Welcome to the dark world of Raymond Chandler, film noir, and scholarship, where behind every corner lurks a plot synopsis blocking the organic growth of analysis.
Once the obstacles of too much prefatory material (a Preface by Billy Wilder, a Prologue, an Introduction, and a brief biography of Chandler) have been overcome, the reader proceeds to Phillips's interpretations of the Chandler oeuvre in fiction, screenwriting, and film. Phillips proves his encyclopedic knowledge of noir as he analyzes, among many others, the three film versions of Farewell, My Lovely and the two film versions of The Big Sleep through extensive comparisons to Chandler's novels. Chandler despised Hollywood yet needed Tinseltown's lucre as a source of income, and Phillips is at his best as he describes how Chandler's screenplays, including Double Indemnity (directed by Billy Wilder) and Strangers on a Train (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), implicated him in torturous collaborations with the Hollywood elite. Such behind-the-scenes moments—for example, the different receptions Chandler found at MGM and Paramount, the drama of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Robert Montgomery's innovative camera technique in Lady in the Lake—are welcome and informative. Unfortunately, such moments can only be found after sifting through endless plot synopses in which Chandler's haunting tales are subjected to a sort of Cliff Notes summarizing. The analysis is also marred by a squeamishness on Phillips's part in dealing with the homoerotic subtones of many noir films. He goes to great lengths to exonerate Chandler and his characters from any such imputation, no matter that countless viewers see a little something more in some of the characters' relationships.
The darkness of noir never fails to serve up a treacherous treat, so read or watch Chandler's originals rather than reading Phillips's summaries. (30 b&w photos)