RARA-AVIS: the voice of hardboiled

From: George Pelecanos ( shoedog1@erols.com)
Date: 16 Aug 2001

There is a book by Jon Tuska called The Detective in Hollywood (Doubleday, 1978) that explores the timeline and filmography of the actors who played Marlowe, Spade, etc. The book dissects the literary sources and the whole harboiled-noir canon in incredible detail, and includes many interviews with many of the talent who were still alive at the time that it was written. This is an essential book if you can find it. Also has the quotes where Chandler calls Veronica Lake "Moronica" and describes Alan Ladd as
"essentially, a little boy's idea of a tough guy."

Beyond small, famous exchanges ("Tall, aren't you?" "I don't mean to be.") I don't recall Marlowe actually being physically described in the books. Which leads me to the heretical theory that Robert Montgomery's subjective-camera version of The Lady in the Lake, in which Marlowe is never seen (except in brief window reflections, etc.) is theoretically the most accurate "look" at Marlowe we should get. The viewer sees the action and unfolds the mystery as the reader does, in the first person. Okay, it was a failed experiment, but on paper it made sense.

I agree with Dick Lochte about Powers Boothe: snoozeville. And if Elliot Gould is Marlowe then Neil Diamond is Elvis. While we're on the subject, the two best casting choices for a literary-to-film detective were both made for Mike Hammer adaptations: Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly and Armande Assante in I, the Jury. I don't think there's ever been a perfect celluloid Marlowe, though I'd like to see Russell Crowe give it a try.

George Pelecanos

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