Audiobook Review: Low Town by Polansky (4 Stars)

Low Town by Daniel Polansky

3.5-4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2013

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

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Movie Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity (1944)

4 out of 5 stars

I rarely find time to watch all the movies I’ve recorded to my DVR from TCM.  Saturday afternoon I started watching Double Indemnity with my daughter, who happened to be visiting.  I didn’t get very far into the movie before we left to attend a wedding reception.  I picked up where I left off Sunday morning and finished before lunch.

I especially wanted to view this noir classic in light of the KC Public Library‘s Winter Reading program, While the City Sleeps.  I attended one of the ‘main events’ last month, a talk by local screenwriter Mitch Brian entitled ‘Noir: From Page to Screen.’  James M. Cain wrote the Double Indemnity story, but William Chandler adapted for the movie and both authors were highlighted by Mitch during his talk.  Not having yet read the novel, I can’t confirm that ‘bad books make good movies,’ but this movie definitely kept my attention.

Aside from the cinematography, what I found most appealing about this movie of ‘bad people doing bad things’ was the performance of Edward G. Robinson as Keyes, one of the few good guys in this noir classic.  He stole nearly every scene he was in.  Outstanding and completely against his normal type-casting as a gangster.  His performance even got me excited about a career as an insurance claims adjuster or actuary.

What intrigued me most, though, was constantly trying to puzzle out how this story could be redone in modern times, with the prevalence of security cameras, cell phones and the Internet.  If it could be done, it would have to be some sort of hacker techno-thriller, as far as I could determine.  Or in rural America, where none of those modern-day conveniences work reliably.

Noir from Page to Screen – Signature Event Lecture by Mitch Brian

I sent an e-mail to my husband over lunch on Wednesday, asking if he wanted to accompany me to a lecture at the Central library branch that evening.  I hadn’t heard back from him by the time I left work and when I walked into the house Wednesday evening, he did not appear to be attired appropriately for a trip back downtown.  I grabbed us a very quick supper from the local Arby’s and then jumped back in the van for the thirty minute return trip to the Kansas City Public Library.

While I got parked in the garage by 6:30, the walk into the library and up to Helzberg Hall on the fourth floor took a few minutes.  The wine and cheese reception in the annex to the Hall had already been cleared away and one of the security personnel opened the door quietly for me to slip in during the introduction of Mitch Brian, already in progress.  I slipped into an aisle seat near the back and took out my new Note II to take notes with its stylus.  Reminiscent of my days with a Palm Pilot, only in color and at warp speed.  For an inside peek into Mitch’s brain, take a look at his answers to the Pitch’s Questionnaire from Aug 2012.

Mitch began animatedly with the adage “Good books make bad movies.” He went on to explain that good movies are when someone wants something. Goals or quests work well, creating drama. Chandler and Hammett both write plenty of plot which translates into great movies. Film is pre-language. Hollywood wants everyone to have the same movie experience. Dialog sets up action and comments on it, but is not the action. Mitch challenged us to watch out for the Action/Reaction pattern.

imageAdaptation. Dramatization dynamics of a scene. Reactions and argument. Details from the book. The literary work must submit to genre. Pay attention to point of view. Sometimes the camera is a character.

Mitch read from the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, from the end of chapter one and the beginning of two. Then he aired the same from the movie (starring Humphrey Bogart). Afterwards, he asked us what was missing? The audience correctly noted the rolling of the cigarette, the billboard scene, the pajamas, and calling a cab. What was added? The audience saw the shooting. Mitch noted the book is 100% observational. The first person point of view includes omissions. The movie uses the third person.

Mitch moved on to The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. He read the Phillip Marlowe introduction, then skipped to the end of chapter three, flowing on into chapter four. Again, the point of view was totally First Person. Mitch showed us the scene in the rare book shop he’d just read, again from the movie starring Bogart.  Did Howard Hawks maintain that point of view? Not entirely, for the audience could see the woman signal the next customer, yet Bogart missed it (and we knew he missed it).  From participant to observer. Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain takes hardboiled to the next level.

Mitch cut short his lecture, apparently feeling the need to stay within an hour time slot.  He began the Q&A session at about half past seven.  One of the questions from the audience front row caught my ear, as I recognized the voice from work.  I made sure to wander up front after the lecture to great him and meet his wife.

I hung around to ask Mitch if he’d read Agatha Christie’s  And Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians), specifically because in one of the film adaptations (the one from the 60s that I watched recently on TCM). I wanted to know his thoughts on an author rewriting her own ending (Christie worked on that film and changed the ending completely from what she original wrote in 1939).  While he had read the book, which is one of the best by Christie, I got the feeling he hadn’t seen the film, but thought it interesting the author decided to rewrite the ending to be less grim than her original work.

When I first read the suggested readings for the Winter 2013 Adult Reading Program a few days ago, I could only find one or two that appealed to my tastes.  After the lecture, which I really hadn’t originally planned on attending (you can thank the KC Public Library and their Android App for that bit of serendipity), I overhead one of the librarians remarking upon Mitch’s short story, recently published (ironically on my birthday last fall) in the anthology called Kansas City Noir. Now that I’ve heard him speak, met him and heard at least one rave review, I plan to reserve a copy at the library of the anthology next week and try noir again.  Perhaps it will disprove the theory that bad books make good movies.