By Sam Barron
The rat-a-tat dialogue. The sleazy cases. The murders for hire. The fedora hats. The characters, so cool you would think they were a jazz recording.
All will be on display in the Jacob Burns Film Center’s “Pulp Fictions: The Hardest Hard-Boiled Crime Novels on the Big Screen” series, which runs from Feb. 7 to 28 in Pleasantville.
The series features such pulpy classics as “The Long Goodbye,” based on the Raymond Chandler novel, and “The Maltese Falcon,” from the Dashiell Hammett novel. Authors like Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard and David Goodis are also represented, along with directors such as Robert Altman and Steven Soderbergh.
The Burns seeks to showcase the best adaptations of pulp crime novels and hard-boiled fiction. The series is curated by Christopher Funderburg, a programmer at the Burns.
“These are some of my personal favorites,” Funderburg says. “I wanted to show movies that we haven’t shown before and give an audience a chance to see them.”
Funderburg, who says he noticed that he began reading more pulp as he got older, thinks these novels are easy to adapt into movies.
“You can take them and make them into whatever movie you want to see. These movies are accessible and audience-ready. You can improve them and sharpen them the way you want.”
Calling the movies “sexy,” Funderburg adds that they have all the elements audiences want to see.
“Murder, violence, affairs, adultery: These are real page-turners. They are compelling in a very basic way.”
Funderburg says that many pulp writers don’t get the respect they deserve for their compelling, engaging novels.
“It’s more difficult than they get credit for. These are good books that have apparent virtues.”
While many of these movies are available on DVD, it’s rare to find 35-millimeter prints of the films like “Cockfighter.” Some of the movies will be shown in their original prints. The age of the blockbuster has killed off a lot of these small-time gritty crime movies, which Funderburg calls a tragedy.
“A movie like ‘Friends of Eddie Coyle’ would never get made today. It’s too small a story. All these stories about small-time crime, there’s not massive criminal conspiracies. They don’t have car chases and bazookas. These books are about real crimes that really could be committed. They’ve completely fallen out of favor.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone helped kill off the small drama as films had to have more special effects to stay relevant. While Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” series has morphed into an action franchise, the original “Die Hard” was based on the Roderick Thorp pulp series “The Detective,” which was also turned into a Frank Sinatra movie in 1968.
“The original ‘Die Hard’ is so much more intimate and small scale,” Funderburg says. “No one is jumping on a jet. Every action hero now is an expert in mixed martial arts.”
Funderburg thinks that Olivier Megaton, who directed the recent hit “Taken 2” and also made similar movies like “Columbiana” and “Transporter 2,” could learn a lot by reading or watching pulp fiction.
“These movies don’t have to be so paint by the numbers,” Funderburg says. “Hollywood can’t let its action heroes and crime movies be real.”
With the film series set to launch, Funderburg hopes this encourages the Burns’ audience to see a bunch of good movies that turn them onto good books.
“I hope they all decide to read ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ and read Charles Willeford books,” he says.
The Jacob Burns is partnering with the Westchester Library System during the series. Library cardholders will get two tickets for any screening at $6 member prices. For more, visit burnsfilmcenter.org.