Philip Marlowe: An Essential Guide To Books And Movies
Philip Marlowe is one of those rare characters in crime fiction which has inspired generation after generation of fine mystery writers. Created by Raymond Chandler, Marlowe first appeared under that name in The Big Sleep, published in 1939.
Chandler’s early short stories, published in pulp magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective, featured similar characters with names like “Carmady” and “John Dalmas” but they could never appeal to mystery readers the way Marlowe did.
Perhaps part of the allure of Phillip Marlowe is because he is not based on a single person’s character. Explaining the origin of Marlowe’s character, Chandler commented that “Marlowe just grew out of the pulps. He was no one person.”
Philip Marlowe appears to be the template for quintessential tough-guy private eye…
When creating the character, Chandler had originally intended to call him Mallory but later settled on Marlowe. In a way, the emergence of Marlowe coincided with Chandler’s transition from writing short stories to novels and in particular writing The Big Sleep.
Independent of its origins, Philip Marlowe appears to be the template for quintessential tough-guy private eye. He’s tall, has a dry sense of humor and a quick wit. He smokes cigarettes and drinks booze constantly and he does not shy away from dangerous situations.
Understanding Marlowe novels and their style is, therefore, a True North for avid mystery fans or aspiring writers. The following essential guide aims to provide an overview of all Marlowe novels and film adaptations to help those who want to learn about this character. The guide also provides the right chronological order of the books and films for avid fans.
The Big Sleep (1939). The iconic first novel from crime fiction master Raymond Chandler, featuring Philip Marlowe, the quintessential urban private eye.
A dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.
Farewell, My Lovely (1940). Philip Marlowe’s about to give up on a completely routine case when he finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to get caught up in a murder that leads to a ring of jewel thieves, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.
The High Window (1942). A wealthy Pasadena widow with a mean streak, a missing daughter-in-law with a past, and a gold coin worth a small fortune—the elements don’t quite add up until Marlowe discovers evidence of murder, rape, blackmail, and the worst kind of human exploitation.
The Lady in the Lake (1943). In The Lady in the Lake, hardboiled crime fiction master Raymond Chandler brings us the story of a couple of missing wives—one a rich man’s and one a poor man’s—who have become the objects of Philip Marlowe’s investigation. One of them may have gotten a Mexican divorce and married a gigolo and the other may be dead. Marlowe’s not sure he cares about either one, but he’s not paid to care.
The Little Sister (1949). In Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister, a movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend and a pair of siblings with a shared secret lure private eye Philip Marlowe into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame. Chandler’s first foray into the industry that dominates the company town that is Los Angeles.
The Long Goodbye (1953). Philip Marlowe befriends a down on his luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out that Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, whom he divorced and remarried and who ends up dead. And now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe.
Playback (1958). Philip Marlowe is hired by an influential lawyer he’s never heard of to tail a gorgeous redhead, but then decides he’d rather help out the redhead. She’s been acquitted of her alcoholic husband’s murder, but her father-in-law prefers not to take the court’s word for it.
Poodle Springs (1989). When Raymond Chandler died in 1959, he left behind the first four chapters of a new Philip Marlowe thriller. Three decades later, Robert B. Parker, the bestselling creator of the Spenser detective novels, completed Poodle Springs in a full-length masterpiece of criminal passion.
Philip Marlowe is alive and well and living in Poodle Springs, California. He’s married to a wealthy heiress now. But living in the lap of luxury hasn’t made a dent in Marlowe’s cynicism–or his talent for attracting trouble. Soon he’s on a trail of greed, lust, and murder as dark and cunning as any he’s ever seen. Philip Marlowe is back in business.
Perchance to Dream (1991). Another Marlowe novel by Robert B. Parker. In a sequel to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Marlowe takes on a case involving General Sternwood, who is six feet under, Vivian, who is dating a blackmailer, and Carmen, a sanatorium escapee.
The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014). Channeling Raymond Chandler, Benjamin Black has brought Marlowe back to life for a new adventure on the mean streets of Bay City, California. It is the early 1950s, Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client is shown in: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, she wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson.
Marlowe sets off on his search, but almost immediately discovers that Peterson’s disappearance is merely the first in a series of bewildering events. Soon he is tangling with one of Bay City’s richest families and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune.
Only To Sleep (2018). Lawrence Osborne brings one of literature’s most enduring detectives back to life – as Private Investigator Philip Marlowe returns for one last adventure.
The year is 1988. The place, Baja California. And Philip Marlowe – now in his seventy-second year – is living out his retirement in the terrace bar of the La Fonda hotel. Sipping margaritas, playing cards, his silver-tipped cane at the ready. When in saunter two men dressed like undertakers, with a case that has his name written all over it.
For Marlowe, this is his last roll of the dice, his swan song. His mission is to investigate the death of Donald Zinn – supposedly drowned off his yacht, and leaving behind a much younger and now very rich wife. But is Zinn actually alive? Are the pair living off the spoils?
Films Featuring Phillip Marlowe
Time to Kill (1942). Directed by Herbert I. Leeds, this movie is the first adaptation of Chandler’s work for the big screen. The movie is based on the novel The High Window, which was remade five years later as The Brasher Doubloon. The detective was changed from Philip Marlowe to Michael Shayne for this version, with Lloyd Nolan playing the part and Heather Angel in a rare turn as leading lady.
The Falcon Takes Over (1942). This is the adaptation of Farewell My Lovely with detective “The Falcon” substituting for Marlowe and George Sanders as The Falcon. The film was the third, following The Gay Falcon and A Date with the Falcon (1941), to star George Sanders as the character Gay Lawrence, a gentleman detective known by the sobriquet the Falcon.
Murder, My Sweet (1944). Directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley, this film is based on Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. Murder, My Sweet turned out to be Anne Shirley’s final film. She retired from acting in 1944 at age 26.
The Big Sleep (1946). The film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in a story about the “process of a criminal investigation, not its results.” William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay. In 1997, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and added it to the National Film Registry.
Lady in the Lake (1947). This movie marked the directorial debut of Robert Montgomery, who also stars as Marlowe in the film. The picture also features Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows. The film was Montgomery’s last for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, after eighteen years with the studio.
Montgomery’s ambition was to create a cinematic version of the first-person narrative style of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. With the exception of a couple of times when Montgomery (in character) addresses the audience directly, the entire film is shot from the viewpoint of the central character, Marlowe. The audience sees only what he does.
MGM promoted the film with the claim that it was the first of its kind and the most revolutionary style of film since the introduction of the talkies. The movie was also unusual for having virtually no instrumental soundtrack, the music in the film being instead provided by a wordless vocal chorus.
The Brasher Doubloon (1947). This is the adaptation of [and released in the UK as] The High Window) with George Montgomery as Marlowe. Directed by John Brahm, the film features George Montgomery, Nancy Guild and Conrad Janis.
Fred MacMurray, Victor Mature, and Dana Andrews were all mentioned at different times as having been cast as Philip Marlowe in the film before the studio settled on George Montgomery appearing in the final film of his 20th Century Fox contract. The plot revolves around a man being pushed out of a high window by a woman while the incident was caught on film.
Marlowe (1969). In this adaptation of The Little Sister, James Garner plays the role of Marlowe. Directed by Paul Bogart, the film was written by Stirling Silliphant. The supporting cast includes Bruce Lee, Gayle Hunnicutt, Rita Moreno, Sharon Farrell, Carroll O’Connor and Jackie Coogan.
The film foreshadowed James Garner’s second Los Angeles P.I. character Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Rita Moreno would also go on to co-star as a recurring character in the series. Many of the wisecracking Marlowe lines incorporated by Silliphant for this movie were taken directly from Chandler’s novel. This movie introduced martial arts legend Bruce Lee to many American film viewers.
The Long Goodbye (1973). Directed by Robert Altman and based on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel of the same title,this movie features Elliott Gould as Marlowe. The screenplay was written by Leigh Brackett, who cowrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep in 1946.
The Long Goodbye has been described as “a study of a moral and decent man cast adrift in a selfish, self-obsessed society where lives can be thrown away without a backward glance … and any notions of friendship and loyalty are meaningless.”
Farewell My Lovely (1975). Directed by Dick Richards, this film features Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe. The picture is based on Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely (1940), which had previously been adapted for film as Murder, My Sweet in 1944.
The film also stars Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Jack O’Halloran, Sylvia Miles and Harry Dean Stanton, with an early screen appearance by Sylvester Stallone. Mitchum returned to the role of Marlowe three years later in the 1978 film The Big Sleep, making him the only actor to portray Philip Marlowe more than once on the big screen.
The Big Sleep (1978). This is the second film version of Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel of the same name. The picture was directed by Michael Winner and stars Robert Mitchum in his second film portrayal of Philip Marlowe.
The cast includes Sarah Miles, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, and Oliver Reed, also featuring James Stewart as General Sternwood. The story’s setting was changed from 1940s Los Angeles to 1970s London. The film contained material more explicit than what could only be hinted at in the 1946 version, such as homosexuality, pornography and nudity. Mitchum was 60 at the time of filming, far older than Chandler’s 33-year-old Marlowe (or the 1946 film’s 38-year-old Marlowe played by a 44-year-old Bogart).
Poodle Springs (1998). This neo-noir HBO film directed by Bob Rafelson, starring James Caan as Philip Marlowe. The film is based on the unfinished novel Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler, completed after his death by Robert B. Parker and published in 1989. Playwright Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay.
In Poodle Springs, it is 1963 and an aging Philip Marlowe (James Caan) is newly married to young socialite Laura Parker (Dina Meyer). The private investigator leaves his Los Angeles apartment behind and sets up a new base of operations in Poodle Springs, an upscale community in the desert a couple hours from L.A. (a parody of Palm Springs), where he and his wife intend to live.
Photo Credit / Source: Farewell, My Lovely (1975).