Philip Marlowe in Film, Radio and Television
Back to PHILIP MARLOWE
Back to RAYMOND CHANDLER
He was turned down for the lead in Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944) because director, Billy Wilder thought the public would never buy Powell as anything but a lightweight song-and-dance man. But Powell nabbed the role of Marlowe in 1944's Murder, My Sweet and never looked back. In fact, Powell's previous image actually may have helped since nobody had great expectations.
William K. Everson, in his book, The Detective in Film, suggests that " Powell -- because the realistic conception of the private eye was relatively new, and because Powell was totally new to it -- became Marlowe far more easily than Bogart [in The Big Sleep (Warner Bros., 1946)], who had several other competing images working against him: the gangster image, Sam Spade, Rick from Casablanca. Powell tossed off the tired, contemptuous, yet biting Raymond Chandler wisecracks and insults with superbly underplayed style."
Me? I like Hawks' The Big Sleep plenty -- it's a fine film --but it's not Chandler's Marlowe that Bogey's playing. In the books, Marlowe is a gentleman, and even a bit of a prude, repelling Carmen's advances, and wary of both romance and casual sex. In Hawks' version, he's a horny frat boy on the prowl, tearing his way through WWII Los Angeles, hitting on every babe in sight, including cabbies, booksellers and Vivian Sternwood.
But after the wild success of Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Hawks' To Have Or Have Not, Warner Bros. was hot for another hit featuring the dynamic duo. Hawks told Warners he would need $50,000 to buy a story he was sure would be another smash, something tough yet romantic enough to capitalize on ther obvious chemistry between the two stars. That story was Chandler's The Big Sleep.
But only $5,000 went to Chandler -- the rest went to Hawks. Still, Hawks certainly earned his cut. By the time it was released, after numerous rewrites (and even going back and re-shooting key scenes almost a year later), Chandler's dark existential stroll down the mean streets seen through the eyes of a world-weary detective had turned into a cheeky, sexy romp through LA, following a P.I. who spent most of his time flirting with man-hungry females.
After the one-two punch of Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep, films featuring Marlowe have been a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from the sleepily sublime (1975's Farewell, My Lovely) starring a decidedly too-old-but-still-powerful Robert Mitchum to the ridiculous (1947's Lady in the Lake, a stiff, pretentious piece of mangled film-making that utilized subjective camera, directed by and starring Robert Montgomry, the worst Marlowe ever). By comparison, such woozy creative re-interpretations as 1969's Marlowe starring a too bemused James Garner, 1973's The Long Goodbye directed by Robert Altman, with Elliot Gould as a half-stoned slacker and even 1978's huh? remake of The Big Sleep with a half-awake Mitchum fumbling around London, England don't seem so bad.
"I don't recall the Christmas theme in the novel? Anyway, a minor quibble in a film rich with problems. Montgomery had the brilliant idea of using a "subjective" camera so we (the audience) would see everything the way detective Philip Marlowe does. It really is a clever idea--and it really does not work. I'm especially partial to the scene where a badly beaten Marlowe crawls to a phone booth. The knee-high view is priceless.
Long considered the redheaded stepchild of Marlowe films, it's usually dismissed as inconsequential, and certainly stills from the film, depicting George Montgomery as a Marlowe who sports a chessy mustache don't hold much promise. But the film, only recently made widely available, while slight, is a pleasant surprise. Some very effective camera work and some great character bits go a long way to making this quickie B-flick an enjoyably satisfying piece of film.
This 1969 adaptation is well worth a look, even if Garner is a little stiff, caught somewhere between the hard-boiled dicks of 40s detective films and his future incarnation as easy-going Jim Rockford. Not essential, maybe, and too groovy for its own good, but fun nonetheless.
Robert Altman's quirky, rabble-rousing 1973 revisionist ode to Chandler and Marlowe is either a grievous insult, or a perfect update, depending on where you stand. You hate it, or you love it -- that's all there is to it. Elliot Gould stars, though Leigh (The Big Sleep) Brackett's script is the real draw here.
A solid flick, marred by the fact Mitchum is about 30 or so years late in playing the role. But there's something quite engaging in seeing Marlowe as a tired, aging bruiser plowing his way through a faithfully reproduced 1940s Los Angeles of mean streets and "shine bars."
Mitchum again, but even older and more tired, and for some reason transported to London. There's a solid cast, and in some ways it's more faithful than Hawks' classic (they restore the soliloquy, for example, and Candy Clark reclaims much of the disturbing, off-kilter sexuality of Carmen's character) but it's at best a curiosity, for die-hard fans only. It also underscores the fact they should have cast Mitchum as Marlowe thirty or so years earlier.
Josh Buckland, the creator of this little animated gem of a bootleg, who put this together using elements of the old PC game Private Eye (which is also based on The Little Sister), admits "I don't own the copyrights to any of this material, and I cannot imagine who would." Sure, the audio's sketchy in spots, its provenance is even sketchier, and the story strays a little too much at times from the original, but what a ride! As Barry Ergang says "it seems to have been grafted over an old videogame, but some parts look like it was lifted from Scooby Doo, or possibly the graphic novel (but) definitely worth investigating." FanFic taken to a whole new level.
Dick Powell (him again!) reprised his role as Marlowe in a radio adaptation of Murder, My Sweet for Lux Radio Theatre in 1945. It was a toned-down but nevertheless successful version of the Chandler novel, and made Powell the first radio Marlowe. He later went on to become radio's Richard Diamond.
Two years later, NBC produced Philip Marlowe as a summer replacement series for The Bob Hope Show. It featured several adaptations of Chandler short stories, but was considered too talky and slow-moving. Erle Stanley Gardner, in a letter to Chandler, confided he found it all rather difficult to follow. But the CBS series, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, that followed the next year, really clicked.
After a three episode trial run on The Pepsodent Program in September of 1947 with Van Hefflin in the title role, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe premiered as a weekly series on September 26, 1948. It was well-produced, less introspective than the books or the previous series on NBC, but it had a secret weapon: Gerald Mohr. Mohr excelled as Marlowe, and his snappy delivery, coupled with well-written stories and intriguing characters made for entertaining listening. By 1949 the show was pulling the biggest audience on American radio, with a rating of 10.3 million listeners.I n 1950, Radio and Television Life Magazine named Gerald Mohr as the Best Male Actor on radio.
"And it had the best hard-boiled opening lines of any radio detectives series," according to faithful contributor and OTR fan Stewart Wright. "It has to be heard to be fully appreciated...
"I once used it as the voice mail message on my work phone and people called just to hear it, Stewart confesses. "When I got back, I had lots of blank messages.".
Finally, in 1977, the BBC had a whack at Marlowe, producing several full-length adaptations that, from all reports, are very very good, indeed. Raymond would have been pleased...
Some of the CD versions of this episode also included a 1958 conversation between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming recorded for the BBC Home Service.
A boxed set of all eight of the BBC's recent acclaimed, full-cast dramatisations of novels, featuring Philip Marlowe. Titles include The Big Sleep, The Lady In The Lake, Farewell My Lovely, Playbac, The Long Goodbye, The High Window, The Little Sister and Poodle Springs. (November 2011)
Marlowe made his television debut, played by Dick Powell (who else?), in an adaptation of The Long Goodbye, on the anthonology series Climax! in the 1950's. Powell had, of course, played Marlowe ten years on the big screen, earlier in RKO's Murder, My Sweet. By most accounts, it was generally a very good production, and was even featured on that week's TV Guide cover, with a close-up of Powell as Marlowe in a clench with co-star Teresa Wright. But the live telecast is probably best known for the scene in which actor Tris Coffin, whose character had just died, gets up and walks away. Apparently Coffin thought he was out of camera range. He wasn't.
There's not a whole lot of available information, either, on the first video series featuring of Chandler's sleuth, PHILIP MARLOWE, which ran for 26 episodes from 1959-60 on ABC, and no memorable stories about it to make it stand out. Philip Carey, a big, tough and usually watchable actor, would seem to have been a decent choice to play Marlowe in 1959. Carey's Marlowe differed from the books in at least two (and probably more) ways in that he sported a scar on one cheek and apparently had a marina apartment and his own boat. Huh?
The latter two changes prompted Time Magazine, in an article on the glut of TV detectives at the time, to question if Carey's Marlowe might be on the take from some "wrongos. " The series came out of the Goodson-Todman shop. These were the game show producers but they also made occasional forays into dramatic television (The Rebel, Branded). The line producer and frequent scripter was Gene Wang, a radio/television veteran who was also the first story editor on the Perry Mason television series. Frank MacShane's biography of Chandler indicates that E. Jack Neuman, a top-drawer radio-television writer who later developed such long-running series as Dr. Kildare and Joseph Wambaugh's Police Story, may have written for the series. Other writers included Charles Beaumont, best known for his work on The Twilight Zone, and James E. Moser, creator of Ben Casey and Medic. Obviously, some good talent behind the camera, but the show didn't distinguish itself and only twenty-six episodes were aired. With so few episodes, it may not have even been syndicated. To my knowledge, episodes haven't popped up on the video trading markets and it's a question of whether the prints even still exist. Which is too bad. Even if the show were indifferent, it would be interesting to see what it looked like and, given the time, what the score sounded like. (Contributed by Ted Fitzgerald)
Far more faithful to the source material was Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, a short (five episodes) series produced in England (and a second series, produced in Canada, responsible for another six episodes), tailored for the American cable television market, starring Powers Boothe as Marlowe. A real plus was that the shows were all adapted from Chandler short stories, even if they weren't all originally Marlowe stories.
A lot of people really liked this one, but I thought it was all a bit overdone. Too much attention paid to detail, with not enough emphasis on how it all ties together makes it look like an overly-bright, sterile period piece. Los Angeles in the dirty thirties and forties comes off as a quaint little set with all the personality of an operating room. And the voice-over narration came off as overcooked Magnum. For me, Marlowe should carry a bit of world-weary introspection in his voice. And in this series, Marlowe had a girlfriend of sorts, in Annie Riordan, tucked away in, where else, Bay City. The shows ran on HBO and the CBC in North America.
In July 1998, HBO took another crack at Marlowe, with the Bob Rafaelson-directed Poodle Springs, starring James Caan as an aging Marlowe (it's set in 1963). It's based, at least partially, on the Robert B. Parker-completed version of Chandler's unfinished novel, and it should prove interesting, at least. Caan is an intriguing choice, but some of the changes seem rather suspect. Linda Loring is now Laura Parker, and she's no longer a spoiled rich kid, but a working attorney, and Poodle Springs is no longer Marlowe's (and Chandler's) derogative term for Palm Springs, but a small town where Phil and Laura settle down. Makes you wonder why they bothered paying for the rights to Chandler's (or Parker's) book at all.
Mind you, not everyone was disappointed. Cy Silver of Berkeley wrote in to say that he thought "it went well. The actual setting of the desert community in the production was very much like Palm Springs. And its location in the desert not too distant from the Nevada border does fit a Palm Springs-like ambience. And having James Caan play it as someone from another era gave it a time-warp quality, which I found intriguing and enjoyable. And not inconsistent with the inherent tension between Marlowe and Linda Loring."
Powell reprised his role as Marlowe, whom he had played a decade earlier in the theatrical release Murder, My Sweet.
Glover was nominated for a 1996 Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Emmy for his portrayal of Marlowe in this episode.
Eeesh! What were they smoking? Parker's attempt to complete the last Marlowe novel at least came from the heart --this muddle-headed adaptation seems to have come from considerable lower and further back.
NotChandler's best novel, but Michael Lark effectively tailored the text of The Little Sister to clarify the original story, emphasizing through his "comic noir" artwork the dark, dangerous environs, both physical and psychological, in which moves. Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times Book Review said "So, I read comic books--you want to make something of it? Not that "comic book" is the proper term, anyway, for a work of art like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: The Little Sister ... this stunning graphic novel is as visually alluring as the big, bad city after dark." The cover's pretty lame, but the inside's the real thing.
Not the Philip Marlowe novel but an adaptation of the original, unproduced screenplay that he eventually turned into the last Marlowe book, all about a Vancouver cop trying to get to the bottom of some nasty business and help a dame out of a jam. This handsome, if rather bleak, story was brought to graphic novel form by writer Ted Benoit and artist François Ayroles and published in France in 2004 -- now it's been translated into English, and it's a righteous job, all shadow and menace and dark style, sorta like Sin City, but with much better writing. It's Chandler, man.
"Murder and hardboiled mystery as PHILIP MARLOWE goes to the Northwest after stolen pearls in a breakthrough digital on-location audio production by The Firesign Theatre's David Ossman. This is the best audio Marlowe ever! Chandler's world comes to vivid life, recorded on-location near Seattle, and is illuminated by an enchanting original jazz/blues score. The program introduces a brand-new tune that's bound to become an old standard: 'My Lonely Love Affair' by Janie Cribbs. Chandlerphiles, mystery lovers, and audio enthusiasts, this is not to be missed!"
Adapters Stuart Gordon and his wife, Carolyn Purdy Gordon double-dipped, with Stuart handling the directong chortes, and Carolyn playing all three female leads.
In this original script, Marlowe is hired by Chandler to track down the manuscript for his next novel.
Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" remembered by Thomas Pluck.
A great-looking site, unfortunately overloaded with graphics, scripts, and sound files. Almost worth visiting, if you've got a lot of patience. Check out Who is Philip Marlowe? by Bill Henkin.
More a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. And winner, apparently, of an Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
Gary Nordell's Chandler page has a brief bio and a list of books, audiobooks, films and posters for sale.
Stephen Blackmoore's tribute to the master.
A fascinating romp (with photos) through one man's Chandler obsession, featuring first American and first British editions, vintage paperbacks, foreign editions, magazine appearances, various reprints, limited editions, movie related items, reference works, bibliographies, student editions and some ephemera. Sadly, Al will not tell me when he plans to be out of town for a few days, or where he hides his spare key.
A short, short story; more a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. Winner of Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
A tribute to Chandler from the celebrated horror/fantasy writer, of all people. Excellent!
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Ted Fitzgerald, Chris Mills, Henry Cabot Beck, Barry Ergang, Steven Ardron and Marc LaViolette for their help with this page. And a special thanks to Rina Fox for the TV Guide cover.
Remember, your comments, suggestions, corrections and contributions are always welcome.