Friday, November 25, 2022

Johnny Passe by Scott Fivelson and Tim Cleavenger

The hard-boiled detective story emerged in pulp magazines like Black Mask in the 1920s and became popular in the 1930s. It was in the late 1920s improvements in microphone technology saw the emergence of crooners such as Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby. Crooners were very much in vogue in the 1930s, with possibly its most popular performer, Frank Sinatra, emerging in the 1940s.

The novella Johnny Passe (Hen House Press) by Scott Fivelson and Tim Cleavenger is a humorous pastiche of hard-boiled detective fiction. It includes many of the hallmarks of the genre, from the down-and-out detective of the title to a mysterious client to a complicated case. It is written in first person, with Johnny Passe himself telling how he missed the biggest opportunity of his life.

Scott Fivelson is the author of the novel Tuxes as well as the one-act plays Dial L For Latch-Key and Leading the Witness. He is also the writer and director of the film, Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, and co-screenwriter along with Caroline Allward of the upcoming British romantic-comedy mystery, The Vicar’s Wife.

Fans of hard-boiled fiction will appreciate Johnny Passe. Authors Scott Fivelson and Tim Cleavenger capture the narration of Raymond Chandler's short stories and novels perfectly. And, as mentioned earlier, they send up many of the tropes of the genre, from a menacing villain to a beautiful girl. What ultimately makes Johnny Passe so enjoyable is that its authors take it in a direction that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler or many other hard-boiled writers would have never taken it. While readers will appreciate the outcome of Johnny Passe, they certainly won't expect it.

Hard-boiled fiction and the crooners were both phenomena of the 20th Century that remain popular in the 21st. The many fans of both will enjoy Johnny Passe, a very funny, but loving pastiche of both.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts, we realize that there are those who appreciate a bit of cheesecake with their turkey and pumpkin pie. Here, then, are this year's vintage pinups for Thanksgiving.

First up, Gwen Lee and Dorothy Sebastian apparently ate a really big turkey.

Marie McDonald is going hunting for turkey.

Lelia Hyams would rather be friends with a turkey than eat him.

Janis Page just bagged a turkey.

Ann Blyth wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving

And last but not least, the lovely Ann Miller is making friends with a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 20, 2022

American Graffiti (1973)

This post is part of the Fake Teenager Festivus hosted by Taking Up Room)

Today George Lucas's second feature film, American Graffiti (1973), is generally overshadowed by Star Wars (1977). Even so, while American Graffiti did not make nearly as much money as Star Wars, it was very successful and proved influential in its own right. Indeed, while it cost only  $1.27 million to make, it grossed  $55 million worldwide. It was the third highest grossing film in the United States after The Exorcist and The Sting for the year 1973.

American Graffiti centres on four friends, recent high school graduates Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve Bolander (Ron Howard), drag racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat), and Terry "the Toad" Fields (Charles Martin Smith) during the last night of summer vacation in the year 1962 in Modesto, California. The next morning Curt and Steve will make the trip east to attend college. Music plays a large role in the movie, with the soundtrack consisting of popular songs from the era.

The origins of American Graffiti go back to George Lucas's first feature film THX 1138. It was in 1969 that Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas founded American Zoetrope. THX 1138 was only the second film released by American Zoetrope, after Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People (1969). Sadly, THX 1138 received mixed reviews and bombed at the box office. Francis Ford Coppola challenged George Lucas to write something more mainstream and more commercial.

For inspiration George Lucas looked to his own youth, when cruising was still a phenomenon. For those unfamiliar with cruising, it is simply driving around town aimlessly, talking to other cruisers and pedestrians as one does so. In the United States cruising was an activity in which many teenagers engaged from the 1950s and, in some areas, as late as the 1980s. George Lucas drew upon his own life to provide parts of the story, while the four main characters were based on himself from different phases in his life. For additional inspiration, George Lucas looked to Federico Fellini's film I Vitelloni, which centred on five young men in a small town in Italy.

Originally titled Another Quiet Night in Modesto, George Lucas eventually retitled his idea for a film American Graffiti. He wrote 15 page treatment and then hired  Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to write the screenplay.William Huyck had earlier co-written the film The Devil's 8 (1968). Ultimately, William Huyck and Gloria Katz were unable to complete the screenplay for American Graffiti, due to the start of their own film, the horror movie Messiah of Evil (1973). George Lucas then hired Richard Waller to finish the screenplay. Both George Lucas and Richard Waller had attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Unfortunately for George Lucas, Richard Waller's screenplay would owe more to teenage exploitation films than the more realistic portrayal of a night in the life of teenagers in 1962 that Mr. Lucas wanted. Richard Waller did rewrite the screenplay, but ultimately, George Lucas fired him due to creative differences. George Lucas then completed the screenplay himself, finishing it in three weeks. George Lucas, William Huyck, and Gloria Katz then wrote the second draft of the screenplay together.

While American Graffiti would be a smash hit, George Lucas had trouble finding a  home for the film. Initially the various studios shied away from the movie out of the fear that the music licences would cost a fortune. MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Columbia Pictures all refused to provide financing for the movie and to distribute it. While American International showed some interest in American Graffiti, they ultimately turned it down as it did not contain enough of the sex and violence for which they were known in that era. Ultimately, Universal agreed to co-finance and distribute the movie. They gave George Lucas artistic control over the film, as well as approval of the final cut, provided American Graffiti was produced on a very low budget.

The casting director on American Graffiti was Fred Roos, who had earlier served as the casting director on The Andy Griffith Show. It was because of Mr. Roos that Ron Howard, who had played Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, was cast as Steve. As for the rest of the casting, it was both long and involved. A casting call was put out throughout community theatres and high school drama groups in California's Bay Area. Over a hundred actors auditioned for the role of Curt alone.

Despite the casting call sent out to high school drama groups and community theatres for younger actors, of the four leads, only Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith were actually teenagers Both actors were 18 at the time shooting began. Richard Dreyfuss was 24 years old at the time. At 26, Paul Le Mat was the oldest of the four leads in American Graffiti. Messrs. Dreyfuss and Le Mat were hardly alone in playing characters several years younger than they were. Suzanne Somers, who played the infamous Blonde in the Ford Thunderbird, was 26 at the time. While it is unclear how old drag racer Bob Falfa is in the film (he may be in his twenties), the actor playing him, Harrison Ford, was just shy of his 30th birthday when shooting began. It is a tribute to the talent of much of the cast that, despite being older than their characters, they are convincing as teenagers.

While American Graffiti is set in Modesto, much of the film was shot in Petaluma as George Lucas thought Modesto had changed too much since 1962. The "Burger City" drive-in restaurant was actually the famous Mel's Drive-In in San Francisco. The freshman sock hop was shot at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. The radio station at which Wolfman Jack works was KRE-AM in Berkeley.

Amazingly enough for a film that would be both a box office smash and a darling of critics, Universal was not overly fond of American Graffiti. Even though a test screening of the film in January 1973 had gone very well, Universal wanted to re-edit the film. Francis Ford Coppola, fresh from his success with The Godfather, took up for the film and even offered to buy it. Both 20th Century Fox and Paramount, initially uninterested in the movie, also offered to buy American Graffiti. It was after Francis Ford Coppola had won his Oscar for The Godfather that Universal relented and asked that only a few minutes be cut from American Graffiti. Even so, Universal was convinced that American Graffiti was suited only for release as a television movie. Fortunately, many Universal employees loved the film and their praise eventually convinced the studio to give the movie a limited release in Los Angeles and New York. The movie was a success in both markets, and it was ultimately released in the United States on August 11 1973.

As mentioned above, American Graffiti proved to be a success with both critics and audiences. It would also prove to be influential. At the time of the movie's release, only Ron Howard was well-known, having played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and appearing in various movies. American Graffiti turned Richard Dreyfuss into a star. It would only be two years later that he would star in Jaws (1975). Cindy Williams, who played Steve's girlfriend Laurie, would find success on the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley in only a few years. Mackenzie Phillips and Suzanne Somers would also find success it sitcoms in only a few years, on One Day at a Time and Three's Company respectively. As to Harrison Ford, he would ascend to superstardom in George Lucas's next movie, playing Han Solo in Star Wars (1977).

Of course, American Graffiti would prove influential beyond its cast. A nostalgia craze had been brewing in the United States prior to the movie's release, but arguably it was American Graffiti that kicked it into high gear. Such period films as The Lords of Flatbush (1974), Cooley High (1975), and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) were released in the wake of American Graffiti. American Graffiti would also have some impact on television. Happy Days had begun life as an episode of the anthology series Love, American Style in 1972. It starred Ron Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams. With the success of American Graffiti, ABC took an interest in developing the episode into a series and so Happy Days was born.

Beyond adding fuel to the Seventies nostalgia craze, American Graffiti arguably created an entire subgenre of period films that simply portrayed a short period in characters' lives. Arguably such diverse films as Diner (1982), Stand by Me (1986), and Dazed and Confused (1993) owe something to American Graffiti. If the coming of age period piece has been seen regularly for nearly the past fifty years, it is largely because of American Graffiti.

Certainly American Graffiti is not as influential as Star Wars (1977), but that is not to say the film did not have a huge impact. The movie had a lasting influence on American cinema that lasts to this day. That influence is still being felt.