Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Art of The Big Sleep

In hauling my old mystery paperbacks out of storage and giving them the once-over, I was struck by how few Raymond Chandler covers actually pictured Philip Marlowe. Thinking a little deeper, I realized how rare Marlowe illustrations really are. Near as I can tell, Marlowe never officially appeared in the pulps. The Black Mask and Dime Detective stories Chandler used to create his novels had detectives with names like Mallory, Carmady and Dalmas, so there are no pulp illos at all. I was pleased to find these two covers of The Big Sleep, which feature at least limited views of Mr. Marlowe.

Pocket Book 696, from 1950, is the best Marlowe image I've found so far. It's based on the following passage: On a sort of low dais at one end of the room there was a high-backed teakwood chair in which Miss Carmen Sternwood was sitting on a fringed orange shawl. She was sitting very straight, with her hands on the arms of the chair, her knees close together, her body stiffly erect in the pose of an Egyptian goddess, her chin level, her small bright teeth shining between her parted lips. Her eyes were wide open. The dark slate color of the Iris had devoured the pupil. They were mad eyes. She seemed to be unconscious, but she didn’t have the pose of unconsciouness. She looked as if, in her mind, she was doing something very important and making a fine job of it. Out of her mouth came a tinny chuckling noise which didn’t change her expression or move her lips. She was wearing a pair of long jade earrings. They were nice earrings and had probably cost a couple of hundred dollars. She wasn’t wearing anything else.

Pocket Book 2696, 1958, presents the same two characters from another scene: The bed was down. Something in it giggled. A blond head was pressed into my pillow. Two bare arms curved up and the hands belonging to them were clasped on top of the blond head. Carmen Sternwood lay on her back in my bed, giggling at me. The tawny wave of her hair was spread out on the pillow as if by a careful and artificial hand. Her slaty eyes peered at me and had the effect, as usual, of peering from behind a barrel. She smiled. Her small sharp teeth glinted. “Cute, aren’t I?” she said.


Chris said...

Wow, all this time and I'm just now getting over to your blog. I really like what you've got here and just added you to my blog roll. Should've done that awhile ago. I've got some good reading ahead of me with what you've got here.

Evan Lewis said...

Welcome, Chris. I admire what you're doing with the L'Armour stuff too.

Oscar Case said...

If I remember right I saw Robert Mitchum star in the movie, The Big Sleep, but my memory is not as good as it used to be.

Evan Lewis said...

That's so, Oscar, but it was a weird one. They moved it from L.A. to England, and into the present. Mitchum's more faithful version of Farewell, My Lovely, however, was a fine film.