Light and Dark

The degraded world in which Marlowe moves is bought into clear focus by Chandler's effective prose. A 'visual' theme that Chandler employs throughout is the use of light and darkness to bring life to his descriptive passages. For example "...winding down curved rainswept streets, under the steady drip of trees, past lighted windows in big houses in ghostly enormous grounds, vague clusters of eaves and gables and lighted windows high on the hillside, remote and inaccessible, like witch houses in a forest. I came out at a service station glaring with wasted light, where a bored attendant in a white cap and a dark blue windbreaker sat on a stool, inside the steamed glass, reading a paper... on a night like this you could grow a beard waiting for a taxi." Or, "A yellow window shone here and there, but most of the houses were dark... The tyres sang on the moist concrete of the boulevard. The world was a wet emptiness."

The images Chandler conjures are reminiscent of the luminous paintings of twentieth century American artist Edward Hopper, whose subjects in return often seemed to belong to a Chandler novel. But the visual art that Chandler most directly connects with is that of cinema, specifically that hardest of cinematic styles to define, film noir. Not coined until the late 1950s, put simplistically, noir can be said to refer to crime films featuring cynical, malevolent characters in a sleazy setting, often conveyed by techniques such as shadowy cinematography and moody music. (However, what exactly qualifies as noir has been debated at length.) Whilst many elements of noir were present in the gangster films of the 1930s, its true emergence came in the 1940s with the likes of The Maltese Falcon (1941 - from Hammett's 1930 novel), To Have and Have Not (1942) and, of course, The Big Sleep (1946). A changing world throughout the fifties and sixties seemed to banish noir to film history. However, it is a genre that refuses to die, and from time to time shows itself in films such Chinatown (1974), a 1930s-set tale private eye yarn; Body Heat (1981), a revamp of Chandler-scripted noir classic Double Indemnity; and LA Confidential (1997) which refers itself to the last days of noir's first wave with its early 1950s setting. All through noir's history, Chandleresque element can be discerned within, and it is doubtless that his work helped to establish the conventions of the genre.

And just as Chandler influenced film, the milieu in which he worked - and his own work specifically - took cues from it. And he acknowledges it. Of Joe Brody, Marlowe notes that, "His voice was the elaborately casual voice of the tough guy in the pictures. Pictures have made them all like that." And describing Canino, he writes, "He moved his dark eyes up and down slowly and then glanced at his finger-nails one by one, holding them up against the light and studying them with care, as Hollywood has taught them it should be done." And even in the film of The Big Sleep, Canino is allowed to utter the line, "What, you want me to count to three, like in the movies?" But Chandler knew the priorities of his influence, and it only takes till the third chapter for Vivian Regan to say, "So you're a private detective... I didn't know they really existed, except in books." Chandler was never afraid of self-referentiality, and his books are peppered with these sorts of references, as well as nods to his favourite authors (most notably Ernest Hemingway).

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