Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Long Goodbye: "Any man can be hurt"

Raymond Chandler exercises international influence and thus is always an appropriate subject here. He's a new subject too, in a way, as my current burst of Chandler reading, most recently of The Long Goodbye, is the most sustained since I embraced crime fiction in a big way about eight years ago.

Wit and sentimentality are two of Chandler's salient characteristics, the former especially barbed and the latter especially central in The Long Goodbye. Here's a bit of the wit, as extravagant as any simile Chandler ever came up with, but more bitter than most (and especially pertinent today with the popularity of Mad Men):

"... seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armor, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency."
That Philip Marlowe turns his sarcasm on his own favorite pursuit, chess, is typical of the self-laceration that pervades the book — or seems to. It's hard to read The Long Goodbye and not associate its occasional bursts of melancholy introspection with Chandler's own life. Whether the association is warranted, I'm not sure, but the novel feels highly personal in places, movingly so at times.

And this, when Marlowe, after suddenly and violently turning the tables on a thug who richly deserves it, defends him thus:
"`Soft,' Ohls said. `Soft as mush.'

"`He's not soft,' I said. `He's hurt. Any man can be hurt.'"
***
Declan Hughes said at Bouchercon 2010 that "I believe I can tell the level of [Chandler's] drinking by chapter." I wonder if he had The Long Goodbye in mind.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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80 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Thanks for the linkage, Peter.

I can't comment too much on Chandler, though as a Californian, I should have read him scads of times. I do know the feeling of getting into a series of this sort, though, and devouring it.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's hard not to see California through Chandler's eyes even if one has not read much of him. And it's easy to think one knows Chandler even if one has not read much of him. So it's good to read him and see what all the fuss is about.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I've seen a few of the movies, so it's easy to think I know the books, but I don't.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's one example of how Chandler influenced my view of California, though it was the wrong part of California.

The movies are fine, but there's something thrilling about going to the source.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

Seana,
Definitely read the books, with the idea going in that some of the references and language will be dated. I haven't seen all of the movies made from Chandler's books, but I've yet to see one that did him justice. The Bogart-Bacall version of THE BIG SLEEP comes closets, but even that cops out at the end.

Some disagree, but I will maintain to my dying breath that Altman's vision of THE LONG GOODBYE is a true abomination.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I actually saw a very early screening of that Altman, Dana, at the San Francisco Film Festival when my high school English teacher used to take us over there. I think that others were raving about it even then, but I felt pretty clueless. Of course, I didn't really have any context for it, either.

I'll try to get to one of the books sometime soon.

Peter, I remember that post. The only thing you got wrong was the idea that there are no palm trees here. In fact, there is one in my current backyard.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, the Altman "Long Goodbye" made any number of alterations to the book, some of which worked and some of which did not. It's an interesting movie, but obviously nowhere near as good as Hawks' "Big Sleep."

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'd bet that not too may people had a context for the movie then, or at least the right context.

Having decided to move the story to the 1970s, Altman made a couple of interesting choices ro express that milieu. (The question of moving the story the the 1970s in the first place is another issue.) But you must have had a pretty cool English teacher.

The palm-tree remark was a projection -- and allusion to a news story I'd a couple of years before that Los Angeles' palm trees were dying, but that this might not be great cause for alarm, as the tree was non-native and might well be replaced by native species more suited to the climate. I have more recently obtained photographic evidence that palm trees do exist in Northern California.

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Dana, I too I "will maintain to my dying breath that Altman's vision of The Long Goodbye is a true abomination." Its anti-Chandler, anti-Marlowe vision is ugly and perverse. If Altman wanted to make that film, fine, but why drag Marlowe into it. It embodies everything distasteful and annoying with auteur filmmaking.

With the exception of The Brasher Doubloon, based on The High Window, I have seen every film based on Chandler's novels (at least the ones that admit it in the credits) and none of them "do [Chandler] justice." I love The Big Sleep but that is apart from its Chandler source.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"If Altman wanted to make that film, fine, but why drag Marlowe into it."

Elisabeth, perhaps one might invoke Alfred Hitchcock's reluctance to adapt great literature for the screen. Maybe Chandler is just too idiosyncratic for faithful, successful adaptations.

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, what I meant was: why make a movie called The Long Goodbye and have a lead character named Philip Marlowe in it, a book and a character many of the people watching the film are familiar with, and then make the story and Marlowe as unlike the source as possible while still claiming Chandler's novel as the source? OK, so the 1970s was the Really Dark Decade, that's no excuse; Marlowe killing Terry Lennox??--that action is probably the worst of several completely un-Marlowesque actions Marlowe is made to perform in Altman's version.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I agree. Nothing in that movie that I could see was put in without thought. But why Marlowe? Assuming that Altman was to strong-willed to subordinate himself to the material, why not just hire Leigh Brackett to write an original screenplay?

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, naturally I’m delighted to read of your immersion in Chandler. But re your comment on TLB's "bursts of alcoholic introspection", are you saying that you think Philip Marlowe was an alcoholic? Chandler was, but Marlowe wasn't. And, as much as I admire Declan Hughes’ own work, I think he is off track when he says "I believe I can tell the level of [Chandler's] drinking by chapter." Actually, it’s rather more likely that Chandler wasn’t drunk when he was writing TLB. I don’t mean he wasn’t drinking during the period he wrote TLB but rather that when typing the novel he wasn’t drinking to excess. The drinking is revealed in the sassy, humorous passages of Chandler’s work, not in the deeply serious, introspective passages. This is true of his letters as well. Yes, TLB is “highly personal” but this is more about the aging Chandler (he was 64 in 1952; at a time when 64 was not the “new 54”) than the alcoholic Chandler. His letters of this period and shortly after reveal his pain as he watched his wife die “by half inches” in the room next to that in which he wrote. The Philip Marlowe-Terry Lennox relationship is probably a reflection of Chandler’s own regret that he has no close male friends, that, indeed his “friends” are mostly people he’s never met, his fellow correspondents. The “blame/credit it all to alcoholism” is too facile when talking about TLB. Chandler under the corrosive effects of booze is much more obvious in his final novel, Playback.

I know the word “sentimental” is often used to describe the latter day Chandler but, because that word reminds me of greeting card sayings and Thomas Kinkade paintings, I prefer the word Chandler used to describe himself, romantic.

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But re your comment on TLB's "bursts of alcoholic introspection", are you saying that you think Philip Marlowe was an alcoholic? Chandler was, but Marlowe wasn't.

I should have witten "bursts of alcoholic-seeming introspection," and I have just revised the passage in question. It's clear that Marlowe is no alcholic, but some of his outbursts of introspection sound like what we're used to from melancholy fictional drinkers. That's part of what made the novel feel like a personal statement, to some extent.

as much as I admire Declan Hughes’ own work, I think he is off track when he says "I believe I can tell the level of [Chandler's] drinking by chapter."

That's a question for Hughes the next time either of us meets him: What novels and what chapters does he have in mind?

I know the word “sentimental” is often used to describe the latter day Chandler but, because that word reminds me of greeting card sayings and Thomas Kinkade paintings, I prefer the word Chandler used to describe himself, romantic.

I'd suggest melancholy, at least for The Long Goodbye.

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Melancholy" is perfect, it's one of the qualities I like most about Chandler's fiction, but it appears in all the Marlowe novels, in observations of the SoCal landscape as well as in character observations. I think "romanticism" is most overt in TLB. Melancholic romanticism?

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...why not just hire Leigh Brackett to write an original screenplay?" You took the words right out of my mouth...

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Melancholic romanticism?

Wistful self-pity, maybe? My recent Chandler reading has been short fiction until The Long Goodbye. I'll have to read a few more of the novels before I issue definitive pronouncements.

December 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Chandler was born on the Cancer-Leo cusp so he was only full of self-pity half the time (and would be the first person to slap himself out of it).

December 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, one man's self-pity is another's brutally honest introspection.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But I do think Marlowe's melancholia extended well beyond himself in The Long Goodbye.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Ha! The former would be Chandler in Cancer mode, the latter in Leo mode.

v-word = allur Is that what French men who are charming have?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or else a widely advertised perfume.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oops. If men are involved, it's a fragrance, not a perfume.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

"Allur" is the same thing as "allure" except you just sense there is something missing.

Following along here, and enjoying, the discussion seems very rich in in lore, which I'll enjoy all the more once I actually read the books.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"But I do think Marlowe's melancholia extended well beyond himself in The Long Goodbye." I would agree. Isn't that what I said in my comment that begins: "Melancholy" is perfect?

And ain't that men's "cologne"?

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I can't think of The Long Goodbye without thinking of the gimlet, a drink Chandler "discovered" aboard ship on one of his US<>England voyages.

Although Terry Lennox says this in the novel, such is the mystique of Marlowe that it is often attributed to him: "A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow." Well, since we here in Chandlertown are experiencing mild Santa Ana (aka "red wind") conditions, i.e. temps in the mid-80s during the day and in the high 60s in the evening, it seemed appropriate to have a couple of these quintessentially summer drinks last night. Peter, since you enjoy gin and periodically visit that civilized country, Canada, that does NOT put high fructose corn syrup in the Rose's Lime Cordial like the US does, you might enjoy one some sultry summer evening. Chandler clearly had a sweet tooth and I prefer the 2 parts gin to 1 part Rose's Lime Cordial version.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Seana, re "Allur" is the same thing as 'allure' except you just sense there is something missing." Or maybe "smell" something missing? (Reminds me of the US vs Brit translations of Camilleri's L'odore della notte, "smell" vs "scent".)

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Peut-être, Elizabeth. Peut-être.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I'd have said cologne, but that word is a bit, I don't know, 1970s. I think one can charge more for a fragrance than a cologne.

But back to the matter at hand. How do you interpret Marlowe's reply in this exchange, which I quoted in my post (The "he" Marlowe refers to is is Mendy Menendez, of course):

"`Soft,' Ohls said. `Soft as much.'

"`He's not soft,' I said. `He's hurt. Any man can be hurt.'"

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, allur is allure that holds just enough back to exert a strange attraction.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I could use my copy and paste "peut-être" again, but in fact, no.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of the nice touches in The Long Goodbye is the bartender who remembers Terry Lennox's recipe and proudly tells Marlowe so -- after Terry has vanished. Who but Chandler could wring pathos from a bottle of lime juice? A gimlet, of course, figures in one of the novel's great lines.

We here in David Goodistown are experiencing Black Friday conditions a month early: "January cold came in from two rivers, formed four walls around Hart and closed in on him."

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

(Reminds me of the US vs Brit translations of Camilleri's L'odore della notte, "smell" vs "scent".)

The British, as I've remarked, must have sensitive noses.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I could use my copy and paste "peut-être" again, but in fact, no.

Let's call the whole thing off. Or, as they might have sung in the eighth century in the land later known as England, "Let's call the whole thing Offa."

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Women's perfumes are sold in the "Fragrances" section of dept. stores, too.

But back to the matter at hand. (And yes, I know you meant to type mush, not much.) OK, not soft, but hurt… Lt. Ohls’ expresses contempt at a man's exhibiting hurt; soft = sissy. Exhibiting hurt, letting those around you know it hurts, is for dames and pansies. Naturally, he’s usually on the dishing out end of the hurt. Marlowe, a far more sensitive man (a genre convention of the private detective vs. the city bull), knows that even big, strong men like himself, who’s been sapped more times than he cares to remember, can be hurt and that even real men, men who are truly human and not brutes, experience physical or emotional hurt. I think he’s thinking of the times when he’s been in Menendez’s situation. It’s certainly one of the many introspective passages in TLB in which Marlowe seems to step away from the action and observe it in a third-person sort of way.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I don't know if Chandler is surrounded by more lore than any other crime writer, but he's got the lot of them beat hands-down in the mystique department.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, fragrances are to perfumes as residences are to houses.

Your reading of the passage is just what mine was, though I hedged a bit and revised my post accordingly. I retained Marlowe's line as the title of the post, but I allowed for the possibility, however remote, that someone might read the line as a warning from Marlowe, that is, "Yeah, he's hurt now, but when he recovers, you'd better watch out." Of course, the subsequent course of the story makes this reading highly unlikely.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your remark about the "genre convention of the private detective vs. the city bull" is a reminder that while Chandler may not have done the sensitive detective first (or he may have; I don't know), he did it best.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...fragrances are to perfumes as residences are to houses" are to dwellings are to domestic architecture are to domiciles...

"...while Chandler may not have done the sensitive detective first (or he may have; I don't know), he did it best." I'm not sure, either, whether he was the first; we just assume he was! But he did do it best. I admit I'm a bit wearied of Lew Archer's playing amateur shrink in the late novels; an obvious reflection on Macdonald's many years in therapy. Sensitive is one thing but a private eye saying "I feel your pain" is another. I'm glad Declan Hughes (so far) has Ed Loy stay more in the Chandler tradition rather than the Archer tradition when it comes to characterization.

v word = sking
I know there's a witticism there someplace!

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At the same Bouchercon session where Hughes made his remark about Chandler and drinking, John Connolly said that in Lew Archer, "we have the first great Christ figure in the genre." I do not find that a tempting endorsement.

SKING is the cartoon sound effect produced when a king crashes into a tree while skiing.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I wonder if John Connolly was channeling editor Bernice Baumgarten...? Upon receipt of the first draft of The Long Goodbye, she wrote back to Chandler: "...Our only real concern was the change in Marlowe himself. His hardness was his great virtue and here he seems to have become almost Christlike...we don't recognize the Marlowe we thought we knew..." Such are the trials of an author who wants to break the mold! Chandler practically had a stroke after reading BB's letter and revised TLB.

As for the Lew Archers... It's only the last 1/3 of the series that has this Freudian thread. The first 2/3 are very good; and the first 3 or 4 are very Chandlerian (I suspect you may not have finished The Way Some People Die after a promising beginning...?)

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My reading of The Way Some People Die is on hiatus, as is my reading of a numher of books.

It's hard to judge the letter from such a brief passage, but the editor's remark strikes me as not terribly relevant to the published novel. Christ hever kicked anyone in the face or kneed him in the stomach, as far as I know. Of course, I'm no theologian.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

"why not just hire Leigh Brackett to write an original screenplay?"

Or do what the Coen brothers did with THE BIG SLEEP when they made THE BIG LEBOWSKI. (Or any number of their movies.) use the original story and idea as inspiration, then do what you want. Just don't say it's a duck if it doesn't quack or walk like one.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I'm not sure I'd use the Coen brothers as my model. I'd go more the Declahn Hughes or Declan Burke or even Roger Smith route when it comes to Chandler inspiration and homages, but I get the idea.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I found the post on The Long Goodbye on markcoggins.com interesting

He lists various endings to the book, none of which are are as good as the final one:

He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last I saw of him.

I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.


Peter, the one thing about the final version that rankled was that imitation marble corridor, but, perhaps, we were supposed to understand that it wasn't the corridor but the character, Terry Lennox, who was imitation marble.

The one problem I have with the book is that I can't understand why Marlowe should have developed such an adolescent crush on Terry Lennox. There's nothing in the book to justify Marlowe having a crush on such a character.

Thinking about the movie version of the book, Robert Altman once said: "the artist and the multitude are natural enemies."

That's a great line, but speaking as a fully paid up member of the multitude, I'd condsider it a line suitable only for an arrogant, elitist asshole. And one which explains why so many of Altman's pictures are so awful.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll take a look at that post. Thanks.

Yeah, the "imitation marble corridor" could disappear without cost to the ending. It's a bit much.

Perhaps nothing in the book justifies such a crush, but that, too, didn't bother me. Crime fiction is sull of mysterious women, so why not a mysterious man for a change?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I agree that that statement makes Altman sound like a putz. His despised multitude no doubt excludes the legions of Altman cultists.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

dana, elizabeth, and anybody else who may agree with you: I love 'The Long Goodbye', novel and film; the novel is my favourite Chandler; and I find it difficult to decide which of its film 'adaptation', 'Nashville', and 'Short Cuts' is Altman's greatest.
For me it was a great idea that worked, brilliantly; right down to that 'Third Man' homage.
Chandler might well have been upset at the 're-interpretation' of his most famous creation, but then if he considered it in context, he might just have thought of it as I do.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Part of the context is that the 1970s were the 1960s but with money. Anyone who was anyone was radically reinterpreting everything under the sun, fired by righteous zeal to do so.

Leigh Brackett's role in this is interesting. She was of Chandler's own time, yet she wrote the script of Altman's movie, complete with its altered ending, and said that the novel was "riddled with cliches."

December 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Speaking of context, it would be interesting to see the context of that "riddled with cliches" comment.
But, in any event, were they cliches, the parameters of which were set by Chandler
And, to a certain extent, in order to stay true to a genre, doesn't a writer have to remain true to its ground rules, including employing a sufficient number of genre cliches.

Nicholas Ray's 'They Live By Night' is one of my Top 10 favourite noir films, but Altman's remake, 'Thieves Like Us' isn't even half as successful as Chandler re-working.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd have to do some research to establish context for Leigh Brackett's remarks. Either that, or wait for a comment from Elisabeth.

You mentioned something I was going to note: Some of the cliches were not cliches before Chandler established them. In the romantic-detective department, Chandler not only remained true in The Long Goodbye to conventions he himself had established, he pushed them far, maybe farther than any other crime writer had. Perhaps that was too far for Leigh Brackett.

I haven't seen either of the Thieves Like Us movies. Nor have I read the novel. The novel is included in one of the Library of America noir volumes, so my Chandler and Hammett reading could lead me in that direction. Or perhaps not, since Chandler and Hammett tower so far above everyone who came along with them and after them. (Paul Cain might have been right up there had he written more.)

December 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The novel, 'Thieves Like Us' is one of my all-time fave. crime novels
I think I might have bought it in Cambridge, Ma., when I was visiting my brother.
A beautiful spare prose, perhaps influenced by Hammett, although its about 20 years or so since I read it, so I couldn't be sure.
(the bank robber characters repeated refrain, which provided the novel its title, "the banks and insurance companies, they're just thieves like us", has a particular resonance today)

'They Live By Night' was Nicholas Ray's debut film; it might have been influenced by French crime films, such as I thought 'The Fast One' might have been, especially in its ending

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I wonder how the "thieves like us" line would resonate today. Would it seem sentimental? Would it strike a chord with a nation that is more interested in Oprah and Dancing With the Stars than in hard-hitting crime stories with a proletarian slant?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

sadly, it would most likely reach only the minority, already converted, while the remainder would be reading Oprah's 'Book Choices', if they read at all!

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At the risk of sounding like an old fart who will not seek salvation in an iPod or a Kindle, you're right.

I have read references in anthologies to a brief vogue for proletarian crime stories in the United States, but the vogue did not last long. It vanished will before Americans decided they would be content reading what Oprah wanted them to read and before American newspapers stopped regarding books as a subject worthy of discussions.

I have a feeling many people in danger of being left behind would be too scared to read about being left behind.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe, with Stieg Larsson set to publish one more novel at most, and the milking of the Harry Potter phenomenon at an end with the making of the last novel into not one but two movies, the masses will have to get serious about their reading.

Nah.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I have to say that, though I am definitely on the frontlines when it comes to witnessing the mass effect of any kind of 'buzz' in reading, and can get discouraged by the Stieg Larsson/Twilight/Harry Potter kind of phenomenon, I am actually usually fairly heartened by the diversity of books that people do seek out. I buy the University of California Press line of books for the store, a job which is always fun because they have one of the best catalogues around, and when I'm checking numbers of what sold in hardback in order to guess how many to buy in paperback, I am always surprised how many books on a wide range of topics actually did sell in hardback, and usually with no help from us at all. Even in a bad economic climate, with online buying and ebooks and all the rest of it, this has remained true.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So, do books merely appear to be fading into irrelevance amid the bluster of television and computers, and the fact the newspapers no longer take books seriously? Am I just a literate baby banging my spoon on my high chair?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I really don't know what it all means in the greater picture. It's just that it occurs to me, that we are all so geared to comparing everything to bestsellers when by definition there can be relatively few of these, and by intuition I'd think that with so many more sources of information out there, including blogs like this one, more people may be exposed to more possibilities than ever before. Certainly I have been, and I wasn't exactly hurting for them before.

Of course, this also means there are more distractions. So I don't know what will win out in the long run.

v word=liesp--when the words that come out of your mouth are malformed in more ways than one...

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Solo, re “that imitation marble corridor.” I think this was one of Chandler’s frequent comments on the fakery and phoniness of so many of the facades, literal and figurative, of Los Angeles. In The Little Sister, for example, Mavis Weld’s apartment on Doheny (I drive to work on it every day) “there were mailboxes and bells in the imitation marble foyer.”

Re “I can't understand why Marlowe should have developed such an adolescent crush on Terry Lennox. There's nothing in the book to justify Marlowe having a crush on such a character.” Ah, well, this has been written about at great extent, as you probably know. Some (wishful?) scholars/readers go so far to say this “proves” Marlowe was really a homosexual. The same scholars/readers who believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary) that Chandler was a closeted gay. I (and others) think that because TLB is, as Peter pointed out, probably Chandler’s most personal novel, that the aging Marlowe, like the even more aging Chandler, is reflecting on his essentially friendless existence. And that, gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a buddy one could drink with, share one’s troubles with, etc. This is also the first novel in which Marlowe gives himself permission to fall in love (with a woman) and to think, then discard as futile, the idea of a future with her.

TCK, The Long Goodbye is my favorite RTC novel, too, which makes me even more ticked off at Altman for distorting and brutalizing it so. Altman deliberately set out to trash Chandler and I’d say he was pretty darn successful.

Peter, re “[Leigh Brackett] was of Chandler's own time, yet she wrote the script of Altman's movie, complete with its altered ending, and said that the novel was ‘riddled with clichés.’” That’s a laugh; have you ever read any of her crime fiction? They are riddled with clichés. Her comment is typical of the screenwriter confronted with a great source who almost inevitably has to lessen its greatness by transferring it to a screenplay's format.

Peter, re “Some of the cliches were not cliches before Chandler established them. In the romantic-detective department, Chandler not only remained true in The Long Goodbye to conventions he himself had established, he pushed them far, maybe farther than any other crime writer had.” Yep.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth, most readers of novels reckon they'd make a better film translation of it than whats put on screen in front of them.
Often most filmmakers cut huge chunks of a novel, for pacing and other reasons.
But for me the best film adaptations are generally those that do something more than a faithful adaptation, even if its mainly a compression.
But Kurosawa's 'High and Low' is another great adaptation, - in this case an Ed McBain novel.

As for 'The Long Goodbye', if he had set in its time in LA I might have agreed with you, but I though in concept, and execution, Altman, and Brackett, created a Masterpiece

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, what can I say, TCK, except that perhaps we will have to agree to disagree? I'm still with Dana on this one: "I will maintain to my dying breath that Altman's vision of The Long Goodbye is a true abomination." I simply can't put the word "masterpiece" anywhere near the words "Robert Altman," an emperor without clothes if there ever was one.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I quite like that v-word, the warped speech of a born liar.

Yes, we have more distractions than ever before. Quite apart from any deleterious effects that technology will have, we are a celebrity- and phenomenon-driven culture more than in the past, I think. Not that it matters, but will anyone read Stieg Larsoon or the Harry Potter books in twenty years?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I haven't thought about Larson, but I have recently wondered what will happen to Harry Potter once even all the movies have been viewed. Will their appeal be apparent to even the next few years worth of young readers once there is nothing outside the books themselves to drive the phenomenon. I'm laying no bets, but I'll find it all interesting to watch.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, re “that imitation marble corridor.” I think this was one of Chandler’s frequent comments on the fakery and phoniness of so many of the facades, literal and figurative, of Los Angeles.

Yeah, it was an obvious comment on fakery, but it was like someone using "plastic" as a putdown in the 1990s or 2000s. The comment lacks the freshness and zing today that it had in the 1950s in Chandler's case or the 1960s and ealry '70s in the case of plastic.

In The Little Sister, for example, Mavis Weld’s apartment on Doheny (I drive to work on it every day) “there were mailboxes and bells in the imitation marble foyer.”

Altman deliberately set out to trash Chandler and I’d say he was pretty darn successful.

When it comes to Altman and Chandler, history will decide which was the greater artist. Same with Chandler and Brackett. In the latter case, the decision has been made already, I'd say. Do you know the context for her comments?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I, on the other hand, come down somewhere between masterpiece and abomination on "The Long Goodbye."

(I wrote above that I could see the thought behind every change Altman made, but I've reconsidered. What was the point of the wisecracking Jewish gangster? He was arguably an interesting character, but what was he doing there? Same with that character's one act of shocking violence -- ahead of its time, arguably, at least for a crime movie, but what did it have to do with "The Long Goodbye"? One can legitimately ask that question without, however, deploring the movie.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I read some reference to a study (I don't now how detailed or scientific it was) that suggested the Harry Potter books were not turning children on to reading anything other than the Harry Potter books. And that wise John McFetridge said or wrote somewhere that Harry Potter was like candy. It was not encouraging children to learn to like their vegetables and was making them resistant to anything that was not full of fantasy and wizards.

My recent reading of Chandler and Hammett has me thinking more than usual about books that will last. This item posted by Bill Crider muses on the transitory phenomenon of Harold Robbins, who sold so many millions of books in his lifetime but whose heirs now struggle to keep his books in print. I suspect Stieg Larsson’s fate will be closer to Harold Robbins’ than to Raymond Chandler’s.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I realize "imitation marble" is not fresh but it seems that Chandler is held to a different standard than his contemporaries. This line bookends the sentence at the beginning of The Little Sister: [Marlowe's office] is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization."

Peter, I took what I supposed was Leigh Brackett's quote from your comment that contained it; I don't know its source.

"When it comes to Altman and Chandler" I think perhaps technology may be the decision maker. Every year, the technology to preserve film is whittled away by new, anti-film technologies. Altman's film stands a better of chance of constant reformatting due to its acclaim but Chandler's texts may have a better chance of survival.

"One can legitimately ask that question without, however, deploring the movie." Perhaps, but I have read that Altman did not set about to "update" TLG so much as he set about trashing Chandler in order to get his personal gripes against the then-known info about Chandler (MacShane's bio came out about 3 years after the film) "out there."

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chandler is held to a different standard than his contemporaries. This line bookends the sentence at the beginning of The Little Sister: "[Marlowe's office] is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization."

He ought to be held to different standards. He was at the very least a demigod. (This reminds me of the time I took considerable flak for suggesting that some aspects of The Friends of Eddie Coyle had dated less well than others. I was guilty at the very worst of historical shortsightedness in failing to recognize that some of what I criticized now might have broken ground then, but I was right that the aspects in question had not dated well. This may be another way of saying that his innovations so quickly became part of the mainstream that it was easy to lose sight of them. I'm not sure my disgruntled, if well-meaning, critics recognized this, though.

I was flipping through The Little Sister last night, and I loved the "all-tile-bathroom" line. I was reading the novel only because I could take the battered volume that contains it safely into the bath tub. I could not do the same with my current main reading: The Glass Key in the Library of America Hammett.

I have read that Altman did not set about to "update" TLG so much as he set about trashing Chandler in order to get his personal gripes against the then-known info about Chandler (MacShane's bio came out about 3 years after the film) "out there."

Altman made the movie at a fortunate (for him) conjunction of artistic iconoclasm and the money to indulge it. The timing of the Chandler biography is interesting, too.

I have a marvelous v-word suited both the genre-reading tastes and spelling capabilities of many people today: bitingu

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't know that I really believe that about Harry Potter, though. If I think about my own early reading enthusiasms, I have to admit they were all largely 'candy' of exactly this sort. I have more problems with the hype that grew around Rowling than with anything about the books themselves, although they don't personally interest me all that much at this stage of my life.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"[Chandler] ought to be held to different standards." So, it's OK to criticize Chandler for cliched genre conventions but we give is contemporaries a pass in this department because they aren't demigods? I don't get it.

I love The Glass Key; it's a tossup between it and Red Harvest for my favorite Hammett novel. Had you read it before?

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, it's silly to criticize him for cliched conventions if they were neither cliches not conventions when he used them. It is fair to expect more of him than of most writers simply because he was so much better than most writers. And to say he was great, even superlatively great, is not say he was perfect. Let us say that his use of "imitation marble" is like Marilyn Monroe's birthmark. The imperfection sets off the beauty of what surrounds it.

This is my first meeting with The Glass Key. One of its stylistic quirks has taken me a bit of getting used to: The constant references to Ned Beaumont by his full name. But I am falling into the rhythm, and I am tremendously impressed by the book.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the hype surrounding Harry Potter is noxious, of course, and I don't know to what extent one can separate it from the books.

My early reading was Dr. Seuss, and I remember reading Tom Sawyer at night when I was young and then all the Hardy Boys books and lots of stuff about sports. So I'm not sure I ever read anything analogous to Harry Potter.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oh,there were tons. Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, P. L. Travers with her Mary Poppins series, E.B. White with Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web--I think the only other thing I read as much of were animal stories. Mysteries, I think, came slightly later.

December 14, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, lucky you, to be reading TGK for the first time!

Here is Hammett biographer Richard Layman on the "quirk" you mention: "Objectivity had long been the principal factor in Hammett's artistic plan, but with The Glass Key he accomplished a new level of third-person narrative distance...Hammett was betraying no sympathies for his character by treating him familiarly."

Yes, TGK does have a rhythm but you'll soon get in the swing of it!

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

E.B. White was a star! I don't know the ebb and flow of his reputation, but Charlotte's Web has had lasting popularity, and Stuart Little was even made into a couple of movies not so many years ago.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

His most enduring influence for me, though, was through his work on The Elements of Style. So he has lasted.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Objectivity feels right as a description of Hammett's style. Objectivity, cool, distance.

December 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I think White's kids book will hold up too.

December 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read Stuart Little or parts of it when I was a young adult (in the commonsense sense, not the marketing sense. I was in my early or mid-twenties at the time), and I quite liked it. Yes, I'd say White's kids' writing holds up.

December 15, 2010  

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