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

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 13 Nov 2007


You wrote:

> 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.

I don't see any incongruity between Chandler's thinking that Marlowe was "the best man in his world" and a "loser" by any other measure. I am betting that the world in which you live does not allow for that sort of incongruity, though.

In which case, we'll have to agree to disagree. Let me say it again, for emphasis, Jim. You are NOT "right" on this point simply because you're willing to argue the point to death, as is so often your wont on this list. I am frequently dismayed by your absolutely lack of willingness to entertain notions that might upset that moral apple cart of yours, and I sometimes wonder whether you ever get tired, holding up that rigid, intractible moral code.

> "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.

That is precisely what it is.

> 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.

James Garner's Marlowe bears as much resemblance to Chandler's Marlowe as I do to Angelina Jolie.

> 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.

I just did. See above. Did it. Meant it.

>>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.

It's true to the book. So yes, in your lexicon, it IS a 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.

Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. They're both acts of defiance. Differently done, but acts of defiance, nonetheless.

> Like almost everything else he does in the movie is an act of acquiesence.

Different time, man. Early 70s.

>"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?

So you don't dispute my point (since you avoid it) that this plot point is also true to the book, right?

>"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?

After reading THE LONG GOODBYE and seeing the way he deals with Eileen Wade's suicide, I'm more likely to believe it, yes.

>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.

So you don't dispute my point (since you avoid it) that this plot point is also true to the book, right?

>"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?

Yep. He executes an admitted murderer who shows zero contrition in a speech chilling in its matter-of-fact delivery.

> And this seems more in keeping with Chandler's character?

Reference my last.

>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.

Or maybe he knew that justice doesn't get done very often, and he was in a position to do something to help wash out his unconscious complicity in Lennox's original getaway.

>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.

He gets pushed around IN THE BOOKS, Jim.

DeGarmo beats the crap out of him in THE LADY IN THE LAKE and he acquiesces (although the scales even out later). Terry Lennox sure as shootin' pushes him around in THE LONG GOODBYE, takes advantage of their friendship, and Marlowe LETS HIM GO!!!!!!!!

You can't finesse or obfuscate your way past that point, Jim, no matter how hard you try. Chandler did NOT see justice served at the end of THE LONG GOODBYE.


>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.

Sounds like the perennially broke, down-on-his luck, cynical Marlowe of the books, to me.

> 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.

You can't just say, "I hated this movie," and leave it at that, can you? Noooooo... Rara Avis' resident moralist has to explain why it was WRONG, a "sin" if you will, to make this movie.

What a crock.

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

I emphatically disagree, and I DON'T EVEN LIKE THE FILM.

> "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.

Since when are moral questions about presentation?

>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.

Wow, are you ever reaching now.

>"Just because Chandler might not have liked it, that's
>no reason not to do it."
>Here's where I most disagree.

I'm shocked.

> 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.

I'm betting you don't either like or get the point of Shakespeare's work, do you. After all, he was hardly a "faithful adapter" of his source material.

>"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

This has to be the single most preposterous thing I have ever seen from you.

It's an economic and artistic decision. Morality has as much or as little to do with it as the person deciding to make the film opts to invest in it.

Nothing more, nothing less.

> And adapting a novel just so you can trash it is an immoral decision.

It sure wasn't an economic one. This movie tanked. So you get to have the last laugh on Altman's ghost. Good for you. How someone so wrapped up in notions of "morality" can be such a fan of Mickey Spillane's work is absolutely beyond me.

>"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.

On the contrary, it's *precisely* what you're talking about.

You're not saying this is a "bad movie" and you hated it.

You're saying that it's an immoral film, and never should have been made.

THAT is the face, the definition, and the very substance of censorship.

You've even got a heaping helping of the requisite moral certitude to go along with it, complete with the notion that YOUR IDEAS are the only correct ones, here.

That's just insulting.

>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.

Like I said, don't read or watch any performances of the work of William Shakespeare (and that's just off the top of my head).

>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.

Thanks, but I'll pass. I don't think my stomach could take much more of this morality play.

And for what it's worth, I still didn't like the film. Unlike you though, I'm willing to allow that there's room for other opinions on this.


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