G is for Goodis, Dark Prince of Noir.

I know – you were thinking G was for Grafton, but as the Kinsey Milhone series already made an appearance in a recent post on the most prolific female detectives, I get to resume my Alphabet of Crime with one of my all time favorites: David Goodis.

Close your eyes and think of “Noir.” What do you see, hear, feel?

A hot, lonely city street, after midnight, after the rain. A pair of doomed lovers, trapped in each other’s arms. Plaintive minor notes echoing from a solo trumpet somewhere in the night, chords achingly unresolved, a call as seductive as the sleep of death. A fall; a plunge from the some fleeting promise of a better place, a better life, down, down to the inky depths of despair.

This is the kind of noir that David Goodis wrote. Not the gritty proletarian tragedies of James M. Cain or the sadistic depravities of Jim Thompson, but achingly lyrical jazz noir swelling and ebbing with dark and sensuous poetry. His words were like wounds on the page – wounds that will never heal. He wrote them fast and he wrote them cheap, and he died before the age of fifty. He’d had his brush with fame: Bogart and Bacall starred in a classic adaptation of his Dark Passage. French cinéastes lapped him up, adapting his books again, and again. Then he became a nobody, and then he was gone, the ghost of a forgotten melody lost down some dark alleyway, the silent memory of a song.

Now he’s back in a handsome new volume from the Library of America (whose fine Crime Novels collections included his 1950 novel Down There) featuring five of his most lurid, longing noirs. I think every crime fan should read at least one David Goodis; I suggest Dark Passage or Down There. To learn more about this quintessential voice of American noir, check out Shooting Pool with David Goodis, an excellent website devoted to his life and works.

Crime: If You Like Boardwalk Empire

Find Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson in the Seattle Public Library catalog.I just finished season one of Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorcese’s series set in prohibition era Atlantic City, and am dying for more. I love good immersive TV experiences (and saving money with library DVDs), but in the end you’re as bereft as if you’d just finished a satisfying long novel. So I put together a couple of lists in our library catalog featuring fiction and non-fiction about the place and era, or othewise redolent of the magificent blend of showiness, sin and squalor that Scorcese depicts so well.

Find 1920, the year of the six presidents by David Pietrusza in the Seattle Public Library catalog.In addition to a number of titles about Atlantic  City in its garish heyday, the non-fiction list includes Daniel Okrent’s excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as well as Ken Burn’s recent documentary on the subject and Whispering Wires, a look at our own local bootlegging history and the notorious Roy Olmstead. There are fine biographies of gangsters Arnold Rothstein (and the Black Sox scandal) and the early career of Al Capone. David Pietrusza’s 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents offers a window into the politics of the time. I’ve even thrown in an eBook travel guide to Atlantic City, where you’ll find the street names familiar if you’ve ever played Monopoly.

The fiction list runs farther afield, from Nick Tosches’ novel about Arnold Rothstein, King of the Jews, to Joseph March’s 1929 verse novel The Wild Party, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories to fine period crime novels such as Ace Atkins’ Devil’s Garden or Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, as well as titles by a pair of literary Find A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen in the Seattle Public Library catalognovelists who really should be better known to crime fans: Craig Holden’s The Jazz Bird and Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. The maniacal, gawdy sideshow pandemonium of Kevin Baker’s Coney-Island set Dreamland is mirrored in Nathanael West’s classic Hollywood novel, The Day of the Locust, and the withering social critiques of classic noir like Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? It is no mistake that the corrupt 1920s gave rise to hardboiled fiction, in the the rat-a-tat-tat prose of Black Mask stories, or the sordid pages of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a cleansing bloodbath set in a town so corrupt it is called Poisonville. I even found a little-known novel about Warren G. Harding’s mistress.

There’s lots more, so take a look at these lists of Fiction and Non-Fiction, put something suitable on the stereo, pour yourself a nice legal soft drink (or not), and settle in with a good book (or movie) to await the next season in style.

What we were watching in 1962

On the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair, we look back at that year’s popular books, music, movies and TV shows. This week’s list in our catalog: what we were watching in 1962.

Lawrence of Arabia was the top-grossing film that year (winning seven Oscars), with the star-studded D-Day epic The Longest Day hot on its heels. Westerns were still doing well, both as Find Lonely are the Brave in the Seattle Public Library catalogtraditional shoot-em-ups like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but also as the moving modern Western Lonely Are the Brave, adapted from Edward Abbey’s The Brave Cowboy, which was one of Kirk Douglas’ personal favorites, and one of ours too. Another scarily good dramatic performance that year was Jack Lemmon’s portrayal of alcoholic Joe Clay in Days of Wine and Roses; mostly known as a comic actor, this film gave us his tragic side. On a lighter note, as with the billboard charts Elvis Presley also dominated at the box office, and that year as he was here in Seattle filming It Happened at the World’s Fair, fans had three movies to choose from: Girls! Girls! Girls!, Follow that Dream and Kid Galahad.

Among the arty set, French New Wave cinema was at its height, Find Vivre Sa Vie in the Seattle Public Library catalogwith Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie (My Life to Live) and François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. The most cosmopolitan film buffs might have noticed director Roman Polanski’s taut debut thriller Knife in the Water, or thrilled to Toshiro Mifune’s return as the wandering ronin of Yojimbo in Akira Kurasawa’s Sanjuro. But you didn’t have to be a finger-popping beatnik to enjoy Euro-cinema, as middle America followed sexily forthright librarian Prudence (played by “bright young star” Suzanne Pleshette) as she fled her hidebound profession on a Rome Adventure with Troy Donahue. (That’s your cue to swoon, ladies.)

1962 was also a great year for some great schlocky Drive-In fare, being the year that bellied forth Herk Harvey’s unforgettably Find Eegah in the Seattle Public Library catalogwierd organ-haunted cult classic, Carnival of Souls (the film’s trailer portends: “Carnival of Souls arouses such emotion that the management has been forced to state, positively no refunds!”), as well as Eegah! (trailer), a truly baffling Surf Rock Horror Movie starring Richard Kiel (best known as Bond villain “Jaws”) as a caveman gone berserk. Campy shockers were not just for drive-ins; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was the fourth highest grossing picture of 1962, spawning a spate of imitators, and helping explain what lured Olivia de Havilland into being a Lady in a Cage a couple of years later. Check out the rest of our list in the library catalog, where you’ll find many of the films’ original trailers: just select the “Videos” tab.

Bigfoot Sighted at the Library

Many of us look back at the 70’s with fond embarrassment. Feathered hair, down vests, CB radios. This was the decade in which Clint Eastwood co-starred with an Orangutan, and we liked the idea so much that for three years we tuned in to watch Greg Evigan and a truck-driving chimpanzee in BJ and the Bear, a show that arguably jumped the shark in its opening credits. In celebrity news, a drunken Grizzly Adams’ beard was set alight by a drink called the Flaming Eddy, while another famous big hairy guy did some even more embarrassing things, and I don’t mean Chewbacca.

The 70’s were a heady time for Bigfoot, with movie and TV deals and all the attendant merchandising, and stunned by the glare of Hollywood (or the omnipresent nose candy), Image of Bionic Bigfoot Doll Courtesy of JD Hancock via Flickrthe famously reclusive creature made some very bad decisions. I was reminded of this the other day when I noticed the library’s newly purchased Bionic Woman DVDs included a couple of episodes in which Bigfoot guest starred. I used to be the proud owner of a Bionic Bigfoot action toy, the necessary foil to my truly awesome Major Steve Austin doll, with its creeply peel-back-able arm and bionic eye you could peer right through. The pair could fight just like on TV, or even drag race! In The Six Million Dollar Man franchise, bigfoot actually turned out to be an android scarecrow left behind by space aliens, which was kind of a stretch, but these were crazy times remember, when the pairing of bigfoot and aliens seemed as natural as pairing roller & disco; The Captain & Tennille; BJ & the bear.

Employing my librarian skills, I ventured a subject heading: “Bigfoot – drama.” And hit gold, of a sort. The Bigfoot Terror Collection is a suite of downloadable films which casts its merciless glare on the nadir of Bigfoot’s filmography, before Harry and the Hendersons resurrected his career as a loveable, overgrown plush toy. The best title for true Bigfoot aficionados has to be Legend of Bigfoot, a 1976 shlockumentary in which noted sasquatch paparazzo Ivan Marx – a man who truly has bigfoot on the brain – scours the earth in hopes of capturing the gentle giant on film. When at last he corners his leading man in some far northern desolation, bigfoot is typically camera shy. Sadly, this was not always the case.

Just two years before, Bigfoot’s cousin the Yeti had appeared in Shriek of the Mutilated, a low budget slasher movie that falls well within the realm of so-bad-it’s-good. To attempt to explain the inspired illogic of this bizarre cinematic fever dream is beyond me. I loved every minute of it. In 1979, Bigfoot made another regrettable appearance in The Capture of Bigfoot. By far the scariest part of this movie is the gnashingly bad overacting of Richard Kennedy as the town baddy, Mr. Olsen. (You may remember Kennedy from his equally galvanizing appearances in C.B. Hustlers, Ilsa: Queen of the SS, or Invasion of the Blood Farmers). The less said about The Search for the Beast the better. Made in 1997, it is a softcore drive in flick featuring a goggle-eyed, amorous Alabama swamp ape. (Not that I watched the whole thing, or anything). You’ve been warned, or tempted.