Fritz Brown

Created by James Ellroy

Self-proclaimed crime fiction enfant terrible James Ellroy’s one and only private eye novel to date features morally-ambiguous, Beethoven-loving ex-cop turned low-rent slacker private detective FRITZ BROWN. Fritz admits he isn’t Los Angeles’ finest police officer, admitting he was “an uneasy, malcontented one at first, until the booze came along and made the low-level administration of power exciting beyond my wildest fantasies.” But alcohol and a power trip made an unhealthy mixture, and Fritz began fucking up. Transferred to Vice, he finally went too far, taking a baseball bat to a known child molester, breaking both the guy’s legs, unaware the molester just happened to be a favored informant of the Narcotics Division.

For some reason, Fritz was asked to leave the force after that. Since then he’s been on and off the wagon, doing repo work, serving papers — not exactly setting the world on fire, but not starving, either. Then this obese caddy pal of his named “Fat Dog” walks in with a proposition. Seems he’s worried about his daughter… Before the book is done, Fritz will have to confront racist psychos, arsonists, Mexican pornographers and a serial killer. And, oh yes, caddies of various temperaments.

Brown’s Requiem (1981), was Ellroy’s first book, and as bleak, cynical and at times sordid as it was, it lacked the drive and ambitious reach of his later work. But there was no doubt that he already had his aim set on bigger game. Fritz’ passion for classical music becomes an effective symbol for his hunger for a better, more just world that he fears is gone for good. It may have been the last time anyone was optimistic in an Ellroy novel.

Following the success (albeit initially more critical than commercial) of the film version of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), Brown’s Requiem went before the cameras, as an appropriately low-budget indie directed by Jason Freedlands, and starring Michael Rooker as Fritz.

Nothing spectacular, it’s a loose, shambling affair whose ultimate pointlessness may, after all, be the point. Certainly many viewers appreciated the flick for its down-scale but fresh take on neo-noir sensibility, and there were some strong performances by Barry Newman, Brad Dourif and particularly 23 year-old William Sasso as Fat Dog. Valerie Perrine even makes a cameo. The biggest change was probably Freedlands yanking the musical sub-text, which probably makes sense, given Ellroy’s later death-to-subtlety approach.

The “lanky, sardonic poet of Los Angeles sleaze” (as Roger Ebert once referred to Ellroy) hasn’t written another private investigator novel since, although he’s given us a few short stories, most notably with forties gumshoe Spade Hearns and 1950’s scandal sheet editor Danny Getchell.


  • “Ellroy has a way of giving gravitas to ugliness and making brutality beautiful. . . His LA might not be a city of angels, but the devils he conjures up tell one hell of a tale.”
    — NPR
  • “James Ellroy is an acquired taste. His brand of crime noir isn’t so much gritty as abrasive — not just hard-boiled but shot through with strychnine.”
    — Dan Jolin in The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See



  • BROWN’S REQUIEM Buy this DVD Buy this video
    (1998, Lions Gate)
    105 minutes
    Based on the novel by James Elroy
    Screenplay by Jason Freedlands
    Directed by Jason Freedlands
    Cinematographer: Seo Mutarevic
    Produced by David Scott Rubin, Tim Youd
    Executive Producers: Mark Ezralow, John McDonnell III
    An Avalanche Releasing presentation in association with J&T Productions and Savvy Lad Inc.
    Starring Michael Rooker as FRITZ BROWN
    Also starring William Sasso, Selma Blair, Valerie Perrine, Harold Gould, Barry Newman, Brad Dourif, Tobin Bell, Christopher Meloni, Jane Baker, Jack Conley, Kevin Corrigan, Brion James, William Newman, Jack Wallace, Big Daddy Wayne, Ron Barker, David Labiosa, John Prosky


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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