5. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Based upon Patricia (The Talented Mr. Ripley) Highsmith’s novel, the story concerns two men who meet on a train and become implicated in a plot to kill each others’ wives. Chandler famously wrote and submitted a first draft of the script. A second draft from Chandler soon followed and, as the oft-told tale goes, he received no feedback from Hitchcock, except the message informing him of his firing.
Ultimately much of Chandler’s script was rewritten by Czenzi Ormonde, and when Chandler finally did see the finished screenplay he sent Hitch a strongly worded letter, stating, amongst other things: “I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity… Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I’m not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They’ll know damn well I didn’t.”
It’s hard to slight Chandler for his vitriol, even if the film is masterful, regularly ranked amongst the director’s finest, and his closing zinger, after reiterating to Hitch that he was well paid, is the stuff of irascible legend: “Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting one’s time.”
4. Farewell My Lovely (1975)
Robert Mitchum, whom Roger Ebert dubbed “the soul of film noir”, is marvellous as Philip Marlowe (he’d reprise the role in a less successful adaptation/remake of The Big Sleep in 1978) in director Dick Richards’ Farewell, My Lovely.
A nostalgic air permeates throughout the film, essentially superbly constructed pulp in noir thriller dress, recalling vintage 1940s cinema and sticking true to Chandler’s original story of Marlowe’s helping sympathetic thug Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran) find his old flame.
Charlotte Rampling sizzles as Helen Grayle and a very young Sylvester Stallone has a bit part as Jonnie, the hired muscle. The moody, atmospheric reading of L.A.’s underbelly, ably reinforced by John A. Alonzo’s lensing — which reveres classical shadowy, smoky impressionistic film noir techniques — is a loving tribute to Chandler’s milieu.
3. Double Indemnity (1943)
Not just one of the earliest A-budget studio noirs, Double Indemnity may actually be the quintessential film noir, depending on who you ask. Based off the novella by James M. Cain and directed with precision and craft by Billy Wilder, the film tells the tale of insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who’s persuaded by Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) to kill her husband for his life insurance. What could possibly go wrong?
Chandler and Wilder didn’t get along during this collaboration, though there was a degree of respect between them, and Chandler’s actual contributions to the final script has been the source of much debate over the years.
Regardless, Chandler’s very name lent a legitimacy to the proceedings and Double Indemnity was seen as part of a Hollywood trend “toward the wholesale production of lusty, hard-boiled, gut-and-gods crime stories, all fashioned on a theme with a combination of plausibly motivated murder and studded with high-powered Freudian implication,” according to Lloyd Shearer of the New York Times.
Double Indemnity also contains Chandler’s one and only film appearance — an uncredited cameo — sitting outside Keyes’ office (this cameo was a well-kept secret, film scholars didn’t discover it until 2009, 66 years after it’s release).
2. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Originally received, and poorly at that, as a parody or the genre, Robert Altman directed, and Elliot Gould starred as Marlowe, placing our hardboiled private eye in 1970s L.A.
Gould radiates his own brand of existential cool in the role, a very different approach than previous incarnations, here Marlowe is a chain-smoking, cat-loving, compulsive verbalizer. Altman admits to a Rip Van Winkle accession to the well-loved Chandler character, as if he awoke 30 years out of date, in a world that doesn’t need him anymore.
Gould gives Marlowe a fatalistic mind, as if he’s constantly trying to convince himself, and us, that he exists, despite the disdain evidenced all around him, that the world is moving on without him and his antiquated profession.
As with Altman’s best work, his camera is fearless in its frequent pans, zooms, tilts, dollies, and cranes, each movement crashing with energy, authenticity and the feeling of improvisational spontaneity, fitting perfectly with the jazzy Johnny Mercer and John Williams score.
The Long Goodbye has been rightly re-appraised in recent years, viewed now as one of the era’s finer films, it’s celebrity-obsessed cynicism, smart aleck-y sneer, neo-noir despair, and pitch-dark comic relief now better understood with the passing of years.
Movie buffs take note, this film also contains the screen debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger, named in the credits as “Arnold Strong” as Augustine’s henchmen.
1. The Big Sleep (1946)
“The action is tense and fast, and the film catches the lurid Chandler atmosphere,” raved Pauline Kael on Howard Hawk’s adaptation of The Big Sleep. “The characters are a collection of sophisticated monsters… All of them talk in innuendoes, as if that were a new stylization of the American language.”
The Big Sleep was Humphrey Bogart’s second teaming with director Hawks and co-star Lauren Bacall (his real-life wife), after 1944’s To Have and Have Not, resulting in an indisputable masterwork and the definitive Raymond Chandler adaptation (having luminaries William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett work on the script certainly helped).
Bogart is brilliant, iconic even, as Marlowe, and the racy, sharp-tongued Bacall is feisty as a fever dream playing Vivian Sternwood in what amounts to a labyrinthine private-eye chronicle.
It’s here that the world first really glimpsed modern masculine gallantry in archetypal fashion as Bogart’s Marlowe, unconquerable, offering rejoinders like; “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad, I grieve over them on long winter evenings,” or “so many guns around town, and so few brains,” and “she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.”
Marlowe is two-fisted when he needs to be, flirtatious, provocative, virile, and exponentially wittier than pretty much any standard-bearer audiences had seen on screen before, this was Chandler’s creation fully fleshed, with all the esteem he deserved.
The Big Sleep certainly represents the finest silver screen Chandler conversion, making for one of the fullest, richest, and most profound Hollywood detective films, setting the stage for post-modern movies to follow, and proving once and for all that film noir, while ticking and toiling in the gutter, had eyes fast set on the stars.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.