Lionel (2008)

Country: Australia
Director: Eddie Martin
Starring: Lionel Rose, Anthony Mundine, Jeff ‘Hitman’ Harding
Editor: Ken Sallows
Composer: Cezary Skubiszewski

One month after I was born, a young aboriginal boxer, named Lionel Rose, became the world bantam weight boxing champion when he defeated Fighting Harada in Japan. I am obviously too young to recall the swell of national pride after Rose’s achievement. In Melbourne alone, upon his return, 250,000 people lined the street to see him in a ticker tape parade. So watching the documentary, Lionel, was quite an eye opening experience for me, presenting a facet of Australian popular culture that missed out on, and now seems long forgotten.

Today it almost seems impossible to fathom just how ‘huge’ Lionel Rose was. His fame was such that while preparing for a title defence in Los Angeles, Elvis asked to meet him. At that time, celebrity didn’t get any bigger than that. But this documentary is not just a back-slapping look back at the halcyon days of Rose’s boxing career. It shows how he started in the fight game, his successes and his failures. And then life after boxing.

Obviously, for a documentary film, and especially a biographical one at that, outlining the synopsis is rather pointless for this review. But I will share with you, one observation that the documentary makes that I found absolutely fascinating. As I mentioned above, Rose became world champion after beating Fighting Harada in Tokyo in February 1968, and subsequently Australia went crazy. One of the reasons for this, apart from having a home grown world champion, was that Rose beat a Japanese opponent. Forgive me if this sounds racist, that is not my intention, but at that time (forty-four years ago), many Australians still considered the Japanese to be the enemy. World War II had not been forgotten, and many people harboured a grudge for the way that Australian prisoners of war had been treated. As an example, in my family, my Great Uncle Jim died a prisoner of war, working on the Burma railway. So for young Lionel Rose to go to Japan and defeat the ‘enemy’ on their home turf was not only a sporting triumph, but a defiantly national one as well. Sort of like a ‘payback’. As a lazy comparison in a fictional context which many people may relate to, it was like the movie Rocky IV, where Rocky goes to Russia to fight Ivan Drago, as payback for the death of Apollo Creed. But Rose wasn’t fighting on account of just one man – he fought for a whole country.

The story becomes even more heated after that. Rose’s first title defence was also in Tokyo, against Takao Sakurai. Rose won, infuriating one Japanese boxing fan so much, that he came at Rose with a knife at his hotel. Of course, these incidents are just one small part of Rose’s story.

The film features plenty of archival footage, intercut with modern day interviews with Rose himself, and those who were close to him. All in all, it’s an excellent documentary, and recommended not only to those interested in boxing, but those who enjoy inspiration real-life drama.

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Lionel (2008)

The Empty Beach (1985)

Country: Australia
Director: Chris Thompson
Starring: Bryan Brown, Anna Maria Monticelli, Ray Barrett, Nick Tate, Belinda Gibbin, John Wood, Peter Collingwood
Music: Martin Armiger and Red Symons
Based on the novel by Peter Corris

Bryan Brown IS Cliff Hardy. It is perfect casting. It’s a shame that this film wasn’t a hit, because I would have loved to see Brown play Hardy again and again. He could be doing it to this day, pumping out a tele-movie each year – and I would be first seated, ready and eager to watch it. But alas, not to be.

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them – the last I am aware of, is Appeal Denied which was released in 2007. I am sure Corris has released a couple more since then. I realise I could quickly validate this with a quick Google search, but after the Christmas break I am a bit short of cash, and if I don’t know that they exist, then I won’t go hunting for them.

The story, which is set in Sydney, starts with a wealthy businessman (for that read black marketeer and poker machine king), John Singer, who is about to go for a pleasure cruise on the harbour with his mistress. But they are greeted at the docks by some shady looking characters. That is the last that is heard from Singer. It is surmised that he fell overboard that day and drowned.

Two years later…
Cliff Hardy meets Mrs. Marion Singer (Belinda Gibbon), who wishes to employ him. She has received a note from an anonymous source, claiming that her husband is still alive – but not looking too well. She realises it might be a hoax, but wishes Hardy to look into the matter.

Hardy’s investigation leads him to a newspaper reporter, Bruce Henneberry (Nick Tate), who reported on Singer’s disappearance at the time. Henneberry thinks something fishy is going on, and it is related to his latest piece of investigative journalism. He also has all the dirt on the city’s corrupt politicians, businessmen and gangsters. He keeps this dirt all on a series of tapes that he has stashed away. But things turn messy when Hardy witnesses Henneberry’s murder, in the surf, at Bondi Beach. Then it becomes a race to track down Henneberry’s tapes, with Hardy, the police, and Sydney’s underworld all set on a collision course.

The Empty Beach is an old school detective movie, but set in Sydney in the 1980s, which means some of the music, fashion and haircuts have dated. But other than that it still holds up quite well. It is played lean, hard and fast with all the requisite plot convolution that a detective story like this should have.

At the time of writing, The Empty Beach remains sadly unavailable of DVD (or Blu-Ray), which I think is criminal, because the film, for movie-watchers who love the genre, is well worth watching.

Bryan Brown, despite being in over seventy productions has never been in anything that is an out and out spy movie. Nick Tate starred as villain Jenson Fury in No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (AKA: The Man From S.E.X.), and also recently starred in The Killer Elite with Jason Statham and Clive Owen. Tate also played Matt Parsons in numerous episodes in the Australian TV series Spyforce; and appeared in The Champions (The Dark Island 1968). Ray Barrett provided the voice for John Tracy (and The Hood and other characters) in the Thunderbirds, and voiced Commander Sam Shore (and others) in Stingray. As a nice Bondian adjunct, Commander Shore’s daughter, Atlanta, was voiced by Lois Maxwell. Barrett also appeared in the 1966 BBC TV series, The Spies, (Lash Out 1966), The Saint (The Loving Brothers 1964), The Man in Room 17 (Lady Luck’s No Gentleman 1965) and The Avengers (Man in the Mirror 1963).

Special thanks to Andrew Nette from Pulp Curry.

The Empty Beach (1985)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Country: United States
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Elliot Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Music: John T. Williams
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler

It has been said that Robert Altman’s film of The Long Goodbye is a send up of Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. I don’t buy it! I admit it is very different to all the Philip Marlowe films that have been made before. Even Marlowe, with James Garner, which was made only six years prior to this, and had a contemporary setting, still had an old school feel to it. But The Long Goodbye has a distinctly 1970’s feel to it, and the Marlowe character, as played by Elliott Gould is not as ‘hard boiled’ as previous Marlowes. Gould applies some method acting to the Chandler universe. So when Marlowe is worked over by hoods, he mumbles, staggers and slurs a defiant wisecrack, rather than ‘spitting out a wisecrack’. I guess it is a more human depiction of Marlowe, than has been seen before.

The story has two concurrent story threads, which initially appear to be unrelated – but of course, become entwined by the stories end. The first concerns a friend of Marlowe’s, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Lennox turns up on Marlowe’s doorstep in a spot of trouble. He asks his old pal to drive him to Mexico, which Marlowe does. Only later, does Marlowe find that Lennox is wanted for the murder of his wife. Marlowe is arrested as an accomplice, and spends three days in jail. Finally the Marlowe is released, when Lennox commits suicide in a hotel, in a small rural village. Case closed. Marlowe is free.

The second story thread concerns Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt), who hires Marlowe to find her missing husband. Her husband, Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) is an author, with writer’s block and a drinking problem. He has disappeared on previous occasions, usually into rehab institutions, but on this occasion, Eileen has not been able to find him anywhere. Marlowe agrees to take the case.

As I have suggested, these two story threads intertwine in a rather typical Chandleresque fashion – serving up the requisite low-life characters, hoods, corrupt cops, and even a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a two-bit henchman. All-in-all it’s not too bad – even if some of the character motivations and plot strands are a little fuzzy.

But what makes this film controversial, in some people’s eyes, is the ending. Warning; major spoilers ahead. I try not to spoil the films I review, but we are talking about a film that is thirty-five years old, and I am sure I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to talk about the ending to The Long Goodbye. Put simply, Marlowe figures out that Lennox is still alive, and tracks him down to his villa in Mexico. Then he shoots him down in cold blood. Those familiar with Chandler’s book, will know that in the original story, Lennox did indeed fake his death. But Marlowe didn’t track him down. Lennox came to him, albeit after having had plastic surgery, and trying to pass him self of as a Mexican who was working at the hotel on the day that Lennox purportedly killed himself. Marlowe sees through Lennox’s ruse. But he doesn’t kill him. Lennox walks away and into – supposedly – his new life.

The other difference between the stories, which supposedly justifies Marlowe’s actions, is that in the film, Lennox did kill his wife. In the book it is Eileen Wade who is the killer. The bit that get’s my goat, is there is no need for the change. The set up is complete in the film. It appears to have been changed for the sake of change – all at the expense of the source material. And furthermore this dramatically, and out of keeping with the rest of the film, alters Marlowe’s character. Philp Marlowe would not shoot a man down in cold blood. And certainly not one, who never intended to do him any harm. So rather than being the hard boiled, world weary Philip Marlowe, that the world has come to know, we have a petulant schoolboy with a gun, who is angry that he has been duped, and inconvenienced. The Marlowe I know has been duped, inconvenienced, beaten and bruised so many times that it is second nature. But still, he comes through all this with some sort of battered nobility. But there is no nobility in the closing of Altman’s film. It’s a temper tantrum, but with a bullet taking the place of angry words.

At the top of this review, I suggested that many people have called The Long Goodbye a send up. A send up, is something that takes the piss out of overused genre tropes. Therefore, I don’t think the film of The Long Goodbye is a send up. It serves up the genre tropes gleefully. I guess the tag ‘send up’ was applied by some marketeer as a defence against the film deviating from the source material. If you say it’s a ‘send up’ – then people cannot complain that it isn’t the same as the book. But I take offense at that. Any book lover, who has seen a film version of a book they have read knows that it will be different – whether that be Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. All you can hope for, is that the film makers faithfully capture the spirit of the book. Changes are necessary. And I fully realise that condensing down – well my version of The Long Goodbye is 320 pages, and small type at that – into a 120 minutes movie, means jettisoning more than half of the book. I accept that. But the thing is, the film-makers had mostly succeeded in doing that. But then they contemptuously changed the ending and the character. My problem being, if you don’t like the Marlowe character, or the ending to the story, why acquire the rights and make a film out of it in the first place? The film-makers can write an original script from scratch, presenting their own unique vision of the detective story, rather than writing over and tarnishing one of the twentieth century’s most indelible fictional characters.

The Player is a send up. The Long Goodbye is just arrogance and contempt.

Elliot Gould has appeared in a number of spy productions; such as Who?, The Lady Vanishes (1979) and S.P.Y.S, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid – and I don’t remember it too fondly – but maybe some of the humour just went over my head. I will have to check it out again one day. And Gould was the voice of Mr. Stoppable in the Kim Possible tv series. Some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, such as Eraser (and others) are cusp spy films.

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Fight Card: Split Decision

Author: Eric Beetner
Published: December 2010
Book No: 3

Recently I have written how much I enjoyed the first two books in the Fight Card series (Felony Fists by Paul Bishop and The Cutman by Mel Odom). However, in my reviews I suggested that a boxing story would always be predictable because they will always end with the ‘big fight’ and that the hero will win. Well now I find myself in the embarrassing situation of having to eat my words. There is nothing predictable about the third instalment of the Fight Card series, Split Decision by Eric Beetner.

And I must say, I am delighted to eat my words. I think I just have a narrow view of what a pulp boxing tale can be – maybe I have watched too many Rocky films!

Split Decision has a beautifully simple premise. It’s the story of Jimmy Wyler, a middle of the pack fighter, in Kansas City. He wants to make some money, so he can buy a diamond ring for his loyal girlfriend Lola. Then along comes a hood named Cardone, and he offers Jimmy a wad of cash if he’ll take part in a fixed fight. Jimmy, against his better judgment agrees. And in this instance is allowed to win the fight.

So now he’s hooked. He’s a fighter who’ll take money to alter the outcome of a bout. Cardone comes a calling for Jimmy’s next fight. But this time he wants Jimmy to take a dive in the forth. Easy enough. But then it gets tricky. An up-an-comer, in the organised crime world, named Whit, comes along with another proposition. He wants Jimmy to win by knocking out his opponent in the third. Jimmy says he can’t. But Whit isn’t the type you can say no to.

So there it is, Jimmy Wyler is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place – and whatever his decision, it is gonna cause trouble – the dangerous kind. What I really liked about Split Decision was that it was unpredictable; it put its main protagonist through the ringer; and didn’t take the soft option for the resolution. I have read too many of these stories, where the hero appears to be trapped between two warring factions, only to have one of the factions be really good guys, like undercover police, or something like that. Thankfully, author Eric Beetner does not take the soft option. He serves up the boxing equivalent of Yojimbo or a Fistful of Dollars – putting his hero (if I can call him that), smack dab in the middle. But Wyler is not so self serving. He hasn’t deliberately put himself in harm’s way. And his prize is not a fistful of dollars. As I said, all he wants is to get a ring for his girl.

Split Decision has a very different feel from the first two Fight Card stories, but still delivers the same hard punching thrills in a distinctly noirish tale. If had been made into a film in the Golden Days of Hollywood, John Garfield would have played Jimmy Wyler. It’s that kind of story. I finished it in one sitting. It’s that entertaining. Highly recommended.

Split Decision is available from Amazon.

Hungry for more noirish boxing tales? Beetner is also the co-author of One Too Many Blows to the Head. Here’s the spiel:

Kansas City, 1939. One story from two points of view: the hunter and the hunted. Ray Ward – seeking revenge for his brother’s death in the boxing ring. Detective Dean Fokoli – hot on a killer’s trail.

Ray’s hunt takes him underground into Kansas City’s criminal nightlife. Dean Fokoli lives there full time but he’s on the run from his own troubles. Two men racing forward to collide like a knockout punch.

A razor-edged story of revenge, redemption and what happens when you confront the ghosts of the past.

You can find out more about Beetner at his blog – where he commits crimes – on paper!

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Fight Card: Split Decision