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.

Film Spotlight: Double Indemnity

In 1945, Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler and Double Indemnity was nominated for seven academy awards including Best Picture. For the three principal actors, this American noir was the best decision they made in their careers, especially Edward G. Robinson, who normally insisted  top billing but signed up as supporting actor because the script was so good. Indeed, Barbara Stanwyck may have been nominated for Best Actress and Fred MacMurray played tall-dark-and-handsome perfectly, but it was Robinson’s role that was essential for moving the plot and his acting the best of the bunch. Why he wasn’t nominated for an award, I don’t know.

Shadows, hidden corners, streets after sundown and conversations in garages and halls and trains–even in the bright of day, fatale Phyllis Dietrichson hides behind black shades and most shots are held at night or in the dark. It’s a tricky way to begin a film. Fred MacMurray’s character, Walter Neff, stumbles injured into his L.A. office one night and confesses into a dictaphone that he committed a murder. The rest of the film is a flashback where we learn how and why he did it.

Fred-McMurray-Barbara-Stanwyck-Double-Indemnity-1024x744

In the old days, insurance salesmen made house calls. Walter makes a visit to the Dietrichson home and craves the wife when she appears at the top of the stairs wearing no more than a smile and a towel. Her smoldering sexuality instigates Walter Neff’s decision to do whatever it takes to free Phyllis Dietrichson from her boring husband. Film censors had their way in the 1940s. A man or woman who commits adultery will get theirs in the end. Even though we can predict the ending, what holds the film together is the sleuth, the ethical, claims adjuster and friend to Neff, Barton Keyes.

This is the thrilling part of the film. As the narrator and protagonist (?) of the story, Walter Neff’s repentance at the beginning of the film and the unraveling of the story has you admiring his cleverness while forgiving him his mistake. It has you scrutinizing every gesture, every word Phyllis makes. Every “I love you, baby” seems sincere. Is Neff an unreliable narrator? As the story unfolds, do you believe him? After enough plot twists and the depth of descent of Phyllis’s manipulation, you realize you’ve been duped just like Walter Neff.

While one tries to understand these two lovers, there is Barton Keyes, figuring out the mystery while discussing it to Neff at work. If Neff can devise a plan to make the murder of her husband appear as an accident, it will trigger the “double indemnity” clause and pay out twice the policy’s face value. Neff has his jaw set and tries to stay calm. Part of you wants Barton Keyes to figure it out while another part of you hopes the lovers get away. The audience experiences a trifecta of see-sawing of emotions. It’s good old-fashioned dramatic irony and why the film is great.

Maybe you haven’t seen this outstanding classic? Here’s a trailer for you:

 

Thanks, Aurora.

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