Blowhard, Esq. writes:
1. What a wonderful book. A sprawling mini-epic with L.A. as a Potemkin paradise that, like “The Big Sleep,” is confusing as hell. More than a few times I stopped short to say, “Wait, how are these people connected again?” There are three rich Valley couples, an elderly and shadowy rich patriarch, various mobsters, cops, quack doctors, district attorneys, and corrupt Mexican officials for Marlowe to navigate through. The novel has been accepted into the Canon — Joyce Carol Oates blurbs my edition and Michael Chabon is a major fan — and I wonder if the plot’s complexity (along with the style, of course) went a long way towards earning that acceptance.
2. All of the dangerous dames — Sylvia Lennox, Eileen Wade, and Linda Loring — are blondes. The book is one long treatise on the icy blonde. The quote below is from Farewell, My Lovely but it could’ve easily been said about Eileen Wade. Sir Barken quoted a key passage here.
3. I don’t know if the insight originated with him, but James Ellroy has said that, “Chandler wrote about the kind of man he wished he was, Hammett wrote about the kind of man he feared he might be.” Marlowe really is an idealized character. Everyone in the book is corrupt, lying, or hiding something except him. He’s the only one who pursues the truth. Even though the movie is a reinvention, it preserves this aspect of the character. Kael observes her review that Marlowe is “the only one who cares.”
4. This is one of the most alcohol-soaked novels I’ve read all year, and that includes the three Bukowski books I’ve gone through in the past couple of months. Gimlets, anyone?
5. My favorite character was a minor one, one of the cops named Ohls. He only shows up in three or four scenes but each time he comes on stage he gets a cynical, world-weary, paragraph-long rant in Chandlerspeak that always made me laugh out loud.
6. The book was published in 1953 and the movie was released in 1973. Only twenty years apart but they feel like completely different worlds.
7. The Coen Brothers sure have ripped this movie off a lot, haven’t they? (Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.) Sterling Hayden’s riff on Hemingway is like the antecedent to John Mahoney’s take on Faulkner in BARTON FINK. “A shaggy, pot-puffing version of Chandler” is the seed for THE BIG LEBOWSKI. They even reference the cat gag in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS.
8. Elliott Gould is fantastic and, good Lord, did that guy have a run in the early 70s. In 1970, he’s on the cover of Time magazine. In the span of four years, from 1969 to 1973, he made ten movies including one with Mazursky, two classics with Altman, and Bergman’s first English-language film. Fuckin’ A!
9. What an astonishing talent Leigh Brackett was. Does she have a street named for her in Hollywood? She not only co-wrote THE BIG SLEEP with Faulkner (!), she was responsible for Hawks’ RIO BRAVO (a story he liked so much he filmed it three times), this movie, and, shortly before her death, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. A masterpiece in at least three different genres. Brackett’s adaptation preserves the core of Chandler’s novel — it follows the 380-page novel about as well as a 2-hour movie can — but she alters the ending substantially. Altman loved her ending so much he wanted it written into his contract that it could not be changed.
10. “Her I love. You I don’t even like.” Was that in the script or was it an Altman idea?
11. There are two gun battles in the novel, neither of which is that consequential to the plot. In the film a gun is fired once and it’s maybe the best part of Marlowe’s characterization, providing an ironic counterpoint to his mumbling mantra “It’s OK by me.”
12. L.A. in the early 70s was a pretty ugly place, but this is the third film I’ve seen this year — along with Jacques Demy’s MODEL SHOP (1969) and Jacques Deray’s THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972) — in which the movie is a valentine to the city.
13. There’s a scene where Gould gets pissed off at a cop and threatens to report him to then-governor Ronald Reagan. In the very next scene, Gould has a meeting with a mobster (played by Mark Rydell) and which actor plays one of the mobster’s silent goons? Future governator Ahnold. Truth is stranger than fiction, you guys. Altman noted that “Arnold never talks about this picture.”
14. Sax told me that when the movie played at his local arthouse, he saw it three times in one day. Goddamit, now I have to watch it four times on DVD so I can beat him.
- Essential purchase: The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles.
- An interview with Gould about the making of the film. Some of the stories he tells here he repeats verbatim on the DVD making-of featurette.
- Nice interview with Altman around the time he made COOKIE’S FORTUNE.
- A French blog looks at Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography. It was his third film.
- Ray Sawhill’s great essay on NASHVILLE.
- Don’t miss Fabrizio’s excellent review of GODZILLA.