Philip Marlowe, TV Detective

Philip Marlowe’s Hollywood history saw the shamus portrayed on the big screen by some very big names. Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould, and Robert Mitchum (twice) all played Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled private eye at one point in their careers, with varying degrees of success. Los Angeles’ favorite detective also appeared on the small screen, and I decided to do some sleuthing and investigate the TV life of Philip Marlowe.

MARLOWE LIVE!

It was Robert Montgomery who first brought Marlowe into America’s living rooms on his anthology series ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS. But this time around, Zachary Scott played the gumshoe in a 1950 adaptation of THE BIG SLEEP. Marlowe fans would have a four year wait until he came back in another anthology, CLIMAX! hosted by William Lundigan. This time around, Dick Powell returned to the role in a 1954 telecast of THE LONG GOODBYE. There’s not a lot of info on these, and I couldn’t dig up any footage. The two programs, like many live 50’s TV shows, seem to have been lost to the sands of time.

PHILIP CAREY TAKES OVER!

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Rugged Philip Carey starred in the 1959-60 primetime series PHILIP MARLOWE on ABC. These compact half hours feature tough dialogue and action, and while they’re not vintage Marlowe, they’re not bad. William Schallert costarred as Marlowe’s police frenemy, Lt. Manny Harris. The show only lasted one season, smoked in the ratings by the popular Red Skelton variety show. It’s available on YouTube, and here’s an episode titled “The Ugly Duckling”, with future MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE star Barbara Bain as the sexy femme fatale:

MY FAVORITE MARLOWE

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HBO brought back Chandler’s hero for two seasons in the early 80’s. PHILIP MARLOWE, PRIVATE EYE was a stylish noir series starring Powers Boothe (SOUTHERN COMFORT, RED DAWN) in mysteries based on Chandler’s original short stories. It was shown erratically, first airing in 1983, then in 1986 with a new batch of programs. It’s the best TV Marlowe I’ve seen, and Boothe is excellent as the hard luck Marlowe. It’s not in public domain, so I can’t reproduce an episode, but PHILIP MARLOWE, PRIVATE EYE is available on DVD (and many of them are on YouTube!) Definitely worth seeking out for all you Marlowe maniacs.

 A PAIR OF WILD DEUCES

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There were two interesting if not completely successful Marlowe productions on Showtime. The 1995 series FALLEN ANGELS featured Danny Glover as a black Marlowe in Chandler’s RED WIND. Despite the moody atmosphere and solid support from Kelly Lynch and Dan Hedaya, this attempt at a different Marlowe falls short of the mark. tvm4

Marlowe returned older but not wiser in 1998’s POODLE SPRINGS, based on an unfinished Chandler manuscript that was finished by Robert B. Parker of Spenser fame.  Parker’s PI was in the Marlowe mold, and he was the logical successor to the crown. The film starred James Caan as Marlowe, set in 1963, as he’s about to marry a rich younger woman. But Philip Marlowe can’t seem to stay out of trouble’s way. Though this one has it’s moments, it’s lesser Marlowe, despite a Tom Stoppard script and good support from Joe Don Baker, David Keith, and Nia Peeples. It’s worth a look for fans and completists.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, PHILIP MARLOWE?

It’s been eighteen years since we’ve seen any Marlowe action on TV. The iconic detective deserves to be resurrected by some enterprising producer, whether on broadcast, cable, or the newer subscription services. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Philip Marlowe on television. Somewhere in Hollywood, there’s a hard-boiled scribe with a headful of noir dreams hunched over his-or-her keyboard, banging out a script that’ll bring the Knight Errant of LA back to his days of glory. Until then, there’s a whole lot of film and television Marlowe’s out there waiting to be rediscovered. Philip Marlowe will rise again!

Marlowe at the Movies Pt 2: LADY IN THE LAKE (MGM 1947)

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Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories are all done in first-person narrative, so it must have seemed logical to director/star Robert Montgomery to shoot THE LADY IN THE LAKE in the subjective point-of-view. Aside from a few brief narration scenes, we see everything through the eyes of Marlowe. The actors play straight to the camera, doubling for the private eye. Does it work? Well….I guess that all depends on YOUR point of view!

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“My name is Marlowe”, the film begins, as we see him sitting at his office desk. He relates the tale of how he submitted a short story to a pulp magazine, and received a reply from an editor named “A. Fromsett”. The movie is told in flashback, and now the POV changes to that of Marlowe’s for the bulk of the story. We meet A. Fromsett, who’s a gorgeous woman named Adrienne. She likes his story, but has an ulterior motive: Adrienne wants to hire Marlowe to find her publisher’s missing wife Crystal, a “liar, a cheat, and a thief” who’s run off to Mexico for a quickie divorce. Marlowe doesn’t trust Adrienne or her motives, but the perennial down-on-his-luck gumshoe takes the case.

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The effect of Adrienne speaking directly to the camera is off-putting at first and lends an artificial quality to the film as a whole. I could clearly see the actors acting, playing to the camera, and as a result I wasn’t as engrossed in the story as I was in MURDER MY SWEET. The novelty of the first-person POV wore off quicker than a Monday morning hangover. It distracts from the story, rather than pulling me in as intended. It’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy all those “found-footage” films of recent vintage.

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Robert Montgomery’s first directorial effort is an interesting but ultimately disappointing film. Montgomery himself is another reason I didn’t like LADY IN THE LAKE as much as I thought I would.  Even though we mostly just hear his voice, I didn’t find him sufficiently “hard-boiled” enough to be convincing as Marlowe. I would’ve preferred cast member Lloyd Nolan in the role, and had Montgomery switch off to play Nolan’s Lt. Degarmot. Nolan had plenty of gumshoe experience, playing Bret Halliday’s pulp detective Michael Shayne in seven films (including TIME TO KILL, an adaptation of Chandler’s The Brasher Dubloon). He also stood out in films like BATAAN, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, A HATFUL OF RAIN, PEYTON PLACE, THE GIRL HUNTERS (with author Mickey Spillane playing his own hard-boiled P.I., Mike Hammer), ICE STATION ZEBRA, and AIRPORT. Nolan also portrayed cranky Dr. Chegley on the groundbreaking late 60’s sitcom JULIA, starring Diahann Carroll.    

Audrey Totter (Adrienne), a noir queen featured  in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, THE UNSUSPECTED, and THE SET-UP, later joined the cast of TV’s MEDICAL CENTER as head Nurse Wilcox. Other Familiar Faces in THE LADY IN THE LAKE include Tom Tully, Jayne Meadows (better known as Mrs. Steve Allen), Leon Ames, Morris Ankrum , and Richard Simmons. No, not the 80’s fitness guru, this Richard Simmons later gained fame in the 1950’s series SGT. PRESTON OF THE YUKON. Also appearing briefly as Adrienne’s shapely secretary (who Marlowe can’t keep his eyes off of) is Lila Leeds, noted as Robert Mitchum’s accomplice in that famous 1947 pot bust (just follow this link).

Miss Lila Leeds
Miss Lila Leeds

THE LADY IN THE LAKE is to me a failed experiment in the film noir genre. I think I would have liked it better if director Montgomery had shot it in the usual objective POV, and stepped back to allow Lloyd Nolan to play Marlowe. Then again, that’s just MY point of view. I’m sure there are fans of this film out there who have their own. What do all you Cracked Rear Viewers think?