6 Times Raymond Chandler Perfectly Introduced Characters

By: Sam Fletcher, August 9th, 2023 10:08 am.

The femme fatale slinks into the PI’s office who then delivers a sarcastic quip. Introducing characters in a world-weary tone is a more than familiar noir trope at this point. And no novelist did this better than Raymond Chandler. Not only would he paint an instant snapshot, but he did so with searing caustic wit.

Shining a spotlight onto someone’s personality, he’d offer insight beyond basic physical descriptions. Many have mimicked his style since, but he was one of the few that truly mastered the craft.

So, here are some of his best lines when introducing characters.

‘From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away’ – The High Window (1942)

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Sometimes it’s all about perspective. Perfectly encapsulating both of their characters, Marlowe gets close enough to see she’s not as glamorous in person.

The High Window featured iconic detective Philip Marlowe hot on the case of a missing Doubloon. It might not be one of Chandler’s best-known novels, but it still has everything needed for a classic noir mystery. Plus there are several stand-out lines.

He might be a product of his time, but he’s the snappy detective we all know and love. Underneath all the cynicism there’s a heart of gold buried.

‘The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back’ – The Long Goodbye (1953)

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For a pure visceral description, this tops it. Immediately conjuring up her expression, it shoots straight off the page.

Philip Marlowe sees Terry Lennox outside a club ready to drive off, and the ‘dame’ he’s with stares daggers at the sarcastic parking attendant. Clearly it’s not a look anyone wants.

The moment’s incidental, but it’s a testament to Chandler never wasting an opportunity to get in a quality one-liner.

‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window’ – Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

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To put it in layman’s terms; the blonde woman is extremely attractive. So attractive in fact, that just seeing her will send a man of faith so wild with desire that he’ll forgo everything he stands for. So a pretty high recommendation by anyone’s standards.

Following Marlowe on a routine case that heads south fast, there are so many lines in this novel that it’s difficult knowing where to begin. There’s even a well-meaning parody of Hemingway thrown in for good measure.

But this quote in particular stands out as being a witty and descriptive visual.

‘He didn’t know the right people. That’s all a police record means’ – The Big Sleep (1939)

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It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Usually, that’s a refrain saved for those hoping to break into the media and Hollywood. But it also works for criminality (and is there honestly much difference?).

Discussing Owen Taylor, Vivian Regan delivers this line to detective Marlowe. A driver for the Sternwood family, Taylor was just another poor unfortunate soul. And this line perfectly sums up his luck (or lack thereof) in life. A small-time criminal without the connections.

Cynicism is often attributed to Chandler’s work, and this quote exemplifies that. But it’s the humor many also tend to overlook. A line like this wouldn’t look out of place in a classic stand-up act from the era.

‘She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket’ – Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

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Similar to the previous one from The Long Goodbye, but far more pleasant. There’s clearly more to her than meets the eye.

Called on for assistance, Philip Marlowe heads up to the Grayle house. Here he meets Mrs. Grayle, a sultry femme fatale in the most classic sense. Smiling at him they size each other up during a back-and-forth over drinks.

It’s not hard to imagine a scene like this in a standard noir, being a trope that’s done to death at this point. Chandler was a pioneer though, doing it with intelligence and style.

‘It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in’ – The Big Sleep (1939)

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Okay, not so much a character, as it is ‘introducing’ an affluent district (but I mean come on, it’s too good a line). As a description, it conjures up the image of a sleepy neighborhood with terrible things going down behind closed doors.

And he’s right.

Outside Geiger’s house, detective Marlowe is waiting and ruminating. Here he considers the polite and respectable facade of the houses, only to have his suspicions proven correct. Behind those well-kept front doors, murder is taking place.

One of the central features of Chandler’s work is the moody atmosphere. The classic film noir we all now know today simply wouldn’t be the same without him.

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