Sinister Cinema: In Hilly Alabam

AlabamWhen last seen here on Up and Down These Mean Streets, Hollywood tour guide Charlie Morfin supplied us with a shot of the Dashiell Hammett Street sign when they got the spelling wrong — white hot news back in 2011, kicked off a little series of posts.

Plus he did some mugging in Burritt alley — not that kind of mugging, this kind of mugging.

And I always liked that shot of me and Charlie hoofing up Elwood alley.

Now it turns out he’s writing books, too. I glanced at the title Location Filming in the Alabama Hills and my first thought was, why the hell would some guy like Charlie — with a toehold in Hollywood — head off to Alabama?

A bit of attention paid to the blurb, though, tipped off that that’s the name of some hills outside LA where tons of movies have been shot. Looking at the rocks on the cover, I’m betting that the 1957 Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher oater The Tall T was shot there — great little movie, with Richard Boone, and Henry Silva chewing up the Alabama Hills scenery as a creepy psycho killer owlhoot. If they shot that one someplace else, Silva chewed up that scenery, too — came close to stealing the film with his performance.

For all you film fans — especially the ones who like to track down the shooting locales.

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Tour: Hot Off the Mean Streets

My gumshoes have barely stopped smoking after leading the tour yesterday and I learn that Bill O’Such already has a photo gallery up for any and all to see. He wasn’t lugging around that camera just for grins.

You’ve got some shots of me in hat and trenchcoat, of course, plus Hammett landmarks and literary plaques. But the selection is more offtrail than the usual you see when I run pics — whatever Bill wanted to shoot, signs, logos, fire escapes — even a photo of the old Key Klub bar. I have a wooden nickel from the Key Klub. Someplace.

The guy in the red shirt in one image was kind of the star attraction, because he reminded me so much of my pal and local Hammett stalwart Bill Arney that I almost couldn’t believe it. Could easily pass for brothers if not twins, and it wasn’t just the looks — similar sense of humor, the works. I haven’t seen a doppelganger in awhile now, but I have before, and I did yesterday.

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Tour: July 20 AND July 27


Okay, kind of last second, but some people asked about a tour on Sunday July 27 — and you may consider it a Go.

I figure the New York Times article may have kicked up enough dust to cause way too many people to show up for the walk on Sunday July 20. To take some of that pressure-cooker tension off, you could hold off a week and walk the walk on the 27th. Or wait it out a little longer and hit tours on Sundays August 10th and 31st — and Sunday September 31st. Plus others may get added in as the requests build up.

Have gumshoes, will travel.

In the shot above the tour pauses, as usual, across the street from 891 Post, abode of Sam Spade. I’m gesturing up to the windows (top story, rightmost panes). Did a tour by appointment yesterday and found that the broken, boarded-up windows I was talking about the other day have been fixed, and they look pretty much like the windows in this pic.

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Rediscovered: The Death of Willeford’s Grandfather


Michael S. Chong keeps surfing the net, looking for stray tidbits concerning the late great Charles Willeford. In with some other info he sent the above clipping, saying:

“As a bonus, a small biographical detail in the column ‘The Time Has Come’ by Ben Wasson from the Delta Democrat Times, Greenville, Mississippi, for Sunday, February 13, 1972. Willeford relates in a letter how his grandfather was killed, shot at his work desk with a shotgun.”

To read it easily, just click on the image and blow it up.

Until someone can prove it, I’m not guaranteeing that this story is true — obviously local newshound Ben Wasson has his doubts, too. If it was almost anyone else, I might accept it as 99% likely. But since it is Willeford, it could be true, partly true or just another story he made up. The “premeditated” bit sounds like classic Willeford spinning a yarn.

(And by the way, Michael keeps plugging away at short crime fiction, as well — he’s got more stories coming out: “Trespassing” in editor K.A. Laity’s Drag Noir and “Unredeemable” in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir from editors Claude Lalumière and David Nickle.)

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Frisco Beat: The Bragg Series by Jack Lynch

Front-Cover-215x330A new publisher operating under the handle Brash Books caught my attention recently — they’re planning on doing eBooks of the Tom Kakonis backlist, all of it, I think. Great news.

Even better news: they’re prepping a NEW Kakonis crime novel for release in a couple of months.

Needless to say, I will link the hell out of it, since Kakonis is one of the finest hard-boiled writers of recent years. I said so back in 1992 and I meant it.

But you might also be interested in another set of books they are picking up, the novels about Bragg, a San Francisco P.I., written by Jack Lynch.

I’m pretty sure I had some of those in the collection of San Francisco Mysteries I donated to Bancroft Library some years ago. If you’re poking around the edges of that collecting game, or just want to read everything you can get your mitts on with that local angle, here’s the chance. First one is The Dead Never Forget. Then several more, including Pieces of Death. Knock yourself out.

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Noir: Bum Rap

Andre Hunt of Smokin’ Mirrors dropped me a note about checking out his film Bum Rap: A Noir Fantasy — much of it shot in North Beach and Chinatown.

Not a lot of plot, but it is as much surrealist as it is noir (and surrealism always is kind of weak on plot). Takes ten minutes. Looks really sharp.

For those who crave more noir imagery, and I think that’s most of us.

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Sinister Cinema: Adios, Tuco


While I’m not even trying to mention the passing of every movie star, I’ve got to acknowledge the death of Eli Wallach (1915-2014) on June 24, taking out another third of the trinity from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

My occasional Guest Blogger Brian Leno and I talk about Wallach from time to time. If you know Brian’s article “Down the Rabbit Hole” from The Cimmerian V4n4, August 2007 you may remember the scene he describes where he had talked his parents into taking a detour on a family vacation and driving into Cross Plains, Texas, so Brian could see the Robert E. Howard house. (No museum open to the public then — Brian was only about eleven or twelve years old, making it around 46 years ago.) They started out from Bismarck, North Dakota, so I think his mom and dad get some kind of Parents of the Century Award.

They find the house and afterwards drive around a bit, coming across the graveyard about three blocks away. Not knowing that Howard was interred in a cemetery in Brownwood, some 40 miles distant, Brian told me he ran desperately among the tombstones like Tuco, looking for a grave that wasn’t there.

So, that Howard Days in 2007 as we walked from downtown back to the Howard House, I guided our direction so that we came up to that graveyard unannounced — and Brian had the sudden shock of recognition: this was it, this was the place where he had staggered and plunged among the tombstones like Wallach’s Tuco!

You’ll find that moment in his article, which won First Place Essay of the Year in The Cimmerian Awards voting — comprehensive coverage of Howard Days, made richer with his memories of that first trip with his family. Good essay. (I thought the Cimmerian Awards were savvy enough to carve out some credibility beyond just Howard fan circles, but when the awards moved over to the Robert E. Howard Foundation they instantly lost steam — the Best Essay awards often being especially weak, and in the most recent polling [if polling actually applies] only one Best Essay presented to a generic boilerplate article written by one of the people on the awards committee, which wouldn’t have made the cut a few years ago — oh well, the difference between awards that mean something in the larger world and getting a Gold Star on a grade school paper).

When Wallach died Brian remembered that he had gotten his autograph. Brian is a fan of Robert E. Howard — and Lizzie Borden. And the Old West. An expert on old time boxing. A Ripperologist of sorts.

But above all else he is an Autograph Hound.

Brian tells me, “I got his address from an autograph mag and sent a letter on September 18, 1997 — and he got two signatures back to me just eleven days later. Around this time I sent letters to a lot of celebrities. It was cool to see who would answer with an authentic signature, or a secretarial signature, or not at all. Peter Falk sent me a signed photo of him as Columbo, and Janet Leigh returned my letter with a couple of photos and a letter of her own. Class acts, most of them.”

From Wallach, Brian received two signatures. “One is just his name, but it would go pretty good with a photo from The Magnificent Seven.” The other Brian “really treasures,” and shares with us below:



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891 Post: The Mystery of the Boarded-Up Window


Sure, I guess I could take a picture of the boarded-up window in Sam Spade’s apartment, but it is just so sad and kind of pathetic that I don’t want to add the image to the social media — someone less sensitive to the feelings of literary site mavens can do the deed, like some cheesy Hollywood news channel.

The window in question is shown in the shot above — top floor, window at far right, just above the glasses. Next one to the left looks in on Sam Spade’s kitchen. The others have nothing to do with Sam Spade.

If you’ve gumshoed past 891 Post in the last week you may have noticed that the two main panes in the middle are gone, replaced — for awhile — by a plywood panel.

On Wednesday June 18 I noticed that the two panes were open, swinging out a little bit over Post Street. Didn’t think much about it. While the apartment is preserved as a shrine, of sorts, sometimes an Elite Visiting Writer/Seeking Inspiration/Thinking Deep Thoughts is allowed to stay for a few days.

The windows remained open on Thursday.

Ditto Friday.

On Saturday I pointed the still open windows out to some people and said they’d been open for days. It seemed kind of odd, but since it isn’t raining any more in Noir Town, not an emergency.

Then I gave the tour on Sunday June 22 — among other people, a guy named Mark Murphy came out — a longtime resident of 891 Post and a pal of Bill Arney from the era when Bill was the tenant of Sam’s Place.

In that bygone time they began referring to 891 Post as The Maltese Arms. . . .

I asked Mark if he’d noticed that the windows had been open for days. Nope, he hadn’t looked up. I told him we’d check when we rolled in to Post and Hyde.

The tour got there. Of the two bigger panes that had been open, the one to the right was GONE. Nothing. I looked around on the street, but the debris had been removed.

Only the mystery of what the hell happened remained.

I had been thinking of looking into it, but with Mark there decided to do a handoff to an actual Maltese Arms resident. He made a lateral inquiry to Bill Arney, who worked his sources — and here is what happened:

On June 15 someone — a cheesy Hollywood type, let’s say, kind of careless, like Wilmer Cook was with matches on La Paloma — shot some promo or whatever in the rooms. Maybe it was hot and stuffy, and someone opened the windows.

Maybe they wanted a breeze to roll in and make the currents billow, and opened the windows.

They left. And didn’t close the windows.

The panes hung open for a week and on the night of Saturday June 21 or early a.m. Sunday June 22 winds picked up (winds are the Main Suspect here), swung the panes back and forth and tore one off the hinges.

Broken glass spilled onto the mean streets.

And so another tidbit of history is added to the saga of 891 Post.

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Tour: Sunday July 20


I’m handling most of the demand for walks caused by the recent New York Times article by arranging groups by appointment during the week, but at least one out-of-towner asked for one on a Sunday — which I figure ought to take care of some suddenly enthusiastic locals, too.

So, anyone who has $20 and four hours to spare can show up at noon on Sunday July 20 and walk the walk. As easy as that.

My only advice for people who live in San Francisco or the Bay Area is that you don’t all have to show up at once, for this one tour. I also have walks planned for Sunday August 10 and August 31, plus Sunday September 21, and I’m sure other dates will open up. Yeah, I can calculate the economic advantages of having 200 people show up for $20 each (figuring out 17 people at $20 each, though, might take me awhile).

The point is: it is not as if I am a hot new restaurant, just reviewed, where you want to stand in line for hours. I’ve been around since 1977, and figure I can make it another few years. Don’t kill yourselves trying to get to this first walk post-Times.

The most people who ever just showed up, after a huge publicity barrage in the Sunday Chronicle, was 78 — and that’s nuts.

But, yeah, $1560 wouldn’t be a bad payday for four hours of gumshoeing up and down the mean streets. . . .

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Rediscovered: My First Time in the Times


I was chatting with a photo editor for the New York Times, narrowing down a date to meet the photog and shoot around a hundred pics for the Dan Saltzstein noir-in-San Francisco article that ran the other day — a hundred or more shots, and one gets selected.

I was telling her, It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been mentioned in the Times. The clippings are buried in my files, but I recall one major article from somewhere around twenty years ago, and at least a few times got a nod in the annual Travel round-up they do about visiting San Francisco.

The very first article in 1981, though, that was a landmark moment. You’ve never been mentioned in the Times, and now you have — journal-of-record stuff. I appreciate every return to those pages, but you can’t beat the thrill of that initial coverage by John Justice.

A year ago or so I was surfing around the web and found that the Times had put that first write-up online in kind of a retro archive, and figured I could link to it someday — another appearance in the newspaper now making a good excuse.

Now, I know I’m going to regret doing this link, at least a little bit — because inevitably someone is going to think the info from 1981 is the current scoop. No, that was 33 years ago, people. The phone number is long dead, the phone itself abandoned somewhere down the years, with the number living on as a voicemail nodule somewhere in the vaults of PacBell until it too got dropped. The addy in 537 Jones Street (the Continental Mail Service — Continental, get it?) was ditched, too, years back. The rates, the schedule — anything mentioned is all history now.

Some words got left out of the original print version — the “soaked research into low-life dives” should be “booze-soaked research” (I believe Dan Saltzstein also has reference to that activity in the most recent Times bit — some things never change).

And the version archived online merely lists Illustrations: drawing. The 1981 appearance featured a nice illo by Bob Gale, shown at the top of this post. I guess my files are better than those of the Times on some things, at least on the history of the Dashiell Hammett Tour.


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