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Posts Tagged ‘noir’

The Case of the Arabic Noirs

August 20, 2014 | by

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Pocket Novels: The Exile, J. Kessel, 1940. “A Novel of Human Untruths, about a Russian woman and her princesses, in exile, from the pen of the great French writer J. Kissel,” presumably the French novelist and journalist Joseph Kessel (1898-1979).

Pocket Novels: The Corpse, Georges Simenon, 1946. “A quirky police tale,” according to the inside. Many popular fiction books were messily translated and repackaged, without bothering to credit the original text, author, or publisher. The artist of this cover, for instance, is not credited.

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Pocket Novels: Secret of Radium, Albert Dewar Nashton, 1943. “A police story of fantastic events written by the Briton, Albert Dewar Nashton.”

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Charmer of Women, Agatha Christie, 1979 pocket book edition.

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Mystery of a Woman, Agatha Christie, sold for thirty piasters, though undated.

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Crime in Iraq, Agatha Christie, undated. (Arabic version of Murder in Mesopotamia, with a different title). Christie’s husband, an archaeologist, took her on digs across the Middle East and the scenes frequently appear in her prose.

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Floozy from Paris, R. Leonard (French), artist: Gasoor. From the back cover: “In this book: The life of a French prostitute…” Undated; set in 1942.

8.Sherlock

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devilish Dog, undated. A translation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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Dr. No: The Adventures of James Bond, drawings by Shawky Matooly, 1989. Ian Fleming gets no acknowledgment in this pocket edition for young adults, complete with simple line drawings of action scenes.

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The Fugitive: Lust for Murder, Dr. Richard Campbell, undated.

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Malicious Intent, Rashad Mohamed El-Essawy, undated. “Arabic stories from a new genre,” reads the inside cover.

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The Shackles of Sin, Georges Simenon, 1959. The backcover says the story is from the book, Four Days in a Lifetime, originally published in English in 1953.

13.Charade

Charade, Peter Stone, #346 in imprint/series “Novels of the World,” undated.

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Policeman’s Dread, John Creasey, “Novels of the World” #399, undated. Creasey (1908-1973) wrote some six hundred books under twenty-eight different noms de plume; at one stage he wrote thirty to forty books annually. There were hundreds of books from the “Novels of the World” series and myriad copies are gathering dust in Cairo archives and bookstands.

15.Impossible Man

The Impossible Man: The Black River, Nabeel Farouk, undated, likely from the eighties. Inside cover reads: “Police stories for youths, replete with sensational events.”

Cairo: the metal detector beeps. The security man wears a crisp white uniform. He nods and leans back in his chair. The lobby’s red oriental carpet, so worn it’s barely red, leads upstairs to the hotel tavern. Enter the glass doors, where a cat in a smart bow tie and vest reaches for a lonely bottle behind the bar. He takes his time; he’s been polishing glasses at the Windsor Hotel for thirty-eight years. Out the window, a motorcycle speeds through the dark alley. In 1893, this joint was ritzy—home to the royal baths, steps from the original Cairo Opera House. Tonight it’s dingy enough that Philip Marlowe might come here to tip a few back after clobbering some hoods. A fine joint in which to pore over pulp from the secondhand book market down the street.

It’s tempting to ponder the relevance of crime novels in contemporary Egypt. The 2011 revolution began on National Police Day as a revolt against the fuzz. When President Hosni Mubarak breezed off eighteen days later, the police dusted, too, leaving behind a Wild West. Gun sales skyrocketed, matched by holdups and carjackings. In the following two years, thugs ran Cairo’s streets. Ever since General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last summer, the coppers have been back in full force. White uniformed police operate checkpoints littered throughout the capital like discarded Coke cans. Cabbies are so scared that they’ve started wearing seat belts. And now, as authorities attempt to restore law and order, the crime genre is making a comeback. Read More »

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The Dark Galleries

May 2, 2014 | by

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Portrait of Ballin Mundson; Gilda (Charles Vidor, Columbia, 1946)

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Portrait of Mr. Antony, Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, Warner Brothers, 1951, painted by Ted Haworth)

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Portrait of Azeals Van Ryn, Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)

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Portrait of Jennie Appleton, Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, Selznick Productions, 1948, painted by Robert Brackman)

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Portrait of Pandora Reynolds, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, MGM, 1951, painted by Ferdie Bellan)

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Portrait of Matilda Frazier, The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, Warner Brothers, 1947)

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Portrait of an Unknown Woman, The Dark Corner (Henry Hathaway, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)

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Portrait of Alice Reed, The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, International Pictures, 1944)

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Second Portrait of Sally Morton, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947, Warner Brothers, painted by John Decker)

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Portrait of a Murderer, The Big Clock (John Farrow, Paramount, 1948)

The noir and gothic films of the forties and fifties often feature beguiling portraits, paintings that possess a strange power; they inspire acts of fraud, forgery, theft, murder, and obsession. Think of The Woman in the Window, Laura, or Vertigo: in the first few scenes of each film, a kind of investigator becomes enraptured with a woman who also appears in a painted portrait—and, often, the twist reveals that she’s not who she seems to be. In Laura, the portrait itself stands in for the woman who’s supposedly disappeared, as Detective Mark McPherson investigates the crime—until, that is, Laura walks into her old apartment, where the detective is sleeping beneath the portrait that so intrigued him. The portrait serves as a kind of false look, or false double, that only can really be appreciated on film.

The artists who created these portraits—usually just large-scale photographs slapped with varnish—typically went uncredited; today most of the portraits themselves have gone missing. In The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir Gothic Melodramas and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s, the art and film historians Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert have created a guide to an imaginary gallery of these imaginary paintings, which often took imaginary people as their subjects.

What interested Jacobs most was not so much the portraits themselves, but the roles they played in their respective films: they reflected how people thought they should behave in front of pieces of art. The plots of these films often came from classic literature or standard noir fare, but it was film techniques that brought the paintings into more direct conversation with the narrative. Read More »

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Thomas Crown’s Global Vision

July 1, 2013 | by

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June 19, 2013, marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Thomas Crown Affair—the original version, directed by Norman Jewison and written by Alan Trustman. While for most of us the anniversary of a film might not seem like cause for celebration, I find that birthdays ending in zeros or fives have a momentous quality that welcomes grave rumination. And as we enter blockbuster season, a time of rich and disposable spectacle, it is amazing to revisit this high-gloss 1968 potboiler—what once passed for a summer blockbuster—and discover that not only is it still fresh, but, in the context of some of our most pressing contemporary anxieties, it is disconcertingly prophetic. In short, The Thomas Crown Affair is a paeon to the forces of globalization.

In The Thomas Crown Affair, globalization takes the literal form of a blank globe. Whenever I look at this production still—Steve McQueen in business attire resting a proprietary hand on this sphere of power, this atom of capital—I have the same reaction that Ralph Waldo Emerson had when he read Shakespeare: “I actually shade my eyes.” In this photograph, we see a perfect articulation of a deep, ideological commitment to the tenets of globalization: the world reduced to a single, borderless place; a compressed rendering of a new world order. Read More »

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After Patricia

December 29, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Had Patricia Highsmith and I become partners in crime?

Let’s be honest.

I rue the day I didn’t have my late stepmother whacked.

I’d rather eat dirt than talk to my larcenous cousins.

I haven’t forgiven my father for disinheriting me.

I don’t like families.

Patricia Highsmith (1921–95), America’s great expatriate noir novelist (and the subject of my biography, The Talented Miss Highsmith), didn’t like families either. Among twentieth-century writers, only André Gide has more damaging things to say about blood ties than Miss Highsmith does, and Gide is a little more succinct: “Familles, je vous haïs!” But even the Great Counterfeiter himself never went as far as she did on the subject.

Sitting in the second-floor study of her stone farmhouse in the village of Moncourt, France, her body hunched in front of her scrolled, roll-top desk like a snail confronting its shell, the fifty-one-year-old Patricia Highsmith picked up her favorite Parker fountain pen on a summer’s day in 1972 and confided her feelings about families to her notebook:

One situation—one alone, could drive me to murder: family life, togetherness.

A year and a half later, Highsmith was circling her wagons again around the same thought by way of a nice, organizing little list. Like almost everything she turned her hand to her, her list—“Little Crimes for Little Tots1,” she called it—has murder on its mind, focuses on a house and its close environs, mentions a mother in a cameo role, and is highly practical in a thoroughly subversive way. It’s also vintage Highsmith: the writer who entertained homicidal feelings for her stepfather since grade school looks at six-year-olds and sees only the killers inside them.

Still, in spite of our shared opinion of family life, in spite of my growing admiration for the extremity of her writing voice (here she is as a coed: “Obsessions are the only things that matter. Perversion interests me most and is my guiding darkness”), in spite of the fact that she had the most fascinatingly complicated psychology I’d ever kept company with—living and writing in Highsmith’s cone of watchful darkness was giving me plenty of trouble, harrowing my feelings and upending my sense of myself.

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Annotations

  1. Little Crimes for Little Tots or things small children can do around the house, such as:

    1) Tying string across top of stairs so adults will trip.
    2) Replacing roller skate on stairs, once mother has removed it.
    3) Setting careful fires, so that someone else will get the blame if possible.
    4) Rearranging pills in medicine cabinets; sleeping pills into aspirin bottle. Pink laxative pills into antibiotic bottle which is kept in fridge.
    5) Rat powder or flea powder into flour jar in kitchen.
    6) Saw through supports of attic trap door, so that anyone walking on closed trap will fall through to stairs.
    7) In summer: fix magnifying glass to focus on dry leaves, or preferably oily rags somewhere. Fire may be attributed to spontaneous combustion.
    8) Investigate anti-mildew products in gardening shed. Colorless poison added to gin bottle.

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