22
Jul
13

Raymond Chandler and Hollywood: The Little Sister reviewed

The Little Sister (Philip Marlowe, #5)

Today he’s best remembered for his Marlowe novels, but there’s a lot more to Raymond Chandler than you might expect. In his younger days, he went to the same school as PG Wodehouse (not at the same time, though), wrote poetry and journalism and fought with the Canadian Army in World War One. Later in life, he gained fame as a novelist but also spent time as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures.

During his time in Hollywood, Chandler helped write (or wrote himself) the scripts to Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia, among others. He was even nominated for a couple of awards. He didn’t like it there. In a 1945 essay for The Atlantic he wrote:

I hold no brief for Hollywood. I have worked there a little over two years, which is far from enough to make me an authority, but more than enough to make me feel pretty thoroughly bored… The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.

These years in Hollywood helped inspire the most savage and ruthless of his novels: 1949’s The Little Sister.

Savage, cynical and Hollywood to the core, this is one of his more underrated books and a full bore blast at the movie industry. When a guy goes missing in the outskirts of LA, his sister hires Marlowe to track him down. Before long, Marlowe’s sucked into the underbelly of Hollywood: drugs, gangsters, tabloid photographers and blackmailers. Here, Chandler takes shots at agents, stuffy Hollywood big wigs and even studio bosses.

Still, this is one of his darker reads, too. Everyone is corrupt, from hotel dicks to agents, and there’s a pretty high body count, even for a Marlowe novel. It’s a dark story where everyone is lying, covering for themselves and don’t care about anyone. In a word, it’s cynical. And it doesn’t hold back.

There’s a theme of bitterness here which pops up once in a while, coming to a boil when Marlowe goes on a rant about how hollow and phony LA is, with him raging on shallow people with “windblown hair and sunglasses.” It’s one of the most bitter moments in anything of Chander’s books, closing with this reflection on the city:

I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that’d been closed too long. But the colored lights fooled you. The lights were wonderful. There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights. (pg 81)

Rating: 7/10. A short but intense read, straddling the line between outright cynicism of the movie industry (something Chandler knew well) and a dark sense of humor, poking fun at the trappings of the detective genre. Recommended for crime fans.

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