Life and Death in L.A.: May 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


DEA Agents raid Whitey Bulger's South Boston headquarters.
I know ... Whitey Bulger's ties to L.A. are tenuous. His career as boss of the Irish mob in Boston is not the stuff L.A. legends are made of. But, indulge me a bit. He was arrested here, or, in Santa Monica to be more precise, in June 2011, after years of being on the lam.

So, the news is that after some delay, filming of the Scott Cooper directed "Black Mass" is getting under way in Boston. The first shots of Johnny Depp in full Whitey Bulger makeup have been leaked, and the look seems at first glance fairly authentic.

The film is based on Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill's book, "Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal."

Johnny Depp, center, in Whitey makeup.
In addition to the tome in which the movie is based, Lehr and O'Neill co-authored another book about the life of James "Whitey" Bulger that covered the crime boss's ascent as a career criminal and eventual downfall. Whitey's  prison terms, including one at Alcatraz, are detailed in the book. Also discussed is his participation in an early test of the drug LSD.

Movie folks are reportedly busy mocking up a Triple O's set in Cambridge, Mass., that will be used for shooting exterior scenes. The real Triple O's, a South Boston bar Whitey used as his headquarters, no longer exists.

So, what are the chances that "Black Mass" will hit it out of Fenway Park, so to speak?

Cooper's previous crime writing-directing assignment, last year's "Out of the Furnace" scored a paltry 52 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
We'd better hope for some of that good Irish luck.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Touch of Orson: Venice Beach as Border Town

Orson Welles prepares a crucial scene in "Touch of Evil"
Downtown L.A.'s refurbished Million Dollar Theater recently screened the Orson Welles classic dark tale of corruption and murder, "Touch of Evil." The film was originally released in 1958 after the studio took control of it from Welles. There’s a recut and redubbed version in circulation these days that is largely restored to the version that Welles intended thanks to a 40-plus page memo he sent the producers protesting changes made to the film. Using the memo as a guide, restorers fixed much of the damage done by studio meddling 50 years after the original release. 
Film historians consider "Touch of Evil" to be the last film of the classic noir era, which began with "The Maltese Falcon" in 1941.
"Touch of Evil" is set in a Mexican border town, but Venice Beach, with it's Spanish style colonnades, stood in for a jerkwater berg overlooking our neighbor to the south.
Welles co-wrote the script, directed and co-starred along with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich. Also, playing supporting roles are Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dennis Weaver.
Below, a video about the "Touch of Evil" restoration:

See the photo at top, and note how the crane shot is used in a clip from the film's opening:

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Barbara Stanwyck, third from left, and Fred MacMurray await their cues.

"Double Indemnity" recently had its 70th anniversary. The Billy Wilder directed film is a top contender for best noir of all time.  It features great performances by Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson) and Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes) and is packed with classic dialog:

Walter Neff: I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us.

Phyllis: We're both rotten.
Walter Neff: Only you're a little more rotten.

Edward S. Norton: That witness from the train, what was his name?
Barton Keyes: His name was Jackson. Probably still is.

The terrific script unfolds mainly in flashbacks. Wilder and Raymond Chandler adapted the James M. Caine novel of the same title. Chandler, a dean of Los Angeles crime fiction, makes a cameo appearance in the film -- see the clip, below:

 Check out the clip below, in which Walter spills the details of his crimes:

Below, another rarely seen production shot from the film:

Police guard the wartime rationed canned goods used on the set.