Philip Marlowe tries not to go under for the third time in Lady in the Lake.
Lady in the Lake, for which you see a promo poster above, was the first motion picture shot almost entirely from the visual perspective of a single character. That character is Raymond Chandler's iconic private dick Philip Marlowe, played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed. As both a mystery and a seeing-eye curiosity, this is something film buffs should check out. You won't think it's perfect. Montgomery's version of Marlowe regularly crosses the line from hard-boiled to straight-up asshole, but that's the way these film noir sleuths were sometimes written.
Though the bad attitude is tedious at times, the mystery is interesting, there's plenty of directorial prowess on display from Montgomery, and a bit of unintentional comedy occurs when he gets knocked cold twice in that first person p.o.v. Seriously, Marlowe, you couldn't see those punches coming? We were reclined on the sofa with glasses of wine in our hands and we could have dodged them without spilling a drop. It's all in good fun, though. Every shamus gets forcibly put to sleep now and again.
If the movie has a major flaw it's that co-star Audrey Totter gives a clinic in overdone facial expressions before overcoming these bizarre poker tells to finally settle into normal human behavior around the halfway mark. Despite that bit of weirdness, film noir fans will like this. Those new to the genre maybe will find it too strange to fully enjoy. But it's indisputably a landmark, and that's worth something. Lady in the Lake premiered in London in late 1946, and went into general release in the U.S. today in 1947.
Horwitz unclutters the view on Chandler's classic.
Above is a nice alternate cover for Raymond Chandler's The High Window from Australia's Horwitz Publications, circa 1961. It's a cleaner, less plot revealing, and less controversial piece than the battered wife cover put out by American publishers Pocket Books in 1955. We found it on Flickr, so thanks to the original uploader. Sadly, the art is uncredited, which is the way Horwitz generally did business, those damn Aussies.
That's not exactly the type of apology I had in mind, but I guess it'll have to do.
This is an interesting piece of cover art for Raymond Chandler's third Phillip Marlowe thriller The High Window, the novel that was filmed as Time To Kill with Marlowe rewritten as another character, then filmed several years later as The Brasher Doubloon, with Marlowe restored. The book originally appeared in 1942, and the above painting by James Meese fronted Pocket Books' 1955 edition. Without reading it, one might assume this is Marlowe being punchy, but it's actually a bad guy named Alex Morny laying into his wife/accomplice-in-crime Lois. In the narrative Marlowe is lurking nearby, but he doesn't intervene because he's contemptuous of criminals, whether male or female.
Marlowe generally sticks up for underdogs. He particularly hates the abuse of authority. When two cops give him a hard time for being uncooperative he reminds them why he's that way by refreshing their memories concerning a case he investigated where a spoiled heir shot his secretary then killed himself. The cops closed that case with the official finding that the opposite had happened—the secretary had shot the heir before turning the gun on himself, and they did it to spare the heir's powerful father public embarrassment. The cops ask an annoyed Marlowe what difference it makes. They were both dead, so who cares?
Marlowe: “Did you ever stop to think that [his] secretary might have had a mother or a sister or a sweetheart—or all three? That they had their pride and their faith and their love for a kid who was made out to be a drunken paranoiac because his boss's father had a hundred million dollars? Until you guys own your own souls you don't own mine. Until you guys can be trusted every time and always, in all times and conditions, to seek the truth out and find it and let the chips fall where they may—until that time comes [I will not trust you].”
We've paraphrased a bit because the specifics aren't needed here, but it's a great speech. Countless sociological and criminological studies reveal that justice is still meted out mildly upon some groups, and severely upon others, more than half a century after Chandler wrote those lines. And the fact that a two-tiered justice system exists is so accepted these days it's banal to even point it out. But Marlowe tended to rail against corruption, even if doing so caused him problems. To resist was part of his personal code, and the code is part of what makes him such an interesting character. If you want to know more about The High Window you can find an extra detail or two in our write-up on Time To Kill here.
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.
The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre.
Michael Shayne stabs Phillip Marlowe in the back.
Above you see a promo poster for the detective yarn The Time To Kill, a movie that premiered in the U.S. today in 1943 and has a mildly convoluted provenance that will be interesting to pulp fans. Mystery authors Brett Halliday and Raymond Chandler were both popular writers, but Twentieth Century Fox had already made six movies based on Halliday's novels. So they bought Chandler's The High Window and changed the main character from Phillip Marlowe to Halliday's franchise detective Michael Shayne. We don't know if Chandler and Halliday had any sort of rivalry to that point, but we wouldn't be surprised if one started.
Fox had made the previous Shayne flicks in just two years, and they're light in tone, which is one reason we think websites that label The Time To Kill a film noir are stretching. The lead character is not a driven loner, the general sense of corruption is nowhere to be found, and most of the usual noir iconography, such as rain or water, neon, newspapers, sidewalks, etc., is absent. No flashbacks. No voiceover. Nothing. Co-star Doris Merrick is a femme fatale perhaps, but virtually any woman in a crime thriller can fit that cubbyhole. Then surprise—four fifths of the way through its running time the movie shifts gears—Shayne walks into a nighttime murder scene that's draped with shadows and ill portent, but even this is played for laughs when he pratfalls down a staircase. And the ultimate fate of the villain is basically a bad barroom joke.
Director Herbert Leeds had worked on a variety of low budget westerns, comedies, and serials, and was a technician, not a stylist. His spliced in noir sequence is a nice nod to an emerging trend, but we don't think it pushes what is mainly a goofball detective film into noir territory. In general, his were a safe pair of hands tasked with churning out movies at high speed. The Time To Kill is a typically perfunctory Leeds effort—one hour and one minute long, meant to be consumed like penny candy. So we don't think it's a film noir, but hey—we just run a silly website. What do we know? And does it even matter? The Time To Kill is a decent enough distraction, however you categorize it.
Phillip Marlowe gets involved in shady business.
Above, a very nice piece of William Rose cover art incorporating a window shade for Raymond Chandler's Playback, from Cardinal Books, 1960. This is the last Phillip Marlowe novel Chandler wrote. It first appeared in Britain in 1958 as a hardback. Basically, it's a missing persons case set in California in which Marlowe is put on the trail of a woman being pursued by various shady figures from her past. Many critics consider it lesser Chandler, but it has its plusses. The mystery blog Bloody Murder agrees, and you can read a detailed positive review there by following this link.
Long live the King—in Yellow, that is.
The interesting cover above for Five Sinister Characters was painted by Paul Stahr and fronts a Raymond Chandler short story collection composed of "Trouble is My Business,” “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” “I'll Be Waiting,” “The Red Wind,” and “The King in Yellow.” Lovecraft fans probably know that last title via its usage by Robert W. Chambers for his 1895 collection of weird stories, which you see at right, but Chandler's “King in Yellow” is unrelated. Chandler's tale involves a tough guy bandleader named King Leopardi who wears yellow suits, while Chambers' collection is, well, weird. But Chandler knew of Chambers and he also knew of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, of which Chambers' fiction is considered a part. Midway through Chandler's tale a character says, “The King in Yellow. I read a book with that title once.” A clear reference to Chambers' macabre work. The influence of that work continues to grow over time—it even made an impact on the first season of True Detective. Originally published by Avon in 1944, this edition of Five Sinister Characters appeared as part of Avon's Murder Mystery Monthly series in 1945. Recommended stuff.
Raymond Chandler's most memorable hits.
Women were hit often in pulp literature. This cover for Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep depicts just such a moment, as detective Philip Marlowe decides to slap Carmen Sternwood to bring her out of a drug induced stupor. He feels it's for her own good, as he's found her naked in a house where's she's been the subject of pronographic photos. The goal is to get her up and out of the place. Later he hits her again and this time it's more out of annoyance. We could go into our whole thing about how this sort of behavior reflects an assumption on the part of men that they have ownership of women's bodies, but you already know what we're going to say, so let's just give artist Harvey Kidder credit for painting an eye-catching cover. The Big Sleep was originally published in 1939, and this edition appeared in 1950.
They call it the Devil’s wheel for a reason.
It’s been a while since we’ve put together a pulp collection, so below you’ll find vintage cover art that uses the roulette wheel as a central element. They say only suckers play roulette, and that’s especially true in pulp, where even if you win, eventually you lose the money and more. Art is by Ernest Chiriaka, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, and many others.
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