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This month's theme: Mysteries

The Big Sleep Kept Me Up All Night


Fran Joyce





























Raymond Chandler is best remembered as the creator of the hard-boiled private detective, Philip Marlowe. Marlowe makes his debut in The Big Sleep, Chandler’s first novel.

The Big Sleep was published in 1939 when Chandler was 51. Most people have either read the book or watched the 1946 film version starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe. The movie version, though excellent, is missing vital parts of the story.

The Hays Office of the motion picture industry rigidly monitored film content. Sexual references were severely restricted and any mention of homosexuality was forbidden. The screenplay was expertly crafted by William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner), Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman to retell the story within the Hay office’s guidelines.

In The Big Sleep, Marlowe is hired by wealthy retired General Sternwood to locate some compromising photos of the general’s youngest daughter, Carmen. Marlowe uncovers a pornography ring run by a man named Geiger who is gay. Geiger’s sexuality and passages identifying Lundgren as his lover are carefully omitted from the movie. Carmen’s wild behavior is carefully alluded to, but not shown.

Critics of Chandler’s work are quick to a malign his depictions of gays, women, people of color, and many ethnic groups. Women were beautiful, diabolical, and often unstable. People of color and certain ethnic groups were often stereotyped and often cast as criminals.

While Chandler’s depictions of Geiger and Lundgren are not kind, his books provide a mirror to his time. This is how people felt and behaved. It’s easy to be offended, but try to see Chandler as a prisoner of his time. Devour his rich prose as “word candy” and admire his skilled use of simile and metaphor.

According to Chandler, “Had my books been any worse, I would not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I would not have come.”

Chandler was born in 1888. After he and his mother were abandoned by his alcoholic father, they moved from Chicago to Croydon in England to be near family. Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College London, an elite public school (P.G. Wodehouse and C.S. Forester were also alums).

His first published work in 1907 was a poem. Though Chandler continued to write romantic poems, he pursued a career in civil service, before an unsuccessful stint as a journalist. After moving to the United States, Chandler enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and saw combat in France during World War I. He worked his way up to a vice presidency in an oil company, but was dismissed for excessive use of alcohol and absenteeism as well as his penchant for office romances. Like his father, Chandler battled alcoholism most of his adult life.

Unemployed with few prospects during the Great Depression, Chandler, who was a fan of pulp magazines, studied the work of Erle Stanley Gardner to learn how to write it. He submitted “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” to Black Mask magazine. He was paid $180 for 18,000 works and began his writing career at age 44. Dashiell Hammett and Ed McBain were also writers at Black Mask.

Chandler often struggled with the rigid formula demanded by the editors of the pulp magazine, but he was grateful to finally be a successful writer. In an interview, he admitted, “To exceed the limits of a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer who is not a hapless hack.”

He received an Academy Award nomination for “Best Writing” in 1944 for the screenplay of Double Indemnity, which he co-wrote with Billy Wilder and a second nomination in 1946 for Best Writing for his original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia.

Chandler died in 1959 after writing four chapters of his eighth book which he gave the working title, Poodle Springs. The chapters were published in 1962 in Raymond Chandler Speaking, a collection of excerpts from letters and unpublished writings. In 1988, to commemorate what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday, his publishers commissioned Robert B. Parker to complete the book. Parker, a fan of Chandler, understood Marlowe’s character. After the publication of Poodle Springs, Parker secured permission from Chandler's estate to write a final novel featuring Philip Marlowe. Perchance to Dream, the sequel to The Big Sleep, was released in 1991.

Chandler wanted to be cremated like his wife Cissy who passed away in 1954, but failed to leave instructions in his will, so he was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Dan Diego. In 2011, Cissy’s ashes were interred with Chandler. Their shared gravestone bears this quote from The Big Sleep, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”




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