Block and Tackle

Other directors had tackled the work of Lawrence Block before A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, but it hadn’t gone well. Hal Ashby was shut out of the edit on 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE, and Nic Roeg was fired after five days on NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON. Block also served as screenwriter for Wong Kar-Wei on MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, which I haven’t seen.

AWATT was also a bit jinxed, since Harrison Ford bailed on it (too violent, perhaps) and it collapsed. When it sprang to life again, screenwriter Scott Frank was in charge and Liam Neeson was the lead, and the result is very violent indeed. It also fits snuggly into that rather unproductive and creepy subgenre Neeson seems now irrevocably associated with, the female kidnap drama where Neeson says bad-ass things into a phone in a husky voice.

We watched this purely because the writer-director’s two Netflix miniseries, Godless and The Queen’s Gambit, are absolutely sensational. You’ve probably sought out the latter if you have Netflix, but go after the former too. Both are much better than AWATT, which is a decent thriller. The banter and relationship between Neeson and Astro (yes, that’s his name), defrocked cop and homeless kid, is really good. There’s what they call “strong support” from Dan Stevens (Frank seems to get half his casts from Downton Abbey) and Boyd Holbrook, and a good turn from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

It just doesn’t seem to add up to more than a really horrible situation that gets resolved with a substantial body count. What have we learned? I mean, I don’t require a message. But maybe the problem is that Neeson’s character, Scudder, is the star of a whole series of books, so he’s a bit unchanging. At any rate, at the end of this one he seems substantially the same lumpen brute as at the start. There’s a sense in which, if Stevens’ character were the protagonist, the stakes would escalate markedly.

Very snazzy cinematic use of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps, though.

Scott Frank is a big fan of seventies US films like DOG DAY AFTERNOON. He just doesn’t want to ever take things that far, it seems. As he himself puts it, he’s “always looking for a safe place to land.” But he’s a huge talent and The Queen’s Gambit is still the best new thing I’ve seen this year apart from THE LIGHTHOUSE.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES stars Oskar Schindler; Hellboy; Gatz Brown; Pierce; David Haller; Alma Wheatley; Calvin Walker; Ragnar the Rock; Hiram Lodge; Jesse Edwards; and Ptonomy Wallace.

15 Responses to “Block and Tackle”

  1. Oh wow, how have I not read this one before? Amazing piece.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:


    Knowing Littlejohn as we all did you cannot imagine how surreal it watch to watch this botched robbery unfold on TV. While John Cazale was excellent he was completely miscast. The real “Sal” was much younger, quite gay, and one of Littlejohn’s lovers. The real reason why he chose that particular bank has never been thoroughly explicated. He was a mole for the Mafia. When “Stonewall” happened it took away a major source of income for the mob. They hoped to regroup with a bar called “Christopher’s End” at the end of Christopher Street by the piers. it was run by a character named Mike Umbers. Littlejohn worked for him. He was constantly trying to get everyone from the GAA Firehouse to come to the dive. But the Firehouse, which had dances every weekend, was the place to be in those days. And with a three dollar admittance fee what could beat it. Littlejohn felt the mob owed him money so he tried to rob the bank they used as a “drop.” And you know the rest. Pacino, BTW, was superb.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    When I see the name “Astro” I think of the cheesy “There you go Astro boy!” song from the US version of the Japanese tv cartoon. The only version I’m able to find of the song, though, is the revamped recent one — alas!

    I wonder if anyone talks, these days, about Elliott Silverstein, the director who took over from Roeg on NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON. I mean, he did make it into the Andrew Sarris book. CAT BALLOU didn’t look too terrific, last time I saw it.

  4. I’m not aware of Silverstein getting any attention these days, and it’s harder and harder to see why Cat Ballou was so acclaimed — it has lots of nice ELEMENTS, but they don’t add up to a distinctive film.

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I like the way Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are used in it as a Brechtian chorus.

    Silverstein became more involved n the Directors union than in directing over the years.

  6. Lee Marvin is fun, Fonda was at her loveliest. But that’s maybe about it.

  7. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Don’t forget the lovely Tom Nardini, who repeated his role of “Jackson Two Bears” in the 1971 TV remake starring Lesley Ann Warren and Jack Elam, directed by Jerry Paris.

  8. Jerry Paris! Another director who barely seems to register.

  9. chris schneider Says:

    Not that I’ve seen it, mind you, but I’ve heard good things about THE GRASSHOPPER, a Paris-directed adaptation of a Chekhov story with Jacqueline Bisset. (Comments, David E?) There’s also a made-for-tv comedy western, EVIL ROY SLADE, that has its fans.

  10. I’ve seen the Grasshopper, which is a lot of fun, if you like a good “trawl through America’s seedy underbelly” picture. Very, very serious stuff to be taken seriously, I’m sure. Oddly, plays great at a party.

  11. It’s kind of a glamorous, now-nostalgic vision of seediness, isn’t it? What with Bissett in her Valley of the Dolls trash phase.

  12. woolworthdiamond Says:

    It’s probably the closest we’ve got to a filmic version of reading Go Ask Alice with a flashlight under the covers at age 11. They do that? And end up that way? She’s only 22?

  13. Sheltered life, here: I’d never heard of that book. Good title, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever work up the curiosity.

  14. I would say reading the abstract of the writing of Go Ask Alice is more interesting than the book itself. It’s definitely an artifact of another time.

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