Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Chandler's The Lady in the Lake

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 08 Nov 2007

Jim Doherty wrote:

> Terrill,
> Re your question below:
> "Jim, who are these nameless people who supposedly
>knew Spillane so well that you can speak for him
>through their words?"
>I admit I'm getting this second-hand, and perhaps I
>shoudn't have used "people" in the plural sense.
>The person who said this, and said it publicly, was
>Max Allan Collins, to whom Mickey gave responsibility
>for his unfinished manuscripts. Al said this at a
>Bouchercon panel devoted to Spillane in Madison,
>Wisconsin, on which both Richard Moore and I were

I assume that by "Al" you mean "Max Allan Collins," and "Al Guthrie," who was also in attendance at Madison's Bouchercon.

>IIRC, Al said that Mickey admitted this at some kind
>of public forum, though maybe Richard recalls better
>than I.

So it's hearsay from one person, then.

>It's possible that Al, known as both a Spillane
>devotee and a devotee of Aldrich's film, may be
>recalling an admission from Spillane that really
>didn't get made in quite so unequivocal a manner as
>Collins describes.

Or he could have recalled it the way he'd have liked it to be. I do that sort of thing with conversations I've had all the time.

>When I talked about Spillane's admission I did use the
>term "even" because his long-time disdain for
>Aldrich's film is well-known.
>As for my speaking for Chandler, I speak only for
>myself when I give my opinion of Altman's THE LONG
>GOODBYE. However, Altman speaks for himself when he
>describes Marlowe as a loser, while Chandler speaks
>for himself whe he describes him as "the best man in
>his world and a good enough man for any world" and and
>later as "the hero . . . everything."

Jim, could you give us a source on that quote of Altman? I've never heard it anywhere else.

>These are incompatible visions of the character, and
>the vision that Altman put on the screen was his
>vision, not Chandler's.

You know, one guy's "best man in his world" is another guy's "loser." That's literature for you.

>He transformed Marlowe into an ineffectual nebbish,
>and this was certainly his intention. So he was
>successful at what he was trying to do.

My own opinion of the film (hated it) is well-documented in the discussions we had the last time this subject came up on this list. I would like to say this, though: although I found Gould's mantra of "It's okay by me" a bit hippy-dippy, and I don't much like the way the film feels rudderless and meanders through the entire second act, I did recently go back and watch it again, and I don't think that your perception here is accurate.

After watching it this last time (I own a copy, go figure), I honestly think that Altman was attempting not a murder, but an update. Take a look at the scene where Marlowe's getting shaken down by the cops in his own place and then gets dragged downtown, sweated and then tossed into the clink. How is that really any different than what Chandler did? For me, the action was pretty much the same. The dialogue was different and Gould was more diffident in his presentation, but it was the early 1970s, not the mid-1950s, and if Altman had played it as something that might have starred Dick Powell in the middle of all of those sideburns and stove-pipe legged pants, it'd have been a laugher (and not an intentional one).

As for your statement that Altman transformed Marlowe into an "ineffectual nebbish," like I said, the hippy-dippy mantra notwithstanding, what does/doesn't Marlowe accomplish in the book/movie?

Let's see:

He helps Lennox skip town in both.

He goes to jail for days and days rather than give up his friend in both.

He helps Roger Wade get out of the quack's drunk-tank in both.

He is not able to keep Roger Wade from being murdered in both.

He is not able (or perhaps just not willing) to keep Eileen Wade from committing suicide in the book. She doesn't attempt it in the movie.

Menendez is far more menacing in the movie than in the book, and yet Marlowe succeeds in keeping his hide intact in his run-ins with that guy and his crew (and the scene with the flat Coke in the green bottle in the movie IS hilarious.).

Let's take it one step further: look at the ending. Altman updated it, Lennox doesn't get away with murder (because Marlowe shoots him after tracking him down in Mexico), as opposed to Chandler's ending where Marlowe actually talks to Lennox and doesn't do anything to stop him from getting away with the perfect crime.

So who's the ineffectual nebbish? How is letting Lennox get away with (which I thought was a brilliant touch in the novel) BETTER, less nebbishy than tracking the guy down in his new digs in Mexico, and shooting him down like a dog?

How is that last bit the act of an "ineffectual nebbish"?

It seems to me that your problem is with the presentation, rather than with Altman's plot, which over all, is incredibly faithful to Chandler's book.

>I don't happen to think that what he was trying to do
>was worth doing. I suspect Chandler wouldn't have
>either, but I freely admit that this is speculation.

Just because Chandler might not have liked it, that's no reason not to do it.

>Since I don't think that what Altman was trying to do
>was worth doing, I thoroughly dislike the film
>precisely because he was so successful at realizing
>his vision.

Jeeze Jim, since when is watching a film a moral decision? In the aggregate I still agree with you in overall disliking the film. As I said I think it meanders too much in act II, and some of the scenes feel slapped-together.

That said, it's *art*. Some of the best art ever made has been considered "immoral" by would-be censors.

Your Mileage May Vary.

All the Best-


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