Thursday, March 07, 2013

No Good From a Corpse: Why I am a Leigh Brackettologist

A few good things about No Good From a Corpse, the hard-boiled 1944 novel by Leigh Brackett, who also wrote the screenplays to the 1946 and 1978 versions of The Big Sleep (the first with the help of some hack named William Faulkner) when not compiling a science fiction résumé of novels, stories, and screenplays that included the script of The Empire Strikes Back:

1) The similes, perhaps not as funny as Raymond Chandler's but perhaps sharper and with more of an edge, e.g.:
"He was a little man with a large head and a face like a healthy, sunburned frog."
2) An eye for detail that let Brackett make familiar points in unexpected ways, as in:
"Vince Klingman lived in a neat, old-fashioned cottage near Western Avenue. The lawn was green and the white fence had all the pickets in it."
or
"The butler paused. His correct front dissolved enough to show a resigned and patient loathing."
 3) A knack, also apparent in her screenplay for El Dorado, for combining humor and violene in ways that are shocking without seeming gratuitous. An example:
"Vivien giggled. `Blood pressure. We're always hoping he'll have a stroke, but he never does.'"
4) She knew how to say funny things in ways that made them even funnier: 
"Johnny wormed his face through a froth of pink chiffon ruffles and said, `Hiya, Ed.'"
In fact, I like that scene so much that I'll give you a bit more of it:
"The blonde's fist caught him on the side of the head. Clive turned over three times and hit a table, causing a crash and an explosion of splinters.

"Kethrin set her bottle on the floor, clapped her hands together, and said solemnly, `Whee.' Clive rolled over, shaking his head and kicking pieces of table out of his way. The blonde advanced, breathing heavily.

"`Now,' she roared, `he busts my furnicha!'"
5) Like Chandler, Leigh Brackett had an eye for the despoilation of Los Angeles:
"They get water from an ocean inlet down at Del Rey. We kids used to spend most of our time down there, fishing and swimming.

"You wouldn't want to swim there now. The banks are black with seeping oil, and the water's black, too, and it stinks. There aren't any fish in it now."
6) Brackett wrote a convincing male P.I. protagonist who appreciates the dames but who nonetless expresses his appreciation with a dressmakerly precision that I can't imagine from a male author:
"The soft wool of her dress was gathered and bloused, so that her full sharp curves were hinted at rather than seen ..."
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(Read an excerpt from No Good From a Corpse.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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4 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

They sound fun. Leigh Brackett gets panned a bit, though, doesn't she?

March 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know much about how she is received; I've never read any negative opinions of her. I don't know what her reputation is in science fiction, but she seems well thought-of in crime fiction, at least these days.

March 08, 2013  
Blogger Gavin said...

I've only ever read her sci-fi. I'd say she's perceived as one of the very solid writers in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mold. (That is, fantasy dressed up as science fiction on alien planets -- sort of like "Star Wars.")

March 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sort of like Star Wars, which makes sense, considering her final screen credit.

Some publishing house was supposed to issue an omnibus edition containing three or four of Brackett's crime novels and two stories late last year. I hope the plans will proceed.

She wrote a number of screenplays for Howard Hawks movies, and if she was good enough for Howard Hawks, she's good enough for me.

March 08, 2013  

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