Friday, November 19, 2010


By Leigh Brackett

This is the novel that caused director Howard Hawks to tell his assistant he wanted that “Lee Brackett” guy to work on the screenplay for The Big Sleep. As a matter of fact Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner did that script, touching off a forty-year career of writing novels, short stories and screenplays.

It’s not too hard to see why Hawks thought Brackett was the perfect choice for The Big Sleep. Although better known as a science fiction writer, Leigh Brackett started with hard-boiled detective fiction like No Good from a Corpse. Arguably, Corpse is very much in the Chandler train. The PI hero, Ed Clive is a self-willed and ruggedly independent street warrior with his own code of conduct. He finds himself mixed up, quite unwillingly but as certainly as a samurai in a kabuki tale, in the affairs of Mike Hammond and his twisted in-laws. Some might even say the plot here is a bit derivative of The Big Sleep. Perhaps, though Brackett certainly made her own way in tough-guy fiction. Her prose lacks the poetic flights of fancy that adorned Chandler’s best work, but her plots are more tightly woven and, to be bluntly honest, more coherent (Chandler recycled his short stories into novels, not always with the strictest attention to detail).

An inkling of the varied roads that Leigh Brackett’s fiction would wander comes from the title of this novel. It is not a bit of LA tough guy slang, but a reference to some of the original tough guys of the Western World: the Vikings. Brackett quotes the Havamal, the poetic sayings of Odin, that it is better to be crippled than dead, for there is no good to be had from a corpse.  

Leigh Brackett’s career in film began with the landmarks of mid-century American writing, Faulkner and Chandler, and ended with the colossus of late-20th century film: George Lucas. Her last screenwriting credit was for Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.

-Dave Hardy


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