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The working title of this film was Open Shadow. As noted by contemporary sources, the main character, "Chandler," was named after famed mystery writer Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), the author of numerous novels and screenplays. Chandler was especially well-known for his "hard-boiled" private detective heroes, and according to a May 1971 New York Times article, the filmmakers intended the film to be a tribute both to him and to actor Humphrey Bogart, who starred in the 1946 picture The Big Sleep, based on a Chandler novel.
According to a September 2, 1970 Variety article, Cinema Arts was originally scheduled to produce the picture, with Anjanette Comer to appear in the lead female role. On February 19, 1971, Daily Variety announced that independent producer Michael S. Laughlin had purchased the screenplay. According to contemporary sources, Open Shadow Productions was a joint venture between Laughlin and director-writer Paul Magwood. Contemporary sources noted that the picture was shot on location in Monterey, Carmel, Pebble Beach and Los Angeles, CA.
According to a December 27, 1971 Time article and other contemporary sources, Magwood and Laughlin were infuriated by alleged interference from M-G-M chief executive officer James T. Aubrey. The Time article and Los Angeles Times review reported that on November 30, 1971, Magwood and Laughlin took out a "black-bordered ad" in Hollywood Reporter, in which they "sadly" acknowledged that "all editing, post-production, as well as additional scenes were executed" by Aubrey. The two complained that Aubrey had locked Magwood out of the editing room, then "inserted several minutes of new footage to simplify the plot and replaced their nostalgic score with a trendy one."
Open Season Productions filed suit against M-G-M on December 30, 1971, according to a December 31, 1971 Daily Variety article and other contemporary sources. Laughlin and Magwood alleged that M-G-M had breached the terms of their contract by refusing to allow them to participate in the post-production work and by changing the film's name from Open Shadow to Chandler. In their suit, the pair declared that the film was "defective and inferior" to the work they would have produced if they had been allowed full control over the editing. In addition to requesting more than $7.5 million in damages, the pair asked for an injunction to stop M-G-M from distributing the film.
On January 31, 1972, Daily Variety reported that the injunction against distribution had been denied by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. In rebuttal to Laughlin and Magwood's charges, M-G-M alleged that Laughlin had acted in a "totally unreliable and unprofessional" manner during production, and that he went on vacation while Magwood was supervising editing of the picture. According to the article, M-G-M was dissatisfied with Magwood's first two attempts to edit the picture, and took over the project after it went over budget in late August 1971. The article noted that the November 19, 1971 preview of the picture "bombed," after which the legal wrangling over the final cut intensified. The final outcome of the suit has not been confirmed.
The December 1971 Daily Variety article reported that actress Leslie Caron also filed suit against M-G-M, claiming breach of contract because the studio denied her "equal billing with Warren Oates as co-star above pic's title and in advertising." Her suit requested that all advertisements without her picture and not according her equal billing be withdrawn. The outcome of her suit has not been confirmed.
Chandler marked the only feature film written and directed by Magwood. At the time of production, Caron was married to Laughlin, although they divorced in 1980. According to some modern biographical sources, Caron and Magwood became romantically involved in 2003.