Vincent Zandri is the bestselling author of Murder by Moonlight (currently the subject of a book trailer contest at Amazon Studios). Zandri offers this dispatch from the intersection of movies and noir:
I don’t go to the movies.
Wait, scratch that … I love the movies. Or, films, I should say. It’s just that you’re going to be hard pressed to find me spending a Saturday night at the local mall, buying over-priced popcorn and sitting through the latest Adam Sandler flick while some high schoolers are chatting it up behind me and the seven-feet-six basketball player seated in front of me blocks the entire screen.
OK, I know, going to the movies isn’t necessarily for the guys, but more for the gals. And it’s what you do for someone you love who is constantly doing things for you that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy doing. Like bellying up to a bar for instance.
But while we’re on the subject, I have a serious confession to make. Until recently, I’ve been single for a long time, dating here and there, enjoying some short-lived relationships, living the George Clooney life more or less, only without the bucks or the Hollywood good looks. In any case, I always find myself telling my date, or prospective date, how much I love to go to the movies. It works like a charm, every time. All I have to do is ask a girl if she’d like to go to a movie this Friday night and dinner afterwards and her eyes will light up and boom, I’m in.
So what I do after that is wait a few days and then I’ll sort of suggest we save the movie for another time since I can only get an early dinner reservation at this really cool restaurant. Usually she agrees and from that point on, I keep promising a movie, but it usually never happens. And that’s usually when the relationship fizzles out … go figure.
Problem is, in my business, I can watch movies all the time, anytime, via Netflix or Amazon Instant Video or even YouTube. In fact, I probably watch and re-watch half a dozen movies per week. Watching movies and reading books are essential as a fiction writer. Like a musician listening to other bands, watching movies not only sparks my creativity but it also makes me a more enthusiastic writer. I find myself watching not only as a professional, but as a fan.
The movies I like to watch and, as I’ve already pointed out, re-watch, almost always fall into the noir or hard-boiled categories. The top-5 noir films I simply cannot stay away from are as follows:
1. Chinatown: Hands down one of the best hard-boiled, wise-guy detective flicks ever made. The Robert Towne script is said to be perfect but the performances are even better with Jack Nicholson playing the sarcastic gumshoe and Faye Dunaway the femme fatale. Look for the scene in which Jack slaps Faye around while trying to figure out if the kid upstairs is her sister or daughter. “My sister, my daughter, my sister…!!!” Classic.
2. Angel Heart: This one came out in the mid-1980s when I was still in college and was more or less a sleeper but a real horrific sexy shocker. Mickey Rourke plays a 1950s era P.I. who has a bit of an amnesia problem. I could tell you the plot but it would spoil the movie. But for atmosphere and acting, you can’t get a better noir performance than this one.
3. Se7en: I’m a big Brad Pitt fan. He makes the big bucks and I believe he should make the big bucks times two. In this one from the mid-1990s, Brad and Morgan Freeman join up to discover who is behind a series of gruesome killings that are mimicking the seven deadly sins inside a city where it always rains and the view is nothing other than the concrete jungle. A contemporary classic with Kevin Spacey as the villain.
4. Double Indemnity: I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking Fred MacMurray was a real dork considering the dad he played on My Three Sons and the goofy professor in Disney’s Flubber series. But turns out, back when my parents were still having movie dates, old Fred was bad ass. In this one, he and Barbara Stanwyck try and off her husband in order to collect the insurance dough. But it all goes bad in the Hollywood Hills. No one says “Baby,” better than Fred “Flubber” MacMurray.
5. Foreign Correspondent: This one was made by Hitchcock pre-World War II and it’s more of an atmospheric, paranoid suspense thriller than anything else. Dark shadows, tight claustrophobic settings, crooked camera angles, and in my mind, one of the first and best English speaking foreign noir films ever produced. Joel McCrea’s performance is remarkable in that it’s stood the test of time. I love to watch this one when travelling in Europe.
So those are just five of my tough guy noir favorites. There are of course, many, many more. Tales of the Gun, The Killers, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, among them. My choices range from the classic black-and-white to the horrifying to the campy as all hell. But I love them nonetheless and all have influenced my novels, especially the Dick Moonlight series, in one way or another. I suspect I’ll be watching them again and again until my dying day.
I’ll leave you with one last confession regarding my movie dating situation, or lack thereof: Just last year, my ex-wife Laura and I decided to start dating again. One of the things that made her come back to me was my convincing her I would take her to the movies once a week. Well, ummm, it’s been a year and we still haven’t gone. But we’re going to get there (I promise, baby). But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe we won’t get there until one of my own films is finally released.
But even then, I might not feel like going to the movie theater. Or maybe I will. I can just see myself sitting in the back row with Laura on one side and some stranger on the other. Knowing me, I’ll poke the stranger on the arm.
“I wrote this,” I’ll whisper.
“Good for you,” she’ll whisper back, maybe with a roll of her disbelieving eyes. Or maybe she’ll get up and move her seat, thinking I’m some crazy dude or full-of-himself tool. Whatever the case, at least I will have finally made it to the movies.
— Vincent Zandri
Learn more Vincent Zandri and the Murder by Moonlight book trailer contest.