Monday, February 10, 2014

Literary Smellscapes: American Noir

My Sherlock Holmes post smoked out commenter Melissa, who’s been reading Ellery Queen novels from the 40s and 50s and finding perfume references galore. (Being a vintage fan she anoints herself with the scent in question before reading on.) I brought up how Dashiell Hammett invoked a “chrypre” scent to impugn the manhood of Joel Cairo—the character played by Peter Lorre opposite Bogart’s Sam Spade—in The Maltese Falcon. I already had my next move planned—a post about smoke and scent from The Big Sleep—but Melissa got the jump on me in the comments. Well, here it is anyway.

Raymond Chandler’s novel came out in 1939 and the movie followed in 1946, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Charles Waldron as General Sternwood (pictured above).
Sternwood: You may smoke too. I can still enjoy the smell of it. Nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy. You’re looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life.

( . . . )

Sternwood: The orchids are an excuse for the heat. You like orchids?

Marlowe: Not particularly.

Sternwood: Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men. Their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.
Okay, the orchid bit is a little stagey, but ya’ gotta love a debauched, elderly invalid indulging his vices by proxy. Not to mention the final frame of the movie:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just read your post. I'm glad I could be a tiny bit of inspiration. One really good quote from the wonderful Ellery Queen I came across was how he described the smell of a woman he was smitten with… " an aroma, or rather an effluvium, emanating from her person that was like the ghost of last year’s honeysuckle.” I'd love to think my perfume made that kind of impact on someone. I'm now on Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. And I love that conversation about the orchids too. But how about the little sister in the book. She's a saint in the movie compared to how she's portrayed in the book. I was kinda hoping he'd push her in front of a bus. I know, not nice.