Jim Thompson  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

James Myers Thompson (September 27, 1906, Anadarko, Oklahoma Territory - April 7, 1977, Los Angeles, California) was an American writer of novels, short stories and screenplays, largely in the hardboiled style of crime fiction.

Thompson was best-known for more than thirty novels, the majority of which were original paperback publications by pulp fiction houses, in the late-1940s and mid-1950s. Despite some positive notice, by writer-critic Anthony Boucher in the New York Times, he was little-recognized in his lifetime. Only after death did his literary stature grow, when, in the late 1980s, several novels were re-published in the Black Lizard series of re-discovered crime fiction.

Thompson's writing culminated in a few of his best-regarded works: The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, A Hell of a Woman and Pop. 1280. In these works, Thompson turned the derided pulp genre into literature and art, featuring unreliable narrators, odd structure, and surrealism.

Writer R.V. Cassills suggested that of all pulp fiction, Thompson's was the rawest and most harrowing; that neither Dashiell Hammett nor Raymond Chandler nor even Horace McCoy (author of the bleak They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) ever "wrote a book within miles of Thompson". (Polito, 373) Similarly, in the introduction to Now And on Earth, Stephen King says he most admires Thompson's work because "[t]he guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn't know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the forgoing. He let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it." (King, ix; emphasis his)

Thompson admired Fyodor Dostoevsky and was nicknamed "Dimestore Dostoevsky" by writer Geoffrey O'Brien. Film director Stephen Frears, who directed an adaptation of Thompson's The Grifters as 1990's The Grifters, also identified elements of Greek tragedy in his themes.

Jim Thompson's life was nearly as colorful as his fiction, which was semi-autobiographical, or, at least, inspired by his experiences.

Film adaptations

As noted above, two of Thompson's books were adapted as Hollywood motion pictures during his lifetime, but in the end, neither was true to Thompson's spirit.

French director Bertrand Tavernier adapted Pop. 1280 for his 1981 film, Coup de Torchon, changing the setting from the American South to a French colony in West Africa of the 1930s. A Hell of a Woman was also adapted in French as Série noire (1979).

A decade later, about 1990, Hollywood resumed its interest in Thompson's writing and several of his novels were re-published. Three novels were adapted for new film treatments during that period: The Kill-Off; After Dark, My Sweet; and most notably, The Grifters, which garnered four Academy Award nominations.

The Getaway was remade in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the lead roles but the film retained the happy ending of the earlier film.

In 1996, A Swell-Looking Babe was released as Hit Me, and 1997 saw the release of This World, Then the Fireworks from Thompson's short story of that name.

Aside from shift in setting, Coup de Torchon was remarkably faithful to the plot and the spirit of the novel, and remains arguably the most authentic adaptation of any of Thompson's work. A close runner-up might be The Grifters, though Westlake's script blunts the impact of the climax with a brief but very significant change in a character's motivation.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jim Thompson" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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