Film Noir

Film criticism for movie fans who want to think again about their cine thrills.



Point Blank, 1967, USA, Director John Boorman

I once asked Walker about his christian name.  He took a while to answer.  ‘Well?’ I said.  ‘You wouldn’t like it,’ he said.  After that I always called him Walker and he called me Millie because my name was Ann Miller.  He could have called me Miller, of course, but Walker wasn’t that kind of man.  He liked a woman to look up to him.  The truth is I’m a sucker for broken tough guys.  I have a decent and reliable husband but Jim is anything but tough and the way he lives his life he ain’t even bruised.  Walker and me became friends, and how it was at home there were no objections from Jim.  I liked to spend a lot of time at the Lake, and Jim knew it.  Walker liked to fish and after we met he liked to talk.  That was what we did, just talked.  

Walker arrived in Bridgeport around 1970.  The Kid had come back home a couple of years before.  Calling him The Kid has something to do with him not being able to hear or speak.  But The Kid came back to Bridgeport as a man and a different man from what we expected.  The Kid that left Bridgeport had a sweet smile.  The man that returned was still friendly but you mentioned Marney or what he’d been up to down in Los Angeles and a scowl would soon appear on his face.  I didn’t think The Kid had it in him but he must have had bad memories.  I said all this to Walker one time.  ‘We all have bad memories,’ said Walker.  And then he said something that surprised me.  Walker wished he could remember more.  He wasn’t talking about forgetting things but not seeing the full picture, like imagining rooms without the furniture.  ‘Too many memories are like dreams,’ said Walker. 

When The Kid came home he bought back the garage he’d sold to pay for him and Marney to go and live in LA. But before all that The Kid had worked in the garage with Jeff Markham.  Second time around The Kid gave Walker a kind of job.  Walker pumped petrol some days and did odd things around the place.  At the lake where we met, Walker fished and chopped trees.  By the time Walker appeared in Bridgeport we had a restaurant and not just the coffee shop Marney had left behind.  The tourists have increased over the years but most of them just pass through.  Walker lived pretty well.  He sold firewood and fish to the people in the town.  Saturdays he would put a stall by the side of the highway.  I would buy him a pack of cigarettes a couple of times a week.

I reckon I know just about everything about Walker.  We talked a lot out there by the lake and we shared secrets.  Walker knew about me and Jeff Markham which was why he felt he could tell me everything.  Walker only robbed the payroll in Alcatraz because he had a friend that was in trouble.  ‘Everybody thinks you’re a vicious criminal,’ I said.  ‘They’ve heard awful tales.’   Walker just grinned.  ‘Most of that stuff is about this hoodlum called Parker,’ said Walker.  ‘They confuse the names.  Millie, believe me, I just did this one job in Alcatraz.  It was a favour to my buddy, Mal.  I thought he was my friend.’   Walker stopped talking and stared at the lake for God knows how long.  I remember that so well. ‘And?’ I said.  ‘Mal tried to kill me.  I thought he was my friend but he wasn’t.  I thought my wife loved me but she didn’t.’

The rest of that afternoon I let Walker talk.  He put down his fishing rod, lit a cigarette and told me almost everything.  I sat and listened and thought how I couldn’t say any of this to Jim because he’d say I was only listening to Walker because I hadn’t got over Jeff Markham.  I hadn’t and I never will but that wasn’t why I spent time with Walker or not the only reason.  I just thought Walker needed someone to listen to him.  He talked a lot about his life as a Marine and how it toughened him up which he said he liked a lot but it left him feeling empty which he didn’t like at all.  Walker liked a drink but I knew he had his reasons.  We agreed that he had to stick to the beer which, all the time I knew him, he did.  ‘Millie,’ he once said to me.  ‘Guys like me have the armour on the inside.’  Walker was not long out of the Army when he met Mal.  Walker, Mal and Lynne, that was the name of Walker’s wife, they robbed the money in Alcatraz together.  She must have been some tough lady, I thought.  And then Walker told me the poor woman couldn’t sleep nights and killed herself, and I didn’t know what to think.  I said to Walker that his wife must have known his first name when they married.  ‘She didn’t like it, either,’ said Walker.

The tale about Alcatraz and what Mal, Lynne and Walker did there chilled me but I’d had practice with Jeff Markham and I’d also spent too many afternoons thinking about Jeff and how he died.  So I listened.  ‘Alcatraz was bad,’ said Walker, ‘but what followed was worse.’  Because Mal needed all the money for him and Lynne, he shot Walker in the stomach and left him for dead in Alcatraz.  Walker was wearing a money belt. The money was not in it, Mal had all the money, but the belt and its buckle were thick enough to stop the bullets killing Walker.  The next two days Walker recovered his strength and got himself clean in the sea.  The ferry that took the tourists to Alcatraz arrived, and Walker sneaked a trip back to the mainland.  

Walker wanted his share of the money that he had stolen with Mal and Lynne.  But Mal had used all the money to pay off his debt to these crooks that run the criminal syndicate.  I didn’t understand why but these crooks accepted the money from Mal and gave him a well paid job.  The rest you can guess or at least half of it.  Nobody wanted to pay Walker what he was owed.  I never saw much of his stubborn side but I do know that he wouldn’t bother with people who wanted him to knock down the price of his fish and firewood.  He would just turn and walk away.  Walker was honest with me.  He left a trail of destruction, he said.  I heard about the fights in detail.  Walker had hurt people but apart from Mal he didn’t kill anyone and Mal was an accident.  ‘I don’t lose sleep over, Mal,’ said Walker.  ‘Lynne is different.’  He showed me her pictures.  She was a beautiful girl.

Walker never did get the money he was owed although I was not sure why Walker felt the organisation owed him money because as far as I could see it was their money in the first place.  That’s right, Mal was robbing the people he owed.  But Walker felt he was entitled.  This man called Fairfax felt Walker deserved the money because the chaos Walker had caused meant that this man Fairfax was now in charge of everything and what was ninety three thousand dollars to a large criminal organisation that made money hand over fist.  Walker and Fairfax went back to Alcatraz because, like before, money was still being left there by the syndicate.  All ninety three thousand dollars was wrapped up and lying there on the floor of an empty prison and waiting to be picked up by Walker.  

‘Millie, I just walked away,’ said Walker.  ‘From the money?’ I said.  And then Walker lit a cigarette and stared at the lake.  I waited until Walker finished his cigarette.  ‘I don’t regret it, Millie,’ he said.  ‘For a while I wondered if I was just spooked by the place, or by this guy Fairfax who’d got everything he wanted and held all the aces or this big bright light on the helicopter that dropped the money.’   I waited while Walker played around with the line on his fishing rod.  His messing must have lasted ten minutes.   I didn’t mind.  I stared at the lake, and it was a sunny day.   I thought about what he said and just what this guy Fairfax had been doing while Walker was fighting everyone.  I had time.  Walker said, ‘I don’t know why I walked away but I don’t regret not taking the money.  And I think I knew at the time I wouldn’t, knew that if I’d taken the money after everything happened, I’d have nothing left.  You know what I mean, Millie?’  That is the only time since I’ve known Walker that I imagined what it would have sounded like if Jeff had called me Millie.  ‘Nothing left to live for?’ I said.  Walker smiled and said nothing but I knew I was right. 


Walker never threw a punch, didn’t even raise his voice with anyone here in Bridgeport.  He would just walk away from trouble like he did when people didn’t want to pay his price for his fish and firewood.  I picture him at the side of the highway and sitting next to his fish and firewood stall and reading this book about King Arthur and Lancelot that he loved.  I once bought him the famous book about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, the one written by the English guy called Mallory, but Walker couldn’t settle with that.  He liked the tale to be told in a simple way.  ‘How many times have you read that book?’ I said.  ‘It helps with the memories,’ said Walker.  I know there is or was a brutal man somewhere deep inside Walker but the man I knew was strong but lonely and the loneliness makes a difference.  It can make a man gentle.  Some men are just best when they are not around people or the wrong kind of women.  Walker was like that.  I was heartbroken when he died, he was carrying some lung disease that they have down there in Los Angeles.  Occi or valley fever I think they call it. 

Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here. 



Kiss Me Deadly, 1955, USA, Director Robert Aldrich

Do I mind you smoking?  You’re kidding me.  Of course I’ll have a cigarette with you.  Believe me, in my time I’ve had a lot more to worry about than Mike Hammer.  Me, I would describe the man as direct.  Mike didn’t make concessions to no one.  First, he wanted to know what was in it for him, and, second, he was rude to anyone that tried to mess him around.  There are plenty of people who just don’t get the idea or have their own messages.  When that happened Mike could be handy with his fists, and I’d be lying if I said throwing his weight about didn’t appeal to him.  Mike and me were different but we liked one another.   He was a good man to have on your side even if we clashed about what was the right thing to do.  

Mike Hammer had this idea he could take the law into his own hands.  I told him the police department couldn’t and didn’t tolerate that kind of thing and we wouldn’t, even if he could scrape the dollars for a Batman cape.   Mike hadn’t even heard of Batman.  He was offended by me mentioning comic books.  More than once Velda claimed his taste was more sophisticated than his manner although I never saw Mike Hammer read a book.  He liked good music, though.  I remember that.  He had this reel to reel tape recorder on the wall but that wasn’t for music.  He used it for telephone messages, the first time I’d ever seen anything like that.

‘Pat,’ he used to say, ‘how the hell did you get to Lieutenant?’  I said the same thing to him every time.  ‘I do my job and listen to what I’m told.’  It made no difference.  Mike always wondered if I might be sucking up to the guys that ran the department.  Most of the time, though, Mike Hammer gave me the benefit of the doubt.  And when he took the law into his own hands I bawled him out but I always covered for the brute or I did as much as I could.  He took more knocks than he should have but that was because of the way he operated.  Mike was no Sherlock Holmes.  He liked to push people around and get his information that way.  And he did it because he could which meant he often pushed around people that already had enough problems.  Sometimes, though, he looked out for them.   He had a soft spot for this Greek mechanic that fixed the cars, not that it did the Greek guy any good.  Mike liked to drive fast convertibles but he had no idea what was under the hood.  My boss said something about how Mike Hammer was too interested in machines that had power he did not understand.  If only Mike had stayed away from fast cars and that cursed box that blew up all of Malibu beach.  

Mike Hammer may have been small-time but he won most of his battles.  Of course like everyone else in his line he had to do his share of divorce work.  The guys in the Crime Commission gave Mike a hard time over how he earned his living but a guy has to eat.  And the same went for Velda.  She led the husbands on because Mike asked her to and because the two timers were there to be led.  Did she sleep with the guys to get the grounds the wives needed for divorce?  I don’t think Mike would have let Velda do that.  He had a thing about the lady even if most of the time he kept her at a distance.   Mike Hammer didn’t like to mix business with pleasure although after he had been put into hospital for three days he did weaken and let Velda get close.  Looking back, in view of what happened, I’m glad he did.  Mike and Velda were entitled to a little comfort before they died.  I wonder if Velda would have led the husbands so far if Mike had paid her more attention.

Of all the guys to get cancer I thought Mike would have been the last in the queue. Losing out to cancer was not in the script for two fisted Mike Hammer.  Do I think it had something to do with the explosion on Malibu beach?  You’re kidding me.  First, both Mike and Velda died of high grade leukaemia, second, the whole of Malibu beach and a lot more besides was turned to cinder.  How the fire department even got Mike and Velda out of the ocean is beyond me.  It must have been all hands to the pump or in this case pumps.  

I know the rumours, how Mike Hammer and Velda are supposed to be up there in New York doing their best to clean up the city and avenge the victims they find.  Let’s try to talk sensibly.  First, I like the stories as much as anyone.  Second, Mike is as old as me and I’ve been retired for a decade.  Even if he was alive he wouldn’t be walking the streets and fighting criminals, more likely making coffee for Velda.  Third, Mike and Velda went to New York for hospital treatment.  That was the only reason.  The doctors back East said the same as out here, high grade leukaemia.  Fourth, not only has no one been allowed on Malibu beach since it happened, the highway past Malibu is still blocked off.  What was in that box may not have quite blown up the world but we are talking about serious radiation. There is more chance of JFK being alive than Mike Hammer.

Mike and me would have the odd beer together.  I was a cop that went by the rules.  Mike had his own code.  A beer helped us forget our arguments.  There was this jazz joint in Bunker Hill he liked, and, you know something, the folk in that place liked him.  The club had this lady singer.  She sang this tune that Mike liked, something about rather having the blues than what you’ve got.  There was plenty of work in Los Angeles in the fifties and plenty of clubs and bars.  People had money to spend but they had plenty to worry about as well.  There were unwashed beatniks, and kids were going to hell.  We had all this stuff with the Russians and nuclear bombs.  On the TV we had to watch programmes about how to build bunkers for the nuclear fallout.  And for those who didn’t want to think about such things one of our neighbourhoods was called Bunker Hill except all the mansions up there were being used as flop houses. 

California has plenty of beaches and plenty of sunshine but we had enough sad cases renting rooms out in Bunker Hill for cops like me to wonder about our supposed good times.  I’ve worked in the LAPD all my life, and that’s the difference between Mike and me but what we had in common was what we saw.  And that was the crooks for whom good times would never be enough and the losers living lives as lonely as the dollars in their pockets.   See that everyday and you wonder if the old blues might just be better than what you’ve got.

I wonder if all that had something to do with why Mike couldn’t let go of the business with Christina Bailey.  In the beginning Mike thought there was money in it for him but when I told him that the government was involved he still continued poking his nose around which surprised me.  The whole business was weird.  Mike takes a phone call from a science fiction journalist that has disappeared, and I’m told to bring Mike into line because there is a missing box that is a serious leftover from the Manhattan Project.  But women make a difference to everything.  Picking up a woman wearing nothing but a trench coat is something you don’t forget, especially when it happens in the middle of the highway late at night.  Mike couldn’t abide anyone that killed a woman, especially if the man got away with it.  Hearing Christina Bailey tortured the way he did would have affected Mike.  And he was frantic when Velda disappeared. 

 It’s true.  He did hand over to me the key to the locker where he found the box.  Mike was like me.  First, we are Americans, and second, we don’t like commies.  The Russians have a nuclear bomb, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have ten is the way I see it.  Let’s keep the world safe.  Mike wouldn’t have crossed the government and his country.   The bad news for Mike was that the bad guys got to the box before we could.  Who were the bad guys and how did they get hold of the box in the first place?  Plenty of important people have been curious.  We’ll never know.  The head guy was rumoured to have been a doctor.  A guy in a bar said something odd to me the other day.  Imagine, he said, one of these days we’ll blow up the planet in a nuclear war.  No one will be left, and no one will know who is to blame because everyone will be dead.  I’ve thought a lot about what he said.  We couldn’t point a finger at who caused what happened at Malibu, so a whole apocalypse would leave no trace.  It doesn’t seem right that afterwards no one will be able to say who caused the end of the world.  I just hope that I’m not around.

Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.