Literature / Philip Marlowe

Philip Marlowe is the creation of Raymond Chandler, and an original Trope Codifier of the Hardboiled Private Detective archetype. While his first official appearance was in the 1939 novel The Big Sleep, Chandler later adapted some of his short stories about similar detectives into longer novels.

In a World of dirty cops, femme fatales, and a whole lot of murder, he faces the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles with nothing but a gun and his wits — and they're both pretty quick.

When he's not snarking or smoking, he enjoys a good game of chess or even some nice poetry.

Marlowe features in the novels The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953), and Playback (1958).

Besides Chandler's works (and some other authors' take on the character as well), Marlowe has appeared in no less than 10 film adaptions, even more television and radio programs, and at least one video game.

Works about Philip Marlowe with their own pages:



Philip Marlowe provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Truth: In one book, intending to express his lack of interest in a case, Marlowe tells a random person that he couldn't care less if they were a previously mentioned long-disappeared killer. This causes most of the book's plot as they mistakenly assume he knows their secret.
  • Affably Evil: For much of the middle of Farewell My Lovely, we hear about Laird Brunette, a gang boss who has the mayor and most of the city administration in his pocket. When Marlowe finally makes contact with Brunette, it turns out he has almost nothing to do with the case; he has bought the mayor, mainly because it's more efficient than paying off a bunch of different officials individually, but he just wants to keep his casino from being raided, and doesn't otherwise interfere in local affairs. He's actually sort of helpful to Marlowe.
  • The Alcoholic: Roger Wade and Terry Lennox of The Long Goodbye. Both are, interestingly, based on aspects of Chandler himself.
    • Marlowe himself would be considered an alcoholic by today's standards.
  • Cat Apult: In "Finger Man", when the villainous corrupt politician has Marlowe taken to his turf in order to threaten him, Marlowe tosses the villain's pet cat into his face and uses the distraction to grab his revolver and hold him at gunpoint.
  • Comic-Book Time: While he did get older, he didn't age as much as the intervening years between installments should have allowed for.
  • Deadpan Snarker: And how.
  • Expy: Philip Marlowe, protagonist of Chandler's novels, is pretty much John Dalmas, protagonist of Chandler's stories for Dime Detective magazine, who is pretty much Carmady, protagonist of Chandler's stories for Black Mask magazine. To the extent that the Dalmas and Carmady stories were subsequently collected and reprinted with Marlowe's name substituted for theirs.
  • Faking the Dead: At least two of the novels have one of the murders (there's always more than one) turn out to be this.
  • Fixup Novel: The first four Marlowe novels are patched together out of short stories.
  • Genius Bruiser: Marlowe is tall and about as tough as they come. He's also incredibly street smart, an intelligent detective and has a classical education. He occasionally references some pretty academic subjects that usually confuse whomever he's talking to. His only real hobby seems to be playing chess.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Features prominently in The Little Sister.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In Farewell, My Lovely, Marlowe narrates:
    I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.
  • In Vino Veritas: While Marlowe can certainly hold his liquor, not everyone else can. A frequent tactic of his is to get people to talk to him when they're drunk.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: He gets positively acidic by the time of The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye.
  • Lemony Narrator: Marlowe both unconventionally describes people and isn't above Leaning on the Fourth Wall, as in this example from Farewell My Lovely, when Marlowe wakes up on the ground after being knocked unconscious:
    I got my chin scraped. It hurts. It feels scraped. That way I know it's scraped. No, I can't see it. I don't have to see it. It's my chin and I know whether it's scraped or not. Maybe you want to make something of it? Okay, shut up and let me think.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Quite a lot of Marlowe's cases follow this pattern — he's hired to do something relatively straightforward (negotiate with a blackmailer, mind a missing woman) and as soon as he begins asking questions, everybody in the neighbourhood with a dirty secret assumes he's after them and starts threatening him. Then, of course, he has to investigate them, just in case they're connected to his case.
  • Nice Hat: Can't go wrong in a fedora.
  • Official Couple: With Linda Loring, once he meets her in The Long Goodbye. Chandler specifically created the character to be the perfect match for a man like Marlowe (a sort of "Princess In Sour Dress" to his Knight in Sour Armor). Appropriately enough, she's the first woman we ever "see" Marlowe in bed with. She appears again in the final scene of Playback (the next novel and Chandler's last finished one), and the unfinished The Poodle Springs Story (which Robert B. Parker finished, to dubious response).
  • Painting the Medium: Since all the Marlowe stories are narrated in the first person, Marlowe's mood and mental condition affect the tone of the writing. This is usually very subtle, but there's a passage in Farewell, My Lovely where Marlowe regains consciousness after an involuntary, days-long binge on needle drugs. The narration is downright surreal for a few the point where he seems to be talking to the reader!
  • Police Are Useless: Not as often as you'd think, though.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Chandler's unfinished eighth Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, was finished by Robert B. Parker (of Spenser fame) and published in 1989. Generally dismissed by Chandler fans.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Marlowe's .38.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Harlan Potter in The Long Goodbye. It's practically in the stars that he eventually becomes Marlowe's father-in-law....
  • Skeleton Key Card: It's mentioned in some of the stories that Marlowe carries a strip of celluloid in his wallet precisely for this purpose (this was in the days before credit cards).
  • Smart People Play Chess: Several of the books show Marlowe studying chess problems during his down time. (Although he's never seen playing an actual game, because that would presuppose that he had friends to play with.)
  • Smoking Is Cool: Marlowe starts out as a cigarette smoker, and switches to a pipe as he grows older and more thoughtful.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Whenever Chandler gives the story a clear-cut heroine (as opposed to an ambiguous Femme Fatale or a Damsel in Distress), she will be this. Most notably, Anne Riordan in Farewell, My Lovely and Linda Loring in The Long Goodbye. Anne is a noble, sweet-natured Betty to the Femme Fatale's Veronica, but is also an Intrepid Reporter and the daughter of a cop. Linda is a refined, dignified heiress who matches Marlowe's snark with some of her own, shares his Knight in Sour Armor / Princess In Sour Dress approach to the world, and helps him a little in the investigation.
  • The Stoic: Though Marlowe does have his more human moments, these mainly occur when he's been truly pushed over the edge, as when, in one novel, he is kidnapped and shot full of narcotics by a quack doctor. The rest of the time, though, he manages to remain completely deadpan even as he's being beaten up by crooked cops or having guns waved in his face.
  • Take That: Quite a few of his insults are subtle jabs, sometimes at real people; for example, when a mook feels the need to repeat everything back at him, he starts referring to him as Hemingway:
    Mook: (confused) Who is this Hemingway person at all?
    Marlowe: A guy who keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good.
  • Talks Like a Simile: A feature of Marlowe's narration, originally because Chandler was being paid by the word.
  • Tap on the Head: Happens quite often, sometimes accompanied by a lengthy and poetic description of darkness washing over him as he loses consciousness. Did we mention Chandler was being paid by the word?
  • Third-Person Person: Marlowe as narrator occasionally refers to himself as "Marlowe" rather than "I," usually when he's being cheeky.
  • Tonto Talk: In Farewell My Lovely, a Mook named Second Planting shows up and engages in this. Marlowe doesn't buy it for a minute, finally telling him to "Skip the pig Latin". The mook's English improves, indicating he was faking most of it, but it's still a little broken.
  • Trope Codifier: Of the Hardboiled Private Detective — well, one of them, at least.
  • Zillion-Dollar Bill: Marlowe receives a "portrait of Madison" (a $5,000 bill) for doing a small favor at the start of The Long Goodbye. The bill causes no end of trouble.

Adaptations without their own pages provide examples of:

  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The title character aside, there is Winslow Wong in the 1969 version. When Marlowe refuses his Bribe, Winslow tears apart his office with his bare hands. It helps that Wong is played by Bruce Lee prior to his Hong Kong action films.
  • Genre Savvy: Marlowe knows he can't take Winslow on in a one on one fight. So his plan is to get him angry, while dodging him. Then when Winslow is too riled up, he goes for a flying kick, causing him to fall to his death.
  • P.O.V. Cam: The 1947 film version of Lady in the Lake, directed by and starring Robert Montgomery, was filmed almost entirely in P.O.V. Cam to imitate the novel's first-person narration. Just so the film's Big Name Star was not totally unseen, he appears in bridging sequences and is seen whenever Marlowe looks into a mirror.