5 Los Angeles Noirs and their Private Eyes by Abra Deering

While I chill inside (not outside) trying to forget the Antarctic weather happening outside my door (#PolarVortex) I’ve been digging into some film noirs. I originally wrote about some of my film noir favorites for The Wrap a few years ago and I thought I’d see if they still hold up.

If you love mysteries (and I do) and thrillers and history (yes and yes) then you might like some of the 1940’s old school film noirs featuring a (usually) down on his luck P.I. I’m a huge fan of Rockford, Hammer, Nero Wolfe and others in the private detective genre. While some of the novels can be hard to read and appear quite dated and rather misogynistic (John D. MacDonald anyone? Though I still sometimes read him) the films are a treasure. I’d watch them just to take in the Hollywood Regency furniture, antiques, and baubles alone. In Murder My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely) the women wear flowers in their hair and their dresses. Who wouldn’t want to meet in a place called the Coconut Beach Club with views of Santa Monica Bay? This film has all the hallmarks of classic detective noir: a rendezvous in the canyons, the city lit up in neon, a grimy detective office, the parity between rich and working class, and the standoff in the beach house.

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As a historical mystery/thriller writer I often love to think about the clothes, the style hat, the furniture, the food, the architecture — it just puts you in that time period. In Chandlers The Big Sleep, Bogie and Bacall are embroiled in a mystery and who doesn’t love a good beret? If historical fiction writing has taught me nothing it’s that I wish we could bring back the era of the hat! Flower hats, the basket hat, the Merry Widow, and of course, berets. Who doesn’t want to look like Bacall?

When I grow up I want to work in this bookstore. I once had a tee-shirt made that said A. G. Geiger’s Rare Books & De Luxe Editions. Yes, I am that geeky for bookstores. (Yes, “De Luxe” is two words.)

She: '“You begin to interest me, vaguely.”

Here are my favorite 5 Los Angeles Film Noirs, most of them featuring a detective:

#5) The Big Sleep
Based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, this is one of the best Bogart and Bacall films. The film is well-known for the fact that the meandering plot makes no sense. The bookstore scenes alone are enough to love this film (not to mention its witty banter). It has serious 1940’s flair: who doesn’t love a girl in glasses making double-entendres with Bogart over rare books? Or Bacall in a gambling house run by a shady character named Mars? Directed by Howard Hawks, it’s not for nothing that William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay of this hardboiled Los Angeles PI – Philip Marlowe. Below is a classic “dame” Bacall moment, singing an impromptu lounge song in that sultry voice, about a down-and-out woman (“she’s a real sad tomato, she’s a busted valentine, knows her momma done told her, that a man is darned unkind”):

#4) Murder, My Sweet
Another Chandler classic (based on the novel entitled “Farewell, My Lovely”). This time Marlowe really experiences vintage 1940’s LA: nightclubs, tony homes behind gates, bungalows, and the inevitable beach house. Marlowe is even unconscious and coming-to in one scene. Dick Powell plays an understated Marlowe. Ed Dmytryk’s direction and nighttime LA exterior shots, all lit up in neon, are not to be missed. This is a classic first-person hard-boiled detective noir that is a taught thriller with good acting and features that great menace of LA at night, all is shrouded in shadow, classic film noir milieu. One of the best.

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#3) Criss Cross
Hits all the classic Los Angeles noir landmarks such as Angel’s Flight and Bunker Hill. Love Lancaster as the sap who gets double-crossed. Features eerie shots and classic noir location Union Station. This should be on your list because it’s more than just a noir, it’s a heist noir. Who doesn’t love Yvonne de Carlo in this pant suit asking the way to Zuma Beach? (It’s in Malibu).

#2) The Crooked Way
Stylistically, doesn’t have as much panache as other noirs but the plot is fascinating: a veteran has amnesia and must travel from San Francisco to L.A. to find out who he is. In the vein of other amnesic thrillers like D.O.A. Uses classic noir locations like “Union Station” (“Criss Cross”) and the Hall of Justice (“Mildred Pierce”).

#1) Kiss Me Deadly

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One of my all-time favorite Los Angeles noirs can’t be missed, Kiss Me Deadly. Ironically it features Mike Hammer, a New York PI in the Spillane novels, but an Angeleno here. Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is the 1950’s equivalent of a yuppie: his apartment is outfitted with all the latest gadgets including an “answering machine.” Hammer is unlike the prototypical noir detective, he’s an anti-hero (and less hero and more brawler). The opening sequence is one of the best in noir history with Hammer driving his convertible down a dark country road at night when his headlights pick up an upset woman, barefoot, in nothing but a trench coat running down the road towards him (a young Cloris Leachman). Apparently, she just escaped from the loony bin and the dialogue between the two is classic with her choked sobs contrasted over the soothing sounds of Nat King Cole crooning. Hammer’s car is pushed off a cliff and he takes the case to avenge her death. This is also a rare noir / sci-fi mashup with the “great whatsit” a suitcase that contains something resembling an atomic bomb (purportedly the McGuffin that inspired the suitcase in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction). The book has a totally different ending that seemed shocking and satisfying; that is, until you see the film. This noir reflects a hint of cold war paranoia, and is the end of the 1940’s noirs. It’s directed by Robert Aldrich is a cinephile’s delight, a late noir masterpiece.

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"A Neat Yachting Suit" circa 1900 San Francisco

In 1900, this is what a "Lady Tar" (woman sailor or yachter) wore. This is very different from today where my child has signed up for sailing lessons. Or is it? We went to Dick's Sporting Goods and all they had for girls swimwear was binkings and super tight one-piece suits. All the board shorts were for boys. All the swimshirts were for boys. They did not even have swim skirts! We've come a long way but there is still further we can go. #girlswim #yachting #sailing #sailboat 

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How President Teddy Roosevelt, William Kent, and John Muir saved Redwood Canyon and made Muir WoodS

How President Teddy Roosevelt, William Kent, and John Muir saved Redwood Canyon and made Muir Woods #redwood #treehuggers #nature #beautifulnature #letters

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They saved the giant redwoods from the "ax" and "money-changers." I've visited Muir Woods many times, it's glorious and amazing. My homestate of MN lost all its white pine to logging in the 19th century. All that was left of our glorious "up North" was burned out husks. It took years for the trees to grow back. Minnesota is quite beautiful and it is noticeably full of trees, hence our history as a lumber town. To think that the giant redwoods could've been lost to some turn-of-the-century idea of progress is shocking. What foresight Mr. Kent had and Roosevelt. John Muir is an amazing man in his own right. I loved Muir Woods and the redwoods magic as millions of Americans have and we have them to thank for being able to experience it over 100 years later. I am for progress but not at the expense of wiping out trees and species. The White Pine, as it was in the 1800's, is now extinct in our state. Thankfully, the redwoods aren't extinct!

Read the letters exchange: https://www.nps.gov/muwo/learn/historyculture/historical-letters.htm

National Monument California

Historical Letters 

from NPs @natlparkservice

Correspondence Regarding the Establishment of Muir Woods National Monument

When Muir Woods was set aside as a National Monument on January 9, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, a flurry of letters flew amongst those involved in the transaction. Here are just a few of those letters. (Please note the letters are retyped here for easier reading, the letters retain their original syntactical idiosyncrasies.)

The White House
Washington
January 22, 1908

My dear Mr. Kent:

I have just received from Secretary Garfield your very generous letter enclosing the gift of Redwood Canyon to the National Government to be kept as a perpetual park for the preservation of the giant redwoods therein and to be named the Muir National Monument. You have doubtless seen my proclamation of January 9th, instant, creating this monument. I thank you most heartily for this singularly generous and public spirited action on your part. All Americans who prize the undamaged and especially those who realize the literally unique value of the groves of giant trees, must feel that you have conferred a great and lasting benefit upon the whole country.

I have a very great admiration for John Muir; but after all, my dear sir, this is your gift. No other land than that which you give is included in this tract of nearly 300 acres and I should greatly like to name the monument the Kent Monument if you will permit it.

Sincerely yours,

/s/ Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Kentfield, California
January 30, 1908


To the President,
Washington, D.C.

My dear Mr. Roosevelt:

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your message of appreciation, and hope and believe it will strengthen me to go on in an attempt to save more of the precious and vanishing glories of nature for a people too slow of perception.

Your kind suggestion of a change of name is not one that I can accept. So many millions of better people have died forgotten, that to stencil one's own name on a benefaction, seems to carry with it an implication of mandate immortality, as being something purchasable.

I have five good, husky boys that I am trying to bring up to a knowledge of democracy and to a realizing sense of the rights of the "other fellow," doctrines which you, sir, have taught with more vigor and effect than any man in my time. If these boys cannot keep the name of Kent alive, I am willing it should be forgotten.

I have this day sent you by mail a few photographs of Muir Woods, and trust that you will believe, before you see the real thing (which I hope will be soon) that our Nation has acquired something worth while.

Yours truly,

/s/ William Kent

 

The White House
Washington
February 5, 1908

My dear Mr. Kent:

By George! you are right. It is enough to do the deed and not to desire, as you say, to "stencil one's own name on the benefaction." Good for you, and for the five boys who are to keep the name of Kent alive! I have four who I hope will do the same thing by the name of Roosevelt. Those are awfully good photos.

Sincerely yours,

/s/ Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Martinez, Feb. 6, 1908

Dear Mr. Kent:

Seeing my name in the tender & deed of the Tamalpais Sequoias was a surprise of the pleasantest kind. This is the best tree-lover's monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. You have done me great honor, & I am proud of it. Schools here & there have planted "Muir trees" in their playground, & long ago Asa Gray named several plants for me; the most interesting of which is a sturdy frost-enduring daisy that I discovered on the shore of the Arctic Ocean near Icy Cape; a Sierra peak also & one of the Alaska glaciers bears my name, but these aboriginal woods, barring human action, will outlast them all, even the mountain & glacier. Compared with Sequoia glaciers are young fleeting things, & since the first Sequoia forests lifted their domes and spires to the sky, mountains great and small, thousands of them, have been weathered, ground down, washed away & cast into the sea; while two of the many species of Sequoia have come safely through all the geological changed & storms that have fallen upon them since Cretaceous times, surviving even the crushing destroying ice sheets of the glacial period.

Saving these woods from the axe & saw, from money-changers and water- changers & giving them to our country & the world is in many ways the most notable service to God & man I've heard of since my forest wanderings began. A much needed lesson & blessing to saint & sinner alike & credit t& encouragement to God. That so fine divine a thing should have come out of money mad Chicago! Wha was'a' thocht it [sic]! Immortal Sequoia life to you.

Ever your,

/s/John Muir

Last updated: February 28, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Rd
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Phone:

(415) 561-2850

Contact Us

National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

 

The Bicycle - Vintage Ads & Map

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Women's history and suffragette rights are tied to the bicycle, believe it or not. Women riding a bicycle was seen as very independent. Naturally, it was challenging to ride in a corset and skirt so this led to the bicycle "costume" which was a good thing, women ditched skirts for bicycle bloomers. Newspaper reports often wrote in tones that implied it was scandalous for women to ride a bicycle. However, many articles referred to the "craze" and "fad" of bicycles and how much fun and mobility they offered. Many bicycle riding clubs sprouted up and in the late 19th C and early 20th, before the automobile -- bicycles were everything. Bicycle advertisements captured the freedom of the bicycle in the late 19th century.

the liberator bicycle

The Liberator bicycle was so aptly named and their ads were inspired by Valkyries or Amazons.

Creative Writing Daily

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There are so many distractions, responsibilities and commitments that it makes daily writing difficult and sometimes impossible. I love my family life and I've been blessed to be able to write and work while still maintaining that. A novelist acquaintance (best-selling writer) was very supportive when we spoke about this. I mentioned I read somewhere that Maria Semple (Where'd You Go Bernadette) wrote between drop-off and pick-up and she said that so did Barbara Kingsolver. Agatha Christie said the best time to plan a novel is while doing the dishes. I am part of the, writing between drop-off and pick-up club. Dishes? Meh. I actually don't mind cleaning and doing laundry but I am not a fan of cooking. It is just never something that I've ever liked. I do enjoy baking and come from a long line of excellent pie bakers. I've also been known to cause a few disasters in the kitchen. My wonderfully supportive husband really was strongly opposed to me buying a pressure cooker for fear I would blow up the house. I relented because, well, his fear isn't entirely unfounded. I relented because we've been married a long time (double-digits years but who's counting?) and he knows me well. He was there the time the microwave exploded, the time I scalded beans and there was a black soot all over the kitchen, and the time I somehow decided I had to be absolutely faithful to a recipe and for a holiday dinner served chicken baked in $50 a bottle Clicquot champagne. My mother-in-law (a European) said nothing. A few years later she said, "why didn't we drink the good stuff and bake with something the cheap stuff?" And I laughed. I never really thought about it, because I wasn't a big drinker. I do like "bubbly" however. Toni Morrison said when she was writing her novel by the time her draft was done, her houseplants had died. The point is - Amazon delivery is your friend.

This is reality people. Take care of the living humans in your life, and your furry ones and pets, but order out, let the laundry pile up, and drink the expensive champagne. This is writing. It's hard. I love it. I can't live without it. Sometimes it flows and is great. However, it is work and requires a work commitment.

My writing daily essentials: generally the same routine, eliminating distractions. I don't check social media until later in the day. And let's face it, when you're at work (writing is work, after all) other things will have to take care of themselves for a time. Writing requires intense focus and commitment. So do revisions. I love writing. It's been a huge part of my life. I can't imagine not doing it. I think continuous writing, daily or weekly, is important. This isn't just because it's easier to focus, and hold my story in my head, it's because it also helps to keep the inner-critic at bay. Self-doubt always creeps in, in my experience, and daily writing practice kicks it to the curb. I write with a playlist, ambient sounds like rain or a crackling fireplace, helps focus.

I try to read too, I do a ton of research when writing historical. It's easy to fall down research rabbit holes. It can't really be avoided so I just a lot the time to research. It's the fuel of my writing.

I could write a lot of blogs on this but, in fact, since I'm writing, submitting, and developing stories, my blog posting is going to be sparse. At the end of the day, you just have to do it. 

Always with coffee. I do like a good Earl Gray but coffee is key. Coffee. Yes, coffee. Ahh....

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I am also in a Thoreau Walden Pond milieu right now, having traded it from desert drought and I am as happy as can be to have a pond in my back yard with an incredible (incredible) array of waterfowl. It's always a drama in my back yard. The ducks are quacking, the Canadian geese are splash landing, and the Bald Eagles occasionally swoop by. There are the cutest wood ducks, pileated woodpeckers, gorgeous Blue Herons and a majestic white crane. This means something to me since my protagonist, a female sleuth, is an expert in White Crane Kung Fu.

I have an awesome family, awesome support and that helps a ton. I believe in luck and blessings too. I am sending some your way. Cheers!

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