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Friday Night Spotlight - Noir Writers
Remind Me

Eddie Muller on Raymond Chandler

It's the rare writer whose depiction of a city, in prose, becomes the world's accepted vision of the place. That's how it is with Raymond Chandler and Los Angeles. His descriptions of the vast neon wasteland, as rendered in the dyspeptic dialogues of detective Philip Marlowe--are now considered the definitive mid-twentieth century vision of the city. In addition, Chandler has inspired more people to become crime fiction writers than any other author in the genre. Which is especially astounding when you consider that he didn't write particularly coherent or compelling plots, and that besides Marlowe himself there are few memorable characters in his books.

But as prose stylist, Chandler was unmatched. His gift for rendering mood and setting, without ever slackening the narrative pace, was extraordinary. And his flair for the colorful, sarcastic simile (" inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.") is what separated him from his colleagues--and put the hook in all those wanna-be crime writers.

Hollywood and Chandler were a poor pairing, even though some good films came from the tenuous alliance. A snooty, curmudgeonly alcoholic, Chandler never fit in, and despite earning an Oscar® nomination for his only original script, The Blue Dahlia (1946), he never really figured out how to write an effective screenplay. (His first draft of Lady in the Lake (1947), based on his novel, is an unwieldy mess, fit only for the eyes of Chandler aficionados--as MGM agreed, hiring Steve Fisher to wrangle it into shape.)

Despite all that, his contribution to the genre can't be overstated: He gave American crime fiction its most distinctive voice.

I've chosen to show: Murder, My Sweet (1944, novel [Farewell, My Lovely]), The Big Sleep (1946, novel).

By Eddie Muller

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