Farewell, My Lovely (1940) is famous for its metaphors. Chandler’s second novel also features one of the richest troves of grotesque characters in American literature. The plot may be disjointed but the theme is sure. This was Chandler’s favorite novel, and many critics think it his best.
Foremost among the grotesques is Moose Malloy, a giant, lovelorn gangster whom Marlowe meets outside Florian’s, a now-Negro bar where Malloy seeks his old flame, Velma. When the bouncer tries to throw him out, Malloy kills him and maims the owner, and Marlowe is a witness. Gold-bricking, racist Lt. Nulty gets the case and persuades the detective to do his footwork. From a hotel clerk he learns that Florian’s widow Jesse is alive, and from her he gleans an old photo of Velma. This he reports to Lt. Nulty.
A second plot line begins when effete Lindsay Marriott calls with a job: Marlowe is to pay an $8,000 ransom for a jade necklace. The two drive to the rendezvous, but no one appears; when Marlowe investigates, he is sapped. On waking, he meets spunky Anne Riordan – “the kind of girl Marlowe would have married if he had been the marrying kind,” Chandler said.1 Having found Marriott’s body, she holds Marlowe at gunpoint, until he persuades her to search the body with him: they find marijuana “jujus” that Marlowe withholds when he reports back to the efficient Lt. Randall, who foils Lt. Nulty.
Anne is waiting the next day in Marlowe’s office, with the news that Mrs. Lewin Lockridge Grayle owned the jade necklace. Anne has persuaded her to hire Marlowe. The plots of the two stories begin to merge when it is revealed that Mr. Grayle owns KFDK radio, for Malloy’s girl Velma was a singer. Meanwhile, dissecting the joints, Marlowe finds the card of psychic Jules Amthor and gets an appointment with him. He also learns that Marriott held a lien on Mrs. Florian’s house and, from a nosy neighbor, that she receives a registered letter every month. But Mrs. Florian won’t talk.
Anne then introduces Marlowe to the Grayles. After she and Mr. Grayle leave, Marlowe and Mrs. Grayle drink and embrace. When Mr. Grayle returns, she tells the detective to meet her at Laird Brunette’s gambling club that night. Back at his office, Marlowe finds Second Planting, a “Hollywood Indian,” waiting to take him to visit Jules Amthor. At the psychic’s hilltop retreat they have a strained conversation, then the room goes dark. Amthor pistol-whips Marlowe and leaves him with two off-duty policemen who beat him even further. Chandler calls them “Hemingway” and “Mister Blane,” an attempt to parody the author, but the effort falls flat.
Marlowe wakes in a private sanatorium in “Bay City,” modeled on Santa Monica, suffering withdrawal from an unknown drug. He overpowers an attendant and escapes, glimpsing Malloy on the way out. Anne Riordan’s house is nearby; she feeds and repairs him and asks him to spend the night, but he returns to his apartment.
On the third day Lt. Randall wakes Marlowe with questions about Malloy and Marriott. They retrieve the marijuana and visit Mrs. Florian, whom they find dead. In a celebrated scene back at headquarters, Marlowe pays more attention to a pink bug than to Randall’s theories about the crime. He heads for Bay City, where he complains to corrupt police chief Wax about Blane and “Hemingway.” Wax calls in the latter, threatening Marlowe with another visit to Amthor. Instead Marlowe learns that he can find Malloy through Laird Brunette’s gambling ships off the coast (modeled on actual Prohibition Era casinos like the Rex, below).
Marlowe checks into a Venice Beach hotel and takes a water taxi out to the Montecito after nightfall, but he is turned back. This gambling ship is modeled on the Rex, a famous illegal casino moored in Santa Monica Bay (below right). Marlowe hires gentle giant Red Norgaard to put him aboard commando-style for $25. He pulls a gun on Brunette, who agrees to pass a note to Malloy. Back on shore, Marlowe calls Mrs. Grayle to modify their date, and she agrees to come over. Marlowe naps first, waking to find Malloy, whom he hides in his closet when Mrs. Grayle enters. When Marlowe reveals that she is Velma and that she turned Malloy in, Moose erupts from the closet. She shoots him five times and flees; he dies later that night.
Marlowe and Riordan clear up loose ends over drinks. Mrs. Grayle killed Marriott, because he knew she was Velma and was blackmailing her. She used him to keep Jesse Florian quiet. Jesse gave Marlowe’s card to Marriott and was accidentally killed by Moose. But the case does not conclude neatly. Mr. Grayle still loves Velma, who he elevated from vaudeville. He won’t cooperate with police. To spare him, Velma flees East and sings in nightclubs until a Baltimore policeman recognizes her, then she commits suicide. Like Othello, to whom Marlowe alludes in the novel’s last lines, Malloy and Mr. Grayle both “loved not wisely, but too well.” Spying on Malloy and necking with Velma, bringing him to face her infidelity, Marlowe could function as Iago. But Chandler avoids that implication by his final burst of empathy for Velma.
Perhaps the most literate hard-boiled novel ever written, Farewell explodes with metaphors and allusions. Their density is manifest on the first page: Moose Malloy “looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food” is not only a stunning contrast of black and white, the edible and the poisonous, but an allusion to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, in which a spider emerges from Miss Havesham’s wedding cake (3). When Marlowe later tells Randall “I like smooth shiny girls, hard-boiled and loaded with sin,” he compares women to eggs, loaded with salt, which is not only a comment on fecundity but a reference to the hard-boiled genre (166-67). When he and Marriott drive to the rendezvous, he remarks that “this car sticks out like spats at an Iowa picnic” (50). This refers to the well-dressed politicians who courted the votes of immigrant Iowans at the Iowa Society picnic every January 18 in Long Beach. The novel is rift with such allusions and develops its own metaphoric systems. 2
Among the extraordinary minor characters of the novel, none stands out more than Malloy. Such “grotesques” are thought to have grown out of American frontier literature; Bret Harte and Mark Twain popularized them, and Sherwood Anderson made them central in Winesburg, Ohio. Like Anderson’s character Wing Biddlebaum, Malloy is characterized by his unusual hands. Other grotesques include the black hotel clerk at the Sans Souci, the alcoholic Jesse Florian, the cartoonish Second Planting, the “psychic consultant” Jules Amthor, and cardamon-seed chewing Chief Wax of Bay City.
Beneath the novel’s frantic action, the theme is tightly knit. In the astonishing revealed plot, all the crime results from Velma’s rise to become Mrs. Grayle. She believes in the great American economic myth, but must give up her profession, her name, and her boyfriend to succeed – and then lives in constant fear of discovery. Chandler, as an immigrant living in the foremost city of migration, shows not only the cost of success, but that it is antithetical to that sentiment called love, represented in Malloy.
1 Chandler, quoted in Durham, Down These Mean Street A Man Must Go: Raymond Chandler’s Knight (Durham: U. of North Carolina P., 1963), 39. 2 For details on Chandler’s metaphors, see Marling, Noir, 209-25; Marling, Chandler, 78-81, 100-02; Stephen L. Tanner in Van Dover, The Critical Response to Raymond Chandler (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995) 167-76; and Peter J. Rabinowitz, “Rats Behind the Wainscoting: Politics, Convention and Chandler: The Big Sleep,” in Studies in American Literature, 7:2 (1979): 175-89; also in Van Dover, 117-38.
Murder, My Sweet, 1944 (film of Farewell, My Lovely)
Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. It starred Dick Powell as Marlowe and Claire Trevor as
Velma. Powell had made his name in Busby Berkeley’s musicals, so screenwriter John
Paxton gave him a flashback structure that allowed extensive voice-over narration
imitating Chandler’s style. As a result Powell is more convincing to modern audiences
than he was to those of the 1940s. But he “lacks Spade’s self conscience and mastery of
The plot is even more confusing than the novel’s, which it generally follows. Stylistic
touches, such as the opening shots of the police interrogating the blind-folded Marlowe
and the montage of swirling, surreal vistas that he experiences on being mugged, create
a threatened, almost powerless Marlowe, whose “disavowal of male power” is made
Chandler wrote it, but a central movie in film noir, which stresses powerlessness.
The film was remade again in 1975 with Robert Michum and released as Farewell, My
Lovely. This version also has its partisans, who cite the older, world-weary Mitchum as
truer to Chandler’s characterization.
17 R. Barton Palmer, Hollywood’s Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir (New York: Twayne, 1994), 73. 18 Palmer, 81.