"The writer's life would be ideal, but for the writing." My Gun Is Long and The Knee Trembler are counted among the Spillanean hits of the hack novelist (Michael Caine), whose prose is enough to tingle a roomful of typists (and their editor) during the transcription of his latest manuscript. The intrigue takes place "somewhere in the Mediterranean," as befits Mike Hodges' gloss on Huston's cheekiness (Bogie and Lorre lookalikes point to a Maltese falcon, though Beat the Devil is the true model). Caine is commissioned to ghostwrite a movie-star expatriate's memoirs and on the way to the island villa comes to realize that the plot, with its many winks to crime paperbacks, will really be about itself. For Hollywood gangsters there's Mickey Rooney in a vibrating essay of mossy Cagneyisms, for the noir angle there's Lizabeth Scott's smoky putdowns; Nadia Cassini, Lionel Stander, and Leopoldo Trieste are put through genial paces, Al Lettieri plays a cross-dressing killer and old queen Dennis Price spells out Tweedledee's monologue to a couple of Texan tourists ("Piss off!"). The purple verbiage ("Her mouth was wet and warm. She moved against me. A perfect fit") is dreadful, precisely what the movie needs for the best satire of bad writing prior to Polanski's Bitter Moon. Hodges avails himself of the private-eye genre's deaths, sex and homophobia, yet comedy loosens his nihilism, leading to new discoveries in the ruthless style already developed in Get Carter -- the marriage of architectural technique and gags paves the way to shots such as the wizened old Italian (a "retired hit man," it is speculated) sipping Coke through a straw, profiled against a severe white wall. The modern hero faints at the sight of his own blood, watches upside-down home movies ("Don't blame me. You shot the projectionist") -- the shamus of Chandler and Hammett's fantasies has become a cornered warthog, utterly stranded in narrative. With Amerigo Tot.
--- Fernando F. Croce