Hallucinatory southwestern noir takes readers to a land of saints and sinners.
It's said that a good book teaches you how to read it. The author instructs while building the story. Dorothy B. Hughes' 1946 crime novel Ride the Pink Horse, which was the source material for the 1947 film noir starring Robert Montgomery, falls into that category. In the story a man wanders around the southwestern U.S. town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, searching for someone he calls the Sen, which is short for the Senator. We suspect the shortening of his title is designed to make it a heterograph with “sin,” because this Illinois senator-turned-crime boss rather sinfully hired out the murder of his wife then shorted the murderer part of his fee. That's why the main character, named Sailor, is adrift in this town. He's followed the Sen there from Chicago to get his money. He plans to find him, confront him, collect payment, then scurry away to Mexico.
But this comes out in trickles. Initially Sailor merely criss-crosses the town, unable to find a hotel room because it's fiesta weekend, with crowds everywhere and processions filling the streets. He sleeps under the canopy of a merry-go-round which features a pink horse. As he keeps going in circles around town more characters emerge—the cop who's trying to solve murder of the senator's wife, the carousel owner who appeals to Sailor's sense of honor, the girl who recalls an innocence he can barely remember, and the beautiful Iris Towers, the focus of his wishes for a better life.
Hughes loves symbolic names: there's the Sen, as we already mentioned; there's Iris Towers, dressed in ivory colors and pale of skin; and there's the girl Pila, whose name is the Spanish word for a laundry trough, a place of cleansing. The book is composed of encounters rather than events, hallucinatory meanderings punctuated by tense verbal standoffs. Each tête-à-tête clarifies matters a bit more for the reader. Did Sailor really kill the Sen's wife? Did he ever intend to? Was she ever to be the actual target? Were others involved?
When Sailor goes from seeing the town's Mexican and Native American inhabitants as something other than sub-human, maybe, we think, he isn't irredeemable. But even if he grows in some ways his hatred continues to drive him. He thinks the Sen is vermin. He wonders how such an abomination can even walk upon the Earth. When he follows the Sen into the cathedral this thought passes through his mind: He didn’t know why the dim perfumed cathedral didn’t belch the Sen out of its holy portals.
Hughes is a good writer, a unique stylist, and she gives Ride the Pink Horse the disorienting feeling of taking place in purgatory. It's a fever dream, an acid trip across a constantly shifting landscape, literary rather than pulp in approach, as much Faulkner as it is Chandler, with nothing quite solid or real apart from Sailor's hatred, which is so intense it seems as if it will consume him and leave nothing behind but a cinder. Sailor's racism is appalling, but he's not supposed to be a good man. This town filled with people that frighten and confuse him could be his salvation or his doom. He's the one who has to decide whether to step back from the precipice. Every wise character sees that he's headed for destruction. But the future isn't set. He has a chance for redemption—small, but real. Top marks for this one.
Seven hundred sixty-five thousand problems.
After a week of films with plots climaxing in robberies, 1973's Charley Varrick gets the heist out of the way on the heels of opening credits. Unfortunately, it goes violently, lethally wrong for Walter Matthau and his partners. Worse, though they clear $765,000, the stolen money belongs to a mafia clan that had been using the bank as a laundry and wants every dollar back. Add in a statewide dragnet, a brash and alcoholic partner, and cops out to avenge a dead colleague, and you have a tangled web indeed. The question of whether to keep the money never really comes up. The smart move is to return it. But Matthau may not get the chance to do it before he's ventilated by the mafia gunman on his trail.
The Noir City Film Festival's desire to push beyond the confines of noir has led to the inclusion of movies far outside the genre. This is another one festival organizers want seen in a new light. But it's missing something. While there's a heist and gunplay, Varrick is not a character we ever considered to be at serious risk of dying, which means a critical feature of film noir is missing—menace. Matthau is simply miscast. He's the guy from Hello Dolly! and Cactus Flower, after all. He isn't going to get shot. Oops. What was that we were saying about no more spoilers? Oh well. Now you know he lives. Sorry. You may still like Charley Varrick, even though it plays like an ambitious television movie. It's not noir, but it's not bad.
You can't hide from the FBI.
Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.
Once the way is opened it can never be closed.
This photo shows a long exposure of the early instants of the Trinity nuclear test, which was conducted as part of the Manhattan Project at White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. It happened today in 1945 and was the first nuclear explosion in human history.
At top is a photo of the first atomic device, a plutonium bomb nicknamed Gadget, detonated in a test known as Trinity, at White Sands Proving Ground, aka White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The second photo shows the bomb's fireball at six-hundred feet in diameter 0.016 seconds after detonation, releasing energy roughly equal to 20 kilotons of TNT. The Trinity blast is considered the beginning of the nuclear age, today in 1945.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
In the truth is oh so much more strange than fiction department, a New Mexico funeral home is being sued after accidentally sending a dead woman’s brain to her next of kin. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the deceased’s brain was sent to the family in a bag of personal effects that sat forgotten in a car until the day after the funeral, when a foul odor began emanating from the bag. Inside they found a smaller bag labeled with the woman’s name and the word “brain,” and inside that, a rotting surprise certain to supply lifetimes worth of nightmare fuel. The understandably furious family has filed a lawsuit against the De Vargas Funeral Home & Crematory, but owner Johnny De Vargas claims the mistake was not made by them, but by another funeral home in Utah, where the woman died in a car crash. “We inherited the problem from Utah,” he said. “We are a very reputable company and we were dealt a bad brain, er, I mean hand.*”
*We lied. He actually only said hand"**
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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