L13FC: Raymond Chandler films

 

Welcome, all to the Lucky 13 Film Club and a special thanks to my good friend Pete from Beetley who agreed to co-host this month’s topic–films associated with Raymond Chandler. The purpose is to comment and engage with others in a positive way. So, join in!

Pete’s thoughts:

As I have never read any of Raymond Chandler’s novels, I am dealing with the portrayal of his iconic detective, Philip Marlowe in four films made before 1950, as I consider them to be in the genre of American Film Noir. Later versions served as an homage but lacked that gritty feel of the black and white classics.

Marlowe is a character we all think we know from either the books or the films, but each actor who has taken on the role has given us a very different portrayal. Essentially, he is a reflective, chess-playing man; a world-weary and unimpressed detective who rarely falls for the sob stories of the ever-present female love interest. He lives alone, avoids violence, and treats friend and enemy with much the same attitude.

 In his first outing, ‘Murder My Sweet’ (1946), former song and dance man Dick Powell gives us an edgy Marlowe. No-nonsense, unsympathetic, and openly aggressive, he lacks both the insight and contemplative manner that is essential to understanding the character. And it is hard to equate the cheery crooner from ’42nd Street’ in the role of a tough guy too.

But in 1946, we were treated to ‘The Big Sleep’. Marlowe was firmly established in the genre by the near-perfect casting of Humphrey Bogart. This was an actor who not only knew how to deliver some classic one-liners but also how to get Marlowe across by what he doesn’t say, as much as by what he does. Laconic, tired, visibly sick of it all, he also fails to be beguiled by the presence of Lauren Bacall as the femme fatale. He can say as much in one look, as Powell managed in ten lines of dialogue. This wonderful pairing, great direction, and snappy script all combined to deliver the archetypal Marlowe on screen. And for my money, it was never bettered. 

Brief mention goes to the two 1947 films, ‘Lady In The Lake’, and ‘The Brasher Dubloon’, starring Robert Montgomery and George Montgomery, respectively. After Bogart’s turn the previous year, those two hard an impossible act to follow. The result is by-the-numbers performances in films that are ultimately forgettable.

Cindy says:

I recently focused a post on Raymond Chandler AS AUTHOR. I wanted to revisit the film adaptations of his classic novels. Additionally, where he had a role in the screenplay. It’s the language of the script that interests me. What’s more important in a film noir? The actor and femme fatale chemistry? Or is it the storyline? I’ve read many reviews that pick at holes and say the plot takes a back seat. I feel it’s Chandler’s language that makes the best film noirs. 

Implementing the lyrical metaphors and the snappy smart-alec responses typifying the style of Raymond Chandler is when the noir ascends. The script that moves further away from Raymond Chandler’s style, the lesser the quality. 

One film noir is quintessential. Billy Wilder‘s direction + Raymond Chandler‘s screenplay+ the powerhouse chemistry between the narrator (Fred MacMurray) and femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) is on everyone’s favorite list: Double Indemnity (1944). Watch the clip. It’s the language that makes the film fantastic.

Walter Neff: How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

Murder My Sweet (1944) starring Dick Powell has an awesome dream sequence and is a fantastic film noir. Why? Once again, the language.

Philip Marlowe:
“‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.'”

Philip Marlowe:
My throat felt sore, but the fingers feeling it didn’t feel anything. They were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers.

Which Raymond Chandler film is your favorite and what is your favorite scene? 

 

A big hug goes to Pete for hijacking my blog and talking to you all. Please join in the conversation and don’t forget to check out Pete’s blog found RIGHT HERE.

75 thoughts on “L13FC: Raymond Chandler films

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      1. It’s years since I saw Double Indemnity….I need to find a way of seeing it again (I don’t have Sky, and no intention of being tied up to Netflix…)

  1. This reminds me I have three Chandler novels in a collection but have only read one, The Big Sleep. You wouldn’t be disappointed in it, the narrative is exactly as that of the film, such distinctive turns of phrase.

  2. Thanks, Cindy. It’s great to see Pete here. I’d agree with Pete on the matter of Humphrey Bogart playing Marlowe (I read the Maltese Falcon many years back, but translated into Spanish, and after your comments about the language, I must try to read him in English as well). But having studied film-noir, Double-Indemnity is one of my favourites as well (although Ossessione, Luchino Visconti’s version of the novel is fantastic as well). I love the language and the fabulous dialogues between the characters. Hard-boiled prose and witty understatements make these novels (and movies) unforgettable. A great post.

    1. Welcome Olga! That is a book I would like to read. Please, do you have a favorite Phillip Marlowe? Did you like the 1970s film adaptations with Robert Mitchum or Gould in The Long Goodbye?

  3. Despite my opinion that Stanwyck is the strongest female actress ever, for this type of storyline, I don’t think anyone can beat the combination of Bogie and Bacall. Those two will always be on top.

    1. Oh, I could have, but I usually keep the post brief and pose questions waiting for someone like you to bring it up. 😉
      So, Strangers was complicated. Chandler wrote the screenplay and it was rejected by Hitchcock. He fired him. The script had been altered so much that Chandler thought it was garbage and did not want it known he had anything to do with it.
      Yet, we love that film of Hitchcock. I would be interested to read Chandler’s version!

  4. dick powells years as a song and dance man pretty much ended with murder my sweet, after which he enjoyed a long career as a tough guy in film noirs, as well as starring as marlowe in the 1954 tv series, climax, he was also a good director of tough movies and hosted a very popular series of television dramas. raymond chandlers work in hollywood was limited to a very few films based on material other than his ownm including strangers on a train for alfred hitchcockm which he disowned, and Double Inemnity from a james cain novel. he only adapted his owm work for television. the big sleep was written by leigh brackett and william faulkner, in my opinion, the closest a film has come to capturing the many sides of the marlowe character is the 1950s version of farewell my lovely with an ageing robert mitchum in the lead.

    1. That Mitchum film was made as recently as 1975, songladder, so not 1950s. I agree he did a very good job, but I was only concentrating on the real ‘noir’ versions this time.
      Best wishes, Pete.

    2. Welcome, Bill! You are awesome to share your knowledge with the history of Marlowe and Chandler. I really liked Dick Powell’s performance and liked Murder My Sweet a lot. We’ve talked before about your liking Mitchum as the older Marlowe as well as who we would like to see play him today. I watched the Mitchum version of Farewell My Lovely after last week’s high praise for it. I am inclined to believe you now — he was very world worn and his nuances were as realistic to a Chandler book, except I still wish Robert Mitchum were 10 – 15 years younger when he played the role. Ah, that makes me think of the noir Out of the Past for which I thought he was outstanding and the film more exciting than even Bogart and Bacall.

      1. Bogart and Bacall, although both are very good with the snappy dialogue, cant hold a candle to Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past- and Mitchums scenes with Kirk Douglas rival the best of Marlowes confrontations.The trouble with Bogart is that he is all face and voice. Physically he is .clumsy, and he frequently finds something to lean against whenever possibe to conceal this shortcoming.
        also, i never associated either Bogart or Chander with film noirs, which are an expressio of the postr traumatic stress of the second world war. Chandler is one of Amricas best writers, not a genre writer at all, and Bogarts persona was developed during the era of gangster pictures that predated noir.

        1. “an expression of the PTSD of WWII”. I think that’s important and not mentioned. While I love the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, an example of your point is in “The Long Goodbye” where the principal character suffers from PTSD.
          Because The Big Sleep is expertly done in front of an behind the camera. The pacing, the light and shadow interplay, it cements Chandler is a father of the genre film noir in the public mind.
          I agree about Bogart’s acting. It’s a style that is done from the head up. I can’t take my eyes off of Lauren Bacall (and his other leading ladies).

          1. hawks version of the big sleep move is not faithful to chandler, but it expressive of hawks work, and he used many scenes from it in later films, especially rio bravo. iwouldnt call it a noir. if any chandler related film could be called father of the noir, it would be double indemnitym for which however, is one of the first he wrote a terrific script from cains novel. cainm unlike xhandler, was a true pulp writer, and chandler gives his novel class, ad of course wilder is one of the supreme studio directors. fred macmurry is perfect as the typical noir anti hero, as he is a small failure of a man easily sucked into other peoples plots. marlowe has nothing of these PTSD symptoms that cripple, not only the protagonists of the noir film, but the entire postwar society. regarding htchick ad chandler, i blieve it was a personaoty cash rather than an artstic one. chandlers wife ha said that one day when htchck came to the house to work on the script, raymond looked out the window as he arrived and said to her, look at that fat bastard trying to get out of his car,

          2. Chandler had personal issues of his own that extended to his characters; I’ve always felt that Marlowe was him. The alter ego.
            With regards to Strangers on a Train, I assume you have read this Chandler letter to Hitch–I supply it for those who visit and didn’t know the back history of the film.

            (Source: The Raymond Chandler Papers (2000); Image: A Certain Cinema.)

            December 6th, 1950

            Dear Hitch,

            In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay—for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity—in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing your mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a “far less brilliant mind than mine” to guess what they were.

            Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I’m not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They’ll know damn well I didn’t. I shouldn’t have minded in the least if you had produced a better script—believe me. I shouldn’t. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place? What a waste of money! What a waste of time! It’s no answer to say that I was well paid. Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting his time.

            (Signed, ‘Raymond Chandler’)

          3. i read that letter ages ago. with r, all respect to chandler, I suspect his script was overly literate, full of dialogue that wouldhave sowed thepace of the film, htchcock went for lean, well structured scripts, and, to his mind, may well have found chandlers scrpt unfilmable. One of the few scripts he did wriite, the blue dahlia, underwenr some re writing by director george marshall, and director billy wilder, himself master screenwriter, wrote the script with chandler. they detested each other, i think chadlers inexperience with films and scrpt writing made him a cantakerous bully who was drunk most of the time to cover his insecurities, he was a hell of a novelist, though.

          4. I appreciate the backstory. I was wondering about his relationship with Billy Wilder. I bet you are spot on with him being a bully. I knew he was a drunk and suffering from his own depression. Yes, to the novelist!

          5. one battle he won with wilder was over the dialogue. wilder wnated to leave cains dialog intact and chandler dodnt think it played well, when they brought in a couple actors to read the cain dialogs, wilder conceded that chandler was right. so a lot of that marvelous dialog can be atributed to chandler. i sure would like to see the television marlowes that chandler wrote for dick powell.

  5. I agree, Cindy, Chandler’s writing makes the novels real gems and well worth the time to read them. I do have a problem with actors like Gould and Powell in the lead. Of course Bogart and Bacall set the bar at an impossible height to reach.
    I love the Faulkner as a screenwriter story. He complained that working in the office cramped his style and asked if he could work at home. He got the okay and a lot of time passed without any word nor work from him. The studio sent someone to the house he was renting in LA. Nothing.Nobody seen him in a long while. Finally someone checked with his friends back in Mississippi.They knew where he was. He was back home. Faulkner pointed out that he asked permission before he left. But not even Faulkner could ever improve on Chandler’s work.

    1. I am so glad you bring up Faulkner, Don, as his script for The Big Sleep was written in 8 days along with science fiction female writer Leigh Brackett. They were so impressed with Chandler’s language, they wanted to leave it alone. Howard Hawks directed it and it’s a masterpiece. I love your story about Faulkner MIA from LA….
      Here’s a great article about the background of The Big Sleep that you would probably like:
      https://cinephiliabeyond.org/big-sleep-seventy-years-since-howard-hawks-electrifying-film-noir-masterpiece/

    1. Welcome, Ed! I’d love to get my hand on some Black Mask mags or any of the other pulp magazines from his early years. How beautiful the covers! Do you have a favorite story or novel? Which Marlowe do you think represents Chandler’s vision?

  6. Collector items all. I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana Public Libary every weekend in the winters. I will confess they all form a large mosaic in my memory. I guess I should get them on my reader and read then again. Warmest regards, Ed

    1. I’ve had fun with my “older eyes” with rereading them. I get so much more now than when I was in junior high or high school with the first read. My appreciation grows for the man.

  7. Favorite movie and scene: THE BIG SLEEP and the tied-up Marlowe uttering to Vivian Rutledge:

    “You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.”

    1. Michael! Nice to see you. OH, that’s a fine quote. Do you prefer Bogart as Marlowe or Mitchum? MOst instantly say Bogart because of Becall, but if you isolate the performance, Bogart is more of a crime actor with not a lot of nuances to the role. Whereas, Mitchum carries the weather-worn, multi-faceted expressions better. What do you think?

  8. A moment of silence for Doris Day, who passed away today at the age of 97- My father loved her, and so did I. One of the purest rays of light to be reflected from the silver screen into the hearts in the darkness of the grand old movie palaces that once housed the stars and the shopgirls, the swells on the seats next to the unemployed. My favorite of her films is Love Me or Leave Me, but Ill always think of her with Rock Hudson.

  9. Such a cool concept, I love lucky film club. I’d love to participate sometime if possible Cindy. That would be really cool

    BTW I am halfway through editing my book, and I took your advice and tried to make it more descriptive re- the visual aspects. Thanks for that tip, its fun jumping into my book and adding stuff,

    It’ll be finished one day. Even if it takes a decade (it has been almost 8 years now)!!!

    1. Hi Jordan! Congratulations on your editing and keep at it! I remember you cohosted before and you did the Terry Gilliam trilogy.When your schedule is good, I’d be more than happy to cohost with you again. 🙂

  10. Great post 🙂 I loved both you and Pete’s choices 🙂 Can’t go wrong with Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep or Double Indemnity 🙂 One of my favorites (though you know this already) is director Robert Altman’s idiosyncratic take on the Raymond Chandler detective Philip Marlowe in 1973 with The Long Goodbye 🙂 Since it has probably been a long time since you have seen it, here is a link to the trailer below and keep up the great work as always 🙂

    1. Thanks, John. Apologies for the late reply. To be honest, Gould is one of my least favourite American actors, and I found his turn in The Long Goodbye to be rather irritating. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

  11. I’ve heard that Raymond Chandler invented noir. I’ve heard the same about James M. Cain and Dashiel Hammet. I’d say it was Cain, but that’s just me. I appreciate–even laud–Chandler because of his contributions to the genre. But-again–he’s not my favorite. The same with Humphrey Bogart. I really, really like him, but I’m responding more to the mystic of Bogart and the style, as opposed to pure talent. That said, The Big Sleep is my favorite Bogart/Chandler film. That probably has more to do with Howard Hawks direction. It is a masterpiece, but a lesser masterpiece to Houston’s Asphalt Jungle and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Of course the later are 50s noir.

    1. Hi Pam, I was hoping you’d chime in since this is your specialty. I agree with you regarding Hawks direction. Best noir for me is Sunset Blvd. I haven’t seen asphalt Jungle or the Killing in ages. I really need to do a Kubrick post or feature of L13FC. Any time you find yourself with time and energy, I’d love to cohost. Regardless, I appreciate you stopping by and hope all is well! 🙂

    2. Late to this, as I just remembered to check back on the comments.
      I have just started to read The Big Sleep, and I am enjoying the smart lines, and vivid descriptions. But I confess to being shocked by how it seemed to be perfectly acceptable to ‘slap around’ any woman. And the implication is that those women don’t mind being slapped around either.
      But for my first read of a Chandler novel, I have to say it is unexpectedly good.
      Best wishes, Pete.

  12. Oh,yeah. Noir literature is especially like that. Even neo noir. Though, that stuff’s not going to fly in the current environment–and I’m glad. I hope all the glorification of violence toward women has come to a screeching halt, but I doubt it. I suspect there will be a revival with the backlash that’s sure to come. Anyway, I still like noir literature, despite this glaring, inherent flaw.

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