Thursday, 22 February 2018

Exploito All’Italiana:
Syndicate Sadists
(Umberto Lenzi, 1975)

Despite its lurid English release title – and despite the fact that director Lenzi was responsible for several of the more savage entries in the poliziotteschi canon – ‘Il Giustiziere Sfida la Città’ [literal translation: ‘The Executioner Challenges The City’], which hit Italian screens in August 1975, actually stands as one of the mildest, most easy-going contributions to the genre.

In fact, you’d also need to snip away a few brief moments of violence here and there and you could probably present this one as a family friendly action-adventure movie - about as far removed from the excesses of films like Mad Dog Killer as it’s possible to get whilst still remaining under the wider umbrella of ‘euro-crime’.

For better or for worse – and really, it’s a mixture of both - It appears that the responsibility for this surprising shift in tone sits primarily with the star of ‘Syndicate Sadists’, the late, great Tomas Milian.

After spending the better part of a decade portraying a variety of boggle-eyed peasant tricksters and fevered psychopaths in Italian genre films, the sheer gusto Milian brought to the screen had by this point made him somewhat of a bankable - if unconventional – star in Italy, and it seems he thought he deserved a chance to prove himself as a straight action hero. Apparently the producers/backers of ‘Syndicate Sadists’ agreed, and Umberto Lenzi (now equally late and great, sadly) was engaged to direct what basically amounts to an unashamed star vehicle for the Cuban dynamo.

Lenzi had previously worked with Milian on the preceding year’s ‘Almost Human’ [‘Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Può Sparare’], a stone-cold classic of misanthropic ‘70s crime/exploitation cinema that arguably marks a high watermark for both men’s careers. Such was the intensity with which Milian’s character committed bloodcurdling atrocities in ‘Almost Human’, the film was marketed as a horror movie when it reached the USA, and, again, the extent to which ‘Syndicate Sadists’ pulls a total 180 on any expectations this may have been in place for the director and star’s subsequent crime picture is remarkable.

Having pushed himself about as far into the realms of nihilistic psychopathy as it’s possible to go whilst still returning safely in ‘Almost Human’, it is perhaps understandable that Milian thought his screen persona was in need of a little TLC, lest he spend the rest of his life watching people cower in fear when he passed on the street, and it is plainly obvious that reinventing himself as a card-carrying Good Guy was his main objective in ‘Syndicate Sadists’.

To give you an idea of the level of control Milian exerted over this production, legend has it that whilst en route to Rome to begin shooting, he picked up a copy of David Morrell’s novel ‘First Blood’ (which would of course become the basis for the 1982 film of the same name, introducing the world to Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo for the first time) at the airport. Apparently impressed by the book, Milian is said to have demanded that his character in ‘Syndicate Sadists’ be named “Rambo” – in spite of the fact that the name was perceived to be both meaningless and faintly comical to Italian audiences.

Nonetheless though, the star got his way, and ‘Syndicate Sadists’ is all about RAMBO. Everybody in the somewhat anonymous version of Milan in which the film takes place knows about Rambo. Men respect him, women adore him, and evil-doers freeze in fear at the very mention of his name.

Swathed in gigantic driving goggles and sporting a fetching variety of winter jackets, woollen hats and scarves (most of them red) alongside his shaggy hair and full beard, Rambo certainly cuts a striking figure during the movie’s opening credits, as – accompanied by Franco Micalizzi’s rousing crime-funk score - he roars into town on his bright red motorcycle, returning home after an unspecified period out on the road (presumably “finding himself”, or defending sundry innocents from the depredations of criminals, or somesuch).

Part hobo, part hippy, but all two-fisted defender of justice and freedom, Rambo is an action hero wrought from the uniquely eccentric sensibility of Tomas Milian, and, assuming you’re in the right frame of mind to tolerate such a colossal display of egotism on the actor’s part, he’s a pretty awesome guy to have around.

Early in the film, Rambo is reunited with his brother (a mild-mannered cop who has been suspended and victimised for failing to toe the line re: the city’s endemic corruption problem), and our hero accompanies him on a visit to his new place of work - the HQ of a kind of organised vigilante organisation that has been set up to tackle the rampant criminality that has resulted from aforementioned corruption (in the absence of Rambo’s saviour-like presence, presumably).

Here, Rambo wastes no time in stripping down to his vest to out-karate this private police force’s karate experts (Milian’s kung fu is a sight to behold), before he casually out-shoots their gun people on the pistol range, and finally earns himself a warm handshake from the boss of the outfit, who tells Rambo he’s exactly the kind of guy they’d like on their side, if only he’d settle down and accept the offer of a steady job. No dice though of course – Rambo’s a lone wolf, following nothing but the winds of fate.

As you might well have expected, these winds soon lead Rambo directly toward the sharp end of sorting out the city’s law and order problems, after his brother is killed whilst investigating the kidnap of a cute little kid, snatched as part of a feud between organised crime families. Needless to say, our hero’s lone wolfin’ philosophy is temporarily put to one side, and he’s hot on the heels of justice (with a tasty dose of vengeance thrown in for good measure).

What follows is a fairly half-hearted rehash of the old ‘Red Harvest’/’Yojimbo’/’Fistful of Dollars’ formula, as Rambo alternately tangles with both Gang Boss # 1, Senor Conti - played in super-cool, menacing fashion by Luciano Catenacci, whom you may recall as the bald-headed burgomeister in Mario Bava’s ‘Kill Baby Kill!’ – and Gang Boss #2, the tellingly named Paternò, played by no less a personage than Joseph Cotten.

As per usual in his late career appearances in Italian films, Cotten proves an awkward and belligerent presence here, alternately muttering and yelling his lines as he putters ineffectively around the reception room of his hideously decorated out-of-town mansion. It seems that Rambo was at one point a protégé of Paternò, before he went his own way, and upon returning, he is saddened to discover that his former boss has now gone blind (which certainly helps explain the décor), and not a little crazy to boot. Effectively incapacitated by his blindness, Paternò is reliant upon his new right hand man – his son Ciccio, played by Alfredo Lastretti, last seen as the Dario Argento lookalike killer in Lenzi’s Spasmo.

The film retains a certain amount of sympathy for Paternò (the old “he’s out of touch and doesn’t really know what his underlings are up to” excuse), and as such it is Ciccio who becomes the true villain of the piece. Played by Lastretti as a prissily effeminate ‘glowering pervert’ stereotype, it is he who is presumably supposed to be the “sadist” of the film’s English title, as is aptly demonstrated by the film’s most gratuitous incidence of nastiness, wherein he and his goons assault and murder Rambo’s on/off girlfriend Flora (a thankless role for the wonderful Femi Benussi).

Though this scene isn’t remotely as grim or explicit as one might reasonably have expected of a mid-‘70s poliziotteschi, it is shocking simply in terms of its complete irrelevance to the storyline - especially given that Rambo reacts to the news of Flora’s death with little more than a shrug and a grunt (because, hey, what’s a girlfriend or two in comparison to the death of his BROTHER, who was a GOOD COP, and MUST BE AVENGED, etc).

Whilst ‘Syndicate Sadists’ boasts a few action sequences that are a lot of fun, executed with Lenzi’s characteristic flair – see for instance a pool hall ass-kicking extravaganza modelled after the one in Don Siegel’s ‘Coogan’s Bluff’, or the numerous scenes in which Milian screeches around back roads on his motorbike playing cat-and-mouse with the baddies – the sad truth is that, for the most part, the director seems all at sea with Vincenzo Mannino’s comparatively light-hearted script, and the film flounders as a result.

With a tone that veers uneasily between crime movie nastiness and blockbuster heroics, never fully committing to either, the sense of relentless forward momentum that characterises Lenzi’s best films is lost amid an expanse of repetitious, unfocused character scenes that stretch out between the picture’s relatively modest action highlights.

Where the rushed productions schedules and narrative deficiencies of many second tier poliziotteschi tended to be counter-balanced by the gritty violence, madcap energy and evocative location shooting that makes the genre so appealing, Lenzi & Milian’s decision to jettison these saving graces in favour of pursuing a more mainstream action-adventure direction eventually leaves ‘Syndicate Sadists’ looking like a rather muddled, sub-par example of the form; but, it is nonetheless one that I think can prove a great deal of goofy, undemanding fun, if approached with yr expectations in check.

Basically - your enjoyment of ‘Syndicate Sadists’ will depend entirely upon your tolerance for Tomas Milian and his antics. The entire movie essentially exists as a salve to his ego, and in a sense that in itself is hilarious. Personally, I love the guy whenever he is able to keep the comedic side of his persona in check, and thankfully he does so here, playing it straight as an arrow with his charisma in full effect, irrespective of the project’s inherent ridiculousness.

The kind of oddball hero Milian presents here is a character that could ONLY have worked in his hands, and, if you’ve ever watched him in one of his more sweaty/psychotic roles and found yourself wondering what it would be like to see this guy dispensing life lessons to small children, “living by a code” and riding nobly into the sunset on a big, red motorbike of justice – well, this is the movie for you.

Given that Milian returned directly to his more conventional “twitchy psycho” parts in Lenzi’s ‘Rome Armed To The Teeth’ (1976) and ‘The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist’ (1977), I’m assuming that this re-branding exercise didn’t prove an immediate success, but, like most of his characters, he was nothing if not persistent.

In between those assignments, he got another shot at a scruffy / unconventional action hero role, playing hirsute cop Nico Giraldi in the Bruno Corbucci-directed ‘Squadra Antiscippo’, aka ‘The Cop in Blue Jeans’, (1976). This time around, the movie proved such a success that Milian got to reprise the character in no less than eight(!) increasingly comedic sequels, leading right up to his eventual departure from what was left of the Italian film industry in the mid-1980s.

Having never acquired much of a taste for Italian comedy, I’ve not yet dared delve into the Nico Giraldi movies (the posters alone are enough to put me off), but, in retrospect, we can perhaps see ‘Syndicate Sadists’ as an entertaining, if misfiring, first step in this transition between the “bad ass” and “lame ass” phases of Tomas Milian’s career in Italian crime films. And, thank god, it is one in which the laughs he and Lenzi bring to the table are entirely unintentional, as is only right and proper.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Concluding thoughts on...
Twin Peaks: The Return

(Poster by Cristiano Siqueira.)

Note to readers:
Having now completed my viewing of 2017’s ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’, this is a follow up to my earlier post from January, in which I pre-emptively offered up my thoughts on the first nine episodes of the series.

In contrast to my earlier post, SPOILERS WILL BE RIFE this time around, so please proceed with caution.

So, my prospective death-of-the-American-dream / evils-of-science / nuclear apocalypse angle didn’t really pan out… but I’d still like to think it’s in there somewhere, lurking in the background, particular in and around the ‘Got a Light?’ episode, ready to be picked out of the series’ televisual tarot deck [see below].

In my earlier post, I reflected on fact that the trauma/abuse narrative at the core of the 1990-91 ‘Twin Peaks’ seemed to be entirely absent in the first half of the 2017 reiteration. At that point, I saw no indication that Frost and Lynch wished to reconnect with this, given their apparent preference for taking a straight supernatural/science fictional angle on the series’ mysterious happenings, rather than engaging with the subjective perspectives and/or internal life of their characters.

Well, count me dead wrong on this score too, as I was surprised - and impressed – by the way that the final stretch of ‘The Return’ brings these themes back with a vengeance, throwing shadow and suggestion over much of what we’ve previously seen in the process.

In this respect, the final hotel room confrontation between Laura Dern’s Diane and Gordon Cole’s FBI team effectively serves to realign the orbit of the entire sprawling epic we’ve been watching over the preceding weeks – arguably the most jaw-dropping and emotional shattering scene the series has to offer, it is an unquestionable dramatic highlight – the moment when, suddenly, all this shit starts to fall into place on a human level.

In essence, all of Lynch’s cinematic work subsequent to the first series of ‘Twin Peaks’ [well, except ‘The Straight Story’, obviously] has dealt with the idea of people’s identity and perception of reality becoming fragmented and destabilised as a result of trauma too terrible to face. The director explored this notion for perhaps the first time through the characters of Laura and Leland Palmer in 1990-91, and, as such, it is entirely appropriate that ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ eventually resolves itself into an especially bleak and indigestible meditation on this theme.

As will no doubt have already been noted by hundreds of fans and speculators, it eventually becomes clear that the assorted female characters Cooper encounters during his peregrinations through The Lodge in the early part of the series (prior to his ‘rebirth’ as Dougie Jones) in fact represent aspects of the earth-bound women who have been damaged / abused / possessed by the roving spirit of Bob (whether within the skin of his “Bad Cooper” avatar, or his earlier vessel, whose identity will not be clearly stated here JUST IN CASE some lunatic who has not watched the first series of ‘Twin Peaks’ is reading this).

The buxom, opera singer-ish lady, the skeletal elderly woman – these characters may not be played by the same actresses as their potential earth-bound analogues, and there may be no cryptic clues thrown in to help us nail down their origins… but, there is enough of a vague, archetypical similarity for us to make the necessary connections [paging Dr Jung].

The subtlety with which Lynch & Frost suggest (whilst never explicitly spelling out) these links and connections between different fragmented personas, in different worlds, is admirable.

There is a pitch black poetry to the way that Diane (invisible to us for so long in the earlier series) becomes a woman with no eyes, rescued naked from the dark woods by the baffled but dutiful Twin Peaks cops, just like one of the wayward girls Bob’s spirit used to pray upon prior to his embodiment within the Bad Cooper.

Likewise, we are never told in as many words (nor will casual viewers even care to know) that Audrey Horne has seemingly lost her mind and been reduced to a state of Alzheimer’s-like confusion as a result of being raped in hospital by Bob’s Bad Cooper aspect and subsequently giving birth to his demonic child, Richard. But there are enough crumbs of information scattered through the series for us to pick up the pieces and make a whole cookie, if you get my drift, lending purpose and pathos (and a terrible sadness) to the otherwise rather infuriating, audience-baiting scenes between Audrey and her long-suffering present day husband in the process.

Although Lynch’s portrayal of split personalities and mental illness in his work has been legitimately criticised as naïve bordering on offensive in the past (not least by frequent commentator on this blog Gregor), I feel that this idea of a single consciousness/identity being split across different bodies in different dimensions/time zones like a pack of cards proves both emotionally resonant and conceptually fascinating in ‘The Return’, providing the new series with a welcome infusion of the mystery and haunting power that it initially seemed to be lacking.

Admittedly, the rich thematic potential of all this is somewhat undermined by the rather wonky, more overtly science fictional doppelganger/homunculus type business that seems to inform the interplay between the two Coopers and their alternate Dougie Jones aspect, and indeed the Lodge’s peculiar ‘one-in, one-out’ policy [which is perhaps suggestive of some sort of matter vs anti-matter / exchange of energies kind of deal – whatdayathink, hard SF fans?]… but never mind. As I’ve observed before in these pages, offering multiple paradigms through which the same events can be interpreted has always been one of the great strengths of ‘Twin Peaks’, and of Lynch’s work in general.

We need, I think, to talk about the ending. A mercilessly rushed, inconclusive way of concluding nearly eighteen hours of narrative television, there is something horribly, mundanely depressing about the way the indefatigable Agent Cooper’s last minute rush to bring justice (solace?) to Laura Palmer’s restless spirit plays out. Despite presumably being written and discussed by Lynch & Frost far in advance, this conclusion initially feels as arbitrary and unresolved as the unplanned, studio-enforced ending of Season # 2.

But at the same time, it also feels as final as final can be. Needless to say, anyone who was hoping a series of ‘Twin Peaks’ was going to tie itself up into a nice little bow in the final episode was doomed to disappointment from the outset. Of course it was going to totally blindside us with SOMETHING. Why not a last minute descent into the unsettling mysteries of Alice Tremond and Mrs Chalfont (last touched upon in the opening half hour of ‘Fire Walk With Me’, all those years ago)?

(As far as series mythology goes, I had always pegged these marginal characters as people warped or maddened by their close proximity to the dread “room above a convenience store” in which “magicians” Bob and one-armed Mike conducted their original, unseen depredations whilst still in their pre-Lodge earth-bound forms… implications here are potent and nebulous given the circumstance in which they pop up in the final episode of ‘The Return’, but perhaps that’s a digression best left for another day.)

Was I satisfied with the ending? I don’t know. To be honest, I was as flummoxed and faintly upset by it as I’m imagine much of the rest of the viewing public were, but… as with just about every other aspect of ‘The Return’, it’s the kind of thing that, like a painting in the corner of some darkened gallery, we must leave open to subjective interpretation and individual gut reaction.

By way of an example, I will defer here to this article by Samm Deighan, writing at Diabolique magazine, who came away with a far clearer angle on things than I did.

Still though, for all these grasps at wider significance, the sheer quantity of time-wasting and narrative dead-ends scattered throughout ‘..The Return’ remains mind-boggling. The free hand accorded to Lynch and Frost in developing the series may have allowed them to get away with wild flights of fancy and graphic, disturbing content to an extent unprecedented in the televisual medium, but honestly – even with the best will in the world, we could have lived without some of this stuff.

Admittedly, some of these loose ends – such as the brief intervention of Balthazar Getty’s singularly weird crime boss (“Red”) might serve to feed our imagination, prompting us to fill in some more intriguing gaps ourselves, and, even the dead-end conversations between assorted young women at The Roadhouse (which serve to book-end many episodes with discussion of people and events of which we have no knowledge whatsoever) help lend a certain depth to our picture of the 21st century Twin Peaks, suggesting a whole underlying network of fragmented lives, damaged minds and dangerous possibilities existing in close proximity to the threat of The Lodge.(1)

Likewise, it becomes increasingly obvious at the series goes on that certain narrative elements could well be intended as deliberate Brechtian spanners in the works – unnatural, unbelievable or interminably tedious series of events designed to frustrate or reshape viewers’ expectations of a contemporary TV drama.

The failure of any of the many people Dougie Jones encounters to realise - across something like ten hours of screen time and several weeks of fictional life – that he is clearly in a near catatonic state and probably needs some professional help, is very much the prime example of this. Perhaps there is a certain amount of absurdist satirical intent here, some suggestion that man’s agency has diminished to such an extent in the modern world that the best way to get ahead is to do and say absolutely nothing..? If so, it’s perhaps expressed somewhat clumsily, but either way – what’s clear is that each viewer’s enjoyment of Dougie’s story will be directly proportionate to their ability to stop shouting “when the hell is anyone going to NOTICE?!” at the screen, and just accept it on it’s own strange terms.

But, nonetheless - when it comes to stuff like the travails of Chad the Bad Cop, or the time we spend with Shelly and Bobby’s daughter and her stereotypical no good boyfriend, or Jerry Horne indulging in some painfully un-amusing stoner humour whilst lost in the woods, I think we can legitimately ask: what the hell was the point of all that?

In narrative terms, these are total dead-ends, and, whilst many such non-sequiturs in the series can be written off as concessions to Lynch’s wayward aesthetic vision – his love of just filming stuff that he has a ‘feeling’ for – it’s not as if all those workaday scenes of Chad faffing about the place being mildly unpleasant were exactly exploding with cinematic inspiration, y’know what I mean?

The scene in which a passing dog-walker sees No Good Boyfriend apparently shoot himself in the woods whilst is (unnamed?) new girlfriend looks on is meanwhile staged by Lynch like the ominous crescendo of some unravelling mystery… but it is never subsequently followed up, or lent any significance. It’s a well executed Lynchian scene, but, devoid of either wider context or resolution, its potential as such is wasted.

Basically, for all of ‘..The Return’s eventual strengths, there are still long stretches here that are difficult to interpret in any way other than as time-wasting filler, or as fragments of ditched/developed story ideas that somehow remained in the final cut, flapping pointlessly in the breeze.

And, whilst I’m on the subject, perhaps it’s just me, but some of the celebrity cameos are absolutely cringe-worthy too. Monica Bellucci dream? That famous kid who looks like Beck popping up as Andy and Lucy’s son? Gimme a break. Smugly indulgent, middle-brow alterna-Hollywood bullshit of the highest order, these sequences gave me flashbacks to Jim Jarmusch’s unspeakable ‘Coffee & Cigarettes’ – an incidence of cosmic horror I really could have done without.

(I also could have done without all those Pitchfork-y careerist indie bands trying desperately to look cool in each episode’s musical interlude, although it was nice to see Julee Cruise making a brief return, and, to my great surprise, Nine Inch Nails certainly played a blinder in ‘Got a Light?’.)

And so, in conclusion….? Well, who knows. Perhaps ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ was ahead of its time, and perhaps, more likely, it simply stands outside of time. It is certainly quite a thing - that’s about all we can say for certain at this point.

Given David Lynch’s apparent disinclination for another bout with the Hollywood machine as he enters old age, ‘..The Return’ could well end up becoming the epic final statement of this unique cinematic artist, and, in that context, it’s certainly not a text his fans are going to stop talking about or thinking about any time soon.

With critical faculties engaged, ‘..The Return’ is a curate’s egg, essentially. Some aspects of it work very well, others do not. (That's the line I've tended to fall back on when people have put me on the spot and asked "WHAT DID YA THINK OF IT?", anyway.) It’s just getting anyone to agree on which bits are which that’s liable to pose a problem. With the sheer plethora of images, ideas and stimuli it throws at us, often sans context, it’s as much a televisual Rorschach test as anything else. (Drink full, and descend.)

Like much of Lynch’s more extreme works in the past though – from ‘Eraserhead’ through to ‘Inland Empire’ – ‘..The Return’ is an achievement so unbeholden to cultural convention that to some extent  it transcends/bypasses the aforementioned critical faculties entirely, jamming our mental fuseboxes with indulgent/errant content until sparks fly and all certainty is shorted out. All we’re left with in the ensuing stumble through the darkness is the hope that some visceral, entirely subjective emotional reaction will blaze up for each of us and light the way. Personally, I got a few of these sparks from time to time; others (such as Deighan, linked above) evidently got a hell of a lot more of them.

Commenting on my previous post, reader Patrick made the point that the aesthetics of ‘..The Return’ draw significantly from Lynch’s perspective as a visual artist, and in this respect the series can feel more like a visit to a contemporary art exhibition than a narrative entertainment; you go in cold, you look around, you hope something’s going to hit you and light you up. Maybe it does, but if not, well, hey, that person over there in the corner is really freaking out over it, so what do I know?

A massive, half-digested - perhaps undigestable - mass of audio / visual spaghetti for the ages, ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ may not always entirely hit the spot for us informed and well-fed 2017-18 viewers, but it could yet find its niche as some kind of degraded video scripture / i-ching oracle utilised by children of some pollution-warped future generation as yet unborn. As Lynch himself quipped recently in response to an entirely unconnected query, "watch this space!"


(1)Here’s a bit of wild TP speculation for you: given that Getty’s sole scene involves his character – who seems a rather time/space bending sort of intense fellow – subduing Richard Horne with magic tricks of a distinctly menacing nature, I couldn’t help but recall Mrs Chalfont’s grandson – a medium/avatar of The Lodge seen in the second series and ‘Fire Walk With Me’ who also, you’ll recall, “does magic tricks”. In linear terms, the age gap perhaps doesn’t quite add up, but just thought I’d throw that out there. Of course, the recurring references to magic tricks and “magicians”, cards, dice, coins and gambling throughout all three series of ‘Twin Peaks’ could probably be thesis material in and of itself, but….

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Pan’s People:
The Saint Sees it Through
by Leslie Charteris


…and finally, our whistle-stop tour of Pan’s dawn-of-the-‘60s crime list brings us to ‘mad’ Manhattan in the company of ol’ Simon Templar.

As far as perennial series characters go, I must confess I’ve never really cared for The Saint. I mean, he’s just such a smug bastard, isn't he? I mean, I know that’s kind of the point of the character, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to take an interest in his shenanigans. In fairness, perhaps Roger Moore is more to blame for my distaste than Leslie Charteris, but nonetheless.

I will however make an exception for the sake of the artwork for this particular edition, which is superb - so busy, so much colour... yet it works brilliantly.

Sadly however, I’m once again not coming up with much more online than “cover artist: unknown”.

Anyway, feast your eyes chums, because we’ll be back to movie reviews for a while from next week, likely as not.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Pan’s People:
The Little White God
by Edwin Brock


After Paris and L.A., we move to the more familiar environs of South London, circa 1965.

I love the Times quote on the front. (For the uninitiated – Z Cars.)

Edwin Brock (1927-1997) was primarily known as a poet, and this seems to have been his only novel. Once again, it looks as if it might well be worth a read. And, yet again, beautiful cover art too – a quintessential example of 50s/60s Brit-crime imagery that, frustratingly, I can’t find an artist credit for online. Good ol’ Pan.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Pan’s People:
Experience With Evil
by John Ross Macdonald


Over the past year or so, I’ve really been getting into the work of Ross Macdonald (he soon dropped the ‘John’, for whatever reason).

Coming on as if Raymond Chandler had knocked the ‘frustrated-literary-novelist’ bit on the head and settled into a routine of knocking out two hard-boiled thrillers per year, the Macdonald books I’ve read thus far have all been absolutely first rate, mixing up the requisite laconic humour and restless plotting with consistently sublime prose and an acute sensitivity for the tragic quirks of human nature, all baked in an atmosphere of creeping malaise and cynicism that is pure mid-century California noir.

If you’re into crime fiction and yet to discover Macdonald, doing so is an experience I can highly recommend.

‘Experience With Evil’ originally appeared in 1953 under the delightful title ‘Meet Me At The Morgue’, and though it doesn’t feature Macdonald’s signature character Lew Archer, I’m nonetheless confident that Pan’s blurb-ists weren't lying when they deemed it “a kidnap mystery for the connoisseur”.

The cover – by our old pal Sam “Peff” Peffer – is of an equally fine calibre (no firearms pun intended), and in fact, finding this book a few months back represented a rare quadruple win for my paperback collection: a great writer, great art, great condition, and a great price (£2). Satisfying!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Pan’s People:
The Law of The Streets
by Auguste Le Breton


Staying in France, this one is also high on the ‘to read’ pile, needless to say.

I haven’t been able to pin down an art credit for this cover, but there’s a sketchy/blurry/over-busy quality to it I quite like; it’s just a touch crazier than the usual ‘classy’ Pan house style. Postcards at the usual address if you’ve got a name we can attach to it.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Pan’s People:
Villainy Unlimited
by Derick Goodman


N.B. – I’m unsure whether or not this Pan edition actually dates from 1957 – only the copyright / first publication date is given. Given the Pan catalogue number (G327) I’m guessing 1959/60-ish.

Since I last shared some Pan paperback covers here in 2016, I’ve been fortunate enough to add some really great new Pans to my collection, particularly with regard to the imprint’s always interesting crime list. So, the next few weeks seems as good a time as any to share them with you. Expect a new post every few days.

As I’ve observed in the past, these books remain cheap and easy to find, without too much of a cult cache or a collector’s market sniffing around them, but nonetheless they are frequently things of beauty – none more so than this wonderfully atmospheric cover by Dave Tayler. (Source.)

The silky light and shade here reminds me of a golden age Hollywood movie poster more than anything, and, needless to say, the book itself sounds like a fascinating read too – I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into it at some point (perhaps during a future trip to Paris, fingers crossed).