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

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 12 Nov 2007


Re your questions and comments below:

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

Dave Zeltzerman asked the same question last February.
 At that time I was able to provide the following link:

http://www.moviejustice.com/vault/index.php? p=getitem&db_id=4&item_id=543

Unfortunately, the sight is currenly undergoing some refurbishing and the link no longer works. However, if you will go to this link to the original message:


and follow the ensuing thread from there, you'll see, from the responses that Dave and others gave, that it did work at the time.

The full quote of Altman's is, "I see Marlowe the way Chandler saw him, a loser. But a real loser, not the fake winner that Chandler made out of him. A loser all the way."

Since Chandler did NOT see Marlowe as a loser, Altman's vision of the character is clearly, and deliberately, at odds with the creator's vision of the character.

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

This isn't a question of a difference in interpretation. Altman's Marlowe is, simply, a wholly different character than Chandler's. For all the faults of many of the other film versions, this is NOT true of Powell's depiction, of Bogart's, of either Robert or George Montgomery's, of James Garner's, or of Robert Mitchum's. It's only true of Gould's. One may kvetch about how close they came, or how good the resulting films were, but no one can say that their characterizations were deliberately at odds with the creator's vision of the role.

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

"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."

That involved getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. Big deal.

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

Chandler's Marlowe stayed in jail as an act of defiance. Gould's as an act of acquiesence. Like almost everything else he does in the movie is an act of acquiesence.

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

The quack was a much more formidable figure in the book and getting him out took a good deal more moxie. How formidable a figure is Henry Gibson?

"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.)"

That's a scene that proves my point more than anything. Can you really imagine Chandler's Marlowe sitting around and doing nothing while a helpless woman's ose is broken by a bullying thug? In the book, Marlowe stood up to Menendez, and Menendez cae out second best in a punch-up. Marty Augustine, Menendez's counterpart in the film, isn't any more menacing than Menendez. It's just that he SEEMS more menacing precisely because Marlowe is such an ineffectual nebbish.

"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?'"

So Marlowe shoots down an unarmed man? And this seems more in keeping with Chandler's character?

To be fair, I can, as I've said on other occasions, see a situation where Marlowe shooting down Lennox might've seemed like a more satisfying ending than what Chandler did in the book. But there would have had to have been some foreshadowing, some suggestion that Marlowe cared enough about justice to want to bring it about.

There's simply nothing like that in the film. Marlowe continually gets pushed around by everyone, the cops and the hoods, and the closest thing to a protest is his continual mantra, "It's okay by me." He's like the Neville Chamberlain of private eyes, hoping that by appeasement and acquiesence, he can stave off the violence that threatens.

Then, somehow at the end, he decides that "something must be done" and takes violent action against practically the only person in the movie who's NOT a personal threat to his safety.

What a guy.

Further, his final dispatching of Lennox seems to me to be less because he's concerned about Lennox being unpunished for the murders, than because he's pissed off at Lennox's betrayal of their friendship, hardly a capital crime.

No, there's nothing about the way that Altman ends the film that redeems it.

"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 never said it wasn't. It's precisely the presentation that makes me despise the film. AIRPLANE is, plotwise, very faithful to its source material, Arthur Hailey's RUNWAY ZERO-EIGHT, but it's hardly a faithful presentation of the story. It's a parody. It evokes a completely different reaction precisely because of its entirely different presentation.

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

Here's where I most disagree. I think an adapter has an obligation to be true, to the degree that the medium allows him to be, to the source material. If he has no respect for the source material, then he has no business adapting it.

"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."

MAKING a film is, in a certain sense, a moral decision. And adapting a novel just so you can trash it is an immoral decision.

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

I'm not talking about censorship. I'm talking about being true to the source material. I think that IS a moral obligation, and I think Altman, very deliberately, failed to meet it.

This is an old discussion, and I won't dredge up every point I've made on earlier occasions, but you can find my comments about this in the archives.


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