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.

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.

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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.

Barbara Stanwyck: Sorry, Wrong Number

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Sorry, Wrong Number(1948) is a film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Directed by Anatole Litvak with Sol Polito as cinematographer, it was first written as a radio play in 1943 starring Agnes Moorehead, then adapted to the screen by Lucille Fletcher.  The film’s structure and the cinematography maximize suspense. Of course, what makes the film is the performance by Barbara Stanwyck whose Leona starts off bossy and queenly but sinks to a mental state of fragility that commands pity by the story’s end. It’s a meaty role any serious actress would crave and Barbara delivers.

Leona Stevenson is a manipulator. As the pampered daughter of a pharmaceutical magnate from Chicago, she falls for a small town, handsome Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster) and manipulates him to marry her. Her health is a form of manipulation, too. If she convinces herself she is an invalid, she can control her husband to be at her side. One night, as she frantically calls looking for her missing husband, she overhears men discussing their murderous plot to kill a woman.  From there, the story weaves back and forth from flashbacks to real-time. The phone is the central object that connects the murderers, her husband, and Sally Hunt (Ann Richards) who reappears after an eight year break up with Henry. The phone is the thread that keeps the narrative alive and progressing. The story feels like a Nancy Drew mystery when Sally Hunt reveals her part in the plot, but otherwise,  we learn what mischief Mr. Henry Stevenson is up to in a compelling way. Barbara’s facial expressions and distress is palpable, and I am biting my nails with expectancy when out of the dark shadows the tension mounts to the apex and end of the story.

Anatole Litvak’s choice to use mirrors on his sets is highly effective for enhancing the mystery. Mirrors in the restaurant to check what’s behind you, mirrors over the bed or strategically placed to highlight the phone or a hand. The phone booths, the three-story spiraling staircase, the marquis rock on Leona’s finger, and Edith Head‘s costume designs make Sorry, Wrong Number a thrilling visual treat.

I only wish I could have heard this on the radio. With the lights off. I bet it was magnificent.

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