Archive for Raymond Chandler

Red Herrings

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2020 by dcairns

Dalton Trumbo is the main writer on THE LONE WOLF STRIKES, and you can tell. At the start of the tale, Michael Lanyard, AKA the Lone Wolf, as inhabited by Warren the starving lion William, having previously given up a life of crime for a life of adventure, has given up a life of adventure for a life aquatic, breeding fish in his Manhattan apartment. It makes a nice image, the stacks of fish tanks filling half the view, the picture window opening onto distant skyscrapers — all glassy grids, you see.

We remember of course that Laurence Olivier has a whole speech about oysters in SPARTACUS, Trumbo’s most famous screen credit, so obviously the man was a keen piscatorian and liked to get his hobby up there on the big screen. He liked to write in the bath, also, like a fish, or Waldo Lydecker or Jean-Paul Marat. The plot of this one is about stolen pearls, so the oceanic note is continued neatly.

Eric Blore gets to say: “I couldn’t help myself, sir. Miss Jordan’s a regular VAMpire, sir, she fairly WORMED it out of me!”

Also: “I LOATHE fish!!!” and “OOOH! I’ve spilled the beans!

It’s not so ridiculous, having a detective story where the shamus is more concerned with scallops than sleuthing. CHINATOWN features a discursion on fish at the Abalone Club, Detective Kinderman in EXORCIST III delivers a monologue on carp held over from the original movie on account of its extreme length and irrelevance, and Raymond Chandler began but did not finish a novel, The Big Swim Bladder, in which Philip Marlowe is distracted from a vicious blackmail-and-homicide case by the undulations of a particularly appetising halibut.

The film tries to winkle comedy out of WW being harried by his client, a slightly spoiled heiress, but as she’s the bereaved daughter of a recent murderee, it’s hard to take her being the butt of a joke.

Interesting that guys like Trumbo, Waldo Salt, and various of the Hollywood Ten mainly made a living with this kind of cheery pablum, but racked up reps for high seriousness during their years of unemployment. Still, the dialogue has a zing, and certainly plays to the stars’ well-established personae. “Why Mr. Lanyard, you’re simply…” “Terrific? Of course I am.”

Sidney Salkow, the Tarkovsky of the flat two-shot, once more directs with his customary… attendance? None of his shots match, is what I’m saying.

THE LONE WOLF STRIKES stars Julius Caesar; Mr. Toad; Phyllis Fowler; Mr. Fenty; Lois Clarke; Professor Schmutz; Bob Wayne / ‘Copperhead’; Walt Spoon; Morony; Crowd Member; and Man in Talking Pictures Demonstration (uncredited).

“It’s only when you’re immersed in your fish that you disappoint ME, sir.”

Spadework

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2019 by dcairns

Paul Newman’s two Lew Harper films — based on two of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels — are kind of like the square old Hollywood movies celebrated, or at any rate documented — in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Both have extremely gifted mod cinematographers, though: Conrad Hall shot HARPER in 1966 and Gordon “the Prince of Darkness” Willis shot its belated sequel THE DROWNING POOL in 1975. I double-billed them but I’ll mainly talk about the first one here.

Jack Smight, a truly square director but not untalented, allows or encourages or inspires Hall to pull off a few spectacular shots in HARPER (see top), perhaps aware that it’s just a reasonably good Raymond Chandler knock-off. As Donald Westlake complained, Ross MacDonald recycled the one about the rich, dysfunctional family until everyone was screaming at him to quit it for chrissakes — basically The Big Sleep ad nauseam, and here we have Lauren Bacall to remind us of past glories. So making the most of the widescreen and colour is essential to stop this from seeming like warmed-over stuff from an earlier decade — what’s harder is to stop it seeming like TV stuff. The down-at-heel, long-suffering private eye would be incarnated par excellence by James Garner in The Rockford Files who had a natural word-weariness Newman can’t match.

The first movie is quite diverting, with a spectacular comic turn from Shelley Winters (I felt bad about all the fat gibes in William Goldman’s script though) and very good work from Arthur Hill, Pamela Tiffin and a host of others. Strother Martin’s hillside cult temple is one of my favourite places I’ve ever seen in a movie. There’s a fight there between Newman and a hundred silent Mexicans (a short fight) which has a nice surreal vibe, like the multiple Agent Smiths in THE MATRIX.

Maybe the problem is that these stories never effect any change in the hero, making them more suited to series TV… though they used to work fine in the ‘forties. This one has too many corpses and complications, and Goldman’s misogyny gets grating, and I think sometimes Newman tries too hard to be “entertaining.” Here he is, reacting to the sight of Pamela Tiffin in a bikini:

Goldman writes about the film’s opening sequence in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade. He’d started his script, sensibly enough, with the private eye showing up to get briefed on his case. The studio called to say they needed some action to put under the credits. Well, what could he write that happens BEFORE the case?

In desperation, he scripted the early morning routine of his hero, and put in a gag about running out of coffee. Harper looks in his waste bin where there’s yesterday’s discarded coffee filter. Dare he recycle it?

He does. Closeup of Newman pulling disgusted face when he tastes the result. The audience laughs. It’s a nice gag — it humanizes the character, it’s gross but still relatable — it makes him a bit of an underdog. Down these mean streets a man must walk with a horrible taste of used coffee in his mouth.

What Goldman omits to mention is that, normally, opening a script with the hero getting up in the morning is a TERRIBLE idea, a huge cliche and a watse of the audience’s time. Don’t do it, he should be saying, especially as his book is a kind of screenwriting guide (written before there were a million of the things). It happens to work this one time.

The other bad thing is Newman thinking about whether to make terrible garbage coffee. It’s a classic Hitchcock set-up: show him looking, show what he’s looking at, and show him looking some more. We will do the thinking and project that onto the image. No acting required. You could remove the coffee grains and insert a shot of Pamela Tiffin or Robert Webber or the Serengeti plains and it would still work, if the angle was right.

But here’s what we get from Newman, the great method actor:

Boy, he’s thinking HARD, isn’t he? I bet if he thought that hard about the kidnapping case he has to solve the movie would only be twenty minutes long.

Newman is very affable generally and has that contradictory laid-back intensity that’s so useful in a star. It’s just that sometimes maybe somebody ought to sit on his head.

Dowling Dahlia Dalliance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2019 by dcairns

THE BLUE DAHLIA is my least favourite of the Ladd/Lake movies, discounting STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM for the moment. I find Doris Dowling’s performance overwrought (and her character conceived along misogynistic lines), the movie spends way too long with the audience (me and Fiona in this case) smugly convinced they know who the killer is, and when this turns out to be a trick the film perks up considerably, but a lot of time has passed in a not very interesting way. And all the stuff actually concerning the titular joint still seems like a drag to me.

Still, on your noir checklist you can put a really big tick next to POST-WAR DISILLUSION.

Delayed appearance by Lake, something she seemed to do a lot: her entry into SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS seems crazily belated, but totally works. Anyway, once she’s here her purpose is clear: to restore Ladd’s faith in women. And Chandler shrewdly has a scene where he doubts her, and that really helps animate his arc.

The violence is good and grim.

The wrapping-up is good — Raymond Chandler is sole screenwriter and he’s had plenty of practice making drama out of what seems, in principle, like exposition. So when Ladd clears everything up, it’s immensely satisfying.

Directed by George Marshall, who seems to be everywhere these days — as a connection to his Laurel & Hardy days, he finds a small role for Mae Busch. Actually, maybe this is part of the problem with Dowling’s character: as a woman who’s lost a child and is now committing slomo suicide with drink and bad company, she ought to get SOME sympathy, but she’s portrayed as a simple monster: as just another Mrs. Hardy.

THE BLUE DAHLIA stars Shane: the Girl; ‘Babe’ Ruth; Louis B. Mayer; Bianca; Mr. Dietrichson; Ward Cleaver; Heinrich Himmler; Reinhardt Heydrich; Rachmaninoff; Mrs. Hardy; and Bim.