Angel Dust

Remember angel dust? At some point in my life–70’s, 80’s, 90’s–it became a thing: a dangerous new illegal drug that was addictive and occasionally ended up with those partaking in it dying. You never hear about it anymore–or at least, I don’t–but it was fairly ubiquitous there for a while. I guess crack, and possibly heroin’s comeback, have pushed it out of the public consciousness or the zeitgeist, as it were.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I slept late, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, which felt great, and then I spent some time getting caught up on things that have slid a bit over the last few weeks–always–and then finished rereading #shedeservedit, making notes and so forth. There’s a lot of work left to be done on this before April 1, and I really need to get focused so it will be finished by (extended) deadline–which means focus and not being distracted (easier said than done, of course, as always) and then I actually started working on pruning the books. I filled two boxes of books I will never get the time to either read or reread or write about, and then started condensing the shelves down again…at some point I will also start going through the boxes in the crawlspace over the laundry room–it’s going to be a process, Constant Reader, and one that will not be finished in one little spurt of activity; I see this as a probably year-long project. I also walked to Office Depot to buy another box of file folders and a package of the little notepads I have become addicted to over the past few years (I use them for grocery lists and daily to-do lists)–it was so gorgeous outside, and there was a lot of male eye candy to view on the walk there and the walk back. The bar on the corner is open again, and so are the various eateries along the Avenue. (Sadly, both the BBQ place at the corner of MLK and St. Charles is now closed, probably for good, as is the St. Charles Tavern, which has been there forever and survived Katrina but not a pandemic.) There were people at the streetcar stops, and I have also begun to realize that getting off work at five is probably not going to be ideal now that people are coming back to work and the tourists are coming back as well; heavy heaving sigh. But I will adapt, much as I did when the people started returning after Katrina.

Today of course we lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time–although I guess today is the reverse; the removal of the hour gained when we went into it in the first place. I really despise losing the hour–it throws me off every year and inevitably takes a ay or two to get used to again; but of course the gain of an hour doesn’t really do much other than get me an extra hour of sleep when it happens. But this means it will be light outside when I come home from work and it will stay lighter out for longer–the days are starting to get longer again–but I slept well again last night (lots of trouble getting out of bed this morning, as again it was feeling mighty comfy under my blankets) and my coffee is really hitting the spot. I had to get up, no matter how much I wanted to stay there, because Scooter needed his shot–twelve hours apart, with an hour on either side leeway–and giving it to him at nine this morning means I have to give it at eight this evening so he can get at seven tomorrow morning when I leave for work. See how I work that hour of leeway, and almost fucked it up thanks to daylight savings going away? Timed medication is always an issue for these time changes, really.

We started watching Mr. Mercedes’ third season last night, which is based on the second book of King’s Hodges trilogy, Finders Keepers. While the switching of the story order makes sense for the television production of the show–this was a bridge book connecting the first and third books, which had the same villain, and in the course of this book the events of season 2/book 3 were set in motion. Another change is that the story of the robbery of the great reclusive American author and his murder took place long before the events of the book–several years passed in the book between the robbery and the discovery of the loot from the robbery by a young kid, who grew into a teenager and used the money–and the manuscripts–to provide for his family (another connection is that his father was injured in the Mercedes attack that opened the first book…in the show he’s already in his late teens when the car crash happens and he discovers the suitcase filled with treasure within 24 hours of it happening. This storytelling change to the book also makes sense–the first few chapters, detailing the kid’s story, takes over four or five years to play out on the page; and that is harder to do on a show or film. I’m curious to see how this is all plays out–the second season went off the rails a bit in the final episodes–but since there’s not a supernatural element to this season it may stay safely on the rails this time out.

I also spent some time pruning the books yesterday, and now have five boxes (and a paper grocery bag)filled with them to donate to the library sale; tonight after dark I will load the five boxes of condom packs I’ve made over the last few days into the car, and then tomorrow night after I get home from work I will move the books to the hatch of the car, getting the clutter and mess out of the living room. This is just the beginning of clearing out the house, for the record; Paul is going to also be spending the next few months getting rid of things in the bedroom and the closet. “Clean like we’re moving” is our motto–so, the question isn’t “do I want to keep this?” but rather “would I pack and move this?” And while the piles and stacks of books have been substantially reduced, and the clutter equally, a stranger would probably still look at the living room (or the shelves in the bathroom) and think, wow, they’ve got so many books…that’s a lot of clutter. But I’ve made significant progress, and I am most pleased with what I’ve managed thus far.

I also managed to work on my desk area, significantly reducing the amount of loose paper and other scraps and bits with things scribbled on them, filed stuff away, and over all made things roomier and less cluttered around my desk. I also need to start clearing out and cleaning out kitchen things I never use–like my muffin pans, which I don’t think have been used in years (although now I am thinking cornbread muffins with jalapeños in them would be nice; it’s been a hot minute so maybe I need to hold onto those for a bit longer…it’s also strawberry season so I could make strawberry cupcakes again…NO I HAVE LOST WEIGHT AND I AM NOT GOING TO START BAKING AGAIN) but there’s definitely things that can be thrown away that are inside my cabinets.

I was also creative yesterday, and not just with the final read through of the manuscript. Today I have to go to the gym and I also have to do some brief writing for a website, and after that I think I am going to pull all of the chapters of #shedeservedit into one document, which I will use to make all the corrections and changes I’ve indicated on the pages of the manuscript I worked on; this is antiquated of course–most people simply correct the computer document and edit it, rather than printing it out and doing it by hand–but I have found that when I do it by hand on a hard copy I am more thorough and I catch more, so that is what works for me and what I have to do. This old dog tried the new trick, but it just doesn’t work for him, sorry.

My Saints and Sinners panel, moderating four great women writers (Cheryl Head, Carrie Smith, J. M. Redmann, and Carsen Taite) is today at 3:00 central time on the Tennessee Williams Festival YouTube channel; you can either watch it as it airs (prerecorded) and then it will be permanently available there. Do check it out, if you can; I’d watch but I hate seeing myself and listening to my voice. Always have, quite frankly, and seriously doubt that is going to change now–my spots are too permanently affixed in place for me to try to change them. It’s probably some deep old scar from childhood that would take years of therapy to unpack, and I ain’t got time for that–nor am I particularly interested in spending thousands of dollars to get to the bottom of something that I can live with, frankly.

And on that note, I should get cracking on my Sunday. Have a terrific day, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Broken Promise

And here we are on Friday yet again. The nights this weekend are a return to the frigid climes of earlier this week, but the days promise highs in the 50s, at least, and it’s supposed to get back up into the 70’s next week…or so it said the last time I checked. I generally tend not to look at weather forecasts more than a few days out, primarily because New Orleans weather is completely unpredictable and defies expectations all the time. It feels chilly this morning–I’ve not checked the temperature yet–but the space heater is on, as always, and I am shivering a bit under my layers and considering going to get a blanket. The HVAC guys were here yesterday, but there’s still no heat and there’s also no sign of them outside this morning. Which is fine; I can huddle under blankets as I do my work-from-home duties this morning. Okay, I checked, and it’s thirty-five with a high of 48 predicted. Yikes! Sometimes, methinks, it’s better not to know some things.

The forecast for next week looks much better. It’s simply a matter of getting through this last blast over this weekend.

We finished watching season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and it was…well, it was a bit disappointing. The season wound up diverging significantly from the book it was based on (End of Watch, the concluding book of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy), and while the middle of the season was compelling and impossible to turn away from, the last two episodes, for me and Paul at least, significantly went off the rails. The third season starts airing on March 4, based on the second book of the trilogy, and we’ll watch because we really like the characters–and I think Book 2 was my favorite of the trilogy–but now It’s a Sin has dropped and so has something else we wanted to watch as well, but right now I can’t think of what that other show might be. Oh, yes, The Luminaries with Eva Green.

I also watched, while making condom packs yesterday, the original film version of The Amityville Horror, which fits into both the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival. I actually saw this movie in the theater when it was released all those years ago, and just like then, I found it unimpressive, not particularly scary, and farfetched. I had read the book, of course–I think I bought it off the wire racks at the Safeway in Emporia on 6th Street–but the book wasn’t very well written and the story–theoretically something that actually happened–wasn’t convincing and, I thought, pretty poorly written (and I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader back then, either). It was, however, a phenomenon; a huge bestseller and the movie also made a ton of money, spawning numerous cheesy sequels (none of which I watched). Horror made a big comeback as a genre in the 1970’s; it could even be seen as a “golden age”–there was a glut of films and movies in that decade, and the demand didn’t taper off until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Amityville was a big part of that–following The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie; it was the decade when both Stephen King and Peter Straub’s careers are writers took off, and there were a lot of books published….a LOT. (I do highly recommend Grady Hendrix definitive Paperbacks from Hell–it will trigger a lot of memories for you if this was a period when you were actually alive…it certainly did for me.) But the movie is still bad, after all these years–James Brolin was certainly handsome, coming off his years on Marcus Welby and before he spent the 80’s managing Arthur Hailey’s Hotel on ABC. (Although I couldn’t help thinking, “wow, of someone would have told me back then Brolin would marry Barbra Streisand and live happily ever after and his son Josh would become a major star, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed.”) Margot Kidder plays his wife, Kathy, and this is the best, I think, she’s ever looked on film–they are a handsome couple and have some chemistry together, even though both performances eventually descend into one note, repeated over and over again. Rod Steiger also has a supporting role to which he brings all his Method bombast in a role that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, nor does what happens to him. The movie’s end, like the book’s, explains nothing other than the family abandoned the house and never returned. (Of course, the house has changed hands with people living in it for decades and none of them have experienced anything the Lutzes claim to have. Even cynical teenager me, when reading the book, thought, oh, you bought a house you couldn’t afford and dreamed up a crazy story to try to get out of the mortgage..the movie only convinced me further that I was correct in my theory. I looked it up on line, and the lawyer for the kid who murdered his family in the house later admitted he and the Lutzes, “over many bottles of wine”, came up with the story…to not only get them out of the mortgage but to try to get his client a new trial. The Lutzes still claim it all really happened. *insert ‘sure Jan’ GIF here*)

I think I bought another copy of the book several years ago–still in print all these years later!–to reread and see if it was as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. I have yet to get around to it…but watching the movie made me think I need to reconsider that urge to reread it.

But the 1970’s were, as I have said before, a weird decade of transition and change. Conspiracy theories were running rampant everywhere about everything–the JFK assassination in particular was talked about and theorized about a lot–but this was also the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, when UFO’s really became a topic of discussion, when The Late Great Planet Earth truly began shifting certain sects of Christianity into doomsday prophecy and end-times philosophy, and of course, we cannot forget the existential threat of Communism that had some people seeing Russian agents everywhere and there was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Although there are times, too, when I think about the 1970’s as the last gasp of American naiveté and innocence. The one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate made everyone start distrusting the government…and HIV/AIDS was just around the corner.

Hmmm. Some pretty heavy thoughts on a shiveringly cold Friday morning in New Orleans.

And now back to the spice mines. Stay warm, everyone, and stay safe.

Hey Now What You Doing

Huzzah for a paid vacation day! No getting up at six am this freezing morning, thank you very much–although the real horror is going to come tonight when it gets into the twenties–there’s a chance we’ll have snow for Fat Tuesday.

Madness.

Although it is frightfully cold for a Lundi Gras–forty degrees this morning, and of course our heat isn’t working, and will be getting gradually colder throughout the day until it gets into the twenties later this evening, with a chance of snow on Fat Tuesday for the first time since 1899. Needless to say, I am wearing layers today and have the space heater going–and it will be following me around whenever I move around the house–the easy chair, even up to the bedroom tonight when we go to bed, although the layers of blankets, Paul and Scooter all combined to keep me nice and warm last night. I slept like a dream, too. I stayed in bed a full hour after I woke up this morning, too, luxuriating in the warm comfort of the bed, and I feel no shame in that at all…why shouldn’t I relax and be comfortable, despite all the work that I have to get done?

I managed to finish going through the manuscript last night, changing it all into the present tense. I caught a lot of things that need to be fixed–changes in story and plot and so forth that weren’t eliminated through the various drafts the book has gone through. Today I am going to print it all out and start going through the hard copy, making notes and cuts and noting where new material has to go to fill in the gaps. I have approximately two weeks to get this all finished before it’s due, and I actually think I am going to be able to get it all done in time. I have a new framing device for the story that I have to write, and there’s a final chapter that needs to be written, and of course the cuts….I am always amazed at how often I repeat myself, and how passive the early draft voice I write in inevitably turns out to be. Today I am going to curl up, most likely in bed, with my laptop, my lap desk, and my notebooks, and start marking up the manuscript. Tomorrow, as it is Fat Tuesday, I am most likely going to take the day off and read and/or watch movies–the Short Story Project is definitely in need of some catching up on, and of course I’ve started a new project of rereading various books in the kids’ series I loved as a child (I am currently reading a Dana Girls volume, The Clue in the Cobweb, that I’ve never read before), and I would love to spend some more time with Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things–I really hate that my reading attention span comes and goes the way it does.

Needless to say, I am most pleased to have gotten through the manuscript yesterday. I am really looking forward to spending March mostly working on short stories as well as pre-planning both Chlorine and Twelfth Night Knavery–I even know how to open the story–and that will eventually lead into the tenth Scotty, French Quarter Flambeaux, which will lead into the eleventh, Quarter Quarantine Quadrille. I also want to try to get some of these novellas finished between working on books, too. Ash Wednesday I have to go into the office, and then it’s two more work-at-home days before I have yet another weekend…so things are looking up somewhat as far as my writing schedule is going. I certainly am getting a lot more finished this year than I did last year, and here’s hoping that I will stay motivated and continue getting things done.

We started watching the second season of Mr. Mercedes last night, which got off to a slow start but is picking up well now. WHat’s interesting is that the show is not following the Bill Hodges trilogy as written by King; they’ve skipped the second book of the series, Finders Keepers, and gone straight on to the third, End of Watch. From a television story-telling perspective it makes sense; the villain of the first book returns in the third, while the middle book is an entirely different story and case for Bill and the gang at Finders Keepers–the detective agency they open after the first book–and while that one may be my favorite of the series, the show’s been renewed for a third season, and I suspect that they will use the plot of the second book as the framework for the third season. There are some other shows dropping this week we want to watch as well–It’s a Sin on HBO and The Luminaries on either Starz or Showtime, it has Eva Green in it and I try not to ever miss anything with Eva Green.

And now it’s raining. We are either going to get rain tomorrow, or snow, or sleet; none of which are appealing, and quite frankly, I am happy for both krewes (Rex and Zulu) that aren’t going to have to deal with parading in such horrendous weather. (I wonder if Zulu is going to come down the river to the Quarter to meet Rex at five today?) I’m supposed to go to the gym at some point today–but there’s no way I am walking five blocks in cold and rain. Is it wimpy of me to take the car? I always used to drive to the gym until we joined one that’s literally right around the corner; our new gym is a longer walk, of course. I would walk to St. Charles Athletic Club in this weather; but Franco’s on Magazine is a bit too far for this kind of nasty weather.

I also have retrieved my blanket from the easy chair; I am actually feeling quite toasty warm here at my desk this morning–between the space heater, double layers, the blanket and my coffee….I could retrieve my fingerless gloves and then the only remaining part of me feeling the cold–my hands–would be taken care of as well. I hate that Paul is going to go out in this weather to go to his office–I’m actually hoping that once he gets up and sees how nasty it is outside, he’ll just work from home…all he needs is a computer and a phone and he can seriously do his job anywhere, but there is something about going into an office–the discipline or mentality that comes with being in your office…plus the guilt factor. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I know when I am at my office I feel guilty for not doing work-related things…it’s raining even harder now. Just truly nasty weather out there….

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–or as lovely a day as you can given the horrible weather everyone appears to be having.

Long Live

Good morning, Sunday!

I did the windows yesterday, and it is literally amazing how I can forget between window cleanings what a difference it makes. It had been so long since I’d done it I need to do them again–it’s never easy getting all that caked on dirt and dust and debris off the glass, even when you do it weekly, as I used to do–but it’s a start.

I woke up early and feeling rested yesterday, which was absolutely lovely–and it was an absolutely lovely day in New Orleans, if a bit warm for mid-November. Did I get as much done as I needed and/or wanted to? Of course not. I did some other cleaning and straightening around the Lost Apartment; made some notes on some projects I am working on, and reread “The Snow Globe” to get a better idea of what I am dealing with on the revision, which I am going to get done today before I go to the gym. I’m also making the week’s to-do list, doing some other chores around the house, and feeling a lot better about things. Yes, I am behind on everything, but a little bit of focus and a little bit of desperation never hurt me, or anything I’ve worked on.

Rereading the story was, actually, something i’d been dreading doing; I always hate to reread something I’ve written, as I always tend to be highly critical and negative, and this story was no exception. I do love the story a lot–it was written to be submitted to a war on Christmas anthology and wasn’t accepted (the anthology never happened, either; long ugly story)–but it definitely needs some work. I originally came up with the story for a Halloween anthology, to be completely honest; there was a call for submissions, I think maybe from the Horror Writers’ Association, for stories with a Halloween theme. I distinctly remember reading the call and then an image popped into my head–me standing on the balcony at the Pub, looking down on Bourbon Street and the front doors of Oz, as a man in a devil costume came out; and he was hot as fuck; perfect body, body paint to make his skin red, and a skimpy red bikini, and thought Satan has a great six-pack, which I then made the opening line of the story. I believe at the time the story was called “All Hallow’s Eve” or something along those lines; but the story never made it past the opening paragraph. When the chance to write a story for the Christmas anthology came along, I remembered that opening and I remembered the joke I made on the Facebook post and thread about Christmas horror stories–I wanted to write about a Satanic snow globe–and immediately saw how to turn my unfinished Halloween story into a Christmas horror story called “The Snow Globe” merely by changing a single letter in the opening line: Santa had a great six-pack.

Voila! And the story began to flow. As I said, it was rejected from the anthology I wrote it for–and in the notes I got from the editors, which was lovely (one rarely gets notes on a rejected story) they basically told me I should have made it more than it was–which I had also thought about doing, but was afraid to–and so naturally, with that confirmation that the initial instincts I’d ignored from lack of confidence were, in fact, correct, I went back to the drawing board and revised it. And clearly, it needed one more revision. I have editorial notes on this story already, which I completely agree with, and I don’t know why–other than utter and sheer laziness–that I have not gone ahead and worked on this story to get it finished and out of the way. That is my goal for this morning–get the damne thing finished and be done with it–and then I can move back on to the book that has been stalled for weeks now.

Last night we watched a few more episodes of Mr. Mercedes, which finally introduced the character of Holly Gibney, who quickly became one of my favorite King characters–which was why I was so delighted she showed up in The Outsider–and so far the character is being played as she was written in the book, which is quite lovely. I think the show has padded/built up some things that I don’t remember from the book–but since I don’t remember them from the book, I am not entirely sure there were changes made. I just know I am deeply enjoying the show–it’s really a shame it hasn’t gotten as much success as it should have. (Maybe it did, I don’t know; but I rarely, if ever, heard anything about the show and there are three seasons…so there wasn’t a lot of social media buzz about it.)

The Saints play this afternoon–I think the game starts around three-ish, if I am not mistaken–and then of course there will be a new episode of The Undoing tonight. That should give me more than enough time to get this story finished, some chores done, and a trip to the gym for a workout. This is my fourth week since we rejoined the gym, and I am eminently proud that I have gone three days a week ever since. I can’t get over how much better I feel physically–the stretching really helps, too–and that correlates with how much better I’ve been sleeping. Who knew that exhaustion would help one sleep? (Sarcasm, don’t @ me)

I also read a few more chapters of The Hot Rock yesterday, which I am enjoying. Westlake’s style in this book is very reminiscent of Rob Byrnes’ brilliant caper novels (Straight Lies, Holy Rollers, Strange Bedfellows)–although since Westlake is the influence here, I should probably say I can see his influence on that unappreciated trilogy; it still kind of amazing to me that I’ve not read more Westlake (or Lawrence Block, for that matter), which is something I am going to need to rectify. (I’ve also never read Ed McBain, but I read some of his Evan Hunter novels.)

As I have often said, my education in crime fiction is a little lacking when it comes to the classics; I’ve not read all of Ross MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, for example, and I’ve also never read a Dick Francis novel either, for that matter. I think I’ve read a Nero Wolfe or two, but not many–although I have thought about using the trope of that series for a book of my own–the brilliant investigative mind who never leaves his/her house so needs a legman, from whose point of view the story is told–and there are any number of other classic crime fiction writers I’ve not cracked a spine on. But with new books I want to read being released all the time and being unable to even keep up with the canon of current writers whose work I love–not to mention all the new-to-me writers I keep discovering–there’s just simply no way I can ever read everything I want to read.

I’ve been doing some more research on Chlorine, recently reading Confidential Confidential, about the scandal rag of the 1950’s, and Montgomery Clift Queer Star, an academic treatise of multiple essays about reading Clift performances and films as queer, which was very interesting. Reading these two books also reminded me of something else that was going on in the time period which I wish to cover–red-baiting and the House Un-American Committee hearings; another period of America not living up to her ideals. It’s probably hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up, or were old enough, to remember the existential threat of the Soviet Union that had Americans seeing Communist spies and Communist infiltration everywhere; without an understanding of the highly paranoid state created by politicians and news outlets, neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars would have most likely happened. That fear of Communism was also used by conservatives to gin up racial hatred as well as systemic discrimination against people of color and queer people–the queers were considered a national security threat because if you were queer and worked for the government in any capacity, you were thus opened up to blackmail by Communist agents. This was an actual thing, and I all too often see that key element left out of writings about the time, both fiction and non-fiction.

It would thus be wrong to leave Red-baiting out of Chlorine, which will mean more research. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, the dryer just clicked off, so I should fold the clothes and get ready to get back to to work on the story. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.