Ironically Forgotten Promo: Double Feature

Until the night Laura Penney did herself in, most of the violence I’d known had been secondhand.  Carey Thorpe is the name, and if that rings no bells you aren’t a truly serious student of the cinema.  I’ll admit it’s easy to miss my general film reviewing, in publications such as Third World Cinema and The Kips Bay Voice, but my first book, Author and Auteur: Dynamism And Domination In Film, was an alternate selection of Book Find Club in the summer of 1972, and last year my second book, The Mob at the Movies: Down From Rico To Puzo, got universal raves.

Born in Boston in 1942, I came to consciousness concurrently with television.  Being a spindly youth, I spent most of my childhood in front of the box, watching whatever the program directors thought fit to show me.  Old movies were the mainstay of local programming then, so by 1960 when I went away to college (Penn State; anything to get away from home and family) I knew more about movies than Sam Goldwyn and less than him about anything else.

My name is Ordo Tupikos, and I was born  in North Flat, Wyoming, on November 9th 1936.  My father was part Greek and part Swede and part American Indian, while my mother was half Irish and half Italian.  Both had been born in this country, so I am 100% American.

You know how dates will get away from you sometime?  (No, I’m not talking about Tinder.)  February 4th got away from me.  The release date for yet another Westlake reprint from Hard Case Crime.  The release date for other things as well, one of which gazes ever more forlornly at me from the bathroom mirror each morning.  Oh Hard Case–you shouldn’t have.  (Because I wanted Adios Scheherazade.  Anyway, it’s the thought that counts.)

I knew it was coming, spaced on the matter of when.  I also knew that the original title of this mini-anthology was deemed insufficiently clear, and would be changed to what you see up top left.  Westlake called it a ‘two-reeler’ in the dedication, so I don’t think he’d mind much.  For the record, people who have been confused for decades as to why it was named Enough–myself included–should have looked closer at the Bierce quote he opened it with, from The Devil’s Dictionary–“Enough: Too Much.”  And connected the dots.

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It had only been two years earlier that Westlake published Two Much!, about a man who loves not wisely but too often, and the protagonist of that book, as I mentioned in my review of the first offering here, resembles Carey Thorpe in many ways–which philandering philosophe meets the unhappier fate would be an interesting discussion (anyone wants to raise it in the comments section, I’d be only too pleased), but when it comes to literary discussion,  Art Dodge’s sordid saga is much the better story.  All that aside, the relationship between the two is clear.

Now which of the two he wrote first, I could not tell you.  But there is nothing in A Travesty that would rule out it having been conceived and/or written, at least in part, before Westlake completed Two Much!  Or they could have been turned out more or less simultaneously.  Or maybe it doesn’t really matter.  (This isn’t going to be that long a piece.)

I am still honored to occasionally correspond with Charles Ardai,  to whom we are all indebted for many an overdue Westlake reprint (and, in three cases, first print), in hardcover, paperback, and digital ink, always with great cover art.  So yes, he did tell me about this one, some time back.

The title change fits nicely with the cinematic subtheme in each, both of which have ironically been adapted (American Television, Cinema Francais ).  While neither in its prose form is considered Westlake at his best, they both hold up rather well, like nearly everything he wrote in his maturity.  As he once noted, writers train for distance, and these are both within his approved range–a short novel, and a long story.  They make their points efficiently, then exeunt all.

There’s a bit of a personality test inherent to reading them together–which do you like best?  For me, it’s Ordo.  I like to be the outlier, and it is, you must admit, the Starker of the two in its style, and the more unique.  The humor is kept on the down-low, and Ordo doesn’t really feel like a Westlake protagonist–maybe more out of Tucker Coe.  Only without the guilt.  Another voice in Westlake’s head, that he wasn’t free to give rein to most of the time.

The majority view (recently restated here) is that A Travesty is what we want from Westlake, if a bit more cynical and sanguinary than a Dortmunder fan might expect.  The French maybe feel a bit differently about the question (btw, there seems to be a lot of nudity in that film, so guess which one I’d rather see?)

I’m sure the other adaptation has its pleasures, Felicity Huffman not least among them, (though who would have thought she’d be the one to get in trouble with the law in real life?)

(You know how Mr. Westlake loved to borrow titles from Hollywood?–well, Hollywood loves to borrow titles from itself even more.  And you can bet he knew that, without any need to consult with IMDb.)

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Though it’s great to have these two tawdry tales evailable, as well as in paperback, I wouldn’t call this two-reeler one of Mr. Westlake’s true literary orphans.  Aside from the films, the two narratives within have seen multiple print editions in multiple languages, together and separately.  When I checked The Official Westlake Blog, I found two covers I’d never seen before had been added, both of them rather good, and there they are up top.  (Sometimes I wish all his cover art was of the Tromple L’oeil variety, even though the phrase ‘Trompe L’oeil’, the latter word being pronounced ‘lay’, leaves a harsher aftertaste than it used to).

Out of print Westlake novels are getting thin on the ground, if one counts ebooks as print.  I just realized that The Scared Stiff got published in 2013, by Mysterious Press/Open Road.  Not sure how I missed that.  It’s actually the best cover art yet, unless you count the Japanese edition, which it echoes).

I still wait in pensive pathetic passion for Killy, Killing Time, Adios Scheherazade, Up Your BannersAnarchaos, and A Likely Story.  (Why do I suspect Who Stole Sassi Manoon? and I Gave At The Office will be out first?)  I don’t expect Hard Case to handle all of those.  But may each and every one be traversing the Kindle-verse soon.  And the sleazes as well, a few more of which I shall shortly be downloading–oh get your minds out of the gutter!

And next in our queue–hmmm…….

 

4 Comments

Filed under Donald Westlake film adaptations, Donald Westlake novels, Enough, Ordo, Two Much

4 responses to “Ironically Forgotten Promo: Double Feature

  1. Tom

    Of course you write this on the day I finally get around to finishing this book. One thing that popped out at me: in Ordo, Westlake mentions a producer named Josh Weinstein who punched a movie star named Rick Tandem. Wikipedia says that the Weinstein brothers started Miramax in the 1970s. The disgraced Harvey Weinstein was well known for his temper tantrums which sometimes turned violent. Is this a coincidence? I have no idea…

    • Hah! Never noticed. Not exactly an uncommon name, in LA or NY, and of course Westlake wouldn’t use the real name in this context, since the last thing he wants is more entertainment-related litigation.

      Miramax, believe it or not, was founded in Buffalo, NY–in 1979. The Brothers Weinstein were concert promoters before then, made enough scratch to found a studio.

      So that theory, charming though it be, ends up underneath the pavement on Hollywood Blvd, with Estelle.

      Any thoughts on the books themselves? I’m kind of over Harvey. At this point, isn’t everyone?

      • Tom

        Yeah, I thought my idea was a stretch, though an interesting one.

        A Slight Case of Murder was fun. I had only recently seen the film ‘Gaslight’, so the allusions in the story were there for me to spot. Someone in the comments on the Ordo post mentioned Marilyn Monroe marrying a sailor in her past, and so I could see that whole Norma Jean to Marilyn thing.
        Both movies look good to me, judging from the trailers. The delicious irony of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy after their troubles starring in this would be a hoot to watch. Ordo would be fun too, since I’m a sucker for sexy French movies.

        • You mean A Travesty? A Slight Case of Murder is the TV movie. The French decided to go with the original title with Ordo. I get the distinct feeling the relatively subdued satire of the book mainly didn’t translate well, so they went all noir with it. Which is fine, as long as the sex scenes are good. The one great advantage of film–you can see the girls. You don’t have to imagine them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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