Chinatown by Robert Towne
AVC: The movie is very much in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and movies like The Big Sleep. But it also undermines it. Philip Marlowe gets beat up on a regular basis, but he doesn’t have a big hunk of gauze strapped to his face for half the movie. Is it easier for you to have a genre to push against when you’re writing, or is it more restrictive?
RT: Well, exactly. You hit upon something I think really is central to the working of something like that. As much as I loved reading Raymond Chandler, and in particular his love of the city, or his appreciation of those elements of the city that he found memorable—he’d write about the tomcat smell of eucalyptus and things that were part of my consciousness growing up, my sensibility growing up. But, having said that, his hero, Philip Marlowe, would never do divorce work. He considered it beneath the dignity of a tarnished knight. His mode of dress was careless at best. And the kind of crimes that he dealt with were usually one way or another like The Maltese Falcon—there was nothing about public corruption, or almost nothing I can recall. I knew that detectives in the ’30s and ’40s that were successful did nothing but divorce work until they got to be successful. And they were flashy. They were clotheshorses. And also when people get hurt, they don’t recover right away. So it was just an attempt to bring a level of reality to life at that time that the conventions of cinema had sort of obliterated.