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.

L13FC: The Actress as Saint or Sinner

Welcome back to this month’s discussion about the film industry. Have some fun and join in the conversation.

In literature and in film, females in the Judeo-Christian world throughout the ages have been portrayed as either saint typified by the Virgin Mary, or as fallen Eve, the sinner/seducer usually using her sexuality to control her situation. When I look at lists of popular actresses in the history of motion pictures, I’m struck by how that dynamic is visualized on the screen. It’s either or. That image stains the actress and it’s hard to shake it. In addition, with few exceptions, the youthful actress is innocent and naive while the mature woman is bitter and manipulative. If the actress has a long career, there are two faces to her. Good while young. Bad when older. Generally speaking, more actresses than not are cast in roles which fall into these two stereotypes.

Take one of my favorite actresses of all time, Shirley MacLaine. Her best films in youth portray her as sweet, innocent, and the adorable girl-next-door. Then she hit forty and the last half of her long career, she’s played nothing but cantankerous, conniving, and bitchy or “strong” women. I bet you can think of a dozen actresses who followed a similar path.

Best Classic Saint: Audrey Hepburn

Best Classic Sinner: Elizabeth Taylor

Then there are actresses who are remembered as one-dimensional. You associate her as the seducer/sinner or she was the embodiment of wholesome goodness. When they tried to veer away from their image, the public was disappointed. Meryl Streep is an interesting exception. She had the saintly features in youth, but she frequently played a sinner. Many of her characters from her earlier career were entangled in affairs or rejected maternal expectations. Then as Streep aged, she fell into the pattern of playing the mature woman who plays extreme personalities, often as the viper. Why is Streep considered the best actress of all time? Didn’t Katherine Hepburn buck the two stereotypes, too? Is there a correlation?

We’ve heard of child actors who can’t bypass their child image. We’ve heard of male actors who are only remembered for their villains. My question then: when you think of actresses and their best roles, do you find a pattern within yourself that prefers the saint or the sinner? 

I see a shift today where more actresses are playing roles that blend mental and physical strength combined with ethical clarity. And they look hot in their clothes, too. Emily Blunt’s characters are like that. Many of Jennifer Lawerence’s characters have the right combination. It is the modern scriptwriter who is changing the visual identity of what it means to be a woman. Do you see it?

Out of the Past vs. Lady Bird

I have been thinking about the choices a director makes when making a film. What does a well-made film look like? I watched two films back-to-back on the plane to Italy, Lady Bird written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan, and Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum and the femme fatale played by Jane Greer.

I recognize it’s unfair to compare these two disparate films as one was a coming-of-age story, the other a film noir. One was made just this past year while the other sixty years ago. One was the directoral debut by a female while the other by an established male director. There is nothing similar about these two films.

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Unless you consider the quality of each film as an artistic offering. While Lady Bird was nominated for the top writing and directing awards of 2017, I could not help but scratch my head as to why this was so other than it was a political move on behalf of the Academy of Motion Pictures. I just didn’t think it was an interesting story or directed well. The scenes seemed desultory like mud thrown on a wall with little thought. I wouldn’t have noticed as much if I had not just seen Out of the Past. Wow! What a film. Tourneur took his time to frame each scene. He blocked his characters to take advantage of the space. There was movement. There were silhouettes. The staging was aesthetically balanced. Even the costumes played a visual role–don’t you love how Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) started the film wearing white, but as her devious nature became more apparent, her wardrobe darkened? The characters were interesting–Kirk Douglas was an affable villain. Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey was the anti-hero, private detective who you couldn’t help but root for since he tried to leave his notorious past behind and make an honest attempt as a working man and who fell for the girl-next-door. His relationship with the deaf and mute boy (Dickie Moore) revealed Bailey’s goodness in spite of his tough-guy bravado. Every character was interesting and added to the plot purposefully. It was a beautiful film to watch.

Image result for lady bird images

Then there’s Gerwig’s effort. This, a Best Picture contender? It was not structurally interesting. The choppy editing to elicit the passage of time killed whatever emotional investment I had in Lady Bird’s friendships. The only aspect that was quasi-interesting was Laurie Metcalf’s performance as the overpowering mother. The brother and father were a wimpy, wasted pair in a lame plot. I genuinely like Saoirse Ronan as an actress, but her character here in this film was downright boring.

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Out of the Past in 1947 was not nominated for an award but was superbly constructed compared to Lady Bird. Maybe if I had not seen both back-to-back it would not have been so glaringly obvious. If you haven’t seen Out of the Past, I highly recommend it. Watch it for the plot. For what a well-made film should look like. For pure entertainment. For the record, I’m all for women directors. Jane Campion and Julie Taymor know what they’re doing. I just wish they’d pass along some tips to Greta Gerwig.

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