Raymond Chandler, without a doubt is one of the pioneering figure responsible for the progress of hard-boiled crime in the 20th century. In addition to what authors such as Dashiell Hammett had created he added a literary angle to it, polished it and gave it a unique voice. This is evident from some of the reflections he later had about his distinct style (Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality):
A long time ago when I was writing for the pulps I out into a story a line like “He got out of the car and walked across the sun-drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.” they took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing – just held up the action. I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was that the readers just thought they cared about nothing but action; that really, although they didn’t know it, the thing they cared about, and that I cared about, was the creation of emotion through dialogue and description.
To Chandler, detective stories were much more than commercial products developed for entertainment purposes. He, therefore, took a more perfectionist approach to writing. He published his first novel The Big Sleep at the age of 50 and after studying various writing forms for over a decade. Therefore, the outcome of his literary life in the mystery genre is a collection of only 7 novels, 24 short stories and few screenplays. But this small collection has had such an impact that today’s crime fiction and literature would not be the same without him.
Chandler was born in 1888 in Chicago, Illinois, but moved to England with his mother Florence when he was little. This was because of the fact that his father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for the railway, abandoned the family. So to obtain the best possible education for Ray, his Irish mother, moved them to the Upper Norwood in London, England.
He finished his preparatory school in London, and then studied international law in France and Germany. After returning to England, in 1912, he borrowed money from his uncle, who expected it to be repaid with interest, and returned to America. His mother joined him there in late 1912. They moved to Los Angeles in 1913.
In the World War I, Chandler joined Canadian Expeditionary Force and remained with the army until end of the war. Finally, after the war ended, he came back to Los Angeles and soon began a love affair. Pearl Eugenie (“Cissy”) Pascal, the mistress, was a married woman 18 years older than him and the stepmother of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had enlisted.
Cissy later divorced her husband to marry Raymond but his mother would not allow it. This changed when Florence died in 1923. Raymond Chandler married Cissy one year later.
Raymond Chandler’s Writing Career
Chandler benefited a lot from being in the company of a more mature person such as Cissy. As a result, he started to work in 1922 as a bookkeeper and auditor in Dabney Oil Syndicate. But he quickly rose through the ranks and by 1931 he was the vice president of the company. This professional success didn’t last however. As Cissy’s health began to fail with age, he started drinking and also had numerous romantic affairs. Therefore, the company dismissed him in 1932.
Having difficulty with his finances, Chandler had to think of a new way to make money. Rather than looking for a job similar to his previous position, he tried to use his writing talent. And the plan worked! As a result of his attempts, his first professional short story “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. And his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, featuring the detective Philip Marlowe, speaking in the first person. This L.A. private detective is probably his most well-know creation.
After The Big Sleep, he penned six more Marlowe novels, including two all-time classics: Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953). He also dabbled into screenwriting in the 1940s. Some of his memorable work include the adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1943) and the original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946). Both screenplays brought Oscar nominations for Chandler and became the iconic examples of film noir.
Raymond Chandler Later Life and Death
Cissy died in 1954 and Chandler’s loneliness led to his depression. As a result, he started drinking again and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered. Furthermore, in 1955, he even attempted suicide. When he finally passed away in 1959, he left behind an unfinished manuscript. The book which was titled The Poodle Springs Story, was later completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989. Because of the original title, Parker released it as Poodle Springs. The book featured Boston P.I. named Spenser.
The author’s legacy remains alive even today and have inspired the writings of many notable crime novelists such as Michael Connelly, Sara Paretsky, and Robert Crais through the decades. Hence he can be considered one of the undisputed icons of the noir genre.
Raymond Chandler Novels
The Big Sleep (1939, Philip Marlowe). While Chandler has written various great novels, this is probably the best work of Raymond Chandler. This is story of a dying millionaire who hires private eye Philip Marlowe. So he gets right to work. The assignment is to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters. And Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. In addition to blackmailing, kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.
Farewell, My Lovely (1940, Philip Marlowe). Philip Marlowe is about to give up on a completely routine case when he finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to get caught up in a murder that leads to a ring of jewel thieves, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.
The High Window (1942, Philip Marlowe). A story about a wealthy Pasadena widow with a mean streak, a missing daughter-in-law with a past, and a gold coin worth a small fortune. These elements don’t quite add up until Marlowe discovers evidence of murder, rape, blackmail, and the worst kind of human exploitation.
The Lady in the Lake (1943, Philip Marlowe)
The Little Sister (1949, Philip Marlowe)
The Long Goodbye (1953, Philip Marlowe)
Playback (1958, Philip Marlowe)
Poodle Springs (1959/1989, completed by Robert B. Parker; Philip Marlowe)
The Blue Dahlia (1976, screenplay)
Raymond Chandler’s Unknown Thriller: The Screenplay of Playback (1985, reworked as the 1958 Marlowe novel)
Short Stories (Black Mask)
12 of Chandler’s short stories were originally published in Black Mask magazine.
“Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (December 1933, Black Mask; Mallory)
“Smart-Aleck Kill” (July 1934, Black Mask; Mallory)
“Finger Man” (October 1934, Black Mask; Carmady)
“Killer in the Rain” (January 1935, Black Mask; Carmady)
“Nevada Gas” (June 1935, Black Mask)
“Spanish Blood” (November 1935, Black Mask)
“Guns at Cyrano’s” (January 1936, Black Mask; Ted Malvern)
“The Man Who Liked Dogs” (March 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
“Goldfish” (June 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
“The Curtain” (September 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
“Noon Street Nemesis” (May 30, 1936, Detective Fiction Weekly; aka “Pick-up on Noon Street”)
“Try the Girl” (January 1937, Black Mask; Carmady)
Short Stories (Dime Detective Magazine and Others)
The following titles were published mostly in Dime Detective magazine but also a host of other outlets:
“Mandarin’s Jade” (November 1937, Dime Detective Magazine; John Dalmas)
“Red Wind” (January 1938, Dime Detective Magazine; John Dalmas)
“The King in Yellow” (March 1938, Dime Detective Magazine)
“Bay City Blues” (June 1938; Dime Detective Magazine; John Dalmas)
“The Lady in the Lake” (January 1939, Dime Detective Magazine; John Dalmas)
“Pearls Are a Nuisance” (April 1939, Dime Detective Magazine)
“Trouble Is My Business” (August 1939, Dime Detective Magazine; John Dalmas)
“I’ll Be Waiting” (October 14, 1939, Saturday Evening Post; Tony Resick)
“The Bronze Door” (November 1939, Unknown Worlds)
“No Crime in the Mountains” (September 1941, Detective Story; John Evans)
“Professor Bingo’s Snuff” (June-August 1951, Park East Magazine)
“English Summer” (1957; first printed in 1976, The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler)
“Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate” (April 6-10, 1959, London Daily Mail; aka “Philip Marlowe’s Last Case” in January 1962, EQMM; aka “The Pencil” in September 1965, Argosy; as “Wrong Pidgeon” in February 1969, Manhunt; Philip Marlowe)
There are various collections of Chandlers work in and out of print, starting with Five Murders (1944). However, the following two books have gathered a complete collection of all his stories under one title.
Raymond Chandler: Collected Stories (2002). This Library Edition includes all of Chandler’s short stories. Also, Raymond Chandler: The Library of America Edition (2014) is a complete collection which is available as deluxe collector box of two previous Library of America editions.
Non-fiction short pieces by Raymond Chandler
“The Simple Art of Murder” (December 1944, The Atlantic Monthly)
“Writers in Hollywood” (November 1945, The Atlantic Monthly)
“Critical Notes.” (July 1947, Screen Writer)
“Oscar Night in Hollywood” (March 1948, The Atlantic Monthly)
“The Simple Art of Murder.” (April 15, 1950, Saturday Review of Literature; revised version of the December 1944 Atlantic Monthly article)
“Ten Per Cent of Your Life” (February 1952, Atlantic Monthly)
“A Couple of Writers” (1951; first published in 1984, Raymond Chandler Speaking)
“Ten Per Cent of Your Life” (February 1952, The Atlantic Monthly)
Raymond Chandler Movies (Screenplays)
The Falcon Takes Over (1942, RKO) This movie is based on Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler with Irving Reis as director. And George Sanders stars in this movie as Gay Lawrence or “The Falcon”. This is the first film adaptation of a Chandler novel, although the detective is Michael Arlen’s The Falcon, and not Philip Marlowe.
Time To Kill (1942, 20th Century Fox). This movie is based on characters created by Brett Halliday and The High Window by Raymond Chandler. The movie was directed by Herbert I. Leeds with Lloyd Nolan as Michael Shayne.
Double Indemnity (1944, Paramount). While this movie is based on the novel by James M. Cain, Chandler wrote the screenplay for this movie with Billy Wilder. The film, directed by Billy Wilder, stars Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff. This film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
And Now Tomorrow (1944, Paramount). Based on the novel by Rachel Field, Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay with Frank Partos. The film, directed by Irving Pichel, is a love story about one woman’s sickness and her extraordinary struggle over adversity. While her sense of hearing fades, her only hope lies with the young and determined Dr. Marek Vance.
Murder My Sweet (1944, RKO). Based on Farewell My Lovely, this movie finally features Philip Marlowe. And the screenplay for this film was written by John Paxton with Edward Dmytryk as director.
The Unseen (1945, Paramount). Based on the novel Her Heart in Her Throat by Ethel Lina White, Chandler wrote the screenplay along with Hagar Wilde. And the movie was directed by Lewis Allen.
The Blue Dahlia (1946, Paramount). Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for this film with George Marshall as the director. And in the story, a WWII veteran (Alan Ladd) is accused of killing his unfaithful wife. So he races against time to find the real murderer with the help of a sympathetic stranger (Veronica Lake).
The Big Sleep (1946, Warner Brothers). The screenplay for the film was written by William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett and Howard Hawks directed it. And when it came to Philip Marlowe, Humphrey BogartPlayed the role. In the story, L.A. private eye Phillip Marlowe takes on a blackmail case. Consequently, he follows a trail filled with murderers, pornographers, nightclub rogues, the spoiled rich and more.
The Lady In The Lake (1947, MGM). Steve Fisher wrote the screenplay based on a Chandler novel. Robert Montgomery directed the movie and also played the role of Philip Marlowe.
The Brasher Doubloon (1947, 20th Century Fox). While this movie is based on the The High Window by Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Hannah wrote the screenplay for this movie. And a great delight was the performance of George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe.
Strangers on a Train (1951, Warner Brothers). This is an Alfred Hitchcock classic. And Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde wrote the screenplay for the film.
Marlowe (1969, Metrocolor/MGM). Based on The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler, James Garner plays the role of Philip Marlowe in this film. When quiet, Midwesterner Orfamy Quest hires Marlowe to find her brother, what should be a simple case for the detective quickly becomes a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
The Long Goodbye (1973, United Artists). Elliot Gould play the role of Philip Marlowe in this Robert Altman’s movie. And he gives one of his best performances as the quirky, mischievous detective. Private eye Philip Marlowe (Gould) faces the most bizarre case of his life, when a friend’s apparent suicide turns into a double murder involving a sexy blonde, a disturbed gangster and a suitcase of drug money. But as Marlowe stumbles toward the truth, he soon finds himself lost in a maze of sex and deceit – only to discover that in L.A., if love is dangerous… friendship is murder.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975, EK Corporation/ITC). Dick Richards directed this Chandler adaptation. And when it came to Philip Marlowe, Robert Mitchum played the role.
The Big Sleep (1978, Winkast). Directed by Michael Winner. And Robert Mitchum again stars as Philip Marlowe.
The Little Sister (2015, Brooklyn Multimedia). This is an animation feature written and directed by Josh Buckland.
Raymond Chandler Audiobooks
Most of the stories by Raymond Chandler are available as audio both in original and dramatized versions. The following are among the more notable titles:
Playback. Playback finds Marlowe mixing business with pleasure. Therefore, he is happy with receiving money for following a mysterious and lovely red-head named Eleanor King. But it seems wherever Miss King goes, trouble follows. She’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told, all in the name of chivalry, of course. But one dead body later and what started out as a lazy afternoon’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder.
Red Wind. Before there was Philip Marlowe, there was John Dalmas, a character very much like Marlowe. Because of Marlowe’s popularity, in some later editions of this short story, the protagonist’s name is actually changed to Marlowe’s. Here, he investigates a series of murders in classic hard-boiled fashion.
Mandarin’s Jade and Other Stories. Mandarin’s Jade, The Man Who Liked Dogs, and Try the Girl are three of Raymond Chandler’s early mystery stories that set the groundwork for the creation of the Philip Marlowe character.
Graphic Novels and Comics
The Little Sister (1997, Fireside). Illustrated and adapted by Michael Lark.
Playback: A Graphic Novel. (2004, Arcade [in French]; 2006, Arcade [in English]). Adapted by Ted Benoit with the art by François Ayrole.