During my recent interview with Laura Lippman on the eve of her first-rate new novel "I'd Know You Anywhere" (click here for the interview), she kept a clear head and a humorous attitude about potential film and TV adaptations of her books. One reason it's easy for her to do that, she said, is that she knows her pal Dennis Lehane has sucked up all the movie luck to be had by contemporary crime novelists.
"One of the things about Lehane is that among our circle of friends his good fortune in screen adaptations is ridiculous," she said. "It just gets better and better. He starts with 'Mystic River,' and then I liked 'Gone Baby Gone' a lot -- it was a really good movie, Casey Affleck was terrific, Amy Ryan was terrific [that's Affleck with Michelle Monaghan, above] -- and I remember when it was announced that Scorsese was doing 'Shutter Island,' George Pelecanos looked up at him and just said...." -- well, what you'd expect the acclaimed bard of DC crime to say when faced with a comrade's outrageous good fortune.
Impressive, to be sure -- and, on top of all that, Sam Raimi has been attached to Lehane's "The Given Day." But this is just the best string of luck to be had by an American crime writer today. It's not an artistic winning streak. I thought "Mystic River" as a movie rode into Oscar-land on Clint Eastwood's baffling directorial reputation; it was filled with over-acting and wooden moviemaking. My favorite of this bunch by far is Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone." "Shutter Island," though beautifully crafted and eerie, is a bit of a specialty number for Scorsese -- a well-wrought stunt.
Compare Lehane's lucky streak to James M. Cain's: Billy Wilder making "Double Indemnity" and Michael Curtiz doing "Mildred Pierce" and Tay Garnett getting "The Postman Always Rings Twice" past the censors with Lana Turner's sexiest performance.
And, of course, Wilder hired Raymond Chandler to co-script "Double Indemnity" while Howard Hawks made Chandler's "The Big Sleep" into a sassy classic. Decades later Robert Altman turned Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" into a modernist milestone of the private-eye genre: satiric, elusive and unsettling. And in between, Chandler co-wrote Hitchcock's sizzling adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers on a Train."
Which American crime novelist do you think has been best served by the movies? Let's set aside Mario Puzo's and Francis Coppola's "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II," which I think are in a class of their own. My very favorite crime adaptations are linked by their writer-director: John Huston's versions of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" and W.R. Burnett's "The Asphalt Jungle." What are your favorites?