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Literature / Philip Marlowe

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The Philip Marlowe series is the creation of Raymond Chandler, and an original Trope Codifier of the Hardboiled Private Detective archetype. While Marlowe's 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, Marlowe appeared in three novels - Poodle Springs (unfinished, completed by Robert B. Parker), Perchance To Dream (an original sequel to The Big Sleep, also by Parker) and The Black-Eyed Blonde, by John Banville (under his crime-writer alias of "Benjamin Black"). There was also a 1988 short story collection to celebrate the centenary of Chandler's birth, by a variety of well-known crime and hardboiled writers.

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:



  • 1944: Murder, My Sweet. Based on the novel Farewell, My Lovely. Marlowe is played by Dick Powell.
  • 1946: The Big Sleep. This is perhaps the most famous film adaption. Marlowe is played by Humphrey Bogart.
  • 1947: Lady in the Lake. Adaptation of the novel, Robert Montgomery as Marlowe. Famous for using a P.O.V. Cam for almost the entire film.
  • 1969: Marlowe. Starring James Garner in an adaptation of novel The Little Sister. Not a Period Piece, but takes place at the time it was made.
  • 1973: The Long Goodbye. Marlowe is played by Elliott Gould. Like Marlowe, takes place at the time it was made.
  • 1975: Farewell, My Lovely. Marlowe is played by Robert Mitchum — the only actor ever to play Marlowe in two different movies.

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.
  • The Alcoholic: Marlowe himself would be considered an alcoholic by today's standards.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: As discussed in this article, The High Window contains a puzzling-to-modern-readers reference to synthetic crowd noise at a Dodgers game broadcast on the radio, particularly given that the novel is set in California and was written well before the Dodgers left Brooklyn. As the article explains, between the 1920s and the 1950s there was an industry in re-creating baseball games for same-day delay broadcasts, and sportscasters would mimic details such as crowd sounds and the noise of the bat in order to provide listeners with a realistic experience.
  • 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.
  • Chandler's Law: Used several times, but usually with some kind of twist. In The Lady in the Lake, a woman comes through the door with a gun, and that's only the first of several twists.
  • 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.
  • Evil Gloating: Lampshaded in The Lady in the Lake.
    "I've never liked this scene," I said. "Detective confronts murderer. Murderer produces gun, points same at detective. Murderer tells detective the whole sad story, with the idea of shooting him at the end of it. Thus wasting a lot of valuable time, even if in the end murderer did shoot detective. Only murderer never does. Something always happens to prevent it. The gods don't like this scene either. They always manage to spoil it."
  • 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 Dalmas and Carmady short stories, with bits rearranged, merged, split and/or renamed.
  • Friend on the Force: Bernie Ohls, chief investigator for the DA's office. Also, Violets M'Gee.
  • 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.
  • Hardboiled Detective: One of the Trope Codifiers (along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade).
  • The Ingenue: In The Little Sister, Marlowe's client Orfamay looks and acts like one. Marlowe correctly refuses to believe she can be that innocent.
  • 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.
  • I Was Never Here: In The Little Sister, a telephone conversation ends with this trope.
    Gonzalez: One moment, you have not told me what happened.
    Marlowe: I haven't even telephoned you.
  • 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.
  • Love Makes You Evil: The Little Sister has the murderer kill her lover after he throws her over for another.
  • MacGuffin: The High Window has Marlowe tracking down the Brasher Dubloon, a legendary coin worth a fortune that leaves a trail of dead thieves behind it; come the ending, it turns out a minor character sold it for a new start with a clean slate, but it's unimportant considering Marlowe uncovers a framing and a few murders in the process.
  • 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 neighborhood 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In The Little Sister, the series takes an unusual turn when the conclusion has Marlowe investigating an isolated estate on a private road. The lack of traffic or people makes it eerily quiet as it is, but then even Marlowe himself suddenly announces something seems off.
    [The living room] was curtained and quite dark, but it had the feel of great size. The darkness was heavy in it and my nose twitched at a lingering odor that said somebody had been there not too long ago. I stopped breathing and listened. Tigers could be in the darkness watching me. Or guys with large guns, standing flat-footed, breathing softly with their mouths open. Or nothing and nobody and too much imagination in the wrong place.
  • 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).
  • Pink Elephants: In chapter 18 of The Lady in the Lake, a character refers to a doctor "who ran around all night with a case of loaded hypodermic needles, keeping the fast set from having pink elephants for breakfast."
  • 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.
  • Private Detective: Marlowe is one.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The Trope Codifier.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Marlowe's .38.
  • Shaped Like Itself: From The Lady in the Lake:
    She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.
  • 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.
  • The Stoic: Though Marlowe does have his more human moments, these mainly occur when he's been truly pushed over the edge. 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): The High Window, The Lady In The Lake, The Little Sister, Playback


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