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Guest Programmer: George Pelecanos
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George Pelecanos Profile

Novelist George Pelecanos, TCM Guest Programmer for March, has been described by Stephen King as "the greatest living American crime writer." Pelecanos has parlayed his great success in detective fiction into a second career as a film and television producer and writer, noted especially for his work on the HBO series The Wire, The Pacific and Treme. He was born in Washington, D.C., the primary setting of all his novels. Among his most recent best-sellers are two featuring the character of Spero Lucas, an Iraq war veteran turned private investigator: The Cut (2011) and The Double (2013).

Pelecanos tells host Robert Osborne that he considers the 1970s to be the Golden Age of crime films, and chooses two from 1973. He considers The Outfit, directed by John Flynn from a novel by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark, "one of the best of them all." The plot centers on a small-time crook Macklin (Robert Duvall) who is released from prison after an attempted robbery, only to discover that he is on the hit list of a mobster (Robert Ryan). Joe Don Baker, as Duvall's old partner, heads a dream supporting cast for this type of film: Karen Black, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook, Jr., among others. "The Stark books are legendary," says Pelecanos, "and this movie adaptation is the one that got the character of Parker right... Robert Duvall's characterization is the best of all the incarnations." (Parker, the anti-hero of 16 Richard Stark novels, was renamed Macklin in this film.) Pelecanos adds that director John Flynn "kind of disappeared and has been mostly forgotten," but directed some of our programmer's other favorite films including Rolling Thunder (1977), another taut action thriller. Pelecanos is especially thrilled to present The Outfit because the film has been difficult to find for decades.

His other pick from 1973 is The Seven-Ups, another crime drama that is right up his alley and a TCM premiere to boot. This was the only film directed by Philip D'Antoni, best-known as the producer of Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971), both noted for their climactic car chases - as is The Seven-Ups. This film stars Roy Scheider as a New York City police investigator who breaks all the rules in tracking down an informant (Tony Lo Bianco) who has betrayed him. Pelecanos says this is one of those '70s films that offer "a time capsule of New York City. It captures not only a time and place, but a culture, too. You can smell the vinyl in the seats. It's the real New York." He adds that "Gearheads like myself think this is the best car chase of the three D'Antoni movies, and maybe the best in all of film."

Pelecanos also loves Westerns. William A. Fraker's Monte Walsh (1970) is in his "top ten of all Westerns," and he considers it "a poetic film in the true sense of cinema." Lee Marvin stars in the title role, with Jack Palance as his pal, another down-on-his-luck cowpoke who tries to talk Monte into settling down and giving up the cowboy life. Legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau costars as Monte's love interest, a tubercular saloon girl. "There's never been a better film about men and camaraderie," says Pelecanos, who considers Marvin "the greatest silent-screen actor in the sound era. All his emotions are in his eyes."

Pelecanos's final pick, Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962) is another Western about over-the-hill cowboys, with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as a pair of old pals at odds over protecting a gold shipment - or robbing it. "It's in a similar vein to Monte Walsh in that it's about the end of the West and the end of a way of life," says Pelecanos. He loves the movie's overall search for the meaning of life and redemption, noting that "It has some really beautiful dialogue, and there's one line that McCrea says that I want on my tombstone, 'All I want is to enter my house justified.'" Overall, Pelecanos considers this film to be "one of the most beautiful films of any genre ever made."

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