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Book Review - Hardboiled Hollywood: The Origins of the Great Crime Films
by Matt Bartley

Max Decharne's book does precisely what it says on the tin: it examines great crime films (although the title is slightly misleading - there's some British films in here as well) and where they came from, be it print or real life. There may be no revolutionary examination of established classics, but what you have is the work of someone with a clear passion for the subject, which will probably inspire you to track down some of the less known well films that he covers.

Decharnes casts his net far and wide, from 'Little Caesar' to 'LA Confidential' with 'Point Blank', 'Get Carter' and everywhere inbetween. However, he does neglect any foreign films (No 'Riffifi? Shame on you) or anything inbetween 'Dillinger' and 'LA Confidential'. No Tarantino, no 'Silence of the Lambs' and no 'Se7en' here. But then, any book like this is likely to cause arguments regarding its exclusions.

But you do have welcome evaluations of films such as Humphrey Bogart's little known 'In A Lonely Place' or the generally forgotten 'Dillinger'. If Decharnes' intent is to transfer his love for these films onto people who may not have even heard about them, then it's worked - I'll be straight onto eBay as soon as I've finished this article to try and find some of the films he discusses. But not only that, it'll inspire you to read the original books, as you'll be surprised to find just how much more violent, cynical, sexual and bleak the books were compared to the films (you think the film 'Kiss Me, Deadly' is dark? Just wait until you read about the print Mike Hammer)...

So while some of the chapters may be obvious and lacking in anything new (his chapter on 'Psycho' is fleeting and offers little we don't already know), there are some that shed fresh light on revered classics. It's surprising to read just how toned down 'LA Confidential' is, considering just how dark it is anyway in film, for example, or how realistic 'Get Carter' is to its place and its time in its description of seedy council homes and working class lives going nowhere fast. And I was certainly surprised to find out that Raymond Chandler, author of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and wise-ass detective dialogue, was actually English.

But like all good film books should do, 'Hardboiled Hollywood' revels in the salacious gossip behind the scenes. There's the making of 'The Big Sleep' where the relationship between Bogart and Bacall was threatening to become the Ben Affleck and J-Lo of the day. There's the fact that 'Bonnie and Clyde' stole a lot of its 'facts' from the real story of Dillinger, and entertainingly just how many of the directors of these pictures forgot or dismissed the contribution of the original authors to their adaptations.

Nicely set-up by an introduction detailing just how much of a problem censorship was to these films, Decharnes' book is neither one for the academics, nor anything earthshattering.

But it is lovingly written with real affection and will entertain while inspiring you to watch these films again on a dark, cold night. Perhaps while you're grieving over your manners...


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1338
originally posted: 02/08/05 04:18:57
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