Parker at the Movies, Part 3: The Bald Parkers

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Have you ever noticed how the movies adapting famous book characters tend to pretty them up?   A great example would be Donald Westlake’s own John Dortmunder; tall, angular, stoop-shouldered, dark-haired, and generally unprepossessing in the books–played by Robert Redford in the first Dortmunder movie–and the only one to date that isn’t slow torture to watch–but you still look at Redford, who you know is giving it all he’s got and it’s not his fault he looks like that, and you just kind of roll your eyes a bit.

Another classic case would be Raven, the malnourished hare-lipped hit man of Graham Greene’s A Gun For Sale, who has thus far been played by fashion plates Alan Ladd and Robert Wagner.  Neither of whom had a harelip.  Or was English, but never mind that now.

Point is, when you’re making a movie, you’re investing a lot of money, and you want people to go see it.   That means you cast stars, or people you think are going to become stars.   Stars tend to be good-looking.   So book characters adapted to film will generally be prettier in their screen incarnations.   Not always.  But usually.  What would be really unusual–downright bizarre, you  might say–would be casting leads who are far less attractive and physically impressive than the character in question.   Why on earth would anyone do that?

The very first thing we ever learn about Parker (other than the fact that his manners leave something to be desired), is that he’s tall, powerful-looking, rough-edged but irresistibly attractive to women, and has a full head of hair.   And that he’s got huge vein-covered hands.  That last one is a tough order to fill when you’re casting around for actors to play him, but the rest of it should be no problem.

We’ve already seen that order filled three times, by Michel Constantin, Lee Marvin, and yes, even Jim Brown (though obviously the Parker in the books isn’t black).  The movies they were in all had significant shortcomings (The Split is 90% shortcomings), but casting wasn’t one of them.

All of these portrayals, and Mel Gibson’s as well (I think we can all agree that’s a more predictable Hollywood casting move, though technically Gibson cast himself), lived up to another aspect of the character–that he only seems to have one name–whether it’s Georges, Walker, McClain, or Porter.  Nobody calls them by any other name.  And they don’t call any of them Parker, because Westlake wouldn’t have it.

One other thing–there’s no indication, in any of the books, that Parker has a strongly identifiable regional accent–let alone a foreign one.  We know he grew up in a large eastern city, probably in New York state.  Really though, he could pass for a local almost anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.   It would take a veritable Henry Higgins to draw any conclusions as to his place of origin simply by listening to him.

So how then to account for the fact that each of the two remaining films I’m going to discuss in any detail here feature a ‘Parker’ who is short and balding?   The first of which answers to the rather conventional name of Earl Macklin, and talks like a redneck from Kentucky (which he tells us is where his family came from–he’s got his granddaddy’s pocket watch as a keepsake).

And the second of which, even though he’s arguably further off the mark than any portrayal since Anna Karina’s (possibly worse), actually gets to use the Parker name–though he’s clearly English, and referred to as such in the movie–and this guy was never an A-List star, or a terribly well-regarded actor, though he’s certainly a busy one.  How does he rate the name all the others were denied?

That last question is the easiest to answer–Westlake had died.  His heirs didn’t feel as strongly as he did about not selling the Parker name, and a producer acquaintance of Westlake’s best known for some rather forgettable TV movies for the Lifetime channel, convinced them to sell him and his partners the film rights to possibly the most forgettable of the Parker novels–along with the right to use the name Parker, based on what turned out to be the empty promise of doing more adaptations if the first one worked out, which it did not.   Worth mentioning that this acquaintance had been after Westlake for years to work with him on a project, and Westlake seems to have always put him off.   And I’ll put off further observations regarding that film until later.

The first film, of course, is The Outfit, and was Westlake’s personal favorite among the Parker film adaptations–I would draw a clear distinction between calling a movie your favorite, and calling it the best–two entirely different things.  My favorite movie of all time is probably Lady and the Tramp.  I would not try to convince anybody that’s the greatest movie ever made.    It’s simply very near and dear to my heart.   As The Outfit, in its own way, was to Westlake (though he might have only seen it once or twice).   And to a small devoted coterie of buffs, who have long defended the notion that this is the best Parker adaptation ever.   And I humbly dissent from this view.

The film has many fine qualities, to be sure–rest assured I shall not neglect mentioning a one of them.   It did not deserve to be forgotten, as it was for many years.  It’s an entirely good thing that it’s easily available on DVD now, and online, and is periodically shown on TCM, the way it was meant to be seen (I still have it on my DVR from the last time they showed it).   But there are reasons why when you look up a list of Robert Duvall’s best movies ever, this movie is never listed, unless all his movies are listed, in which case it’s still out of the top 40–well underneath his uncredited 20 second cameo appearance as a (presumably alien) priest on a playground swing in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Back in the day, I would go see movies simply because Duvall was in them (his performance in Tender Mercies still makes me tear up).   I don’t anymore, because his movies mostly stink now (like everybody else’s), but they didn’t always.   He had one of the great careers in cinema history.  He is one of the most brilliant and original thespians who ever lived.  And he is so tragically miscast here it isn’t even funny.

You don’t hire the best actor–you hire the right actor.   So why hire Duvall?  Well, partly because he’d just become a lot better known, due to his acclaimed performance in The Godfather.   Acclaimed, but not nominated–too small and quiet a role, but basically everybody who went to the movies knew Duvall’s face now, after his reputation had been steadily building over the course of the late 50’s and 60’s.  Could he be a marquee name, the way Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and other short, pug-ugly actors had been in the past?  The way Gene Hackman would be?   Talent can trump looks in the right roles.  Audiences get tired of looking at vapid pretty boys all the time.

So he was a rising talent, but still not a very expensive one.  This was not going to be a big budget picture–the director, John Flynn, hadn’t done much of anything yet (and ultimately never would).   Flynn had wanted to do it period, but the studio said no dice–hard to see how it changed much, since the novel was set only about a decade before the film came out.   I think you have to go back more than ten years to call it period.  Call me old fashioned.

Duvall was semi-famous but affordable–add in a few more semi-famous but affordable actors, along with some formerly big stars from the golden age, and maybe you’ve got a winning formula.   They added Joe Don Baker and Karen Black, and the poster would play them up like this was a contemporary take on Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.  And boy was that not going to work.

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Baker was cast as Cody–the movie’s equivalent to Handy McKay, and he looks nothing at all like Handy, but he gives an effective performance all the same, and having just appeared as Buford Pusser in Walking Tall, he might well have sold more tickets than Duvall in some parts of the country.   He’s there for sex appeal, something Duvall has never possessed.   By the way, he totally steals this picture from Duvall.  He probably would have been a better Parker.  He’s got a better poker face, he’s 6’2, and he’s got hair.

Karen Black is clearly supposed to be there for sex appeal, but strangely has none (not usually a problem for her).   She plays Bett–the name lifted from the novel, but she couldn’t possibly be any more different from the spoiled sadistic heiress Parker has temporarily hooked up with.  Black’s career had also been gathering steam of late, with appearances in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces.

But there’s nothing easy about watching her performance in this film–it’s excruciating.  Not her fault–she strikes no sparks with Duvall (few actresses ever did), and the role is badly written and conceived–she shouldn’t be along for the ride at all, and it’s never really explained why Macklin wants her there.   And yet there she is, all through the picture.   Like I said, they were hoping to get some of that Bonnie and Clyde vibe, but for that you need onscreen chemistry, and she and Duvall have none.   And I mean zero.

There’s a love scene between them–that takes place right after he slaps her around for touching his gun (really?)–that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. She says “I wish I didn’t love you so much” and he seems good with that.

Point Blank, based on The Hunter, had not been a success in the U.S., partly because of its large production budget (though it did very well in Europe, and probably did turn a small profit eventually).  I don’t know why MGM decided to make an informal sequel six years later, with an entirely new cast and director–maybe they’d picked up the rights to The Outfit, just in case Point Blank hit it big (though Lee Marvin always said he’d never do sequels–they could have recast), and then decided to do one on the cheap?

The Outfit does indirectly follow up on the events of The Hunter, but since this is a completely different (and much less interesting) version of Parker, with a different backstory, and different motivations, there was no attempt to link the two films in the promotion, or in the script.   And the script is the real weakness here.  John Flynn wrote it himself.   John Flynn has exactly two writing credits on IMDb, and this is his first–the second is for a 1983 TV movie.  He was not a writer.  But we’re still in this era where the directors felt like they could do anything, and the studios tended to let them try.

Talking about the movie years later, Westlake expressed his disappointment that Flynn’s career never really went anywhere, but with 20/20 hindsight it’s no surprise at all.   He was an incomplete talent, with a visual style even his admirers had to admit was on the pedestrian side (he came out of television and he ended up there), and he never had the knack of getting the best performances out of his actors.   He also had terrible judgment–he needed an experienced screenwriter to adapt this book for him–arrogant as John Boorman might be, insistent on the supremacy of director over writer as he was, he knew better than to try and do it all himself.

Westlake wouldn’t have written the script (he refused to adapt his own works), but there were many others who could have done a fine job.  Maybe there were reasons why Flynn had to do it, but the only parts of it that work at all are where he more or less copies directly from the book.   When he goes off on his own tangents, it’s a disaster.  And he does that a lot.

What I heard about this film before I saw it was that it makes no attempt to humanize ‘Parker’, lets him just be a predator fighting his way through a human jungle, but that isn’t true.   The movie opens with his brother Eddie (yes, he’s got a brother named Eddie), also a heister, being killed by two hit-men (one of them dressed as a priest, for no comprehensible reason), while Eddie’s dog Soldier, a long-haired German Shepherd, cries miserably, being unable to protect him, since he’s tied up.

Macklin later goes to speak to his brother’s widow (played by Jane Greer–many bit roles in this film are filled by faces out of the past), and knowing the dog did his best, goes over to pat him gently on the head, and throw a stick for him to fetch.  Aww.

The film is full of dogs for some reason–instead of the black and tan cur in the novel that Parker has to kill just to show us he doesn’t give a damn about dogs either, there’s a White German Shepherd named Judge at Chemy’s place (Shepherds are easier to train), who Chemy’s treacherous sister-in-law sics on Cody for rejecting her (because who’d believe she’d throw herself at Macklin?), and does Macklin kill the dog?  Does Cody?  No, Chemy does it, with an axe handle.  Why’d there have to be a dog at all?   You’ll have to be the judge of that.   There’s a bunch of Doberman Pinschers in the film as well, but they just strut around looking cool, and don’t do anything.

This is possibly the best scene in the movie–and the truest to the book, in spite of many changes.  Several lines grabbed directly off the page, mainly spoken by Richard Jaeckel’s (excellent) Chemy–you could imagine him doing a radio show called Criminal Car Talk.   Good stuff.   There’s so much good stuff here.  But it keeps ringing false, because Flynn doesn’t trust the material enough.   You know who he got to play the fat ugly red-headed sister-in-law?

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Sheree North–one of the great blonde sex goddesses of the 50’s (they thought she’d be the next Marilyn Monroe), who turned into quite a decent actress in the 60’s and 70’s, and she does a good job here, but how does it make sense that ‘Parker’ is a short balding flabby slightly pot-bellied yokel, while possibly the least attractive character who ever appeared in a Parker novel is–this?

I understand they needed somebody to be sexy to sell the film–North beats out the much younger Karen Black by a country mile here–but she’s only in the movie for like five minutes.  Did it ever occur to them that she might be a bit more appropriate to play Macklin’s girlfriend, if he absolutely had to have one?   Black is still too green.

The plot of The Outfit echoes that of a far superior crime film, based on the work of a much less distinguished novelist, that also saw release in October of 1973–Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick.  The script, written by two frequent Siegel collaborators (Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, who did the script for Dirty Harry), came from a now-forgotten book by John H. Reese (who mainly did westerns, but dabbled in crime fiction).

And just to show what a small incestuous world Hollywood filmmaking can be, the film also stars Joe Don Baker as a steely hit man, Sheree North as a slutty photographer who hooks up with Baker, and Point Blank‘s John Vernon as a weak-kneed mob flunky (he was good at those).

Charley Varrick begins with the title character, played by Walter Matthau (one of his greatest roles), robbing a small bank with his gang, that turns out to be a mob bank, so the mob sends men after them.   The Outfit begins the way it does because the Macklin brothers and Cody robbed a bank that turned out to be a mob bank so the mob sends men after them.  Quite the coincidence, huh?   Or maybe not.   Flynn would have been in a position to hear about what Siegel was working on.

Of course, in the story The Outfit is based on, the mob couldn’t give two shits about Parker until he comes after them for the money his former partner gave them–he wants that exact sum, nothing more or less–when they send men after him, he puts pressure on them to stop by getting various heisters across the country to hit their operations randomly, costing them millions of dollars, and creating an opportunity for him to take out the head of The Outfit without any fear of reprisal from its new chief.

Here, Macklin already has the money, but he’s mad about his brother, so he and Cody keep hitting Outfit operations all by themselves, saying it won’t stop until they give him the totally arbitrary sum of $250,000.   To pay for his brother’s life and for Bett getting tortured to try and make her betray him (which by the end of the film, you kind of figure she should have done).

He seems to have completely forgotten about that 250k by the end, and it seems like there’s nobody to take over from the boss he’s killed–because organized crime in California, where this is happening (note the palm trees), is built entirely around one rather passive pussy-whipped horse-breeding semi-retired mobster played by Robert Ryan.   Yeah.  It’s a bit different.

In the best-known scene from this film, Menner, the man who burned Bett with lit cigarettes, is shot in the hand by Macklin for his ungentlemanly behavior (“You shouldn’t use a girl’s arm for an ashtray.”).   Macklin knows this is the guy who put the hit on him and his brother–and he leaves the guy alive.  To try again. For no reason other than that Flynn figures there’s more mileage in the character.   There isn’t.   He’s just annoying.   Played by a unique-looking character actor named Timothy Carey, who has a bit of an online cult these days, but there’s no depth to him at all.   He’s ugly, mean, and stupid–only there to make Macklin look good by comparison–doesn’t quite work.

I mentioned that Joe Don Baker might have been a better ‘Parker’ than Duvall–but there’s one actor in the film who’d have been nearly perfect, if he hadn’t been one of those guys who never gets to play the lead–in this film, he doesn’t even get to have a name–his character is billed as ‘Hit Man’.

His real name was Tom Allen, but he usually got credited as Tom Reese.  He’s the hit-man who killed Macklin’s brother while dressed as a priest for no reason. His partner in one scene is played by Roland La Starza, a former boxer (former light-heavyweight champ Archie Moore also shows up in a brief cameo–why?  I dunno.  Why is Anita O’Day singing in the background at an Outfit bar, and you never even see her?  Why not?).

Can’t find any images of him from The Outfit–here’s what I could find.

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Reese was from Tennessee, but he didn’t have any strong regional accent when he was working–great voice, deep, resounding, and stark.   Powerful yet muted screen presence.  Big.  Blocky.  Six feet three inches tall.   Large veiny hands that swing at his sides when he walks–there’s this one scene where the camera looks down on him while he walks away, and you think there’s been some mistake–THAT’s got to be Parker.  He and Duvall are never in the same scene, though given that he killed Macklin’s brother, and is trying to kill Macklin and Cody, you’d expect some final confrontation, but I guess they figured there wasn’t time.

Keeps popping up through the film, looking all scary and professional, and then fades into the background–he seems to be in the back seat of the car Menner is in when he makes his final stupid attempt on Macklin’s life, but it’s hard to be sure, the way it’s shot.  Sloppy filmmaking, slipshod storytelling, and a waste of a fine actor.   Who realistically couldn’t have played Parker, because the studio would want a bigger name.   But one thing you can be sure of–he would have played the part straight.

And Duvall can’t.   He’s too much of a Method man–studied with Strasberg.   He’s got to know what Macklin is feeling, and find some way to link that up to his own experiences–and since even Richard Stark didn’t always seem to know what Parker was feeling, that approach is never going to work out.   He didn’t understand the character intuitively, the way Lee Marvin did–Marvin sensed there was something alien and unreachable about Parker, something you couldn’t explain or act out–just inhabit.   Marvin had the kind of screen charisma where he could just sit there, his expression blank and vacant, and you could read anything into those eyes.

Duvall, lacking that kind of gift, had to rely on his peerless acting skills, but they’re ill-suited to this role.  He can’t just inhabit Macklin, because he doesn’t get him at all (the script isn’t giving him any help, and neither is the director).

So he grimaces, fidgets, laughs at odd moments, smiles all the time, and in spite of his rather bloody profession, he’s a pretty nice guy to the people he knows and trusts–except Bett, who he abuses, then makes out with–and refuses to just leave behind, even though she’s got absolutely no skills to contribute to the job at hand.  Her main function is to get killed by the bad guys, so Macklin has an excuse to go kill them at the end.   It’s not enough that they owe him money. Because this is a movie.

He and Cody have a major bromance going on (that’s the real love story in the film, not Macklin and Bett).  They make a half-hearted stab at the scene in the book where Parker doesn’t want Handy to come in with him out of friendship, but it doesn’t work, because they are friends.   They love each other–it oozes out of every scene they’re in.  When a wounded Cody tells Macklin to go on without him, you never for one second believe that’s going to happen.

And at the end, when it all comes out their way (except they got no money at the mansion, and don’t seem to care), Cody yells out the film’s final tagline “The Good Guys Always Win!” and Macklin thinks that’s just hilarious.  Freeze frame, roll credits–on ‘Parker’ laughing like an idiot at a bad joke.  His girl got killed by bullets meant for him a few hours earlier.  You don’t want him to cry about it–though he looked about ready to when it happened.  But that was a few hours ago.

Why’s he doing all this crazy dangerous stuff?  Because the script tells him to. Why does he keep winning, in spite of being the worst heist planner in the history of the genre?   Ditto.

Why’d it all go so wrong?   Because they had the wrong director (who insisted on also being the wrong writer), the wrong star, the wrong love interest (they were wrong to have a love interest),  and the wrong idea–but they were trying to get it right.   I really believe Flynn was trying to adapt the book, but here’s the problem–when you’re trying to do a Parker novel straight, you can’t do it half-way.   Either do your own thing, like Boorman did, or stick as close as you reasonably can to the structure and spirit of the book, as Cavalier did with Mise à Sac.

Why did Westlake and others (including George Pelecanos, whose work on The Wire I respect the hell out of) think it went so right?   I think mainly because they mentally airbrushed out all the things that didn’t work, because they so loved the things that did.   And a lot of things in this movie work really well.

For the first and thus far only time in a Parker adaptation, you have a community of professional heistmen and their associates–a network of professionals.   You see Macklin and Cody get their guns from a sort of mobile arms dealer working out of his suitcase–not as believable or interesting as the equivalent scene from the book, but still pretty good.

You have Madge and her motel (it’s more of a bar, but never mind), as gossipy and chatty as in the book, though not nearly so perceptive and well-informed. Marie Windsor is the only older star in the film who seems to be having a good time with her role–of course, she wasn’t that big a star to begin with, so this isn’t such a demotion for her.  Ryan and Greer both seem to be remembering better days (and they were better, but what’s past is past).

You have Chemy and his brother cooking up innovative getaway cars.  You have Cody at his diner (we never actually saw Handy’s diner in the books, but what the hell).  You have some good casual conversations in the periods between the action scenes.   These aren’t icons–they’re people.   Often badly written people, never brilliantly acted people, but sometimes that just makes them seem more real–most of our scenes in real life aren’t Oscar-worthy either.

And as Westlake observed, the film has a certain ‘flat’ matter-of-fact quality to it–a lived-in look.   Like I said, it really didn’t matter whether they made it ‘period’ or not, because the locations they were shooting in looked exactly the way they would have in the early 60’s, and well before that.

Of course, the setting is wrong–it’s not New York, not even northeastern–but none of the films ever get that right.   It’s always France, L.A.,  Chicago.  Nobody ever wants to put Parker in his proper setting, for some reason.   Just like nobody ever sets an adaptation of A Gun for Sale in England–one of them is actually set in Turkey, believe it or not.   Setting matters, and nobody’s ever going to get Parker right until they put him in his natural habitat.  If you adapt Plunder Squad, you can set it in California, okay?

I think Westlake would have loved it just for the fact that it had Robert Ryan as the Bronson character (named Mailer here).   He would have loved seeing so many of his peripheral characters brought to life, even if they are mere shadows of their true selves.   I think the very modest nature of the film would have appealed to him–its lack of pretension–he knew there was no danger of this movie ever overshadowing its source material.   It was safe for him to love it, because so few people ever would.   It did decent drive-in business, maybe–but was probably not even one of the Top 40 grossers for 1973.

Let us not forget, the first adaptation was made without his approval, because he hadn’t been fully paid for it, leading to a lengthy irritating lawsuit.  The second and far better French adaptation he probably hadn’t even seen by the time The Outfit was made.   Point Blank he knew to be a magnificent if somewhat incoherent piece of work, but that was, you might say, his problem with it–that and the fact that the director had been openly dismissive of his profession in general, and his novel in particular.   The Split took one of his best novels and tossed 99% of it in the trash.

Then later there was the movie based on Slayground, the one Parker novel that positively begs to be made into a tightly focused bottle story, and I don’t even want to talk about how far wrong that went–I’m amazed they spelled the title right.

So what was the one ‘Parker’ film that actually tried to do the book some measure of justice?   This one.   It failed.  Badly.  But it tried.

And then it basically disappeared for a long time after it left theaters–surfaced here and there on latenight television, then vanished from there as well, only popping back up on DVD after Westlake had died.   So by the time he was doing interviews about the films based on his work, it had probably been over a decade since he’d last seen it.  In my case, I only saw The Outfit after having read a bunch of enthusiastic fan reviews online–and it did not, for me, live up to the advance publicity.   The books were fresh in my mind.  I was disappointed.  First impressions tend to be lasting ones.

I can think of one more reason why Westlake might have overdone it a bit in his praise of The Outfit–it’s just a guess, but note the ending.   Macklin and Cody have finished off Mailer at his mansion–the cops and EMT workers are coming. They need to slip away unnoticed, so Macklin puts on a white ambulance driver’s jacket (don’t ask me where he got it), loads the wounded Cody into a waiting ambulance, and drives away.   Sound familiar? Need a hint?  It’s 1973. Westlake is writing Butcher’s Moon.

He stole the ending.   I mean, it’s a script based on his book–if Flynn can use Westlake’s ideas as he pleases, why can’t it work in the other direction?   Only fair.  It’s a great idea, rather badly used in the film–they just improvise, the way they’ve been doing all through the picture.   In Butcher’s Moon, the ambulance has been stolen in advance, Parker leaving nothing to chance if he can help it.

It’s a much better idea the way Westlake uses it.  But still–not his idea.   There’s a certain sense of professional obligation there.   He’s going to be a little nicer than he otherwise would have been.   Not feign enthusiasm, but perhaps exaggerate it a little.

Like I said, just a theory–but Westlake lifted that ending.  It’s pretty obvious.  I guess it’s possible Westlake gave the idea to Flynn, but he said they really didn’t communicate any, and Flynn taking his suggestion would have also made him feel more favorably towards the film, so it works either way.   And either way, I think I’ve said all I’ve got to say about The Outfit.   If somebody wants to tell me I’m full of it, I’d be only too pleased.   But let’s get this straight–Parker isn’t short.  Parker isn’t sentimental.   Parker isn’t BALD.   Three strikes yer out, Macklin.

So given that I’ve vowed to never let any of my articles go longer than 6,000 words again, I’ve got less than a thousand words to talk about the other baldie.   Oh no.  How terrible.  And I was so looking forward to discussing Jean-Luc Parker and his bullshit enterprise (yes, I’m very proud of that, thanks for noticing).

This was the film they promised would be like the book–one of the worst books of the series (and the worst possible pick to begin a film franchise with), but still a decent piece of work–and you can vaguely perceive the outlines of its plot here and there in this film, the very first where ‘Parker’ is named Parker, and that’s why it has a special place in my personal movie hell.

I can’t really get that mad at the Godards and Boormans of the world for not doing what they never said they’d do.   But this–thing–truly does mark a new low point in the long strange history of Parker at the movies, and I’d actually prefer not to dwell on it any longer than I have to–also, to properly review it, I’d have to watch it again.  In the words of the immortal Bartleby, I would prefer not to.

Here’s how it begins–I’ll use (NIB) as shorthand for ‘Not In Book.’  Parker and  his associates are robbing a state fair (NIB), with his associates dressed up as clowns (NIB), and Parker dressed as a priest (again with the priestly garb?  in the book, but not during a heist), and actively involved in the heist as opposed to creating a diversion (NIB), never mind that this means that he can be easily described and identified by the guards he helps overcome, not to mention all the people whose attention he attracted earlier by winning a sweet little girl a stuffed animal at a sideshow game (!!!).

He flashes back (in the middle of a job!)  to taking Claire to a barbecue (NIB), at her father’s house (NIB), where he tells her she looks beautiful (!!!), and then she tells him how much she loves that he loves her dad (!!!!).   Then back to the heist, where Parker gives a panicking guard a little heart-to-heart talk about women (NIB), after having already told everyone there that he doesn’t steal from people who can’t afford it,  or hurt people who don’t deserve it.   Which is, by the way, repeatedly contradicted by his behavior throughout the rest of the picture, without any sense of irony that I can detect.   Oh, and (NIB).

Still engaged in the heist, he flashes back to the barbecue again (seems to have some kind of attention deficit thing going on), where Hurley, who is his mentor (NIB), tells him in person (NIB) about the heist he’s going to be pulling with these guys, who are there at the barbecue for no discernible reason (NIB).

Then back to the heist, which nets them a million dollars (NIB), and Parker is asked to kick in his share to pay for a bigger job–a jewel heist–and it slips out they’re paying a million dollars for a house in Palm Beach–it’s a 100k downpayment in the novel, and who buys a million dollar house cash upfront to pull one job?  And instead of an isolated McMansion trashed by a rock star, the house is on a tiny plot of land, surrounded by other houses, and Lord only knows how many potential witnesses.  Why not put out a neon lawn sign with a blinking arrow on it saying “This way to the jewel thieves”?  (NIB)?  You betcha.

They don’t want to tell him anything else about the job they’re pulling (NIB) even though they mean to kill him if he won’t participate (NIB), and then he leaps out the window of a moving car (NIB), and then the punk named Hardwicke whose uncle is a Chicago mobster Parker will later kill (NIB) has to go shoot him, causing life-threatening injuries that Parker somehow recovers from during the ride to the hospital he gets from some kind hearted tomato farmers he will later give a lot of his money to in gratitude (NIB).

Then at this hospital he learns that the fire set by the punk (NIB) as a distraction at the fair (NIB) has killed a man (NIB), to which news he responds with what looks an awful lot like guilt (!!!!!!!!) and then he chokes out a black orderly (NIB) and escapes using a scared cancer patient for cover (NIB), seemingly little the worse for wear (NIB).

And this is just the first 20 minutes of the film.

This film was a critical and commercial flop, and since this time they used Parker’s name, it probably poisons the ‘franchise’ as far as movies are concerned, for at least a generation.  Given the trendlines of this three part overview I’ve just written, that may not be such a bad thing.  The two best films came out almost half a century ago.     Been downhill ever since.

On to cable television?   How the hell would I know?  Enough about ‘Parker.’   In my personal opinion, there may someday be a film/show/whatever that does Parker justice, but there will never come a day when all the Parker adaptations combined are worth the worst Parker novel ever written.

And speaking of which, our next book is The Black Ice Score.  Which I just reread, and I liked it this time.  Maybe it’s the company I’ve been keeping?   Enjoy the turkey–as long as it’s the kind you eat.

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35 Comments

Filed under Donald Westlake, Parker film adaptations

35 responses to “Parker at the Movies, Part 3: The Bald Parkers

  1. Adi Kiescher

    Harry Dean Stanton. This is the guy who I see whenever I think about Dortmunder.
    Tommy Lee Jones. This one goes for Parker.

    • They’re both too old now, but of course that’s true of so many people who should have played them. Thing about Dortmunder is, he’s such a New Yorker. Parker doesn’t really give a damn where he is, but Dortmunder never wants to live anywhere but New York–well, Stanton could play a New Yorker if he wanted to.

      I didn’t get around to mentioning that Robert Ryan himself would have been a magnificent Parker–back in the 40’s or 50’s, before the first novel was written. He’s like a ghost, haunting The Outfit. It’s not one of his better performances–even from his later era.

      I have to think, though–dye his hair, give him an extra hour in the makeup chair, light him just so–he’d still be a better Parker than Duvall. Sexier, too. Westlake adored him–it comes out in a number of other books. He must have been over the moon when he found out Robert Freakin’ Ryan would be in a movie based on a book of his.

      I often hear Lee Marvin’s voice when I read Parker’s dialogue. Never Jack Palance’s–thing about Palance, who certainly could have played the crazed jumpy Parker we see in The Hunter, is that he had a tendency to over-emote. You’d need a very strong director to keep him in line.

      Actors who could play him today? As far as big stars go, there’s nobody. I’ve thought from time to time that Joe Manganiello could work for a cable series–VERY big, dark hair, dark eyes, powerful, reportedly knows how to throw knives, played a guy who turns into a wolf. Ugly him up a bit in the makeup chair, and you’d still buy that women are attracted to him.

      He’s never impressed anybody with his acting much, but he’s never really been given a chance, and again–Parker isn’t really about acting. You just have to inhabit the character and let him speak through you. A lot of highly-trained actors would find Parker impossible–they’d have to unlearn what they’ve already learned.

      Dortmunder, I see more as a series on USA–very light and funny, and maybe Tim DeKay as Dortmunder. He’s a really good comic actor, and that’s what you need. Honestly, I think George C. Scott could have worked, if that movie wasn’t so incredibly unbelievably BAD. And again, you have Joanna Cassidy in there, somehow giving an even more annoying performance than she did in The Outfit. She’s a good actress, but you’d never know it from her work in those films.

  2. i saw “the outfit” years ago, and the chemy scene is the only one that stands out in my mind. glad you called it out. the less said about “parker” the better…

    • If the whole movie was like that–only without the now-pointless dog murder–I’d be more than happy to bow down before it. It really is kind of funny how Flynn goes out of his way earlier to tell us “Hey, audience, Macklin LOVES dogs!”, just so he can keep the line from the book where Parker says he’ll break the dog’s neck. Duvall does not say that line convincingly, and of course he never touches the dog.

      I love my canine brothers and sisters with all my heart, and I always wince when I read that scene in The Outfit, but if you’re going to do it at all, do it the way it’s written. Westlake was afraid of dogs, I think–big aggressive ones, anyway–but he kind of admires them. You never see a dog behaving in a cowardly or disloyal fashion in any of his books. They do their jobs, and he respects them for that. But he doesn’t love them. Just because he’s my favorite writer doesn’t mean we have to agree about everything.

  3. Hey, someone has to defend bald Parkers!
    I know I’ll say an heresy but I quite liked Parker. Not like screen adaptation of a Parker book, but as an action film. Why I didn’t like all other Parker films, but not disgusted by this? That’s easy: I have yet to read the source. While watching Parker I made a distance in my thoughts between real Parker and what I was watching on a screen. I imagined I watched a comedy. crime comedy like those British crime flicks where Statham scored before. It worked to some degree. I made fun of a British guy, with an accent, bald head and passionate look on his face, who pretended to be Parker.
    The film was a bit better than usual Hollywood crap, and with other good performances, like from Bunk and Lopez. Apart from the opening clown mask scene, the action scenes were pretty watchable.
    If I read the source book before I’d been set to watch Parker, I wouldn’t finish it. In that I’m certain.
    As for the other baldie, you got it right: too much emotions on his face. Who was he trying to play? Romeo? It’s Parker, goddammit.

    • If I’d never read Flashfire, and could imagine this film was a comedy (which it’s not–not on purpose, anyway), I can see how ‘Parker’ might be an enjoyable enough way to kill two hours or so–I mean, I paid money to see Crank, so who am I to judge?

      Except I’d want a much better looking girl playing Claire in the shower with him, and I’d want that scene to last a lot longer. Not sure what ads you saw over there, but here they deliberately edited the TV spots and trailer to make it look like Statham and Lopez were in the shower. Bait & switch.

      Seriously, they should have just made Lopez’ character the love interest. Unbalances the whole movie, because she’s a star (on her way down, but still a marquee name) so they have to make a lot of time for her, and show ‘Parker’ being very attracted to her–when they say goodbye at the end, he’s obviously wishing he was an old school Mormon or something, so he could add her to the harem–which is out of character for the real Parker.

      But fans of Lopez’ romcoms who showed up for this were going to be mad enough she doesn’t get the guy in the end, so of course he has to fall for her–but not end up with her, because the producers figure there might be another movie, and they won’t be able to get Lopez (her character is only in that one book), so they felt like they had to have Emma Booth as Claire. I had to look her name up, and man her career did not go anywhere after this, but that was the point–she’d be cheap, and she’d be available, and I don’t mean that the way it sounds, but the movie would be a lot better if they edited her out of it.

      Just headscratchingly dumb–make Lopez the love interest, or don’t put her in the picture at all–they wasted so much time with two female leads–Claire is a marginal presence in that book, and she’s sure as hell not coming over to play nursemaid. They changed so much about Parker here, but they still have him as a strict monogamist? Only one who still lusts after other women? They’re trying to have it both ways, and it doesn’t work.

      ‘Better than usual Hollywood crap’–in the 21st century–doesn’t really cut it for me. I did note back then that ‘Parker’ did its best box office in Russia, so obviously you guys were just in the mood for a crappy Statham flick, which I can certainly identify with. I actually do like a lot of his movies. With the right director, the right screenwriter, the right fight choreographer, and the right girl (like that Taiwanese actress from The Transporter, still the best thing he’s ever done), Statham movies can be fun, but heaven help us when he tries for depth. It isn’t there.

      One thing I didn’t have time to mention–the film is a bit nasty in the way it treats its nonwhite characters. Parker chokes a large black orderly to escape the hospital–as I mentioned, that scene isn’t in the book. One of the guys at the check cashing place he robs and shoots is black (not in the book). The guy standing in for the character who gives him his fake ID and ends up dead is black (not in the book). One of the heisters who betrays him is black–and played by the wonderful Wendell Pierce, from The Wire–he tries to rape Lopez’ character–at the stupidest moment imaginable, when he knows ‘Parker’ is lurking outside the house–and she shoots him–obviously not in the book.

      I’m sure you’re hearing about what’s going on here now, in terms of race relations. I would not say this was a timely film for us, but it does, quite unintentionally, explain why scared white cops keep shooting large unarmed black men. They’re like Hulk Hogan! Only black! :\

      • I didn’t notice an explicit violence toward blacks, but I was only looking at Bunk.
        As much as I see Claire plain, I’d agree with you that they made a mistake with that actress. They should have switch Lopez and Booth: even if Claire were plain in the books, I would understand the change. Movies are not books, they have different rules.
        Yet Lopez as Claire? No.

        • I’d just as soon Lopez had been left out of it entirely, but if they had to adapt Flashfire (as the opening to a planned film franchise!), and they had to cast Lopez to play Leslie (at least she’s got the body for it), I’d say just scrap the stuff with Claire, give us Parker’s one-man crime wave in the beginning, and then have Statham and Lopez in the goddam shower (since nobody is ever going to do the thing where Parker has no sex drive during a job). Give us some value for our money, is all I’m saying. If you’re going to sell out, do it right.

          Not that I paid to see this thing. I got a bootleg on the sidewalk, a week after it opened, two blocks from my house. Capitalism–ain’t it grand? 😉

  4. I share most if not all of your objections to the adaptation of Flashfire, but I think I’m much fonder of the book than you are. It’s another example of Parker’s single-minded (and sometimes illogical) determination to “even the score,” and I think it’s kind of hilarious that he raises more money than he lost in pursuit of his revenge. More when we get to that book, a few years from now.

    • Oh I’m fond enough of Flashfire–it’s the first Parker AND the first Westlake I ever read. A strange place to begin, but that’s the earliest Parker the library had, along with Firebreak and Breakout.

      I was digging it pretty hard until he got to Florida. It’s probably Florida I don’t like so much. 😉

  5. Anthony

    Westlake himself said he saw Harry Dean Stanton as Dortmunder (I’m SURE I read this in an interview once, but Google has not tracked it down for me so I can’t back it up).

    Now, having given this about 20 seconds of thought…

    Dortmunder – Jackie Earle Haley
    Kelp – Ryan Stiles
    Parker – Believe it or not, I think Brad Pitt could do it, provided the director was ruthless about no winks or smirks.

    • I think when I’m done with this, I’ll start “The Westlake Interview Review”, in which I shall compile and catalogue all those Westlake interview comments you just KNOW you read somewhere, but can’t seem to find, no matter how long and hard you search.

      Dortmunder is not the most impressive physical specimen out there, but he’s TALL.

      And God Almighty couldn’t stop Brad Pitt from winking. Or smirking. 😉

      • Actually, I’d be fine with Harry Dean Stanton–in the early 80’s, when he wasn’t quite so haggard-looking. And as long as he could do a credible New Yorker. Because if Dortmunder is nothing else, he’s a New Yorker. There is no other city for him. So probably they’d have done the film with HDS in Las Vegas. 😉

  6. Is Dortmunder tall? Does it say that somewhere? He fit in a dishwasher in one of the books. I still think William H. Macy would make a great Dortmunder.

    • He’s very flexible when he has to be. Physical descriptions of him are not common in the books, and of course we’re never going to get an exact height, any more than we did with Parker, but he was referred to as tall a number of times–of course, what constituted tall back then? I’m considered tall now, and I’m a fraction under six feet.

      William H. Macy could have done it–maybe a tougher variation on the character he played in The Cooler, a favorite of mine–but he’s 64 now. I think more in terms of a TV actor for Dortmunder and Parker, since the movies have played Westlake so false. If it could work for a minor Elmore Leonard character, why not a major Donald Westlake character?

      We think “Okay, Parker is too enigmatic and strange and does horrible things to people without a qualm–they can’t do him right–but they could do Dortmunder to perfection.”

      But in practice, they’ve done a worse job with him than with Parker. I’d rather watch that goddam Statham movie again than Bank Shot, and I love George C. Scott. The Hot Rock could have been a classic, if they hadn’t cast Redford (George Segal is standing right there! What is wrong with these people?!), and if Peter Yates had any sympathy for the brilliant screenplay William Goldman turned in. And Martin Lawrence is supposed to be playing Herman X! Or if you’re doing a black Dortmunder, Lawrence would be the black Kelp. Does anybody there know how to play this game?

      Closest thing to a perfect casting move was Mitchum as Tobin–and they didn’t make the frickin’ movie. Face it, something will always go wrong. Maybe Dortmunder is a metaphor for the film industry. 😉

      • Anthony

        I direct us all to Westlake’s introduction to the last story in Thieves’ Dozen – the experimental short story with all the Dortmunder characters under different names (I don’t have the book handy, but I think it is Fugue for Felons). He came up with the name Rumsey as the Dortmunder stand-in but said it didn’t totally work for him because Dortmunder was – say – an even six feet and Rumsey was short.

        I can still see Jackie Earle Haley as Dortmunder. They could always use camera tricks to make him seem taller…

        • I’d forgotten about that (Rumsey, to me, was not a terribly memorable fellow, as Westlake thieves go), but there are, I believe, many prior indications that Dortmunder is no shrimp–no colossus either, of course.

          Haley’s 5’5, and even with lifts and a lot of short people in the cast–well, he does have an interesting face. He is experienced in playing sad sacks. But maybe a little too intense? It’s been a really long time since he did comedy.

          I mean, if it’s in your head, you can cast anybody you like. What would you say to Walter Matthau as Dortmunder and Jack Lemmon as Kelp? Other way around? Maybe they could take turns. 🙂

  7. Anthony

    Actually, I CAN see that working

  8. The Outfit, much like Mise a Sac, is a pretty decent movie. And also like that movie, there’s not really much to discuss. And much like you, I don’t share the fanbase’s love for The Outfit.

    Oddly enough, this film’s the one I feel the most lukewarm about. Yes, even more than The Split and Made In U.S.A. At least those had shortcomings which were utterly perplexing and got a rise out of me. The Outfit’s shortcomings are far more conventional, far more Hollywood. They added a love interest where it wasn’t needed, they softened up Parker, they didn’t feel confident adapting the book straight up meaning they added a lot of bullshit, etc. etc. etc.

    Earl Macklin doesn’t a thing for me. He’s too emotional, too human. And he’s not interesting enough for me to consider him good on his own merits. Like with McClain, there are bits and pieces here where Duvall captures Parker (sometimes when he’s marching down a hallway, or the scene where he snarks at Cody about how all cities look the same, etc.) but this didn’t piss me off like it did with McClain. Here I just felt…meh.

    Joe Don Baker was great as Cody, a great choice for Handy McKay. I felt Mary Windsor looked a bit too young for Madge but she otherwise knocked it out of the park. I personally quite liked Timothy Carey’s performance as Menner. He arguably did a better Mal than John Vernon or Gregg Henry.

    But yeah, overall, it’s a good movie. I just don’t have any strong feelings for it.

    What to watch instead of this: Yeah, Fred pretty much hit it on the head with Charley Varrick. Now THAT is a damn good movie. I’d also recommend Rolling Thunder, also by Jonathan Flynn. William Devane, as a military major, with a fucking hook hand. Fucking awesome.

    As you can see, I’ve been able to crank these out a lot faster. Helps that these don’t take as long to experience. Movie Magic!

    • It’s what it is–a movie made by a modestly talented director who insisted on proving he was no kind of a writer. Decent atmosphere, some good acting, a nice lived-in feel to it, and the story just does not work. And always with the change of venue! Why keep doing these on the West Coast? It’s not like Hollywood didn’t make a ton of movies set back East.

      I wouldn’t mind hanging out inside this movie, mind you–when the nastier people in it aren’t around, Timothy Carey in particular, though better his character than the actor himself–only worse company would be Lawrence Tierney (::shudders::). But neither of them are going to eat Madge’s place. Have a beer with Madge, listen to Anita O’Day, enjoy the scene, talk about the good old days (of crime). Maybe order a few eggs at Handy’s grill afterwards. But the scene is all there is. Oh well, that’s better than nothing.

      Speaking of eggs (or do I mean yeggs?), I just watched a terrific little 70’s hardboiled called Prime Cut, with Lee Marvin. There you might say The Outfit (in this case, the Chicago Irish mob, and I don’t mind the obligatory Mickisms so much) are the good guys. The bad guys? Down home country folks who peddle flesh (some bovine, some human), led by Gene Hackman.

      Parker, whatever the fuck he may be, is not a good old boy, and Duvall could do any accent in existence, so why try and make him one? Damned if I know. Oooh, and Sissy Spacek’s first-ever featured role in a movie. And she’s already better than everybody not named Marvin or Hackman.

  9. Alright last review for the day! You know, I was expecting to have somewhat controversial takes on the Parker movies, but I wasn’t expecting one of them to be for Slayground (1983). Truth be told, I actually kinda dug this one.

    Oh it’s not great, but for what it was I mostly had fun. I dig trashy flicks and the idea of a crime slasher hybrid is pretty cool.

    Obviously, as an adaptation, it’s a miserable failure. I didn’t even have to get to that installment to know this was an in name only film. I get the vibe that the filmmakers really wanted to tell a story about crooks shooting at each other in an amusement park and they just bought up the rights to Slayground so they wouldn’t be accused of plagiarism. There’s a few nods to the series like Stone’s alias being Charles Willis or the appearance of a woman Madge but I’m not entirely confident those weren’t just coincidences.

    I’m not even bothering with ranking Stone among the other Parker variants because he’s an entirely different character. On his own terms, the character was fine but ultimately nothing I haven’t seen before. I did enjoy Peter Coyote’s performance, and I’m disappointed he never got a shot at playing a character like Parker. Because Stone ain’t even a McClain, much less a Mackin or Georges or Walker.

    But, yeah aside from the adaptation failure, I’m curious to know why you rank this as the worst Parker adaptation.

    Sure, the film’s not great, the plot loses focus once Stone goes to London, and the acting’s very hit or miss. But I personally kinda liked it. 🤷‍♀️

    What to watch instead of this: That being said, if one were to want a good crime flick that takes place in england, I’d much rather go with The Long Good Friday. One can rarely go wrong with Bob Hoskins acting all gangster.

    • I can’t get into it. At all Not even the least little bit. I even like Made in USA better. At least there you get to look at Anna Karina. Overall, a very tedious slog, as I experienced it. (It was on cable, with commercials, maybe they cut it up a bit? How are you watching all these movies in one day, might I ask?) It just wanders all over the place, and never gets anywhere. Almost as bad as my reviews in that regard.

      It’s a crime film that doesn’t want to be a crime film, and a slasher film where the invincible killer just gets peremptorily shot down at the end by a not very impressive heist man who’s been running from him all through the picture. It drags in the middle, and how–HOW??!–do you make a boring movie based on one of the most thrillingly kinetic novels ever written, which takes place over about 24 hours, and is not at all long–this is the one Parker that would make the most sense as a film, and they made it into a film that makes absolutely no sense.

      I mean, they just had to rent a closed amusement park, and voila–the set! The amusement park is like five minutes at the end of a lot of confused ramblings on two continents! They took a bottle story and popped the cork! Who does that for a low budget flick with a star best known for killing ET, that is almost guaranteed to lose money unless the budget is super-low, which it could have been. Easily.

      I can understand you being a slasher completist or whatever, but this guy talks too much, and he’s no Freddie Krueger when he opens his mouth. The average birthday party clown is creepier than him. He probably got laughed out of Slasher World by all the other bogey persons, and figured he’d take a toddle over to Crimeville, see if he’d be taken seriously there. Not by many.

      Of course it doesn’t really count as a true adaptation, but we were counting Godard’s thing, which would be harder to connect to the book it’s adapted from than this one, which did, as you say, just want the title, the bare bones premise, and the amusement park, but did they use a single idea of Westlake’s regarding how to use the amusement park?

      I doubt they shelled out just to have the right to the name and the barest concept, because the name isn’t worth that much (and titles aren’t copyrighted), and nobody owns the idea of mayhem at an amusement park. So I think they started out intending to adapt the book, paid good coin of the realm for it, and somehow the project itself got heisted. Whoever was going to do it left, and whoever took over wanted to do something else. I could probably find out, but only reason I’d care would be to have whoever was responsible whacked.

      And the crowning indignity–the producer in charge of this was the honorable Ms. Verity Lambert, original producer on Dr. Who. I don’t blame her, she literally just took over the reins as this was coming down the pike, and it must have been a confusing time at the studio, given that one of the other offerings from that period was Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy, of which this film has none.

      I’ve seen The Long Good Friday, and its very jaundiced take on Irish Republicans, of whom I’ve met a few in my day, and they did not look or sound remotely like that, probably thought the film was great gas, more of British film’s tendency to turn the IRA into stock villains to avoid dealing with their own atrocities in the North. Mind you, it’s almost impossible to make a bad film with Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, but they’d have found a way if those two had gotten cast in Slayground.

      To me, this is the worst movie ever made from anything Westlake ever wrote, which is saying rather a lot, but chacon a son gout. 😉

      • I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to inflict this on anyone else. I think it’s more that my expectations were so phenomenally low that I was surprised by it being kind of fun. But yeah don’t get it twisted, I ain’t defending this one 😛

        As for how I was able to watch all these films in the past few days, I actually own Point Blank, The Split, The Outfit, and both versions of Payback. The others I found on the internet via streaming. I wasn’t about to shell out 17 dollars for a blu ray of Slayground. Ditto for a 30 dollar copy of Made In U.S.A.

        • Hey, don’t take my kvetching seriously. I’m OLD. It’s part of how one gets through the day at 61, not that I was ever Little Miss Sunshine to start with (can I suggest that as an alternative film to watch? They heist a corpse in it. Very Westlake in its own way.)

          I’m pleased to learn you didn’t buy a blu-ray of Slayground, sorry to learn there is one. Of all films to put in that format, well after its release….. Obviously Godard completists would need to have Made in USA (hey, I just realized, the title implicitly credits Westlake–I wonder if that came up in the lawsuit?)

          So that just leaves Payback and ‘Parker‘, right? The Violent World of Parker mentions two Hong Kong films that strongly resemble The Hunter, neither of which I’ve seen. And I myself pointed out that a well-known Japanese crime flick about a hitman ‘homages’ the section of that book where Lynn betrays Parker (and there her motives are made very clear, and this ‘Parker’ has no qualms about killing her for it).

          https://thewestlakereview.wordpress.com/tag/seijun-suzuki/

          No need to track any of those down. You’ve been more than thorough here, and frankly, I would not ask anyone to watch ‘Parker’–if you have the intestinal fortitude to sit through it, bravo. 😉

          • I’m already mid way through my write up of Payback (watched it last night) and more importantly, it was the film I wanted to talk about most out of the bunch. As for “Parker”, well, I appreciate your permission for me to skip it. I’m probably still gonna cover the movie, if only because I’ve covered the rest.

            I’m not covering the rip offs though, even I have my limits. 😛 (Hell, I’d NEVER get back to the books if I had to talk about the various homages, pastiches, and rip offs, yeesh.)

            I’ve not seen Little Miss Sunshine. But since we’re talking about alternatives, I’d like to ammend my alternative and replace it with another: The Vault (2017). It’s another crime/slasher with James Franco as a frightened bank hostage trying to survive a bank robbery. Of course, THIS bank has a sordid history that haunts it to this day…A much better combination of crime and horror.

            • If I ever see that on cable, I’ll DVR it. I have to be really determined to see a movie for me to buy/stream it. I was really curious about Prime Cut, but happily, the library I work for has it (different campus, but that was no problem). Underrated at the time it came out, gradually building a rep now. I also watched Fingers, which was overrated at the time it came out and still is. Made by Toback the hack, who has worse problems than his lousy track record at present. (I just got such a bad vibe from his movie I googled, and it’s good to know my personality radar still works.)

  10. Parker is a an utterly worthless film, easily the most worthless of all the Parker films. Whatever few positives it has A) are still merely passable and B) have been done much better in films that are much better. It’s also a shockingly inept production, with bad adr, a lot of obnoxious stock city footage, really hit or miss lighting, and some odd editing choices. When we get to J-Lo’s character, her scenes feel almost like they’re plucked from a Lifetime movie of the week.

    This is the only Parker film that I found no value in. Made In U.S.A. had that opening 10 minutes and Anna Karina. Mise a Sac has a pitch perfect recreation of Starkian heist in glorious progress. Point Blank is a visual marvel with the closest take on Parker yet (if ever). The Split has that great (if poorly utilized) cast and is dumb fun at points. The Outfit and Payback: Theatrical Cut are good movies in their own right. Slayground has a fun genre combo and a damp, wet, wintery atmosphere that I personally. You know how I feel about Payback: Straight Up.

    But “Parker”? Nothing. Even judging by its own merits, the film is dreadfully generic with stock characters in stock settings mashed together with stock tropes and an ultimately stock plot that I seriously doubt has much to do with Flashflire. (Hell, I’d be shocked if the book had an even vague equivalent to J-Lo’s character in this movie.)

    Jason Statham is by far the lowest Parker variant. And I’m referring to the character, not the actor, because “Jason Statham” is pretty much who he always plays (…unless he’s in a Guy Ritchie, admittedly). He might (?) be a bit rougher here than his usual persona but not by much. The most telling thing about this Parker Variant, though? There’s a scene where he tells J-Lo’s character to undress down to her undies so he could check for wired (Uh-huh. The funniest thing is, the film later tries to do a feminism by having J-Lo talk about the struggles of having male clients constantly grope her. I mean, come on) and during this scene J-Lo stammers that she just wanted in on the heist so she could get enough to move out of Floridia. No joke, the instant that happened I immediately thought: “Parker wouldn’t go through with that. He might pretend to and then kill her like in The Jugger but he wouldn’t take this fucking real estate agent in on his heist.”

    I have NEVER had that thought when I watched the other Parker films. I was always able to judge the Parker Variant on screen as their own character. Not with this one.

    But to really sell how truly low this movie gets (and to sort of parallel Fred’s review), I’d to recap the ending:

    After the big shootout climax where Jason Statham and J-Lo’s character ogle over the loot, they share a brief kiss (the second kiss they shared). Jason Statham reminds J-Lo’s character that Claire’s the only girl for him…depsite, again, them sharing two kisses. This is “Fuck you #1” from the film.

    The film then timeskips to Chicago six months where Jason Statham kills some mafia toughs and the big crime boss in Chicago. Jason Statham pulls the trigger and we do ANOTHER timeskip to a year later. This is “Fuck you #2”.

    J-Lo’s character receives a package from Jason Statham in the mail. It’s her cut of the pie. As she’s picking up the cash that spilled out, her mom asks if the mailman brought anything. J-Lo’s character responds: “Just bills, mom!” (“Fuck you #3”)

    And after a dumb scene that shows us how the kindly couple who rescued Jason Statham are doing now, the movie closes out with “Fuck you #4”: “In Memory of Donald E. Westlake”.

    So, obviously, I didn’t know Westlake at all while he was alive (didn’t know of him as an author until after he died). But there’s something about that dedication that really pisses me off. I mean, the check cleared and his estate got paid for the adaptation rights so I imagine he wouldn’t mind too much up there wherever he is now. But it feels very insulting to have a poorly made movie that barely uses anything of Westlake’s writing dedicated to his memory. Hell, Point Blank would’ve been a better film to dedicate to him and that was specifically meant to be a scathing critique of his book.

    What to watch instead of this: Anything. Anything’s better to watch than this.

    And with that….I am free.

  11. Amen to all that–but I must inform you that probably the only reason they chose this book (my least favorite of all the Parkers) to adapt is that they wanted to cast some curvy former A-lister (so they could get her cheap) to play Leslie Mackenzie (obviously not a Latina in the book, like I care) and do that scene that Westlake almost certainly cribbed from The Maltese Falcon, where Spade makes Brigid strip to see if she stole some money. For the record, she was innocent that time–well, she didn’t do it, put it that way. But yes, Parker wants to make sure Leslie isn’t wearing a wire. (A few books later, he finds out a guy he’s playing poker with is wearing one. Poor guy has to fold his hand.)

    In the book, Leslie starts to get into Parker after they’ve worked together a bit, but he makes it very clear he’s not interested. There is no family of rednecks who save him and he recompenses them later. There’s also no attempted rape of Leslie involving a black member of the string (there is no black member of the string in the book, so interesting take on inclusion).

    Very little of what’s in the film comes from the book, but for them the money shot (you’ll forgive my use of the term) was Leslie stripping. They put that in every trailer. They also, as I mentioned, tried to make it look like the shower scene with Parker and Claire was Statham and J-Lo. They also made Parker look pained and regretful when Leslie walks away. They make Parker look like he has remorse. For which I would gladly gun down the entire production team with no remorse at all.

    It’s not bad by the standard of Parker adaptations, which it barely qualifies as. It’s bad by the standard of mid-budget action flicks starring Jason Statham. Hell, it’s bad by the standard of low-budget action flicks starring Steven Seagal or Jean Van Damme. Even that’s being too kind. Ever seen any Dolph Lundgren flicks? Bad compared to those. Ken Wahl? Michael Paré? Gary Busey? Damon Wayans? Adam Sandler? Those Vin Diesel side-projects where he’s the only reason you’d even consider watching? The list goes on. This bottoms the list. This is a bad action film compared to other action films, which really only exist in order to be bad, but in an entertaining way–ay, there’s the rub.

    And for the record, I like some of Statham’s shitkickers. I’ll watch The Transporter anytime it’s on. The sequels, probably not. But that’s the genre–not crime. Action/Adventure. Which is not Parker’s genre. He’s not an action hero, or any other kind of hero. But they cast a guy whose drawing power is pretty much entirely restricted to that genre. (Though he did what I’m told is an okay heist film once, generically entitled The Bank Job.) And they bend over backwards to make him a really nice guy who happens to do armed robberies for a living. Prince of a fellow. You’d let him babysit your kids. (Maybe that would have been the sequel–The Diaper Job.)

    The only purpose of this film was to make money. And it didn’t. Statham bounced back (to a high-budget action series, where he squabbles with Duane Johnson between fight scenes), but ‘Parker’ never will.

    What’s also weird is that they know people only go to Statham movies to watch him pretend to know martial arts. (Like many a Hong Kong star, he’s a dancer, not a fighter). But for that you need a great fight choreographer. Which they can’t afford. So even the fight scenes stink. They still try to fit the usual action crap in there.

    So don’t feel bad you assumed they wrote in the strip scene, because the way they filmed it, that’s exactly how it feels. In the book, it’s maybe a tad gratuitous, but I think the point is, he’s not even the least bit turned on. It’s purely business. He’s working. Flashfire is the worst Parker novel (which I’ll remind you they specifically chose to adapt, as the prelude to what they hoped would be a franchise), but any part of it outshines this turkey like a full moon outshines a brown dwarf in the night sky.

    They shot it in Palm Beach. (Which was expensive). And didn’t make a single Trump joke. (Westlake, writing years earlier, did not miss that target).

    What more can you say?

    Surprise me.

    😉

    • Aight, challenge accepted.

      It just feels like a movie no one involved wanted to make. Both Point Blank and Payback: Straight Up were the result of someone’s vision. Even if you found both of them flawed visions, you still get the sense they WANTED to deliver them. For Mise a Sac, Payback: Theatrical and The Outfit, you get the sense that the crew behind them are trying their best to make a good movie. Godard was most doing his own thing, but at least he liked doing his own thing. Even in The Split, it still felt like the cast were at least enjoying themselves. Slayground…ok, that one also felt like a paycheck film for all involved, but it sure didn’t feel as miserable as this.

      Parker? I literally get zero vibe of any passion behind the film. Just another disposable action film to clog up all video stores, bargain bins, tv channels, and streaming services near you!

      I actually WAS aware that stripping scene was in the book, and that it was the sole reason the studio picked the book first for adaptation with “the intent of doing more” (which I honestly kinda doubt). Hell, I was aware of it when I first read this very blog years ago! However, I had actually misremembered it as Parker making a girl do a lap dance for him (I mean, that also sounds like a reason a movie studio would pick your book up).

      You know, if the studio was absolutely hellbent on a softer hearted Parker to make a potential franchise out of, wouldn’t The Rare Coin Score be a much better pick? It’s Claire’s introduction, the action setpeices aren’t too demanding of a film’s budget, it’s a much shorter book than Flashfire, and the entire point is having Parker find love again (…well, the closest thing to it, you get my point).

      Hell, I’m mdiway into Part Theee of The Black Ice Score (not to jump ahead of discussion 😉 ) and so far it’s perfect for what this studio clearly wants. You have Parker planning a heist that’s for a good cause, you have him doing it because Claire wants him too (well…kinda. We’ll get to that when we actually talk about the book), you even have Claire getting kidnapped for Parker to rescue! It’s a hack studio’s wet dream!

      Again, I must clarify that I don’t want a safer, watered down Parker that’s actually a nice guy deep down. But if you’re so insistent on that, wouldn’t it make sense to pick an installment that leans into what you’re looking for? Of course, they’d likely fuck it up even if they picked a more appropriate book so…

      • This is, you’ll recall, the production team that hired Wendell Pierce, one of my favorite actors from The Wire (Bunk rules, man), and decided off the bat to make him an attempted rapist, when there are no black characters of note in the book, and zero rape attempts. They also had ‘Parker’ choke out a black hospital orderly who hadn’t done anything wrong, when in the novel Leslie just smuggles Parker out when nobody’s looking. I think maybe it’s just as well they didn’t adapt The Black Ice Score.

        And while you’re right that The Rare Coin Score would have been a great opening gambit for a franchise, since it was a new beginning for Parker, I’m relieved they only ruined my least favorite novel of the series, and not one I’d probably put in my top ten.

        Sorry, misunderstood what you said further up. Given they were going for a more wholesome Parker, and at no point in any book does he show any interest in lap dances, that would have been a bridge too far. (I can see him at a strip joint on business, looking at guys paying for that service, and thinking what’s the point. Easy for you to say Parker. Most of us hairless apes don’t have your animal magnetism.)

        I see I failed to mention in my short dismissal of ‘Parker’ that the guy who started this failed heist–the finger, if you will–was Les Alexander, a longtime TV producer who doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page–look at his IMDb page sometime. Many other screen credits. I’ll be impressed if you recognize any of them. (I didn’t)

        He and Westlake were I guess you’d say friendly acquaintances through Westlake’s periodic involvement in The Biz. Alexander was always after Westlake to adapt one of the Parkers, and Westlake always put him off. Once Westlake was gone, he kept on plugging away, and he finally got his chance. And now you know why Westlake kept putting him off.

        So he was definitely enthused about it, but this was his first-ever theatrical feature. He used his rights to the novel (and Parker’s name) to lure in some higher-priced talent, and I can just imagine Taylor Hackford thinking “It’s come to this.” I liked An Officer and a Gentleman, even The Idolmaker, but anybody who would remake Out of the Past and give it a schmaltzy romantic ending kind of had this coming, way I see it. Karma, baby. Still, that remake had Jeff Bridges and James Woods. Hackford had definitely seen much better days. Well, that’s a common lament.

        The producers (I like to think of them as the Gaudy Quintet, you’ll get the gag later) were enthused. The people actually doing the work, probably not so much. It was work for hire. Nothing more.

        • To clarify, I read the trivia statement on this blog about the stripping clothes scene in Flashfire being the main reason it was chosen for adaptation. The years came and went and my brain eventually distorted “Parker makes a girl strip for him in one of the books” to “Parker makes a girl do a lapdance for him in the books”.

          It’s partially why the scene in movie just came and went for me because I had misremembered the scene they bought the book for as a different scene entirely.

          • We can continue this discussion when you get to Flashfire. But anyway, kudos on getting through all these movies so quickly, and analyzing them so succinctly. And condolences on one of them being this one. 😉

  12. I appreciate the kudos and I’d like to provide one more post on this subject (well, for the time being, anyway):

    In summation, what a fascinating, eccletic, and downright odd collection of films. Despite it ending in pure misery, I’m glad I went on this journey. In fact, I’d argue there is actual value in watching these (…I mean, if you stop at Payback: Straight Up that is). It provides an eye opening look into the process of adaptation and all the various forms of it. We see directors who try to tell the story straight up, those who try to put their own spin on the material, those who try to “elevate it” (rather bullshit but I digress), and those who just fart off and try to tell their own story entirely. And those who are just trying to make a paycheck but fuck
    Parker (2013). They’re also surprisingly versatile in style. Probably not the best assurance of their fidelity to the novels but it makes them unique from one another, at the very least.

    And finally, if nothing else, it was because of Payback that I became introduced to the Parker books and of Donald E. Westlake, like you yourself. Which is why I hope this new project from Shane Black and RDJ is at least good on its own merits. For it just might be a gateway for potential new fans to enter.

    • My own feeling is, getting people interested in the Starks again was the primary contribution, but even there I’d say Levi Stahl did the heavy lifting, by getting them all reprinted by U. of Chicago Press. And it was the books that got him hooked, not the films. I think he just came across a few in bookstores, and said “Wow, where have these been all my life and why aren’t they all in print?” Now they are. But being able to point to all those movies couldn’t have hurt his pitch with the publisher.

      If not for all the studio checks, we can’t know for sure Westlake would have kept coming back to Parker, to Stark. My feeling is, the character was inexhaustible (sadly, no author ever is), but knowing there was so much interest, in part because of the movies, was a good motivator. Still, for all I know he would have written more if not for the distraction of the films. Maybe having to compete with the movies made him too self-conscious, and he needed to take a long break, recharge. Maybe it was just too exhausting being Stark, and he definitely wanted to prove he could excel under his own name. Which he did.

      There’s a moment–you’ll know it when you see it–where he borrowed the ending for a very important Parker novel from one of the movies–and improved the hell out of it. So there is a dialogue between print and celluloid going on. There is also that awareness that Parker looms the largest of all his creations (even though none of the films were big hits). Dortmunder is more loved, Parker is more respected. Something like that. Westlake would have been a great crime fiction author regardless, but somehow it was with Parker that he first really hit his stride–and part of him loved that–part of him didn’t. (If you ever read Adios Scheherazade, you’ll know just how mixed his feelings about the part of him that was Stark really were).

      Hard as it is getting into Parker’s head, it’s twice as hard understanding his creator. But it’s worth the effort. I think so, anyway. And there is no better way to know anyone than to read stories they write for themselves. (Whether they sell them afterwards or not). It’s through fiction that we tell the truth about ourselves. But if we all did that, Sturgeon’s Law could get to be a real problem.

      No doubt, Westlake was influenced by movies from the start, with Parker and all of his work–he needed that raw material to work with, reshape. And it’s not only the movies directly adapted from his work that bear his influence. I can respect, as he did, that filmmakers need to do their own thing, and slavish imitation isn’t necessarily the best homage they can give.

      Still, if forced, I’d choose the books. Every time. Not always the case with me, btw. But with Westlake, it is. There’s something in him that just does not translate. To film, I mean. I’m sure his many foreign language translators all did wonderful jobs. But he, like me, could only guess. He said being in or out of print was the difference between being alive or dead. He never felt that way about movies. But man, the money’s nice. 😉

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