Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mystery History - The Silence Of The Lambs

It was 24 years ago today that The Silence of The Lambs was released on Valentine's Day. It had a difficult birth.

The film's predecessor, Manhunter, based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, had bombed at the box office and lost millions of dollars. Both Michelle Pfieffer and Sean Connery turned down the lead roles after reading the script, disturbed by the dark storyline. But it went on to gross 272 million dollars and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress (Jodie Foster).

Jonathan Demme agreed to direct the film even though financing had just fallen apart, and the studio was scrambling to find money for the project. Jodie Foster, who had been pushing for the lead role of Clarice Starling all along, was finally cast after Pfieffer turned it down. Anthony Hopkins won the role of Hannibal Lecter based on his performance in The Elephant Man.

Critics praised the film, in particular the dialogue and interaction between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. But the acclaim was not universal. Gene Siskel, one of the most influential movie critics at the time, gave it a thumbs down.

Much of the filming took place near Pittsburgh, PA. Ted Levine, who played the role of serial killer 'Buffalo Bill', later went on to star in the television comedy Monk as San Francisco detective Leland Stottlemeyer.

For more about this ground breaking movie, check out this article by Roger Cormier, 18 Things You Might Not Have Known About 'The Silence of the Lambs'.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Writers Born Today - Michael Lister

It's the birthday of award winning novelist Michael Lister. More than just a crime writer, his work transcends the stereotypes usually associated with mysteries and thrillers. Publisher's Weekly said of  his prose "it ranks with the best of contemporary noir fiction", and best selling writer Michael Connelly added, "Lister takes a poet's view to the novel. His words skip on the waters of the imagination like well-polished stones."

Born and raised near the Apalachicola River in Florida's Panhandle, most of his stories are based in the region. He worked in the Florida Corrections system as a prison chaplain for many years, and this provided the fodder for his early work. His first novel in the successful John Jordan series, Power In The Blood, was well received and has led to nine more books in the series. His latest novel, Blood Cries, comes out today.

He also wrote a historical thriller series featuring Jimmy Riley, a PI from Panama City, including The Big Goodbye and The Big Beyond. Writers who have influenced his style include Ernest Hemmingway, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, and Cormac McCarthy.

Lister won the Florida Book Award for his novel, Double Exposure, in 2009. Set in the Florida panhandle, it revolves around a photographer whose camera captures a murder scene and puts him in mortal danger when the killer returns.

To read my review of his chilling suspense novel Double Exposure, click here.

You can read an excellent interview with Michael Lister at Jen's Book Thoughts. And to learn more about this outstanding writer (and get a free book), visit his website.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mystery History - The Petrified Forest

It was 79 years ago today, February 8th 1936, that The Petrified Forest made its big screen debut.  The story centers around Alan Squier, a carefree drifter (Leslie Howard) and the waitress Gabrielle Maple (Betty Davis) he falls in love with at a remote diner in Arizona.  They, along with other unlucky patrons, are held hostage in the diner by notorious gangster Duke Mantee, played by Humphrey Bogart. Alan waxes philosophically about Mantee, society and the choices people make. In the end, he sacrifices his own life for Gabrielle so she can pursue her dream of living as an artist. Bogart brought an intensity and gritty realism that was a perfect foil to Howard's dreamer character. Critics raved about the new "tough guy" in Hollywood.

Although the role of Duke Mantee was a breakthrough role for Humphrey Bogart, his name wasn't prominent on movie posters since this was his first major film. Top billing went to Betty Davis and Leslie Howard, who were much better known at the time.

Bogart wasn't even the first choice for the gangster part. The studio wanted Edgar G. Robinson, who was already established as a gangster in films such as Little Caesar and The Hatchet Man. But Leslie Howard wanted Bogart to repeat the role he had played so well in the Broadway production with him. Howard was a leading man and he got his way. Bogart even studied film clips of notorious bank robber John Dillinger in an effort to learn the gangster's mannerisms for the movie role.

The part of Duke Mantee propelled Bogart from a character actor to a major star, and Bogart never forgot Leslie Howard's efforts on his behalf. He even named his daughter after Leslie Howard. In 1955, Bogart played the role of Duke Mantee one more time in a television adaptation of The Petrified Forest for Producer's Showcase. The role of Alan Squier was done by Henry Fonda and Gabrielle Maple was played by Lauren Bacall, Bogart's wife.

The Petrified Forest was one of the biggest gangster films of the decade, and Otto Penzler's Mysterious Press ranks it in their list of the Top 101 Greatest Films of Mystery and Suspense.