Showing posts with label Philip Marlowe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip Marlowe. Show all posts

17 May 2016

The Bradbury Building – Screen Star

by Paul D. Marks


Well, I had a post all written, even pulled pictures for it, and was ready to go. Then realized I had signed a non-disclosure agreement and, therefore, have decided not to run it. But since I did the photo here of me in the long white hair figured I’d run at least that anyway and let you all try to figure out what that post was about…

In the meantime, I’ll talk about the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles. A famous LA landmark and one that’s been in tons of movies, many in the mystery and noir genre. It played Philip Marlowe’s office in Marlowe, starring James Garner. Some people say that Marlowe had his office here in Chandler’s books, but there’s no real proof of that. Oh, and of course, it makes an appearance in several of my stories.

Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark. It’s also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, as well it should be.

Bradbury Building interior
It was commissioned by Lewis L. Bradbury, a goldmining millionaire, and opened in 1893 (old by LA standards), a few months after Bradbury’s death.

According to Wikipedia, “The design of the building was influenced by the 1887 science fiction bookLooking Backward by Edward Bellamy, which described a utopian society in 2000. In Bellamy's book, the average commercial building was described as a ‘vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above ... The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.’ The influence of this description can be seen in the Bradbury.”



The Bradbury Building 2005
The outside of the building is a rather plain brick façade. But inside, you’re in for a treat. The Bradbury is built around an atrium-like central court. The ceiling is a gigantic skylight that lets in natural light, which falls on glazed brick, polished wood, marble and wrought iron railings throughout, giving it warm and changing light throughout the day. The birdcage style elevators are something to see.

In my novel-in-progress, The Blues Don’t Care, I describe it this way: “From the outside the Bradbury Building looked like any other office building, brown brick and sandstone in an Italian-Renaissance meets L.A. style. Inside, it was like being transported to a great European palace or maybe a train station of the industrial age. Bobby had heard of this building, though never had occasion to visit. He was awed by its breathtaking beauty. A glass skylight let shards of light fall on glazed brick and wrought iron grillwork. Marble flooring. Bobby stopped for a moment to catch his breath before heading to the open-caged elevators. He told the operator his floor, rode to the top, walked to room 501.”

Details of elevators and glass ceiling
The Bradbury is an office building and various types of businesses lease space there. Today one of those lessees is the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division, so be good if you visit…

The Bradbury in DOA
The Bradbury is the star of many books/stories, movies, videos, commercials and TV shows. It made its first screen appearance in China Girl (1942), filling in for a Burmese hotel. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Michael Connelly, Max Allan Collins and others have used the Bradbury in their writing.

It features prominently in the original version of D.O.A. (the good version!), I, The Jury (based on Mickey Spillane’s novel), Mission Impossible (the old TV show), the Jack Nicholson movie, Wolf, and more.

Videos by Janet Jackson, Genesis, Heart, Earth, Wind and Fire and more.

More recently, it shows up in Blade Runner, The Artist, CSI NY, etc.

The Bradbury in Bladerunner


To say I love this building would be putting it mildly. It’s a fantastic place. And if you ever come to LA make sure to hit it in downtown at 304 South Broadway.

***



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Bradbury Building interior: By Luke Jones - originally posted to Flickr as Bradbury Hotel, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7271823

Bradbury Building 2005: By Highsmith, Carol M., 1946- photographer, donor. - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pplot.13725.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16340394

Detail of elevators and glass ceiling: By JayWalsh - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30719803

Bradbury in Bladerunner: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2276721

15 October 2013

The Big Moving Sleep Target

by Terence Faherty

This time last year I was serving as the program chair for a great mystery conference we have here in Indiana, Magna Cum Murder.  (This year's conference is being held in Indianapolis on October 25, 26, and 27, and there's still time to register.)  At Magna, they often pick a classic mystery as the conference book.  All attendees are encouraged to read it, at least one panel is devoted to it, and the movie version is shown, if one exists.  I chose The Moving Target, the first Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald.  (Yes, it does say "John Macdonald" on the first edition cover.  Macdonald, whose real name was Kenneth Millar, didn't settle on Ross for his pen name until the fifth or six book.)  I selected that early book, rather than one of Macdonald's later classics, because there is a movie version, 1966's Harper, starring Paul Newman.
 
After making my decision, I reread The Moving Target for the first time in perhaps thirty years.  The first few chapters made me glad I'd picked it, the last few less so.  But what struck me most about the novel was its close relationship with another first number in a famous series, The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe novel.  It's so close, in fact, that I'm convinced Macdonald reread The Big Sleep before laying out The Moving Target, if he didn't have a copy open on his lap as he wrote.

I'm not going to summarize the two plots here.  I'll save that arduous task for when I expand this post into my doctoral dissertation (later to be an Edgar-nominated critical work and, later still, a direct-to-DVD cartoon).  I'll confine myself to citing ten examples to support my contention that, in many ways, The Moving Target (TMT) is a play on and an inversion of The Big Sleep (TBS).

- 1 -

In both books, the PI is called in to straighten out a problem for a wealthy family whose senior representative is an invalid:  General Sternwood in TBS and Elaine Sampson in TMT. Both these characters are heartsick over the loss of a pseudo son, the general's runaway drinking buddy and Elaine's killed-in-action stepson.

- 2 -

The characters of the fathers of these two families and their respective daughters is an example of Macdonald's inversion of Chandler's plot.  In TBS, General Sternwood is wise and his daughter is wild.  In TMT, Ralph Sampson (Elaine's missing husband) is wild and his daughter is wise beyond her years.

- 3 -

Both plots feature rackets complicated by and eventually undone by other crimes.  In TBS, a smut book racket is undone by a blackmail play.  In TMT, a smuggling racket is undone by a kidnapping.

- 4 -

In both books, the initial crime seems vague and phony:  the too polite blackmail of the Sternwoods and the kidnapping of Ralph Sampson that might not be one. 

- 5 -

In both cases, a shadowy underworld figure appears to be pulling the strings.  Each has a last name that's a vague classical allusion, Eddie Mars in TBS and Dwight Troy in TMT.  Both own or have owned a gambling joint, and both are gray-haired.

- 6 - 

Both books feature dens of iniquity:  the house where the wild Sternwood daughter does drugs in TBS becomes the red, zodiac-themed bedroom of the wild father in TMT.

- 7 -

Both the Sternwoods and the Sampsons employ a lovesick young man whose infatuation with a drug user will get him killed (and, again, the names are similar):  Owen Taylor, a chauffeur, in TBS and Alan Taggert, a pilot, in TMT.   Here, Macdonald's inversion of the Chandler model is again apparent.  Taylor chases a Sternwood daughter while Taggert is chased by Sampson's.

- 8 -

The supporting casts have other parallel characters, including two hard luck little men with criminal pasts whose devotion to the wrong women will end them:  Harry Jones in TBS and Eddie Lassiter in TMT.

- 9 -

And in both novels, the PI has a friend with either a current or past connection to the local district attorney's office, and, yet again, the names are similar:  Bernie Ohls (TBS) and Albert "Bertie" Graves (TMT). 

- 10 -

The final link is another name clue, in some respects the most obvious one Macdonald planted.  The wild daughter from TBS is named Carmen.  The not-so-wild daughter from TMT is named Miranda.  Get it? 



Carmen Miranda!

A coincidence?  I think not.  In fact, I rest my case.

14 May 2013

The Double Dippers

by Terence Faherty

I've always been as big a fan of old movies as I am of detective fiction, as anyone who's read my Scott Elliott series knows. In fact, I first discovered many literary detectives through movies and only later headed to the library to find their books. I was almost always blown away by the source material, but I never lost my fondness for the films.

Somewhere along the line, I spotted the odd fact that is the topic of this column and that I'm offering, free of charge, to anyone stuck for a doctoral dissertation subject. It is that an actor who played one famous detective from popular literature back in Hollywood's golden age often played a second.

Mr. Bogart
The most famous example is Humphrey Bogart, who played both Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The success of Bogart's 1941 The Maltese Falcon certainly inspired his 1946 The Big Sleep. In the trailer for the latter, Bogart enters a bookshop and asks for something similar to the Hammett book. The helpful clerk hands him the Chandler. But Bogart by no means repeated his Spade performance when playing Marlowe. Where he was sardonic and cocky in the first film, he was stalwart and self-deprecating in the second. (Although, you might argue that this was just the way Bogart's screen persona had evolved.)

Mr. Powell
William Powell was a much bigger star than Bogart in the 1930s, though he's not as well- known today. When he is remembered, it is most often as Nick Charles (another Hammett creation) or at least as the man who's always standing next to Nora Charles, as played by Myrna Loy. But Charles was Powell's second detective persona. The first was S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance. Powell first played Vance in the silent-turned-talkie The Canary Murder Case in 1929 and then in three more films. The best is the last, The Kennel Murder Case, released in 1933, only a year before The Thin Man. Powell's Philo Vance, a well-dressed and serious clubman (often in gloves), would never be mistaken for his brilliantly freewheeling Nick Charles. But the Vance role was probably more important to Powell's career, as it lifted him out of the ranks of silent-screen supporting players and made him a talkie star.
Mr. Rathbone

In the middle of Powell's run as Philo Vance, a rival studio brought out Van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case, starring Basil Rathbone as Vance. Rathbone, as well turned out sartorially as Powell, was much stiffer in the part. He would only find career-changing success as a film detective nine years later, in 1939, when he was given the role he'd been born to play, Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. More on that epic performance at some later time.

Mr. Cortez
Ricardo Cortez is pretty much forgotten outside of film buff circles, but he was the screen's first Sam Spade. His Maltese Falcon was released in 1931, ten years before Bogart's, and, for an early talking picture, it wasn't bad. Cortez was especially good. He was an actor who smiled and laughed a lot, and his Spade was even better-humored than Bogie's. (If you're thinking that Cortez's performance was also a blow for Hispanic actors everywhere, don't let his stage name fool you. He acquired it when he arrived in Hollywood in the 1920s, during the scramble to find another Rudolph Valentino. Up until then, Cortez had been a New Yorker named Jacob Krantz.) Cortez played a second famous detective in 1936's The Case of the Black Cat, taking over the role of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, which had previously been played by Warren Williams. Cortez's Mason smiled a lot and acted like he'd actually cracked a law book or two.

Mr. Montgomery
There are further examples, like the aforementioned Warren Williams, who, in addition to playing Perry Mason, was yet a third Philo Vance, and George Sanders, who was both Leslie Charteris' Saint and Michael Arlen's Falcon (and good luck telling them apart), but I'd like to close with Robert Montgomery. When I was growing up, Montgomery was already fading from popular memory, being mostly known as the father of Bewitch's Elizabeth Montgomery. But old film lovers remember him as the star of classics like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and They Were Expendable. Montgomery also played two very famous literary detectives. He was another Philip Marlowe, in 1946's flawed but interesting Lady in the Lake. And earlier, in 1940, Montgomery had starred as Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey in Busman's Honeymoon. In both films, Montgomery was more or less miscast, but you have to admire the versatility of an actor who can play both Marlowe and Wimsey with even qualified success.

What does all this double dipping mean? What does it say about the film business or the actors named or the popular fictional detectives of the day? It's your doctoral dissertation; you work it out. And don't forget to send me a copy.