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American Film (1976) - Stranger in a Studio




  • "The relationship of Raymond Chandler and Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train was unsatisfactory to both. Chandler found Hitchcock interfering and, toward the end, insufficiently communicative; as his script was entirely rewritten by Czenzi Ormonde, the experience was quite bitter for Chandler. Excerpted from The Life of Raymond Chandler." — Sloan, page 421


In 1948, Raymond Chandler gave up screenwriting, or so he thought, and moved to La JoIIa, a town he and his wife, Cissy, enjoyed for its quiet elegance and the politeness of its inhabitants, whose lack of aggressiveness was a pleasant change from Los Angeles. Yet, it was not long before he wrote his editor at Houghton Mifflin, Dale Warren, that "the news from here is rotten. Nervous, tired, discouraged, sick of the chauffeur-and-Cadillac atmosphere, bored to hell with the endless struggle to get help, disgusted with my lack of prescience in not seeing that this kind of life is unsuited to my temperament."

He spent a good deal of his time in La Jolla writing articles for the Atlantic, some, inevitably, dealing with his Hollywood experience. By 1948, he knew much more about filmmaking than when he had begun screenwork in 1943. Above all, he knew that Hollywood was primarily a "business" or an "industry" in which commercial values predominated. In such an atmosphere, Chandler wrote, the writer may have "brief enthusiasms, but they are destroyed before they can flower. People who can't write tell him how to write. He meets clever and interesting people and may even form lasting friendships, but all this is incidental to his proper business of writing. The wise screenwriter is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn't take things too much to heart." Chandler even had enough detachment to see the humor of the situation, and he enjoyed recording one of the absurd "Goldwynisms" for which Samuel Goldwyn was famous: "Talking about a script deal he pounded the desk and shouted, Tm sick and tired of writers chiseling on producers in Hollywood. So here is the deal. You can either take it or like it.'"

Despite his skepticism, Chandler was fascinated by the possibilities of film. To underline the conflict between commercial and artistic values in the movies, he wrote an article called "Oscar Night in Hollywood," which was published in the Atlantic in June of 1948. His first point was that the Oscars given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences go only to films that are commercially successful. Why then, he asked, does anyone bother with the vulgar ballyhoo of the Academy Awards? "The only answer I can think of is that the motion picture is an art. I say this with a very small voice." He had been saying it with a more forceful voice to the various directors and producers he dealt with in Hollywood, but he accomplished little. Nevertheless, he learned who the important people were in making a film. Mainly, they were the technicians—the cameraman, the lighting man, and above all the editor, who cut and pieced the scenes together to make them appear in a natural flow. As a writer bored with the pretensions of many directors, Chandler knew that the technicians often faced impossible tasks. "The best cutter in Hollywood cannot correct a botched job of directing; he can't make scenes flow when they are shot staccato, without reference to their movement on film together. If the cutter wants to make a dissolve to cover an abrupt transition, he can't do it unless he has the film to combine for the dissolve."

Chandler sometimes wondered whether the trouble with most films was just that "they're simply no longer a novelty. The medium, the things it can do have lost the sting. We're back where silent films were when Warners bought the Vita-phone," But in his Atlantic article, he was more optimistic. After commenting on the high quality of Roberto Rossellini's Open City and Laurence Olivier's Henry V, he said that the motion picture was not like literature or the theater. Rather, it was similar to music "in the sense that its finest effects can be independent of precise meaning, that its transitions can be more eloquent than its high-lit scenes, and that its dissolves and camera movements, which cannot be censored, are far more emotionally effective than its plots, which can. Not only is the motion picture an art," he continued, making the main point of his article, "but it is the one entirely new art that has been evolved on this planet for hundreds of years. It is the only art at which we of this generation have any possible chance to greatly excel.

In order to produce income for living in La Jolla, Chandler spent a great deal of time trying to arrange for a radio show and a later one on television to be based on his work. Since it would be a serial, the idea was to have Philip Marlowe as the central character and invent new episodes about him. (Radio shows based on Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Erie Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason had already been produced in this fashion.) Chandler made negotiations difficult because he insisted on approving the script. He believed that Marlowe as a character was an important commercial property, and he did not want to have him ineptly introduced to the wide audience of radio listeners. "My idea about the Philip Marlowe series is that it would have to live on its dialogue," he wrote. "There just isn't anything else to distinguish it from any show of the type that the usual hacks could think up. The plots of these shows don't matter; they're just an excuse for people to go places and say things, but the things they say are all-important. The dialogue has to have sparkle."

In 1947, Chandler's agent at the time, H. N. Swanson, had sold a Marlowe program to the National Broadcasting Company as a summer replacement for the Bob Hope show. Van Heflin was selected to play the role of Marlowe and Milton Geiger wrote the script. Chandler was so nervous about its success he asked Erie Stanley Gardner to listen to it. Gardner told him he thought the program was better than most others of the kind, but he was bothered by the first-person narration. A week later, he explained what he meant. "I listened to the Marlowe program last night and found it rather difficult to follow. It was so crisp, so fast moving that I couldn't relax and keep up with it. I had to strain my attention to keep the program from going off and leaving me.

"I felt as though I had listened to a mystery book which had been compressed into a thirty-minute dramatization." The critic John Crosby agreed, for he noted that "if plots get any more abbreviated, they'll be doing War and Peace on a fifteen-minute show and have time left over for the commercial."

The show was not renewed for the fall season because MGM wouldn't let Van Heflin continue. Chandler did nothing about reviving it until he changed his literary agent and found himself represented by Ray Stark, Carl Brandt's Hollywood specialist. He went to Los Angeles to consult Stark, and the trip awakened his old mixed feelings about the place. "These Hollywood people are fantastic when you have been away for a while," he wrote. "In their presence any calm sensible remark sounds faked. Their conversation is a mess of shopworn superlatives interrupted by four telephone calls to the sentence." He got on well with Stark and reported that "everybody in his bagnio is nice." Nevertheless, something was wrong. "I came away depressed. I really don't know why. Perhaps it's just Beverly Hills. It was such a nice place before the Phoenicians took it over. Now it's just a setting for an enormous confidence racket." Despite his reservations, Chandler made it clear to Stark that he was primarily concerned with the quality of the script, which he considered the key to the show's success. "I would rather have an expensive writer and cheap actors than a name star and a cheap writer." The point, he explained, was that "Philip Marlowe is supposed to have a unique quality, and he is all I have to sell."

Chandler was sufficiently concerned about the matter to write out a series of suggestions to be passed on to whoever wrote the series. The problem with a first-person character, he said, was that he tended to dominate and become offensive. "To avoid that you must not always give him the punch line or the exit line. Not even often. Let the other characters have the toppers. Leave him without a gag. A devastating crack loses a lot of its force when it doesn't provoke any answer, when the other man just rides with the punch. Then you have to top it yourself or give ground." Chandler said that Marlowe's wisecracks "should be jerked out of him emotionally" rather than be self-conscious and that "any effect of gloating" should be avoided.

Stark succeeded in selling the "Adventures of Philip Marlowe" to the Columbia Broadcasting System in September of 1948 at a weekly rate of $250, to be increased to $400, should the program find a commercial sponsor.

The program did well and earned good listener ratings, the highest of those sustained by the network. Chandler was satisfied with the program, although he would sometimes pretend otherwise, as when he remarked, "The character (let us keep this a secret or they might stop paying me) has about as much relation to Marlowe as I have to Winnie the Pooh."

After Chandler's novel, The Little Sister, was published, Stark arranged for a live TV broadcast of the story. He had already begun to try to put the Marlowe series on television as well. CBS made a pilot film, but was unable to find a sponsor for it, although the radio program continued as before. Chandler was always involved in these negotiations. Although he admired Stark's energy, he had doubts when the radio series was sold to Century Artists, a packaging company in which Stark had an interest, rather than directly to one of the networks. He was also too tough a Hollywood negotiator to believe that because television was new, he should not charge high prices for his work, as Stark suggested he do. "You can't sell a property for a cheap price to cheap people and expect it to be used for anything but a cheap purpose," he explained. "The real question is, does that matter. I rather think it does, somehow."

Chandler's contempt for television affected his attitude toward it. He thought it lacked good camera work, good directing, and good scripts. Like everybody else, he was also offended by the commercials; he used a "blabb-off," a device that cut off the sound during the advertisements, but it didn't help much. "I've spent a little time lately looking at television for the first time," he wrote in 1950, "and my opinion is that the people who look at television for any length of time and with any regularity have not ceased to read. They never began. It's a great deal like the chimpanzee who played the violin. He didn't play it in tune; he didn't play anything recognizable as a melody; he didn't hold the bow right; he didn't finger correctly. But, Jesus, wasn't it wonderful that he could play the violin at all."

After two years, the radio show was dropped. At this point, Chandler was engaged in a quarrel with Warner Bros., which also involved Stark. The negotiations went badly, and so on the first of December, Chandler wrote to Carl Brandt to say that he no longer wished to be represented by Ray Stark and that he intended to return to Swanson. Chandler changed agents mainly because of personality conflicts. About Swan-son, he wrote, "You can reach out and touch him. He's substantial. He's there. Stark is like a flickering light reflected on a wall. That is how he affects me. I am not questioning his abilities, nor am I suggesting that there is anything he should have done for me that he has not done in the way of disposing of anything I wrote or getting me better terms. My position quite simply is that I like Swanie, that I have known him for a long time, that I know where I am with him."

Chandler believed that television was in the hands of people who did B-pictures in the early days and who controlled radio. "The writing, I suppose, is no worse than it was in lots of radio shows, but by being more intrusive it seems worse. If you have spent fifteen years building up a character, a fairly complicated character, you can't deliver him to the sort of people who do these shows. I don't think the plots are terribly important. But I think the actor and the dialogue are very important—so much so that if I were offered a TV show (which I have not been), I would have to demand approval of the actor playing Philip Marlowe and also script approval. I simply can't afford to have this character murdered by a bunch of yucks."

When CBS canceled the Marlowe radio show in October, Chandler began to think that a packaging corporation like Ray Stark's Century Artists was perhaps necessary after all to keep a show on the air. The networks wanted too many options. "The idea of tying a man up for ten years and then feeding him dog biscuits strikes me as a little thick," he grumbled to Edgar Carter, Swanson's associate. With a touch of sour grapes he added, "Perhaps the show was too good, perhaps not enough people were slugged or knifed or shot. There are a half-dozen shows of this type on the air, it seems to me, which have been on for years and have been sponsored and are solid, and not one of them worth listening to."

Finally he decided to pull together his feelings about agents in an article that was published in the Atlantic under the memorable title of "Ten Percent of Your Life." What most influenced his writing in this piece was his memory of working with Ray Stark in Hollywood. He had already warned Brandt of the dangers inherent in the new kind of incorporated agency which is really a talent trust with a variety of clients—writers, actors, producers, directors. In the Atlantic article, Chandler dealt briefly with the traditional literary agency and then turned to the situation in Hollywood. "This brings me, not too eagerly," he began, "to the orchid of the profession—the Hollywood agent—a sharper, shrewder, and a good deal less scrupulous practitioner. Here is a guy who really makes with the personality. He dresses well and drives a Cadillac— or someone drives it for him. He has an estate in Beverly Hills or Bel-Air. He has been known to own a yacht, and by yacht I don't mean a cabin cruiser. On the surface he has a good deal of charm, because he needs it in his business. Underneath he has a heart as big as an olive pit."

The crux of Chandler's argument is that the extraordinary profits to be made in Hollywood brought in unscrupulous individuals whose only interest was a fast buck. "The law allowed him to incorporate, which, in my opinion was a fatal mistake. It destroyed all semblance of the professional attitude and the professional responsibility to the individual client." The consequence, even in the early 1950s, was that the clients, whether writers, directors, or actors, "became the raw material of a speculative business. He (the agent) wasn't working for you. You were working for him."

It was not until 1950 that Chandler finally agreed to do a film script of Patricia Highsmith's novel, Strangers on a Train, which was to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock for Warner Bros. "Why am I doing it?" he asked rhetorically. "Partly because I thought I might like Hitch, which I do, and partly because one gets tired of saying no, and someday I might want to say yes and not get asked."

Chandler was also interested in the theme of hidden guilt that lies at the heart of Highsmith's novel. Two strangers meet on a train. One of them, a rising architect named Guy Haines, would be happier if his wife were out of the way so that he could pursue his career and remarry; the other, Charles Bruno, a drunken and psychotic mother's boy, wishes his father were dead so he could inherit the family fortune. The two men have lunch on the train, and each tells the other his story. Bruno then suggests they swap murders: Guy would kill Bruno's father, and Bruno would kill Guy's wife. Neither would be caught because there was no motive to link the murderer to his victim. Guy is horrified and dismisses Bruno as a lunatic. But Bruno kills Guy's wife. The rest of the novel is devoted to Bruno's attempts to blackmail Guy into fulfilling his side of the "bargain."

Hitchcock knew that the novel had to be tightened up for screen treatment. He and Whitfield Cook, who had just previously written Stage Fright for him, turned Guy into a prominent tennis player since tennis is readily filmed and contains an element of suspense. The father of Guy's girl friend is made a senator instead of a millionaire in order to create a sharper contrast between Bruno's anarchic actions and the laws of society. Finally, the setting of the film is reduced to Forest Hills and Washington instead of being spread all over the country as in the novel.

These changes had all been made by the time Chandler signed a contract with Warner Bros, in early July to complete the script. His salary was to be $2,500 a week with a five-week guarantee. Chandler's contract allowed him to work at home, and so Hitchcock drove down to La Jolla for story conferences. Chandler hated "these god-awful jabber sessions which seem to be an inevitable although painful part of the picture business." Although he wouldn't work at the studio, he also disliked Hitchcock's intrusion into his house, and this made him sarcastic and disagreeable. One day, while waiting at the front door of the house for Hitchcock to get out of his limousine, Chandler remarked to his secretary: "Look at that fat bastard trying to get out of his car!" The secretary warned him that he could be heard. "What do I care?" replied Chandler. Hitchcock also found the meetings a strain and later recalled, "We'd sit together, and I would say, 'Why not do it this way?' and he'd answer, 'Well, if you can puzzle it out, what do you need me for?' "

Despite these difficulties, Chandler finished a first treatment by the eighteenth of July. Aside from transforming an introspective novel into a script suitable for filming, he had to face the question of plausibility. He did not think that the audience would believe Guy capable of committing a murder, and so he changed the script in a fundamental way. Guy pretends that he will murder Bruno's father, but he really plans to tell him that his son is psychotic and in need of medical attention.

The scene in which Guy tells Bruno that he will fulfill his "promise" to kill his father of necessity caused him the most trouble, as he noted in the course of writing his second treatment:

I nearly went crazy myself trying to block out this scene. I hate to say how many times I did it. It's darn near impossible to write, because consider what you have to put over:

1) A perfectly decent young man (Guy) agrees to murder a man he doesn't know, has never seen, in order to keep a maniac from giving himself away and from tormenting the nice young man.

2) From a character point of view, the audience will not believe the nice young man is going to kill anybody, or has any idea of killing anybody.

3) Nevertheless, the nice young man has to convince Bruno and a reasonable percentage of the audience that what he is about to do is logical and inevitable. This conviction may not outlast the scene, but it has to be there, or else what the hell are the boys talking about?

4) All through this scene (supposing it can be written this way) we are flirting with the ludicrous. If it is not written and played exactly right, it will be absurd. The reason for this is that the situation actually is ludicrous in its essence, and this can only be overcome by developing a sort of superficial menace, which really has nothing to do with the business at hand.

5) Or am I still crazy?

Chandler's solution is to have Bruno do most of the talking. His remarks are disjointed, ranging from fury to self-pity, and this hint of madness gives the scene the menace" Chandler referred to. As for Guy, he mainly asks questions and nods his head in agreement or gives non-committal grunts of "Uh-huh." It is a clever piece of writing, but fundamentally specious for the reasons Chandler cited.

Whenever Chandler sent a few pages of script to Hitchcock, he would also write a letter emphasizing the need for verisimilitude and logical exposition. He was convinced that Patricia Highsmith had not bothered herself much about these concerns. But the problem he faced also led him to consider the fundamental differences between fiction and screen-writing:

"The question I should really like to have answered, although I don't expect an answer to it in this lifetime, is why in the course of nailing the frame of a film together so much energy and thought are invariably expended, and have to be expended, in exactly this sort of contest between a superficial reasonableness and a fundamental idiocy. Why do film stories always have to have this element of the grotesque? Whose fault is it? Is it anybody's fault? Or is it something inseparable from the making of motion pictures? Is it the price you pay for trying to make a dream look as if it really happened? I think possibly it is.

"When you read a story, you accept its implausibilities and extravagances because they are no more fantastic than the conventions of the medium itself. But when you look at real people, moving against a real background, and hear them speaking real words, your imagination is anesthetized. You accept what you see and hear, but you do not complement it from the resources of your imagination. The motion picture is like a picture of a lady in a half-piece bathing suit. If she wore a few more clothes, you might be intrigued. If she wore no clothes at all, you might be shocked. But the way it is, you are occupied with noticing that her knees are too bony and her toenails too large. The modern film tries too hard to be real. Its techniques of illusion are so perfect that it requires no contribution from the audience but a mouthful of popcorn.

"The more real you make Guy and Bruno, the more unreal you make their relationship, the more it stands in need of rationalization and justification. You would like to ignore this and pass on, but you can't. You have to face it, because you have deliberately brought the audience to the point of realizing that what this story is about is the horror of an absurdity become real—an absurdity (please notice because this is very important) which falls just short of being impossible. If you wrote a story about a man who woke up in the morning with three arms, your story would be about what happened to him as a result of this extra arm. You would not have to justify his having it. That would be the premise. But the premise of this story is not that a nice young man might in certain circumstances murder a total stranger just to appease a lunatic. That is the end result. The premise is that if you shake hands with a maniac, you may have sold your soul to the devil."

The trap posed by this central unlikelihood is never evaded, and in the final script Chandler simply walks around it and in place of probability presents picturesque scenes. The low quality of Chandler's shooting script may be due to the uncertainties he felt about his work. Chandler was known as a dialogue writer, but the dialogue of this script is simply embarrassing. Everything is overstated and blatant. Relationships between people are so blunt as to make the script a caricature of human behavior. Many of the minor parts are satisfactory, but the major scenes are absurd. It is curious, but the faults may be due to Chandler's having to work from another writer's model: It is always easier to write dialogue for characters you have invented yourself. You know how they speak. Moreover, in his fiction, Chandler's dialogue depends a good deal on the surrounding narrative and descriptive prose. Naked, in a screenplay, it is less convincing.

When Hitchcock received Chandler's final script, he was unhappy with it: "The work he did was no good, and I ended up with Czenzi Ormonde, a woman writer, who was one of Ben Hecht's assistants." But if Chandler seems to be using a hammer and nail where a thumb tack would do, the script from which Hitchcock shot the film reads as though it had been written by people wielding pickaxes and sledgehammers. Where in Chandler's script Guy's original reaction to Bruno's proposal is left vague, in the film he says: "Of course, I agree; I agree with all your theories." After talking to his estranged wife early in the story, he remarks, in Chandler's words: "I felt like breaking her cute little neck." In the film, this is changed to "I'd like to break her foul, useless little neck.... I said I could strangle her." There is then an immediate cut to Bruno's hands being manicured by his mother.

Hitchcock had no illusions about what he had created. "As I see it," he said, "the flaws of Strangers on a Train were the ineffectiveness of the two main actors and the weakness of the final script. If the dialogue had been better, we'd have had stronger characterizations. The great problem of this sort of picture, you see, is that your main characters sometimes tend to become mere figures."

Whether different behavior by Hitchcock or Chandler could have improved matters is impossible to know. Certainly the atmosphere in which they worked gave little opportunity for cordiality, and by mid-Au-gust their relationship began to deteriorate. One day, after lunching with Hitchcock in La Jolla, Chandler came down with food poisoning. He therefore told Stark that Warner Bros, should take him off salary, and as a result he received a letter from Finlay McDermid, the head of the story department, expressing "my own and the studio's deep appreciation of your integrity." The next day, Warner's legal department sent one of those needlessly grating notices which stated that "due to your physical incapacity preventing you from rendering services for us" and concluding that "we elect to exercise the right in said contract granted to us to suspend said contract as to the payment of compensation payable to you thereunder during the aforesaid period."

Chandler let this pass as a typical piece of Hollywood legalism, but took the opportunity to write Stark about another matter that concerned him: "Hitchcock seems to be a very considerate and polite man, but he is full of little suggestions and ideas, which have a cramping effect on a writer's initiative. You are in a position of a fighter who can't get set because he is continuously being kept off balance by short jabs. I don't complain about this at all. Hitchcock is a rather special kind of director. He is always ready to sacrifice dramatic logic (insofar as it exists) for the sake of a camera effect or a mood effect. He is aware of this and accepts the handicap. He knows that in almost all his pictures there is some point where the story ceases to make any sense and becomes a chase, but he doesn't mind. This is very hard on a writer, especially on a writer who has any ideas of his own, because the writer not only has to make sense out of the foolish plot, if he can, but he has to do that and at the same time do it in such a way that any kind of camera shot or background shot that comes into Hitchcock's mind can be incorporated into it."

Because of these special circumstances, Chandler wanted Stark to arrange a lump sum payment for his work instead of a salary. In this way, the pressure would be reduced. He was also disturbed when he heard that his script was given to members of Hitchcock's staff for further work. "What this adds up to is that I have no assurance, to put it rather bluntly, that anything much more is happening to me than that my brain is being picked for whatever may be in it, and that someone else or a couple of someone elses are at work behind the scenes, casting the stuff into a screenplay form the way he wants it."

Stark was unable to change the contract, and Chandler continued on as before—only under greater pressure because he was suddenly told that the script had to be finished before the end of September so that Hitchcock could start shooting outdoor scenes in Washington before the leaves turned. On the evening of the twenty-sixth of September, Chandler sent off the final pages of the script. The next morning, Western Union telephoned to say that he had a telegram from Stark saying that Warner Bros, had taken him off salary. He thought this fast work, but when he received the actual telegram, he realized he had been suspended the day before, and that he had worked an extra day for nothing. Chandler became indignant and sent off letters to his agent and lawyer demanding to be paid for the extra day and also for the week for which he had voluntarily waived salary. He also wrote Finlay McDermid a letter in which he revealed some of his resentment toward Hitchcock: "Are you aware that this screenplay was written without one single consultation with Mr. Hitchcock after the writing of the [final] screenplay began? Not even a phone call. Not one word of criticism or appreciation. Silence. Blank silence then and since. You are much too clever a man to believe that any writer will do his best in conditions like this. There are always things that need to be discussed. There are always places where a writer goes wrong, not being himself a master of the camera. There are always difficult little points which require the meeting of minds, the accommodation of points of view. I had none of this. I find it rather strange. I find it rather ruthless. I find it almost incomparably rude."

By now, Chandler was very angry, and when he learned that he had worked the extra day because Stark's office had failed to pass on Warner's message in time, he decided to get rid of Stark as his agent. He had earlier written that "the thing about agents that really annoys me is not that they make mistakes, but that they never admit them." He therefore concluded his letter to Stark's agency with these words: "Some explanation should have been made. There is no reason why I should put up with this sort of treatment, and no reason why I should have to deal with an agency which regards it as so much a matter of routine that it doesn't even have to be explained."

The affair had now blown up a considerable degree, with Chandler the main sufferer. Ray Stark told him that Warners had kept him on only at the agency's insistence, and this, while angering him further, also seemed to justify his earlier suspicions about Hitchcock. "Either he loathes the script or he is mad about something," he wrote. "Even in Hollywood, where a producer loves you to death until the end of the job and can't recognize you on the street the next day, this is carrying things pretty far."

He was further humiliated when he received the final script as rewritten by Czenzi Ormonde, with a request that he respond to the studio's proposal that screen credits be shared. Chandler naturally disliked the final script and even wrote a letter about it to Hitchcock, which he never sent. He had anticipated the question of attribution in a letter to his agency: "My dilemma," he said, "is that I ought to refuse credit in connection with such a poor job, but for professional reasons and for the record, and because I haven't had a screen credit for several years, I may have to take whatever credit I'm entitled to. A very sickening situation."

In the end, he agreed to one extra day's pay from Warner Bros, and settled for a shared credit. He explained away his troubles by attributing them to an initial error of judgment. "The fallacy of this operation," he wrote, "was my being involved in it at all, because it is obvious to me now, and must have been obvious to many people long since, that a Hitchcock picture has to be all Hitchcock. A script which shows any signs of a positive style must be obliterated or changed until it is quite innocuous, even if that means making it quite silly. What Hitchcock does with his camera, his actors and his stage business is quite all right. I haven't a thing against it. And I'm not going to suggest that he would do better if he had a little more sense of dramatic plausibility, because maybe he wouldn't do better. Maybe he'd do worse. Stark seemed to enjoy suggesting that my script was bad. But it wasn't bad. It was far better than what they finished with. It just had too much Chandler in it and not enough Hitchcock."

Apart from the obvious attempt at self-justification, this letter reveals the basic trouble with this collaboration. Chandler and Hitchcock were in many ways alike. Both believed in spontaneity and freshness, in characters and settings rather than in strictness of plot. As Chandler wanted to engender an emotional reaction through his writing, so Hitchcock was mainly after mood or feeling in his films. Yet working together was impossible, for their emotional intentions did not coincide. They began to criticize each other for the faults each suffered from separately. Chandler, who generally cared nothing for plots, worried about the narrative logic of his script. Hitchcock, with the same impulses, couldn't get Chandler to create plausible characters.

Chandler seems to have been the more volatile of the two, perhaps because he was always alone. Having complained about the need for story conferences with Hitchcock, he later objected to not having any. These veerings of temperament, generally expressed in a superficially calm and even lawyerly way in his correspondence, were natural in a writer who invested a great deal of feeling in whatever he did or said. They were the source of his strength as a novelist, allowing him to make imaginative leaps into the minds of his characters. But they were a nuisance when it came down to a cooperative venture like making a movie.

Predictably, Chandler had a low opinion of the finished film. "The picture has no guts, no plausibility, no characters, and no dialogue," he wrote after seeing it. "But, of course, it's Hitchcock, and a Hitchcock picture always does have something." The film's popularity embittered him. "I don't know why it's a success," he mused in a letter to Hamish Hamilton, "perhaps because Hitchcock succeeded in removing almost every trace of my writing from it." Clearly he was disappointed that his venture with Hitchcock had turned out so badly. He took it hard, for the film's success was a sign of a certain failure in himself, and he knew it. All he could do was pretend to ignore it and adopt a superior attitude.

After he stopped working on the Hitchcock film for Warner Bros., Chandler wrote to Brandt about his literary plans: "From now on I am going to write what I want to write as I want to write it. Some of it may flop. There are always going to be people who will say I have lost the pace I had once, that I take too long to say things now, and don't care enough about tight active plots. But I'm not writing for those people now. I'm writing for the people who understand about writing as an art and are more able to separate what a man does with words and ideas from what he thinks about Truman or the United Nations. (I have a low opinion of both.) If I feel like writing a fast tough story, I'll write it, but not because there is a market for it and because I've done it before. If I feel like writing a poetic or ironic fantasy, I'll write that. You have to get some fun out of this job, and you can't get it by filling orders."