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Creatures of Darkness

Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir

Gene D. Phillips
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Creatures of Darkness
    Book Description:

    More than any other writer, Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) is responsible for raising detective stories from the level of pulp fiction to literature. Chandler's hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe set the standard for rough, brooding heroes who managed to maintain a strong sense of moral conviction despite a cruel and indifferent world. Chandler's seven novels, including The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye (1953), with their pessimism and grim realism, had a direct influence on the emergence of film noir. Chandler worked to give his crime novels the flavor of his adopted city, Los Angeles, which was still something of a frontier town, rife with corruption and lawlessness. In addition to novels, Chandler wrote short stories and penned the screenplays for several films, including Double Indemnity (1944) and Strangers on a Train (1951). His work with Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock on these projects was fraught with the difficulties of collaboration between established directors and an author who disliked having to edit his writing on demand. Creatures of Darkness is the first major biocritical study of Chandler in twenty years. Gene Phillips explores Chandler's unpublished script for Lady in the Lake, examines the process of adaptation of the novel Strangers on a Train, discusses the merits of the unproduced screenplay for Playback, and compares Howard Hawks's director's cut of The Big Sleep with the version shown in theaters. Through interviews he conducted with Wilder, Hitchcock, Hawks, and Edward Dmytryk over the past several decades, Phillips provides deeper insight into Chandler's sometimes difficult personality. Chandler's wisecracking Marlowe has spawned a thousand imitations. Creatures of Darkness lucidly explains the author's dramatic impact on both the literary and cinematic worlds, demonstrating the immeasurable debt that both detective fiction and the neo-noir films of today owe to Chandler's stark vision.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4790-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface: Billy Wilder Speaking
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Prologue: Trouble in Paradise
    (pp. xix-xxiv)

    Novelist James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) once remarked that he had rarely gone to see the screen version of one of his novels: “People tell me, don’t youcarewhat they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”¹

    Like Cain, Raymond Chandler acknowledged that the sale of the film rights of his books was a source of income. As a matter of fact, nearly all of Chandler’s novels were filmed, some more than once. Novelist Graham Greene (Brighton Rock)...

  7. 1 Introduction: Dead of Night
    (pp. 1-10)

    Raymond Chandler once observed that American writers of hard-boiled detective stories like himself had taken murder out of “the vicar’s rose garden” and dropped it in the alley.¹ His tough, hard-edged crime fiction was a departure from the more refined, genteel detective stories of British writers such as Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

    Christie’s armchair supersleuth, Hercule Poirot, for example, can find the solution to any mystery with his ingenious faculties of deduction. After he solves the case, everyone breathes a sign of relief while the butler pours...

  8. Part One Knight and the City:: The Films of Chandler’s Fiction

    • 2 Paint It Black: Chandler as Fiction Writer
      (pp. 13-19)

      Tennessee Williams often said that a writer’s life is his work and his work is his life. This book does not purport to be a full-scale biography of Raymond Chandler; nevertheless, it is appropriate, before going on to analyze his fiction and the films made from it, to take a brief look at the private world in which he lived, in order to survey the experiences that helped to shape the outlook of the budding artist.

      Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23,1888. (The usually reliable Richard Schickel mistakenly places Chandler’s birthplace in Nebraska.)¹ His father, Maurice...

    • 3 The Lady Is a Tramp: The Falcon Takes Over; Murder, My Sweet; and Farewell, My Lovely
      (pp. 20-47)

      Because Raymond Chandler wanted to give his crime novels the authentic flavor of real life, he studiously read books on law enforcement and crime detection. He also did his homework by keeping abreast of press reports on crime and criminals in Los Angeles, his adopted city.

      Los Angeles in those days was still something of a “frontier town, rough, corrupt, and teeming with immigrants in search of the American Dream,” the narrator of David Thomas’s television documentary,Raymond Chandler: Murder He Wrote, states. “Southern California, with its climate and rich farm lands, acted like a magnet for the disadvantaged all...

    • 4 Knight Moves: Two Films of The Big Sleep
      (pp. 48-72)

      Frank Krutnik describes the universe of pulp fiction as “a shadow realm of crime and dislocation, in which benighted individuals do battle with implacable threats and temptations.”¹ This is certainly the world in which Philip Marlowe functions inThe Big Sleep. Marlowe keeps his moral footing in this world, says Paul Skenazy, because he is a man of conviction who can “withstand and overcome the forces of social disruption and personal greed.”²

      LikeFarewell, My Lovely, The Big Sleepis based on material Chandler cannibalized from some of his earlier short fiction. Chandler composedThe Big Sleep, which was in...

    • 5 Down among the Rotting Palms: Time to Kill and The Brasher Doubloon
      (pp. 73-93)

      Raymond Chandler tapered off from writing short fiction for the pulps after the publication of his first novel,The Big Sleep, in 1939. Of the five crime stories he penned between 1939 and 1941, “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” published inDime Detective(April 1939), later figured in his novelThe High Window.

      In “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” a tough, hard-drinking shamus named Walter Gage is commissioned to find an invaluable pearl necklace that has been stolen from the aging, crotchety Mrs. Penruddock, a wealthy dowager, whom Walter refers to as “the old crow.”¹ Ironically, when Walter tracks down the necklace,...

    • 6 Dead in the Water: Lady in the Lake
      (pp. 94-116)

      Raymond Chandler, we know, was an inveterate reader of the daily newspapers, which he combed for articles about crimes that might somehow be incorporated into one of his stories. In 1940 he picked up on a front-page story about a Santa Monica doctor named George Dayley who was tried for murdering his wife five years earlier, after he had reported her death as a suicide in 1935.

      The newspaper account stated that Dayley had allegedly drugged his wife and carried her out to the garage, “starting the car’s engine so that she died from exhaust fumes.” When the case was...

    • 7 Decline and Fall: Marlowe
      (pp. 117-136)

      Raymond Chandler’s novelThe Little Sisterwas published in 1949, after he had been working in Hollywood off and on for more than five years. IntoThe Little SisterChandler poured all of his experiences of serving time in the film colony. By this time Chandler had become thoroughly disenchanted with Hollywood. “He frequently complained to friends about the decadent condition of the film industry,” Philip Durham notes, “and this attitude was, of course, to seep into his fiction.”¹ Chandler’s grim portrait of Los Angeles in the novel sets the stage for his black valentine to the film capital.


    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • 8 Modern Times: The Long Goodbye
      (pp. 137-162)

      Raymond Chandler was determined to makeThe Long Goodbyehis major effort as a novelist. It is not only one hundred pages longer than any of his previous books but also filled with all sorts of reflections about the world in which Marlowe lives and works. These comments on modern society, says Frank MacShane, “are a natural part of the story and are not obtrusive”; what’s more, they enrich the narrative.¹

      Chandler devoted himself to the book in earnest, once he had severed his Hollywood connection in 1947, in the wake of his unpleasant collaboration with Hitchcock onStrangers on...

  9. Part Two Exiled in Babylon:: Chandler’s Screenplays

    • 9 Lured: Double Indemnity
      (pp. 165-182)

      In Chandler’s essay “Writers in Hollywood,” which he wrote after he finished work onDouble Indemnity, he commented, “The creative writer who makes literature cannot survive the clichés of a long series of” script conferences. Moreover, Chandler, a morose, touchy man, preferred to work alone; he detested the collaborative effort endemic to writing a screenplay. In addition, Chandler had a low opinion of screenwriting. “There is no art of the screenplay,” he asserted in the same essay.¹ Screenwriting, as far as Chandler was concerned, was “a loathsome job,” consisting of “beating the hell out of the poor, tired lines and...

    • 10 No Way to Treat a Lady: The Blue Dahlia and Other Screenplays
      (pp. 183-201)

      Sometime after Chandler finished withDouble Indemnity, John Houseman asked him to collaborate on Houseman’s first assignment as a producer at Paramount. It was the film version ofHer Heart in Her Throatby Ethel White, the author of the novel on which Alfred Hitchcock had based his 1938 filmThe Lady Vanishes. Filmmaker Lewis Allen (The Uninvited) was assigned to direct.

      An early draft of the screenplay, dated July 6, 1943, was written by Ken Englund. His script, as well as the subsequent drafts of the screenplay, are in the Paramount Collection of the Library of the Motion Picture...

    • 11 Dance with the Devil: Strangers on a Train and Playback
      (pp. 202-222)

      If Raymond Chandler had not yet given up on Hollywood, the movie colony had not yet given up on him. In 1950 Alfred Hitchcock (Spellbound) commissioned Chandler to write the screenplay for his film of Patricia Highsmith’s novelStrangers on a Train. Prior to hiring Chandler, Hitchcock had prepared a treatment of the scenario with Whitfield Cook (Stage Fright). He then extended an invitation to Chandler to compose a full-fledged screenplay based on the treatment.

      Hitchcock chose Chandler because he was interested in working with this eminent crime novelist and screenwriter. Chandler, in turn, accepted Hitchcock’s invitation “partly because I...

    • 12 The Stag at Eve: Poodle Springs and Other Telefilms
      (pp. 223-241)

      Philip Marlowe actually debuted on radio long before he appeared on television. After the success ofMurder, My SweetandThe Big Sleepon film, NBC radio executives decided to cash in on Marlowe’s popularity with the mass audience by launching a half-hour radio series,The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, as a summer replacement forThe Bob Hope Showin the summer of 1947. Academy Award–winner Van Heflin (Johnny Eager) played the lead.

      In September 1948, Marlowe returned to the airwaves on CBS inThe Adventures of Philip Marlowe, starring Gerald Mohr, a minor film star (Detective Story). The...

  10. Epilogue: Endless Night
    (pp. 242-250)

    The heyday of film noir ended in the late 1950s, when it ceased to flourish as a separate trend in American cinema. But film noir still survives in the tough, cynical crime movies of today. “Once a seedy pulp genre and the mainstay of the B movie, the crime film long ago went mainstream,” saysSight and Sound, and “movies with guns, garrotting and greed … now dominate the output of Hollywood.”¹

    What’s more, many detective movies made since the days of classic noir qualify as neo-noir, because they have the bench marks of the noir films of yesteryear. Stephen...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 251-274)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 275-282)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 283-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-311)