McGee Movie News: Clues from IMDb

As any serious movie fan knows, the IMDb website is where you go to glean info on what actors, directors, screenwriters, and other cinema pros are up to. My wife Sue just checked out the IMDb listing for The Deep Blue Good-by, and came up with several new items.

The first, biggest news is that Meyer has tentatively been cast. Peter Dinklage apparently has the role.

But Meyer, you protest, is not in The Deep Blue Good-by, is he?

Nope, he is not. He doesn’t make a major supporting appearance for another five or six books. Which suggests that the first McGee novel is about to be Hollywoodized. To this hardcore McGee fan, this is a little discouraging.

On the plus side, IMDb refers to World War II treasure. If there’s WWII loot in the story, it means Cathy Kerr’s dad and the villain Junior Allen were WWII vets. Which hints that the film is being shot as a period story—in the mid-1960s. That would be good.

The other interesting bit of news in this listing is that the film is in pre-production for release in 2016. That suggests a pretty quick turnover.

Of course, my tea-leaf reading could be totally wrong on all these points. I welcome your interpretations.

To do your own tea-leaf reading at IMDb, just click here.

From Steve Scott’s Trap of Solid Gold: Muñequita

Blogger’s Note: This week we’re on a theme of McGee transportation. A couple of days ago Kevin Comer wrote about Trav’s unique wheels: that Rolls Royce pickup, Miss Agnes. Today, we’re talking about Muñequita, McGee’s little runabout. Steve Scott, of the superb Trap of Solid Gold blog, was kind enough to let me repost the opening of his piece on Muñequita. You can read the whole thing by clicking the link at the bottom.

Once John D MacDonald began writing the Travis McGee novels in 1964 he went on to produce eight of them over a period of three years before publishing another stand-alone novel. That book was The Last One Left, a terrific hardcover suspense tale that spanned 369 pages and which featured a dedication to a fictional character: Travis McGee, of course. (“I dedicate this novel to Travis McGee who lent invaluable support and encouragement.”) But that dedication wasn’t the only connection to the Fort Lauderdale salvage expert. Readers of the novel in 1967 wouldn’t know it for another year, but a prominent character in the book eventually makes its way into the McGee canon with the very next installment, Pale Gray for Guilt. That character was a boat, named Muñequita, which is Spanish for Little Doll. It went on to become a semi-regular feature of the series.

Munequita_0001

Readers first meet Muñequita early in The Last One Left, and it is not under good circumstances. The 22-foot T-Craft is adrift in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida. From the author’s description it is obviously a special craft.

Under considerably more power this same T-Craft hull design had won some savage ocean races. Fiberglass, teak, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, perhaps ten thousand dollars for such a special plaything. With the twin Chrysler-Volvo inboard, outboards, 120 horsepower each, she could scat at forty-seven miles an hour, the deep Vee hull slicing through the chop, the wake flat… With her fuel capacity increased by the two saddle tanks to over eighty gallons, at her cruising speed of thirty-two miles an hour, the engines turning at 4500 rpm, her maximum range was almost three hundred miles, without safety factor… She had been bought on whim and loaded with extras — convertible top… searchlight, rod holders, windshield wipers, bow rails, anchor chocks, electric horn, screens, a transistorized Pearce-Simpson ship-to-shore radio tucked under the Teleflex instrument panel, pedestal helmsman’s seats, two bunks and a head fitted into the small area forward…  The graceful hull was a medium Nassau  blue, her topsides white with just enough trace of smoke blue to cut the sunglare… She had lifted and dipped and danced her way with an agile grace which matched her name. Muñequita. Little Doll.

I’m giving nothing away by revealing that the owner of the Muñequita in The Last One Left does not survive. And that’s where Travis comes in.

To read the rest of Steve’s post—and to sample other JDM and McGee treasures in the Trap—just click here.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & Safe Driving

miss-agnes

By Kevin Comer

Detroit has never even caught up with the 1923 Rolls, to say nothing of the ones of Miss Agnes’s vintage.

— grousing in The Turquoise Lament (1973)

McGee’s ride is no Bond car. Miss Agnes is introduced in the series inaugural, The Deep Blue Good-by (1964):

… I believe she is the only Rolls Royce in America which has been converted into a pickup truck. She is vintage 1936, and apparently some previous owner had some unlikely disaster happen to the upper half of her rear end and solved the problem in an implausible way. She is one of the big ones, and in spite of her brutal surgery retains the family knack of going eighty miles an hour all day long in a kind of ghastly silence. Some other idiot had her repainted a horrid electric blue. When I found her squatting, shame-faced , in the back row of a gigantic car lot, I bought her at once and named her after a teacher I had in the fourth grade whose hair was that same shade of blue.

Miss Agnes may cruise all day at 80, but it takes her a while to get up to speed and just as long to stop, as McGee explains in Pale Gray for Guilt (1968): 

My elderly Rolls pickup, Miss Agnes, was as agile as ever, which meant about 40 seconds from a dead stop to sixty miles an hour. And she had the same reluctance to come to a stop once she was humming along. So she and I were slowly becoming a highway hazard, the narrow shaves getting narrower…

A narrow shave in The Long Lavender Look (1970) proves a bit too much during a late night run down a Florida backroad when a semi-nude woman erupts from the roadside shrubbery:

I wasn’t prepared for the creature of the night that suddenly appeared out of the blackness, heading from left to right, at a headlong run. At eighty, you are covering about a hundred and twenty feet per second. She was perhaps sixty feet in front of the car when I first saw her. So half of one second later, when I last saw her, she was maybe ten inches from the flare of my front right fender, and that ten inches was the product of the first effect of my reaction time. Ten inches of living space instead of that bone-crunching, flesh-smashing thud which, once heard, lingers forever in the part of the mind where echoes live.

And I became very busy with Miss Agnes. She put her back end onto the left shoulder, and then onto the right shoulder. The swinging headlights showed me the road once in a while. I could not risk touching the brake. This was the desperate game of steering with the skid each time, and feeding her a morsel of gas for traction whenever she was coming back into alignment with the highway. I knew I had it whipped, and knew that each swing was less extreme.

Then a rear tire went and I lost her for good. The back end came around and there was a shriek of rubber, crashing of brush, a bright cracking explosion inside my skull, and I was vaguely aware of being underwater, disoriented, tangled in strange objects, and aware of the fact that it was not a very good place to be. I did not feel any alarm. Just a mild distaste, an irritation with my situation.

While McGee dispels suspicions of involvement in the murder of recently paroled Frank Baither, young Ron Hatch pounds out the dings with a rubber mallet, imports rare parts from a Miami dealer, and repaints Miss Agnes a more becoming shade of blue. In the end, she’s as good as new, but no more agile.

In Turquoise, Travis describes the upgrades he’s been compelled to make, despite the near sacrilege of such changes:

I felt that I had violated the integrity of the old Rolls by having her rebuilt to contemporary highway standards. Ever since I had dumped her into a drainage canal to avoid hitting a fleet-footed girl in the night, I had been upgrading all the hidden parts. Now she had the big engine lifted out of a 1972 Mark IV Continental that was totaled. Rebuilding the engine with both stock and custom power assists had meant a new gear train and a new rear end. Then she had more power than the suspension and the brakes could handle. So we installed a suspension out of the biggest Dodge pickup, along with power disc brakes all the way around. Of course I had to change to a twelve-volt system, and put in two heavy-duty batteries and a heavy-duty alternator. After several weird improvisations, we rigged a power steering system that worked well enough. There was enough extra horsepower to borrow some to run a really efficient air-conditioning system…

But unless I had either got rid of her or upped her performance, the traffic was going to kill me…

Fear of being killed in traffic causes McGee to become exasperated with DEA agent Scott Browder in The Lonely Silver Rain (1985):

Browder was a fast driver and not a good driver. He would get too close to a slow-moving vehicle before edging out to take a look down the highway. When he passed he cut in quickly even with nothing approaching and nothing bullying him from behind. The expert driver moves out into the passing lane when he is at least fifteen car lengths from the vehicle he is passing. Then he can move back without haste if it is not a good time to pass. Once by, he makes his angle of return to his lane as long and gradual as is consistent with what is ahead of and behind him. The good driver takes his foot off the gas when there is anything ahead he does not understand. We came to a place where big green branches had been cut and put in the oncoming lane. It was a warning. There was a disabled VW camper with branches in the road behind it as well, a hundred yards and more from the camper. Browder didn’t slow. As we approached at high speed he saw a tanker truck beginning to turn out to pass the camper. It was coming toward us. Browder accelerated and got as far to the right as he could. We brushed the jungle as we sped by the big high bumper of the tanker truck. Browder yelled curses. “Goddamn maniac truck driver!” he hollered.

I said, “You are a rotten driver.” This is like telling someone he has no sense of humor, or that he’s a poor judge of character.

Travis has no such concerns, however, when Meyer is behind the wheel in Cinnamon Skin (1982):

He said I had best not talk to him in the noon-time traffic. I soon saw what he meant. We came whining down the Eastex Parkway at sixty-four miles an hour, because that was the average speed of the dense stampede in which we were enclosed. It is a fact of highway life that each heavily traveled road establishes its own cadence. The great pack of candy-colored compacts, pickups , vans, delivery trucks, taxicabs, and miscellaneous wheeled junk flowed in formation, inches apart, through the gleam, stink, grinding roar, and squinty glitter of a July noontime, through a golden sunshine muted to brass by smog. What the traffic consultants seem unable to comprehend is that heavy traffic makes its own rules because nobody can nip in and pull anybody over to the side without setting up a shock wave that would scream tires and crumple fenders for a mile back down the road. California discovered this first. It is probably a more important discovery than est or redwood hot tubs…

Once you have the concept of the pack making the law, driving the urban interstates is simplified. You maintain just that distance from the vehicle ahead which will give you braking room yet will not invite a car from a neighbor lane to cut in. You pick the center lanes because some of the clowns leaving the big road on the right will start to slow down far too soon. You avoid the left lane when practical because when they have big trouble over there on the other side of the median strip, the jackass who comes bounding over across the strip usually totals somebody in the left lane. When you come up the access strip onto the big road, you make certain that you have reached the average speed of all the traffic before you edge into it. Keep looking way way ahead for trouble, and when you see it put on your flashing emergency lights immediately so that the clown behind you will realize you are soon going to have to start slowing down.

Meyer did well, hunched forward, hands gripping the wheel at ten o’clock and two o’clock.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & the War on Drugs

dea

By Kevin Comer

I said I didn’t mind, so she got a saved butt out of a little box in the nightstand drawer, good for five deep drags, well spaced, then pressed it out and came back down to me with that sad, sweet, oriental tang on her breath.

— Billie Jean Bailey tokes up in The Empty Copper Sea (1978)

Travis McGee is no prude when it comes to recreational drug use. This is probably to be expected. It’s likely you couldn’t be berthed downwind of the Alabama Tiger’s permanent floating house party aboard the ‘Bama Gal without often being treated to the sweet scent of Mary Jane in the ‘60s and ‘70s. McGee tells us exactly where he stands in regard to marijuana in The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974) when Meyer asks him outright: “… Do you disapprove of a person using the weed?”

“Me? I think people should do whatever they want to do, provided they go to the trouble of informing themselves first of any possible problems. Once they know, then they can solve their own risk-reward ratios. Suppose somebody proved it does some kind of permanent damage. Okay. So the user has to figure it out if there is any point in his remaining in optimum condition for a minimum kind of existence. For me, it was relaxing, in a way, the couple of times I’ve had enough to feel it. But it gave me the giggles, warped my time sense, and made things too bright and hard-edged. Also it bent dimensions somehow. Buildings leaned just a little bit the wrong way. Rooms were not perfectly oblong any more. It’s a kind of sensual relaxation, but it gave me the uneasy feeling somebody could come up behind me and kill me and I would die distantly amused instead of scared witless.”

McGee seems to have suffered from the paranoia often experienced by the occasional pot smoker. His drug of choice will remain expensive imported gin, which presumably did not effect temporal or spacial perception, nor lead to fits of giggling. Nonetheless, he takes his typical libertarian stance with regard to behavior and responsibility.

Travis McGee was much more concerned about the unintended consequences of society’s punitive response to the recreational use of drugs other than alcohol. We first become aware of these concerns in Dress Her in Indigo (1969). Seated comfortably in first class on a flight bound for Mexico City, Travis studies the dossiers prepared by T. Harlen Bowie’s investigators for each of Bix Bowie’s companions on her ill-fated trip to Mexico and discovers one of them had narrowly escaped conviction for marijuana possession due to a break in the chain of evidence. Travis reflects on the actions of the judge:

And that, of course , is the tragic flaw in the narcotics laws— that possession of marijuana is a felony. Regardless of whether it is as harmless as some believe, or as evil and vicious as others believe, savage and uncompromising law is bad law, and the good and humane judge will jump at any technicality that will keep him from imposing a penalty so barbaric and so cruel. The self-righteous pillars of church and society demand that “the drug traffic be stamped out” and think that making possession a felony will do the trick. Their ignorance of the roots of the drug traffic is as extensive as their ignorance of the law.

Let’s say a kid in Florida, a college kid eighteen years old, is picked up with a couple of joints on him. He is convicted of possession, which is an automatic felony, and given a suspended sentence. What has he lost? The judge who imposes sentence knows the kid has lost the right to vote, the right right to own a gun, the right to run for public office. He can never become a doctor, dentist, C.P.A., engineer, lawyer, architect, realtor, osteopath, physical therapist, private detective, pharmacist, school teacher, barber, funeral director, masseur, or stock broker. He can never get any job where he has to be bonded or licensed. He can’t work for the city, county, or federal governments . He can’t get into West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy. He can enlist in the military, but will be denied his choice of service, and probably be assigned to a labor battalion.

It is too rough. It slams too many doors. It effectively destroys the kid’s life. It is too harsh a penalty for a little faddist experimentation. The judge knows it. So he looks for any out, and then nothing at all happens to the kid. Too many times harsh law ends up being, in effect, no law at all. All automatic felony laws are, without exception, bad law, from the Sullivan Act in New York State, to the hit and run in California . They destroy the wisdom and discretion of the Court, and defeat the purposes they are meant to serve.

Although McGee refers to faddish experimentation, the dark side of drug use figures prominently in the plot of Indigo. He and Meyer discover a wide swath of destruction and degradation involving heroin, pharmaceuticals, and cannabis in Mexico. This is often the case in the series. In Copper, PCP is destroying lives in Timber Bay. In The Lonely Silver Rain (1985), brash undercover DEA agent Scott Browder is motivated by a teenage daughter in a vegetative state from an overdose. A reader would not come away convinced JDM thought drug use benign.

As the market for recreational drugs exploded, Florida became a major conduit for product from Latin America and the Caribbean. Initially, many of those involved in the drug trade were amateurs attracted by the chance to make a quick buck. There was an air of romance not even T. McGee is entirely immune to: In Lemon, he recalls his thinking when acquaintance Boo Brodey tried recruiting him into the trade:

…If you make it with grass, you find out that hash and coke are more portable and profitable. You kid yourself into the next step, and by the time they pick you up, your picture in the paper looks like some kind of degenerate, fangs and all. And all you can say is, gee, the other guys were doing it too.

If I were really going to do it, I would refit the Muñequita for long-range work. Tune her for lowest gas consumption and put in bigger tanks. She’s already braced to bang through seas most runabouts can’t handle. Then I would …

Whoa, McGee. There is larceny in every heart, and you have more than your share. So forget how far it is across the Yucatan Straits, leaving from Key West.

However as the drug trade matures, it becomes a $70B a year business controlled by ruthless organized crime rings. In Silver—published 30 years ago—Travis runs afoul of these forces when his discovery of the bodies of three young drug runners on a stolen yacht results in his being marked for death. In his effort to escape the crosshairs, McGee unleashes a violent gang war. As the bodies pile up, he’s following the action in the newspapers when Meyer brings a NYT op-ed written by a former employee of the DEA to his attention, which says in part:

“A vast and deadly infrastructure provides it [cocaine] — from the plucking of the leaves of the highland bushes to the tiny gold straw that sucks a line into the delicate nostril of a mayor’s mistress in Oregon and makes her eyes sparkle. Within the present context, nothing can stop it. The losses of officialdom are within the limits, say, of spoilage in the vegetable business. It has been brought in by drone aircraft, radio-controlled. It has been brought in by one-man submarine. It has been shot ashore by slingshot from freighters docking at Tampa. Even were importation to be punished by death it would still go on, because the lifetime wages of a laborer can be carried in a single pocket.

“The only possible solution to this deadly trade is to ignore it. Legalize it along with marijuana. Then the infrastructure will sag and collapse. It will no longer be fashionable. Street dealers will no longer hustle new customers on high school sidewalks. And men won’t die in the squalid massacres we have seen recently in southeast Florida.

“But maybe it is too late for legalization. The bureaucracy of detection and control has a huge national payroll. Florida’s economy is as dependent on Lady Caine as it is on cattle or fishing. Legalization will be fought bitterly by politicians who will say that to do so will imperil our children. Are they not now imperiled?”