Monday, June 13, 2016

When Hollywood Comes Knocking (Don't Answer the Door)

This post is about Paula Gosling's first novel, A Running Duck, 1978, MacMillan. This book has several claims to fame:

  1. It won the John Creasey Award for best first novel.
  2. It ranks 63rd on the Crime Writers' Association's list of all-time great mystery novels.
  3. It was adapted by Hollywood twice, in both instances as howlingly bad movies that had little to do with the material.

If you have seen the movies you might be shocked to learn that they had been adapted from the same source.

Cobra (1986) Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen.
Fair Game (1995) William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford.
A Running Duck

The Hollywood Monster.

What would you do if Hollywood ruined your book?

  • I would laugh all the way to the bank.
  • I would cry all the way to the bank.
  • I would be found, sitting on the curb, laughing and crying, unable to get to the bank.

In the nineties, I went to an Edna Buchanan book signing. She spoke a bit about the film adaptation of "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," saying that the producers brought her to the film site to act as a consultant. During her time there, the only person whom she encountered who had actually read her book was a clerk at her hotel.

Sadly, all of Paula Gosling's books are out-of-print and currently unavailable as ebooks. I bought a copy of A Running Duck from an online bookseller (early edition, I didn't want the movie tie-in out of fear something had changed). She is an excellent writer. Her prose is crisp and lucid. She has an enviable way of phrasing a very short sentence that makes a vivid, surprising, and yet apt observation. Her dialogue is fantastic: sharp and witty.

The story plays out like a Hollywood-ready script. Clare Rendell is a young, independent-minded woman who works as a copywriter at an advertising agency. One day in the park, while agonizing over her response to her boyfriend's proposal, she sees a tall man drop a piece of paper. She calls out to him and gets a good look at his face. This small incident sends her life into a tailspin. She had witnessed a dangerous hitman walking away from a nearby murder.

From this moment on, the story gains pace as the killer, known as Edison, tries to kill Clare, while San Francisco Police Lieutenant Mike Malchek, an ex-Vietnam sniper, tries to keep her safe and capture Edison.

This was one the most "muscular" books I've read, calling to mind "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Householder. If there is any fault to the book, it is that I wanted to know more about Clare, while the book shifts its focus to Malchek, his personal demons and his redemption.

Sylvester Stallone took on the book "adaptation" after helping to write Beverly Hills Cop, then abandoning that project to Eddie Murphy, because Stallone wanted something more serious and action-oriented. What he made was . . . I'm the kind who has little tolerance for films that are so over-the-top that fans argue the films are acting as some sort of meta-commentary on violence and . . . I can't finish these sentences.

Cobra, written by Stallone, starred Stallone and his concrete-statuesque wife, Brigitte Nielsen. It originally received an X-rating for its violence. The more sadistic scenes were cut, along with most every scene that didn't have Stallone sneering and snarling (and sometime sneerling) while acting as judge, jury and executioner, dispatching one by one a band of super-Manson Family fiends. Stallone played Lt. Marion Cobretti, code-named Cobra, because that is the sort of code that no one in the movie would be smart enough to crack. In his role, he displayed the full range of emotions from revenge to vengeance, along the way inventing a new emotion: "revengeance." Nielsen plays a businesswoman/model (because aren't all businesswomen models?). Actual dialogue:

  Supermarket Killer: Get back! I got a bomb here! I'll blow this whole place up!
  Marion Cobretti: Go ahead. I don't shop here.

  Cobretti: Hey dirtbag, you're a lousy shot. I don't like lousy shots. You wasted a kid... for nothing. Now I think it's time to waste you!

People Magazine interviewed Paula Gosling shortly before Cobra debuted. She had such hope.

Her first novel, 1978's A Running Duck, which she had optioned to Warner Bros, for a "mid-five-figure" sum and seemingly forgotten about, is the basis for Stallone's Cobra. Whatever the movie rakes in at the box office, Gosling will get "a small percentage" of the take, and given Stallone's track record, that's certain to be a tidy bundle. "I haven't really taken it in yet," says Gosling, 44, a transplanted American. "It's all very exciting." (Writer Paula Gosling Hits a Bull's-Eye, Thanks to Sly Stallone's Latest Blockbluster, Cobra, People Magazine, June 30, 1986.)

First presented in 1981, the anti-Oscars, the Razzies, recognize the worst Hollywood has to offer. Cobra received six nominations, including two for Stallone (actor and writer), one for Nielsen (actress) and one for worst picture. The only items remotely related to the source material were that the film retained the name of one of the characters from the book, Sergeant Gonzales, and its title maintained the animal theme, duck being replaced by cobra.

Fair Game (1995), the second adaptation of the book, moved the setting to Miami and starred Cindy Crawford and that Baldwin from Backdraft. Crawford plays a high-powered lawyer who uncovers an undisclosed asset: a rusty boat with computer super-hackers run by the Russian mafia.

There are a lot of wonderful human beings who can't act. In fact, there are enough great actors who are assholes that I can say, without fear of being correct, that there must be a correlation between bad acting and saintliness. By these standards, Cindy Crawford should be beatified. She punctuates her every line with "and I memorized them words." They should have given Baldwin's role to a gay man, because when he is in a scene with Crawford, her beauty powers seem to leave him completely confuzzled.

The dialogue attempts to be snappy in the face of death.

  Max: Who's ever after you are real pros.
  Kate: I guess I should be proud, it would be embarrassing to be killed by an amateur.

  Kate: No one tried to kill me! This is Miami. I'm local. We only shoot the tourists.

Crawford received Razzie nominations for Worst Actress, Worst New Actress and, with Baldwin, Worst Screen Couple. They lost. It was the year of Showgirls.

It's not just the fact that these are terrible movies. They're terrible in that Hollywood hyper-evil way of too much violence, stylized leering sexuality, catchphrases passing for dialogue, and non-actors stealing jobs from robots.

Did Hollywood kill her spirit? Paula Gosling appears to have retired from writing. She is probably sitting on top of a pile of cash, somewhere in England, knitting socks in the Village of the Darned.


Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.

A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook through Amazon and other online retailers.

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.


Back page blurb.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, features Nikola Tesla as detective.


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