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Reminder: The Agatha Christie Blogathon is coming up next week!

AgathaChristieJust a reminder that next week the Agatha Christie Blogathon begins: Friday the 16th through Sunday the 18th! Domi from Little Bits of Classics and I are really looking forward to reading everyone’s entries.

There is still plenty of time to sign up if you want to participate. We are celebrating all things related to Agatha Christie – her novels, her life, her characters. More information can be found on the original announcement, here.

So please join us in celebration of Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday (September 15th). May her reign as the Queen of Crime continue! 🙂

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Books, Movies

 

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The Maltese Falcon (1929) – Dashiell Hammett, book review and comparison with the 1941 movie

Maltese_Falcon_film_prop_created_by_Fred_Sexton_for_John_HustonThis book was made to be a movie. It’s so close it’s like watching the movie in slow motion in my head. There are occasional flashes of something new, a new scene, a new twist or interpretation, but for the most part it reads like a screenplay. Sam Spade does this, he says that, his eyes burn yellow (they do that a lot), he grinds his teeth, some description about a room, what Brigid O’Shaughnessy is wearing, how Joel Cairo walks, the tone of Gutman’s voice – stage direction.

The book opens with Miss Wonderly (really Brigid O’Shaughnessy) coming into the office of Spade and Archer, two detectives in business together. She spins them a story about needing to find her sister and hires them to tail a man named Floyd Thursby. Miles Archer tails him, is murdered, and the story is off. Like the movie, it begins right off the bat with no other preamble other than a paragraph describing what Spade looks like. He sets out to uncover what is going on and meets the memorable Joel Cairo, Caspar Gutman and Gutman’s gunman, young Wilmer.

The book is noted for its colorful cast of characters even more than its story, and deservedly so. It’s the same with the movie. And they did such a fantastic job casting – or else I’ve seen the movie way too many times – that when I read I literally hear Humphrey Bogart’s voice saying the lines that I’m reading. I can see Mary Astor move her hands as described, or pause exactly where the pause is written in the book, I can hear Sydney Greenstreet laugh, see Peter Lorre walk and hold his hat with both hands, in front of his stomach. It’s very distracting, at times.

The opening description of Sam Spade, I absolutely could not see. He is described as looking “rather pleasantly like a blonde Satan,” but all I could see was Humphrey Bogart. It wasn’t until the second half of the book began to have more scenes and dialogue that I didn’t recognize that my imagination was able to kick in and Hammett’s description of Spade began to compete with the insistent image of Bogart.

Sam Spade in the book is actually a bit different from Spade in the movie. He is far less appealing than Bogart makes him. In the movie, Bogart is the moral center, which is not to be confused with being a moral person, but he does have a certain code he lives by, unlike any of the other people in the story. In the book, his moral code is far murkier.

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett

And he’s a bit like a spoiled child – always “beefing” about the police’s treatment of him, grinding his teeth when frustrated, needling Wilmer, treating his secretary like a bit of a plaything, is ridiculously arrogant and self-assured and, amazingly enough, he gets away with it. Bogart presents a slightly more mature Spade. He keeps his cool better, has no tantrums and doesn’t seem quite so childishly pleased with himself.

If it comes to that, Mary Astor is also a more mature Brigid O’Shaughnessy. In the book, she is quite young – early twenties – and comes off even more helplessly than in the movie, even though she is anything but helpless. There’s lots of hand wringing and buckets of tears and large, frightened eyes. I would argue, however, that Astor’s Brigid is a slightly more complicated Brigid. She shifts character more than Brigid in the book and comes off as more intelligent. Brigid in the book is a liar, but Brigid in the movie is a mega-liar.

It’s not a particularly subtle book. People just come out and say stuff: “he’s queer” (about Joel Cairo) or “can I buy you with my body?” (Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Sam Spade). It’s stuff the movie had to skirt around to pass censorship. It makes the movie far more coy, though still explicit, about what is going on.

Like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett seems to be very interested in the process of detection. Details, even if they are not important, are described. For example, Spade is sent off on a red-herring. The house he is sent to is not important, merely being a place chosen at random, but we still get a description of his interview with the owner and of his search of the place. The important details are contained within other, non-important details. But there are no descriptions of people’s thoughts, their emotions; it’s the ultimate example of show, don’t tell. Spade speaks, his jaw clenches and we are left to infer what he is feeling.

Reading The Maltese Falcon reminded me of when I tried to read a book by Rex Stout called Over My Dead Body, about the detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. The book was so exactly like the TV series episode, with Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton, that there was literally nothing new to glean from reading the book. It’s an odd occurrence, because most movies don’t even begin to do justice to the books they are based on. The Maltese Falcon isn’t quite that bad, there really are some new things to learn and it is definitely worth a read – it’s just not as many new aspects as I thought.

Dashiell Hammett also wrote The Thin Man, which was turned into the 1934 movie with William Powell and Myrna Loy. However, unlike The Maltese Falcon, the book is quite different and I couldn’t even begin to see William Powell or Myrna Loy as I was reading. It is rare for me to ever see the actors from a movie while I am reading the book, no matter how good the movie.. Even movies that I adore, that I consider to be fairly faithful to the book they are based on (1995 Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) cannot begin to capture the essence of the book I see in my mind. I still don’t see Colin Firth when I read about Mr. Darcy or hear Jennifer Ehle speak the lines…even though many are quite similar. The book is simply to much for a movie. Not so with The Maltese Falcon. It’s hard to imagine a movie doing it better. If it was any better, then the book would be obsolete…which is not something I would ever wish for a book.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Fiction

 

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The Big Sleep – Movie and Book

220px-Bigsleep2[1]It is practically axiomatic that The Big Sleep does not make sense. When director Howard Hawks asked author Raymond Chandler who had killed the chauffeur, Chandler wired back that he had no idea. Somehow, that lack of clarity has only enhanced the mystique of the story…especially the movie.

The reasons for the confusion in the film are three-fold: the book never made that much sense anyway, the studio wanted a romance between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which came at the cost of clarity, and the Hays Code was in effect, which meant that there were many things that could be written about which could not be shown on screen.

I read the book, therefore, in the hope that it would elucidate certain aspects of the film, which it mostly did.

The Big Sleep (1939), by Raymond Chandler

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What Roger Eberts writes of the movie could also be written of the book, that it is “about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results.” Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired to look into the blackmailing of General Sternwood’s daughter, Carmen, but everyone – including his other daughter, Vivien – assume that he was hired to look into the disappearance of Vivien’s husband, Rusty Regan.

There are two parts to the book. The first half deals with the death of Carmen’s blackmailer, as well as other sundry murders and sordid affairs. The second half deals with Marlowe’s search for Regan, which involves a lot of the same characters who were involved in the death of the blackmailer, like the casino owner whose wife supposedly ran off with Rusty Regan and seems to have something on Vivien.

There were obviously quite a few aspects of the book that were not allowed in the movie. It’s not so much that the movie changed things (though it did change things), but that it let certain details drop out of the picture. The result was a general lack of understandable motivation for certain characters. Why did this one young man randomly show up and shoot this other man? Oh, the blackmailer was his lover, but he shoots the wrong man because the real murderer was the chauffeur who died (nobody knows how). And what does it mean to be running “a racket?” Oh, that’s a pornographic shop. That makes sense.

Another, significant, difference is that there is no romance in the book. A romance would be too hopeful for a hardboiled detective novel, where women are wild and licentious and men are cynical and cold.

th1V1FJYF7The Big Sleep (1946) Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – Directed by Howard Hawks – Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman

I’m not sure if Chandler was pleased with the movie adaptation of his book, but he did feel that the actress playing Carmen (Martha Vickers) completely outshone Lauren Bacall as Vivien in the early release of the film. He felt that when the script was rewritten to increase Bacall’s part and decrease Vicker’s, it further confused the plot.

Bogart and Bacall were currently an item. They had met and fallen in love in the very successful 1944 film To Have and Have Not. During the filming of The Big Sleep, Bogart was going through a divorce so he could marry Lauren Bacall. There had been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the chemistry between the two in the film and the studio wanted to capitalize on that.

They made one version of the movie and released it in 1945 to the troops overseas. However, Bacall’s agent was concerned that she was being overshadowed and since she had just starred in a dud film with Charles Boyer, her agent was concerned about her career and persuaded the studio to shoot some more scenes and cut out a few others. The result was a delightful combination detective/noir/romance – not a usual combination. Most noirs end in tears…or at the very least death, misery or despair for all.

The book ends on a sour note. Spoiler! Rusty Regan was killed by Carmen because he rebuffed her advances and Vivien was trying to hide the fact. End Spoiler! Marlowe notes how he has now become part of the general nastiness of the characters, but that at least he can spare the general any part in it. It’s not an upbeat ending. But the movie is far less nasty (nastiness still occurs, but is not so tainting).

img14[1]In fact, Marlowe, in the movie, is a genuine hero, unlike his Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941). Sam Spade has no particular morals or convictions (apart from not letting people get away with shooting his partner – even if he didn’t like the man, but it’s the principle that counts), but Bogart’s Philip Marlowe does, if not have morals, at least have a code, as he’s striving to do right, catch the criminals, spare his client and help the woman he loves out of the jam she’s in.

Note: for a witty and spot-on article about The Big Sleep film, The Man on The Flying Trapeze writes in the chivalric vein of the many ways that he loves the film. He calls the film a “screwball noir” and Marlowe “Sir Galahad in a 1938 Plymouth coupe who saves the honor of the Sternwood family while falling in love with one of the princesses.” This article is what inspired me to watch the movie, and also to read the book.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2014 in Books, Movies

 

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