Sunday, April 29, 2007

Page to Screen

I know I've posted this scene before, but I wanted to try posting a movie scene after quoting the same scene from the novel it's based on.

The scene is the book shop scene from The Big Sleep, or as it's called in the movie, the ACME Book Shop (it's a Warner Brothers picture; ACME had to be in there somewhere) where Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart in the movie) asks for some help from a bookstore clerk (played by Dorothy Malone in the movie).

Howard Hawks claimed that most of this scene was made up on the set, and like a lot of Hawks's stories, it's not quite true but not quite a lie either -- half true, let's say. As you can see, the first part of the scene in the movie is almost exactly the same as the book, right down to the fact that the clerk is wearing glasses (though she's obviously supposed to be more genuinely nerdy in the book, whereas Malone wearing glasses is more a joke on the "beautiful woman with glasses and her hair up" stereotype). But the second half of the scene, where Marlowe and the clerk take their flirtation one step further, is all original to the film, and a lot of it may have indeed been made up as they went along; Malone said it was her idea to pull down the window shade, for example. It's kind of a running theme throughout the movie: adding more sex to Chandler's original scenes -- in particular, making Chandler's rather chaste Marlowe into a flirting, womanizing chick magnet.

I shoved on back into the store, passed through a partition and found a small dark woman reading a law book at a desk.

I flipped my wallet open on her desk and let her look at the buzzer pinned to the flap. She looked at it, took her glasses off and leaned back in her chair. I put the wallet away. She had the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess. She stared at me and said nothing.

I said: "Would you do me a favor, a very small favor?"

"I don't know. What is it?" She had a smoothly husky voice.

"You know Geiger's store across the street, two blocks west?"

"I think I may have passed it."

"It's a bookstore," I said. "Not your kind of a bookstore. You know darn well."

She curled her lip slightly and said nothing. "You know Geiger by sight?" I asked.

"I'm sorry. I don't know Mr. Geiger."

"Then you couldn't tell me what he looks like?"

Her lip curled some more. "Why should I?"

"No reason at all. If you don't want to, I can't make you."

She looked out through the partition door and leaned back again. "That was a sheriff's star, wasn't it?"

"Honorary deputy. Doesn't mean a thing. It's worth a dime cigar."

"I see." She reached for a pack of cigarettes and shook one loose and reached for it with her lips. I held a match for her. She thanked me, leaned back again and regarded me through smoke. She said carefully:

"You wish to know what he looks like and you don't want to interview him?"

"He's not there," I said.

"I presume he will be. After all, it's his store."

"I don't want to interview him just yet," I said.

She looked out through the open doorway again. I said: "Know anything about rare books?"

"You could try me."

"Would you have a Ben Hur, 1860, Third Edition, the one with the duplicated line on page 116?"

She pushed her yellow law book to one side and reached a fat volume up on the desk, leafed it through, found her page, and studied it. "Nobody would," she said without looking up. "There isn't one."


"What in the world are you driving at?"

"The girl in Geiger's store didn't know that."

She looked up. "I see. You interest me. Rather vaguely."

"I'm a private dick on a case. Perhaps I ask too much. It didn't seem much to me somehow."

She blew a soft gray smoke ring and poked her finger through. It came to pieces in frail wisps. She spoke smoothly, indifferently. "In his early forties, I should judge. Medium height, fattish. Would weigh about a hundred and sixty pounds. Fat face, Charlie Chan moustache, thick soft neck. Soft all over. Well dressed, goes without a hat, affects a knowledge of antiques and hasn't any. Oh yes. His left eye is glass."

"You'd make a good cop," I said.

She put the reference book back on an open shelf at the end of her desk, and opened the law book in front of her again. "I hope not," she said. She put her glasses on.

I thanked her and left. The rain had started. I ran for it, with the wrapped book under my arm.


Jenny Lerew said...

I hadn't read the book in I want to again. The film I know by heart--and you're spot on in your assessment of Hawks(as you well know).

It's a relief to have someone call him on his "elaborations"(don't get me wrong--I LOVE Hawks' films-you may remember I'm a hardcore "Rio Bravo" person). Way too many supposed film journalists don't.

Cap'n Bob said...

The same scene was swiped for the movie Shamus, with Burt Reynolds.