RARA-AVIS: Re: The Long Goodbye

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 09 Feb 2007


Re your response to Patrick's comments below:

"Do you think the opinion of Chandler fans in 1973 moved the box office at all? Of course not. So why should the producers care? The going against the Chandler grain would have helped the buzz-- given the reviewers something to write and been a net positive."

The Chandler fan base was sufficiently powerful that MARLOWE, 1969's adaptation of of THE LITTLE SISTER, 1975's FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, and 1977's remake of THE BIG SLEEP, all of which were far more faithful to their source materia than Altman (indeed, aside from its London setting, TBS is, in some respects, a MORE faithful adaptation that the '46 version, for all that it's clearly not as good a film), all did better box-office than 1973's TLG. The anti-Chandler buzz apparently hurt it.

In any case, it seemed to me that what Patrick was talking about was OUR response, not the effect our response would have had on the box office.

Altman clearly despised the Marlowe character (recall his comments about how he was depicting Marlowe as the loser he really was, not the phony winner Chandler made him), and the PI sub-genre in general. Does it follow that, simply because he's a talented filmmaker, Chandler fans should swallow his debasing of a favorite novel.

If what had Altman did to Chandler was what the Potter producers did to Rowling, Potter fans wouldn't stand for it. Neither should Chandler fans, and the effect it might have on the box office isn't the point.

And, yes, filmmakers have some sort of obligation to the works they adapt. Moreover, the history of film seems to indicate that faithful adaptations of novels not only are more financially successful, but are better films. Just off the top of my head, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, TOM JONES, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, all made an effort, within the limits of the medium and the time they had to fit the story into a feature-length movie, were all faithful, at least to the spirit, and often to the letter, of the books they were based on. Would they really have been better films, and done better box office, if they'd treated their source material with the same contempt that Altman treated TLG? I doubt it.

"Does the existence of 'Satan Met a Lady,' the 1936 film, detract from my opinion of the Dashiell Hammett novel THE MALTESE FALCON or the John Houston film adaptation of 1941? Of course not. So let us celebrate or criticize the Altman film without getting too hysterical about it."

Now you're just proving Patrick's point. SMAL was a film that had no respect for its source material. Both the '31 and '41 versions did. Both the '31 and
'41 versions are more successful as films because of their fidelity to the source material, and, I suspect, both did better box office. Certainly the '41 version was more critically acclaimed, and, within the film industry, was recognized with Oscar nominations for, among other categories, best picture and best supporting actor (Greenstreet's film debut as Gutman).

Patrick's point was not that Altman's film should detract from anyone's opinion of Chandler's novel, but that Altman's film does no more justice to the novel than SMAL did to FALCON. Does it follow that, simply because of Altman's talent, Chandler devotees should simply shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, it was Altman's film and we should judge it on that basis," and not utter the least protest that the film very deliberately trashes Chandler's novel, Chandler's character, and the whole PI sub-genre?

No my reaction to Altman's bringing his talent to bear on a film that had so little reason to be made is Superman's whenever he encounters Lex Luthor.

"If only he had used his great power for good."


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