Friday, 15 April 2016

Dining out with Bond and Marlowe

He went into the kitchen and cooked himself Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and toast, washed down with coffee. James Bond having a spot of breakfast? Actually, no. This is a breakfast consumed by Raymond Chandler's dogged and wise-cracking private eye, Philip Marlowe. But it could easily have been Bond's breakfast too, bacon, coffee, and in particular scrambled eggs being Bond's favourite. Only the cooking separates the two heroes; Bond has a housekeeper for that.

Re-reading Chandler's 1953 novel, The Long Good-bye, I was reminded how large a role food plays in the Philip Marlowe mysteries, almost rivalling the Bond books for food mentions and descriptions.

In the same book, while investigating the murder of a wealthy socialite, the apparent suicide of the only suspect, her husband, and babysitting an alcoholic author, Philip Marlowe consumes more Canadian bacon for breakfast, a chicken salad sandwich lunch, and evening meals of hamburger, mashed potato and onion rings, and prime ribs and, somewhat incongruously, Yorkshire pudding.

It's clear from interviews with Ian Fleming that James Bond owes his origins in part to the tradition of hardboiled detective fiction, particularly that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The last two thirds of The Spy who Loved Me is pure American pulp-fiction (in the best possible way), and generally the action, spare prose, and dry humour (yes, there is some) of the Bond books wouldn't be out of place in a Chandler novel. To that list we can add food descriptions, which offer another point of similarity.

Being a relatively frequent visitor to the US – though not to California, where Marlowe plies his trade (at least not in books; Bond does travel to California in the 1985 film, A View to a Kill) –  Bond would be familiar with Marlowe's food choices. In Live and Let Die, Bond eats a charcoal-grilled hamburger and has a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee at his New York hotel, and orders a chicken sandwich during his rail journey to Florida. In Miami (Goldfinger), Bond enjoys roast prime ribs of beef. Admittedly, Bond doesn't eat Yorkshire pudding in the US or elsewhere for that matter, but he does have a passing thought about toad-in-the-hole, which uses the same batter recipe.

Given their shared tastes, someone really ought to get Marlowe and Bond together for a dinner date. Now that's a parody waiting to be written. Thinking about it, we already have an idea of how that might look on the page. The Bond books feature a laconic private detective, Bond's friend and comrade-in-arms Felix Leiter (who, by his second appearance, is a Pinkerton's agent), with much of Leiter's time spent, it seems, in restaurants and bars.

Not only does Felix Leiter know his food, but he also has his fair share of wisecracks. In Diamonds are Forever, before entering Sardi's, where Leiter introduces Bond to brizzola ('Beef, straight-cut across the bone. Roast and then broiled. Suit you?'), Leiter quips that in Texas, 'even the fleas are so rich they can hire themselves dogs'. Philip Marlowe would be proud of that one, and would no doubt enjoy dining at Sardi's too.

2 comments:

  1. You know, being a huge fan of classic, hard boiled noir fiction, I've never noticed Chandler's descriptions of food. Looks like I'll have to re-read his books. I haven't read "The Long Goodbye" yet, though. I've been savouring that one.
    As for "The Spy Who Loved Me", it's storyline bears a striking resemblance to a Hammett novella called "Woman In The Dark", published for the first time sometime back in the 1990s.

    As for Marlowe and Bond out to dinner, I was toying with a fan fiction idea where they both meet in a hotel bar sometime in the mid-1950s. Needless to say, I've yet to get around to writing that one.

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    1. Thanks for the comment - and the reminder about 'Woman in the Dark'. I've been meaning to get a copy of that, but haven't got round to it.

      I like your fan fiction idea of having Bond and Marlowe meet in the bar. It's got to be written. Curiously, Fleming and Chandler speculated about who would win in a fight - Bond or Marlowe. With that in mind, perhaps the next Bond film should be Bond vs Marlowe. (Move over Batman and Superman.)

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