A meeting of the minds, ca. 1958

One doesn’t—at least, we didn’t—associate Raymond Chandler and his private eye protagonist Philip Marlowe with the espionage adventures of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond. The characters live in two different eras, for one thing, with very little overlap in the 1950s. But the two authors, born twenty years apart—Chandler in 1888, Fleming in 1908—were members of a sort of mutual admiration society, and in 1958, someone at the BBC got the idea of placing them in a radio studio before a pair of microphones and giving them some time to discuss the art of the “thriller,” a term they use to encompass both Chandler’s hard-boiled, Los Angeles-bound detective fiction and Fleming’s globe-trotting spy stories.

The half-hour program is available for streaming via the “I kicked myself over that,” Fleming admits, “because I rather pride myself on trying to get these details right, and that was a very bad break.”

Fleming later asks Chandler how mob killings are arranged, and Chandler is happy to oblige with a lengthy account of how such hits are carried out.

Fleming also notes the difference between the pair’s respective protagonists, noting that Marlowe is “a real hero; he behaves in a heroic fashion.”

Not so Bond, says his creator.

“My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero,” insists Fleming. “I intended him to be a sort of blunt instrument wielded by a government department, who would get into these bizarre and fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them — get out of them one way or another. Of course, he’s always referred to as a hero, but I don’t see him as a hero myself. I think he’s, on the whole, a rather unattractive man.”

Fleming goes on to admit that, as Chandler suggests, that he did allow Bond some feelings and sentiment in Casino Royale, but the two men agree that while a man in Bond’s line of work might experience emotions, he must, as Chandler puts it, “quell them.”

Fleming states that he is impressed with Marlowe’s (and Chandler’s) attitude toward gun violence, which he communicates by reading a passage from Chandler’s then-brand new novel, Playback (a book that was then and is now widely considered by far Chandler’s weakest—it was the last one he ever completed), in which Marlowe mocks a woman who is holding a gun on him by expressing his weariness with guns. “Guns never settle anything,” Fleming quotes Marlowe as saying. “They’re just a fast curtain to a bad second act.”

“I think that’s well put,” Fleming says with relish. “That is a far more sensible point of view than the one I put forward in my books, where people are shooting each other so much and so often, you often need a program to tell who’s in the act and who’s a spectator.”
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Marlowe rides again, via the BBC

We’ve been enjoying “Classic Chandler,” BBC Radio 4’s series of dramatizations based on Raymond Chandler‘s seven published Philip Marlowe novels and Poodle Springs, the Marlowe novel left unfinished at the time of Chandler’s death that was completed decades later by Robert B. Parker, author of the popular series of Spenser detective novels.

We’ll admit that we’re not terribly sold on Toby Stephens‘ Marlowe,. He sounds a bit … insubstantial, to be honest, and his accent is all over the map (view the video below and see if you don’t agree). But that’s a relatively niggling point. The fact that Chander’s unparalleled work is being introduced to a new generation overrides any such objections we might be inclined to raise. Plus, it’s a kick to listen to the kind of radio dramas that once played such an important role in American popular culture but are now so rarely produced (we can’t help but wonder why the radio drama has continued to thrive in the UK and yet is all but extinct on this side of the pond).

The four novels that have already aired are available for listening, free of charge, at the Radio 4 web site, but we wouldn’t recommend putting off giving them a listen. Word is, the links to those free streams will soon come down. (If the links are already gone by the time you read this, the programs are available on CD at Amazon UK.)

The other four novels will air, as we understand it, in the fall.

Speaking of which, that’s one other complaint we have: Why not air the eight novels in the order they were published? Instead, Radio has so far aired, in order, The Big Sleep (the fist Marlowe novel), The Lady in the Lake (the fourth), Farewell, My Lovely (the second), and Playback (the seventh and final novel published during Chandler’s lifetime). It seems an odd choice to air these dramatizations out of order in this way. Playback, adapted from an unproduced Chandler screenplay, is considered by most observers the great writer’s weakest effort—he wasn’t at all well when he wrote it—so saving it and Poodle Springs for last certainly seems the better way to have gone.

But we’re pleased enough to see this series being presented, and we encourage the entire Cladrite community to pop over and give it a listen.

Who Was the Best Philip Marlowe in the Movies?

Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Robert MontgomeryWho’s your ideal Philip Marlowe?

If you’re scratching your head at the question, stop right now and rush out to pick up The Big Sleep, the first in Raymond Chandler‘s series of novels detailing the adventures of his fictional private detective.

But if you’re already familiar with Marlowe, you can cast your vote for the best cinematic rendition of the character in the poll below.

This post was originally inspired by novelist and screenwriter Carol Wolper‘s take on why the ideal Marlowe has yet to be captured on film (her essay ran in the Los Angeles Times magazine in 2010, but is no longer available online).

“Many have tried to bring this character to the big and small screen, but success has been elusive,” Wolper, who in the essay made a dubious claim to be a Chandler purist, wrote. “Yet the desire for another shot never goes away. Marlowe is like that person you keep trying to break up with because you know it won’t work out, but you can’t get her (or him) out of your mind.

“Maybe a 2010 Marlowe isn’t Caucasian. Or if so, maybe he’s not a complete loner. Maybe he has a pal. Maybe that pal is even female. As blasphemous as that may sound to die-hard noirists, maybe we can worship at the altar of Chandler without being a slave to the past.”

Here’s the comment we left following Wolper’s essay:

It’s Mitchum by a mile, even though he was too old for the part by the time he did Farewell, My Lovely. It’s too bad Dick Richards and Eliot Kastner didn’t choose to film The Long Goodbye instead; Mitchum’s age wouldn’t have mattered as much, given the elegiac quality of that novel, and it might have erased the bitter and lingering aftertaste of the Altman/Gould travesty, a picture so ill-conceived as to boggle the mind. The ending, particularly, was as inappropriate and off-the-mark as the tacked-on moralistic finish to Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

If anyone doubts that Mitchum, in his prime, was the perfect Marlowe, just rent Out of the Past (1947), a classic noir in which he plays a very Marlowe-esque detective. Mitchum was thirty in 1947, a perfectly suitable age for the early Marlowe stories, and he exhibits all the qualities one could hope for in a movie Marlowe.

And we must strongly disagree with Carol Wolper that updating the character to the modern era is advisable or even acceptable (not to mention giving him a sidekick—sheesh!). There are plenty of modern-day characters yet to be adapted for the large and small screens. Leave Marlowe in Chandler’s vividly rendered past, or keep your hands off of him altogether. After all, Mad Men has shown us that a series must not have a contemporary setting to resonate with today’s viewers.

Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe-esque detective in Out of the PastWe wish Mitchum could have played Marlowe at a more appropriate age—he was a bit long in the tooth for the role in 1975—but he’s so right for Marlowe that he overcomes the age issue with ease. It’s Marlowe’s world-weariness that matters more than his age, and Mitchum had that in spades.

We rate Humphrey Bogart‘s Philip Marlowe in the original version of The Big Sleep, which was directed by Howard Hawks, second behind Mitchum, with Dick Powell, who broke out of his boy-singer rut in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet (the deep thinkers at RKO thought the title of Chandler’s second novel, Farewell, My Lovely, suggested a romance, not a hardboiled mystery—hence the title change) trailing closely behind in third.

So what do you say? Who’s your choice for the best cinematic embodiment of Chandler’s classic shamus? Cast your vote below.

Who was the best Philip Marlowe in the movies?
Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep—1946)
James Garner (Marlowe—1969)
Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye—1973)
Robert Mitchum (Farewell, My Lovely—1975)
George Montgomery (The Brasher Doubloon—1947)
Robert Montgomery (The Lady in the Lake—1946)
Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet—1944)
Created with Poll Maker

Fun facts to know and tell

Did you know? In order to remain afloat during Prohibition, the Blatz Brewing Co. — then one of the Big Four Milwaukee breweries, along with Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz — marketed juice, near beer and even chewing gum. The gum, sold under the brand name “Val,” was grape-flavored.

Blatz was also the first Milwaukee brewery to distribute its beer nationwide.

Also, it was on this day in 1959 that Raymond Chandler, the greatest of of all hardboiled mystery writers and creator of the immortal shamus Philip Marlowe, died at age 71.

Raymond Chandler, Revisited

The great hardboiled author Raymond Chandler is a big favorite of ours here at Cladrite Radio, and if you’re a fan, too, you’ll want to avail yourself of the stream of the Symphony Space’s recent panel discussion of Chandler and his debut 1939 novel, The Big Sleep.

It’s an intriguing, enlightening discussion that suggested some new ways for us to look at the great man’s work.

The participants were Jonathan Lethem, whose first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, was, he openly admits, fully intended to be Chandler-esque; Judith Freeman, author of The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and The Woman He Loved (a volume we highly recommend); and Rich Cohen, author of Sweet and Low: A Family Story, and each brings interesting insights to the table.