After The Cocktail Waitress, I decided to continue on my journey through some of the masters of pulp fiction. While I wouldn’t exactly call Raymond Chandler a “pulp” author – his stories are, generally speaking, regarded to aspire to a higher, more “literary,” echelon – – holy shit, Alaina, can you be more of an adjunct literary professor seeking tenure? Christ, I realize it’s 10:30 and you just took a cocktail of melatonin, Aleve, and Claritin, but come on, those aren’t supposed to interact in a way to make you sound like a fuckin’ snob.
Or like you grew up in Southie. Which you fucking didn’t.
Uh, ANYWAY. Basically, Raymond Chandler and his works occasionally get grouped into the “detective novel” genre and not necessarily “pulp” – pulp implies a more lurid tone, more explicit; more sex and violence. Philip Marlowe tends to be on the more restrained side of the equation.
You’ll hopefully remember that my first foray into the world of pulp fiction was a brilliant film by one of the best directors of our generation. I’m referring to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, written and directed by Shane Black. (Oh, did you think — no, that would be incorrect. I haven’t seen that movie yet.) If you haven’t had a chance to watch this masterpiece, please set some time aside in the near future to do so. I promise: you will not be disappointed. It takes place at Christmas, even – you can kick off the season with a bang!
DISCLAIMER: As the calendar has not even approached Halloween as of this writing, PLEASE DO NOT START CHRISTMAS EARLY.
What does this movie – starring Robert Downey Jr., in case I forgot to lead with that – have to do with Raymond Chandler and the beginnings of pulp fiction? The plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang follows Harry Lockhart (RDJ), a two-bit thief who gets mixed up in a seedy Hollywood murder mystery, as well as a missing persons case. Strung throughout the plot of the movie is the fact that the femme fatale, Harmony, had a childhood obsession with a pulp series starring detective Johnny Gossamer. The dialogue is very hard-boiled, there’s a slight Chinatown element to one aspect of the plot (think Faye Dunaway’s character), and as Harry is fond of telling his private detective mentor, Perry: the detective always starts out with two cases, but by the end of the book, boom — it’s the same fucking case.
Another relationship that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has with Farewell, My Lovely? All the act breaks in the movie are titled, and they’re all titled after Raymond Chandler novels. I believe Farewell, My Lovely may be Day 2, but I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the movie.
Okay, the melatonin just kicked in. Let’s kick this into high gear.
Philip Marlowe is the private detective that stars in Raymond Chandler’s world. He inhabits Los Angeles in the late 1930s, early 1940s, and if you’re picturing Humphrey Bogart in the role, you would be correct, because Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe in the adaptation of The Big Sleep. Ooh, which I have on DVD now! YES. ANYWAY. Marlowe begins Farewell, My Lovely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he gets (almost literally) dragged into a bar fight by a paroled convict named Moose Malloy. Moose is looking for his lost love, Little Velma, who used to be a singer at the bar where he and Marlowe run into each other. Only the gin joint where she used to warble dried up, and she didn’t leave any crumbs behind her.
(I’d say I was sorry for that last sentence, but y’all know that I really enjoyed that.)
When no one knows what happened to Velma, Moose starts shooting up the place, then runs off in the kerfuffle, leaving Marlowe to explain what happened and why he was connected to the whole thing when the cops show up. Nulty, a cop who isn’t lucky enough to be only two days away from retirement (based on his attitude), practically shanghais Marlowe into doing his footwork for him. While Marlowe is searching for leads in the middle of nothing, he gets a call to be a bodyguard for a fellow who needs to run out of town and drop a ransom in exchange for a very valuable necklace, belonging to his (the fellow’s) lady-friend. And in this instance I actually mean friend, because the fellow happens to be gay. Marlowe agrees because Nulty’s not actually paying him squat for trying to find a lead on Moose, and everything would have gone okay except for the fact that the whole drop was a setup, Marlowe gets beaned on the head and the fellow gets dead.
As the two cases intersect and become the same fucking case, Marlowe meets two women – one becomes almost his Girl Friday, someone he almost sees himself getting serious over. The other is a classic femme fatale, full of sex and mysteries. Throughout the course of his case(s), Marlowe gets kidnapped, knocked unconscious, drugged, involved with a fake psychic, shot at, and almost drowns. But throughout everything he perseveres, because Marlowe belongs to that most rare of breeds of man: the honest kind. Keep in mind that Nulty’s not paying him, and that Marlowe hasn’t been paid for his bodyguarding work from the fellow, because the fellow is now most certainly dead. He doesn’t have any other reason to pursue either of these cases except for his curiosity and sense of justice. He may not always play the white knight (as evidenced by the deal he cuts with a shady mayor at the end of the book), but his intentions are always of the good.
It should be noted that, as the book was written in the 1940s, you will experience a fair amount of racist and derogatory terminology. So, spoiler alert, I guess.
Marlowe doesn’t have grand aspirations in his life; he’s not looking to make a name for himself, or to climb a political ladder. He’s just searching for truth and justice in a very dark and underhanded corner of our world, using the resources he had available to him while still hoping for an easier outcome:
I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room. [p. 238]
When the going gets tough, Marlowe puts his gun in his shoulder holster, his hat on his head, and his feet out the door. He does what needs to be done because in his town, no one else will.
Grade for Farewell, My Lovely: 3.5 stars