Bestselling crime author Michael Connelly takes a look at Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, and what it means to him and the City of Angels.
It’s a tough choice when it comes to picking a favourite film-from-a-book. There are many good ones, and many that have been influential to me. The two that jump to mind first are Bullitt, which was based on the Robert L. Fish novel Mute Witness, and The Long Goodbye, based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same title. Let’s go with The Long Goodbye, because I think both the book and film offer the reader/viewer a lot of contrast as well as a satisfying journey.
The 1973 film version of The Long Goodbye was my introduction to the work of Raymond Chandler. I saw it while in college and immediately loved it. The only problem was that it was a one-night showing, a few years after its initial release. So I saw it, loved it and did not see it again for more than twenty years.
You see, it was rated R, and was not broadcast on network television. I didn’t see the film again until I spotted it as part of a double bill at the Vagabond theater in Los Angeles in 1988. Anyway, while I didn’t have the film to immediately watch again after that first viewing, I did have the book it was based on. I went right out the morning after seeing the film and bought the Chandler novel. I skipped classes that day and just dug in and read. I finished the book in the early hours the next day.
What I discovered when I read the novel was that the film and book were quite different, even down to the characterisation of the central character, Philip Marlowe. The Marlowe of the novel was more brooding and sardonic and less hopeful than the private eye in the film, played by Elliott Gould.
Many Chandler purists consider the film, directed by Robert Altman, to be an abomination of the book and character, and it suffered initially at the hands of critics. The book is set in the 1950s, and the film updates it to the 1970s. I may be in the minority, but I think both stand strong on their own. The book is a hands-down classic and helped set Chandler/Marlowe as the standard bearers of LA noir and private-eye fiction.
The two have different endings that I think speak to the different times they are set in. Los Angeles in the conservative, post-war 1950s was a different place to live in than the hedonistic and freer 1970s. To that end, reading the book and seeing the film offer the chance to track a 20-year evolution of time and place. To me, that makes it worth the journey.
I often go back to both the book and film for inspiration and encouragement as a writer of both novels and screenplays. As I write this, a poster from the film hangs on the wall near my desk. It’s got one of the best taglines ever: ‘Nothing says goodbye like a bullet . . .’
A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Connelly is the author of the Harry Bosch thriller series as well as several standalone bestsellers. His new paperback, The Black Box, is out now in paperback and ebook. His new hardback, The Gods of Guilt, is out Thursday 21 November 2013.