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The Grifters
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Group Reads > June 2012 - The Grifters

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim I'm still fairly new to noir and while I've never read any Jim Thompson before I've heard his name, and that of his works, come up a few times. This month we'll read his classic 60's noir, The Grifters. It was also turned into a successful, Oscar-nominated film in 1990.

I'm looking forward to delving once more into the murky world of noir, let us know what you think of this book.


message 2: by Michael, Anti-Hero (new) - rated it 3 stars

Michael (knowledgelost) | 279 comments Mod
Watching the movie doesn't count :P I've not read the book but I did enjoy the movie so I'm looking forward to this one too


message 3: by Mohammed (last edited Jun 01, 2012 12:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mohammed  Burhan Abdi Osman (mohammedaosman) No movie can capture the style of Jim Thompson no matter how good it is. What a small world, my other fav noir writer Donald E. Westlake was oscar nominated for writing the screenplay to The Grifters 1990 film.

I collect all of his books and would have got this book for the group read but im leaving for vacation and will be back late July. Not alot of cheap internet, book talks online in Somalia ;)


message 4: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Vater (goodreadscomtom_vater) | 12 comments Mohammed, a holiday in Somalia should outshine Jim Thompson in Noirish ambience any time. Stay safe.


Mohammed  Burhan Abdi Osman (mohammedaosman) Tom wrote: "Mohammed, a holiday in Somalia should outshine Jim Thompson in Noirish ambience any time. Stay safe."

Yeah its not too safe exactly but im going to the calmest parts that is North eastern Somalia. The parts the trouble is pirates that hijack rich western company ships. Im visiting my aunt otherwise not much reason to go the old homeland these days.

I would prefer to take with me Jim Thompson noir books to the trip but i dont have any unread at home, which sucks :D


message 6: by David (new)

David Manuel | 121 comments Mohammed wrote: "Tom wrote: "Mohammed, a holiday in Somalia should outshine Jim Thompson in Noirish ambience any time. Stay safe."

Yeah its not too safe exactly but im going to the calmest parts that is North east..."


Stay safe and enjoy Puntland. I found it quite a lovely place, but that was two decades ago.


Toby (tfitoby) | 510 comments He knew, without knowing why, that he was dying. And with the terrible fear of death was an unbearable sadness. Unbearable because there was no one who cared, no one to assuage it.

Thank you to everyone who voted for this book, it may have taken me months or years to finally get around to reading a Jim Thompson if it hadn't been for you.

Everyone is so morally bankrupt in this book, I love it.

Roy Dillon's narration subtly foreshadowing the denouement alone makes this worth re-reading just so you can pick up on the extra existentialist undertones.


David Magnenat (davemag) | 3 comments Just finished it and I'm glad I read it. Even the mental picture of John Cusak and Angelica Huston didn't detract from the story; it's been long enough since I saw the movie that I really had only their pictures in mind and none of the movie plot.
I like that Roy was torn between going straight and keeping up the grift, that he thought he really had a choice in the matter. Everything he was came from the grift, and everything he touched was corrupted by it: unsullied Carol, a would-be holiday away.

Would he have gone through with actually working the straight job if events had not cut his life short? Or would he have waffled again, or grown bored of the 9-to-5?

The Oedipus complex hints at the end really tie things together psychologically in a satisfyingly unsettling way.

Good book, recommended.


Cyndi (bookchick64) | 54 comments This was my first Thompson piece. I must say it does not disappoint! Dark, ominous and full of dirty players!

The pace was a blaze and the charcters multi dimensional. The subtle insertion of incestous overtones gave it so much depth and layering.

I will certainly read more Thompson. Good choice!


Kenny | 13 comments A great read. Loved the characterization. Thompson goes right into the minds of the characters, but instead of telling you everything, he puts it out in the action and relationships. Plot boils along nicely.

The only other Thompson novel I've read is The Killer Inside Me, which I like more, but this is outstanding also. Does Thompson always hit home runs when he writes?


message 11: by Toby (new) - rated it 4 stars

Toby (tfitoby) | 510 comments If he does it's a remarkable achievement considering just how many books he's had published. I imagine his conversion rate is specatacularly high though.


message 12: by Josh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Josh Just finished it - gave it 4 stars. What an ending!

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

This was my first Jim Thompson - I've got to read more if THE GRIFTERS is any indication!


message 13: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments Jim Thompson is one of my influences and I'm always struck at the chances he took and the great insights into human character. THE GRIFTERS illustrates one of the great mother/son conflicts--not really Oedipal because there was no father to compete with--but Thompson wasn't afraid to mirror the whole "psychosexual issues thing" with Mommy. Lily is tough, cold, and sex is a commodity to be traded in her world. She thinks nothing of being seductive with her son if it will get her what she wants. Stephen Frears did a great job directing the screenplay by Donald Westlake. Lots of times movies can suck, but this one captured an important illumination by the original author. 5 stars on my planet.


message 14: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "Jim Thompson is one of my influences and I'm always struck at the chances he took and the great insights into human character. THE GRIFTERS illustrates one of the great mother/son conflicts--not re..."
Totally agree with you. THE GRIFTERS is one of my all-time favorite movies. Starting with the opening credits and the music, which is fantastic. A split screen with the 3 main characters. 5 stars on any planet!


message 15: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments Did you notice how the film mixes periods and styles visually? The cars are 70s, the women's hairstyles are totally 80s but their clothing tends to keep 1940s touches. Frears mixed and matched a whole lotta stuff in sets and costumes, but somehow it all works and feels timeless. The split screens, as you point out, are a 90s technique. But the story is so universal it really would work (with small tweeks) in any period. You could put it in another century and the story would work (IMO)!


message 16: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Vater (goodreadscomtom_vater) | 12 comments Split screens have been around since at least the 60s. Remember the Woodstock movie, a large chunk of that was split screen. So was some parts of The Song Remains The Same, the Led Zep movie, probably early 70s.


message 17: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments I stand corrected. A film expert, I'm not. :-)


message 18: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Funny, I didn't notice the decade hopping w/cars and hairstyles. What I meant about the split screen beginning ... it immediately places the three characters side by side (in a way that a book cannot) and you immediately know they (and their worlds) will collide. I'm no film expert either .. tho I am a musician, so that's why I focus on the music ...
Tom, I haven't seen the 60s movies you mention. Are they docudramas? documentaries? Sorry, Led Zep and Woodstock weren't my thing ... I'm more of a Round About Midnight kinda gal.


message 19: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments I love, love noir film soundtracks. In the DVD version I have of The Grifters, one of the special features is an interview with Frears and he talks about the mixing and matching of time periods. That's the only way I know! Here is my random split-screen trivia: Mike Figgis did a split-screen thing with Timecode in early 2000. He made it after Leaving Las Vegas. Pablo Ferro, the titles master, did split screen for The Thomas Crown Affair starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in 1968. I worked with both these artists as a journalist so I know their oeuvres, that's the only reason I have this split-screen trivia rattling around. I guess you'd call Leaving Las Vegas noir, right? I mean, it was so dark. What's your fav noir soundtrack, Susan? Or is there a great compilation disc?


message 20: by Toby (new) - rated it 4 stars

Toby (tfitoby) | 510 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "I love, love noir film soundtracks. In the DVD version I have of The Grifters, one of the special features is an interview with Frears and he talks about the mixing and matching of time periods. Th..."

Your factoid about mixing of time periods and styles is very interesting. I admit I was never certain about when it was specifically set and i guess that is the genius of Frears. It's a wonderful movie and it still works because of that timeless aspect Frears gave it.

As for Mike Figgis, the man is a total film making machine. You mentioned Timecode, which I loved, it goes beyond simple run of the mill split screen. it's a revolution in cinematic narrative techniques that sadly worked better as an experiment than it did in entertainment. His book Digital Filmmaking discusses this and for me works as a manifesto for anti-Michael Bay style movies.

Enough about that, you also made an interesting point about Leaving Las Vegas. I've never considered it as noir but it certainly seems to have a touch of the David Goodis about it. If you feel like starting a new topic i'm sure it would make for an interesting discussion.


message 21: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments I have rambled afield a bit. Back to Thompson. Anybody a psychology major out there? I'd love to talk about the mother/son dynamic of The Grifters, but I don't have the medical terminology to break it down. The inappropriately seductive mother manipulating her son is so beautifully done. Anybody?


message 22: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor | 17 comments Re: split screen. For what it's worth the most garish use of it came in a late seventies Burt Lancaster film called Twilight's Last Gleaming directed by Robert Aldrich who did a nice noir turn in the fifties with Kiss Me Deadly. As far is the Oedipal deal, it left a lot on the table unfinished. I was more concerned that Roy practically goaded his mother into attacking him yet let his guard down. Now that's as much Hamlet as it is Oedipus, no?


message 23: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments I agree that it could be interpreted that way, but have to admit, I'm on Roy's side. She had been a bad mother and all he wanted was to get away from her. If either of them had been thinking clearly, he could have just given her the money back from the hospital bill and sent her on her way. I think he was actually doing the right thing, trying to set her on the straight life to get a job and a decent life. Plus, she was there for ALL his money. She was going to clean him out and leave him with nothing. Which is what she'd done all her life. A bit of Hamlet, a dash of Oedipus, a classic mother-son dynamic gone wrong.


message 24: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor | 17 comments Good point


message 25: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "I love, love noir film soundtracks. In the DVD version I have of The Grifters, one of the special features is an interview with Frears and he talks about the mixing and matching of time periods. Th..."

Well, I don't know if these qualify as noir (probably not) there's always Anatomy of a Murder (Duke Ellington) and Man with the Golden Arm (Elmer Bernstein). And then there's Clockwork Orange, where Stanley Kubrick (famous for inserting classical music into his films) used various classical composers (Purcell, Rossini, Beethoven and Elgar) Kubrick is fabulous ... but that's another discussion thread, I guess.


message 26: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "have to admit, I'm on Roy's side. She had been a bad mother and all he wanted was to get away from her. If either of them had been thinking clearl..."
Okay, she was a bad mother but Roy was no angel. And what about the Annette Benning character? Could we argue a bit about who's the femme fatal? Mom or ... sorry, blanking on the AB character's name?


message 27: by Toby (new) - rated it 4 stars

Toby (tfitoby) | 510 comments Susan wrote: "Anonymous-9 wrote: "have to admit, I'm on Roy's side. She had been a bad mother and all he wanted was to get away from her. If either of them had been thinking clearl..."
Okay, she was a bad mother..."


It's possible to have two femme fatales right? But then again you might argue that neither of them were because all three characters were selfish and out entirely for themselves, always hiding something, always on the con, damn the consequences to the others no matter how you might feel about them.


message 28: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments You know what they say Susan, "There are no angels in a stageplay in Hell." Annette Bening did a great job with Myra, didn't she? I've GOT to check out your recommend of Anatomy of a Murder. I don't know the movie but I love Duke. Also, Elmer Bernstein did The Grifters soundtrack.


message 29: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor | 17 comments I thought all three characters were sympathetic but completely anti-social. My drama teacher taught that you can have as many protagonists as you like but only one antagonist. In this case I would guess the antagonist was the life of the grifter itself or perhaps the society that caused them to grift?


David Magnenat (davemag) | 3 comments Split screen: i think it's useful to separate the use of "invisible" split screen (which goes as far back as 1903, I believe) and juxtaposition split screen. In the first a split screen technique is used to allow one actor to play two roles side by side. In the second the split screen technique is used to juxtapose to different scenes/people on the screen. allowing the audience to visually process them and (here's the sly part) draw their own conclusions as to relationships between the scenes. As someone else pointed out, this is not possible in the linear media, like books.

Pro/Ant-agonist: Richard, I don't know about your drama teacher's assertion, but I wonder if there's not a common approach in noir where everyone is a mixture of both. (Part of the issue here is, I think, whether the protagonist/antagonist reference is meant as a "good guy/bad guy" reference or as a "driver of the story"/"provider of conflict" reference.

In some of the noir I read, anyway, it seems like the real conflict is with fate, and in that way they read more like traditional tragedies. Nobody really expects Roy to come out of the story alive, do they? Isn't it true that that we kind of know going into a lot of these stories that the "hero" (there's another loaded term for you) will end up injured, scarred, dead, or otherwise worse off by the time the action is over?


message 31: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Wow, I didn't realize Elmer Bernstein did the score for Grifters. And thanks for the reminder on Myra's name. No angels indeed. Hey, anybody see Angel Face, great noir with Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons as the femme fatale?

David you make good points about the Pro/Antagonist. I think of the Protagonist as the world-weary character like Bogey and Mitchum in so many noir films. That seems to be missing in The Grifters. And yes, you know Roy is headed for a bad end.


message 32: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments First, Susan I checked out Anatomy of a Murder titles on YouTube and the theme by Duke Ellington. WOW! Sassy and brassy. I totally got a clue into your taste and style with that. THANK YOU.

Richard/David: great question, who was the antagonist? My superficial answer is Bobo Justus who ran the racetrack grift (that employed Lily) is an antagonist. But when I think further, none of the characters seemed to have any wish to get out of the game. Lily stridently argued she was too old to leave the grift. And we know Roy is her offspring, she brought him up in her shadow. As a young man, he still thinks he can outrun the game just as his mother must have thought when she was young. Myra is looking to relive the old glory days of the long con and make Roy her partner. So my take is that it's not society, it's each character's character. They are grifters, they know nothing better. So they play their own antagonist(s).


message 33: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor | 17 comments David wrote: "Split screen: i think it's useful to separate the use of "invisible" split screen (which goes as far back as 1903, I believe) and juxtaposition split screen. In the first a split screen technique i..."

Very good points


message 34: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Taylor | 17 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "First, Susan I checked out Anatomy of a Murder titles on YouTube and the theme by Duke Ellington. WOW! Sassy and brassy. I totally got a clue into your taste and style with that. THANK YOU.

Richar..."


I thought of Bobo too but I think your second choice is better. It's the common character of the grifters themselves.


message 35: by Anonymous-9 (new)

Anonymous-9 Anonymous-9 | 14 comments Ah HA! So is this a new revelation of the brilliance of Thompson, where most noir pits a human antagonist against the protagonist, but Thompson has cleverly sidestepped that to show the real battle is inside the grifter's nature? Isn't this apparent in THE KILLER INSIDE ME, too??

Susan: I just watched a scene from Angel Face on YouTube. It looked reeealllly good. Must try to watch.


message 36: by Susan (new)

Susan | 280 comments Anonymous-9 wrote: "Ah HA! So is this a new revelation of the brilliance of Thompson, where most noir pits a human antagonist against the protagonist, but Thompson has cleverly sidestepped that to show the real battl..."
So true. Sometimes the "antagonist" isn't a person. Sometimes it's nature, a struggle to survive a dangerous environment." Or an oppressive society, like totalitarianism, or a ruthless company, like Erin Brockovitch. But in the Grifters, it may be each character's inner demons ... the inability to give up the grift.
And yes, do watch Angel Face. You'll enjoy it for sure!


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