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The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words
272 pp., $27.95
Night of a Thousand Crimes
The living room is dim and stuffy. Dust motes hang in the air. Walter Neff, insurance salesman, is about to help Phyllis Deitrichson, blonde sexpot, take out "accident insurance" on her husband, and it's not going to end well. Even if Walter's opening voiceover hadn't told us as much ("I killed him for money—and a woman—and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman"), viewers today can easily guess. We're familiar with the hardboiled detective, the femme fatale, and the doomed protagonist caught in her web, because the film noir genre has been using these archetypes since, well, since Double Indemnity. It wasn't the first crime drama, but it was the first to be written by Raymond Chandler, who heavily influenced detective fiction and the fledgling noir genre with his biting wit and unexpected morality.
Chandler, a notoriously difficult collaborator, made the writing of the screenplay "an agonizing experience" for director and co-writer Billy Wilder. Though the film was based on James M. Cain's novel, Chandler insisted on throwing out all of Cain's original dialogue (to Wilder's chagrin), replacing it with sly back-and-forths only he could have written:
Walter: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter: I wonder if you wonder.
Gems like this fill The World of Raymond Chandler, a splendid miscellany compiled by Barry Day, which links excerpts from Chandler's fiction, essays, screenplays, and letters with an intentional minimum of editorial input. Day covers the biographical highlights in the first chapter: American-born, British-educated, Chandler married his beloved Cissy Pascal and settled in Los Angeles, was fired as a vice president of an oil syndicate for drinking and womanizing, published his first hardboiled detective novel (The Big Sleep) ...