The always-fascinating blog Letters of Note has another gem up today -- a letter that deepens the battle of wits between two old greats, Raymond Chandler And Alfred Hitchcock.
"The Big Sleep" author and film noir influencer was hired to work on the screenplay for Hitchcock's 1951 thriller, "Strangers on a Train," a favorite here at HuffPost Culture. The story goes that Chandler had no patience for the script conferences ("god-awful jabber sessions," according to Chandler) Hitchcock called for, which cramped his style. Chandler didn't agree with the director's approach, which he claimed prioritized aesthetic appeal over character development -- Hitchcock envisioned a fantasy narrative, and Chandler demanded narrative logic. Relations continued to deteriorate between the two, and matters weren't helped when Chandler called Hitchcock a "fat bastard." Eventually, Hitchcock dismissed Chandler from the project, and while he's still credited, the script was largely re-written by Czenzi Ormonde.
All this is just backstory, because this letter from Chandler has enough zings directed at Hitchcock's "skim milk" script to give you the basic idea -- the conventions of film noir can only go so far in guiding a film's vision when two stubborn visionaries are involved. Read an excerpt from Chandler's letter here, and click over to Letters of Note for the full document:
What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of cliches, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a "far less brilliant mind than mine" to guess what they were.
Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I'm not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They'll know damn well I didn't. I shouldn't have minded in the least if you had produced a better script—believe me. I shouldn't. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place?
Watch a trailer for "Strangers on a Train":
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