Re: RARA-AVIS: The Grifters

From: William Denton (
Date: 02 Mar 2003

On 2 February 2003, William Denton wrote:

: I agree. And the book is one Thompson's best. I see it's on DVD, with
: commentary by Westlake, and an extra about Thompson. Anyone know what
: that's like?

I watched it this week, and it's good. Of course the movie itself (1990, with John Cusack as Roy, Angelica Huston as Lilly, and Annette Bening as Myra) is very good, one of the best adaptations of a Jim Thompson novel. There's a ten-minute extra about Thompson that includes clips of Robert Polito (a Thompson biographer) and Donald E. Westlake, who's a very good talker and knows how to tell a story. If you haven't seen the movie, it's worth renting.

There's a commentary track, and the best thing about it is that Westlake talks the most. Director Stephen Frears, Cusack, and Huston have some comments (they're not all in the same room at the same time), but Westlake's the most interesting. He talks about how he came to work on the movie, how it was written, what the characters are doing, why certain scenes were done a certain way, and more. The final scene with Roy and Lilly, where she's trying to get his money, he saw as a boxing match, with rounds divided by short breaks or sharp cuts and sudden mood changes.

In Myra's flashback to when she and her old partner were working the long con and she roped marks for the Big Store, Westlake notes the name of the fake investment firm: Coe Stark Fellowes and Associates. He says those are all names he's written under: "I've been Tucker Coe, Richard Stark, and a lot of other fellows."

Around the end of the movie, Westlake says that recently he was asked to adapt a David Goodis book. He went back and read a few, but says they're
"completely dead, they just lie there." By contract, Jim Thompson's books still feel alive, and don't feel dated. Goodis's books are permanently stuck in the '50s.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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