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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Excellent Book Alert

Scoundrels & Spitballers Is a Reading Must

A test of any book might be, how voracious is your reading of it? Mine for Scoundrels & Spitballers, new from Black Pool Productions, was such to cover all of 370 pages in two days, no skimming, skipping, or speed-through. I go close and slow when a thing is good, not wanting the best of books to end, and sorry when they do. Portions of this were so funny, I had to set it down to recover from laughing, author Philippe Garnier's a same kind of wit as story tellers he celebrates. Scoundrels & Spitballers, about second-tier writers of Classic Era Hollywood, is sort you want to get thicker as you go, like scroll down an online page that never stops feeding. Garnier spoke with most of his subjects years ago while they still among us. Others were longer gone, but recalled well by contemporaries who did survive to speak vivid of them. Names like John Bright, Rowland Brown, Horace McCoy were behind pictures we admire, yet we know little of those who conceived them, so here is chance to fix that, and understand better what the creative process was like before directors were assigned and shooting got underway. Those most knowing will tell us a good show was clenched soon as its basic yarn was spun, ones done by a John Bright (The Public Enemy), or A.I. Bezzerides (They Drive By Night), enabling bows by others who merely followed their lead. Someone had to come up the big idea, Scoundrels & Spitballers proposing, correctly, I think, that those someones were the writers. Remember Public Enemy’s grapefruit? Everyone from WB’s washroom attendant down claimed inspiration for it, but there the thing was, all along, in Beer and Blood, novel from which the film was adapted. Nathaniel West, Marguerite Roberts, W.R. Burnett, each and more get (over)due recognition in Scoundrels & Spitballers, even as we wish it had come sooner for them to know how much their work meant (still means) to us. But then reward, they say, comes in the doing where best writers are concerned, so maybe reward was sufficient for knowing you were the guy who dreamed up the grapefruit, even as others gorged on it. And money was good, 30’s film writing in other ways a hard luck craft, extent to which I but lightly understood before now. Too many scribes were badly used, taken gross advantage of, having what fun they could of life before a next anvil fell. They drank to excess, imprudently at the least, quitting assignments, cussing out, or assaulting, supervisors. They’d marry not wisely, but sometimes well. Surprising how many tied on to heiresses, or socialites with cash. These men had survival instinct to go with story skill. Marrying for love was for chumps, it seems. Clever concepts was their coin of the realm. A career could launch from one fresh idea, even if none so promising came again. Too many regarded themselves hacks, whores, sellouts, result conduct hurtful more to themselves than those they hurt, which numbered plenty. Few finished comfortably. But these aren’t necessarily sad stories, for like free thinkers anywhere that follow their own star, writers did what they chose with lives they’d let no one live for them. Theirs was creative work even as it was inscribed on sand. They’d be surprised when anyone sought them out, having come of a time when status was had only between covers or adapted to a stage. Movies paid more, just not enough for honor lost in writing them. But guess what … the best movies survive better than so-called best plays, or even literature, from down trod 30’s, and unsung subjects of Scoundrels & Spitballers wrote them. Here’s where we can understand and applaud them at last.

NOTE: Scoundrels & Spitballers is not available from Amazon. Get it instead, and direct, from Black Pool Productions. I ordered from them, and received the book pronto. Black Pool is Eddie Muller's publishing company. He offers several new books on noir topics that look good.   

4 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

John Bright fine tuned Mae West's screenplay for SHE DONE HIM WRONG.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, as much as your rave means to me, all I needed to see was "I loved this book..."--Kevin Brownlow before I hit "PURCHASE RETAIL!"

-Jeff M.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Ordered!!!

3:30 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

Might order it, sounds interesting.

8:20 PM  

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