16 July 2009

After Dark, My Sweet

She'd led a hard life for a long time, and it told on her face. But she had the looks, all right, the features and the figure. And sometimes--well, quite a bit of the time--she could act just as nice as she looked.

Jim Thompson, After Dark, My Sweet, 1955

Jim Thompson is one of those guys who doesn't bullshit around. He likes to get his characters going, and especially to get them thinking, and once they get to thinking they move inexorably to their doom. Imagine a bunch of small-time, small-town drifters, losers, and wannabes cooking up some half-assed scheme to get rich quick, and then suddenly, violently, actually going through with it. It goes to hell of course, messier and uglier than anyone thought possible. That's a Jim Thompson novel. After Dark, My Sweet is one of a long line of sad, sordid tales of the lost, mad, and lonely and the worlds that fall apart in front of them. It was made into a film of the same title in 1990. This surprisingly good neo-noir starred Jason Patric, Rachel Ward, and Bruce Dern. Ms Ward certainly fit the bill as Fay, and Mr Dern was perfectly cast as Uncle Bud. I had to warm up to Mr Patric as Collie--his quirks were annoying--but I think, in the end, his performance makes the movie work. The script was strong, borrowing heavily from the novel for dialog, and it moved along at a moderate pace. It was shot entirely in Indio, California (I thought it was Palm Springs) and the desert setting fit the bleak mood of the story. If you want good, contemporary noir, then give this film a chance. And if you want to read genuine, all-American, hard-boiled pulp fiction, then read Jim Thompson.

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