Saturday, April 16, 2016

Howard Blum's "The Last Goodnight"

Howard Blum is the author of New York Times bestsellers including Dark Invasion, the Edgar Award–winner American Lightning, as well as Wanted!, The Gold Exodus, Gangland, and The Floor of Heaven. Blum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Here Blum dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal:
Way back when I was still writing my book, I had the good fortune to sell The Last Goodnight to the movies. Columbia Tri-Star stepped up with interest, enthusiasm, and some money when the book – a true story - was just a proposal. Part of what attracted them, or so I was told, was the opportunity to cast Betty Pack, the real-life heroine in my book. And so I’ve had a bit of time to think about whom I’d like to see in that role.

Betty Pack was a spy. She had all sorts of derring-do exploits during World War II that did nothing less than help the Allies win the war. She was American, came from a Social Register family, and she was, to use Hollywood shorthand, glamorous. When she died, Time’s obituary described her as a “blonde Bond…using the boudoir as Ian Fleming’s hero used the Beretta.”

That’s the shorthand casting description of Betty.

But in the book, which in its way is as much a psychological detective story as a suspenseful non-fiction spy thriller, I try to dig a bit deeper into Betty’s character. I try to reveal what made her such a perfect spy. And these are all elements that I hope would be essential for any actress playing the role of Betty Pack. The reality is a lot more complicated than the shorthand, and it would be nice – and effective cinema, to boot – if this were reflected on the screen.

Consider, then, Betty’s beauty. Sure, she was a looker, but it was a careful, controlled sort of beauty. A fellow spy wrote that when he had first met Betty he had, after hearing all the stories about her, a small pang of disappointment. A quick look suggested, he said, nothing more than an “attractive, wholesome All-American girl.”

But once Betty started talking, her voice soft as a whisper yet authoritative, her laugh uninhibited, even naughty, her eyes fixed on him like a marksman’s, all his oversimplifications, all his stereotypes, were quickly undone. “She had a force, or magnetism to a terrifying degree,” he realized. “What,” he wondered, “is this pacing tiger doing in this conventional disguise?”

Try bringing that to the screen.

Then there is Betty temperament. She didn’t have romances, she had adventures. Life for her was a roller-coaster of emotions, rising to great joyful highs and then tumbling down towards seemingly bottomless lows. And she was always mercurial. She possessed what is perhaps the spy’s greatest gift: the ability to pledge love one moment, and then betray her lover in the next. The trick, as every spy learns, is to mean what you say only in the moment when you say it. Betty had only one enduring loyalty: to the country and spymasters she served.

There is a bit of advice the CIA offers its new recruits: “The last person to whom you say goodnight is the most dangerous.” Betty personified this warning.

And so any actress who plays Betty on the screen must be able to convey all these complicated and often conflicting qualities. There needs to be an aura of refinement as well as incipient danger whenever she appears on the screen.

Every spy is an actor, playing one public role while concealing another hidden agenda. And the actress who plays Betty Pack in The Last Goodnight must bring this coiled tension and ambiguity to the screen.

So, who do I see in the role?

Well, I’m not the producer, just the author of the book upon which the movie will be based. But given all the qualities I have just offered up, I think that Jennifer Lawrence would play the role quite nicely. Quite nicely indeed.
Visit Howard Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue