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


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.

***



-------------------------
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


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.

17 January 2013

The Last Five Minutes


One of the great new trends (imho) in movies these days is indie movies that take semi sci-fi/fantasy concepts and run with them, using minimal (if any) special effects and lots of really good writing.  I include in this category the haunting "Another Earth", and the two comedies "Safety Not Guaranteed", and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World".   (I recommend all of these, even though I thought Keira Knightly's narcolepsy in the last was a bit much.)

The latest one I watched was "Ruby Sparks," about a young, genius writer with severe writer's block, who manages to write his dream girl into life.  And it's great, really great, taking the whole concept and going balls to the wall with it - until the last five minutes.  At which point, a happy ending was tacked on, a happy ending of such unbelievable proportions (to me) that I was screaming at the TV set. (NOTE:  I do this a lot; my husband has learned to live with it.  In this case, he agreed with me.  And I will not give any more away except to say that any good working psychiatrist would not be using phrases like "beautiful" and praising the hero for his behavior, but would be recommending something intense, like in-patient treatment...  I also think that the estate of David Foster Wallace could sue the writers, but that's another rant.)  Anyway, I still recommend the movie, but only for the first hour and 40 minutes. 

But don't you hate when that happens?  When someone takes a great idea, and does it so well that you are absolutely hanging on, breathless, can't wait to see what happens next...  and then the balloon just doesn't even pop, it deflates and you're sitting there wondering what the hell happened.  I felt that way about Woody Allen's "Love and Death" and "Sleeper", both of which I still think are genius - until the whole plot line of "let's kill the leader" takes over.  (These days, I just fast forward to the little gems at the end.)

Great endings don't have to be happy; they don't have to be tragic; they don't have to be funny (although what would "Some Like It Hot" be without Joe E. Brown's magic line?).  But they do have to fit what's happened before.  They have to match the characters.  My husband and I watched "The Third Man" again the other night, and the ending, with that last long shot, always deeply satisfies me, because there's no way after all that has gone before that Anna Schmidt would ever go for Holly Martin. 


I think this beats the heck out of "Great Expectations", where Dickens made the mistake of listening to Bulwer-Lytton - the original author of "it was a dark and stormy night" - and rewrote his ending to put Pip and Estella together.  But to be fair, Hollywood pairs people up come hell or high water all the time.  What was House doing with a girlfriend?  Why do the modern turns on Sherlock Holmes feel the need to make Irene Adler a romantic interest?  (And, now that Watson's female in "Elementary", how long until she and Sherlock hook up?)  Why did the Geraldine McEwan version of Miss Marple have to give her a heartbreaking romance?

But back to endings.  A lot of endings are, as we all know, entirely different from the book.  James Thurbur once wrote that if Hollywood were to do "Antony and Cleopatra", they'd have Antony saying, "I am mending, Egypt, mending." But to be fair, in the 18th and early 19th century, most Shakespeare tragedies were given happy endings.  Romeo and Juliet live; Ophelia is saved from drowning; Cordelia wakes up; etc.  Dickens skewered this in "Nicholas Nickleby."   And sometimes the changes work, as in "The Big Sleep."  In the novel, Marlowe falls for Mona Mars - "silver-wig" - and ends up with nobody.  In the Bogie/Bacall movie, he falls for Vivian Sternwood and goes off with her.  I think both work, for different reasons, and that's fine with me. On the other hand, I hate the movie "The Natural," because of course when you have Robert Redford playing the hero, he has to save the day, even though that ruins the whole spirit of the piece.  I prefer the novel, where Hobbs is indeed Everyman, a sinner, a failure - a human being, not a hero... 

But now, of course, I'm faced with ending this blog entry.  All I can say is that if I really like a book or a movie, I invest in the characters, in the story, in the concept.  And I want all of those, whenever possible, to stay true to their promise. I know.  It's hard to pull off.  Sometimes it will break your heart.  But if it's right, you have a classic.  Here's perhaps the ultimate example:  would we remember "Casablanca" if Ilsa had stayed with Rick?