Directed by Bruno VeSota. Starring Lawrence Tierney & Jayne Mansfield
APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER – 1951
Directed by Lewis Allen. Starring Alan Ladd & Phyllis Calvert
SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 1950
Directed by Boris Ingster. Starring Don DeFore & Andrea King
HIGHWAY 301 – 1950
Directed by Andrew L. Stone. Starring Steve Cochran & Virginia Grey
TRAPPED – 1949
Directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring Lloyd Bridges & Barbara Payton
BLAST OF SILENCE – 1961
Directed By Allen Baron. Starring Allen Baron & Molly McCarthy
THE GIRL HUNTERS – 1963
Directed by Roy Rowland. Starring Mickey Spillane & Shirley Eaton
09.07.16 5 MUST-READ LAS VEGAS BOOKS
Las Vegas is the most iconic city on earth. And to understand what makes it tick, you first need to understand the circumstances of its history. Understand the people who gave the city its personality and set in motion the evolutionary process toward what the former railroad water stop would eventually become.
Las Vegas’ brief history has been misrepresented in movies and on television to the point where most people believe the sensationalized fiction to be fact. These five non-fiction books offer a good head start at setting the record straight.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED LAS VEGAS by W.R. Wilkerson III(Ciro’s Books, 2000) — This book effectively debunks the myth that gangster Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo Hotel and gave birth to the Las Vegas Strip.
THE GREEN FELT JUNGLE by Ed Reid & Ovid Demaris (Buccaneer Books, 1963) — Providing documented evidence, this book caused a sensation as the first to expose Las Vegas as a front for organized crime.
BIG JULIE OF VEGAS by Edward Linn (Walker Publishing, 1974) — The ultimate casino insider covers all the angles with anecdotes from the wild 1960s high roller junkets to the Dunes.
HOWARD HUGHES: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue by Geoff Schumacher (Stephens Press, 2008) — This biography does a great job of separating fact from fiction in chronicling the life and times of the ultimate Las Vegas legend.
CASINO: Love And Honor In Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi (Simon & Schuster, 1995) — The notorious tale of betrayal and greed among the mobsters who screwed up a sure thing and changed the casino business forever.