Philip Marlowe’s creator Raymond Chandler did not, to put it mildly, seek out the limelight. Any biography of that most assiduously studied noir novelist can tell you so, but none can tell you that, albeit for less than a minute, Chandler appeared in a classic of the silver screen. The books have a good excuse for leaving out that strikingly uncharacteristic detail: it took cinephiles decades to notices the cameo. “More than 60 years after its release, a French cinema historian and two US crime-writers almost simultaneously happened on the same bizarre discovery – that Raymond Chandler, uncredited and previously unnoticed, has a tiny cameo in Double Indemnity,” writes the Guardian‘s Adrian Wootton. ”On 14 January, the American mystery writer Mark Coggins, tipped off by another writer, John Billheimer, posted the news on his website, Riordan’s desk (tinyurl.com/raymondchandler), while the French journalist Olivier Eyquem, wrote about on his blog (tinyurl.com/chandlerfrench) on March 30.”
While I personally recommend using this revelation as an excuse to watch Billy Wilder’s immortal James M. Cain adaptation again in its entirety, you can view a clip of Chandler’s brief appearance in it above, which includes a slow-motion instant replay. “We will probably never know whose idea it was it to put Chandler in front of the camera, or if it took a few drinks to get him in the mood,” writes the Los Angeles Times‘ Carolyn Kellogg about this rare cinematic glimpse of the writer who did so much to earn Los Angeles its place on the pulp-lit map. ”And no one has successfully deciphered the cover of what he’s reading, which would be nice to know too.” Alas, from this footage of little more than a seated Chandler looking up from a book, we can expect to derive no serious insights into his life or work; for those, we’ll need to go right back to the biographies.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.