Saturday, May 04, 2019
Once Again, What The Stuff Of Dreams Are Made Of-With The Film Adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon In Mind
Once Again, What The Stuff Of Dreams Are Made Of-With The Film Adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon In Mind
By Crime Novelist Paul Marlon
Joel Cairo shed no tears, not even crocodile tears when he had heard that his old time private dick nemesis who had almost had put a noose around his neck Sam Spade, Samuel Lewis Spade, his full moniker according to the obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, had cashed his check. Had departed this wicked old world that he seemingly worked overtime in order to prevent honest non-violent criminals (except when a little off-hand violence was necessary to save the play) like Joel from plying their trade. Joel almost smiled a sincere, not ironic or sarcastic, smile when he read the details of how Sam had gone down in a blaze of gunfire when in the year of our lord, 1957 he had stumbled onto a “safe house” for the production of high-grade heroin, H, horse, or any other name you may know that variation of the stuff of dreams by way down away from his comfort zone home, San Francisco. Took the gaff in sunny Mexico, somewhere around Cuernavaca, down where the ‘red bishop fought a losing battle against the batos locos who were infesting the place as a way-station from further south, further down Columbia way. Seems that Sam, with more guts than brains this time, thought he was dealing with guys like Joel, like the Fat Man, like a guy named Sydney Greenstreet that Joel had pulled a few cons with over in the Levant when he was moving up the food chain in the con artist rackets, or a fire-eater woman like Brigid O’Shaughnessy, whose real name when they finally got around to hanging her in the great state of California back in the late 1920s was Mary Louise Astor (that full moniker too provided via that Chronicle obit when mentioning Sam’s most famous case, the Maltese Falcon case) for killing Sam’s partner, a two-bit second-rate gumshoe named Miles Archer.
The dope boys play rough from the start and have no con in them like Brigid had along with that itchy trigger finger though and when Sam had tried to single-handedly break up Lester Lannon’s West Coast dope ring he got nothing but a few coughs after taking about six slugs to various parts of his body. He left a wife, an ex-wife really, Vivian, one of California high roller oil man General Sternwood’s high strung daughters, divorced for about a decade prior to his death and three adult children, all girls. None detectives. [There was more to that divorce from Vivian than we have time for here but one of the reasons for the divorce was that Sam was sleeping with her younger, wilder, and sexually more adventurous sister Carmen once she got out of the drug treatment center at San Luis Obispo. Another reason though was that Sam when not under the sheets with one or the other took too many risks for Vivian’s liking as the girls were growing up. Given Sam’s end she was probably right to cut loose from the bastard before he bled all over the carpet. That was Joel’s savage take on the matter when he heard many years before that Sam had landed in the clover with all that all oil money and more and more cars needed the lifeline.]
Thinking about Sam, about the Fat Man, about Brigid, and a few others like the gunsel she tied up with, Floyd Thursby, a crooked as they come sea captain who was saleable to the highest bidder, Jacoby, and the West End Kid, the Fat Man’s gunsel after Thursby went awry with Brigid, got Joel to thinking about how very close he had come to sharing that necktie party with Brigid. It was only the quick action of the Fat Man flashing a couple of thousand dollar bills before a “from hunger” cop on the take that allowed him and the Fat Man to escape to Istanbul to look for the jeweled bird they had travelled to the United States following once that fucking Thursby let Brigid under his skin.
[That crooked cop, a “friend” of Sam’s from when he was on the San Francisco force himself named Ward Bond, could have been bought and paid for with just one thou but his partner, a tough as nails cop named Barton McLane, needed to get his hush money as well. Money worth spending in any case since that “freedom” allowed the Fat Man and him to finally track down the real jeweled bird. By the way nobody ever called the Fat Man anything but the Fat Man and to this day nobody knew what his real name was, not even Joel who worked with his for several years off and on. Didn’t know much about him except his was a history buff, not just vague schoolboy stuff either but deep thinkers about trends and currents of analysis like H.G. Wells whom the Fat Man claimed to know but when he was interviewed following the Fat Man’s death said he had never known anybody with the moniker Fat Man, was some kind of downwardly mobile European aristocrat, maybe German from his slight accent, and was as treacherous a bastard as Joel had ever worked with-and survived.
They would eventually find the antique dealer in Athens who had created the fake bird that had led them on that wild goose chase in America and allow the late Fat Man and him to retire in splendor in Corfu. (That search for the antique dealer was one of those unfortunate cases where a little off-hand violence was necessary for the bloody bastard to see reason which he did not had in great supply when the deal went down and his body was found a few months after their confrontation floating to shore in the Aegean).
As Joel sat smoking his rich Turkish blend pipe watching the sun go down on another day he began to recall at first with trepidation and then with relish that whole black bird caper (that Maltese Falcon stuff was all made up for successively Brigid’s, Thursby’s and Sam’s edification. Pure bullshit on the part of the master, the Fat Man in all his sublime glory. [That hashish dreamland was not some aberration on Joel’s part. He had been born and raised in the Levant, in the time of the Ottoman Empire, around Tripoli in present day Lebanon and had taken to the pipe early as was the custom among men from his village and when he finally had enough money to seriously indulge the habit after the big black bird cash out he did so to the exclusion of much else.]
Joel thought it was funny how the name Sam Spade had played so big a part in his life back then although their paths had crossed only for a few days. At first the Fat Man, Brigid, that gunsel Thursby who was the Fat Man’s bodyguard, enforcer, tough guy before he fell down under Brigid’s spell. (Joel chuckled that if he had been into women then Brigid’s considerable charms and that fresh jasmine scent that got to even hard-boiled detectives like Spade would had been the end of him too. A couple of moves toward him on her part would perhaps had turned the trick. Tough luck lady that way with men maybe she should have taken up with women.) The odd part was that Brigid when she had gone on her own under Thursby’s guard after finding out that the bird hard left the Asian continent and was heading to the United States under Captain Jacoby’s guidance and was looking for some new help after Thursby caught her fucking some guy in Frisco who had a little dough to fund her search for a while had panicked and went looking for a private detective to help her she had picked the firm of Archer & Spade out of the telephone book since it was the first operation listed under “private detectives” in the phone book. She happened in the end to pick the wrong guy for the job, a guy who ultimately talked, acted, and looked like he would not be made a pasty of when everything got sifted out.
Once the Fat Man and Joel had found out where Brigid was through that Captain Jacoby against Joel’s advice the Fat Man had set them sailing for America. A bad mistake which beyond almost costing them their freedom seemed an unlikely move on the part of that perfidious Greek antique dealer who like Joel had grown up under the devious Ottoman Empire manner of double-dealing, and double-crossing. Joel did not know all the details of what Brigid had told Sam and this Miles Archer about what she wanted their services for but he could guess the effect of that jasmine scent of hers on both men because this Archer fell down for her, fell hard.
[No question a lot of the animosity between Joel and Brigid were their feuds over various men who came on board the Fat Man’s ventures. The immediate cause of bad blood between them had been over Thursby. Before he fell all over himself once Brigid made her play for his loyalties Thursby and Joe had been having an affair. Joel had ever since he was a kid in Tripoli been partial to boys, tough boys, gunsels who he had found out many times would use their cover of toughness to deny who they were, to deny that they were “fairies” like him. Before the West End Kid split when the heat was coming down in the Maltese Falcon adventure and the Fat Man was ready to make a deal with Spade to have the Kid play the fall guy for the various unsolved murders that were accumulating Joel felt he was making headway with that tough young man. As he aged and retreated to his smoked-filled villa in Corfu though he tended toward more feminine youngsters whom he had an agent procure for him. That agent, the clever and discrete Violet Venable, had been highly recommended by the playwright Tennessee Williams when he stayed at Joel’s villa one summer.]
Brigid was not the only one who made a mistake by hiring the firm of Archer & Spade for Joel had miscalculated as well. He assumed that when the news that both Thursby and Archer had been murdered and that there was a possible link between the two closely times murders had been splashed all over the Chronicle which ran with the story for days that Brigid and/or Spade had the bird. He decided to do an end around, possibly cutting out the Fat Man if things worked out that way, and shake down Spade for what he knew, and maybe gain possession of the vaunted bird. He went, armed as a precaution not for killing he did not think, to Spade’s seedy run down office in an off-street downtown where a quick look at the building directory listed lots services that seemed like scams and stuff for small time con artists to work out of without much scrutiny. If worse came to worse he figured he could buy Spade off for say five thousand and he, Spade, probably would think that it was money found on the ground.
When he got to Spade’s sixth floor office with the name Archer already banished from every recognition Joel was surprised that the firm had a receptionist, secretary or kept woman covering all bases, called herself Lee something, a good looking woman if that was your thing, not beautiful like Brigid but something handy to have around. He gave her his “hook”, some knowledge about what had happened to Miles Archer. That got him in the door to Sam’s shabby down at the heels office. When he entered he was surprised (and delighted) to see a guy who was short, had a couple of days stubble, and had the distinct look of something who spent most of his life one or two steps ahead of the “repo” man.
He sat down in a crooked misshapen chair and gave Spade his proposition, or started to, when he realized that he had a gun which would make things easier if the bird was in the office. That was his mistake, pulling the gun on a guy who looked like he could not take care of himself. The minute he pulled it out Spade moved toward the chair and started to slap him around, punched him out, and when he awoke he found that Spade had rifled through his effects including his scented handkerchief which he made a snide remark about (Joel was inured to that “fairy-baiting” since he had put up with it since he was a kid, had used it a couple of times to turn things around and bed the guy who did the baiting. He had half-figured that like Thursby Spade, a seemingly tough guy after all, might be a switch-hitter. Wrong on that count too.) Spade also said that all he saw in Joel’s wallet was a few hundred bucks and air. Joel explained that of course he would not have the dough on him but could get access the next day if things worked out. Sam seemed to agree to that proposition but Joel still figured to short-cut the whole process if the bird was in the office and he could save the five thou. And keep the fabled bird for himself. (As turned out the Fat Man was working his own solo idea and had sent the West End Kid to dog Spade which Spade got hip to in about five minutes and told the Kid to tell the Fat Man if he wanted to deal then they had to meet. From that point on Joel went back to working as an agent of the Fat Man).
Spade and the Fat Man were to meet the next day to size each other up. Meanwhile Brigid was working her own scented magic on Spade and getting plenty of places with it. That night they slept together for the first time even after Sam told her that he was in contact with the Fat Man. (Brigid was one of those never give up woman who figured that at some point, with some sexual trick when she found out what made a man tick, usually some form of oral sex, Spade would fully come under her sway and side with her against all-comers. That too was a mistake in the end but made sense just then when everybody was jockeying for Sam’s favor.)
At the first meeting, Joel in attendance, Sam seemed to be impressed by the Fat Man’s spiel, by his knowledge of the history of the bird (supposedly lost on the way to be given to some king from the Knight of Malta, shorthand for a bunch of cut-throat brigands as tribute but that was all bullshit made up by the Greek to enhance its value to whoever was fool enough to go for the story-and a fake bird and retailed by the Fat Man who was beginning to believe the story himself) and his offer of ten thou for its delivery. No go. Twenty-five thou. In (or seemingly in). Joel was out as an independent agent once the Fat Man gave out that number so he tacitly decided that for now he would side with the Fat Man.
All these monetary offers at that point were so much manure since Spade did not have the bird, not then anyway. That is where Brigid comes back into the picture. She had entrusted, if that is the right word, Captain Jacoby to deliver the bird to her in Frisco town. His ship was scheduled to come in the day that Spade was meeting the Fat Man. It did come in but somehow the Fat Man got wind of Jacoby’s arrival and sent the Kid to get the bird, or else. The Kid shot the place up and set fire to the ship but still no bird. As Joel found out later Jacoby, bleeding like a sieve after the Kid’s handiwork took effect had managed to contact Brigid and the bird was delivered to Sam’s office by the dying Jacoby. Another guy who went to the end of the road for Brigid. Yeah, Sam finally started big time to get the idea that this dame was dangerous.
Everybody met at the Fat Man’s suite in the Fairmont for the final showdown. Sam had stashed the bird in a safe place until the negotiations were complete. They went back and forth for a bit but the Fat Man agreed to terms. Then things went awry, awry from Joel’s perspective. The bird as everybody knows now was a fake, the Fat man and Joel went berserk for a bit before they blew with the wind out of the place. That is when Sam called in the coppers. Called them in to sweep up the lot once he figured that Brigid had killed Miles Archer in order to have that killing laid off on Thursby. Yeah, dealing with her was like sealing with some slithering snake. Yeah, he sent her over, sent that pretty neck into a short noose. Fortunately cash had saved him and the Fat Man from that fate. Joel chuckled to himself “like hell would he let Sam Spade rest in peace.” Fuck that.
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2017 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Three
In Honor Of International Workers’ Day- May Day 2017 -Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Risen People?-Frank Jackman’s War-Take Three
From The American Left History Blog Archives –May Day 1971
Endless, dusty, truck heavy, asphalt steaming hitchhike roads travelled, Route 6, 66, maybe 666 and perdition for all I know, every back road, every Connecticut highway avoiding back road from Massachusetts south to the capital for one last winner-take-all, no prisoners taken show-down to end all show-downs. And maybe, just maybe, finally some peace and a new world a-borning, a world we had been talking about for at least a decade (clueless, as all youth nations are clueless, that that road was well-travelled, very well- travelled, before us). No Jack Kerouac dharma bum easy road (although there were dharma bums, or at least faux dharma bums, aplenty on those 1971 roads south, and west too) let- her-rip cosmic brakeman Neal Cassady at the wheel flying through some Iowa/Kansas wheat field night fantasy this trip.
No this trip was not about securing some cultural enclave in post-war America (post-World War II so as not to confuse the reader) in break-out factory town Lowell or cold water tenement Greenwich Village/Soho New Jack City or Shangri-La West out in the Bay area, east or west, but about mucking up the works, the whole freaking governmental/societal/economic/cultural/personal/godhead world (that last one, the godhead one, not thrown in just for show, no way) and maybe, just maybe sneaking away with the prize. But a total absolute, absolutist, big karma sky fight out, no question. And we, I, am ready. On that dusty road ready.
More. See all roads head south as we, my girlfriend of the day, maybe more, maybe more than a day, Joyell, but along this time more for ease of travelling for those blessed truck driver eye rides, than lust or dream wish and my sainted wise-guy amigo (and shades of Gregory Corso, sainted, okay), Matty, who had more than a passing love or dream wish in her and if you had seen her you would not have wondered why. Not have wondered why if your “type” was Botticelli painted and thoughts of butterfly swirls just then or were all-type sleepy-eyed benny-addled teamster half-visioned out of some forlorn rear view mirror.
Yah, head south, in ones, twos, and threes (no more, too menacing even for hefty ex-crack back truckers to stop for) travelling down to D.C. for what many of us figure will be the last, finally, push back against the war, the Vietnam War, for those who have forgotten, or stopped watching television and the news, but THEY, and you knew (know) who they were (are), had their antennae out too, they KNEW we were coming, even high-ball fixed (or whiskey neat she had the face for them) looking out from lonely balconies Martha Mitchell knew that much. They were, especially in mad max robot-cop Connecticut, out to pick off the stray or seven who got into their mitts as a contribution to law and order, law and order one Richard Milhous Nixon-style (and in front of him, leading some off-key, off-human key chorus some banshee guy from Maryland, another watch out hitchhike trail spot, although not as bad as Ct, nothing except Arizona is). And thus those dusty, steamy, truck heavy (remind me to tell you about hitchhiking stuff, and the good guy truckers you wanted, desperately wanted, to ride with in those days, if I ever get a chance sometime).
The idea behind this hitchhiked road, or maybe, better, the why. Simple, too simple when you, I, thought about it later in lonely celled night but those were hard trying times, desperate times really, and just free, free from another set of steel-barred rooms this jailbird was ready to bring down heaven, hell, hell if it came down to it to stop that furious war (Vietnam, for the later reader) and start creating something recognizable for humans to live in. So youth nation, then somewhat long in the tooth, and long on bad karma-driven bloody defeats too, decided to risk all with the throw of the dice and bring a massive presence to D.C. on May Day 1971.
And not just any massed presence like the then familiar seasonal peace crawl that nobody paid attention too anymore except the organizers, although the May Day action was wrapped around that year’s spring peace crawl, (wrapped up, cozily wrapped up, in their utopian reformist dream that more and more passive masses, more and more suburban housewives from New Jersey, okay, okay not just Jersey, more and more high school freshman, more and more barbers, more and more truck driver stop waitresses, for that matter, would bring the b-o-u-r-g-e-o-i-s-i-e (just in case there are sensitive souls in the room) to their knees. No, we were going to stop the government, flat. Big scheme, big scheme no question and if anybody, any “real” youth nation refugee, excepting, of course, always infernal always, those cozy peace crawl organizers, tried to interject that perhaps there were wiser courses nobody mentioned them out loud in my presence and I was at every meeting, high or low. Moreover I had my ears closed, flapped shut closed, to any lesser argument. I, rightly or wrongly, silly me thought “cop.”
So onward anti-war soldiers from late night too little sleep Sunday night before Monday May Day dawn in some vagrant student apartment around DuPont Circle (I think) but it may have been further up off 14th Street, Christ after eight million marches for seven million causes who can remember that much. No question though on the student ghetto apartment locale; bed helter-skelter on the floor, telephone wire spool for a table, orange crates for book shelves, unmistakably, and the clincher, seventeen posters, mainly Che, Mao, Ho, Malcolm etc., the first name only necessary for identification pantheon just then, a smattering of Lenin and Trotsky but they were old guys from old revolutions and so, well, discounted to early rise (or early stay up cigarette chain-smoking and coffee slurping to keep the juices flowing). Out into the streets, out into the small collectives coming out of other vagrant apartments streets (filled with other posters of Huey Newton , George Jackson, Frantz Fanon, etc. from the two names needed pantheon) joining up to make a cohorted mass (nice way to put it, right?). And then dawn darkness surrounded, coffee spilled out, cigarette bogarted, AND out of nowhere, or everywhere, bang, bang, bang of governmental steel, of baton, of chemical dust, of whatever latest technology they had come up with they came at us (pre-tested in Vietnam, naturally, as I found out later). Jesus, bedlam, mad house, insane asylum, beat, beat like gongs, defeated.
Through bloodless bloodied streets (this, after all, was not Chicago, hog butcher to the world), may day tear down the government days, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. One arrested, two, three, many, endless thousands as if there was an endless capacity to arrest, and be arrested, arrest the world, and put it all in one great big Robert F. Kennedy stadium home to autumn gladiators on Sunday and sacrificial lambs this spring maypole may day basket druid day.
And, as I was being led away by one of D.C.’s finest, I turned around and saw that some early Sunday morning voice, some “cop” voice who advised caution and went on and on about getting some workers out to join us before we perished in an isolated blast of arrests and bad hubris also being led away all trussed up, metal hand-cuffs seemingly entwined around her whole slight body. She said she would stick with us even though she disagreed with the strategy that day and I had scoffed, less than twenty-four hours before, that she made it sound like she had to protect her erring children from themselves. And she, maybe, the only hero of the day. Righteous anonymous sister, forgive me. (Not so anonymous actually since I saw her many times later in Boston, almost would have traded in lust for her but I was still painted Botticelli-bewitched and so I, we, let the moment passed, and worked on about six million marches for about five millions causes with her but that was later. I saw no more of her in D.C. that week.)
Stop. Brain start. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove, these were not such times even with all our unforced errors, and no flame-flecked phoenix raising but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva came a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ would take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart road tramp acting in god’s place could even dream of. But that was later. Just then, just that screwed-up martyr moment, I was longing for the hot, dusty, truck driver stop meat loaf special, dishwater coffee on the side, road back home even ready to chance Connecticut highway dragnets to get there.
Frank Jackman, after scrounging around for some food to sate his hunger and after finding some, the “movement” food de jure, brown rice and beans, at a make-shift kitchen set up to feed the hungry like him he ambled back to the comfort of that still blazing campfire. As he sat down on one of the anonymous scattered friendly blankets (this time not an Army blanket) he noticed across the fire from him a young man, younger than he, wearing an obvious real GI-issued Army jacket (not Army-Navy store gear then popular about the street protestors). That brother had the look, the short hair, the haphazard mustache, the posture of someone who either was still in the service or who had like him also just gotten out. That fresh vision before him of what he himself looked like got Frank to thinking again about the last year of his “military service,” most of that time spent in the jug, in the Fort Devens stockade.
Frank, after having his conscientious objector application rejected by the military, had decided to pursue one avenue of appeal, to the federal courts. He was able through civilian counsel to get his case before a federal judge in Boston who had furthermore issued a restraining order on the military to not remove him from the jurisdiction of the court. That, however, Frank felt was a long and cumbersome course and not necessarily a successful route if the judge decided that the recent civilian decisions on CO status did not apply to the military. Frank was the first to admit that he had not been a vociferous and outspoken public opponent of the seemingly never-ending war but he had, as he would quip “gotten religion.” As part of his work with the Quakers and others down in Cambridge he had come to see that if the war was to be ended sooner rather than later then strategies based on massive, if ill-formed, public demonstrations or the pressuring of federal politicians was not going to get it done.
Frank knew, knew in his bones, from talks with guys who had been to ‘Nam, guy who knew how bad it was, guys who knew the score, and who also knew that lots of guys were disgruntled that to close down the war you had to get to the foot soldier, to the grunt. And so he determined that he would try to do that, or at least his small part. The Quakers he knew and other Cambridge radical also had the same idea that anti-war actions should be directed toward the military bases in order to try to reach the soldiers. A group of them had decided that one day, one weekday around the end of the base workday that they would make an anti-war protest in front of Fort Devens to drive home the issue. Frank was intrigued by the idea, saw a role for himself in the action, and suggested that he would join them, in uniform, on the appointed day.
After some discussion with his civilian supporters (who he was told later were secretly thrilled to have a uniformed soldier in their anti-war midst) and a period of thought about what his actions would entail (and whether he could do stockade time which would surely come out of his actions) he decided to cast his lot with the ant-warriors. On a Wednesday afternoon in late October 1970 a small group of protestors (maybe fifty people) gathered for about an hour in the triangle in front of the entrance to the main gate of the fort. Among those in attendance was Frank Jackman in full private’s military uniform carrying a sign calling for the American government to “Bring The Troops Home.” That night upon returning to his barracks he was arrested and brought to the Provost Marshal’s Office for transport to the stockade for pre-trial confinement. And that was the start of Private Francis Alan Jackman’s war against the military.
A lot of Frank’s thinking at the time was that he would further his efforts at getting that discharge from the Army by personally actively opposing the war from the inside. That is what was appealing to him about taking part in the civilian action in front of the fort. Call it a martyr’s complex or just show-boating he was determined to perform acts of personal resistance to show others the way out of the war. And the military was more than happy to comply giving him a mandatory six months sentence for his action under the rubric of disobeying lawful orders at his Special Court-Martial.
Frank had assumed that such a sentence would be the end of it. Either the federal judge would rule in his favor or the Army seeing an obvious malcontent would discharge him in some administrative way. So Frank was surprised when neither happened. He did his six months (minus good time) and then was released back to a replacement detachment without any word from Boston. He was in a bind, a political bind by his lights. He could not knuckle under to the military and return to serve good military time doing some job (meaning serving non-stockade time) yet he was hesitant to do another stretch in the stockade. The issue weighed on him until he came up with another idea- a surefire stockade-inducing action.
Each Monday morning there is in probably every military post a general formation to see who is where they are supposed to be (not AWOL) which he later found out was called the morning report. That general formation took place at a large central field where all the base’s units gathered to take account of their personnel. Frank decided that he would make a big person anti-war statement on that occasion by wearing civilian clothes and carrying a large sign calling for “Immediate U.S. Withdrawal from Vietnam” One Monday morning in the summer of 1970 Private Jackman walked out onto the parade field carrying that sign. He was immediately tackled by a couple of lifer-sergeants and transported once again to the Provost Marshal’s Office and from there to pre-trial stockade confinement. Once again he was giving a Special Court-Martial for, what else, disobeying lawful orders, and sentenced to serve another six month sentence. It was during the latter part of that sentence that word came from Boston (through his lawyer) that the federal judge had granted his writ of habeas corpus. He was released from confinement a few days later on February 18, 1971
Frank once again became drowsy as the fire started to flicker and he nodded off still thinking about that year’s worth of time in the stockade and the chances of him having to do more time with the impeding street action set for early May Day morning in order to break down the war effort…
I Hear The Noise Of Wings-Cary Grant And Jean Arthur’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939)- A Film Review
By Associate Film Critic Alden Riley
Only Angels Have Wings, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, from a story written by and directed by Howard Hawks, 1939
You know damn well that old Greek legend had it that Icarus a mere mortal had deep aspirations to fly but was the first manned flight failure which nevertheless didn’t keep subsequent humankind from dreaming the dream of flight, to soar above the clouds, to take flight with the angels if you want to get literarily romantic about the quest. As we all know today that quest was conquered in the early part of the last century and now even the little ones can fly anywhere they, or rather their parents, can afford the airfare to. But the film under review, Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, despite its romantic, boy-girl romantic if not literary romantic, subplot tells a true story of how near a thing it was in the early days of flying especially in the outposts necessary to make a global aviation market. After viewing this film I was reminded how every fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants sky jockey must have remembered the words from the old hymn Angel Band about “real” angels coming around and the listener heard “the noise of wings” every time she or she went up, just before their number was called.
Here’s the play. Geoff, played by Cary Grant complete with elegant sombrero, a hard-boiled, take every risk, and don’t ask your pilots to do what you wouldn’t do pilot-manager running an outpost operation in the boondocks of South America is trying to establish a permanent route through the mountainous regions of that Podunk place where he is operating out of. Operating the whole thing on plane smoke, dreams and little else. As you can figure the attrition rate is pretty high under such horrible conditions. That is the main story, the story that will have you thinking about angel thoughts despite yourself. Enter one seen-it-all Bonnie Lee, play by Jean Arthur, just off the boat and seemingly down on her uppers. She is the cause of plenty of competition among the women-starved pilots and their associates on the airfields. Including one barnstormer who didn’t make it back once he got sight of her and forgot a few things about flying. But as becomes very clear very early old Bonnie is taking dead aim come hell or high water for Geoff. Geoff, on the rebound from a lost love wants no part of any woman, wouldn’t ask anything of a woman after he had been stung by that old flame. Tough luck Bonnie.
Tough luck for a while as she goes through her paces. And as Geoff short of help and running out of time on a big contract has hired a new guy to fly those treacherous mountain passes. Problem is that the Kid, Geoff best pal and the spirit of the venture had a brother who was died while this new pilot bailed out of a crashing plane. Bad blood all the way around. Bad luck too for Geoff since that old flame of his, Judy played by a young Rita Hayworth which made it entirely understandable why Geoff was in a tailspin over women once she came through the door (and frankly I would have urged him to make up with Judy one way or another since she really was a fox, foxier by far that Bonnie but back to the story) had gotten tied up with this new pilot.
Bad blood or not Geoff needed a pilot, the new guy won his spurs on a couple of runs and things looked pretty good until Geoff who was going to take a last run before the contract deadline himself was accidently wounded by a gunshot from smitten unto death Bonnie. In the end that new pilot and the Kid had to team up to try to make the run. No soap. The plane they were testing didn’t make the grade and the plane came in on a crash landing after the new guy did not, I repeat, did not bail out. But the Kid was mortally wounded on that trip. Didn’t make it in the end. Geoff and Bonnie did of course (as did the new guy and his Judy). But I wonder, I really wonder, if the Kid heard the noise of wings just before his passed on.
A great, underrated film with a fine performance by Grant, great looks by Hayworth, great idea by Hawks to highlight the rigors of flying when the machines were held together by spit and nerves.
The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The “Last Waltz”- With The Five Satins In The Still Of The Night In Mind
The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The “Last Waltz”- With The Five Satins In The Still Of The Night In Mind
By Allan Jackson
[In a recent introduction talking about old growing up poor in the 1960s and the institutions, customs and mores that drove a lot of what in the Acre section of North Adamsville, and not just there as I found out later through the magic of television that united “youth nation” many, many others well beyond any on the ground organizing scheme I mentioned the critical role of the drive-in restaurant with those winsome car hops in any romantic endeavors. But thinking about it later and re-reading this piece that scene really belongs after you have what we called “scored,” made contact with some young woman and went from there (that “went from there” a whole separate issue which deserves its own space but for now was filled with so much deception, bragging and pure baloney and lies that the purveyors of each and every one of those conditions may burn in the hell fires if such are available). Yes, well before any “nightcap” at the Adventure Car-Hop Drive-In there was the inevitable attempt to ‘score” which at school or church dances usually had something to do with the “last dance.”
That last dance no mean thing because two things were necessary one of which was some serious eying of your target earlier in the evening and maybe a few dances and the other which was the ability to dance. Dance close without stepping on toes, having sweaty hands and the lot which put you in the losers’ circle which made hell fire seem tame by comparison. One of the great virtues of serious classical rock and roll music was that you and whoever was opposite you need not touch hands, or feet but you your own way. But come last dance time you either has it or not.
All of this to confess some fifty years later that I couldn’t dance worth a damn. Horrible, two left feet (or two right but the idea is the same) which left many a young damsel somewhere short of the midnight emergency room. The only one worse than me was the late Peter Paul Markin who really was a tangle anytime he was required to dance close. But see Markin had an aura or something, maybe it was those two thousand facts he would run at any girl who would listen and they thought he was an intellectual, which he was, a street intellectual of the highest order. Get this girls, tangled up in blue or not, would come up to him and ask him for the last dance. I never got too steamed up at Scribe which is what we always called him when he would go on and on about stuff, defended him physically a couple of times when fellow corner boys were ready to wring his neck to get him to shut up so you can see what a conversationalist he was but I would ride him mercilessly on this subject. Until he started sending his “rejects” my way. Enough said. Allan Jackson]
Sam Lowell had several years before, maybe in about the middle of 2010, done an extensive survey of a commercially-produced Oldies But Goodies series (this series had fifteen separate CDs, more about its mass in a minute), in twenty to thirty song compilations and had torn his ear off from the endless listening. He had begged for a little gangsta hip-hop to soothe his ravaged soul although he was strictly a white-bread blues guy around that kind of music, around black-burst out “roots is the toots” music) and he had selected one song in each CD to highlight the music. He sought to highlight in particular the music that he and his corner boys had grown up with, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Pete Markin (also known as the “Scribe” for his endless “publicity” for the group, especially the fountain of wisdom put forth by one Frankie Riley, who later when the drug craze hit full blossom in the late 1960s went over the edge down in Mexico trying to rip off a couple of bricks of cocaine from the hard boys and Pete got two slugs and a face down in a dusty Sonora back alley for his efforts), Jimmy Jenkins, James “Rats” McGee, Johnny Callahan, and other guys like Luke the Juke, Stubby Kincaid, and Hawk Healey who walked in and out of the group at various high school points. Better, had come of age with the music in Adamsville, that is in Massachusetts. Sam had been born in Clintondale a few towns over before moving to Adamsville, a similar town, in junior high school and there had been taken under Frankie Riley’s corner boy wing but had decidedly not been a corner boy in that former town for the simple reason that there were, unlike in Adamsville at Doc’s Drugstore and later Benny’s bowling alleys, no stand-out corner to be a corner boy in, for good or evil.
Yeah, the music of the great jail-break rock and roll 1950s and early 1960s when Sam and the guys came of age had driven his memory bank at that time, some of that material had been placed in a blog, Rock and Roll Will Never Die, dedicated to classic rock and roll music (the classic period now being deemed to have been between about the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s although Sam flinched every time he heard some young guy, some guy who might be an aficionado but was nevertheless not splashed by that tide, called his time the “classic age,” yeah, that rubbed him raw).
Sam had received some comments on the blog at the time, mostly from his generational brethren inquiring about this or that song, asking about where they could get a copy of the song they were seeking and he would inform them of the monstrous beauties of YouTube, especially Elvis and Jerry Lee stuff, if you could stand the damn commercials that notoriously plague that site to get to your selection. Asked about whether he knew where a 45 RPM vinyl copy could be had, had at any price, a tougher task and asked about the fate that had befallen various one hit johnnies and janies whose single song had been played unto death at the local hang-out jukebox or on the family record player thus driving some besotted mother to the edge. Many though, with almost the same “religious” intensity that Sam brought to his efforts, wanted to vividly describe how this or that song had impacted their lives. Sam had presumed then, presumed a passing fancy on their parts, but a few apparently had been in a time warp and should have sought some medical attention (although Sam was too much the gentleman to openly make that suggestion).
A lot of times though it came down purely to letting Sam know what song did they first dance to, a surprising number listing Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock and Danny and the Juniors At The Hop as the choice, surprising since that would have meant a very early introduction not only to rock and roll but to the social etiquettes of dancing with the opposite sex, to speak nothing of the sweaty palms, broken nerves and two left feet which blocked the way, a task which Sam had not done until he was a freshman in high school. Or some would describe what song in what situation had they gotten, or given, their first kiss and to whom, not surprisingly in the golden age of the automobile generation that frequently took place in the back seat of some borrowed car (a few over-the-edgers had gone into more graphic detail than necessary for adults to go into about what happened after that kiss in that backseat). Yeah, got in the back seat of some Chevy to go down to the local lovers’ lane (some very unusual places, the lovers’ lanes not the backseats which were one size fits all). Or what song had been their first fight and make-up to one, stuff like that.
As the shelf-life these days for all things Internet is short Sam thought no more about that series, the article or the comments until recently when a young guy (he had presumed a young guy since most devotees of old time classic rock fall into that demographic, although his moniker of Doo-Wop Dee could have signaled a young woman) who had Googled the words “rock and roll will never die” and had come upon the blog and the article. He sent an e-mail in which he challenged Sam to tell a candid world (Sam’s expression not Doo-Wop Dee’s who probably would not have known the genesis of that word) why the age of the Stones, Beatles, Animals, Yardbirds, etc., the 1960s age of the big bad guitars, heavy metal, and big backbeat did not do more for classic rock than Elvis (Presley), Chuck (Berry), Roy (Orbison), Bo (Diddley), Buddy (Holly), Jerry Lee (Lewis) and the like did all put together.
Well Sam is a mild-mannered guy usually, has mellowed out some since his rock and roll corner boy slam bang jail-break days, his later “on the road” searching for the great blue-pink great American West night hippie days and his even later fighting against his demon addictions days (drugs, con artist larceny, cigarettes, whiskey, hell, even sex, no forget that, drop that from the addiction list) and he had decided, not without an inner murmur, to let the comment pass, to move on to new things, to start work on an appreciation of electric blues, you know Chicago, Detroit, Memphis urban blues, in his young life. Then one night late one night he and his lady friend, Melinda (and the big reason to forget about that sex addiction stuff above), were watching an old re-run on AMC (the old-time movies channel, featuring mostly black and white films also a relic from his youth and his high school time at the retro-Strand Theater that existed solely to present two such beauties every Saturday afternoon, with or without popcorn) and saw as the film started one ghost from the past Jerry Lee Lewis sitting (hell maybe he had been standing, twirling whirling whatever other energy thing he could do back then to add to the fury of his act) on the back of a flat-bed truck, piano at the ready, doing the title song of the movie, High School Confidential, and then and there Sam had decided that he needed to put old Doo-Wop right. The rest of the movie, by the way, a classic 1950s cautionary tale about the pitfalls of dope, you know marijuana automatically leading to heroin, complete with some poor hooked girl strung out by her fiendish dealer/lover, and of leading an unchaste life, you know that sex addiction stuff that Sam had not been addicted to along his life’s way, as a result was actually eminently forgettable but thanks Jerry Lee for the two minute bailout blast. Here is what Sam had to say to his errant young friend and a candid world:
“First off the term “last waltz” used in the headline is used here as a simple expression of the truth. But that expression will also give Doo Wop and anybody else who asks an idea of the huge amount of material from the classic rock period, like I said in my blog sketch from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, which was good enough, had rung our running home after school to check out the latest dance moves and the cute guys and girls American Bandstand hearts enough, to make the cut. (And that really was true, out of over four hundred songs at least one hundred, a very high percentage, could have had a shot at the one hundred best popular songs of all times lists). When I had started that Oldies But Goodies series a few years ago in a fit of nostalgia related to reconnecting with guys like Frankie Riley, Johnny Callahan and Frank Jackman from the old hometown I had assumed that I had completed the series at Volume Ten. I then found out that this was a fifteen, fifteen count ‘em, volume series. I flipped out.
Thereafter I whipped off those last five CDs in one day, including individual reviews of each CD and a summing up for another blog, and was done with it. Working frantically all the while under this basic idea; how much can we rekindle, endlessly rekindle, memories from a relatively short, if important, part of our lives, even for those who lived and died by the songs (or some of the songs) in those compilations. How many times could one read about wallflowers, sighs, certain shes (or hes), the moonlight of high school dances (if there was any) and hanging around to the bitter end for that last dance of the night to prove... what. Bastante! Enough! Until Doo-Wop decided that my coming of age era paled, paled if you can believe this, in comparison to Johnny-come-lately rockers like Mick and Keith, John and Paul, Jerry, Neil, Roger and the like.
No, a thousand times no, as right this minute I am watching a YouTube film clip of early Elvis performing Good Rockin’ Tonight at what looks like some state fairgrounds down south and the girls are going crazy tearing their hair out and crying like crazy because the new breeze they had been waiting for in the death-dry red scare Cold War 1950s night just came through and not soon enough. If Doo-Wop had paid attention to anything that someone like Mick Jagger said about all that work being an overwhelming influence, the foundation for their efforts it might have held his tongue, or been a bit more circumspect. Guys like Mick, and they were mainly guys just like their 1950s forebears, knew that much. Yeah, it was mainly guys since I admit the only serious female rocker that I recall was Wanda Jackson whereas Doo-Wop’s time frame had Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, just to name a few. If he had argued on the basis of female rockers I would have no argument that the 1960s was a golden age for female rockers but his specified only the generic term ‘rockers.’ “
Like I said part of what got me going on the re-tread trail had been that nostalgia thing with my old corner boys and all our nights dropping dimes and quarters in Doc’s or Benny’s jukeboxes, listening on our transistor radios until our ears turned to cauliflower, and swaying at too many last change dance to mention but I also had been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere at the time on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s. You know the age of our own Jack Kennedy, the age of the short-lived Camelot when our dreams seemingly were actually within our grasp, and of the time we began realizing the need for serious struggles against all kinds of wars, and all kinds of discriminations, including getting a fair shake for the working people, those who labor, the people who populated our old time neighborhoods, our parents for chrissakes, in this benighted world. But here when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing as the former.
No question that those of us who came of age in the 1950s were truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, musical moves away from ballady Broadway show tunes from Oklahoma, South Pacific and the like and rhymey Tin Pan Alley pieces hit the transistor radio airwaves. (If you do not know what a transistor radio is then ask your parents or, ouch, grandparents, please. Or look it up on Wikipedia if you are too embarrassed to not know ancient history things. Join the bus.) And, most importantly, we were there when the music moved away from any and all staid arm in arm music that one’s parents might have approved of, or maybe, even liked, hopefully, at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room when rock and roll hit post- World War II America teenagers like, well, like an atomic bomb.
Not all of the material put forth was good, nor was all of it destined to be playable fifty or sixty years later on some “greatest hits” compilation but some of songs had enough chordal energy, lyrical sense, and sheer danceability to make any Jack or Jill jump then, or now. Think Elvis almost any place where there were more than five girls, hell more than one girl, or Jerry Lee and that silly film high school cautionary film that got this whole comment started where he stole the show at the beginning from that flatbed throne or Bill Haley just singing Rock Around The Clock in front of the film Blackboard Jungle. Here is the good part, especially for painfully shy guys like me, or those who, like me as well, had two left feet on the dance floor. You didn’t need to dance toe to toe, close to close, with that certain she (or he for shes). Just be alive…uh, hip to the music. Otherwise you might become the dreaded wallflower. But that wallflower fear, the fear of fears that haunted many a teenage dream then, that left many a sad sack teenage boy, girls can speak for themselves, waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats worrying about sweaty hands, underarms, coarse breathe, stubble, those damn feet (and her dainty ones mauled), and bravery, bravery to ask that she (or he for shes) for a dance, especially the last dance that you waited all night to have that chance to ask her about, is a story for another day. Let’s just leave it at this for now. Ah, to be very, very young then was very heaven.
So what still sounded good to a current AARPer, and perhaps some of his fellows who comprise the demographic that such 1950s compilation “speak” to (and some early 60s songs as well). Carl Perkins original Blue Suede Shoes (covered by, made famous by, and made millions for, Elvis). Or the Hank William’s outlaw country classic I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Naturally, in a period of classic rock numbers, Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue (or, like Chuck Berry and Fat Domino from this period, virtually any other of about twenty of his songs).
But what about the now seeming mandatory to ask question the inevitable end of the night high school dance (or maybe even middle school) song that seemed to be included in each of those CD compilations? The song that you, maybe, waited around all night for just to prove that you were not a wallflower, and more importantly, had the moxie to, mumbly-voiced, parched-throated, sweaty-handed, ask a girl to dance (women can relate their own experiences, probably similar). Here Elvis’ One Night With You fills the bill. Hey, I did like this one, especially the soulful, snappy timing and voice intonation. And, yes, I know, this is one of the slow ones that you had to dance close on. And just hope, hope to high heaven, that you didn’t destroy your partner’s shoes and feet. Well, one learns a few social skills in this world if for no other reason than to “impress” that certain she (or he for shes, or nowadays, just mix and match your preferences) mentioned above. I did, didn’t you? Touche Doo-Wop!
The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- From The Bob Feldman Blog- The Folkies From Muskogee-Oops-The Columbia Folk Protest Videos
Click on the headline to link to the Columbia Folk Protest Videos.
The Girls With The Gun-Simple Eyes-With Robert Mitchum And Jane Greer’s Out Of The Past And The Big Steal In Mind
The Girls With The Gun-Simple Eyes-With Robert Mitchum And Jane Greer’s Out Of The Past And The Big Steal In Mind
By Zack James
Duke Halliday was a piece of work. Yeah, the Duke was one of the last of the big burly no holds barred, no apologies given or taken, tilt a little at windmills if there was some kind of dame involved, take a punch or give one (hell he had been something like a contender when a kid in the days which fisticuffs was a way out of shantytown), take a slug, give a few back private detective. I am not sure whether the Duke ever read a book, even crime detective novels by the likes of Phil Morris, Deke Slade, Ray Chandler and Dash Hammett but he fit the mold. Would have provided a very nice model in his younger days for a late 1940s P.I. There has been much cyber-ink wasted, and I use that word with full intention, by Lance Lawrence (aided and abetted of late by columnist Leslie Dumont and new-comer self-styled legend slayer Will Bradley) trying to get a has-been California private eye named Lew Archer into the coveted P.I. Hall of Fame down in San Marcos. Wasted time and ink because this Lew guy fell down on the basics of his time, the basics for even being considered if you thought about the matter and that is wrestling one way or another with some femme while tackling whatever dim-witted case he was attempting to solve.
It at first was a little heart-rendering to see Lance and his acolytes try to work their literary magic for Lew but it became a joke the more I read about his trajectory from a guy with a ton of promise right after World War II solving the well-known Galton kidnap case and the Hartman serial murder splash on top of a few lesser cases. Somewhere along the way Lew lost it, lost that spunk that got him through those first cases (using by the way the classic taking a punch, taking a slug, taking a dame, taking a few shots from the bottom desk drawer bottle) and wound up doing hellish repo and keyhole peeping work for some angel of mercy female private detective in San Francisco who lifted him out of the wino piss-filled gutter (a dumpster according to Lance).
All that noise bothered me for a guy who was a drunk (and maybe hit the bong pipe when he was in the dough) and who knows what happened to him after that San Fran P.I. had to let him go once he started drinking again. Then I started thinking about the Duke, about a guy who I don’t know if he even would want to be called a gumshoe but who made the bad guys squeal when it was their time. See I had grown up on tales of Duke’s exploits from my brother Alex, a brother a decade older than I am. For Alex Duke’s resume was not what do they call it today, fake news and alternative facts, but the real deal. Alex, Alex James, yes, that Alex James, the well-known Boston lawyer who has gotten more bad guys out of more jams than anybody from the old neighborhood would have thought possible. Alex was the Duke’s lawyer during the latter part of his career and a very big reason why the Duke lived to a ripe old age jailhouse free was through Alex’s exertions on his behalf.
Those latter days though after Jane had run out on the Duke were a time when Alex and the Duke would become drinking buddies and many a night they would close Jimmy Jack’s down on the waterfront in Boston. They would swap lies and other truths and thereafter any time I would see Alex when I was in town for some conference or something, usually not to visit family since I was estranged from most of them back then we would have our own Jimmy Jack’s outings and he would come up with some tale before the night was over about Duke, about Duke before he pushed up good green earth. The one worthy of remembrance is the Duke on-going saga with his dear Lady Jane just to show Lance and his crowd what it was like when real private detectives, or guys who acted like real private detectives roamed the great American West night.
Duke Halliday had a funny feeling that he had seen her before, had seen her maybe one time when he was in Acapulco over by the ocean on other side of Mexico when Whit Sterling, yes, the legendary Reno gangster who made guys like Bugsy Siegel cry their fill and head to sweet water Vegas had sent him on a wild goose chase to find a dame who had beaten him for some serious kale and left no forwarding address. Dear Lady Jane. (By the way let’s be clear just like Duke was with Alex on the first telling at Jimmy Jacks’ it had nothing to do with amounts, hell, it was 40K, something Whit could turn in an hour without working up a sweat but with some twist, dame, woman running off making a fool of him.) It couldn’t be her though, could it, for that was a few years before and she was supposed to be dead, as he was. Couldn’t be her popping out of nowhere from where he was now landing in Vera Cruz on the eastern side of this benighted sweat-filled dusty road bracero country. (Not that it mattered anymore what with Whit safely in the RIP box but he had avoided Acapulco like the plague ever after just in case Carlos, his enforcer might be lurching anywhere looking for that big large he and his dear Lady Jane had run off with before splitting up to cover their tracks.)
Yeah this ghost of dear Lady Jane had come up on his from behind speaking some low-slung Spanish, gringo halting Spanish not loving tongue trill that even the sweaty braceros could sing-song, to a bracero that he had pushed aside, pushed aside hard and she had made her apologies for the whole gringo race to that besotted bracero and then levelled off and told Duke what was what in proper schoolteacher or something English. Those the days, the after World War II days when braceros were a dime a dozen to cull the crops in American fields and were being sent back south of the border when Johnny yellow-haired farm boy fresh from the Pacific Wars came back to dig the good green earth. Those too the days when any gringo could use any bracero for a doormat without apologies and without some dingbat telling the guy with the doormat eyes what was wrong with violating the brotherhood of man screed. Except this good-looking missionary dame or something who really did looking unnaturally like Jane who did not have a missionary bone in her body.
Missionary or not she had not gotten half way through her schoolmarm berating an errant student when he had had that funny feeling that while her hair was darker (the result of some man-made, maybe woman made secret formula to hide greys and other untoward colors), she was a little more shapely and had a couple of small crow’s feet showing around the eyes she was the spitting imagine of Jane, yeah, Jane who had tried to kill him, kill him good as they were heading to Baja California and the good life. Left him on the side of the road after having just crashed through a police blockade and with two big slugs in his almost heart leaving him for dead and for taking the fall, the big step-off fall if it came to that.
That funny feeling maybe not so funny because when he had seen Jane the last time she had already broken his spirit so badly that it would have taken emergency surgery, maybe more to put the broken pieces together. The story flashed through his now fevered brain almost as quickly as it happened. In those days he had been a pretty successful private eye, a shamus, and a pretty good one with a partner who maybe wasn’t so good but who covered his back, mostly. Yeah Duke had been known for taking no prisoners when he got on a case. Left no untidy pieces and was as anybody could tell from a quick look at him that he was built for heavy lifting, could handle himself in a tight corner, and could give and take a few swift punches. (Already mentioned that coming out of shantytown in Davenport he fought his way up the middleweight ranks and could have been a contender except “Uncle” called, Uncle drafted him and would not take no for an answer when the shit hit the fan at Pearl in 1941. After he got out he was too old, too wise, too freaking tired to go up against the ropes of younger, hungrier kids looking to mar him up to boost their own careers.) That bulk and rep is what brought him to Whit Sterling’s attention (via Carlos the enforcer who had seen him fight in Fresno).
Yeah, Whit who really did make the likes of Bugsy, Dark Carlos and Jimmy Swags cry their fill. In the days when he, Carlos, Ikie Dwight and Young Billie, his youngest brother and a stone-cold killer did their own work and didn’t hire out to some bracero gabacho private detective. Didn’t bring in a guy like the Duke or maybe even a guy like Phil Marlowe who broke the Sternwood case one afternoon clipping Whit’s old friend and Southern California stakeholder, read crime boss Eddie Mars’s wing and bedding the two wild sisters respectively one afternoon and had time for a late lunch and a nap. Yeah, bringing in guys like Marlowe and the Duke who learned how to do private detection after picking up errant matchbooks from the ground to light unfiltered cigarettes in the days when that was mandatory for shamuses along with the other attributes previously mentioned with “How to become a private detective in ten easy lesson” just fill out the form and sent the dough along, GI Bill payments accepted. Somebody had told Whit that once he ran the show in Reno he didn’t have to do the leg-breaking and knee-cap shooting himself. (Young Billy never learned that truth and was serving a dime for attempted murder up in the Q where he would have been somebody’s “girlfriend” without Whit’s connections.) But now Whit was a well-respected “businessman” and so guys like the Duke, smooth operators in their own rights were brought in as hired guns.
Whit though had as most guys, guys including big-time mobsters a woman problem, had it bad for a piece of fluff named Jane. Nothing but a work of art femme fatale and noting but big trouble from the first day she came out of some ditch in some Podunk (actually the wrong side of the tracks in Grand Rapids out in the Michigan or someplace like that) looking, always looking for the next best thing since she was about fifteen with that come hither look of hers and that was that the guys fell right in line. No heavy lifting for that gal, none. She had for kicks, for no known reason except that she could do it, that is the way she had explained it to the Duke when he caught up with her in some low-slung cantina in dusty back road Acapulco where the touristas never go, skipped out on Whit with a chunk of dough, about forty thou, not much today, not much then maybe either but being a big-time mobster meant no sweet pussy was going to do a dance of death on him. Not if he expected to stay on top of the totem pole. Whit sent roughed up and ready Duke to find her, bring her back if possible, bring back that fucking forty thou though even if he had to waste her. (The retainer Whit offered after a period of, well, financial difficulties and some bottom of the office desk drawer bottle trouble sealed the deal, Whit knew his way in that sense.) That waste her, waste the hot-headed and wild child Jane being perhaps necessary since she carried a very un-ladylike .32 and had used it on some long- ago lover whom she shot dead as a doornail, and walked. Walked when the jury believed that she had been raped by that guy. (Duke retailed to Alex the story that Whit mentioned to him from Jane that the guy had died with a smile on his face even after he realized that she had killed him for kicks, just because she could do it like some avenging angel. Closer to home Jane had clipped Whit too when she was in the process of her escape. (Whit was bandaged around the left shoulder the first time the Duke, he with Ikie Dwight along for the ride met.)
The trail to dear Lady Jane naturally led south to warm sunny cheap living Mexico. Duke had had no problem finding her, as if she had left a long trail of bread crumbs to lead him to her. Once he got a look at her, no, smelled that jasmine something scent she was wearing and which he could smell/feel a block before she entered the café where an informant told him she hung out he was a goner. And she after seeing those broad middleweight heavy-lifting shoulders, that clefted chin, those arms and hands that looked like they could handle just about anything-except a woman’s gun took dead aim at her new protector. They hit the sheets that first night, she almost raping him before they got to the bed, and they ran around for a while in Mexico before heading north until Whit got nervous and hired another private eye to ferret them out. In that confrontation Jane killed that trailing shamus after he knocked Duke out. Now the Duke could that Jane was a stone-cold killer and he wondered as he headed out of town and some safe haven if she had lured that foolish gumshoe with some come hither look, lots of promises about this and that like she did with the Duke and if he, the unlucky shamus had a smile on his face too when he faced his maker. Needless to say, Duke was not going to take the fall for her, not on murder one, not the big step off in some California prison grey concrete room with no windows. As far as Alex knew a rough and tumble guy like the Duke rolled with the punches, took the bad with the good but he never mentioned that he was hung up on that Jane and would wake up in the night calling her name but Alex only found out later a third party who lived in the Duke’s rooming house toward the end mentioned his occasionally weird (according to that now anonymous third party) desperate calls, sometimes in broken loveless Spanish.
Duke figuring it was his hard luck that he had picked a gun simple gal dropped out of sight, went underground really but he didn’t figure that Whit might have hard feelings about Duke taking his money, and his woman too. But Whit was built that way and one of his minions, they previously mentioned Carlos with Ikie Dwight in tow, found the Duke doing short order cook duty in a dinky café diner outside of Pacifica. The once famous Johnny’s Diner falling on hard times once U.S. 5 made the Pacific Coast Highway a drag with all those lights for a fast-moving, get there or else post-war crowd a perfect place to hide in open view dishing out yesterday’s stew, fat-laden hamburgers and dishwater coffee that would make Hayes-Bickford’s seem like God himself had brewed the beans. The joint now catered to the local bracero crowd pulling up weeds and onions in Gilroy and so Carlos, Spanish Johnny Carlos blended in. Nabbed Carlos brought the Duke in to see Whit, and Jane. Yeah, Whit was a piece of work as well hunting for Jane bringing her in and keeping her a prisoner of love (not her story to Duke when they had a moment telling him that Whit had raped her although Duke a little bit wiser now thought about that poor bastard who fell down to meet his maker with a smile on his face discounted the story). But bringing oil and water together was not good this time as Duke and Jane linked up again to do in Whit (both agreeing for their own reasons that Whit had to be done in, Carlos and Ikie Dwight too, or else neither life was worth a penny. The Duke, as usual and as proof positive that some guys never learn wound up doing the heavy-lifting taking Whit’s boys out one-two with a few nasty gashes to himself in the process. Here is the “never learn” part Jane placed two neat slugs into Whit’s heart as they were leaving. Never even looked back.
As they headed out of Reno in Whit’s automobile for freedom in the Baja they ran into that police roadblock which they ran and Duke sensing he was in for a rough tumble if he ever crossed Jane decided that he would turn himself in. Needless to say, Kathie did not like that idea and placed two neat slugs in what she though was Duke’s heart. While she was driving to crash the barricade to boot. The commotion though caused Jane to lose focus and caused the car to crash about a mile down the road from the blockade. Duke jumped out trying to get the hell away. Jane lay with her head over the steering wheel, maybe dead, maybe alive. That was the last he saw of her, the last time he had been in trouble over a woman who left him in the lurch, although he had his regular ration of relationship not understanding troubles with women after her, including Anne, after he squared himself with the coppers on the Whit killing and the Jane private eye frame-up beefs.
Now that he looked at her a second time Duke could see that although she looked very much like dear Lady Jane, and giving a few pounds and years gone by this was not her, although she did have for a moment in that altercation over the hermano, the bracero, that gun simple look in her eyes that he had come to fear but it may have just been coincidence. As for her, as for this Spanish-speaking missionary savior schoolmarm Joan, not from the wrong side of the tracks by any means but from proper Boise up in the Idahos she too had some sneaking feeling that she had met Duke before, had met him up in Reno one night when she was feeling frisky after a few drinks, after winning a few bucks at the gaming tables and feeling like she wanted a man that night had picked a guy with broad shoulders, big hands that knew where to be put them with a willing woman, and the ability to fend off any guy whom she didn’t want to deal with once she gave him her best come hither look. He who called himself Jeff then had the look that he had been built strictly for one-night stands which was fine by her that night as they hit the sheets without even knowing last names, also that night okay with her. A second look at this guy though said behind those sleepy blue eyes and that granite chin was long-time serious affairs not one-night stands. That gunplay or some other unknown evil might cross her path because of him.
Whatever elegance this Joan had gathered up in Boise didn’t mean a thing down in sunny Mexico, in cutthroat Vera Cruz with the cacti smothering the place once you got pass the city limits and in Mestizo lands where they look after they act once a sullen gringo, gringa comes through town, unescorted. No question though she was in a predicament and those broad shoulders might keep prying eyes off her. The story she would later tell the Duke, her predicament was just then trying to get a couple of thou back from the last guy who threw her over for some cheap laughing eyes Spanish whore who probably would give him a sexually transmitted disease. Duke rolled his eyes as if to say no way was he getting involved in some two-bit escapade. He knew though that she knew those big shoulders, those hands and those fighter eyes of his would come in handy in case she ran into trouble with Jim, Jim Fiske if that was his real name. He had a feeling of déjà vu just like with Jane sensing even before step one that this was trouble with a capital T but what she looked like she was ready to give to keep him in tow required a think.
Ah, the hell with it he had not been with a woman, Anne he was keeping in some virginal state to avoid some small Paseo Robles scandals, for a while. Duke with a new vision in mind looked her up and down and licked his chops and she took note that he ate her up, a conquest and she wasn’t even wearing her jasmine something scent that was guaranteed to get from a guy for a while whatever she wanted from sex to heavy-lifting. Their dance in a dance began. He asked her if she wanted a drink, she accepted, and they went into Senor somebody’s seedy saw-dust filled and bar girl-whore filled cantina. They drank for a few hours, talked the talk and headed to her place (he didn’t have a place, to her room in the Santa Fe Hotel, a place where the Duke would go everything he was in Vere Cruz thereafter, since he was just off the boat after pushing that helpless bracero around) and hit the sheets just the way they both figured when they compared notes the next morning. Here is the funny part, the part that would glue them together for the duration. Joan had a photograph of that last guy she had tangled with, the guy who had run out on her on her bedroom table face down.
When Duke turned the frame over and saw one Jim Fiske, real name or supposed real name for in the end it did not matter to anybody anywhere Johnny Brooks so let’s stick with Fiske he flipped out. Pulled out his revolver and carefully aimed it at Joan. She in turn turned around and pulled out her own gun. A draw. That was when upon inquiry Duke found out that simple schoolmarm wrong profession and gullible, although that gun smartened her up fast Joan and this Fiske had been lovers. Fiske was the guy who had taken a powder on her. More importantly to Duke, the reason he had taken quick-step dead aim at his new lover, this Fiske had waylaid him when he worked for a Wells Fargo branch office in Bay City carrying monies safely around California (no more freaking short order cook nonsense hiding from Whit, Carlos or that fanatic Ikie Dwight who put up the best fight when the deal went down with Jane or as a grease monkey in Paseo Robles after Johnny’s Diner in hellhole Pacifica closed) and taken some quarter of a million in cash from the bags strapped to his wrists with handcuffs. The Duke was pissed off for many reasons, but this Fiske’s scheme was set up so tight it was like taking candy from a baby. And the Duke was the baby.
Then Joan told her two-bit lover’s story complete with Jim con met while he was on the run. Met him in Tucson out near some desert trading post as he, and she, was heading south. He allegedly on business and she taking a summer vacation trip south to get the schoolmarm bleached out of her. Comparing notes they decided to work together, after another run under the sheets to seal the deal, seal the deal by request from Joan on this one (Duke was not sure that he cared for her sexual aggression in bed like being on top then or later but she had little tricks that he liked that usually only whorehouse whores knew).
They gathered information that Fiske had hit the highway for Mexico City a couple of days before the Duke-Joan meet-up where he probably would try to convert the cash he had stolen from Duke which any way one looked at it was hot as a pistol since one did not usually act so foolishly as to rob a Wells Fargo armored truck or its employees. They rented a car and headed west stopping along the way to give a description of the dapper Fiske who had the look of a solid gringo and not some stinking bracero. They had some trouble in a small town, really just a trading post and a cantina, over cashing a check. That is where Duke started buckling a little once Joan took out her little snub-nosed gun and forced the proprietor to cash the check. Duke just stood there with his jaw hanging until she told him to wise up and that they had better vamoose.
Having been given a description of Jim’s car from that scared witless bartender in his sleepy little siesta cantina they hit a little town and noticed a car fitting Jim’s description being worked on by some grease monkey with more ideas than brains. They waited around for Jim to show to pick up the car and a couple of hours later he did show up. With a look of surprise on his face at seeing Joan he sized Duke up and figured that at best in a mix he would get the worst of it and so he “cut” them in on the robbery dough still not knowing that Duke was the guy whom he had robbed. They travelled together uneasily until they hit the outskirts of Mexico City where they went up a private road and entered a big hacienda where Senor Blanco was waiting for Jim to deliver the hot money to fence. Jim took a cool one hundred thou in the transfer and was glad to get it. Duke then figured he was a goner, could never work security again. When the trio got outside though before Jim could say some words to Joan that maybe they should move on together without Duke Joan coolly put two slugs between his eyes. He fell like a tree. Joan just as coolly went over to the fallen Jim and swooped up the dough. Coolly asked Duke if he was up for the road ahead. Not sure just then that he had not played out this scene already he walked toward her and took the gun out of her hand. She didn’t resist since now she knew she those broad shoulders, big hands and silly schoolboy sense about sex working for her. Then took her arm as they walked out into the sunset but the look on his face said he would spend many sleepless nights watching over his shoulder for the other shoe to fall. Jesus, these gun simple women would kill him yet.
And so goes the legend….