Showing posts with label Philip Marlowe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip Marlowe. Show all posts

02 February 2024

The Second Murderer by Denise Mina

 For the first time since Poodle Springs, Philip Marlowe shows up in a Philip Marlowe novel and manages to stay well past Chapter 4. If it sounds like I'm giving damning faint praise to author Denise Mina, I'm not. Mina has written the latest authorized Philip Marlowe novel, and for once, we have an author who understands how to place Marlowe in context and not belabor the similes.

Like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, Philip Marlowe is one of those characters who won't die with his author. You have to go to science fiction to get anything else American like it. Star Wars is a Marvel-like franchise now instead of the story of a farm boy becoming Siegfried. Star Trek just avoids that fate by becoming a setting more than a story about set characters. Marlowe is...

Well, he's Marlowe. And he has dozens upon dozens of imitators: Lew Archer (more a means for Ross MacDonald to tell a story), Nameless, Spenser, Elvis Cole, Kinsey Milhonne, VI Warshawski. Even a certain Sleuthsayers contributor originally from Cleveland invented his own not-Marlowe. Which reminds me, there was another not-Marlowe from Cleveland by a much older writer from Cleveland. Seems like everyone wants in on the action.

But Bond and Holmes are larger than life, to the point where Holmes is recognizable the moment he appears, and Bond is now two Bonds: literary and cinematic. Marlowe is a working stiff, a guy in a corner office. If you reinvent him, you almost have to create a new character. Many have tried. The result has been not-Spenser, a book full of wisecracks and similes, or some guy named Philip Marlowe who happens to be or was a private detective. The closest anyone came to the original was Lawrence Osborne's Only to Sleep, featuring an elderly Marlowe in Mexico, though the story had an almost Miami Vice vibe to it. Denise Mina writes a story about the character Raymond Chandler created.

The similes and an odd metaphor or ten are there, but they need to be. That's how Marlowe talks. And he's in period. The Second Murderer begins with Marlowe wrapping up a case but wondering if he got it wrong: The death of a Western character actor on the eve of World War II. He has no time to think about it as an elderly man, in shades of The Big Sleep, summons Marlowe to Stately Montgomery Manor to hire him. He doesn't want the job, but Montgomery wants his daughter found. Because Montgomery is a Very Important Man(TM) from a Very Important Family(TM). And unlike The Big Sleep's General Sternwood, Marlowe doesn't like this guy. He's a shriveled monster who beats his family Yet Marlowe takes the gig. He finds the daughter, Chrissie, soon enough. But he also runs into Anne Riordan, a character so strong she could probably carry her own series. And Mina has made her a PI in her own right. Something's not right.

Marlowe and Riordan soon realize they're working at cross purposes here, and even the police are being played. Despite being at odds in their missions, the pair are soon walking a fine line between what they're tasked with and protecting Chrissie, who has a few secrets of their own.

Mina writes this in period. There's no overlay of modern sensibilities, although she does avoid some language Chandler might not have blinked at. But she's writing in 1938 and focused on the rhythms and the consequences of Hollywood trying very hard to pretend Hitler is someone else's problem. The dialog is in-period. However, the book comes from a Scottish writer, so the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all UK. That takes about a chapter to get used to. As an editor, I've seen the challenge and once had to leave Australian rules in place. But there were occasional lapses. One particular instance has Marlowe describing the rain on his car's "bonnet" (hood to us yanks.) Fortunately, the Britishisms are few and far between, and Marlowe even makes fun of one characters' faux British accent.

Much is made of Denise Mina being the first female author to tackle Marlowe. But I find it interesting a a Gen X woman from Scotland did a far superior job resurrecting Marlowe than Robert Parker or some of the other writers who attempted to carry on the legacy. First off, she focuses on telling a good story. She organically adds in Anne Riordan as a callback to Farewell, My Lovely without being gratuitous about it. And the Marlowe in her book is the Marlowe Chandler wrote. Considering she's been doing this for over twenty-five years, she was a good choice to add a chapter to Marlowe's story. I'd read another by her.

30 March 2023

Marlowe on TV

And here it is, the fourth installment in my four-part series, delving deeply into the back catalog of Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe across media other than the printed word. You can find previous installments here, here, and here. Now let’s get to it!

As television came to prominence during the mid-20th century, it can be of little surprise that fictional characters and their stories from previously established media (books, short stories, plays, films, etc.) began to find a place on TV.

After all, for a lot of the owners of these intellectual properties, selling the TV rights amounted to so much free money. As was the case with so many who went before him, Raymond Chandler had no qualms about licensing his famous detective for television.

However, television has proven-with one notable exception-to be a problematic medium for Marlowe.

Oh sure, there were the early one-offs. Reliable movie villain–of the effete, cultured variety–Zachary Scott played Marlowe in a 1950 adaptation of The Big Sleep for Robert Montgomery Presents. And four years later Dick Powell reprised the role for the initial episode of anthology series Climax! in a live adaptation of The Long Goodbye (with Caesar Romero as Mendy Mendez!). These were one-offs for anthologies and adaptations of existing Chandler properties (and as nearly as I can tell, unavailable anywhere to view). In 1959 ABC television launched Philip Marlowe a thirty minute crime drama starring Philip Carey in the title role, it lasted a single season.

The coolest thing about 1959’s Philip Marlowe was that fake scar on Philip Carey’s cheekbone.

Carey was a decent choice for Marlowe, and he really gave it his all, but his presence was really all the show had going for it. Filmed using many of the same sets as Perry Mason, the show had a thin supporting cast (avuncular character actor William Schallert played Marlowe's cop pal Lt. Manny Harris), and most importantly, bore nearly no resemblance to the source material. The series clocked twenty-six episodes before being cancelled in 1960.

As was the case with the BBC's attempts at bringing the original Marlowe novels to the radio, TV's second bite at a Marlowe series succeeded where the previous one had failed. It took into the early 1980s for it to happen, and it was subscription cable service Home Box Office that pulled it off, with its first originally produced series, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, with the great Powers Boothe as Marlowe.

Produced at Twickenham Studios in England, the series premiered on April 16, 1983 with a terrific adaptation of the Chandler short story "The Pencil." Where the Carey series suffered from a shoe-string budget and little interest on the part of the production team in aligning the TV show with the source material, HBO lavishly funded Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, and in two separate seasons (1983 and again in 1986) adapted a total of eleven of Chandler's Marlowe stories for the small screen. Here they are:

Season One:

1. "The Pencil"

2. "The King in Yellow"

3. "Nevada Gas"

4. "Finger Man"

5. "Smart Aleck Kill"

Season Two:

1. "Blackmailers Don't Shoot"

2. "Spanish Blood"

3. "Pickup on Noon Street"

4. "Guns at Cyrano's"

5. "Trouble is My Business"

6. "Red Wind"

The definitive TV Marlowe

And there's not a clunker in the bunch. Even weaker, earlier Chandler material such as "Blackmailers Don't Shoot" and "Smart Aleck Kill" gets an effective make-over as part of the screen adaptation process. And through it all Boothe shines as Marlowe. Anyone familiar with Boothe's work will recognize that he was more than capable of playing the good guy who tapped into a darker side. His Marlowe is always engaging, interesting, and when on the screen you can't take your eyes off him.

The series' budget is also evident in the production values, including authentic sets (although they do sometimes seem a bit too clean for 1930s/40s Los Angeles, but that is a minor quibble) and costumes. Solid supporting casts helped round out the product. At a lean eleven episodes, this series really is worth your time. It's not free, but you can stream it here.

Danny Glover as Marlowe in "Red Wind"

At around the same time as the HBO series was running, cable competitor SHOWTIME ran a one-off adaptation of a Chandler story in its crime fiction anthology series Fallen Angels. Danny Glover, hot off his success in Lethal Weapon portrayed Marlowe in another adaption of "Red Wind."

Changing up Marlowe's ethnicity (and that of several other characters in the story) while staying largely true to the action of the original story, really does create a different narrative. Marlowe's motivations change with his identity, and as a one-off experiment, it really does work and is also definitely worth your time. If you're interested, you can watch it for free here.

Jason O'Mara as a modern "Marlowe"

Lastly there is the never-picked-up pilot for a series titled Marlowe, produced in 2007 and starring a pre-Life on Mars Jason O'Mara as a modern-day version of the title character. I enjoyed the story, and the acting was good (especially O'Mara), but this modern Marlowe is very modern (he even has a secretary!), and really bears no more resemblance to the source material than I do to a wire haired schnauzer. In fact, I think the problem with O'Mara as Marlowe (aside from the fact that the pilot does not pay even lip service to the source material) is similar to the one I had with Garner in the role. I saw Jim Rockford in the film. And in this pilot I see Sam Tyler, O'Mara's character from Life on Mars (although his Marlowe seems less bemused/confused, and actually smiled more). Still, if you're curious about what might have been, you can check it out for free here.

And there you have it! As a quick recap, for my money Liam Neeson's turn as Marlowe is a proud entry into the canon, Toby Stephens' turn as Marlowe for BBC Radio might well serve as the definitive take on the character, and when it comes to Marlowe on TV, nobody does it better than Powers Boothe.

Agree? Disagree? Curious? Drop a line in the comments and let us know what you think.

And as always, see you in two weeks!

16 March 2023

Marlowe on the Radio

Welcome to the third in a four-part exploration of the portrayal of Raymond Chandler's iconic private investigator character, Philip Marlowe, in media other than print. Last time out we performed a deep dive into films either influenced by or adapted from Chandler's work.  This time around, we're going to explore Marlowe in radio, and  next time, television.

There have been countless attempts to credibly bring Marlowe to both the radio waves and the small screen. We'll delve into both here. This time: radio, including my vote for definitive performance of the role of Philip Marlowe (if there actually is such a thing).


Powell (Right) with Mike Mazurky in the 1944 film.
Between 1944 and 1951, the character of Philip Marlowe appeared on radio well over a hundred times, both in one-off radio adaptations of films in turn adapted from Chandler's original work, and in a single series that was, in reality, two. More on that below.

Two of the standalone radio adaptations of Chandler's work starred Dick Powell as Marlowe. In June of 1945 Lux Radio Theatre's "Murder, My Sweet" featured Powell recreating the role of Marlowe he'd portrayed on the screen just the year before (if you like you can listen to the Lux Radio Theatre production here). Powell reprised the role a second time in 1948 for Hollywood Star Time's production of "Murder, My Sweet."

Lux Radio Theatre did another adaptation of a film based on a Chandler novel, also in 1948, this one of Robert Montgomery's The Lady in the Lake, adapted from the 1947 film. Montgomery starred, as he had in the film (which had also directed). Earlier that same year Montgomery had appeared as Marlowe in a "cameo appearance" on Suspense (which he also hosted at the time), as part of a crossover with The Adventures of Sam Spade.

Van Helfin - the picture of gravitas
As for the "Marlowe radio series which was really two," the first, a summer replacement for Bob Hope's show, ran from June 17, 1947, to September 9th of the same year. Entitled The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, the series starred Van Heflin as Marlowe, and led off with a cracking adaption of the Chandler short story, "Red Wind" (you can listen to it here). Helfin's Marlowe was terrific. The actor brought a wonderful gravitas to the role that actors such as Powell and Montgomery, neither of them exactly a slouch when it came to acting chops, could match. Powell's light comic touch worked very well with the wise-cracking side of Marlowe's character, and Montgomery played Marlowe pretty straight. But Heflin really seemed to get "both" sides of Marlowe's character. Someone of whom his creator, Raymond Chandler, once famously wrote: "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished, nor afraid." In his brief sojourn as Marlowe, Heflin seemed to really get the character.

Jaunty Gerald Mohr 
The series switched networks from NBC to CBS the following year, with veteran actor Gerald Mohr replacing Heflin, and the scripts nearly all original compositions, with little relation to Chandler's original work. There was plenty of grit and and definite hard-boiled feel to the production, and for the three years (1948-1951) he voiced Marlowe, Mohr was great fun, but his Marlowe started nearly every one of the 119 episodes in which Mohr portrayed him so jauntily he could sometimes make Powell's light comic portrayal seem almost restrained.

This is, however, a small quibble. Of course this "lighter-than-air Marlowe" really only appeared at the beginning and usually (but not always) at the end of each episode.  When things got heavy, Mohr, who himself often played a heavy throughout a multi-decade career that spanned film, radio and television, definitely knew how to bring it. And the scripts were solid, as were the actors filling out the supporting roles. An excellent example of the Mohr Marlowe can be found here, with any number of links to other recordings of most of the show's run.

Once CBS pulled the plug in 1951, it would take over a quarter of a century before listeners would be able to find Marlowe on their radio dial. And then only if they could pick up the British Broadcasting Company. The BBC featured American-born TV actor Ed Bishop as the titular character in The BBC Presents: Philip Marlowe in 1977-78, and again in 1988. The series consisted of radio adaptations of The Big Sleep, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister (all produced and released on 1977), and The Long Goodbye (released in early 1978). A rights issue delayed the release of an additional adaptation, this one of Farewell, My Lovely, for a full decade. It was finally broadcast in 1988. Bishop's portrayal of Marlowe veered from "okay" to quick-talking patter that by this time in the 20th century had become the stuff of parody.

The BBC had better luck when they tried again in 2011. They adapted all of Chandler's novels for radio, including the fragment of Poodle Springs Chandler had begun but never finished (Spenser writer and Chandler superfan Robert B. Parker stepped in and did at the behest of the Chandler estate). James Bond villain Toby Stephens (Dame Maggie Smith's son, and, interestingly enough, BBC Radio's choice to also play 007 himself in the network's radio adaptations of Ian Fleming's original novels) played Marlowe in every episode of the series, from "The Big Sleep" in February, through to "Poodle Springs" in October.

The results were spectacular. Faithful to the source material, a terrific supporting cast, and Stephens delivering every line the way I feel Chandler intended. Just my personal opinion, but that's the wonder of radio, and if anyone is the definitive "Philip Marlowe," it's Toby Stephens.

But don't just take my word for it.  Click here and you can listen to the entire series yourself and make up your own mind.

See you in two weeks!

02 March 2023

The Definitive Marlowe: Revisited

Last time around I referenced the long, long history of the film industry's attempts to profitably bring Raymond Chandler's iconic gumshoe Philip Marlowe to the big (and the small) screen. I promised to watch the new film Marlowe, (not to be confused with the 1969 James Garner film of the same title), starring Liam Neeson and share my thoughts about it, and also comparing and contrasting it with all of the film Marlowes who came before.

A Fistful of Marlowes: clockwise from upper left–Dick Powell (with the always fabulous Claire Trevor in 1944's Murder, My Sweet), Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep, 1946), Robert Mitchum (Farewell, My Lovely, 1975)& one shot of the otherwise camera-shy Robert Montgomery (The Lady in the Lake, 1947)

So let's get started!

First: my thoughts on Neeson's turn as Marlowe:

I loved it.

Neeson is seventy, but he keeps himself in pretty good shape (as demonstrated by his participation in some really well-done fight scenes in the this film), and although clearly an aging Marlowe, and not the age the Marlowe of Raymond Chandler's seven novels and countless short stories would have been in the year of the film's setting (1939), he and the film do not attempt to mask the fact that he's not mid-thirties, as the literary Marlowe would have been in 1939.

Also, director and co-writer Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) further changes things up by making Marlowe Irish-born and raised, at one point referencing the horrors of war he himself had experienced at the horrifying Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a member of the King's Irish Rifles. So this Marlowe is not, specifically Chandler's Marlowe.

Banville & the Black-Eyed Blonde

And that stands to reason, as the source material is not a Chandler novel, but one commissioned by the Chandler estate as a "sequel to Chandler's The Big Sleep," and written by Irish novelist John Banville using his crime fiction pen name Benjamin Black: The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014).

The film is gorgeously shot, with Spain taking the place of 1939 Southern California. The action is set specifically in and around mythical "Bay City," Chandler's fictional avatar for Santa Monica. Cinematographer Xavi Giménez may well be in line for an Oscar nomination. The costumes are period perfect, the acting, by an A-list of mostly Irish actors and headed by Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, and the always entertaining (and Scottish) Alan Cumming, is first-rate. The pacing is spot-on, the film never dragged or got bogged down in explanations of plot points, nor did it blast through pages of the script at the rate of a Transformers movie.

But most of all, with Jordan's sure hand on the tiller and Neeson all-in and game to try to pull the whole thing off, it just… works.

At least it did for me. I highly recommend this film based on a non-Chandler book. Very entertaining!

So was Neeson's Marlowe the "definitive Marlowe"? Of course not. It's a Marlowe for our times, even if it is set in the early 20th century. Any "definitive" Marlowe would need to carry the feel of Chandler's character in the way that Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade was definitive (even if the short, dark Bogart looked nothing like the hulking, slope-shouldered "Blond Satan" of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon).

With that out of the way, let's take a look at the Marlowes come before…

Other Film Marlowes:

Sanders (Center) looking bored.

1. George Sanders (The Falcon Takes Over-1942)" Nope. Not Marlowe, not even an attempt at Marlowe: British actor George Sanders (who was great in many other things, but mostly seems bored here) plays Gay Lawrence, "the Falcon" in the B-movie series of the same name. Not noir, not hardboiled, broad comic subplot played for laughs and with the central character a "gentleman amateur not-quite-detective." Although John Wayne caddy and future Wagon Train star Ward Bond does a pretty fair job of playing "Moose Malloy" in this B-movie take on Farewell, My Lovely (the first, and weakest of three such film adaptations to be featured in this post). With Bond just a year removed from his solid turn as Detective Tom Polhaus in John Huston's seminal The Maltese Falcon, he's clearly better than the material he's given to work with here.

Not Marlowe-says so right on the door.

2. Lloyd Nolan (Time to Kill-1943) Nope. He's Lloyd Nolan playing Mike Shayne. This one, the first, and better of two film adaptations of Chandler's The Brasher Doubloon (published in the U.K. and in later American versions as The High Window) to be featured in this post, is also a B-movie filmed quick and cheap. Nolan, a talented character actor whose Hollywood career spanned most of the 20th century, is delightful as Mike Shayne, and the film sports a solid supporting cast, plenty of humor too, and it is superior in pretty much every way to 1947's The Brasher Doubloon- more on that, below! More on Nolan below as well. And you can watch the whole thing on YouTube here.

3. Dick Powell (Marlowe in Murder My Sweet-1944) in the film that helped him rebrand himself as a noir film hero and ditch his previous career as a(n aging) song-and-dance man. Powell is great, but too perky to be Marlowe. The film itself, directed by Edward Dmytryk, is a solid adaptation of the Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely. This adaptation is more faithful to the subject matter than the Sanders version above (slapped on Hollywood ending notwithstanding). It's also better directed, with a stronger supporting cast (the difference between a "B" picture budget and an "A" picture budget) which included the ever-formidable Claire Trevor, and journeyman Mike Mazurky as probably the best ever film incarnation of the hulking, slow-witted brute, Moose Malloy.

Powell, as Marlowe, with Mazurky (right), about to be taken for a ride, Chauffeur and all.
Bogart is Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946)

4. Humphrey Bogart (Marlowe in The Big Sleep -1946) he's great. One of his best performances. The movie is an interesting mess, plotwise (complete with another Hollywood ending-and not even the likes of of A-list script doctors such as Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner can do much with it). The problem for me is that, as hard as he tries, Bogart still comes across like Sam Spade-his other iconic detective role, and from a much better movie. Great supporting cast: Lauren Bacall (with a teenaged Andy Williams supposedly dubbing her singing voice), Regis Twomey as long-time Marlowe associate Bernie Ohls, the Los Angeles District Attorney's chief investigator, and Marlowe's former boss, the great Elisha Cook, Jr. (riveting as Wilmer Cook, the psychopathic "gunsel" in The Maltese Falcon), and a not-yet-discovered Dorothy Malone sizzling in a single scene with Bogart as the clerk in a bookstore where Marlowe waits out a rainstorm.

Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter, in the mirror.

5. Robert Montgomery (Two on-screen scenes in the camera-as-eyes-of-the-narrating-detective in The Lady of the Lake-1947). Dubbed a "startling and daring new method of storytelling–a milestone in moviemaking." In truth, an ambitious flop that condensed the source material in what is arguably one of Chandler's better novels (with, wait for it… yet another tacked on Hollywood ending). Mongomery directed, and starred as Marlowe in voice-over, using the camera as the eyes of the main character. He only appears in two scenes where he sees himself in a mirror. Definitive Marlowe? Nope. Although the aforementioned Lloyd Nolan steals the show here as corrupt cop De Garmo.

George Montgomery: Swashbuckling Marlowe!

6. George Montgomery–No Relation– (The Brasher Doubloon / The High Window-1947) B-movie effort and Montgomery, who is game and gives it his all (In spite of the fact that Montgomery's "all" seems to include playing Marlowe as if he were a method actor trying to play the hard-boiled icon as Errol Flynn.), is at the mercy of his own limitations and a script that makes his Marlowe far more interested in "love" than in "saving" the victim as was the case in the source material (Complete with, you guessed it: still another tacked on Hollywood ending!). Right age, and aside from the pencil thin mustache, right "look," but no dice. And you can also watch this one on YouTube here.

The wonderful Rita Moreno & Rockf-ermm Marlowe.

7. James Garner (the title character in Marlowe-1969) plays a P.I. who comes across as more proto-Rockford than as Philip Marlowe in this relatively faithful (no Hollywood ending!) adaptation of the excellent and often overlooked Chandler novel The Little Sister. Updated "modern" setting. Great supporting cast, especially Rita Moreno, Gayle Hunnicutt, Sharon Farrell, and H.M. Wynant as mobster Sonny Steelgrave. Bruce Lee is in it, and he's reliably terrible. Then again, the chops they cast him for weren't his acting chops. (*rimshot*).

"That's okay with me." When "okay" is frequently NOT "okay"...

8. Elliott Gould (Marlowe in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye 1973) as a shambling, tatterdemalion, sort-of hippy Marlowe? NOPE. Hardly "definitive."

The first time I watched this film I loathed it. A few decades and a number of re-watchings later, and this film has much to recommend it. It is surprisingly faithful to the Chandler novel of the same name. Okay, maybe not so surprising, in light of the fact that Leigh Brackett penned the screenplay. Altman's The Long Goodbye bears the dubious distinction of containing a torture scene that still manages to shock the viewer, a half-century after its release.

The cast (including Gould, who is following Altman's direction to a t) is superb. Sterling Hayden was never better (and that's saying something) than in his role of millionaire author and part-time nutjob Roger Wade. Mark Rydell, known primarily for his work as a director (he would go on to garner an Oscar nomination for On Golden Pond.) is unforgettable in his brief turn as vicious thug Marty Augustine (who does not appear in the novel). Henry Gibson (of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In fame) is inspired casting as the drug-peddling quack Dr. Verringer. Baseball player (and author of the unforgettable sports memoir Ball Four) Jim Bouton was not an actor and it showed in his mostly wooden performance as Marlowe's doomed pal Terry Lennox, but they can't all be winners. And lastly, this film actually improves on the ending Chandler penned for the book. it's easily my favorite ending of any Marlowe film ever, and one of my favorite film endings, period, regardless of genre.

Not in any way a spoiler, honest.
Mitchum–absolutely GREAT as Marlowe.

9. Robert Mitchum Marlowe in Farewell My Lovely 1975) The third, and best of the three film adaptations of the Chandler novel of the same name. Mitchum was 58 when he took this on, and does nothing to try to play the part as "younger" (Marlowe in the 1942 novel would have been in his mid-thirties), and his performance is the better for it. this one ranks right up there with the best: Bogart, especially. And yet, I can't help but wonder what might have been, had Mitchum taken on this role in 1948, instead of the overrated (in my opinion) Out of the Past? Such a portrayal may well have been the definitive Marlowe. There was an air of sardonic nihilism that younger Mitchum pretty near perfectly embodied: too cool to care what others thought of him and knowing that his target audience were "guys with dirty fingernails and dirty shirts who have lost at least one job for talking back to someone..." And while late-fifties Mitchum is a terrific actor who gives a dynamite performance, he can't help but be more measured, more caring about the effects of his actions. His very age and him acting it, inhibits that performance, albeit slightly. It's a small quibble, but that's the difference between "great" and "definitive." As for the film itself, John Ireland is terrific as police detective Nulty, Harry Dean Stanton chews the scenery (which is appropriate in this instance) as Nulty's corrupt cop partner (and Marlowe foil) Billy Rolfe. Sylvia Miles scored an Oscar nomination for her turn as Jessie Florian, Charlotte Rampling is deathly dull as Helen Grayle (especially when compared to Claire Trevor), Jack O'Halloran is appropriately massive as Moose Malloy. And a year before Rocky, a young Sylvester Stallone has a "blink and you might miss it" role as whorehouse enforcer "Jonnie."

10. Robert Mitchum (Marlowe in The Big Sleep-1978) The less said about this blatant cash grab, the better. So I'll leave it at this: only three years separate this film from the vastly superior Farewell, My Lovely, and yet in this one Mitchum comes across as past-his-prime. Plus it's a modern update of the source material from 1939 to 1978. And the action is inexplicably moved from Los Angeles to London. ENGLAND. None of this is Mitchum's fault, but there you go.

NOPE. Don't bother.

10. James Caan (Marlowe in Poodle Springs-1998) I really like James Caan's body of work. But at this point in his career I feel he was pretty much just playing himself. He's supposed to be an older, recently married Marlowe, but his wisecracks even sound like a tired James Caan going through the motions. The caged energy of Sonny Corleone is long dissipated. The grim humor of Frank (the title character in Thief) is sadly lacking. And the professional, practiced readiness for controlled violence of Johnathan E. from Rollerball is nowhere to be found. The script (based on Robert B. Parker's continuation of the first two chapters of the novel of the same name that Chandler left unfinished on his death in 1959) is okay, and the supprting cast seems game, but this isn't really a Chandler Marlowe story, and as such, the seams are showing. But don't just take my word for it. You can catch the entire film on YouTube here for free.

Well-done, Liam!
11. Liam Neeson (Marlowe in the creatively titled Marlowe -2023) As I noted above, Neeson did a fine job, and it's a terrific film, with a wonderful and compelling cast. Neil Jordan's direction and collaboration on the script with William Monahan is pretty well pulled off. Spain as 1939 Southern California is gorgeous.

However, Chandler wrote Marlowe envisioning a scruffy Cary Grant playing the role. 40s Mitchum is pitch-perfect. So, short story long: I think there is no definitive Marlowe on film. Nor is there ever likely to be.

And what's wrong with that?

The definitive Marlowe?

And on that note, time for me to wrap it up and pack it all in for now. Tune in next time when I conclude this Marlowe media deep dive by touching on Marlowe portayals in TV and radio.

See you in two weeks!

16 February 2023

The Definitive Marlowe?

 So as of Valentine's Day there is a new Phillip Marlowe film in theaters. It's called Marlowe, with the great Liam Neeson in the titular role as Raymond Chandler's iconic Southern California gumshoe, in an era when "gumshoes" were highly likely to actually wear "gum shoes."

An Irish actor playing a quintessentially American character, the 20th century's greatest example in fiction of the private eye. It does seem fitting in this instance. After all, the source material for this newest Marlowe movie also comes to us courtesy of the Emerald Isle. 

Specifically, from the pen of John Banville. An Irish novelist acclaimed for many works of literary fiction, Banville had been tapped by the estate of the late Raymond Chandler to write a new Marlowe novel. The Black-Eyed Blonde, the novel on which the new Marlowe movie is based, was the result, published under Banville's crime fiction nom de plume, Benjamin Black. 

A sequel to the first Marlowe novel–The Big Sleep–the novel takes its title from a Marlowe short story written by another author (Benjamin M. Schutz), which aside from the title, bears no resemblance to Banville's work. Banville is hardly the first author to take on Chandler's greatest creation. He isn't even the first one authorized to do so by the Chandler estate. That honor falls to the prolific Robert B. Parker, the author of many novels, but most famously of a series featuring one of Marlowe's spiritual descendants, Boston private investigator Spenser ("Spelled with two 's''s like the poet." Get it? "Marlowe"? "Spenser"?). Parker both finished Chandler's Poodle Springs, a Marlowe novel Chandler left unfinished at the time of his death in 1959, and wrote his own sequel to The Big Sleep: the poorly received Perchance to Dream.

Talk about working a theme.

The Chandler estate has authorized two further Marlowe novels since The Black-Eyed Blonde was published in 2014. The first, 2018's Only to Sleep by British author Lawrence Osborne imagines an elderly Marlowe still in the P.I. game in 1988 Mexico. The most recent, American author Joe Ide's The Goodbye Coast (2022), billed at the time as "not so much a reimagining as a reinvigoration," places a modern day Phillip Marlowe, updated to fit into his new setting: 21st century Los Angeles.

I have not read Ide's update on Marlowe, but it has received good reviews (as has Osborne's book), and in one aspect carries on an interesting post-Chandler tradition with the character of Phillip Marlowe: the modern overhaul. In fact Ide's crack at updating Marlowe is the fourth such crack at an update. The previous three were all films.

The first one, 1969's Marlowe (Yep, the Neeson vehicle is the second such imaginatively titled film) starred a post-Maverick/pre-Rockford James Garner wisecracking his way through a surprisingly faithful screen adaptation of Chandler's The Little Sister. There's a stellar supporting cast, too, headlined by a never-better Rita Moreno, Gayle Hunnicutt, Carol O'Connor, and a pre-stardom Bruce Lee.

Yep, THAT Bruce Lee.

Watching this film it's easy to see the roots of Garner's epic turn as Jim Rockford throughout the '70s. Marlowe is "tougher," and not quite as fast-talking. But there are many similarities between his Marlowe and his Rockford.

The next such "update" of Marlowe came in 1973 at the hands of legendary auteur film-maker Robert Altman. He chose the Chandler novel The Long Goodbye for his take on a modern update of the character, with a mumbling, shambolic Elliott Gould playing Marlowe bouncing around contemporary Southern California (and Mexico), chain-smoking his way through scene after scene in an ever more rumpled suit. As with so much of Altman's work, the film is uneven, often in spite of its top notch supporting cast, which included Henry Gibson, Sterling Hayden, Nina Van Pallandt and former big league pitcher (and author of Ball Four, one of the greatest sports memoirs of all time) Jim Bouton.

The third "updated" Marlowe film was a late-70s money grab, featuring a far past-his-prime Robert Mitchum playing an expatriate Marlowe working in the UK(!?). I plan to discuss this one (as well as Mitchum’s vastly superior-and era appropriate-first bite at the Marlowe apple- 1975’s FAREWELL MY LOVELY) at length in my next installment.

In the mean-time I'm going to see the new Marlowe. I'll weigh in on it, and every other film Marlowe next time, a couple of Wednesdays from now.

And on that note, I'm off!

See you in two weeks!

14 August 2021

I've Watched The Long Goodbye 3 Times Now

It's a middle distance squint, and I get like that during every watch. Here's how it happened this round.

Recently, Killer Nashville asked me to review Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (1953). The second-to-last Marlowe outing is Chandler's best, for my money. The detective story, truly elevated. No mean feat, given the high standards of his earlier novels. Doing the essay lured me to re-confront Robert Altman's 1973 film version starring Elliott Gould. I'd seen it twice before. I'd been left in that squint both times.

Full disclosure: I'm no cinema expert. I do, however, understand a few things about the genre and this novel in particular. So, freshly inspired, I ventured again into Altman's film. 

Same squint. 

Advance critics in 1973 seemed to have a similar reaction. They were confused whether they'd just watched a detective movie or not. The hardboiled posters didn't match the semi-noir, semi-satire delivered. The Long Goodbye got pulled ahead of mixed reviews. In came the studio marketing folks, and several months later it was re-packaged more honestly, as a subversive take on Hollywood tropes. These reviews praised a nose-tweaking of the genre. Fifty years later, the film is now well-studied and the critical consensus ever-more favorable. 

Altman's take has much going for it. Casting faded star Sterling Haywood as alcoholic novelist Roger Wade is spot on. In the novel, Wade is Chandler himself stuffed into a part Michener, part Hemingway persona, but the film wisely cranks up the Papa factor. Nina Van Pallandt plays wife Eileen Wade with deftly-concealed femme fatality. The soundtrack is evocative and playful, mostly rearrangements of the same Johnny Mercer song to fit each scene. The cinematography is gorgeous. Altman's L.A. is up all hours but not doing much, a glossy pit of decay and casual violence. Malibu is just higher-end decadence with beach access. It's Chandler's noir SoCal– left twenty years to rot. Altman drops Marlowe smack into the cesspool. Above it, more precisely, observing L.A. from an improbably affordable top-floor apartment at Hollywood Heights' iconic High Tower enclave. 

Your essayist just down the beach, 2016
Which may be the initial squint-maker. 

Altman wants to make a point how L.A. vibe and P.I. stories were outdated. He does this by– beautifully– repainting the '50s Marlowe scene as a neo-noir, only-in-the-'70s moment. The style of it, like Chandler's, helps the work age pretty well (there is a violent moment that either wouldn't happen in a modern film or else would be answered on-screen later). Still, rebinding one tired era with what would surely become another? That message and its disconnect, though, comes off as part of the satire. But a story lost in time doesn't necessarily make for a timeless story.

Or maybe I get stuck on a half-reimagined Marlowe, one foot in both worlds. The task fell to Elliott Gould, attached to the project before Altman and the screenwriters came onboard. Gould is terrific, his characters never quite sure what the hell is going on but muddling through anyway. He does schlubs to perfection and plays Marlowe that way. There is a certain genius to this. Chandler's Marlowe is tough but not the toughest. He's forever outmuscled and often outsmarted. Gould takes this to another level. He's lost in a beyond rumpled state. He loses or avoids every fight. As for women, Gould's Marlowe is oblivious even to Eileen's flirtations. Early in the film, he's trapped in a disassociative mumble about L.A. passing him by. We get it. But Elliott Gould is funny. He can't help it, the schlub. His best Marlowe is when Gould eventually drops the sleepwalk and just does Gould. 

From your
essayist's collection
Next, there's that Edgar-winning masterpiece novel. Altman seizes on aspects of Chandler's world– the backdrop, Marlowe's sense of morality, the outsized characters against the smallness of their crimes– but abandons much of the actual story. Some of this is necessity.

Chandler's The Long Goodbye is intricate, often contemplative, and hefty– almost 400 pages. The inciting murder happens forty pages in, give or take your edition. A hyper-faithful film version is a marathon with too many moving parts. In trimming things, the screenwriters left Chandler's premise– Marlowe wants justice for a friend in a jam--but glossed over the motivations driving that premise. Marlowe doesn't make friends. Allies and lovers, yes. Never true friends.

So when in The Long Goodbye Marlowe and ruined socialite Terry Lennox strike up an odd friendship via drinks and loyalty tests, Marlowe is as surprised as anyone. Resolving this inner confusion is as much what Marlowe is after than justice for Lennox's suspicious death. Lennox never fit right, in any sense.

The film almost immediately finds Marlowe and Lennox chumming it up playing liar's poker. Sure, we've already seen Marlowe living alone but for a finnicky cat. His quick chumminess with Lennox suggests Marlowe has a wider circle of chums. Add in that the film's Lennox is stripped of complications. He's a common crook who married well, and it's pretty clear he committed what inevitably surfaces as the murder. In Chandler's world of rough justice, one murder must lead to a next. Altman doesn't need the same body count. Murders are cut or cleansed as suicides, clues are sparse, the solution a bit easy. The crime elements are, like Marlowe, scaffolding to Altman's larger statement. 

© Wikipedia
Look, no big-name director agrees to get lashed to a novel they can't re-envision. The screenwriter in Chandler would've gotten that better than anyone. Altman made the movie he wanted to make, and he made a sleek one. 

Altman reportedly said that Chandler fans would hate this take. I don't hate-watch a movie three times. There's plenty to admire in this film.

Altman reportedly also never read the novel cover-to-cover. If true, I wish he had. He might've found Chandler's novel had risen above the noir tropes in these crosshairs. With more study of his source material, Altman might've made one hell of a noir update or the best kind of crime comedy. He might've made a great movie, not just a weird one.

And at least I could stop squinting.

17 May 2016

The Bradbury Building – Screen Star

Well, I had a post all written, even pulled pictures for it, and was ready to go. Then realized I had signed a non-disclosure agreement and, therefore, have decided not to run it. But since I did the photo here of me in the long white hair figured I’d run at least that anyway and let you all try to figure out what that post was about…

In the meantime, I’ll talk about the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles. A famous LA landmark and one that’s been in tons of movies, many in the mystery and noir genre. It played Philip Marlowe’s office in Marlowe, starring James Garner. Some people say that Marlowe had his office here in Chandler’s books, but there’s no real proof of that. Oh, and of course, it makes an appearance in several of my stories.

Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark. It’s also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, as well it should be.

Bradbury Building interior
It was commissioned by Lewis L. Bradbury, a goldmining millionaire, and opened in 1893 (old by LA standards), a few months after Bradbury’s death.

According to Wikipedia, “The design of the building was influenced by the 1887 science fiction bookLooking Backward by Edward Bellamy, which described a utopian society in 2000. In Bellamy's book, the average commercial building was described as a ‘vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above ... The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.’ The influence of this description can be seen in the Bradbury.”

The Bradbury Building 2005
The outside of the building is a rather plain brick façade. But inside, you’re in for a treat. The Bradbury is built around an atrium-like central court. The ceiling is a gigantic skylight that lets in natural light, which falls on glazed brick, polished wood, marble and wrought iron railings throughout, giving it warm and changing light throughout the day. The birdcage style elevators are something to see.

In my novel-in-progress, The Blues Don’t Care, I describe it this way: “From the outside the Bradbury Building looked like any other office building, brown brick and sandstone in an Italian-Renaissance meets L.A. style. Inside, it was like being transported to a great European palace or maybe a train station of the industrial age. Bobby had heard of this building, though never had occasion to visit. He was awed by its breathtaking beauty. A glass skylight let shards of light fall on glazed brick and wrought iron grillwork. Marble flooring. Bobby stopped for a moment to catch his breath before heading to the open-caged elevators. He told the operator his floor, rode to the top, walked to room 501.”

Details of elevators and glass ceiling
The Bradbury is an office building and various types of businesses lease space there. Today one of those lessees is the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division, so be good if you visit…

The Bradbury in DOA
The Bradbury is the star of many books/stories, movies, videos, commercials and TV shows. It made its first screen appearance in China Girl (1942), filling in for a Burmese hotel. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Michael Connelly, Max Allan Collins and others have used the Bradbury in their writing.

It features prominently in the original version of D.O.A. (the good version!), I, The Jury (based on Mickey Spillane’s novel), Mission Impossible (the old TV show), the Jack Nicholson movie, Wolf, and more.

Videos by Janet Jackson, Genesis, Heart, Earth, Wind and Fire and more.

More recently, it shows up in Blade Runner, The Artist, CSI NY, etc.

The Bradbury in Bladerunner

To say I love this building would be putting it mildly. It’s a fantastic place. And if you ever come to LA make sure to hit it in downtown at 304 South Broadway.


Bradbury Building interior: By Luke Jones - originally posted to Flickr as Bradbury Hotel, CC BY 2.0,

Bradbury Building 2005: By Highsmith, Carol M., 1946- photographer, donor. - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pplot.13725.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−, Public Domain,

Detail of elevators and glass ceiling: By JayWalsh - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Bradbury in Bladerunner: By Source, Fair use,

15 October 2013

The Big Moving Sleep Target

by Terence Faherty

This time last year I was serving as the program chair for a great mystery conference we have here in Indiana, Magna Cum Murder.  (This year's conference is being held in Indianapolis on October 25, 26, and 27, and there's still time to register.)  At Magna, they often pick a classic mystery as the conference book.  All attendees are encouraged to read it, at least one panel is devoted to it, and the movie version is shown, if one exists.  I chose The Moving Target, the first Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald.  (Yes, it does say "John Macdonald" on the first edition cover.  Macdonald, whose real name was Kenneth Millar, didn't settle on Ross for his pen name until the fifth or six book.)  I selected that early book, rather than one of Macdonald's later classics, because there is a movie version, 1966's Harper, starring Paul Newman.
After making my decision, I reread The Moving Target for the first time in perhaps thirty years.  The first few chapters made me glad I'd picked it, the last few less so.  But what struck me most about the novel was its close relationship with another first number in a famous series, The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe novel.  It's so close, in fact, that I'm convinced Macdonald reread The Big Sleep before laying out The Moving Target, if he didn't have a copy open on his lap as he wrote.

I'm not going to summarize the two plots here.  I'll save that arduous task for when I expand this post into my doctoral dissertation (later to be an Edgar-nominated critical work and, later still, a direct-to-DVD cartoon).  I'll confine myself to citing ten examples to support my contention that, in many ways, The Moving Target (TMT) is a play on and an inversion of The Big Sleep (TBS).

- 1 -

In both books, the PI is called in to straighten out a problem for a wealthy family whose senior representative is an invalid:  General Sternwood in TBS and Elaine Sampson in TMT. Both these characters are heartsick over the loss of a pseudo son, the general's runaway drinking buddy and Elaine's killed-in-action stepson.

- 2 -

The characters of the fathers of these two families and their respective daughters is an example of Macdonald's inversion of Chandler's plot.  In TBS, General Sternwood is wise and his daughter is wild.  In TMT, Ralph Sampson (Elaine's missing husband) is wild and his daughter is wise beyond her years.

- 3 -

Both plots feature rackets complicated by and eventually undone by other crimes.  In TBS, a smut book racket is undone by a blackmail play.  In TMT, a smuggling racket is undone by a kidnapping.

- 4 -

In both books, the initial crime seems vague and phony:  the too polite blackmail of the Sternwoods and the kidnapping of Ralph Sampson that might not be one. 

- 5 -

In both cases, a shadowy underworld figure appears to be pulling the strings.  Each has a last name that's a vague classical allusion, Eddie Mars in TBS and Dwight Troy in TMT.  Both own or have owned a gambling joint, and both are gray-haired.

- 6 - 

Both books feature dens of iniquity:  the house where the wild Sternwood daughter does drugs in TBS becomes the red, zodiac-themed bedroom of the wild father in TMT.

- 7 -

Both the Sternwoods and the Sampsons employ a lovesick young man whose infatuation with a drug user will get him killed (and, again, the names are similar):  Owen Taylor, a chauffeur, in TBS and Alan Taggert, a pilot, in TMT.   Here, Macdonald's inversion of the Chandler model is again apparent.  Taylor chases a Sternwood daughter while Taggert is chased by Sampson's.

- 8 -

The supporting casts have other parallel characters, including two hard luck little men with criminal pasts whose devotion to the wrong women will end them:  Harry Jones in TBS and Eddie Lassiter in TMT.

- 9 -

And in both novels, the PI has a friend with either a current or past connection to the local district attorney's office, and, yet again, the names are similar:  Bernie Ohls (TBS) and Albert "Bertie" Graves (TMT). 

- 10 -

The final link is another name clue, in some respects the most obvious one Macdonald planted.  The wild daughter from TBS is named Carmen.  The not-so-wild daughter from TMT is named Miranda.  Get it? 

Carmen Miranda!

A coincidence?  I think not.  In fact, I rest my case.