ARCHIVE: A Killing for Stroby

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A Killing for Stroby: Scenes from THE KILLING, Stanley Kubrick’s classic caper from 1956 — screening this Sunday in Asbury Park as part of a “BookFLX” presentation on film noir, hosted by Ocean Grove-based mystery novelist Wallace Stroby.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit March 11, 2011)

There’s the rain-slicked pavement, lit only by neon chophouse signs and the bloodshot embers of a hundred thousand Chesterfields. Suit-and-tie hustlers pacing in front of payphones that never ring; off-duty dance hall dames slipping out of themselves in the nineteenth hour of their girdles. An urgent message on a matchbook; another bad choice or lousy break waiting around every alley corner. It’s that place where the streets have no name; where the sidewalk ends, while the city sleeps. A town called Film Noir.

Ask Wallace Stroby about the much-discussed genre of Noir and he’ll tell you that it’s more than just the sum of its visual signifiers. He’ll tell you it’s about fatalism; about obsession; about the dark forces that swirl around our daily-bread existence. And, as an award winning specialist in the modern American crime novel, he’ll even tell you that it took a bunch of French film critics to give a name to this peculiarly American genre.

A graduate of Red Bank Catholic and a battle-tested veteran of both the Star Ledger and the Asbury Park Press, the Shore-born Stroby used his unique vantage point on the mean streets of (ahem) Ocean Grove to craft his debut novel, The Barbed Wire Kiss, a thriller of misplaced loyalties and overdue paybacks that starred a former state trooper, and used the tired, peeling Tillie-face of our local seaside haunts as an effective backdrop.

Asbury Park (and that same ex-cop) figured heavily in his followup effort The Heartbreak Lounge — but for his recently released Gone Til November, Stroby shifted the locale to small-town Florida, and presented as his protagonist a savvy single-mom sheriff’s deputy named Sara Cross. The novel has garnered a slew of positive reviews, and has kept Stroby busy through a gantlet of personal appearances, the most recent of which brought him to the downtown Asbury bookstore words! last Saturday night. The author makes the short trip to Cookman Avenue once again this Sunday, March 14, when he presents a 4pm screening of Stanley Kubrick’s film The Killing at Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino’s nifty nickelodeon known as The Showroom.

Not just a noir picture but a prime example of the “heist” or “caper” film in all its double-crossing glory, The Killing is a terse, hardboiled procedural (only with crooks instead of cops) that employs Dragnet-style narration and a non-linear timeline to tell an exciting story of a daring racetrack robbery, pulled off by a motley collection of yeggs, ganefs and ham-and-eggers. The great Sterling Hayden (that hangdog hero who was either the poor man’s Gary Cooper or the thinking man’s Jock Mahoney) heads a cast of classic faces that include forever fallguy Elisha Cook, Jr.Ben Casey’s Vince Edwards, B-list bombshell Marie Windsor and the one and only Timothy Carey, possibly the strangest actor in Hollywood history and the man who later made The World’s Greatest Sinner).

It’s another in a series of BookFLX events co-sponsored by words and the online literary mag Splash of Red (the same team that previously hosted Hos, Hookers author David Henry Sterry). And if you’ve never seen this early gem by the mad-genius director of Dr. StrangeloveA Clockwork Orange and The Shining, here’s a great opportunity to catch this noirish nugget among fans and friends and ‘ficionados — complete with a post-screening discussion moderated by yours truly.Red Bank oRBit sat down with Stroby to talk film noir, novels and the no-man’s-land between; in a moment, the results of that trial…

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