Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The late 1940s radio show The Adventures Of Philip Marlowe can be downloaded here:

This series is probably the closest any dramatic medium ever came to the Marlowe of the novels. Even Raymond Chandler himself didn't completely hate it.

There were a few tentative episodes produced in 1947 with Van Heflin as Marlowe. Gerald Mohr took over the role in 1949.

It's instructive to compare the first version of "Red Wind" (with Heflin) to the later version with Mohr. Both versions open with narration-- the famous description of L.A. nighttime taken directly
from Chandler's story:

"There was a rough desert wind blowing into Los Angeles that evening.  It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anna winds that comes down out of the mountain passes... On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight, and meek little housewives finger the edge of a carving knife
and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen when the Santa Anna blows in from the desert."

But Heflin -- a much bigger movie star and a more interesting screen presence -- is IMHO completely wrong for Marlowe. He is much too vulnerable-sounding and emotional. The scene at the police station where he talks to his contact on the force -- he even ends up pleading with him -- seems particularly misjudged.

Gerald Mohr always struck me in movies and TV as a superficial actor.  I was not surprised to learn he had been successful in radio as he came across as reading lines rather than playing a character.

So I was really shocked to discover just how good he is as Marlowe.  He hits exactly the right balance between aloof cool and tough-guy avenger of injustice. And in some episodes he even plays for a fascinating pre-Rockford comedy (immediately after talking an accused killer into
giving up, he starts complaining about having to climb 5 stories on a fire escape).  I wonder if Rockford creator Steven Cannell listened to the show as a kid.

But the highlights of the show -- in particular the early episodes -- are absolutely the opening and closing narrations. Some of them are classics.

The show even some Brechtian moments.  The episode "The Birds On The Wing" (aired 11-26-49) is especially notable for its beginning and ending, both breaking the fourth wall.  It opens with Marlowe saying he is currently reading "Chandler's latest 'The Little Sister'" -- thus a fictional character mentions his creator, and claims to be reading an actual real-life book in which HE HIMSELF is the main character.  Even more surreal is the ending, in which Marlowe returns to his apartment
to find waiting for him none other than Gracie Allen -- who asks Marlowe to find her husband George Burns a radio show on which he can sing! (Presumably this cameo was part of some CBS Radio
cross-promotional campaign.)

The plots are generally not so hot -- they invariably hinge on Marlowe spotting something which the audience cant see (obviously) and only explaining how he figured it out in the tag. But with only 30 minutes of show they clearly had to decide between Christie plotting and Chandler
ambiance.  Fortunately they chose the latter.

This series is definitely a buried noir treasure. Maybe someday it will be rediscovered.

An amusing and rare illustrated 'review' of "The Big Sleep" from 1940:

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