Sunday Matinee: 8 Million Ways To Die

8_Million_Ways_to_Die_PosterA couple of days before the trailer was released I saw the poster for an upcoming Liam Neeson movie, A Walk Among the Tombstones. A Walk Among the Tombstones., A Walk Among the Tombstones., I knew that from somewhere and quickly realized that it’s a Lawrence Block novel, one of his Matthew Scudder crime stories.

As a kid (and still sometimes do) I used to read Lawrence Block novels religiously. From the adventures of thief Bernie Rhodenbarr in the Burglar novels to sleepless spy Evan Tanner’s novels it was the dark gritty Matthew Scudder books that I loved reading most. Scudder was an ex-cop in New York who accidentally shot a kid while on the job. He quits and becomes an unlicensed detective who takes jobs as favours to “friends” for a gift of, well, money. Scudder is an alcoholic and as the novels progress so does his alcoholism to the point where he’s almost drinking himself to death. The stories would get interrupted as he blacks out and loses a couple of days here and there while investigating. Eventually Block has Scudder sober up and a couple of the books are Scudder looking back when he was a drunk. They are excellent books.

Despite 18 Scudder novels, 11 Burglar, 8 Tanner and countless other novels Block’s work has only been sparingly adapted into films. with the results so far maybe that’s a good thing.In 1986 the fifth Scudder novel was adapted into a movie. 8 Million Ways to Die starred Jeff Bridges as Scudder.

The filmmakers changed his back story so he no longer kills a kid just a bad guy in front the bad guy’s wife and kids. They also move the setting to L.A. Oliver Stone had written the screenplay but by the time troubled director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail) started shooting the film he had tossed the script and had everyone improvise their dialogue. Ashby was on drugs at the time and had been fired off his last movie. As soon as principle photography was finished the producers fired Ashby and edited the film themselves. The result is a film that only in passing has anything to do with Block’s novel.

The film has Scudder getting involved with a prostitute only for her to die and he looks for her killer. The bad guy is played by Andy Garcia. It’s a mediocre crime thriller that should have been way better than the actual result. A year later Bernie Rhodenbarr made it to the big screen with Burglar. But Whoopi Goldberg was cast as the male Bernard Rhodenbarr and it was turned into more of a comedy than a mystery caper. I blame comic book writer Jeph Loeb who wrote the screenplay and Police Academy director Hugh Wilson for trashing the source material.

With these two film adaptations of Block’s work I’m a little cautious in the upcoming A Walk Among the Tombstones but I’m optimistic. It looks like a Matthew Scudder story. Maybe a little more action than there normally would be but still closer than 8 Million Ways to Die.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka has spent most of his life watching movies and reading comic books. He has decided to use this vast knowledge for evil instead of good.