Sunday, May 2nd, 2004
4:07 pm - Noir  
So, the last few weeks have been all about the noir.

First up was The Big Sleep, which I liked, but not as much as The Long Goodbye. It's the difference in time. This book is set in the pre-War years, while The Long Goodbye is set fifteen or so years later. This Marlowe is impulsive, mostly leaping before he looks. He does dumb things. He has to rely on the kindness of strangers to keep from getting himself killed. He does have the brains, but he's not yet experienced at thinking things through. He must have only just taken up chess. The later Marlowe is far more calculating and collected. He's smart *and* experienced. It's easier to like a book when you're not internally saying, "That was stupid," to the lead character.

Structurally, the books are similar. Marlowe is hired to do a job, some stuff happens, he figures it out, and that mystery is solved about halfway through the book. Only there's always another layer, a thread dangling that Marlowe notices, and then picks at and picks at until it starts to unravel. He probably plays with his pen at meetings, too. The themes are similar as well. Marlowe's clients are either wealthy, or living off wealth. In Marlowe's world, money not only doesn't buy happiness, it corrupts, mentally, emotionally, even physically. And yet once he's hired, he's does his best for his wealthy, corrupted clients, because that's what honor and loyalty demand. Marlowe is definitely someone you want on your side.

(Idle side thought. I once said I couldn't think of what actor I could use to portray Marlowe in my mind. Neither Bogart nor Mitchum really matched up, and there was no way it could be Elliot Gould. I've since discovered that both Dick Powell and James Garner played him. I can't really see Garner, either, too laid back. I don't know about Powell, but he does look a bit like my idea of Marlowe. The really scary thing is that while reading The Big Sleep, I started hearing Marlowe's lines voiced by Leslie Neilson in my head, and it worked.)

Not so much with Sam Spade. I have a problem with The Maltese Falcon. I admire the writing greatly. Hammett has a knack for description. He describes people, places, and complicated actions perfectly, and yet does it succinctly, in a few lines rather than a endless paragraphs (coughMichaelChaboncough). His description of Spade's face in the opening paragraph of the book is wonderful. I doubt John Huston had very many problems adapting the book to a screenplay. All the stage directions are right there on the page.

My problem is that I pretty much hated everything else about the book. You have an unlikeable hero who does stupid things versus the gang that couldn't shoot straight. I've seen folks call The Maltese Falcon "probably America's greatest detective novel." I just can't see it. Spade can end to the whole affair any time he wants. All he has to do is cooperate with the police. Which he refuses to do, even though it's pretty clear at the end that he knew all along who killed Archer. Drove me crazy. Feh. I'll stick with The Thin Man.

I also read Batman: Year One in there, and it's a lot of fun, although it is more about James Gordon then Bruce Wayne. Still, it's cool watching Wayne learn how to be Batman, yet another version of the myth. There is some stuff that bugged, but it's more how the canon, as I learned it, is changed. When I ignore that, I can enjoy.
 
 
 
Current Mood: hardboiled
Current Music: "Killer Queen" -- Queen
 
 
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sumisumik on May 2nd, 2004 - 08:58 pm
I saw the EW piece about the new Batman movie -- it says that it's going to be based on Batman:Year One, but the IMDB makes no mention of Frank Miller in the movie's entry.
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Veejaneveejane on May 3rd, 2004 - 06:34 am
Spade can end to the whole affair any time he wants. All he has to do is cooperate with the police. Which he refuses to do, even though it's pretty clear at the end that he knew all along who killed Archer.

I think the idea -- and the reason the novel is famous -- is that yes, Spade can end the whole thing any time he wants. And he doesn't, until he decides whether he feels like being an upstanding citizen or not. It's an extremely nihilistic novel, disguised by the fact you don't ever get inside Spade's head. I think until the very end Spade is toying with the idea of double-crossing everyone for money, and finally is like, Nah. It's too much fun watching these helpless twits fights.

The Glass Key is my favorite of Hammett's, because it's just as nihilistic, but it's told from Beaumont's point of view. Also, it's not really a mystery (or only incidentally); it's a tragedy of friendship.

Glad you liked Year One. It's my favorite of all the Batman mythology I've read, and not only because of the noirish style, but because it shows the delicacy of the relationship between Gordon and Batman -- the need for deniability covering over a real connection between them. Also, I like that it's grounded in a hard-headed, realistic city, with prosaic criminals. Batman is the biggest freak in Gotham by an extremely long shot.
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DXMachinadxmachina on May 3rd, 2004 - 07:07 am
I think until the very end Spade is toying with the idea of double-crossing everyone for money, and finally is like, Nah. It's too much fun watching these helpless twits fights.

That was my feeling as well, that Spade was following the old adage my freshman chem teacher taught us. "Don't steal, but if you do steal, steal a LOT of money." I don't think he decided to turn them in until he found out the falcon was a fake. I'll have to look for The Glass Key.

I agree about the Gordon-Batman relationship. It's key because without Gordon on the inside, there really can't be a Batman, at least not for very long. He's the one who provided Batman legitimacy, and that was never really shown previous to this. OTOH, I thought the corruption story was way over the top, corruption so extreme it couldn't possibly exist, in much the same way the Gotham City of the Dark Knight books was way over the top. (I could be naive about that, I admit.) It is a standard comic book theme, though, so I let it pass.

BTW, are you still looking to borrow a copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? Because mine is available for lending.
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