Monday, March 24, 2008

ALMOST ALL THE WAY


All the Way by Charles Williams (Dell, 1958)

Books have always come first with me. Much of the film portion of my media diet consists of movies adapted from favored books. No matter how many print silk purses I’ve seen rendered as cinematic sows’ ears, I can’t resist reading the book and seeing the movie.

Thus, when I saw The Third Voice on the schedule for last January’s Noir City Festival, I immediately brushed off my copy of the book it was based on, Charles William’s All the Way. For those yet to be initiated into the dusty world of mid-20th century paperback originals, Williams was one of the big names, penning a an excellent series of tough, literate suspense novels (mostly set in south Florida) that ultimately made it into hard covers. If he’d had a series character he could have been John D. MacDonald; if he’d gone crazy, he could have been Jim Thompson. Instead, he’s forever doomed to be on the verge of “rediscovery.”

All the Way is vintage Williams. Secretary Marian Forsyth built her boss/lover Harris Chapman into a big shot. Unfortunately, once he’s in the chips, Chapman signs his death warrant by throwing her over for a younger “professional virgin.” Forsyth goes shopping for an accomplice and winds up with the narrator, Jerry Forbes. But unlike every other “woman scorned” noir you’ve read, she’s ready, even eager to do the big job herself. Forbes’s part is to pose as Chapman. He’s supposed to drain the bank and brokerage accounts and make it look like Chapman had gone nuts and taken a one way rowboat trip with a concrete flamingo (metaphor alert!) and a dead call girl. And it works! They get away with the money, not that they live happily ever after, but heck, that’s noir for you.

It plays equally well on the big screen. The only black & white Cinescope movie I’ve ever seen, The Third Voice is great movie and an amazingly faithful adaptation—up to a point. For the 77 minutes, it’s All the Way on the screen. The action’s been relocated from south Florida to Mexico and some sub-plots and scenes steam-lined out, but it’s essentially the same. Even a lot of the dialog originated at William’s typewriter, not the screenwriter’s. Unfortunately, it’s a 79-minute film. It slams you over the head with a hackneyed ending that comes up so suddenly it’s like they ran out of film.

Hell. At least they got it 95% right.

2 comments:

Pat said...

Well done John Marr, I remain devoted to you, in whatever medium you use. Thank you for letting me know what you are doing, and for doing it well.
Your friend whom you've never met, Pat Black

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