The works of jet-black Noir novelist Jim Thompson have been frequently adapted for movies, but none so successfully as 1990’s The Grifters, directed by Stephen Frears (The Hit/Gumshoe/Dangerous Liaisons).
Scripted by fellow crime novelist Donald E Westlake (author of the popular Parker series), the movie is a sordid tale of duplicity, incestuous desire and the joys of the short and long con, the film was too cynical to win best picture at The Oscars ™ ,which it really should have.
Instead Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves won the top prize – and also best director. Meh.
Returning to The Grifters, the cast are excellent, with career-best performances from John Cusack, Angelica Huston and a kittenish Annette Bening:
I’ve wined and dined on Mulligan Stew, and never wished for Turkey
As I hitched and hiked and grifted too, from Maine to Albuquerque
Ella Fitzgerald: The Lady is a Tramp (Rodgers/Hart)
The supporting cast is especially well-chosen, with expert character actors such as Henry Jones, Pat Hingle and the great JT Walsh.
The cinematography is excellent and Elmer Bernstein’s score is one of his best.
If you haven’t seen The Grifters, check it out. And even if you have, take another look – you won’t regret it.
Unfortunately most of the other adaptations of Thompson’s novels to me are pretty average, of all of them, the best are Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway (1972, starring Steve McQueen remade in 1994 with Alec Baldwin), Bernard Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate – the novel Pop. 1280 placed in a French colonial setting) and 1990’s The Kill-Off (directed by Maggie Greenwald).
Trailers, a documentary on Coup de Torchon, and the full movie of 1990s’ The Kill-Off for these and other Thompson adaptations, many of which were made in the 1990s attempting to mirror the success of The Grifters.
Série noire (A Hell of a Woman)
Hit Me (1996, based on A Swell-Looking Babe)