RARA-AVIS: Re:Marlowe at the Movies

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 08 Dec 2007


Re your comments below:

"Now we're counting tickets sold to justify art?"

I never said selling tickets justified art. One might point out that art that doesn't get seen by people is wasted and, in that sense, a great movie that is also very popular is better art than a great movie that nobody sees, but that's a philosophical argument entirely apart from what I was saying. My point was something different altogether

Let's put this in context. Mark brought up WEST SIDE STORY and compared my response to TLG to the reaction of some Shakespeare purists to WSS.

My response was to point out that the popular AND critical acclaim given to both the stage and film versions of WSS were an indication that those Shakespeare purists Mark was comparing me to were apparently in the minority.

By contrast, TLG was a critical (yes, critical) and popular flop. 1975's FML, by contrast, was a critical and financial hit. To the degree that at least as many of the people who go to movies based on Chandler books are likely to be Chandler fans as the people who went to WSS were likely to be Shakespeare fans, the greater success of FML was an indication that more Chandler purists objected to TLG than Shakespeare purists objected to WSS.

It was a response to a specific argument Mark made that suggested that my view of TLG was iconoclastic
(like that of the Shakespeare purists who disliked WSS), and was not meant to suggest that box office equaled quality, but that my view of TLG, on the contrary, was far more mainstream than those Shakespeare purists Mark was comparing me to.

"And who's driven to discuss FARWWELL MY LOVELY with much passion these days. It's a nice enough piece of well-mounted and well-crafted fluff that I find quite enjoyable, but let's face it: Mitchum got to the party thirty years too late and the fussy attention to detail makes it seem like a museum piece at times. It's Marlowe in aspic."

Well, that's not ALL that far from my view, though it seems that I like it a lot better than you. And, while I agree Mitchum's performance leaves you aching for the awsome Marlowe he could've been in his prime, his late middel-aged version is still light years better than Gould's.

But, then, how hard is that? Even Robert Montgomery's is light years ahead of Gould's.

"And it pales in comparison to the Dick Powell version, probably the best adaptation of Chandler so far."

Well, I don't know about PALES. I like the Powell version better, and agree that it's probably the best of all Marlowe adaptation, but the Mitchum version, incorporating parts of the novel left out of the Powell version, actually makes a great companion piece. Between the two movies, you pretty much get the whole book.

"And as for THE LONG GOODBYE being a supposed critical flop, that's not necessarily so either. Granted, it got several mixed and guarded reviews, but it also got the thumbs up from some fairly well-respected critics
(if anyone can respect a critic) such as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.

'Don't be misled by the ads, The Long Goodbye is not a put-on. It's great fun and it's funny, but it's a serious, unique work.'
-- The New York Times"

The majority critical opinion was clearly on the thumbs-down side. A few examples:

"You don't have to admire Raymond Chandlr to regret the movie but it helps."

"Any resemblance between Chandler's book and this movie is not only coincidental but probably libelous .
. . Altman's lazy, haphazard put-down is without affection or understanding . . . It is a curious spectacle to see Altman mocking a level of achivment to which, at his best, he could only aspire."

"Depending on one's degree of charity towards director Robert Altman, his film version of Raymond Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE is either clumsy, failed parody or a plain, old-fashioned, stupidly bad film . . . It seems downright contemptuous of its alleged source, dowright contemptuous of its audience, and, indeed, downright contemptuous of the film-maker's art."

"And since then, it's certainly weathered a lot of the original knee-jerk criticism from Chandler fetishists, who seem to have no problem liking Hawks' BIG SLEEP, in its own way as much a diversion from the source material as THE LONG GOODBYE."

Oh come on, Kev! Chandler himself thought THE BIG SLEEP was a faithful adaptation, and particularly praised both Bogart's performance and Hawks's direction, so who are "Chandler fetishists" to disagree.

As for TLG, as far as I can tell, those who like it are still in the minority. I still hate it, and, as we all know (but so many refuse to admit), that pretty much settles the question.

"I mean, Marlowe as a stud, trading double entendres, flirting with a cabbie and boinking a bookstore clerk on the floor of her shop during surveillance? Compared to that, Altman and Brackett's Rip Van Marlowe actually seems more faithful to the spirit and essence of the character in many ways, even if the world Marlowe finds himself in has been stood on its head."

You're really stretching here. The gorgeous babes who show up everywhere were, I grant you, not as plentiful in the novel, and the beefing up of Vivian's role was clearly a way of taking advantage of the on-screen chemistry between Bogie and Bacall, but the book store scene was actually pretty faithful to the counterpart scene in the book. Turning her into another dish was just something that made it fit into the rest of the movie.


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