RARA-AVIS: House on Turk Street/No Good Deed

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 17 Sep 2003

I saw the movie No Good Deed, based on Hammett's Continental Op story House on Turk Street. Most of the adaptations we talk about here involve novels being pared down to film length. However, here was a short story that was padded to fill the proper amount of time. I say padded instead of fleshed out because it would have been very obvious what came from Hammett's story and what was grafted onto it by the screenwriters even if I hadn't reread the story.

The basic premise is the same, an investigator is knocking on doors on Turk Street looking for a missing person. Behind one of those doors is a criminal gang that falsely believes he is looking for them. They capture the investigator before he realizes anything is wrong; he spends the bulk of the story tied to a chair. The femme fatale of the story uses his presence as a wedge to help her play the various men against each other for her own gain.

In the movie, Jack Friar (Samuel L Jackson) is a cop (and has a name), a GTA detective, not a private operative. He is not investigating a crime, but looking for the lost/runaway daughter of a neighbor. The story involved the split of bonds that had already been stolen, but we get to see the caper in the movie -- a fraudulent bank wire transfer with the help of an inside man who loves the femme fatale. All of this is still pretty faithful to the story.

However, things don't work quite so well when they start to add things and get away from Hammett's core. First, Friar is diabetic, so his lack of insulin complicates his being taken captive. The main change is the bonding between him and the femme fatale, Erin (Milla Jovovich), while she watches him while the others are at the bank. It turns out that she was a child musical prodigy in Russia before the economic collapse, at which point she hooked up with the nasty boss of the gang,Tyrone
(Stellan Skarsgard). Friar is a frustrated bass violinist who was on his way to music fantasy camp to play with Yo Yo Ma when he was asked to find his neighbor's daughter. So there is a long interlude where the two bond over music, even play together. Erin is depicted as a very sympathetic character who wants to let Friar go but whose fear of Tyrone won't let her.

And then Tyrone and Hoop get back from the bank and we return to the story and she returns to her role as femme fatale. But it just doesn't fit now. Acting cold blooded might undercut the sympathy they have built up for Erin, so they make her attempted manipulation half-hearted so it fails to satisfy on either count.

And that's a shame, especially since the screenplay was co-written by Steve Barancik, who created one of the most memorable recent movie femmes fatales in Bridget Cross in Last Seduction. And Milla Jovovich could have done a good job with a sexy-nasty role -- her acting here is better than I've ever seen, than I ever expected. The story was Elvira's (Erin's name in the story), with the Op mostly a bystander. Unfortunately, she is never a serious contender in the film, which turns Erin into the trophy of a battle between Tyrone and Friar for her soul, although she does act just enough to keep both men thinking she wants them to win.

It's not a bad movie (Samuel L Jackson is particularly good), possibly worth a rent if you're in the mood for a caper film, but -- surprise, surprise -- the story's a lot better.


ps - minor quibble -- after his initial search and his repeated insistence throughout the movie that he was just on the street because he was looking for a girl, we never hear if that girl was found, even though there is a brief coda after Friar has returned home.

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