The Father Of Noir And His Progeny

: A Look At Raymond Chandler And Philip Marlow Essay, Research Paper

Raymond Chandler, along with Dashiell Hammett, invented what is now known as modern detective literature. Chandler excelled in the art, creating “wise-cracking” cynical “private *censored*s,” such as Philip Marlowe. Marlowe and Sam Spade are what shall forever be the standard Private eye with razor sharp wit, keen intellect, and the blatant disregard for authority. Philip Marlowe is the smooth talking yet sentimental private eye. Marlowe’s sentimental side is what turned him into a real person, and not a “colorless narrator” as Sam Spade was often criticized as being by numerous critics. (Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, 25-26)

Raymond Chandler, was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 23, 1888, but spend his boyhood and young adulthood in England, where he attended Dulwich college. Later on Chandler worked as a free-lance journalist for The Westminster Gazette and The Speculator. During WWI, he fought in France with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. In 1919, he returned to the United States and settled in California. Soon after, he became a prestigious oil-company director, but due to the depression and his drinking problem he soon lost his job. Not until he was 45 did Chandler start to write fiction. This is somewhat odd because he is often claimed as being the “father” of the hard-boiled genre. Chandler published his first stories in the pulp magazine, The Black Mask. Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. Chandler published one collection of stories, and only seven novels in his lifetime. In the remaining year, of his life he was elected President of the Mystery Writers of America. He died in La Jolla, California, on March 26, 1959; he was 70. (Marling, 13)

The High Window (1942), Chandler’s third, was a complicated book. Plot twists that not even the most prestigious and insightful critic could guess. The book blurb reads Marlowe’s case as delving into the California underworld in search of a rare and extremely valuable coin, the Brasher Doubloon. This is just a small portion of the novel. The book starts out with Marlowe visiting a Mrs. Murdock, s a bitter woman who secludes herself in her musty and dank house all day while she drinks Port as medicine to mitigate her asthma. She puts Marlowe on the case of the Brasher Doubloon, she thinks that it has been stolen by her daughter-in-law, Linda Conquest, who had recently run-off. Murdock hopes that Marlowe finds the coin, so she can get an uncontested divorce for her son, Leslie.

As Marlowe passes through the house of Murdock he meets a beautiful, young and timid blonde, Merle Davis, Mrs. Murdock’s secretary. Davis is the only outsider of the family, but she regards Mrs. Murdock as a mother, bitter as she is. Not only is Miss Davis timid, but Marlowe also discovers that, when he touched her casually, she jumped. It is then apparent to him that she suffers from a sexual neurosis; she can’t stand men. With the help of Miss Davis, Marlowe is able to get find the names of Linda Conquest’s friends, Lois Magic, and Louis Vannier. Marlowe also finds that Leslie owes a man named Morny a considerable sum of money for his gambling losses. Morny also happens to be Lois Magic’s husband. This provokes Marlowe into thinking that Linda stole the Doubloon to pay off the gambling debt. Marlowe decides to pay a visit to the Morny estate.

At the estate, Marlowe meets Vannier who is having an affair with Lois Magic. (Sound like a Soap Opera?) Upon leaving the estate Marlowe has more questions than before and even fewer answers. Marlowe’s next confrontation with a total stranger is with George Anson Phillips, who has been tailing him since the beginning of the novel. Anson, being an amateur private gumshoe, gives Marlowe his apartment key so that they can meet later. Anson and Marlowe are both working on the same case, it seems, but for different people.

Marlowe’s next item on his agenda is to visit Elisha Morningstar, a numismatist who had called Mrs. Murdock in hopes to buy the doubloon prior to its being stolen. Morningstar tells Marlowe that he does, in fact, have the coin and will give it to him for $1000. Morningstar will never live to see the money, as he is soon killed by younger and tougher con-men. As Marlowe is leaving to see Anson, he decides to eavesdrop on a telephone conversation that is apparently with Anson. Upon arrival at Anson’s apartment, he finds Anson dead in the bathroom. Marlowe deceives the manager of the building into helping him search its rooms. Soon after, a drunken tenant pulls a gun on the manager, but this is no ordinary gun; it is the murder weapon. The tenant is arrested, but he claims he was framed. He was.

Lieutenants Breeze and Spangler are assigned to the case, and interrogate Marlowe. Back at his office, Marlowe receives a small brown parcel containing the Brasher Doubloon. Marlowe then pawns the Doubloon and mails himself the receipt. Marlowe then calls Mrs. Murdock to tell her of Morningstar’s offer and Anson’s death. She tells Marlowe that the coin has been returned. Marlowe’s decides to check up on Morningstar and to ask him a few questions, but he, instead, finds him dead too. Later on that night, Breeze and Spangler pay Marlowe an unwanted visit at his home for an a second round of interrogation, but this time with drinks to lighten up the situation. After they leave, Marlowe is called up and told to meet Alex Morny at a the Idle Valley Club.

Marlowe and Morny trade information, and Marlowe finally meets Linda Conquest face to face for the first time, for she is a singer at the club. Marlowe finds out that Conquest has a deep hatred for Mrs. Murdock because of the mistreatment of Miss. Davis. Conquest also tells that Mrs. Murdock also knows Vannier, but, when he comes, he always calls for Miss. Davis.

The next morning, the man who says he was framed for the Anson killing confesses to the murder, but only after the local Mafioso says that he will pay all of the accused’s legal fees. Soon after, the manager from Marlowe’s building calls him and says that a hysterical Miss. Davis is waiting for him. She says that she has killed Vannier.

Upon hearing this, Marlowe goes to Vannier’s house to investigate. Marlowe describes the atmosphere of the living room as, “On the air of the room a rather heavy perfume struggled with the smell of death, and lost. Although defeated, it was still there.” Marlowe finds Vannier dead, and negatives of the late Mr. Murdock being pushed out of a window by Mrs. Murdock. When Marlowe returns to his apartment, he finds that Mr. Murdock had made a pass a Merle and she had pushed him out of the window and that was when she developed her sexual neurosis. Merle feels guilty for this, because Vannier had been blackmailing the Murdock’s ever since, and she feels the need to deliver the money to him as “penance.” Without a word, Marlowe calls Mrs. Murdock and tells her to have Merle’s belongings packed, he’s bringing her to her true home; her parents house in Kansas.

Marlowe then contacts Leslie, who confesses to stealing the coin so that he, Vannier, and an accomplice could counterfeit the coin, but, when hearing that Vannier had killed Anson and Morningstar, he decides to get the coin back. Vannier will not give Leslie the coin back, so he shoots him instead.

Before Marlowe and Merle Davis begin their journey to her home in Kansas, he shows her the photo proving that she did not kill Mr. Murdock, and that Mrs. Murdock had been using her. Within a week, Merle returns to being a care-free young woman, and Marlowe rides into the sunset as a prestigious detective and caring man.

Though the synopses is rather long, it just goes to show what Chandler is capable of. Also, if any of these seemingly insignificant parts were taken out the book would’ve fallen apart. His plot twists can hold the reader’s attention through out the novel. Though rather excessive at times, his descriptive writing brings the book to life. Ex. “That is where you go. You fall into it as far as you can, but a shower stall is a small place and the tiled wall stops you. You are backed up against the last wall there is now. You are all out of space, and you are all out of living. And then there are two more shots, possibly three, and you slide down the wall, and your eyes are not even frightened anymore now. They are just the empty eyes of the dead.” The way that Chandler weaves his stories leaves the reader wanting more, but he is also at the same time thinking about the case. During the time that I read this book, I was drawn into it more and more. Because of Marlowe’s first-person narrative, all clues are presented and the reader knows everything that Marlowe does. I pride myself because I figured out the book with approximately 25 pages to spare.

The Lady in the Lake was not as successful as The High Window because of its inconsistency in the plot. This was one of Chandler’s mid-career books, and his drinking problem was taking him over; it would eventually be the death of him. No longer did people know Raymond Chandler; they only knew the name Philip Marlowe, who was a household name. The Lady in the Lake in a quick summary, was about a man who sends Marlowe to find his wife who has been staying at her country house for the past month. Upon arriving Marlowe, finds the body of another woman and is now on one case whose action includes many cities. I think that Chandler wrote this novel to show what he was capable of, as critics often wrote that he was getting old. This effect was a failed attempt to prove them wrong. When I read this book, I was too preoccupied in following it and was not given the chance to enjoy it. Though I was impressed with Chandler’s ability to pull in all the facts in the climax of the book, the story proceeding the climax became rather dull.

Marlowe, like many other private eyes of then and now has a quick mouth and an almost endless supply of cigarettes. Marlowe’s quick mouth seldom makes sense but is always humorous, and leaves the other man speechless. Ex. “Well I’ll be damned,’ I said. ‘So that’s the answer to the pantomime.’ ‘What pantomime?’ He gave me a hard level unfriendly stare from his very blue eyes” What separates Marlowe from other detectives is his sentimental side. Sam Spade, another detective of the time, was tough and clever but did not show real emotions. Chandler described Marlowe as a, “controlled half-poetical emotion.” Other characteristics of Marlowe are in direct correlation to Chandler himself, such as his low tolerance for physical abuse. In many of Chandler’s novels Marlowe has a quick mouth, but will generally a fight. Marlowe’s pain threshold is also substantially low. In one of the books Marlowe is hit in the knee and suffers in pain for the remainder of the book. The wound was not serious, but it was unbearable to Marlowe. The characteristics that Chandler gave his character Marlowe are an extension of himself. Many critics have accused Marlowe of being Chandler’s alter-ego. Because the characteristics of Marlowe include a compassionate side critics often accused Marlowe of being homosexual. In the early writing’s for Black Mask in the 1930’s, Chandler had Marlowe as merely a clich? detective: tough, strong, and “an honest man in a crooked trade.” Chandler found this formula to be too bland and added in the emotions that Marlowe later displayed.

In Chandler’s novels, Private Eye Philip Marlowe is the first-person narrator. The first-person narratives do, although, have many disadvantages that Chandler was well aware of. It was hard to provide events in the story when the detective is not present, and not bore the reader at the same time. To make up for this problem Chandler created his whimsical fast-talking detective. The feature of a first-person narrative does, although, provide many interesting ideas and scenarios for the reader to enjoy. As the narrator, Marlowe is able to introduce new characters in a different way. Marlowe’s eyes become the reader’s eyes, and the reader’s eyes became Marlowe’s. (The Life of Raymond Chandler.70)

Marlowe, being as a first-person narrator, was also used in many of Chandler’s films, where the camera serves as the eyes of Marlowe, so that the audience can experience everything through the eyes of Marlowe. The book The Lady in the Lake was made into a movie in which the main interest was the idea that the camera itself was Marlowe: “YOU accept an invitation to a blonde’s apartment. YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect.” The Lady in the Lake starred Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe. Unfortunately, the movie proved to be grossly inaccurate, so inaccurate as to make this viewer angry. The plot of the story was dumbed down from a sophisticated viewpoint to an average Hollywood detective movie. The plot was so simplified that Marlowe was not even given the case by the same person, nor did the film happen to mention parts that tied the whole story together. The original plot and wise attitude were stripped from the movie, and it no longer was a representation of Chandler. It was no longer a hard-boiled masterpiece, but now it was merely an investment for profit. The first-person camera view did although happen to prove rather interesting. The only time when the viewer could actually see Marlowe was when he stood in front of a mirror, or during his short narratives. The many of Chandler’s works became major motion pictures, some based on his books, and some written for the big screen. Chandler is best known for his movie The Big Sleep starring none other than Humphrey Bogart. (Bogart also played Hammett’s private eye, Sam Spade)

(Lady of the lake, dir. R. Montgomery)

When I first started this assignment, the work of Raymond Chandler was completely unknown to me. I wanted to choose a hard-boiled author, but I did not really know anything about them, but their genre. I wanted to pick an author who didn’t ooze symbolism, but got his point across both in a direct and indirect way. In the two books I read, The High Window, and The Lady In The Lake, there was were many similarities. In both books there was always a strong message, the perils of masquerading and faking. The fast times of LA, mask one’s true visage, and replace it with a mass-marketed mainstream societal look. In both books, Chandler also suggests the only way to become true again is to leave, though, in some cases, not even that helps. In The Lady in the Lake, a woman runs away to the wilderness to escape her ignominious life, but her problems follow, it was too late. I have always had a love for the quick wit and sleuthing of detective novels; though I never did like the Hardy Boys.

1. Chandler, Raymond. The High Window.

New York, Vintage Crime, 1942.

2. Chandler, Raymond. The Lady in the Lake.

New York, Vintage Crime, 1943.

3. MacShane, Frank. The Life of Raymond Chandler.

New York, EP Dutton & Co, 1976.

4. MacShane, Frank. Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler.

New York, Columbia Univ. Press, 1981.

5. Marling, William. Raymond Chandler.

Boston, Twayne, 1986.


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