Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans Cast in TNT’s The Alienist

Daniel BruhlThe long-awaited news of who will be playing Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and John Moore in TNT’s upcoming adaptation of The Alienist was announced on Monday. Daniel Brühl (Rush, Inglorious Bastards, Captain America: Civil War) has been cast as Dr. Kreizler, while Luke Evans (The Girl on The Train, The Hobbit trilogy, Dracula Untold) has been cast as John Moore. TNT have also confirmed that shooting will begin in Budapest in early 2017.

While the casting of these two talented actors is certainly an exciting development, there was some troubling news to accompany this announcement as well. Namely, the description in the press release of John as “a society illustrator for the New York Times” who “always [lacks] drive and a meaning to his pursuits.” For any visitors who may feel that I am over-reacting in describing this as “troubling” — after all, John remaining a crime reporter can’t really be that important, can it? — I would ask you to remember what his role on the team was described as in the novel:

“What the hell was the idea of getting my whole house up and forcing me to go down there, anyway? It’s not as though I can report that kind of thing, you know that–all it did was agitate my grandmother, and that’s not much of an achievement.”

“I’m sorry, John. But you needed to see just what it is we’ll be dealing with.”

I am not dealing with anything!” I protested again. “I’m only a reporter, remember, a reporter with a gruesome story that I can’t tell.”

“You do yourself no justice, Moore,” Kreizler said. “You are a veritable cyclopedia of privileged information–though you may not realize it.”

… “Tell me, Moore,” Laszlo asked, “what’s your opinion of Ellison? Is there any chance he is involved?”

“Biff?” I sat back, stretched my legs out, and weighed it. “He is, without question, one of the worst men in this city. Most of the gangsters who run things now have some kind of human spark in them somewhere, however hidden. Even Monk Eastman has his cats and birds. But Biff–for all I can tell, nothing touches him. Cruelty is really his only sport, the only thing that seems to give him any pleasure. And if I hadn’t seen that body, if this were just a hypothetical question about a dead boy who worked out of Paresis Hall, I wouldn’t hesitate to say he’s a suspect. Motive? He would have had a few, the most likely being to keep the other boys in line, make sure they pay their full cut to him. But there’s just one problem with it–style. Biff is a stiletto man, if you know what I mean. He kills quietly, neatly, and a lot of people he’s supposed to have killed have never been found. He’s all flash in his clothes, but not in his work. So, much as I’d like to, I can’t say as I see him involved in this. It’s just not his–style.”

I glanced up to find Laszlo giving me a very puzzled look. “John, that is the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard you say,” he finally announced. “And to think that you wondered why you’d been brought along.” He turned to Theodore. “Roosevelt, I shall require Moore as my assistant. His knowledge of this city’s criminal activities, and of the locales in which those activities take place, will make him invaluable.”

This being John’s role, it therefore makes little sense for his profession to be changed to “a society illustrator,” nor is it clear why such a change would be necessary for creative reasons. Moreover, while John may lack drive during investigations at times, he does take his work seriously. One need only look to the opening of the novel’s sequel, The Angel of Darkness, to see this aspect of his character on full display — not to mention making it clear why it’s important for John to be represented as a writer rather than an illustrator.

Finally, I would ask any new visitors to 17th Street to note that this news follows some deeply worrying audition recordings that surfaced earlier in the year in which it became clear that the characters of Marcus Isaacson and Sara Howard had been changed significantly from how they were portrayed in the novel. At the time, I had been hopeful that these audition recordings would not be representative of the production as a whole. For now, however, I suppose we will have to wait and see.


Anthony Comstock Character Profile

As regular 17th Street visitors would be aware, I am (very) slowly completing the supporting character profiles for historical figures that appear in The Alienist. As part of this, I recently completed the profile for the notorious United States Postal Censor, Anthony Comstock. You can now find his character profile below as well as on the supporting characters list.

Anthony Comstock

Comstock, Mr. Anthony

Appears in The Alienist

The fanatical moral reformer Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) only appears in The Alienist on one occasion, but he plays an important role in the novel behind the scenes. Born in Connecticut and raised in a devout Congregationalist home, Comstock served two years in the Union Army before moving to New York City where he married and found work in a dry-goods establishment. Appalled by the city’s rampant vice, Comstock helped to form the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. The following year, he came to prominence for convincing legislators that abortion and birth control was as much of a threat to public morality as the “obscene” material (i.e., pornography and indecent literature) targeted by existing legislation. He argued that the consumption of such material resulted from increasing promiscuity among younger generations that was concealed through contraceptive use and abortifacients. Until this point, there had been no federal restrictions on abortion or birth control.

As a result of Comstock’s lobbying, Congress passed An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, better known as the Comstock Law, in 1873. The act strengthened existing legislation as well as banning the importation, sale, or distribution of any materials relating to abortion or contraception. Penalties for breaking the law included fines of up to $5,000, or jail and hard labor for a maximum of 10 years. Following the passage of the act, Comstock was appointed as a “special agent” of the United States Postal Service, a role he maintained from 1873 to 1915. During his time as Postal Censor, Comstock’s zealous enforcement of the law resulted in more than 3,600 arrests, and drove at least sixteen people to suicide, including the well-known abortionist Ann Lohman.

Although originally concerned with birth control and abortion, Comstock’s moral crusade had expanded to such a point by the time The Alienist was set in 1896 that he was even attempting to suppress nudity in artwork and medical anatomy textbooks, resulting in indiscriminate raids on art galleries and art schools. By this time, he had also written several books to educate the public about moral dangers in the urban environment.

Click here to read more. Warning: Contains spoilers for The Alienist

Sources and further reading: Kenneth T. Jackson (Ed.), “The Encyclopaedia of New York City” (1995), Wilbur R. Miller (Ed.), “The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia” (2012), and Luc Sante, “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York” (1991).

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