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Photo Credit: Multi-colored puzzle pieces, uploaded 17 February 2017: Pixhere/CC0 1.0

Last week, I announced in a live Facebook post on my author page that I’m exploring new directions with my fiction. I also created a Coming Soon page on my website with more details about what I’m doing and why and what readers can expect in the future.

Right now, I’m primarily focusing on a genre that’s new and exciting for me: historical mystery fiction. My approach to the genre utilizes my passion for psychological reality and working with characters from the inside out so it’s not just about telling stories set in the past or even about putting characters in the context of the past. Rather, I’m looking at the way mystery puzzles are solved and the motive behind them that goes deeper than the surface in the way we usually think of mystery fiction. Later, I’ll be blogging more about the type of mysteries that I love to read and am writing and why.

I realize my sudden shift in focus from literary psychological fiction to the mystery genre might seem like a random decision but it’s actually been festering in me for some time. I’ve been a fan of classic mystery fiction since I was a teenager but the idea of writing one always seemed overwhelming to me and I shied away from it, thinking I couldn’t write a story that kept readers guessing as to who committed a crime and why.

In 2013, I had been working intensely for some time on psychological literary fiction, mainly the original novel that evolved into the Waxwood series and some of the short stories that would eventually become a part of my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories. As much as I loved what I was doing, I felt creatively and emotionally burned out. So when National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known by writers as NaNoWriMo, or simply Nano, came along in November, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something different. I’ve always seen Nano as a chance to stretch your creative boundaries and jump out of your creative comfort zone and I’ve used it many times in that way.

When I was taking a novel-writing course in grad school, the professor gave us an interesting first assignment. Based on a writing sample we submitted to him, he assigned students to read a book that was in a completely different style and genre than his or her own writing and discuss it with the class. Because my style was at that time primarily poetic prose, the professor asked me to read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. It seemed like an odd choice at first, since Steinbeck is also a psychological fiction writer. But the experiment turned out to be very instructive for me because Steinbeck’s straight-forward, direct style and his economy of language merged character, story, and setting in a way that was very different from my writing at the time.

For Nano 2013, I wanted to write a book that wasn’t so much an imitation of Steinbeck but my own voice in a more straight-forward, economic style and I wanted to shift my writing focus to plot rather than character. The idea of merging history and mystery immediately came to mind. I wanted to get completely out of my comfort zone and I wanted to have fun with it.

I knew I would need to use very different skills to write a mystery. For one thing, mysteries, especially the kind of traditional mystery (think Agatha Christie) I wanted to write are almost entirely plot-oriented. Characters matter but in a very different way than they do in psychological fiction. Instead of creating character puzzles (like the orphaned brother and sister in the title story of Gnarled Bones and Other Stories), I would need to create a story puzzle. Rather than the dark and ambivalent characters that people my psychological fiction, these characters would need to be more comprehensible (though not necessarily flat or one-dimensional), more identifiable, and more likable.

I approached the project in my usual way — that is, I brainstormed some basic ideas for the story, main characters, setting, and jotted down some key scenes I knew I wanted to include in the book. Since the book was to be historical fiction, I also had to decide what era I wanted to set the book and do some preliminary (though not extensive as of yet) research on the era.

As I was working on the project during the month of November, I came to see I had a problem. With psychological fiction, the story grew organically from the characters and I could only really discover the story by writing it. But with mystery fiction, there was a puzzle to be solved that had many concrete moving parts (like suspects, clues, red herrings, etc.) and I quickly got lost in the little details. I realized if I wanted to write an engaging and complex mystery, I would need to know everything from the beginning, even if the creative process offered up to me different things as I wrote the first draft.

So after Nano was over, I went back and, for the first time in my writing career, I wrote a novel outline. I’m talking about a plan that included a scene-by-scene blow that took me through the entire mystery from beginning to end, from when the body was discovered to who did it in the end and why. The outline included all the clues and suspects, what the crime scene looked like and what would be found there, and the solution to the crime and how the parties involved would reach it and react to it. Then I began the book over again.

I know the word outline makes a lot of writers shudder but my goal wasn’t to restrict my story or stump the creative process (in fact, I strayed several times from the outline as the story and characters developed) but to keep track of all the balls that were up in the air so that in the end, all the puzzle pieces would fit together. As a reader, I find nothing more annoying than to get hooked on a suspect or a clue only to have it disappear by the end of the book or turn out to be not important at all (red herrings are different, though, since their purpose is not irrelevance but misdirection).

The outline completely changed the game for me. I was actually able to have a lot of fun with building the mystery and I could really get to know my characters because I didn’t have to be anxious all the time about trying to figure out who they were or whether where they were going made sense to the story. I grew to love the characters of the book and realizing they really belong in a series because if I love them, I know readers will too. The mystery itself intrigued me and I loved doing the historical research.

Looking back at my creative process for that project, I realize what I was doing to build the mystery wasn’t all that different from what I did to build the psychological reality for my literary fiction characters. In both cases, I create a story out of a puzzle. The only real difference is a mystery is a plot puzzle where the pieces fit together to form a concrete reality (someone has committed a crime and it must be solved) while psychological fiction involves character puzzles with more abstract and philosophical puzzle pieces for readers to put together which create the tapestry of the story.

I finished the first draft of the historical mystery in the summer of 2015. By that time, I knew I wanted to be a self-published author and I knew I wanted to venture out into the world of psychological literary fiction. I put the mystery aside, knowing I would eventually come back to it when I felt ready and I don’t regret doing that. After having been so immersed in character puzzles, I’m enjoying being immersed in plot puzzles for now.

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Photo Credit: The Blue Veil by Edmond Tarbell, oil painting, 1898: freeparking/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

“The creative personality never remains fixed on the first world it discovers. It never resigns itself to anything … “ (Nin, location 3587)

I love this quote from Nin because it’s so true of many creative people. The nature of creativity is flux, motion, and exploration. Many creative artists don’t settle on one things in their creative lives. They might begin going in one direction and find themselves in another that is truer to their psychological reality. They might decide to create one thing and then expand into other directions. Wherever they are going, they are always taking their audience with them.

If you’ve been following my reader group or subscribe to my newsletter, you know I’ve been taking a break from promoting my books the past few months even though I had a new book come out in January of this year. There’s a reason for that.

I began my writing career in April 2016 knowing I wanted to write and publish psychological literary fiction. But I also knew I would grow and broaden my writing skills and my interests as I learned more about myself and my audience and embraced new things. This is what’s been happening with me in the past few months. I explain a lot about this on my Coming Soon page and I also did a live Facebook post about it here. The gist of it is I’ve been acting on what has been a true passion for me for a while —combining my fascination of psychological fiction with my love of history. I’m also expanding my work to include historical mystery fiction (a la Agatha Christie and Anne Perry) because classic mystery fiction has always been my guilty pleasure and I love writing puzzles and giving them to readers to solve.

Because my fiction will be evolving, so will my blogging. Make no mistake – The Dream Book Blog isn’t going anywhere! I love this blog and appreciate everyone who reads and follows it. The Dream Book Blog has always been about bringing a psychological edge to topics related to creativity and the arts (including literature, film, and visual arts). However, there have been blog posts that have strayed from these topics. Even though I loved writing those posts, as I head into the future, you’ll be seeing more posts that stick with my original intent for this blog.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Gilded Age was it’s excesses and its pomposity. I’ll be talking a lot about this on my new blog, Mother Time Musings.

Photo Credit: Hofball in Wien. Aquarell, Wilhelm Gause, 1900, Historisches Museum de Stadt Wien: Andrew0921/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD Old)

Since my fiction is expanding into the historical genre, I’ll also be starting a new blog which is actually a revamp of an old one. I mentioned in my two year blogging anniversary post a that I began my blogging journey with a blog titled Mother Time Musings. This blog included a variety of posts about history, women, classic films, and random posts on an occasional Sunday about whatever struck my mind that week that I felt was worth blogging about. I’m now revamping this blog so it focuses on the historical aspects that I find the most fascinating and are the most relevant to my upcoming historical fiction. Posts on this blog will be about historical eras that I find the most interesting, primarily the Gilded Age (roughly, the 1870’s) to the beginning of the Great Depression (the stock market crash was in 1929), which constitutes what we call the Progressive Era. I also intend to write as much as possible about American history during these eras and not just the “Wild West” which seems to be where many blogs that deal with the 19th and early 20th century in America go. And, of course, you’ll get a lot of interesting perspectives on California and the San Francisco Bay Area since, as many of my readers know, this is my favorite place in the world and most of my fiction takes place there.

I promise you, these won’t be boring blog posts with textbook retellings of historical events. As with all of my writing, my interest is in psychological reality and the psycho-social world in which we live. This new blog is now going to take that interest to another level by examining the psychological realities of life and people in the past.

Stay tuned for announcements about when that blog is up. I really hope you’ll all join me on my journey beyond one writer’s first worlds.

Works Cited

Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.

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***This post is part of the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Hub and Once Upon A Screen blogs. ***

***Some spoilers***

“[Olivia de Havilland] and Bette commerced their long but ‘peculiar’ friendship.” (Considine, location 2662)

Bette Davis was notoriously difficult to work with. Back in the days of Hollywood when movie stars could be divas and no one seemed to mind, Davis was among the biggest. Her feuds with Joan Crawford and Miriam Hopkins are legendary and even in her later years when she worked with Lillian Gish in 1987’s The Whales of August, she couldn’t reframe from making a caustic observation when the director complemented Lillian Gish on her perfect close up that “the bitch invented them” (I’m paraphrasing here).

However, Davis was also a professional and not unappreciative of the talent she saw in others and there were several Hollywood actresses with whom she was friendly and remained so for most of her life. Ann Southern was one of them and so was Mary Astor. But the one that I consider worthy of discussion when it comes to a Hollywood dynamic duo is Olivia de Havilland.

The two did indeed, in Saun Considine’s words, had a “peculiar” friendship. Not surprisingly, they didn’t exactly start out as friends. Their first film together was the forgotten and forgettable 1937 comedy It’s Love I’m After with Leslie Howard. At the time, both were rising stars and on more or less equal footing as Davis had not yet hit her stride with films like Jezebel, Dark Victory, and The Letter. But by their second film two years later, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, the game had changed. Davis was the star and de Havilland, as Considine points out in his book Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud, was “[a] ‘fresh young beauty with a voice that was music to the ears,’” (location 2651) whose star was still rising. The more seasoned Davis watched, probably with a mixture of annoyance and amusement, as de Havilland sparred with director Michael Curtiz when he blew up at her about her demands to finish her obligations at MGM for Gone With The Wind before beginning her role with Elizabeth and Essex. Indeed, Davis later said “she came ‘perilously close to smacking Olivia’s face.’” (As quoted in Considine, location 2657).

Photo Credit: Olivia de Havilland, original film trailer, In This Our Life, 1942, Warner Bros.: Bede735/Wikimedia Commons/PD US no notice

But if Davis and de Havilland didn’t exactly have the makings of a dynamic duo when they first met, they made up for it later. Their friendship really began on the set of their second film in 1942 In This Our Life. The friendship blossomed for both professional and personal reasons. Although Considine doesn’t mention it, I read some time ago that when Davis received the script for this film, she wasn’t happy with it and didn’t think it had much merit and, in fact, told de Havilland it was up to the two of them to make something of it. And the film does have merit in many ways, not the least of which was the complex family relationship between Davis’ character Stanley and her unscrupulous but a-little-too-doting uncle William Fitzroy (play by Charles Coburn) and in it’s portrayal of African-American characters. But their collaboration was also off the set. De Havilland had a stormy affair with director John Huston whom Davis knew from having worked with on a previous film and considered “brilliant, but a bit of ‘a macho phony’” (Considine, location 2662). Davis was sympathetic toward de Havilland, listening to her love woes, even when Jack Warner pointed out that their love affair was causing Huston to give de Havilland the better lines and camera angles. Davis quickly remedied that situation but didn’t lose her affection for de Havilland in their later years because of it.

Their collaboration and friendship stood the test of time well into the 1960’s with what is probably their most famous film together — 1964’s campy horror, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. It was de Havilland who helped Davis pull a stunt on Joan Crawford that was the pinnacle of their feud. After the success of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? two years earlier, director Robert Aldrich was brave enough to attempt a second film with the two Hollywood legends. But Davis, who was also co-producer of the film, was clearly unhappy with Joan and some say she set about getting her ousted from the film very early on. She wanted de Havilland to take over Crawford’s role as the evil but complex Miriam. De Havilland, who had long since retired from film and was living peacefully in Europe, was none too eager to accept the challenge. It wasn’t only she was enjoying her retirement. She had actually done a horror film in a similar vein the year before called Lady in a Cage and a reviewer from Life magazine made the sarcastic remark, “‘[a]dd Olivia’s name to the list of movie actresses who would apparently rather be freaks than forgotten’” (as quoted in Considine, location 6853). The always intelligent and savvy de Havilland was none too keen about playing another “freak” (though I would argue Miriam is anything but). But Aldrich presented the character to her in light of the more complex character she was and that convinced her that the role was worth doing. The film is, I think, the best collaboration between the dynamic duo despite its camp horror. I find it both entertaining and fascinating to watch the relationship between Miriam and Davis’ character Charlotte unfold in the film.

Photo Credit: Bette Davis in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, 1964, B/W movie still, Museum of Modern Art Film Series: CerroFerro/Wikimedia Commons/PD other reasons old

There were some speculations as to just how deep the friendship between Davis and de Havilland was. Some of the people close to Davis insist the affection was more on de Havilland’s side than on Davis’. Davis’ daughter, BD Hyman insisted they were “ ‘never really that close’.” (As quoted in Considine, location 7131) and Vik Greenfeld, Davis’ secretary, commented “‘[s]ince they were girls at Warner’s together, Bette always had the upper hand, so she … [tolerated] Olivia’” (As quoted in Considine, location 7137). I would point out that while it might be true Davis had had “the upper hand” in their earlier years working together, it was really de Havilland who had the upper hand in 1964 when Davis called upon her help for Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and it was Olivia who accompanied Davis to several award ceremonies and gave her comfort and support when she needed it, especially at the 1963 Academy Awards where Davis not winning the Best Actress Oscar for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Was a huge blow for her . It may be true that de Havilland showed more warmth toward Davis than Davis did toward her but I don’t think we can judge whether that meant that the friendship was less on Davis’ side. In a show for the series This is Your Life done on Davis in 1971 where de Havilland makes a surprise appearance all the way from Paris, Davis insists she always found de Havilland to be a lovely person and there is no doubt about her sincerity and warmth.

Works Cited

Considine, Shaun. Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud. E. P. Dutton, 1989. Kindle digital file.

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The bunny may be cute, but he’s not gonna win the race like that ;-).

Photo Credit: The tortoise and the hare with the hare resting by the side of the road while the tortoise passes him up. From Children’s Favorites and Fairy Stories by various authors, edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie, Edward Everett Hale, and William Byron Forbush, New York: The University Society, 1927, Project Gutenberg: Tagishsimon/Wikimedia Commons/PD Gutenberg

“The race is not always to the swift.” (Aesop, par. 7)

This year’s Camp NaNoWriMo in April was a turning point for me in many ways. Not only did it become a platform for the expanding directions I’ll be taking in my writing for the future (something I’ll be blogging about soon) but it also taught me a lot about the tortoise and the hare of the writing world.

Most of us know the gist of Aesop’s fable. A hare is teasing a poor tortoise about his lack of speed and the tortoise challenges the hare to a race, insisting he can beat him. The hare is off to a flying start and, confident  he can win the race easily, gets way ahead of the tortoise and stops to catch up on some Z’s at the side of the road. The tortoise goes at his slow and steady pace and passes the sleeping hare. Only when the tortoise is almost to the finish line does the hare wake up and, try as he might, his winged feet can do nothing to get him to the finish line before the tortoise crosses it.

Hence the “moral” above. The fable also spawned a lot of old-fashioned idioms, such as “slow and steady wins the race”.

When it comes to writing, there are hares and there are tortoises. The hares are the writers who can whip out thousands of words in an hour, entire first drafts in weeks, and, in the self-publishing world, churn out published books in months. I know of one self-published author who publishes more than twenty books a year! But it’s not just self-published authors. I’ve read that poet Sylvia Plath wrote many of her poems at “lightening speed”. Rumor has it that Jack Kerouac and Anthony Burgess both wrote their masterpieces (On the Road and A Clockwork Orange, respectively) in three weeks. While these numbers seem pretty amazing, keep in mind we’re talking here about first drafts. The first draft, as most writers know, is the “get it down” draft or, what author Anne Lamott in her inspirational book Bird by Bird calls the “sh*tty” draft. It’s where writers get their ideas down inside characters, storylines, settings, descriptions, etc., but it takes editing and revising (mercilessly) to really get the writing into the full form that most readers experience as the final product.

Then there are the tortoises of the writing world. These writers take a long time to finish the first draft and a long time to revise so it can take them years to get their work out there, sometimes a lifetime. One of the greatest (though not the easiest to read or even the most interesting at times) novels ever written, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past began in the first decade of the 20th century and took Proust about thirteen years to write. Marguerite Young wrote her masterpiece Miss Mackintosh, My Darling, expecting it would take only a few years. She miscalculated slightly. The novel took more than fifteen years to write. A book I talked about, though didn’t exactly favor, was Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, which took Porter twenty years to write.

There are many factors that go into a writer’s pace. Some of them are more on the pragmatic side. Length is sometimes, though not always, a factor. Plath’s lightening speed may have been partly due to the fact that she was writing poetry which is much shorter than Proust’s seven volume novel or Young’s two volume book. Genre may also play a role. One of the things I discovered with Camp Nano is that the first draft writing goes much quicker when you have a very substantial plot that has a definite direction as opposed to more character-based fiction which tends to follow the character and therefore is more unpredictable in terms of where the story is going to go. On the one hand, it’s more of a journey of discovery which can be fun and exciting but on the other, it is also more likely to be fraught with kinks and roadblocks and forks in the road that lead nowhere. All this can slow the writing process down.

But there are also more psychological barriers to the hare style of writing. There is no denying that the further away a story is from the characters’ or author’s psychological reality, the easer it is emotionally to write and therefore, the quicker it is to crank out the first draft. The writer has less of a personal emotional investment in the characters and story. This doesn’t mean that the writer doesn’t care about the characters or doesn’t want to know or discover what happens to them. But the way the characters affect the writer emotionally in terms of how deeply they hit upon the demons of the writer’s own life aren’t there so it’s naturally easier for the writer to get the words down. Think about how it is when we read a book. Books that deal with situations, characters, and emotions that mirror our lives directly in some way are more of a struggle for us to get through than, say, a fantasy novel or a whodoneit that has nothing to do with the real world and are meant to entertain us.

I have talked before in my blog about some of my writing struggles. I talk here about the novel I began twelve years ago that has metamorphosed into the Waxwood Series. I am by nature a tortoise when it comes to writing first drafts (and as for the editing and revising process, don’t ask!) However, for Camp NaNo last month, I tackled an entirely different kind of project. I created a very detailed outline, virtually scene-by-scene, but still with a lot of wiggle room for the process of discovery that naturally comes from creativity. While I didn’t finish the novel, the writing process went much smoother and much faster than I anticipated it would. I attribute this to the fact that the book I’m writing has a more determined storyline that doesn’t follow the whims of the characters (at least, most of the time) and the fact that I have a very detailed outline guiding me throughout the process.

The ultimate message here, though, if I can say this blog post has one, is that every writer has to find his or her own pace. Fast writers are no better or worse than slow writers and vice versa. And writing pace changes with each book for each writer. It’s all about finding what works for the individual writer.

Works Cited

Aesop. “The Hare & The Tortoise.” The Aesop for Children: With Pictures by Milo Winter, Rand, McNally & Co., 1919. Library of Congress. Web. 9 May 2018.

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***This post is part of The Lon Chaney Sr. Blogathon, hosted by the Maddy Loves Her Classic Films blog. ***

***Some spoilers***

Dapper Bill Ballard (Wheeler Oakman): “What I was going to say – we weren’t born crooks, were we?”

After a month off from my blog for Camp NaNoWriMo, it’s great to be back! And nothing makes me happier than to be back with a blogathon post, since, if you’ve been following my blog, you know I love classic films :-).

Lon Chaney Sr, is, of course, the legendary Man of a Thousand Faces. This is the father Chaney, not to be confused with the son, Lon Chaney Jr., the original Wolfman and a legendary and well-respected actor in his own right. Chaney Sr was known for his amazing make-up artistry, frequently playing entire different characters in the same film and looking totally different as all of them. He was one of the greats of the silent film era, having made only a handful of sound films before he died in 1930.

Chaney made several films with director Tod Browning who, like producer Val Lewton, was able to take small budget films and turn it into stories and characters with more psychological depth and fascination. The 1920 film Outside The Law was one Chaney Sr./Browning collaboration. It’s a combination crime and romance film set in my favorite city in the world — San Francisco. The film has some interesting psychological perspectives on crime and innocence.

Chaney, in his usual Man of a Thousand Faces way, plays two characters here and, just as the legend has it, both are entirely different in their appearance and behavior. One of these characters is a rather unsavory criminal named Black Mike Sylva. Here’s a prominent figure in the San Francisco underworld though a pretty barbaric one, what we would call today, a sociopath. In typical 1920’s melodramatic fashion, Sylva is all bad. He pretty much hates the world and has no interest in anyone but himself. He can turn a gun on anyone or betray anyone without a moment’s hesitation or a moment’s feeling of remorse. The film, in fact, is driven by his hates which end up having a domino effect on the behavior of the other characters. He tries to set up crime boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis), who is trying to go straight for the murder of a policeman and, although he fails, gets Madden sent to jail, ending the good intentions of not only him but his daughter Molly (Priscilla Dean) to reform. Molly’s bitterness makes her take crime right back up and, here too, Sylva tries to do his utmost evil by setting her up to take the fall for a jewel robbery. But the intervention of his friend and the third party to the heist, Dapper Bill Ballard (Wheeler Oakman) succeeds in turning the tables on Sylva and the two escape the law with the jewels. Of course, Sylva, in his never-ending quest for vengeance, hunts them down and makes them squirm for a while with his delightfully evil smile before he demands the jewels and their lives. Of course, like all good villains in the melodramas, he gets his just desserts at the end of the film. But he is, from beginning to end, the unredeemable character, the one for whom innocence has no place.

Photo Credit: Still from Outside The Law with Wheeler Oakman, Lon Chaney, and Priscilla Dean, Exhibitors Herald, page 62, December 18, 1920, Universal Film Manufacturing Company: Deanlaw/Wikimedia Commons/PD 1923

The other character Chaney plays is Ah Wing, a Chinese servant to a wise and virtuous man named Chang Low (E. Alyn Warren). Although not well developed, Wing’s character is the other side of the coin to Sylva. He is humble, good-hearted, and loyal to his master. Low has his doubts about the justice system but nonetheless, he is out to stop crime in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where much of the story takes place, through peaceful means. He helps criminals reform so it’s no surprise that the film opens in Low’s living room with a smiling Madden and his daughter asking for his aid in going straight. Madden then leaves to attend to his business and Wing shows him out like the good servant he is but hangs around outside. It’s then he sees suspicious characters lurking about and keeps an eye out so that when Madden is called out into the street under false pretenses and the shooting starts, Wing is there to save his life twice — once from a bullet and once from a guilty conviction when an officer dies in the gunfire. At the end of the film, Wing serves as an ally to the Maddens when Molly and Dapper Bill come to ask for Low’s aid in their own reform.

Innocence and crime are pitted against one another in the two main characters of this film – Molly and Dapper Bill. Both embody the duality that exists in many of us, the desire to see things with rose-colored glasses (innocence) while at the same time being aware that not all is rosy (crime). Symbolism plays a role in many of Browning’s films (like the loving cup in the wedding scene of one of Browning’s most famous films, the cult classic, 1932’s Freaks) and this film is no exception. It comes in the form of the character referred to only as That Kid (Stanley Goethals). The child belongs to Molly’s and Dapper Bills’ neighbor (whom, they find out later is, ironically, a police detective) in a seedy San Francisco apartment where they hide out after the jewel heist. Dapper Bill takes a liking to this child who is always smiling, always playful, and always accepting of anyone who is willing to give him a hug. He is, in essence, the personification of innocence. There is a chilling scene where innocence and crime come together in That Kid. He gets hold of the gun Molly keeps around the apartment for protection, and, with a giggle, aims it at Molly, clearly mistaking it for a toy.

Molly’s hard-heartedness and cynicism are at first at odds with this playful child. When Dapper Bill hints that it might be nice for them to get married someday and have a child just like him, she snorts, “What for? Aren’t there enough crooks in this world?” Clearly, her bitterness has made her disbelieve that anything but a crooked life is possible for not only herself but anyone with whom she comes into contact with. Naturally, That Kid wins her over in the end and it’s his warmth and unconditional love that makes her see a life of constantly hiding out from the law is not her only option.

This is by far not one of Chaney’s masterpieces but it’s an entertaining film with a lot to offer in the undercurrents and a message that goes beyond the standard morality of “crime doesn’t pay”.

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