film noir and what’s left out



The Big Sleep, USA, 1946, Director Howard Hawks

Nobody tells the same tale twice.  Think about it, smart guy Eddie Mars walks into this trap made by a two bit detective called Philip Marlowe.  Every day is how often I think about what happened next.  No one believes me but it was Sid that opened fire first.  Me, I like to think things through.  Sid was different, was never partial to thinking.  Sid fires, bang, bang, bang, and my old trigger finger has to be in on the action.  Eddie was a good boss.  The man had manners and he had it figured, too.  Women said he was handsome, even with that small scar he had under his right eye.  The guy dressed well.  What Eddie Mars spent on clothes I don’t like to think about.  Maybe if I did, it would stop me thinking about how I plugged my own boss, a guy who never said a cross word to me.  

Eddie collected people, and I was one of them but I’d been around.   Sid was different.  Sid was a dope with a grin to match but Eddie liked Sid.   Ambition is a curse in the rackets, and Sid didn’t have it.  Sid was loyal. After we killed Eddie, I stayed with the smart guys.  Even if it was an accident, somebody had to take the fall for Eddie, and Sid was the popular choice.  Me, I work and breathe but the boys made sure I don’t do so well.  You’ve noticed the missing fingers.  Wait till you see me walk.  The fingers I don’t miss but the wounds in my leg have teeth that get sharper the older they get.  

In this kind of business you meet a lot of guys that have tempers.  I wouldn’t say Sid had a temper but he was prickly.  He liked the last word.  Sid was that kind of guy.  The detective Marlowe was the same.  More than once I’ve asked myself would Sid have been as quick to pull the trigger if he hadn’t wanted it so much to be Marlowe walking out the door.   I mean, it was dark but if we’d just looked.  If Sid had just let Eddie walk forward a couple of steps so we could see him or just hear him say something.  Sid didn’t wait, and he sure as hell didn’t like Marlowe.

The place is still there in Las Olindas.  It’s still open and fancy although now they use it as a hotel for the loaded.  A lot of the Las Olindas crowd moved to this casino that they had hid at the back of the Florentine Gardens, which was a big swanky restaurant owned by a big wheel called Mark Hansen.  These days at the Las Olindas you don’t need an ID to stay there, just a Cadillac.  When Eddie ran it as a casino for the high rollers, he called it The Cypress.  All sorts played the tables.  We had movie stars, rich businessmen, mob guys and drop dead babes that wanted some of what the rich guys had.  I’m no looker but sometimes the babes would fall off prickly trees.  With nowhere to go they just wanted a guy to show them a good time in good places.  That I can do.    

In the back of The Cypress they had a room where some of the hot musicians from Hollywood relaxed.  No gambling, just music and top dollar booze.  Vivienne Rutledge liked to go there and warble the odd tune.  The musicians went along with her because the fancy lady had cash and powerful friends.  But she couldn’t do with a tune what those Hollywood folks did.  To be fair the babe had style.  Eddie Mars called it class.  This is where Eddie went wrong.  He didn’t just collect people.  People you can live with.  Eddie liked to collect dames, the upper berth kind, you know what I’m saying?   Marlowe never had more than two bits but he also picked up fine upholstery along the way.  He even latched on to Vivienne Rutledge.  She dropped the name Rutledge and not long after that Vivienne dropped Marlowe.  The dames didn’t stick to Marlowe but for Eddie Mars they were like glue.  Adhesive honey, Sid called it, and Eddie Mars laughed.  For Sid and Eddie, that was as good as it got.

Carmen Sternwood sure stuck to Eddie.   She was sweet looking but poison.  Marlowe figured that she had killed Sean Regan because Regan wasn’t quite so warm to her as she was to him.  Her own father said she liked to pull the wings off flies.  Carmen was the spider, and this Irish guy Regan died without any wings.  After Marlowe had done all the figuring the Sternwood family used some of their ample dosh to put Carmen away somewhere fancy. Marlowe was not stupid.  He had worked for the DA and Marlowe figured quick but I still don’t know how he called Carmen for killing Regan.  Maybe it was intuition.  

I knew you’d ask me that.  Because she was such a sweet looking kid, I’m not going to believe it was Carmen shot Geiger.  The way she used to stand there with a tilted grin and sucking her thumb, any man would have ideas.  I know, I said I’d keep this delicate.  What was she doing in Geiger’s house? They weren’t studying no Bible, that’s for sure.  I heard the chauffeur, this guy called Taylor that worked for the family, was really warm to Carmen and him watching the love of his life get as high as a kite and strip for dirty photos was not to his taste.   There was a big row, I heard, and Taylor and not Carmen shot Geiger.  What she did or didn’t do we’ll never know because there is just too much money around the babe, you know what I’m saying?  Bad, damaged or just plain evil, take your pick.  What I know is this, if the woman had been put in a home a year sooner, three men no make that six would still be driving around LA.  The six dead?  Include my thumbs and I have just enough fingers to count.  Okay you count then, poor Sid, Owen Taylor, Eddie Mars, Sean Regan, Joe Brodie, Harry Jones, and Geiger the book guy who had the porn racket.  And I’m forgetting Lash Canino.  Marlowe nailed Canino.  Count again.  There are four blackmail pinches in that lot.  Maybe they had it coming, and maybe because Eddie was also dipping his fingers in the pot he deserved what happened.  But I sure wish my trigger finger hadn’t reacted that night.  That particular finger was the first the guys took. 

I met Marlowe last fall.  By then Vivienne Rutledge was long gone.  Marlowe was just the same as I’d remembered.  He still had the mouth and he didn’t carry a torch for no one.  Marlowe had been working up in Hollywood.  He should have been loaded but as always he didn’t have two bits.  I bought the beers.  Some old bootlegger called Joe Kennedy had gone respectable and bought into this studio.  What was the name?  Three letters, not MGM, that’s it, RKO.  The way Marlowe tells it, this guy Kennedy wanted to make cheap movies but there was some psycho writer on the RKO payroll called Dixon Steele and Steele may be his name but Steele he wasn’t.  This Dixon Steele already had problems.  He bathed in booze and liked to knock ladies around.  Steele was in no mood to be polite to an ex-mobster like Kennedy.  Mr Dixon Steele reckoned his typewriter deserved better than junk scripts for cheap movies.  Marlowe was hired to keep Kennedy and Steele apart.  Well, Marlowe didn’t last long which may be why he didn’t have two bits.  Marlowe said this guy Kennedy was one lousy piece.   You watch, Pete, he said.  One day he’ll be running the country.  

That was Marlowe.  The rich brought out the worst in him.  I bought the beers.  Even after what happened there was never no bad blood between Marlowe and me.  I didn’t always like what came out of his mouth but I had him figured.  He thought people were rotten, no exceptions including himself.  Sid thought the insults with Marlowe were personal.  I told Sid, get wise, Marlowe is like that with everybody.   There was no room for Marlowe to carry a torch.  He carried crosses.

Eddie had the charm but he was always a mob guy.  Where do you think he got the cash to open The Cypress?  Eddie had friends, and in the rackets that means getting favours but also taking your turn when favours need to be done, you know what I’m saying.   I don’t know what his game was with the Sternwood bunch.  Eddie put the pinch on them twice, so he was taking advantage.  But he was also doing them a favour.  Only Eddie can say, and we all know what happened to him.   Eddie had cash, connections, a casino which he could skim, and his own schemes.  Eddie Mars was better than blackmail.   But the two dames had class and style.  They turned his head.  He even let people think his wife had run off with this Irish guy Regan.  That doesn’t sound like a straight blackmail pinch to me.  

The time I bought Marlowe the booze I asked him to explain how he figured Carmen for killing Regan.  He never answered me straight.  Instead he goes through the whole damned business again.  I listen and spend all what’s in my wallet.  I didn’t say before.  Marlowe likes an Old Forester bourbon chaser with his beers.  The dish behind the bar knew Marlowe.  She was once a taxi driver, and they remembered one another.  Some guys are like that.  They collect dames.  Eddie did.  Sid and me would show them a good time but we weren’t collectors.

Howard Jackson is sick at the moment which is why there is not a TOUGH GUYS IN THE ROOM blog this week.  Those blogs will resume when he has recovered his health.

Meanwhile enjoy a blog from the series OFFENDED SHADOWS.    

The latest book from Howard Jackson, LONG AFTER THIS, is available here.



Johnny Cool, 1963, USA, Director William Asher

The man backed himself.  Give the guy credit for that.  But that was his problem, man.  Johnny Cool was a crap player, apart from when he was killing people, of course, and I never saw a dice player that lasted long.  You want to know the first lesson I learned behind a poker hand?  You can only back yourself for so long, man.  You don’t get far in this life if you don’t listen to the cards.  Johnny Cool was tough and smart.  He bumped off four protected guys in one day, right here in Vegas.  Johnny Cool blows up this guy in the middle of his own swimming pool.  And the kids are watching.  That is a heavy deal, that is what I call raising the ante.  That is not listening to the cards.  Johnny Cool was using exploding suitcases like depth charges.   The guy was tough and smart, so tough and smart he thought he could play an inside straight.  And what does Mr Hoyle say about inside straights.  That’s right, it’s a no no, man.  Always and always play the odds and listen to the cards.  The bluff comes when you know the stars are in line.  It happens because it has to some time but you don’t chase it.  You keep your eyes open, man.  Walk around the tables here in the Sands and what you see, what excites the tourists are the high rollers.  The guys with a wad who wouldn’t know the difference between an inside straight and a three of a kind but for a night have struck lucky.  But that’s what people want to see.  A guy on a roll who isn’t listening to anything other than himself. 

I said goodbye to the dice a long time ago.  I quit the same night that Johnny Cool backed me with twelve thousand dollars.  I’m not an excitable man.  You can’t be in this business without knowing how to stay calm but I sweated that night, man, especially when Johnny Cool put a gun at the side of my head and said roll again.  The weirdest thing was he was being friendly.  Johnny Cool was showing how he believed in me.  These days I’m strictly a poker man, and I raise my own stakes.    It’s not so easy keeping your head down when you’re a not so tall one eyed Jewish black brother but I don’t need to stroll like some.  I play Texas Hold ‘Em because that’s the only damned poker game in Vegas.  The worst thing that ever happened to poker was Texas Hold ‘Em but, what do you say, you have to go with the flow.  I am a quiet one down and four up man but I can play any kind of stud poker.  You just have to know when to hold and when to fold.  And that was one lesson poor Johnny Cool never did understand.

Where did he get his handle from?  Follow this, man, watch the dealer.   There were two Johnny Cools.  The original was a seriously loaded Italian hood from Chicago called Johnny Colini but nicknamed Johnny Cool.  The FBI kicked him out of the country.  They reckoned the lack of his presence on American soil might do something about organised crime.  Some hope, man.  Another crew moved in on his action or mostly the same crew but with a different head honcho called Vince Santeangelo.   The original Johnny Colini needed someone to get even with the guys back in the States.  A guy with sense would have left the table and spent the rest of his days enjoying the good life and sunshine in Italy.  But that’s high rollers for you.  They have to back themselves until the very end.  The problem was that the guys back home held all the aces.  So Chicago Johnny Cool, now in Italy, slides his own ace below the deck.  He finds this Sicilian bandit that lives in the mountains and is so tough the police can only stand by and admire and whistle.  This bandit is called Salvatore Giordano, and all the village folk love him because he fought the fascists and spits in the eye of just about everyone that wears a uniform.  The story is that Salvatore killed a soldier that attempted to rape his mother.  After that and a few dead fascists, Salvatore became a man of the people.  Well, the only person that Johnny Cool, the original, looked after was called Johnny Colini.  Colini picked Salvatore for one reason only.  He picked the toughest guy in the neighbourhood.

The second Johnny Cool goes along with the first Johnny Cool because, if he didn’t, the first Johnny Cool would hand the second Johnny Cool over to the cops.  Before Colini arrived with his helicopter to lift Salvatore out of the Sicilian mountains the cards had been kind to Salvatore Giordano.  The man was carrying a really heavy wad.  The last thing that Giordano needed was someone to come along and fold his hand but life is like that.  Any poker player can tell you, man.  There is nothing worse than having a good hand, a full house, four of a kind, a running flush or something and someone comes along and folds the hand before you make the final bet and pick up the pot.  It’s happened to us all.  I once was dealt a running flush just before an earthquake arrived.  And you know what sticks in my throat?  It’s people telling me I was lucky to get out of the place alive. 

Forget the earthquake, let it rumble.   Back in Italy the first Johnny Cool teaches the second the American language, puts him in smart suits and gives number two the low down on what is happening back in the States.  Johnny Cool two now knows the people that need to be taken out the game and what the game is that all these people are playing.  This is why the new Johnny Cool arrives in Vegas.  He stayed right here in the Sands.  I remember him but no one else took much notice of the guy.  He played a few crap games and carried a wad of cash but so what.  The real action starts when he goes to New York.  Johnny Cool number two killed important people.  He had inside information from Johnny Cool one and, man, he must have thought he was dealing from the bottom of the deck and had to win.  The problem was he was in a game where everyone had information.  They were all dealing from the bottom of the deck.  It’s not easy, man, you don’t have an edge.  You’re just backing yourself and even the cards are confused.

After the mayhem in the Big Apple our Johnny Cool two comes to Vegas and creates more of the same.  Imagine, blowing up Lennart Crandall in the middle of his own swimming pool.  Crandall was a handy swimmer.  He practised every day.  The poor guy may have been in bits when he died but at least he came to the surface.  The tale is that Johnny Cool two considered Crandall to be mission accomplished and was on his way back to sunny Italy, job done.  Maybe Johnny Cool two was bored with killing Americans and, as it happened, he had met one he rather liked, a good looking dame called Darien Guinness.  No, she was loaded but not that rich, no connection with the booze people.   Johnny Cool one wanted number two to take over the USA business on behalf of number one but according to this dame with the name like the black beer, the one American favoured by Johnny Cool two, the pair of them were supposed to be heading to the Sicilian Hills to enjoy the quiet life.

Now I’ve got nothing against dames, and there are a few that have liked me.   But I don’t kid myself.  Any dame is an inside straight, cards that always promise more than they can deliver.   But just like an inside straight looks great when it is in your hand, it’s the same with a dame.  If you win, there is nothing better but you have to think of the odds.  

Darien liked Johnny Cool.  Two of Vince Santangelo’s men had roughed up the dame, well more than that, and Johnny Cool number two had made sure they paid big style.  There are no suspended sentences in the Sicilian mountains, man, you know what I mean.   Something about Johnny Cool attracted this Darien Guinness.  She said he was the only man that had never told her lies and she knew he was honest because what he told her was so terrible.  But when she read about how the two kids had seen their old man Lennart Crandall dive out of the water instead of in, well, the dame knew although it had been fun with Johnny Cool the time had come to fold the cards.  

Johnny and Darien were supposed to meet in some Italian restaurant in New York but Darien needed to call it quits and the best way she knew was to tell the hoods.  They were waiting for Johnny Cool.  Darien Guiness confessed to the cops that she had driven the car that Johnny used before he scattered Crandall over the pool.  The babe looked sweet in court, and the judge gave Darien a suspended sentence providing she went for psychiatric treatment.  The defence lawyer claimed the woman was a victim, and maybe she was because these days she works with children and raises money to support those places where drunks dry out.  The rest you must have heard.  Johnny Cool number one died in bed, not asleep I heard, something to do with a girl half his age.  Johnny Cool number two had a hard time with the number of hoods waiting for him but he waited for the right cards to fall, one of those hands when the stars aligned, and somehow he got out of there.  Johnny Cool number one, who at the point was still breathing, managed to get his boy out of the States.  Johnny Cool number two doesn’t get around much these days I heard but he is out there, somewhere in the Sicily mountains and with the people he cares about.   No more inside straights for Salvatore Giordano, thank God.

Howard Jackson is sick at the moment which is why there is not a TOUGH GUYS IN THE ROOM blog this week. Those blogs will resume when he recovers his health.

Meanwhile enjoy a blast from the past and a blog from the series OFFENDED SHADOWS. The JOHNNY COOL blog was chosen because the lead actor Henry Silva has recently died. He was 95 years old.

The latest book from Howard Jackson, LONG AFTER THIS, is available here.