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.

Author Raymond Chandler & The Long Goodbye

Reading a Raymond Chandler novel today is like a genre mashup of poetry, historical fiction, and crime mystery all rolled into one. Take The Long Goodbye (1953) for instance.

They just don’t make book covers like they used to…

Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled narration is charming to read. I doubt that was the goal when he wrote it, but sixty-odd years later, reading the lyrical sentences had me smiling throughout the story and showcased Philip Marlowe as a vulnerable tough guy. It’s the contrast that endears.

If I want to feel like I’m in Los Angeles in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, I can jump into the historical climate of a Raymond Chandler book. The ambiance is authentic in the darker world. What a better place to insert an anti-hero. Philip Marlowe is a complex character with a healthy mixture of noble and ruthless attributes.

Philip Marlowe is often described as a moral man surrounded by unethical people. No one is trustworthy. He is full of contradictions. He is a man of his time. There are occasions in his narrative when he shows little regard for Mexicans, homosexuals, and women. On the other hand, he sees through the masks of affluent or authoritative “important” people. He is a good judge of character, dodging past their games and calling out with brass their true colors even if it gets him thrown in jail or shot at.

In The Long Goodbye, Terry Lenox is a veteran of WWII who saved his buddies in war but can’t save himself back home. He resorts to drinking to help him escape his trauma. He is polite and Marlowe can’t refuse to help him sensing pain and some decency in the man.

“There’s always something to do if you don’t have to work or consider the cost. It’s no real fun but the rich don’t know that. They never had any. They never want anything very hard except maybe somebody else’s wife and that’s a pretty pale desire compared with the way a plumber’s wife wants new curtains for the living room.” – Terry Lennox, Chapter 3, Page 21

In creating Marlowe, Raymond Chandler paints an interesting man who possesses an unusual way of describing his feelings with similes. It is part of Raymond Chandler’s legacy for quick, witty dialogue and provocative, lyrical similes. His language is precise and yet ambiguous in meaning. This is the formula Chandler employes to create Philip Marlowe’s charm and appeal.

“I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

“. . . the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare”.

“I drove back to Hollywood feeling like a short length of chewed string.”

“He looked like a tubercular white rat.”

Philip Marlowe’s popularity in pop culture inspired generations of writers of detective stories and helped birth the genre of the film noir.  Join us on May 13 for another rendition of the Lucky 13 Film Club. My good friend Pete from Beetley will help me co-host Raymond Chandler Films. 
For today, what do you like about Raymond Chandler novels? 

Film Spotlight: Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock hired Raymond Chandler to write the script for the 1950 book adaptation of Strangers on a Train. Considered a masterpiece by Roger Ebert (read his review here:  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/strangers-on-a-train-1951 ), there is a lot to ooh and ahh about the film because of the skillful camera work by Hitchcock. Not everyone loved the film. Raymond Chandler criticized Hitchcock for altering his script too much and complained to Hitchcock in a letter:

“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.”

Read the scathing letter in its entirety here: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/flabby-mass-of-cliches.html

Predictable dialogue, wooden-cartoonish characters, and absurd plot aside, perhaps these dings dent the overall composition of the film, but it doesn’t take away from the last half of the film’s suspenseful rise to the fantastic climax on the merry-go-round in an amusement park. For its flaws, it is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Hitchcock opened with close-up shots of two sets of shoes getting on a train. Thus began the meeting of two strangers. Robert Walker played the bored, garrulous Bruno Antony, a socialite cushioned by the wealth of his New York father and batty mother. He recognized pro-tennis player Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger and pestered the celebrity about his upcoming divorce which he read about in the social column of the newspaper. An elaborate plot constructed by Bruno Antony ensues: Bruno will kill Guy’s scheming wife if Guy kills Bruno’s father.

strangers-on-a-train-family

Alfred Hitchcock and wife of 50 years, Alma Reville, had one daughter.  Pat Hitchcock played a supporting role as the young, sassy daughter, Barbara Morton, in Strangers on a Train. Barbara and sexy-even-with-those-glasses, Miriam, were my two favorite characters, easily outshining the rest of the cast.

 

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for hiring blonde bombshells as stars in his movies but not in this one. Thick rimmed glasses play a role in the film. Barbara represented smarts while Miriam represented sexuality, and their  performances were essential to the success of the film. They paralleled the two males–Guy Haines was wholesome and polite while Bruno Antony was manipulative and brash. Props played a larger role if you consider Guy Haine’s lighter found at the crime site. Hitchcock stressed the importance of these props when he shot them with long close-ups.

Two favorite scenes showcasing Hitchcock’s innovation behind the camera happened during a tennis match and at an amusement park. If you haven’t seen the film, keep a look out at the tennis match and watch how the crowd moves their head in sync to the left and right, but in the center of the stands, Guy Haines stares back at you. At the end of the film, in the amusement park, notice how the carousel plays garish music and the petrified plaster-painted animals are stuck in a nightmare. Their expressions compliment the human struggle taking place. It’s an original, perfect place to have a showdown.  Have you seen Strangers on a Train? Rent it quick for the cinematography and decide for yourself if Raymond Chandler had a legitimate gripe against Hitchcock’s script.

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