A Tough-Guy Film Fest With George Pelecanos Novelist George Pelecanos knows crime: He's authored 16 detective novels set in Washington, D.C., and has written and produced for HBO's The Wire. Pelecanos shares his recommendations for great films featuring gangsters, gamblers and gun battles.
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A Tough-Guy Film Fest With George Pelecanos

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A Tough-Guy Film Fest With George Pelecanos

A Tough-Guy Film Fest With George Pelecanos

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When we asked Mr. Pelecanos to recommend a few DVDs, he went for Hollywood studio movies with lots of drama.

M: There's been this tendency to anoint independent film as some sort of sainthood in the last 20 years. And I don't think that a movie with two people sitting in a room talking is inherently better than a movie that has a plot...


M: ...and that there's been a lot of money spent on it.

INSKEEP: I love that you begin your list here with "In a Lonely Place," which, if I'm not mistaken, is the Humphrey Bogart movie, right?

M: Yes.

INSKEEP: Or a Humphrey Bogart movie, not his most famous, but what's it about?

M: It's about a screenwriter in L.A. who is accused of murder and his neighbor in the apartment complex where he lives, played by Gloria Grahame, alibis him. And slowly, she begins to doubt his innocence, because he has a very dark and violent nature. He's a writer.

INSKEEP: This is something you know well.

M: Yeah.


M: (As Dixon Steele) It's a good thing you like my face. I'd have been in a lot of trouble without you.

M: (As Laurel Gray) I only told the police what I saw. I have no idea what you did after you closed your Venetian blinds.

M: (As Dixon Steele) No? Oh, you'd be surprised. I went to bed. Last night, I shouldn't have closed my blinds. You know, Ms. Gray, you're one up on me. You can see into my apartment but I, I can't see into yours.

M: (As Laurel Gray) I promise you, I won't take advantage of it.

M: (As Dixon Steele) I would if it were the other way around.

M: What I really like about this picture is that it's a film noir but it gets away from the cliches of film noir, the visual cliches, meaning the shadows. It's about the psychological aspect of the genre, the psychosis, the claustrophobia, and it's a tragic love story. She made a career out of playing film noir victims and she's never been better than in this movie. She's beautiful. She's just a superb actress.

INSKEEP: Who's this? Who's this?

M: Gloria Grahame.

INSKEEP: Oh, Gloria Grahame, okay.

M: Yep. And a little bit of trivia is that director Nicholas Ray was going through a divorce with her while making this picture.

INSKEEP: So the director was able to put a little bit of personal life on the screen.

M: Well, you can see it in her performance that she's really broken up.

INSKEEP: Hmm. What about "Hour of the Gun"? The director is John Sturges.

M: Yeah, from 1967. I could have - every one of these pics could have been Westerns. That's my favorite genre. I picked "Hour of the Gun" because it's a relatively unsung picture. And what's interesting about this one is it's the dark side of the Wyatt Earp legend. It's the aftermath of the O.K. Corral.

INSKEEP: What happens to Wyatt Earp in this one?

M: But there's a scene where Jason Robards deputizes Texas Jack Vermillion, who's played by William Windom. And you can watch that over and over again because Goldsmith kind of builds the music up and then they cut to a stagecoach coming across the landscape and the music kind of wells up. Man, that's great movie making right there.


M: (As Doc Holliday) Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear to enforce the laws of the United States of America and the territory of Arizona to the best of your ability, so help you God?

M: (As Texas Jack Vermillion) Well, you must be out of your mind.

M: (As Doc Holliday) Say, I do.

M: (As Texas Jack Vermillion) I do.

M: (As Doc Holliday) You are now a deputy federal marshal.

M: (As Texas Jack Vermillion) I am?

M: (As Doc Holliday) There's $15,000 reward money in this. Spence, Brocious and Warshaw.

M: (As Texas Jack Vermillion) Dead or alive?

M: (As Doc Holliday) Arrest and conviction. The way you handle a gun, you're lucky that's the way it is.

M: When do we start?

M: (As Doc Holliday) Right now.


INSKEEP: What's that make you feel when you listen to that?

M: It gives me the chills.

INSKEEP: The chills because, what?

M: It's perfect.

INSKEEP: Well, what about another movie on your list here. It's called "The Seven-Ups"? Where does that fit in?

M: But it's almost like accidentally they made a great crime film. And it's one of these New York on-location films that are time capsules from the '70s. The story is kind of confusing. It's about guys who are taking off loan sharks and Mafia types, but the movie gets by on atmosphere and action. And the chase scene really delivers. It's between a hopped-up Pontiac Ventura and a Bonneville.


U: (Unintelligible), he shot a cop. I'm on the job.

U: He's going for the bridge. Close it up.

U: We got him (unintelligible).

M: When I saw this in 1973 in the movie theater, people were literally up on their feet screaming and clapping and that's what a movie can do. It's awesome(ph).

INSKEEP: What makes that so much better than any other car chase? "Smokey and the Bandit," what makes it better than "Smokey and the Bandit"?

M: Well, that was cartoonish, but I'll talk about - take a film like "Gone in 60 Seconds." That was like a video game. It was shot like a video game. It didn't look real at all, and so you get no visceral pleasure out of it. And I can tell you that in "The Seven-Ups" when Roy Scheider drives the Ventura under a parked truck and the top of the car is sheered off, when they show him getting out of that car, sitting up, he's pale as milk. You know, you can't act that. He was in a fast car doing that scene.

INSKEEP: Hmm. So how do you watch movies when you're not in a theater?

M: Well, I like...


M: I like the traditional way. I like there to be a lot of quiet and I don't like to get up. I don't like people I'm watching the film with to get up and go to the bathroom or to, you know, grab a beer or whatever. I want to watch it as if I'm watching it in a theater.

INSKEEP: Oh, so if I'm watching a movie with you, I better bring my beer beforehand.

M: Yeah, I think you should, and also some - an empty cup.


INSKEEP: Well, George Pelecanos, thanks for coming by.

M: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Writer George Pelecanos' latest novel is "The Way Home," and you can find his full list and watch clips of his recommended DVDs at our Web site, npr.org.


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