Thursday, 26 January 2012

Phillip Marlowe

I came across Raymond Chandler’s crime novels shortly after I started to read Agatha Christie, simply because the books stood next to each other in my parent’s bookshelf. At thirteen I found the plots a bit more challenging than Christie, but I enjoyed the language and since then I have re-read them on a pretty regular basis. For a long time I thought that the books were written in the 30’s, but it’s actually only the first book, The Big sleep was published then, in 1939, the rest of them were published during the 40’s and 50’s. After some thinking I realized that I probably believe that because at the same time I first read the books there was a TV-series and that one was set in the 30’s. I remember liking that one, though it annoyed me for playing so fast and loose with the books. But when I researched this post I found that the series actually are adoptions of Chandler’s short stories that he wrote before the books. And that his used them for the books later on, two or three short stories a book.

Phillip Marlowe, private detective, is, according to a rather crazy young lady in the first book, tall, dark and handsome.

"Tall, aren't you?" she said.
"I didn't mean to be."
Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her”

He is also quite educated, likes chess and most definitely his drinks and have a tendency to talk back a little bit more than is good for him. A lot of people he meet express a wish to hit him, and some follow that up with doing that too. He is probably the essential hard-boiled detective, though I’d say he can be quite soft as times. I find him rather tragic; mostly he turns his back to every chance of happiness. I always get the feeling that he is a man who prefer the misery he knows than risk getting a brand new one.

As I said I found the plots a bit hard to grasp when I was younger, but I still think that the plots aren’t Chandler’s strong points. They ramble and Marlowe meet a lot of people that just point him to the next person who points him… However, the language makes up for it. I love the way things and people are described I you could probably furniture a room completely just after how Chandler describes it. Or a look.

”She had a lot of face and chin. She had pewter-colored hair set in a ruthless permanent, a hard beak, and large moist eyes with the sympathetic expression of wet stones.”

There is also nice tidbits like the fact that a young lady wear silver nail polish in The Big Sleep- and that it is a woman no better than she should be- the silver is clearly a bit trashy.

This is long, I know, but I just love the various types of blondes described in The Long Goodbye;

“There are blonde and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blonde as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you found about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.

There is the soft and willing alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading the Wasteland or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindesmith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d’Antibes, and Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absentmindedness of an elderly duke saying good night to his butler.”

Or, why not, a scent.

"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."

I guess most know that Humphrey Bogart played Phillip Marlowe and for many he is THE Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946) . I admit that he is very good- I really like Bogart and ever movie with him and Lauren Bacall is a treat, but my Marlowe will always be Powers Boothe from that TV-series I mentioned. I really think I need to find it and watch it again- hopefully it will not be a disappointment. There are also a number of less known Marlowe movies and you can take your pick, Georg Sanders, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum or perhaps Elliot Gould. For some reason he is not always called Phillip Marlowe, even if the movie is a book adaption. I can’t vouch for the quality of those movies either, the only one I have seen is the one with Robert Mitchum, Farewell My Lovely (1975) and that movie mostly left the feeling that Mitchum was way too old to be Marlowe.

The novels
The Big Sleep (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (1940).
The High Window (1942)
The Lady in the Lake
The Little Sister (1949)
The Long Goodbye (1953)
Playback (1958)
Poodle Springs (1959), completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989.

(Picture sources:


Nuranar said...

Great writeup! I'm re-reading some of the Chandler short stories right now.

I admit to a soft spot for Dick Powell's Marlowe, but part of that is because I adore Powell's radio detective Richard Diamond (who came later in the 1940s). He actually played Marlowe before Bogart did.

Alice said...

I've never read the novels but I love The Big Sleep with B&B. I love it so much that I am about to watch it again.

Mim said...

The BBC did radio versions of the complete Chandler last year. They were fab, really good recordings.

I love Chandler's writing style. Often imitated, fequently parodied, but never equalled.

Katrin said...

Thank you for this! I love Chandlers language, the way he describes places and people. Funnily I didn´t know Bogart played Marlowe until now and only watched one or two minutes of the series (because I didn´t like it) and my Marlowe looks a bit like a worn out, angular mix of both actors.

Tia said...

I LOVE Raymond Chandler!!! The Big Sleep is one of my favorite books.

Isis said...

Nuranar: Thank you! I'd like to see some more Marlowe-adaptions now- fun to compare. :)

Alice: Then I think you should read them! :) But I agree, The Big Sleep is a really good movie too!

Mim. I agree with you, other do pastiches, he is the real eal. :) Those radio versions sounds very interesting!

Isis said...

Katrin: Glad you like it! I've ordered the series from Amazon yesterday- let's see what I think about it today. :) Humphrey Bogart makes a very good Marlowe, even if he isn't "my" Marlowe. :)

Tia: I can't decide on my favourite, but I have a very soft spot for The Lady In the Lake as it was the first I ever read. :)

Anonymous said...

I never did get hooked on the hard-boiled school, for some reason, although I like the classic film versions. Ellery Queen can be fun, but they're not really hard-boiled, are they? I'll have to try again.

Isis said...

pimpinett: I'm not much for other hard-boiled crime novels, just Chandler's. :)

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