Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler

WHERE’S PHILIP MARLOWE?

 

Back in 2014, when John Banville, under his Benjamin Black mask, added a “new” chapter to the life and times of Raymond Chandler’s iconic hero, Philip Marlowe, I took the opportunity to compile a summary of the many non-Chandler books that featured either Marlowe or the author himself. The result appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/big-sleep-raymond-chandler/

I was entertained by Banville/Black’s THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE, a sort of sequel to arguably Chandler’s finest novel, THE LONG GOODBYE. It was clearly an attempt to capture the style, mood and atmospheric locales of what had gone before, a very efficient pastiche. 

I fully believe Banville’s on record motives for writing the book. As he told Lewis Lapham, he wanted to see if he could match the old master’s work and he thought it “might encourage readers to go back to the originals.” I’m just as sure that’s why Robert B. Parker agreed to try his hand at it (completing Chandler’s THE POODLE SPRINGS STORY, as well as concocting the disappointing PERCHANCE TO DREAM), along with twenty-three crime writers, myself included, whose stories appeared in the anthology celebrating the author’s centennial, RAYMOND CHANDLER’S PHILIP MARLOWE.

Having myself sipped of the gimlet, I think I understand the reasons for many of the previous Chandler-Marlowe pastiches, as well as the parodies (S.J. Perelman’s “Farewell My Lovely Appetizer” and Martin Rowson’s graphic novel THE WASTE LAND in which Marlowe is in fast literary company, including T.S. Elliot, both well-worth a search). But I haven’t a clue as to what was in Lawrence Osborne’s mind when he signed on for the latest Marlowe opus, ONLY TO SLEEP.

Set in 1988, the novel is beautifully written, with several descriptions of Baja California and Mexico in general that are hauntingly poetic. The area is familiar to the peripatetic British-born Osborne, who spent several years there as a journalist. There are many, some may think too many, musings on old age. His Marlowe is seventy-two, but behaves as if he were a decade older, as, doddering, he tries to close the book on his last case.

It’s an insurance swindle. Old man Marlowe, who I should note is younger than I, is hired by two smarmy insurance execs, bespoke-suited, in Baja yet, who want him to travel to an off-the-grid coastal flyspeck to investigate the drowning death of one of their American policy holders, Donald Zinn. They’re hoping the detective can detect something that’ll save their company from turning over $2-million to Zinn’s widow.

As expected, Dolores Zinn is a sultry stunner. And it takes Marlowe only slightly less time for him to fall under her sway than to deduce that her loutish husband is very much alive. And here, with the novel barely dented, and Marlowe attending a soiree with the Zinns, I realized I was frowning at the book. What was going on? Who were these expats who’d sashayed in from a Graham Greene entertainment? And who was the old guy people were calling Marlowe, propping himself up with a cane that housed a steel blade, his detailed history of which only Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger would appreciate.

Could Marlowe possibly be this over-the-hill retiree, squandering his golden years hanging out with other codgers, playing cards and packing away suckling pig, or weekending at a bar, shooting down the mezcal? It’s a bit of a stretch for him to have once been the near-spartan, solo chess player who, regardless of his increasing complaints about Los Angeles, continued to live and work there for most of his life.

In Marlowe’s frequent senior moments, wouldn’t he recall events or people from his past? Maybe good girl Anne Riordan or that little vixen Orfamay Quest? And would he use the ersatz 40’s slang Osborn puts in his mouth? Did anyone in this country back then, Chandler in particular, refer to ladies of the night as “Able Grables” as Marlowe does several times? Would the Marlowe Chandler envisioned have even been aware of Lisa Birnbach (co-author of the 1980 bestseller THE OFFICIAL PREPPY HANDBOOK), much less consider her a key observer of US life in the early 80s?

More important, would even a semi-senile Marlowe take a bribe to walk away from an investigation, especially one involving murder?

Bottom line: just as the The Long Goodbye movie is less an adaptation of Chandler’s novel than it is a Robert Altman film, ONLY TO SLEEP is very much a Lawrence Osborn novel and probably a good one. Labeling it “a Philip Marlowe novel” is, at best, an exaggeration.

 

A Different Chandler

81G-c5wkFJL._AA1500_A few weeks ago, Turner Movie Classics aired the 1971 noir film, Chandler, starring Leslie Caron and Warren Oates, a tie-in perhaps with the its release as a new Warner Archive DVD .  As one of the log lines describes it: “A private eye (Oates)   is hired to follow a mobster’s former mistress (Caron).”  Several notable noir icons are present, including Gloria Grahame, Charles McGraw and Royal Dano.  What is left unsaid is that the script used the same basic outline as Raymond Chandler’s final completed work, PLAYBACK.

The movie does not live up to its promise. But, for me at least, it holds fond memories. I’d been a resident of Southern California for about a week when I became marginally involved in its production.

Caron and Laughlin

Caron and Laughlin

A few film notes: its producer, Michael Laughlin, had put together several very successful films in London, and was married to it star, Leslie Caron.  Paul Magwood was a first-time director. The fledgling screenwriter was John Sacret Young, who would later win an assortment of awards and accumulate lots of loot for creating and producing the television series, CHINA BEACH. The script was not an official adaptation of PLAYBACK, but, by naming the private eye Chandler and then releasing the movie with that title, they were not exactly hiding its source. An homage, then.

playback

Through a friend of Magwood’s, I got to sit in on meetings, meet the participants and even appear as an extra in a sequence at the art deco train station in downtown L.A. where Oates, as Chandler, follows Caron, the female in jeopardy. All great fun, and fascinating. But it wasn’t exactly putting food on my table.

As I went on to writing jobs that were lucrative, if not as entertaining, I followed the film’s progress in the trade publications. There was a screening of the rough cut that the then head of the studio, James Aubrey, didn’t like at all. He ordered changes, clarifications. He didn’t like those either.

Finally, one morning when Magwood showed up at the studio with his editor, he discovered that Aubrey had locked up the film. He, his editor and Laughlin had lost control of their film. It was cut and reshaped by nameless others. A subplot was shot and inserted. Key bits of dialogue were deleted.

James T. Aubrey, known fondly as The Smiling Cobra

James T. Aubrey, known fondly as The Smiling Cobra

Laughlin and Magwood took out an ad in the trades telling other filmmakers to beware of Aubrey.  This did not endear them to the studio head.  The film, released on the bottom half of a double bill, was not an overwhelming hit.  It nipped Magwood’s directing career in the bud, severely damaged Caron’s and Laughlin’s standing and curtailed Oates’ chances of moving up from notable character actor to leading man.

Would the movie have been better received if Aubrey had allowed it to be released in its original state? Who knows.  As it is, some reviews consider it a precursor to Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (itself not a hit at the box office, but at least a succes d’estime), with praise for its “lack of cinematic grandeur,” and with  nods to Oates’ performance.  1881532,+6sTjxPRUGCafxHS2Ex3GdyjlOstrrF97fLDbVcay+5+CslGxWUiU0buAB4vkKKZ_Y_G7SGC1csBlRG_nSOviw==

In any case, shortly after its release, Aubrey was unceremoniously given his walking papers from the studio.

 

I doubt any of them thought too fondly of CHANDLER. But I do. Because of it, I became friends with Michael Laughlin. Many years later, while working on one of his film projects, I spent the winter at St. Barth’s with him and his new family. The latter included a bright and pleasantly precocious twelve-year-old girl who became the inspiration for the teenage sleuth Serendipity Dahlquist in the mystery that launched my career as a novelist SLEEPING DOG.sleeping_dog_scroll

Hooray for Hollywood!