Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Marlowe and Boston Strangler: Mythologies

Jessica Lange in Marlowe.

The Irish writer John Banville’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, published in 2014 and the source of the new Neil Jordan picture Marlowe, is a Raymond Chandler reset of no special distinction except a rather puzzling one. (Banville’s other output is divided between high-flown literary works like The Sea – an exquisite piece of writing – and a series of mysteries, written under the pen name Benjamin Black, that feature a pathologist named Garret Quirke.) At the climax of this tale, set in late-1950s L.A., of the disappearance of a shady Hollywood agent named Nico Peterson, which Peterson’s lover, the wealthy Clare Cavendish, has hired Marlowe to solve, a potent figure out of the gumshoe’s past, a drinking buddy named Terry Lennox, resurfaces. Lennox is the pivotal character in one of Chandler’s later books, The Long Goodbye, which begins with Marlowe’s agreeing to drive him to Tijuana, no questions asked, after the murder of his wife, and ends with the detective’s helping him to establish a new identity in Mexico. The point of The Black-Eyed Blonde, as far as I can tell, is to punish Terry – to turn him into a thoroughgoing villain. But Robert Altman and his screenwriter, Leigh Brackett (who had collaborated with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman on the most famous Marlowe film, The Big Sleep), already did that in the brilliant 1973 movie of The Long Goodbye, where Marlowe is played by Elliott Gould and Terry by the ballplayer Jim Bouton, and where the story ends very differently.