Archive for Raymond Chandler

A Hard-boiled Oeuvre

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by dcairns


For the first half of PEEPER (1976) I was almost convinced I was watching a neglected classic. The script, by W.D. Richter (BUCKAROO BANZAI) from a Chandler pastiche by sci-fi author Keith Laumer, served up a constant sizzle of snazzy dialogue and cynical VO, the latter delivered by Michael Caine in a straight reprise of his delightful manner in Mike Hodges’ PULP. As that film had wound up with a walk-on by a Humphrey Bogart impersonator, so this movie begins with one, narrating the opening titles in a piece-to-camera presentation that’s giddily audacious. Director Peter Hyams seems to be on top form, and his cameraman Earl Rath, who lensed the astonishing proto-steadicam shoot-out chase in Hyams’ earlier BUSTING, steeps the art-deco locations in acidic greens, achieving a distinctly 1970s neo-noir look.


I had thought that the really hip 70s noirs had either mixed things up by going back further in time, or had updated their stories to the modern day. CHINATOWN does the former, but adds such a wealth of modern attitude — political, sexual — as to seem furiously contemporary, while THE LONG GOODBYE really squeezes every ounce of anachronism to be had from the conceit of Marlowe in modern L.A. Dick Richards’ 1975 FAREWELL, MY LOVELY remake with Robert Mitchum seems a stale exercise in nostalgia by comparison. But then I think of the late Michael Winner’s incomprehensibly Brighton-set version of THE BIG SLEEP, and I have to conclude that there are no rules except that good filmmakers are more likely to make good films. Bad ons, not so much.


Anyhow, PEEPER starts great, the cast is very nice, Caine has chemistry with Natalie Wood, and then it all somehow goes to pot. Liam Dunn is a great comedy antagonist, but Timothy Carey and Don Calfa, excellent actors and types, are also reduced to stooge status, depriving the whole thing of necessary tension. Necessary even in what’s virtually a comedy. Oh, we also get the wonderful Liam Dunn — Mr Hilltop in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the judge in WHAT’S UP DOC?, as a typically decrepit, wonderfully weaselly character, the only guy Caine can convincingly push around.


When the climax involved Wood fighting aboard a lifeboat, I got a horrible sense of why the film doesn’t tend to get revived much. But maybe it just isn’t good enough — the plot never reaches an extreme state demanding drastic action, but peters out in some confusing twists. A major sympathetic character is murdered and goes unavenged. The long takes lack the dynamism of Hyams and Rath’s BUSTING work, and sometimes merely looks as if they didn’t have time to get adequate coverage. It’s a shame, since the first half is a real delight. They could make a whole series of sequels to that first half. I kind of regret they made the second half at all.

A simile is like a metaphor

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on January 8, 2013 by dcairns


Raymond Chandler and some kind of animal, possibly an elephant, I’m no expert.

I finished the Raymond Chandler short story collection Spanish Blood, which I inherited from my late pal Lawrie. Or else I borrowed it from him and hadn’t returned it yet when he died, I forget which. The book is old and has mainly turned to vanilla dust. But still readable — highly readable. Every one of the stories might make a good movie.

While Pearls are a Nuisance takes a screwball comedy approach to the pulp detective racket, Trouble is my Business is playful but still just about serious. Still, it has fun with the idea of a detective who solves the case but still gets beaten up or outsmarted by just about everyone he meets, while putting away enough Scotch to pickle a beluga.

Chandler is smart enough to keep his brilliant similes in check just enough (Mark Gattis, take note!) — and he mixes things up with metaphors and sort of indefinable but hilarious word-images like “a pale thin clerk with one of those mustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.” It also struck me that his similes are so grotesque, one could swap them around randomly and they’d still sort of work. Here are a few where the subject and object have been shuffled — see if you can rearrange them into the original intended sequence ~

Her cheeks were as soft as

a rolled umbrella.

She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like


She was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as

a basket ball.

His face, what I could see of it, looked about the size of

Napoleon’s tomb.

His humming sounded like

an old lady with too many parcels.

It rose as softly as

a sick baby.

She wore a small cockeyed hat that hung on her ear like

a cat in a strange house.

I moved around slowly, like

an amputated leg.

A bruise on the back of my head and another on my jaw, neither of them larger than

the mercury in a thermometer.

He had an idea and he was holding it like

a Yakima apple.

Throwing his voice over his shoulder as if it were

a cigar-store Indian.

We went in so close together we must have looked like

a butterfly.

A huge oval mirror with a rounded surface that made me look like

a cow being sick.

He was as wooden-faced as

a three-decker sandwich.

A shiny black bug […] wobbled as it crawled, like

a pygmy with water on the brain.

I felt bad. I felt like

a coil of rope.

Or, for maximum hilarity, just read all of the set-ups and sub in “an amputated leg.” Works every time!


Film Directors with Their Shirts Off and Trousers Down

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by dcairns


“George Raft never took his clothes off.”

Mark Rydell (far right) strips in Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE, doing pre-emptive penance to Elliott Gould (second right) for directing him in HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK.

It’s worth watching young Arnie Schwartzenegger (second left, with bum-fluff moustache) in this scene — while the other thugs register surprise and reluctance at being ordered to denude by their boss, Ahnoldt can’t wait — he’s eager to go, unbuttoning almost before the words are out of Rydell’s mouth — it’s what he took the job for in the first place. Be a gangster’s bodyguard and expose your pecs.

I’m just reading some early Raymond Chandler stories (and Fiona is reading Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest — it’s a hardboiled household). I really feel that Pearls are a Nuisance ought to be a Major Motion Picture, possibly by the Coen Brothers, possibly starring Armie Hammer. There’s some comic dialogue in there worthy of Sturges.

“Drunk, Walter?” he boomed. “Did I hear you say drunk? An Eichelberger drunk? Listen, son. We ain’t got a lot of time now. It would take maybe three months. Some day when you got three months and maybe five thousand gallons of whiskey and a funnel, I would be glad to take my own time and show you what an Eichelberger looks like when drunk. You wouldn’t believe it. Son, there wouldn’t be nothing of this town but a few sprung girders and a lot of busted bricks, in the middle of which–Geez, I’ll get talking English myself if I hang around you much longer–in the middle of which, peaceful, with no human life nearer than maybe fifty miles. Henry Eichelberger will be on his back smiling at the sun. Drunk, Walter. Not stinking drunk, not even country-club drunk. But you could use the word drunk and I wouldn’t take no offense.”

Georgie takes a bath (1)

Via La Faustin — an image which gives the lie to Gould’s too-hasty statement — George Raft with his clothes off. Source?