I’ve been on a bit of roll lately with books and movies based on them. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy is something special. I kept reading it, I’ll give him that, but there were parts so weirdly written that I wanted to throw the book at a wall.
Two days since: midway through day two he hit hard–the bootleg number, Muscle Boy.
No Fleur-de-Lis phone listing; brain gymnastics tagged his personal connections–the first time he saw the calling card.
Xmas Eve ’51, right before Bloody Christmas. Sid Hudgens set up a reefer roust–he popped two grasshoppers, found the card at their pad, thought nothing else of it.
Scary Sid: “We’ve all got secrets, Jack.”
He pushed ahead anyway, that undertow driving him: he wanted to know who made the smut–and why. He hit the P.C. Bell employment office, cross-checked records against physical stats until he hit Lamar Hinton–tilt, tilt, tilt, tilt, tilt–
Jack looked around the squadroom–men talking Nite Owl, Nite Owl, Nite Owl, the Big V chasing hand-job books.
The orgy pix.
This makes only marginally more sense if you’d read the preceding 170 pages. Reading this book was sometimes like reading something that has a lot of words that your don’t actually know the meaning to but you can sort of guess from context. If someone asked you what they meant, you couldn’t tell them, but you can get enough of an idea not to be completely lost. What that makes for is a frustrating read. Tilt? What do you mean tilt? Like pinball?
If there’d been many more long passages of incomprehensibility, the book would have hit the wall and not got picked up again. But somehow, despite pages like the above, Ellroy can write in a way that keeps you going.
The book, at 500 pages, has a lot more plot than the movie. It’s convoluted and while the twists and turns, the parallel investigations of the main characters, were intense and interesting, by the end I got a little lost. Because the plot is sort of compartmented–the stolen heroin, the Nite Owl, the rape victim, the porn books, the serial killer, etc.–this gave the movie a better ability to cut pieces off without destroying the main. The movie makes some large changes but it’s done well.
For instance, the death of one important character in the movie has major significance to the plot; in the book, he dies pointlessly in a shootout after having some hope of patching things up with his wife just so you’ll feel worse about it. That character has a better arc in the movie as well. None of the main characters are good men but they’re not quite so bad on the screen as they are on the page.
L.A. Confidential is the sort of book that I’m not sorry I read but I’m not likely to read again, nor do I have any desire to read anything else of Ellroy’s due to his literary forays into nonsense. Like Laura, it’s difficult to say that the movie or the book is better. Both have strengths and weaknesses. The plot of the book, even if hard to follow in a few instances, is complex and compelling in a way that the screen can never capture. The movie makes makes the main characters slightly more like heroes.
There is one thing, however, that the movie does really, really badly. Kim Basinger looks nothing like Veronica Lake. Sorry, a hair style doesn’t make you pretty.