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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 five novels - El Diez Por Ciento de Vida by Hiber Conteris, (translated as Ten Percent of Life), Poodle Springs (unfinished, completed by Robert B. Parker), Perchance To Dream (an original sequel to The Big Sleep, also by Parker), The Black-Eyed Blonde, by John Banville (under his crime-writer alias of "Benjamin Black"), and Only To Sleep, by Lawrence Osborne. 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 (including Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, a limited series that aired on HBO from 1983-86 with Powers Boothe in the title role), 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.
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  • 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. Mitchum would later reprise the role for a 1978 version of The Big Sleep (which also takes place at the time it was made), making him the only actor ever to play Marlowe in two different movies.

Philip Marlowe provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Truth: In The Little Sister, 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: a gangster named "Weepy Moyer". This causes most of the book's plot as Steelgrave mistakenly assume Marlowe knows their secret.
  • The Alcoholic: Numerous characters in the books would qualify as alcoholics by today's standards. Marlowe himself drinks far too much, not without self-awareness on his part. In Farewell, My Lovely, he shows every sign of withdrawal even before he ends up going through involuntary detox at a shady sanatorium that also pumps him full of heroin. An example of Chandler writing what he knew, as is the far more out-of-control blackout drunk primadonna author Roger Wade in The Long Goodbye — also a harsh self-caricature of Chandler.
  • 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, as the Trope Codifier, 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 Marlowe did get older as the decades rolled by, he didn't age quite as much as the intervening years between installments should have allowed for.
  • Deadpan Snarker: And how. Practically every other sentence, whether spoken or part of Marlowe's Private Eye Monologue, is a barbed witticism or cutting observation.
  • Dirty Cop: Many cops are on the payroll of local gangsters — or even if they're not, their bosses are. In The Lady in the Lake, one of the cops Marlowe teams up with turns out to be one of the murderers.
  • Evil Gloating: Lampshaded in The Lady in the Lake:
    Marlowe: I've never liked this scene. 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.
  • Friend on the Force: Marlowe was formerly with the DA himself, still has contacts at headquarters, and occasionally befriends some of the more honest cops he meets. The only one to appear in more than one of the books, however, is Bernie Ohls, longtime investigator for the DA. He and Marlowe part on bad terms in The Long Goodbye. Red and Lt. Randall, both of whom appear in Farewell, My Lovely, are mentioned in later books but do not reappear in person. "Red" Norgaard had quit the highly corrupt Bay City police force at the time of his introduction, but is later revealed to have been rehired before being drafted. Unseen Character Violets M'Gee is also namedropped several times, but only when Marlowe needs to give a reference to a big client.
  • 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. Though in a surprise twist, the "immoral" starlet dating a gangster turns out to be the most moral of her family, and her small-town, churchgoing brother, sister and mother are murderously devious.
  • Hardboiled Detective: One of the Trope Codifiers (along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade).
  • The Ingenue: In The Little Sister, Marlowe's client Orfamay (the little sister of the title) looks and acts like one. Marlowe refuses to believe anyone can be that innocent. He's right — not only is she willing to seduce him (by trying to get him to seduce her), she's blackmailing her own sister.
  • 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.
    Dolores 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.
  • Listing the Forms of Degenerates: In The Little Sister, Marlowe monologues that Los Angeles has lost its soul:
    Now we get characters like this Steelgrave owning restaurants. We get guys like that fat boy that bailed me out back there. We've got the big money, the sharp shooters, the percentage workers, the fast dollar boys, the hoodlums out of New York and Chicago and Detroit — and Cleveland. We've got the flash restaurants and night clubs that they run, and the hotels and apartment houses they own, and the grifters and con men and female bandits that live in them. The luxury trades, the pansy decorators, the Lesbian dress designers, the riff-raff of a big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.
  • Love Makes You Evil: The Little Sister has the murderer kill her lover after he throws her over for another. Or at least, it seems that way for a while.
  • MacGuffin: The High Window has Marlowe tracking down the Brasher Doubloon, 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: Being set in a time when men were Never Bareheaded. Can't go wrong with a classic 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).
  • Patchwork Story: The first four Marlowe novels are patched together out of Dalmas and Carmady short stories, with bits rearranged, merged, split and/or renamed.
  • 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. The cops are often allowed to give as good as they get, noting that a large part of what's making their job so hard is people like Marlowe and his clients withholding information and trying to solve cases on their own terms in their own favor. Marlowe fires back with the fact that the police, even when they're not actually on the take, still have their hands tied by public opinion and political maneuvering. In later books he's philosophical about it — provided the other party isn't too self-righteous.
  • 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, repeatedly called a cheap gumshoe. He's actually a skilled detective, but too principled and proud for his own good, meaning that he ends up losing out on both money and prestige for a lot of the easy but shady work that comes his way.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The Trope Codifier. Marlowe is a snarker par excellence, and also litters his descriptions of sun-bleached, grimy south California circa Chandler American Time with elaborate metaphor and borderline Purple Prose punctuated with hard-boiled slang.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Subverted with Marlowe's trusty .38, which he only sometimes carries, rarely fires, and frequently has taken away from him, one way or another.
  • Shaped Like Itself: From The Little Sister:
    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, before switching 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 but ultimately because Chandler started off writing historical romance and poetry, which ended up finding its way into his shop-soiled modern-day questing knight.
  • Tap on the Head: Happens quite often, almost Once an Episode, 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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