My Article on ‘Gun Crazy’ Now Playing at The Dark Pages

gun-crazu-1-of-1The year end issue of The Dark Pages, which shines its film noir light on the year of 1950,  includes my contribution on Joseph H. Lewis’ B film masterpiece Gun Crazy.

1950 was filled with some excellent film noirs including Night in the City, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, No Way Out, D.O.A., In a Lonely Place, Where Danger Lives among many others.  All of these films and more are covered in the giant year end issue.

Anyone interested in subscribing can easily do so by clicking on the link below.

http://www.allthatnoir.com/newsletter/

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Jules Dassin’s Brute Force on TCM Tonight!

brute_force-33Burt Lancaster stars in the brutally powerful prison drama, Brute Force, showing on TCM tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern time). The Jules Dassin directed film is a strong indictment of the prison system for its corruptness and failures to rehabilitate.

Along with Lancaster, the cast includes Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Ann Blyth, Howard Duff  and Yvonne DeCarlo. Set your DVR, you won’t be disappointed.

Read about Brute Force and other films including, The Grapes of Wrath, I Am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang, Ace in the Hole, The Americanization of Emily, A Face in the Crowd, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more in my e-book, LESSONS IN THE DARK. Available on Amazon. Just click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Original Short Story: A Merry Little Christmas Gift

The mall was jam packed with holiday shoppers. Christmas music from the likes of Perry Como to Elvis to Brad Paisley and the latest rapper blared out in no particular order. With only three shopping days left before the big day, last minute shoppers were scurrying all over from one shop to another. The line of young kids waiting to tell Santa the list of toys they wanted, no it was more like demanded, to see under the tree was staggering. It was the best time of the year.

 I was standing just inside the entrance way to Jordan’s Jewel Factory, one of those large chain stores that clog up space in most of America’s malls these days. In jewelry stores it’s not unusual to see beautiful young women. If they are not rich and buying the diamonds, they are looking and wishing they could. Hoping to find some kind of satisfaction by just looking at the necklaces, rings, earrings and other accessories. That in itself is a common occurrence. What was uncommon happened when my eyes caught the attention of this one young woman. Yes, she was beautiful. That was obvious even from the distance between us. However, I was more interested in how quickly she picked up a particular necklace, slipped it into her coat pocket and dashed out of the store disappearing into the crowded mall. She did it with such precision, grace and speed that the employees behind the counter didn’t realize the necklace was gone until it was too late.

She didn’t quite disappear. I moved quickly myself following her as soon as she left the store. I caught up with her as she was heading toward the mall exit. I gently placed a hand on her arm.

“Excuse me a minute, miss,” I said.

She froze, but kept her back to me.

I walked around her so I could face her directly.

“We need to have a little talk. Could we just walk over to the side here so we are out of the way.” I said.

“I don’t talk to men I don’t know,” she said with a chill in her voice that would have given Frosty the Snowman a shiver down his spine.

“Well, I think this time you will.”

Her eyes were darting around until she found what she was looking for. “There’s a security guard right over there. I have no problem calling him over if you don’t leave me alone right now,” she said.

I followed her eyes and sure enough there was a security guard standing by the crowded food court. He was looking right at us.

“Miss, we just need to have a little talk,” I said, “No need to…”

Before I could finish, she waved the security guard over. In a moment the six foot two or so guard was between us.

“Everything okay here?” he asked.

Before she could get another word out, I said, “It’s okay, Damon. This young lady and I are just having a little talk.”

She looked at me and then at Damon.

“Yes. I’m sorry… I just.”

“Thanks Damon,” I interceded. “If we need you, I will give you a call.”

“Yes sir.”

With that, Damon moved on walking slowly away from us and back toward the crowded food court.

“You’re a cop?”

“Retired cop. Now I’m head of security here at the mall,” I said.

“What do you want?” she said.

“I was in the jewelry store at the same time as you.”

“So,” she said, keeping her cool.

 “I saw what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything!” she said defiantly.

I managed to steer her away to one of the few spots in the mall where there wasn’t a crowd of Christmas shoppers. I stared at her for a moment. She was only about twenty-three or so, very attractive with shoulder length brown hair and green eyes.

“You don’t look like the typical jewel thief,” I said.

Her face remained frozen. She was still trying to tough it out.

“What are you accusing me of?”

“Why don’t we just drop the pretense? I was there. I saw everything. Just empty your coat pocket, the right one specifically.”

She was trapped and she finally gave in to the inevitable. She pulled the necklace out of her pocket. I took it from her.

“Nice.” Must be worth a couple of hundred bucks,” I said.

“Seven hundred,” She said.

I smiled. “I see you do your homework.”

“Let’s see some I.D.,” I said.

She pulled out her wallet from her handbag and handed me her driver’s license. I put the necklace in my pocket for safekeeping and examined her license.

“Julia Ross?” I asked. I pulled out my cellphone and snapped a photo of the license. I then handed it back to her.

“Look, I’m sorry, really sorry. Isn’t there some way we can make this go away?” she said. “We could go somewhere quiet, somewhere private, my car and…”

“Miss Ross, or is it Ms. Ross. I am a married man with two beautiful kids. In thirty-five years of marriage, I never, not once, cheated on my wife.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you.”

“Do you have a record?” I asked. “Don’t lie because I can easily check it out and I will. Remember I have a photo of your license.

“No, no, I don’t. I have never been in any kind of trouble.”

I smiled. “You know, I’m not surprised. I was watching you for a while in the store and you’re pretty smooth. You must have gotten away with plenty of good stuff in the past. You just knew when to make the snatch and split without anyone noticing. That is, except for me, of course. I am pretty good myself at my job.

“I know…couldn’t we just let this go? Just this one time,” She asked.

“You’re young and you have got your entire life ahead of you,” I said.  “A criminal record could really screw your life up.”

“I’m really, really sorry,” she said.

“I don’t like people stealing stuff on my watch. It pisses me off. Especially at this time of the year. Families are out there shopping. Looking for the right gift. Working their way through the crowds. That’s why I’m out here. As head of security, I’m usually not out here pounding the beat so to speak. But the holidays bring out more lowlife’s and crooks than usual so I put myself out here too. Another pair of eyes for the holidays.”

She was shaking a bit now and on the verge of tears. “I’m so sorry, please…”

“Well,” I sighed, “as it stands now, no real harm has been done. I got the jewelry back, so therefore you didn’t steal anything which means I have no reason to arrest you.”

She looked up at me in shock. “Really? Oh, God, thank you so much.”

“I guess I am getting soft. Maybe it’s my old age. Maybe it’s the holiday season, I don’t know. I just don’t want to see a pretty young thing like you get in so much trouble that would ruin your life.”

Oh, thank you so, so much!”

“You’ve got to promise me something though,” I said.

“Anything, anything. What is it?” She said.

“You’re not going to do this anymore,” I said.

“Yes, yes, I promise. Never again,” She said.

I knew that was a lie. Once a thief, always a thief.

“And if you do it again… do it somewhere else other than my fuckin’ mall!”

She looked at me. A bit in shock. Not sure how to respond.

Merry Christmas,” I smiled.

“Merry Christmas,” she smiled back and took off through the exit door and out into the snow.

I felt good. I gave the kid a break. Why not, it’s the holidays. Hopefully, she takes my advice and stops her little crime spree or at least stays away from my mall. I looked around at the crowds. Yep, it was only three days before Christmas and the place was packed. Frank Sinatra was now on the sound system singing, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I put my hands in my pockets. That’s when I remembered I still had the necklace. I smiled and thought, yes it will be a merry little Christmas. The wife is gonna love this!

A Merry Little Christmas Gift is part of my new collection of short stories that will be published as an e-book in 2017. Keep an eye out for further details.

Life: A Film about James Dean and Dennis Stock (2015)

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James Dean and Dennis Stock

One of the most iconic images of James Dean shows the actor walking right down the middle of the Times Square crossroads. It’s raining. He’s wearing an overcoat, his collar is turned up, he’s hunched over and a cigarette is dangling from his mouth. The photograph was taken by Dennis Stock in 1955. At the time, both Dean and Stock were still relatively unknown in the respective careers. Dean would soon explode onto the screen in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. As quickly as he became a star, it would be extinguished after his fatal car crash in September 1955. The star died, but an iconic legend was born.

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Photo by Dennis Stock

I accidently found this film while browsing through a local library earlier this week. I was unfamiliar with it, in truth, I never heard of it before. What caught my eye was the DVD’s cover image that loosely reflects the famous shot of James Dean walking down the middle of Times Square. Only in this version there is another guy with him with a 35mm camera around his neck, and unlike the more casually dressed Dean, wears a conservative white shirt and tie. Life, (the title as you will learn has a double meaning) it turned out  was the story of the unusual short friendship between James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock. I had to watch this!

lifefilmposterFor a short period in 1954-55, Dennis Stock would photograph James Dean in Hollywood, New York and in Dean’s hometown in Indiana. In Life, directed by Anton Corbijn, we follow this short lived friendship between a still unknown actor and a ambitious photographer, still looking for his own big break.  Stock works for the Magnum Agency and convinces his boss that this young nobody of an actor is going to be the next big thing as soon as his first film, East of Eden, is released. Stock wants his bosses to convince Life magazine to do the story.

Corbijn is definitely suitable for the subject matter considering his previous life as a rock photographer. Dean is played nicely by Dane DeHann who more through mannerisms and speech than through physical looks captures Dean’s essence. Stock is played by Robert Pattinson. He’s a bit quirky and his personal life is a mess. Married young, he’s divorced with a young boy who he hardly sees. When he does see the boy, it’s uncomfortable. While Stock works for Magnum, his career is not going in the direction he wants.  He wants to be an artist and have an exhibit instead of photographing the latest movie premiere.

Each in their own way are fish out of water. They meet at a party in Hollywood given by director Nicholas Ray who is considering Dean for his new film Rebel Without a Cause.  Stock is there on one of his routine assignments. They begin an uneasy friendship. Stock comes to see Dean as someone special and on the rise. He convinces his bosses at Magnum, Dean would make a great subject for a photo essay for Life magazine. The assignment is approved, but Dean turns out to be a relentlessly elusive subject to tie down for a shoot. During the course of their short friendship, Stock followed Dean from Hollywood to New York and even back to his hometown farm in Indiana. In the course of this short time, Dennis Stock creates a series of portraits of the artist as a young rebel. Many of the photos shot during this period turned out to be some of most intimate moments of Dean we ever get to see, especially the images of his life back in Indiana.

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Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson as James Dean and Dennis Stock

Like James Dean, Corbijn’s film is all about mood and not action. To some it may seem like it meanders, but I felt that it fits the zigzagging mood of the two lead characters. Dean wants to be a star yet he fights the Hollywood system. Stock wants to be a photographic artist, but seems tied down by money worries and opportunity.  The two men eventually go their own ways when Dean heads back to Hollywood to begin filming Rebel Without a Cause and later Giant, both released posthumously and kicking off Dean’s legendary status.

Ben Kingsley plays a thug like Jack Warner and almost steals the film from its two lead actors. In one scene, Warner, after Dean ridiculed a Warner Brothers film during an interview, warns the young actor he better stay in line or he will be quickly dumped.

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Ben Kingsley as Jack Warner impatiently waiting for James Dean to show up at the New York premiere of East of Eden.

After Dean went back to Hollywood, Dennis Stock remained in New York and focused his work on the city’s Jazz Scene. Over the next few years, he photographed artists like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and Miles Davis among others. Most were not performance photos, but more personal and atmospheric moments that he captured. Stock liked to stay quietly in the background capturing those private moments when his subjects were unguarded.  The best of his Jazz work were compiled into a book called, Jazz Street, published in 1962.  Over the course of his long career, Dennis Stock turned his camera on many subjects including the youth revolution of the late 60’s including hippie communes in New Mexico and California. Later in life he did a lot of nature and landscape photography.  One thing that always remained consistent was that Dennis Stock always photographed what he wanted.  At the University of Texas where he once addressed a roomful of photojournalism students Stock said, “I’ve never taken an assignment, I’ve always photographed what I wanted to be photographing, and then worried about selling the pictures or doing something with them afterwards. I’ve always shot for myself, and when you’re shooting what you’re interested in shooting, you’re always going to be happy.”

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Miles Davis by Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock was born in 1928. A native New Yorker, he was raised in The Bronx and grew up during the Great Depression. At the age of 17, he left home and joined the Navy. After his discharge, Stock apprenticed under photographer Gjon Mili between the years 1947 and 1951. He also worked closely with W. Eugene Smith. Stock first gained recognition after he was one of ten winners in a Life magazine photography contest. Some of his fellow winners at the time included Ruth Orkin, Robert Frank and Elliot Erwitt. Heady company. This was soon followed by a position with Magnum. During his early Hollywood days, Stock photographed stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and many others. Like his photos of James Dean, the photos were generally intimate, behind the scenes and unguarded moments. In 1955, his James Dean photo essay was published in Life just a short period before the actor’s death.

Over the years, there were more books published, exhibits, lectures and photographs. Always photographs. Dennis Stock died in 2010 at the age of 81. As the film, Life, suggest, Stock’s personal life was messy. He was married several times; his last wife was author Susan Richards. At the time of his death, he had three children, a grandson and five great grandchildren.

A posthumously released documentary on Stock called, Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock made the film festival circuit in 2011. In was directed by Hanna Sawka Hamaguchi and narrated by Stock prior to his death.  The film seems to be sadly only available to academic institutions and resources at exorbitant prices.

 

Sources:

Sharpio, T. Rees, Dennis Stock, 81; Magnum Photographer Shot Iconic Moments, Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2010

Dunlap, David W. Dennis Stock, Photographer of Intimate Portraits, Dies at 81, New York Times, Jan, 15, 2010

A Small Sampling of Photographs by Dennis Stock

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Musician Bill Crow crossing Times Square
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On the backlot of 20th Century Fox during the filming of Planet of the Apes
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James Dean and unknown friend
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Venice Beach, CA. Rock Concert – 1968
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Miles Davis ‘Milestone’ album cover
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James Dean and his young cousin Marcus

 

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Morning Bath 1969 (Hippie Commune)

 

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James Dean

Review of Film Noir At Twenty Four Frames Per Second

book-cover_dsc_0583-003Ivan G. Shreve Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear gave a fabulous review of my e-book. You can read it here!

http://thrillingdaysofyesteryear.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-film-noir-at-twenty-four.html

…and you can buy it here!

https://www.amazon.com/FIlm-Noir-Twenty-Frames-Second-ebook/dp/B00JZCDPEW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8#nav-subnav

Rave Review for Murder with a Twist

Murder with a Twist Book Cover Final-001Author Carol Balawyder left a wonderful five star review of my book, Murder with a Twist on Amazon.

“The two short crime stories in this book read like hardboiled fiction. Like any good short story both stories in Murder with a Twist are tightly written and we jump into the action right away. Both stories were written from a woman’s point of view and whether in the first person view point (Salt Free) or the third person point of view (The Green Light) John Greco accurately portrayed the mindset of, in one case, a woman cheated by her husband and in the other a women using sex to get what she wants. I found the twists at the end of both stories to be surprising and satisfying. I’m hoping that these two stories are the beginning of a larger collection of stories by this author.” Carol Balawyder

Ms. Balawyder is the author of the Getting to Mr. Right series.

You can read more about Ms. Balawyder and her books at her  website. Just click on the link below.

https://carolbalawyder.com/blog/

You can find my books at the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/John-Greco/e/B00K0RCADI/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_6?qid=1452516005&sr=1-6

 

Johnny Staccato

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   Success breaths imitation and the success in 1958 of the Blake Edwards created TV series Peter Gunn did just that with Johnny Staccato. Peter Gunn starred Craig Stevens as the sharply dressed detective whose favorite hang-out was a riverfront jazz club called Mother’s (Mother was played by veteran character actress Hope Emerson). That show remains most memorable for its Henry Mancini written Peter Gunn Theme with its driving beat that’s part jazz and part early rock and roll. Gunn, as played by Craig Stevens, was elegant for a private eye. California laid back.  He had expensive taste and a sophisticated style. This guy didn’t walk along those mean dark streets we associate with P.I’s like Spade and Marlowe.

Staccato15   During the fall TV season of 1959 NBC premiered Johnny Staccato. It starred John Cassavetes as a jazz musician who supplemented his income by playing private eye. Like Gunn, Staccato’s favorite hangout was a jazz club. For Staccato it was Waldo’s, run by character actor Eduardo Ciannelli, where he played piano. However, there were differences in the two shows. Staccato’s beat is New York. He had the city’s edginess. Waldo’s is set in Greenwich Village as oppose to a nameless west coast city in Peter Gunn. Staccato is closer in style to classic noir like detectives like the aforementioned Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Staccato walked those mean streets. Jazz plays a more important part in the show thanks to the Pete Candoli Combo.  In Peter Gunn, Craig Stevens brought a sense of sophisticated class to the private eye genre while Cassavetes brought his street tough persona as well as a jazzy feel.

   Until the other day, I have not seen an episode of Johnny Staccato in quite a few years. Then while doing a little channel surfing on TV, I came across an episode that was going to be broadcast during the middle of the night. With Gena Rowlands listed  as the guest star, I set the DVR.

   The episode was called, Fly, Baby, Fly. Like Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato has his charm that goes over well with the ladies. In this episode he quickly starts talking to this beautiful blonde (Ingrid Goulde) he meets at Waldo’s when this big lug comes over and informs Staccato he’s muscling in on his dame. It quickly evolves into a fist fight outside the club with Johnny punching out the oversized gorilla. The guy turns out to millionaire Guy Fletcher (Dort Clark) who likes the way Johnny can handle himself. Though they just met, he has a deal in the works that needs a guy just like Johnny. He’s willing to pay one thousand dollars and claims it all above board.

   Johnny’s a bit skeptical and says he’ll have to think about it. He doesn’t for too long and agrees to meet Fletcher at his office. The deal involves transporting a briefcase filled with rare stones to California. Apparently, as he tell Johnny, there are people out there who are after the stones and do not want to see this deal completed.  He can’t carry the package himself because his face is too well known to everyone involved. He also tells Johnny not to open the case until they are flying over Arizona. Fletcher’s secretary has his ticket. Johnny, steps out of Fletcher’s office for a moment to retrieve it. While Johnny is out, Fletcher quickly switches briefcases. The new briefcase contains an explosive device set to go off when the suitcase is opened.

Staccato3   On board the aircraft, Johnny meets Nina Van Ness (Gena Rowlands), a singer. Johnny manages to sit next to her. In conversation that seems to move along to a cozy point at a rapid pace they discover both are in the music business. She it turns out is a well-known singer. Unfortunately, it also comes out that Nina is Fletcher’s wife and she is on her way to Las Vegas for a quickie divorce. When she finds out Johnny is working for her husband, she wants nothing to do with him.

   For Johnny, his detective alarm suddenly goes off. There’s too much coincidence. He is on the same flight, which Fletcher arranged, as Nina. Fletcher gives him this briefcase filled with supposedly rare stones and Fletcher, as Nina mentions, would have no problem killing her. Johnny’s suspicion grows and he notifies the aircraft staff that there may be a bomb on the plane. They need to make an emergency landing.

    This particular episode is filled with some intense Hitchcockian style suspense. We the audience know what’s going on, there’s a bomb on board, but Johnny who is telling the story in narration, does not know as much as he think he knows.  What also struck me was how relevant the idea, from a show more than fifty years old, of a terrorist bomb on board an aircraft was. The threat that a maniac, filled with so much hatred, was willing to down an entire flight filled with people just to get rid of his wife. We live in a world where, while we cannot live our lives frozen in fear, today we are all well aware of the terrorist attacks that plague the world.

   Additionally, it’s interesting to see in this show how airline travel has changed over the years. Smoking during a flight the most obvious. There is also the luggage compartment above that has no doors to secure any packages stored. A flight attendance, all young attractive women, tells Staccato he needs to hold the briefcase in his lap during takeoff. As we all know today that would be a no-no. This little TV detective show reflects how times have changed and gives us a brief history lesson on the way we were.

   Cassavetes has always been an intense actor and he style generally works in this New York based series. Some of the episodes remain excellent, others are predictable or uneven. However, they are never dull and  all have a noirish feel that remains interesting as well as a jazzy soundtrack by the great Elmer Bernstein.