The book is always better than the movie – but the film version offers its own rewards. The 2010 Adult Winter Reading Program complements its great reads with great films based on the works of great mystery authors: Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, and Chester Himes, to name a few. Hollywood is famous for strangling plot lines, but oftentimes presents pitch-perfect atmosphere, style, and characters thus offering compelling gateways into the source material.
Novelist Raymond Chandler claimed that publishers never changed a word in his fiction. Hollywood would not show him that same respect, although five major studios employed him as a screenwriter – a job through which he earned two Oscar nominations.
Channeling Chandler presents films written by Chandler or inspired by his novels on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. throughout January 2010 in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The Monday line-up includes:
Murder, My Sweet (1944) on January 4. Dick Powell reinvigorated his career with his portrayal of the world-weary private investigator Philip Marlowe, hired by an ex-con to find the girlfriend he lost while in prison. Based on Farewell, My Lovely, this film is considered among the best Chandler screen adaptations. Not rated. (95 min.)
The Big Sleep (1946) on January 11. Humphrey Bogart stars as Philip Marlowe in this classic yet baffling film noir as the private eye investigates a family mixed up with a blackmailing pornographer. Equally famous for the behind-the-scenes romance between Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Directed by Howard Hawks with a screenplay credited in part to William Faulkner. Not rated. (114 min.)
Strangers on a Train (1951) on January 25. A chance encounter lands tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) in the middle of a murder plot devised a psychopath who demands Guy's participation. Chandler's screenplay of this Patricia Highsmith novel was rejected by director Alfred Hitchcock, though Chandler retains screen credit. Not rated. (101 min.)
The Saturday line-up includes:
The Blue Dahlia (1946) on January 2. Alan Ladd stars as a WWII vet who returns home to find his unfaithful wife hosting a drunken party – before she winds up dead, leaving him a mystery to solve before the police arrest him as their prime suspect. With Veronica Lake. The only original Chandler screenplay ever produced. Not rated. (96 min.)
Lady in the Lake (1947) on January 9. Noted for its first-person camera perspective, this film succeeds regardless of gimmickry. Director Robert Montgomery also plays Philip Marlowe, who is hired to track down a missing woman. Based on the Chandler novel. Not rated. (105 min.)
The Brasher Doubloon (1947) on January 16. Philip Marlowe is hired to find and return a stolen gold coin but finds murder and blackmail – and a savage beating. Starring George Montgomery. The second film adaptation of The High Window. Not rated. (72 min.)
Marlowe (1968) on January 23. James Garner takes on the role of Philip Marlowe as he seeks out a lost sibling for his latest client. Includes a riveting early film appearance by Bruce Lee. Based on the Chandler novel The Little Sister. Rated PG. (96 min.)
The Big Sleep (1978) on January 30. An otherwise faithful adaptation that transplants the action from the sunny West Coast to dreary old England with Robert Mitchum playing Marlowe, despite his age (he is nearly 30 years older than Chandler envisioned his private detective). With James Stewart and Joan Collins. Rated R. (99 min.)
William Powell evolved from silent film villain into a character actor – in the 1930s becoming a leading man (and a bankable star) with his depiction of Nick Charles in films based on stories by novelist Dashiell Hammett. Audiences were so enamored by his performances that they mistakenly identified the ever-trim Powell as the Thin Man, when the name referred to a murder victim, but no one cared to correct the misapprehension. Though best known for his role as Nick Charles, Powell also portrayed other crime solvers during his career, including the S.S. Van Dine character Philo Vance
Thin Man Mondays presents William Powell at his sleuthing best in films based on popular mystery novels on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. throughout February and March 2010 in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The Thin Man  (1934) on February 1. Retired detective Nick Charles (Powell) is pressured into solving a missing person case – primarily by his socialite wife (Myrna Loy). The film bursts with charm and witticisms delivered by characters whose ability to entertain trumps the plot. Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel. Not rated. (91 min.)
After the Thin Man  (1936) on February 8. Nick and Nora are in San Francisco visiting family when a cousin asks Nick to find her missing spouse. The action picks up after a visit to a Chinese nightclub, leaving Nick with two bodies and in search of a murderer. With James Stewart. Not rated. (112 min.)
Another Thin Man  (1939) on February 15. Nick and Nora are houseguests on Long Island when their host is murdered. The couple pursues the case into the city – with a quick stop at the West Indies Club – only to round up all the suspects in their New York City apartment. Not rated. (103 min.)
Shadow of the Thin Man  (1941) on February 22. Nick and Nora get mixed up with the mob as their latest murder investigation is tied to illegal sports gambling. Not rated. (97 min.)
Thin Man Goes Home  (1944) on March 1. Nick has given up Scotch as he takes his family to visit his parents in small-town Sycamore Springs. Espionage inspires murder. Contains the best comedic performance by Myrna Loy in the series. Not rated. (100 min.)
Song of the Thin Man  (1947) on March 8. Nick and Nora are drifting along on a sea of big band jazz and murder aboard a gambling ship. The series finally shows its age, a running joke throughout the film, though its charm never wavers. Not rated. (86 min.)
The Canary Murder Case  (1929) on March 15. William Powell stars in the first Philo Vance mystery produced for the big screen. The action revolves around the murder of a nightclub singer, played by Louise Brooks. Initially shot as a silent film, the cast and crew were quickly reassembled to re-shoot the film with sound technology – with the exception of Brooks, who left Hollywood immediately after filming. Based on the S.S. Van Dine novel. Not rated (82 min.)
The Kennel Murder Case  (1933) on March 22. William Powell makes his fourth screen appearance as bon vivant crime solver Philo Vance as he sets out to solve a murder that the police have ruled a suicide. With Mary Astor. Based on the S.S. Van Dine novel. Not rated. (73 min.)
Evelyn Prentice  (1934) on March 29. A workaholic attorney (Powell) may be having an affair with his latest client, leading his wife (Myrna Loy) to pursue a relationship that ends in blackmail and murder. With Rosalind Russell in her screen debut. Based on the novel by W.E. Woodward. Not rated. (79 min.)
Chester Himes introduced a compelling black voice into detective fiction with his Harlem Domestic series of novels, authored in France after his earlier work was met with indifference back home. After Himes was awarded the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, Hollywood took notice and produced films based on his work that helped establish the blaxploitation genre.
Of Himes and Harlem screens films adapted from and inspired by Chester Himes on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. throughout March 2010 in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Cotton Comes to Harlem  (1970) on March 6. NYPD detectives "Coffin" Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) and "Gravedigger" Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) tear up the city in their efforts to recover money swindled from poor families. With Redd Foxx. Directed by Ossie Davis, based on the Himes novel. Rated R. (97 min.)
Come Back Charleston Blue  (1972) on March 13. Detectives Johnson and Jones look for the masterminds behind a drug war in Harlem, where rumors are circulating about the ghost of an infamous gangster that has returned to clean up the neighborhood. Based on the Himes novel The Heat's On. Rated PG. (100 min.)
Gordon's War  (1973) on March 20. Ossie Davis directs this film, which is clearly indebted to Himes. A grieving Vietnam vet (Paul Winfield) rounds up his Army buddies to clear drug pushers and pimps from Harlem using military force and strategy. Rated R. (87 min.)
A Rage in Harlem  (1991) on March 27. Imabelle is a Mississippi girl (Robin Givens) mixed up with the mob before fleeing to Harlem, where she hides with the unsuspecting Jackson (Forest Whitaker). When Imabelle is kidnapped, Jackson calls his streetwise brother (Gregory Hines) for help. Based on the Himes novel. Rated R. (115 min.)