In which a hardboiled hero is softened

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Note that the cover doesn’t actually name any of that screenplay’s many contributors. The final onscreen credit went to Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., but many other writers wrote many other drafts, including Bo Goldman and Beatty himself.

I recently wrote this feature for The Telegraph marking the 30th anniversary of Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Part of the research for that was an interview with the great Max Allan Collins: custodian of the Dick Tracy comic strip for 15 years, an uncredited consultant on the film, and the author of its novelization. My Telegraph article quotes him a couple of times, but this is the full conversation, conducted by email over a couple of days in May, 2020.

A prolific writer of classically tough crime thrillers, Collins’ novel is tonally quite a lot “harder” than Beatty’s family-friendly onscreen adventure. But it turns out that there was, originally, an even tougher draft that the author was forced to scrap and start over. …


In which an author takes back his character.

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“In my novel First Blood, Rambo died. In the films, he lives.”

This is all the attention David Morrell gives to the continuity problem of continuing a series of novels where the protagonist didn’t survive the first instalment. First Blood, written a decade before the Stallone adaptation made Rambo a household name, remains largely a separate entity, even to Morrell’s own sequels. But in taking on the print versions of those follow-ups, plotted by other people, Morrell had a specific agenda. “I was fascinated to see how… in Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo was interpreted as a jingoistic superhero,” Morrell says in his memoir Rambo and Me. Morrell’s novelizations of that film and the subsequent Rambo III see the author deliberately recalibrating the screen Rambo as far back towards his original vision as is possible. …


Spider-Man: Far From Home is currently on its way to a billion dollars at the box office. Is the Spider-Man Cable Guy worth twenty quid? Read on…

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A PR very kindly asked me if I’d like to review this piece of kit in exchange for a freebie, and I kind of liked the look of it, so I thought I would.

“The Unique collectable Spider-Man from Cable Guys is the must have device holder for smartphones and game controllers,” said the email I was sent. “It holds PlayStation, Xbox Controllers and most Smartphones. …


The Art of Slow-Motion

Twenty years ago, The Matrix happened. Revisiting that first flush of “bullet time” got me thinking about other cinematic moments where time slowed down. The following is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but simply my particular favourites on this particular Tuesday. Would your own list have been different? Leave a comment.

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The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

The Wild Bunch

Sam Peckinpah didn’t invent slow motion (there are beautiful examples in The Seven Samurai, for instance), but he did invent ways of using it that nobody had quite cracked before. He experimented in Major Dundee, not quite successfully, but it was Arthur Penn’s bloody climax to Bonnie and Clyde in 1867 that pointed the way towards Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch two years later. Using six cameras, all operating at different frame rates, Bloody Sam made the action sequences in the town of Starbuck and Mapache’s compound constantly shift speed, stretching and emphasising the shock moments of blood splatter and flying bodies. Often misunderstood as glorifying the carnage, Peckinpah’s intention was just the opposite: he’s rubbing our faces in the horror. “The point,” he said, “is to take this façade of movie violence and open it up, get people involved in it so that they’re starting to go in the Hollywood television predictable reaction syndrome, and then twist it so that it’s not fun anymore, just a wave of sickness in the gut. It’s brutalizing and awful. It’s not fun and games and cowboys and Indians. …


In which somebody actually does shoot the tyres.

“She took his hand. As she stood there, looking at the tired, determined figure who straddled the dirty motorcycle, she felt suddenly as if she’d spent her entire life with him. ‘Shockley, you’re one hell of a cop.’ ‘Yeah, me and Dirty Harry. Now climb on.’”

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Clint shoots precisely nobody in this film.

THE MOVIE

The Gauntlet hails from that era in the 1970s when Clint Eastwood was starting to coast. …


The true story behind The Untouchables

Eliot Ness and his squad of Untouchables set out to smash Al Capone. But their antics were mostly for show, and Ness’ post-Chicago career was less than illustrious.

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In 2014, US senators Richard Durbin, Sherrod Brown and Mark Kirk proposed a tribute to the prohibition-era Federal Agent Eliot Ness. In recognition of Ness’ world famous heroics as an enforcer of law and order, they wanted to rename the national headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington DC in his honour. It would probably have been uncontroversial had those heroics been incontrovertibly true. For many critics, however, the Ness that became known to the public through decades of books, TV shows and movies is arguably almost entirely fictional: a mythologised version of a man who, while he had his share of successes, was far less remarkable. “Naming a building after him for his role in bringing down Al Capone?” snorted Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. …


The cackling horror of Some Will, Some Won’t

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The first film that horrified me was not a horror film. It wasn’t intended to be disturbing, but it did disturb me. It ought to have been forgettable, but I remembered it for almost 40 years.

I can tell you the fateful day exactly thanks to the BBC Genome project, an archive of everything ever broadcast by the BBC between 1923 and 2009. It was Saturday, 9 January 1982, so I was six. A winter afternoon, I was alone and had been watching the children’s programme Play Away. …


In which the end of the world is accidental.

“Nova sagged against the stone circular side of the fountain, goggling at Brent with mingled terror and amazement. Brent fought himself not to approach her. The war in his mind was still raging. Kill her. Don’t kill her. He shook his head like a confused dog, fighting the outer pressures that wanted to push him towards her, destruction-bound.”

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THE MOVIE

Whatever the flaws of Beneath the Planet of the Apes — and there are a lot of them — you can say this for it: it’s certainly surprising. Quickly green-lit by an ailing studio scrambling to cash in on the first film’s completely unexpected success, it looks cheap, runs short, and only features Charlton Heston in what amounts to little more than a cameo role, performed under sufferance and guilt-tripping from producer Arthur P. …


Was Ol’ Blue Eyes really a made man?

Rumours of Frank Sinatra’s Mafia connections dogged his entire career. The evidence was rather more than just circumstantial…

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Sinatra in 1938, busted for adultery.

In 1950 the US Senate convened a committee to investigate organised crime in America. Popularly known as the Kefauver Committee, after its chairman Senator Estes Kefauver, its findings included admissions of the FBI’s failure to combat countrywide mob activity to date, leading to the creation of more than 70 local “crime commissions” to harry the Mafia at local level, and a nationwide Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act. Unusually for the time, the proceedings were televised, with more than 30 million viewers tuning in to watch the testimonies of infamous gangsters: Mickey Cohen, Frank Costello, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik and others. …


In which Schwarzenegger faces an unfamiliar enemy.

“It wasn’t a man exactly, but a vision of a man, tortured and perfected by a mind that longed to advance the species and make it triumph in the jungle habitat. Replication wasn’t good enough. In homage to the warriors it had tracked all day it sought a shape deep in itself. As if to fight them to the death it had to be itself and them all at once.”

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THE MOVIE

Predator is the film Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in between Raw Deal and The Running Man; the film John McTiernan directed between Nomads and Die Hard; and the film Joel Silver produced between Lethal Weapon and Action Jackson. …

About

Owen Williams

Owen Williams is an author and movie journalist based in the UK. He lives in the Yorkshire Dales, not London. Some people find this baffling and extraordinary.

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