Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Noir: Zombie in a Penguin Suit

Noir: Penzler Brings Mysterious Press Online

Welcome to

Otto Penzler, the well-known bookseller at the Mysterious Bookshop and former publisher of the mystery line Mysterious Press, has officially launched a digital publishing venture,

The Web site, in addition to featuring author information, will also have a blog featured to fans of mystery and suspense works. The imprint is launching with titles from a stable of authors, including James Ellroy, Donald E. Westlake, Ellery Queen and Joseph Wambaugh.  Penzler is planning, by year's end, to have more than 200 titles available. 

NoirCon: Noir: Ken Bruen Bringlodi

NoirCon: Noir: Ken Bruen Bringlodi: Ken Bruen Bringlodi Do not just look at this. Click On This to go to what we have all been longing for! Become a loyal follower....

Noir: Ken Bruen Bringlodi

Ken Bruen Bringlodi

Do not just look at this.

Click On This to go to what we have all been longing for!

Become a loyal follower.

Go to the newest and greatest site to appear on the World Wide Web since Al Gore invented it.

Bruen Rules.  As the election in Ireland rapidly approaches, there is only one obvious choice for the next President of Ireland.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Noir: No Frills Review with NOIR JOURNAL 46

Noir Journal 46: No Frills Book Review Marathon, Part 2

First, some news:
1. Click to learn about and register for Lou Boxer's NOIRCon 2012 in Philadelphia.
2. Scroll down to the bottom to see an ad for ZOOM STREET's Noir issue.
3. Allan Guthrie, the well known crime/thriller author from Scotland tells us that  TWO-WAY SPLIT, his debut novel, is now available for download and
The novel was originally published by PointBlank Press in the US in 2004, and went on to win the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in the UK in 2007. This new edition is a Kindle-only publication. 
Two-Way Split, Allan Guthrie blue
A lean and muscular crime thriller with a seriously twisted dark side.
Robin Greaves is an armed robber whose professionalism is put to the test when he discovers his wife has been sleeping with a fellow gang member. Robin plans the ultimate revenge, but things go from bad to worse when the gang bungles a post office robbery, leaving carnage in their wake. Suddenly they are stalked by the police, sleazy private eyes, and a cold-blooded killer who may be the only one not looking for a cut of the money…

"With razor-sharp characterisation and an evocative sense of place, the novel's pace never relents: the supremely damaged characters that Guthrie conjures up are seldom let off the hook, and stew throughout in their fetid juices. Dark and splendid."  The Guardian

"...a memorable and stunning and pitch-perfect debut and one you should grab forthwith. I can't remember a first novel this good in a long, long time." Mystery Scene

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Noir: A Beatle's Tooth Fairy


Lot #233

Vinyl, Teeth, Music & Film Memorabilia Auction

Auction: Saturday 5th November 2011 - starts 10.30am
Venue: Meadow Mill, Water St, Stockport, SK1 2BX
Viewing: Friday 4th November 12.00pm - 8.00pm
and Saturday 5th November 9.00am - 10.30am

233 JOHN LENNON TOOTH – this truly unique piece of memorabilia, a tooth of John Lennon’s, was given to his housekeeper, Dorothy (Dot) Jarlett during her employment as housekeeper at his Kenwood home in Weybridge, Surrey.  
Dot was employed at Kenwood approximately between 1964 and 1968.  John had a warm relationship with Dot and her family, often referring to her as ”Aunty Dot” and even naming his dog Bernard after Dot’s husband.  John was to give many gifts to Dot and her family over the years, some of which have previously been sold by the family through Sotheby’s.  The tooth, being such a rare item has been kept in the family until now and comes with a sworn legal affidavit by Dot Jarlett attesting to the authenticity 
£10000 - £20000 of the item.  
The tooth was given to Dot as a souvenir for her daughter who was a huge Beatles fan.  The tooth is discoloured and contains an obvious cavity.


Las Vegas man with 100-pound scrotum seeks money for surgery

Friday, October 21, 2011

Noir: Bastardino and Barbie

Tokidoki® Barbie® doll is always ready for cutting-edge fashion! She pops on a pink miniskirt, logo leggings and black top with signature skull heart and bones, carries a large bag from the brand, then adds bracelets, a belt, and sky-high sparkly silvery shoes! This funky fashionista features trendy tattoos and a pink bob. With cactus friend, Bastardino, by her side, she’s ready for fun in fashion-forward form!

The newest Barbie doll to hit store shelves is sparking controversy.
She’s edgy — with pink hair, sky-high stilettos and a cactus-covered pet named “Bastardino.”

But it’s her body art that has some parents on edge.
Tokidoki’s upper body is covered with exotic-looking tattoos, including a large flower covering her chest and a tiger curls up her neck.

Tokidoki is not the first Barbie to sport tattoos. In 2009, Mattel unveiled “Totally Stylin’ Barbie,” but her tattoos were stick-on and removable.
Tokidoki’s are inked on.
But body art is a growing trend. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 1 in 4 Americans ages 18 to 50 now has at least one tattoo.
Tattoo artist Pablo Jimenez said Tokidoki is just a reflection of a more accepting attitude toward body ink.
“Tattoos, right now, is everywhere. It’s just about art. It’s nothing bad,” Jimenez said.
Tokidoki is considered a “collectible” and retails for $50 — much more expensive than basic Barbie dolls. Mattel said the doll is marketed more toward adult collectors than to children. Tokidoki is a limited edition doll — named after the fashion line of the same name. It is sold only on Barbie collector’s website.
 Tokidoki is just the latest in a long line of high-fashion collector items meant for adults, not kids.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Noir: The World Of Smutty Stories

Do Not Miss NoirCon 2012

Register Today

NoirCon 2012

Noir: Poet of Losers


 by Dave Moore

According to the anonymous blurb, "David Goodis was one of the most brilliant and original post‑war writers in the mould of Chandler, Hammett and Cain," but I think there's more to it than that.  Comparison with these masters of crime‑writing may be a good marketing ploy, but it disregards Goodis's own unique contribution to the genre.

Geoffrey O'Brien was closer to the mark: "David Goodis is the mystery man of hardboiled fiction. ... He wrote of winos and barroom piano players and small‑time thieves in a vein of tortured lyricism all his own. ... He was a poet of the losers. ... If Jack Kerouac had written crime novels, they might have sounded a bit like this."  He's right, there is something of the soul of Kerouac in Goodis's writing.  Not altogether surprising, since they had similar life‑styles and both experienced the alcoholic downside of life, and, although this killed them at a relatively early age, they both lived long enough to write about it.

David Loeb Goodis was born in 1917 to a respectable Jewish family in Philadelphia.  He has two younger brothers, one of whom dies of meningitis, aged three.  An avid story‑teller during his youth, Goodis attends high school in Philadelphia and then moves to Indiana University for a year before returning to Temple University in his home town, where he graduates in 1938 with a degree in journalism.  He is then employed by an advertising agency and begins work on his first book, a novel in the Hemingway style called RETREAT FROM OBLIVION. This is published by Dutton in 1939, and Goodis moves to New York to embark on a writer's career.  There he finds plenty of work in the flourishing pulp industry and is soon turning out as many as 10,000 words a day, under a variety of pseudonyms, for many different publications, such as HORROR STORIES, TERROR TALES, WESTERN TALES and DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE.  This work continues throughout the war years, with Goodis contributing stories to aviation war magazines such as BATTLE BIRDS and DARE‑DEVIL ACES.  It is claimed that during this period he wrote some five million words in five and a half years for the pulps, a prodigious achievement, and also provided scripts for many radio serials, including Hap Harrigan, House of Mystery, and Superman.  Goodis attempted more novels at this time, but they were all rejected until, in 1946, DARK PASSAGE was serialised by the Saturday Evening Post, published in book form, and bought by Warner Brothers for film treatment.

Goodis is on his way.  He signs a six‑year contract with Warners and moves to Hollywood, where he had been briefly in 1942, scripting DESTINATION UNKNOWN for Universal, and meeting and marrying the mysterious Elaine [Elaine Astor Goodis Withers] , who leaves him the following year on their return to New York but who is to mentally scar Goodis and form the basis of the female character in many of his later novels.  For Warners he writes the script for THE UNFAITHFUL, a loose remake of Somerset Maugham's famous THE LETTER in 1947, and that same year DARK PASSAGE is released, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, although Goodis is unhappy about the changed ending forced upon that film.  He becomes disenchanted with the movie industry.  Many of the scripts he works on, including an early draft OF MISSING PERSONS and an adaptation of Chandler's THE LADY IN THE LAKE, remain unproduced.  His novels fared better. NIGHTFALL and BEHOLD THIS WOMAN were published in hardback in 1947, and OF MISSING PERSONS, seemingly influenced by Jack "Dragnet" Webb's police‑procedural radio series, followed in 1950.

That year, 1950, Goodis retreats back to Philadelphia, living the life of a recluse with his parents and younger brother Herbert.  At night he breaks away and begins visiting the black heartland of ghetto bars and nightclubs, drinking with obese black women who seem to satisfy his cravings.  At that time paperbacks were replacing the pulps, and it was to this market that Goodis turned, writing a dozen or so paperback originals for Gold Medal and Lion throughout the 1950s. In these novels Goodis drew from his experiences of low‑life in the ghettoes of Philadelphia and wrote about losers, drunks, outcasts and derelicts.  Many of the books were about previously respected characters, now disgraced and down on their luck ‑ a crooner in STREET OF NO RETURN, a concert pianist in DOWN THERE, an airline pilot in CASSIDY'S GIRL, an artist in BLACK FRIDAY, and a policeman in NIGHT SQUAD ‑ and could all reflect Goodis's own perceived status at that time.  Other novels, such as STREET OF THE LOST and THE MOON IN THE GUTTER, concern eternal Skid Row no‑hopers condemned to live and die in the lower depths.

These novels attract the attention of French readers, who doubtless find in them some of the stark qualities of their own existential writers.  In 1956 director Jacques Tourneur films NIGHTFALL, and that same year a movie version of THE BURGLAR is released, with a screenplay by Goodis, and starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield.  (An inferior film of the book, called THE BURGLARS, set in Greece and starring Jean‑Paul Belmondo and Omar Sharif, is released in 1972.)  French director François Truffaut makes an acclaimed film version of DOWN THERE (which he calls SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) in 1960, starring Charles Aznavour as the pianist, Eddie.

Goodis's final Gold Medal book, NIGHT SQUAD, appears in 1961.  He continues living at home, with his schizophrenic brother Herbert, caring for his father until his death in 1963, when he becomes the sole supporter of his mother.  In 1965 he brings legal action against the producers of the famous TV series THE FUGITIVE, convinced that they have stolen the idea from his DARK PASSAGE. His mother's death in 1966 hits him hard, and he admits himself into a psychiatric hospital.  He dies, aged 49, on 7 January 1967 at the Albert Einstein Medical Center.  That same year his final novel SOMEBODY'S DONE FOR is published by Avon in its Banner imprint.  It's a well‑crafted work with a suspenseful plot, and seems likely to have come from the earlier period of his writing.

Following his death, nothing by Goodis is available in print in the USA for twenty years.  His books continue to sell in France, in Gallimard's Série Noir, and a couple also appear in the UK, from Priory Books, in the 1970s.  Some 16 years after his death, in 1983, four of his best novels are reprinted in the UK, in a Black Box Thrillers collection by Zomba.  That same year, THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is filmed, with Nastassia Kinski and Gérard Depardieu.  It isn't until 1987 that Goodis is republished in his own country, by the Black Lizard Press of Barry Gifford (he of WILD AT HEART fame), and these editions continue to be made available today by Random House's Vintage Crime imprint.

David Goodis is remembered as a skilled writer, famous for literary devices (known in the trade as "thing language", according to Mike Wallington): "The empty room looked back at him," and "quiet came in and sat down."  In CASSIDY'S GIRL, his unformed thoughts "stood on a little invisible shelf, looking down at him." In NIGHT SQUAD Corey Bradford's metal police badge talks to him, and in DARK PASSAGE there's the celebrated dialogue sequence between Parry and his dead friend Fellsinger.  Colour pervades several of the novels ‑ the green of NIGHT SQUAD, orange/yellow of DARK PASSAGE, and tan of THE BURGLAR. Goodis was a unique and gifted craftsman whose work deserves not to be forgotten.  It is pleasing that many of his books are easily available once more and that he is at last receiving some of the recognition he deserves.

Remember the David Goodis Award given at NoirCon.  Join us at NoirCon 2012

Noir: Elusive David Goodis

From The Blog of Jake Hinkson--novelist and film scholar

David Goodis And The Elusiveness of Adaptation: The Burglar, Nightfall, and Dark Passage

1957 could have been a good year for David Goodis. Things had not been going great for him up until that time. Once a promising novelist, with a bestselling book (Dark Passage) and a fat Hollywood contract as a screenwriter, he'd spent the last few years of his life living in his parents’ house with a schizophrenic brother in Philadelphia, typing out darkly brilliant pulp elegies of wasted lives, and watching his own dreams disintegrate (some people say he watched his dreams drift away in an endless river of booze, but as with most things to do with the mysterious writer, we don't really know for sure). He would die a largely forgotten man at the age of 49 in 1967. 

He had spent most of his brief time in Hollywood crawling through the seedy underworld of East L.A. in a drunken haze, but in 1957 Hollywood came to him when Paul Wendkos—an old Goodis friend—made his feature film directing debut by adapting The Burglar and shot the film in Goodis’ hometown of Philadelphia. Wendkos even managed to get someone to pay Goodis to write the screenplay. In the film, Dan Duryea stars as the leader of a gang of thieves (including a young Jayne Mansfield) who rip off a necklace from a sham spiritualist and then go on the run from the cops. 

The film has its virtues. Duryea, of course, was one of the most dependably entertaining actors in movies. In 1957, he was a little long in the tooth for this role (there’s an unintentionally funny moment when Duryea—fifty at the time and looking every day of it—is asked his age and replies, without irony, “35”), and this becomes something of a problem when we realize he’s supposed to be roughly the same age as Mansfield (who was 24 at the time). Despite this, however, Duryea carries the movie. He’s aided by Wendkos’ energetic direction and slam bang editing, both of which owe a lot to Orson Welles, right up to a funhouse sequence that looks like lost footage from The Lady From Shanghai. Wendkos would go on to have a short, undistinguished career in features before turning to a long career making television movies. Here, in his initial outing, he’s admirably never content to film a boring shot.

Having said that, the film doesn’t quite work. Mansfield can’t carry the dramatic scenes she’s required to, and the perpetually underutilized Martha Vickers, after a promising introductory scene, is once again left with little to do. Wendkos lets scenes go over the top, and he’s not helped by Sol Kaplan’s intrusive score, which seems to beat every emotional moment into the ground. And, in the end, Goodis’ script is only okay. The sadness and mystery that sprang out of his novels is only hinted at here. 

As a crime writer, Goodis is often likened to Jim Thompson because they were contemporaries who both wrote dark plunges into the human psyche rather than proper mysteries. One reason Goodis hasn’t had the same delayed success as Thompson, however, can be found in the nature of their writing. Thompson wrote dark stories about psychos and hustlers. Goodis, on the other hand, largely wrote dark stories about losers and drunks. Psychos and hustlers are, frankly, more proactive (and fun) than losers and drunks. While Thompson’s books are grotesque and often wickedly funny stories of men keeping terrible secrets, Goodis’s books are oppressive stories of men who encounter bad luck and then crumble in the face of it.

Now understand, I don’t want to imply that Goodis isn’t a fine writer. He’s one of the best postwar crime writers you can find, and his books can be adapted well, but as often as not his narratives simply lack the zip and drive of Thompson’s. Take something like Nightfall, considered by many to be Goodis’ finest book. Now, I should admit up front that it is not my favorite of his books, but it is perhaps the most energetic narrative he wrote after Dark Passage, his one popular success. It was adapted a couple of times for television, but in 1957 Goodis got one of his best chances at adaptation when director Jacques Tourneur and writer Stirling Silliphant adapted the book into a feature. 

Sadly, the resulting film isn’t much to brag about. Aldo Ray plays Jim Vanning, a commercial artist living in New York who also happens to a man running from his past. One night he meets a pretty girl named Marie (Anne Bancroft) in a bar. She talks him into buying her dinner, but when they leave the bar two men from Vanning’s past appear from the shadows. Turns out these two hoods (Brian Keith and Rudy Bond) have reason to think Vanning has a missing $300,000 from a bank heist. The past is revealed, the girl goes along with Vanning without good reason, and the film hikes out to Montana to track down the missing money. 

This plot has been liberally altered from the book, especially the final act, which seems to have been moved out to Montana because somebody at the studio thought we needed a fight on a snow plow. Despite the attempts to pump things up, however, the film remains stubbornly uninvolving. Aldo Ray is a blank slate as Vanning. There’s nothing haunted about this guy, nothing for us to wonder about, certainly nothing for Marie to be instantly infatuated by. Bancroft does what she can with her role, but it’s an underwritten part. Marie is there to prompt Vanning to talk, and talk he does but to little effect for the audience. Brian Keith looks bored as John, the main thug, but Rudy Bond gives the film’s one energetic performance as Red, the crazy thug. 

It’s not the fault of the actors that the film is so flat, though. Jacques Tourneur was a fine director, but this film has none of the style or intensity he brought to Out of the Past or I Walked With a Zombie. Even the big showdown at the end is a dud (Brian Keith is so low-key in the final shootout he looks like he’s on tranquilizers). Tourneur and his cinematographer Burnett Guffey create a good looking film, but something vital is missing. Here’s what I think the problem is: the novel Nightfall isn’t that great to begin with. Vanning’s mysterious past, when it’s revealed, isn’t a big dark secret, it’s just bad luck. And somehow, I’ve just never been convinced by his subsequent decision to take off and live a life on the lam. Vanning seems stupid, basically, and his back story seems farfetched. He suffers from a problem you sometimes find with Goodis’ characters: they are passive clogs caught in the wheels of a plot. Now, understand, that’s not always a bad thing. When Goodis is on his game, his passive characters take on a kind of internal intensity; this is because his great theme, when you get down to it, is depression. In his best work (Street of No Return, The Moon in the Gutter, Of Tender Sin), you see his characters dragged out of their drunken and/or depressive stupors just long enough to rise to the occasion of a plot and then find themselves winding up, in a Sisyphean irony, back where they started. The reason Goodis was never a great plotter is that his main theme was inner failure, not external circumstance. It made him a great writer, but it also made him tough to adapt. 

One time Hollywood did get Goodis right was ten years earlier, 1947, with Dark Passage. Interestingly-- and this is just Goodis' luck--Dark Passage doesn’t get any respect. It has two things working against its reputation: 1) a hokey stylistic device, and 2) the fact that it is the least of the Bogart/Bacall vehicles. 

I’ll deal with each of these criticisms in a moment. First however, the plot: Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a convict who has just busted out of prison when the film starts. He’s picked up by a talkative motorist named Baker (Clifton Young). It doesn’t take Baker long to figure out that Parry’s a fugitive, so Parry slugs him, takes off on foot and is picked up by another motorist. She’s Irene Jansen (Bacall), and surprisingly she already knows who Parry is and wants to help him. It turns out that Parry was convicted of killing his wife, and Irene followed his trial in the papers, convinced of his innocence. Before long, Parry undergoes a facelift and sets out to track down his wife’s killer. 

Because the story involves plastic surgery, the makers had to come up with a way to handle Parry’s transition from one face to another. Their solution was to have the pre-facelift sections of the movie told from Parry’s point of view through a subjective use of the camera (i.e. the camera functions as his eyes, so we never see his face). The subjective camera was a hot concept in 1947. Orson Welles had planned to use it in his proposed adaptation of Heart of Darkness before abandoning the idea as unworkable. Robert Montgomery picked up the idea and in 1947 shot his entire adaption of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake with a subjective camera. The results there were disastrous. Here, the technique is a bit distracting, but Daves is able to blend it a little more seamlessly into the story. It helps that once the facelift occurs we cut to Bogart’s lovely visage. While the subjective camera stuff is gimmicky, it has the virtue (unlike in Montgomery’s film) of serving a purpose and solving a problem presented by the story. 

The other obstacle standing in the way of Dark Passage’s reputation is that it has the unfortunate distinction of being lumped together with the other Bogart/Bacall films (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo). Those movies are masterpieces (at least the first two are), and I will grant that Dark Passage does not rise to their level. 

However, this is quite a fine piece of work. For one thing, Bacall is excellent. She has to carry the first half of the movie by herself because Bogart isn’t onscreen, and she also has to make Irene’s rather odd character believable. She carries off both of these tasks with great skill, and her work here is far more interesting than in Key Largo, where her job mostly consisted of staring at Bogart with longing for two hours. When Bogart does appear onscreen, he’s as good as she is. His Vincent Parry is an underacknowledged swerve for the actor. Parry isn’t a superhero like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He’s a normal guy who’s in over his head. Goodis, after all, was an author incapable of writing about heroes. His characters are sad, lonely, broken people. This movie glosses things up a bit, of course, but the last few scenes between Bogart and Bacall have a fragile emotionalism unlike anything else in their work together. The last shot of the film is probably the sweetest one they ever shared. 

I’ve always thought Delmer Daves was an underrated director. For one thing, his movies unfailingly have a great physicality. This made him a strong hand at westerns (3:10 to Yuma, The Hanging Tree), but it also served him well in his noir work (The Red House). His films usually have atmospheres achieved through their excellent utilization of black & white photography and even more through a mastery of art design, set decoration and camera work. Daves wasn’t a realist, but he had a realist’s eye. In Dark Passage you can almost smell the cheap apartments, the cigarette smoke and the alcohol. At least some of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, and he utilizes the city as well as anyone ever did. The same might be said for the way he utilizes Goodis'

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Noir: R.I.P. Sue Mengers


by Susan Orlean

Sue Mengers and Jack Nicholson, 1976.

Sue Mengers and Jack Nicholson, 1976. By Phil Roach/from Globe Photos.

Interviewing Sue Mengers was one of the saddest experiences of my professional life. Mengers, who died this weekend and will forever be known as a Hollywood super-agent, was at loose ends when we met. Her agenting career was over; she had lost all her clients and all her Hollywood access. She seemed fractured and lost as an outsider in the movie business, after so many years of being deeply inside. Being a big-deal movie agent seems to have one career trajectory: to be a no-longer-a-big-deal movie agent with a lot of time on your hands. She didn’t wear it well.

The thing I admired about her was she didn’t pretend to like it; she made no artful declarations about how it allowed her to spend more time with her family (she didn’t have much family—just a husband who lived far away, and no children, which she explained had been a conscious choice so that she would have more time available for her movie-star clients). She didn’t say she was delighted to have the time to write a book, although she did think about writing one as a source of income, which she clearly needed. She was frank. She had given her life to accomplish one thing: to get close to movie stars, and when they no longer enjoyed having her in their proximity, she had nothing left. She reminded me of those kinds of clumsy, bumbling kids who worship athletes but have no athletic talent, so they become the equipment manager for the high-school baseball team. The yearning to be near the thing that they can never be is like an open wound, always tender to the touch, and always with the potential to be too much in need, and therefore unpleasant, to those gorgeous people for whom so much comes easily. I felt Mengers’s yearning so powerfully that it rattled me, and her bluntness about how much she wanted to be inside the glamour of Hollywood and how she felt when she achieved it—and how she felt when she was ejected from it—was hard to hear. It was as if she were summing up every emotion I’d ever had about wanting to be included.

Over the years I often wondered how she was doing, how she was making a living, whether she had gotten over feeling betrayed by the stars she had taken care of, who had then pushed her away. Mostly I wondered whether she ever felt she had done something with her life that had made her happy. I hope so. May she rest in peace.

[Hollywood at its best! LMB]

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive, via Getty Images
Sue Mengers, far right, with Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal at a party at Studio 54 in New York in September 1981.

Read more

Noir: Philadelphia's David Goodis


Street of the Lost: David Goodis and Philadelphia

The Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart film poster

David Goodis
 was going to be the next Raymond Chandler. In 1946, Goodis’s second book, Dark Passage, was a bestseller and adapted into a classic film noir. Goodis was signed to a studio contract and started making more money than he ever had before. But Goodis never fit into the Hollywood lifestyle. By 1950, he’d moved back into his parent’s house in Philadelphia. By 1967, he was dead at the age of 49.

Something happened to Goodis while he was in Hollywood. His time in the studio factory inspired the pitch-black novels, which have made him a cult writer among fans of crime fiction. In an earlier post, I explored how Jim Thompson’s time in Hollywood seems to have stifled his creativity and reduced his output. But David Goodis left Hollywood, retreated to Philadelphia, and then really started his career.
Between 1939 and 1950, Goodis wrote four novels including two of his classics Dark Passage (1946) and Nightfall (1947). But from 1950 to 1956, he wrote eleven more novels. Most of these post-Hollywood books are different in tone from what came before. Beginning with 1951’s Cassidy’s Girl, the chance for a happy ending that you find in Dark Passage and Nightfall had been replaced by a hard-edged pessimism.
This pessimism can be seen in Goodis’s characters, but also in his descriptions of a run-down Philadelphia that few writers ventured into. With the exception of brief forays into upper-class Philadelphia, usually with the intention of robbing someone, Goodis’s characters live in a part of the city reserved for “The waterfront bums. The human ruins.” Cassidy’s Girl is set on Dock Street near the Delaware River; Street of No Return is set on Skid Row; The Burglar starts with a heist on The Main Line (a wealthy area outside of Philadelphia) but soon moves deep into the city. Many of these working class neighborhoods don’t exist anymore—they’ve been bulldozed and gentrified. But these run-down neighborhoods hold the key to Goodis’s post-Hollywood work.
In his introduction to the Black Lizard reprints, Geoffrey O’Brien claims, “With the move to paperback originals [post Hollywood], the style and content of the books changed radically. As if mirroring the failure of Goodis’ higher toned literary ambitions, the novels turned decisively toward the lower depths.” It’s not just Goodis’s failed literary ambitions but his failed work in Hollywood that he’s reacting against. As a result, Goodis wrote books about hopeless people, in hopeless neighborhoods. Dock Street is about as far away from Tinseltown as Goodis could get.
The Burglar film poster

This darkness might have its bleakest manifestation in 1953’s The Burglar.Goodis, for the most part, didn’t write about psychopaths; instead, his characters knew what society expected but still chose to act against those expectations. Nat Harbin is The Burglar and occasionally he “came close to envying the people whose lives were based on compulsory directives…so that every morning they had to get up at six or seven, and be a specific place by eight-thirty or nine.”
But of course, Harbin doesn’t envy these working stiffs enough to stop being a burglar. Harbin lives by a different philosophy; he believes that everyone in the world is a thief just like him:
“A fish stole the eggs of another fish. A bird robbed another bird’s nest. Among the gorillas, the clever thief became the king of the tribe. Among men…the princes and kings and tycoons were the successful thieves, either big strong thieves or suave soft-spoken thieves who moved in from the rear.”
All that matters is the next score. The ending of the book shows that it doesn’t even matter if you live, so long as you hold on to what you’ve taken.
In Goodis’s novels, this bleak view of the world is paired with the certainty that there’s no way out—two of his books, after all, are called Street of the Lost and Street of No Return.

Eddie, the protagonist of Down There (filmed by Francois Truffaut as Shoot the Piano Player) has two secrets in his past. He’s a classically trained pianist who played the most prestigious concert halls in the world. Also, his family is a gang of thieves. But when the novel begins, Eddie is playing piano, under a fake name, in Harriet’s Hut a run-down bar in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia.
Eddie is a stand-in for Goodis himself. He’s a man who left his neighborhood, was treated like a star for a few years, and now wants to be left alone to punch out his simple creations. Goodis is “playing” for the same crowd that Eddie plays for, “...workers who’d labored hard all week. They came here to drink and drink some more, to forget all serious business, to ignore each and every problem of the too-real too-dry world beyond the walls of the Hut.”
Goodis’s characters don’t leave the neighborhood. They can’t. Shealy, a character in Cassidy’s Girl, speaks words that could have come from the author’s mouth: “‘The dreams again.’ He shook his head with a kind of sorrow. ‘I’ve been here eighteen years and I’ve heard thousands of dreams. And they’ve all been the same. I’m getting out. I’m climbing up.’”
At the end of Down There, a battered Eddie returns to the Hut and sits back down in front of his piano—the reader knows he will never get back up. Goodis was filled with the bitterness of failure, and this pessimism infused all of his work once he left Hollywood, and it prevents his protagonists from achieving their dreams. Today, more than forty years after his death, Goodis is revered by pulp fans. But in his lifetime, he never climbed up.

Richard Z. Santos lives outside of Austin and is enrolled in the MFA program at Texas State University. Once, he worked in Washington, DC, but now he doesn’t do much more than write and teach. He blogs at Paperclip People, and is working on his first novel—a crime thriller set in New Mexico.