Philip E. Marlow
Created by Dennis Potter

"All solutions and no clues. That's what the dumbheads want...I'd rather it was the other way around. All clues. No solutions. That's the way things are. Plenty of clues. No solutions."
-Marlow waxes philosophic on what the public wants in a detective novel.

Not your average P.I. television show, not by a very long shot. Dennis Potter's complex, sprawling, masterful, emotionally-charged multi-layered miniseries remains one of the most intelligent explorations of creativity, memory and the human condition I've ever seen in the genre. PHILIP E. MARLOW (notice there's no "E" in Marlowe) is detective story writer, a long-term patient in a hospital bed, covered in the scales and sores of the psoriasis that has crippled him, racked with pain and guilt and paranoia, prone to hallucinations, as he tries to sort out his life, past and present, and his greatest book, titled "The Singing Detective."

As he weaves in and out of consciousness, Marlow is confronted by his demons, both real and fictional. Actor Michael Gambon gives a powerful, wrenching performance as both the bed-ridden Marlow and the fictional Marlow, known as The Singing Detective, who sings in front of a big band and moonlights as a private eye in war-torn London. Characters wander from hallucination to hallucination, occasionally bursting into song and dance, as the feverish, cynical, suspicious Marlow tries to come to terms with his past, his fiction, his present, and maybe, just maybe, some sort of future.

Not your average P.I. show, not by a long shot, and definitely not everyone's cuppa, but not one that anyone who has ever sat through is ever likely to forget.

Am I right or am I right?

****

But of course, anything as wonderfully imaginative and subversive (not to mention potentially profitable) as The Singing Detective can't be left alone for too long. In 2003, Hollywood took a whack at "adapting" it.

I haven't seen it yet, but from what I can gather, the reaction from audiences is decidedly mixed. Condensing close to six hours of television into a less-than-two-hour film couldn't have been easy (Potter condensed it himself) and a lot of the subtlety of the original seems to have been tossed on the scrap heap. The lead is no longer the enigmatically named Philip E. Marlow, but Dan Dark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), who supposedly makes ol' Phil look like a rather pleasant chap after all, all things considered. The original slowly revealed its plot through detail and the revelation of character; the film apparently gives up the Dark's big secret in the first few minutes. Oh, and the big band numbers are replaced by 1950's rock'n'roll. Still, there have been mostly raves for Downey's performance, and the supporting cast (including Robin Wright Penn, a barely recognizable Mel Gibson, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes, Adrien Brody, Jon Polito, Saul Rubinek and Alfre Woodard) isn't too shabby either.

THE EVIDENCE

UNDER OATH

TELEVISION

SCREENPLAY

FILM

OTHER GOODIES


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