There's no telling why a great but straightforward book might become a lousy movie—or why a film version of a "difficult" novel might be a classic.
"I hold no brief for Hollywood," Raymond Chandler wrote in a 1945 piece for The Atlantic, after he had been in the city of angels for a little over two years. Already, he said, he was bored with it all. And that, in his mind, was unforgiveable. He continued:
An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon. An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer. The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.
Chandler had good reason to be disenchanted with the film industry. In the span of two years, his novels had been the inspiration for no fewer than three films—with decidedly uneven results. There was The Falcon Takes Over, an adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely that exiled Chandler's timeless detective, Philip Marlowe, and replaced him with the duo of the Falcon and his sidekick, Goldy Locke. Time to Kill did the same with Chandler's The High Window, except this time around, Marlowe was transformed into Michael Shayne, for the seventh and last installation of the Michael Shayne series. The best of the lot: Murder, My Sweet, also based on Farewell, My Lovely (apparently, that particular title had just too good a plot to pass up). But though the film at last brought Marlowe to the screen, name and cigarettes intact, it too left much to be desired. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther may have called it "fairly close to the source," but fans of Chandler's writing would be hard-pressed to find the essence of the meticulously ethical detective they love in the depiction of Marlowe as "a private detective who would take a dollar from anyone, with no questions asked" and is "just a shade above his clients, who might be politely called questionable characters." Little wonder Chandler was less than thrilled with Hollywood's book-to-screen prowess.
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Little wonder, perhaps. But consider: Chandler's works seem ready-made for the big screen. The plots. The characters. The dialogue. It's like Shakespeare or Jane Austen—or Sherlock Holmes or James Bond—in its ease of access. All you need to do, it seems, is lift from one medium to the other, and you're near guaranteed a hit. Why, then, hadn't it worked out quite so nicely?