Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Raymond Chandler and His Followers - Michael E. Grost

"Leigh Brackett was an occasional writer of detective fiction, in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler. Two of the stories I have read, including the well done "So Pale, So Cold, So Fair" (1957), deal with a man who cleans up a crooked town. This is basically similar to the plot subjects of her Howard Hawks movie westerns, Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1967). In an earlier tale, the overly gruesome and morbid "I Feel Bad Killing You" (1944), she calls her crooked area the Surfside Division of L.A., an obvious homage to Raymond Chandler, who created "Bay City" as the ultimate town run by crooked cops, in Farewell My Lovely (1940). Chandler's original was Santa Monica, now a lovely beach community near L.A., but at the time a notoriously corrupt burg. (Two of my favorite films were shot there, Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) and Curtis Harrington's Night Tide (1960).) No one in Chandler succeeds in cleaning the city up: it just sits there and festers. Brackett takes the opposite approach, one that seems more in tune with traditional Westerns, such as Destry Rides Again (1939), in which the hero reforms the whole crooked town. Brackett clearly is expressing a personal vision here. Her fiction is emotionally sensitive, and deals with men who are trying to find renewed meaning in their lives. She also pays attention to plot logic, and includes real mysteries in both tales. I think the second, 1957 tale is much better than the first 1944 one, and I also enjoyed her 1960's film scripts such as Hatari! and El Dorado much more than her 1940's adaptation of The Big Sleep. Brackett seemed to grow as a writer as she got older. "

3.5 out of 5

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