The Year of The Fedora
The Times 27th August 1986
Raymond Chandler's "mean streets" of Los Angeles are being rather kinder at present to the author's memory, estate and most of all to his confusing detective Philip Marlowe, the worldly but sentimental knight in a snap-brimmed fedora, who travelled heavy-wrapped in gabardine carrying a big gun and a conscience.
The fascination with Chandler's work and the mystique which has surrounded the film, television, radio and literary impersonations of Marlowe has trickled along for nearly five decades. But 1986 is turning into a waterfall year.
Robert Redford certainly hopes the interest will continue to grow when he dons Marlowe's mantle and begins filming in California's Palm Springs next month. Redford is more of the screen image — "passably good looking" — that Chandler had of his creation.
He is the star of Springs, based on an unfinished Chandler novel (only 12 pages called The Poodle Springs Story) by screenwriter Roger Towne, whose brother Robert wrote Chinatown.
Atlantic Pictures is enthusiastic about Flashback by writer Ken Nunn (his first novel Tapping The Source was a vivid mirror of 1980s California) which brings Marlowe out of retirement and confronted by more than hoodlums in Plymouth convertibles and the whiff of jasmine and mystery around Pasadena Mansions.
The Texan actor Powers Boothe — "Marlowe is slightly over six feet tall with dark brown hair and brown eyes", said Chandler - is walking the "mean streets" on American cable television. These TV shows began when British producer David Wickes convinced the Chandler estate to part with the rights to some short stories and London Weekend Television became involved.
There is also much academic interest in Chandler, who died in 1959. At the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) library, an exhibition on until the end of September has 40 location photographs of dramatic moments from The Big Sleep, Chandler's first novel, on display. The Arion Press, a San Francisco publishing house, is offering a limited edition of The Big Sleep featuring these photographs, though it is for the real enthusiast at $425 (nearly £300) a copy.
The publishing company Random House has issued the Chandler novels as part of its "audiobooks" division, while publisher Aaron Blake offers the more energetic diversion in The Raymond Chandler Mystery Map of Los Angeles, by which landmarks you can just about trail Chandler's convoluted plots.
Marlowe, who walked on the edge of the street after the introduction of government
approved psychos like James Bond and Dirty Harry and the much more recent John Rambo, appears to have centre stage again. And with Robert Redford's proven cinema appeal he may find a totally new audience in Springs.
"If I ever had an opportunity of selecting a movie actor who could best represent "him to my mind it would have been Cary Grant", said Chandler of Marlowe. Maybe with Redford he'll get something of the wish Hollywood has denied him since they began turning his work into movies with Dick Powell as the first Marlowe in Murder My Sweet.
Powell, arguably the best Marlowe so far, was followed by Bogart in The Big Sleep, Robert Montgomery in The Lady In The Lake, George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon based on The High Window, James Garner in Marlowe, Elliot Gould in Altman's The Long Goodbye, Phil Carey (in a short-lived 1959 US TV series) and Robert Mitchum in Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep as well as Powers Boothe in the much-liked Chandlertown.
The moviemakers and entrepreneurs of the Chandler legacy seem to be heeding their master's words. He wrote: "You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder."
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