A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Talking about Philip Marlowe

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Talking about Philip Marlowe


“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era termsp for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I got in a bit of a Philip Marlowe mood when I wrote that A (Black) Gat in the Hand post on Powers Boothe’s excellent HBO series a few months ago. Now, I normally did pretty deep when I pick a subject for a Black Gate post. Which is why more than one never actually gets written. Yet, anyways. I’m going to try a different tack and write less in-depth on several different Marlowe projects. We’ll see how that goes.

Robert Mitchum’s Farewell My Lovely.

In 1975, two years after Eliot Gould’s The Long Goodbye (which I do NOT like), Mitchum was an older, world-weary Philip Marlowe. In 1978, he followed it up with The Big Sleep. It was a mess and his first movie as Marlowe is definitely the better of the two.

I’ve not been much of a fan of his Marlowe . It’s a combination of his age, and him seeming too stiff. Kinda like watching Charlton Heston play Sherlock Holmes in Crucifer of Blood (which isn’t actually too bad, overall). Re-watching Farewell My Lovely on WatchTCM, I did like him a bit better this time. I think his voice-over narration is the strength of his performance.

Charlotte Rampling is Velma/Mrs. Grayle. She played Irene Adler opposite Roger Moore in Sherlock Holmes in New York. And she was a regular for season two of Broadchurch a couple years ago. Velma’s inner nature really comes through in the showdown on the boat.

Jack O’Halloran plays Moose Malloy. Now, I have a hard time picturing anybody being Moose Malloy better than Mike Mazurki was in 1944’s Murder My Sweet. But O’Halloran is pretty darn good. He went on to be Emil Muzz, the goon in the Tom Hanks/Dan Akroyd Dragnet (which I love). He also played villain Non in Christopher Reeve’s first two Superman movies.

O’Halloran was a professional boxer, and he knocked out Muhammad Ali’s brother. He lost a decision to Ken Norton, and it’s reported that more than once, he was close to fighting Ali. He retired in 1974 due to a tumor on his pituitary gland, and Farewell My Lovely was his first movie. He turned 77 this year, so he beat that tumor.

Sylvester Stallone, who would appear in Rocky the next year, had a small part as muscle. He isn’t nearly as bulked up as we’re used to seeing.

The legendary noir writer Jim Thompson made his only acting appearance as Judge Grayson. He would pass away two years later.

A big, beefy woman smacks Marlowe hard, four times in a row. Then he launches himself up out of his chair and smashes her in the jaw. It’s a bit jarring. It takes place in a high society brothel. Changing the asylum where Marlowe has his psychedelic trip to a cat house was very seventies.

They REALLY monkeyed with the script in this one. The finale is completely changed from the novel. Including where it takes place.

ITC Productions was behind this effort, and The Big Sleep as well. I think that ITC changed the tone of Farewell My Lovely from Chandler’s book to better fit Mitchum’s laconic style. That’s why some folks like his world-weary approach. The Big Sleep stays quite faithful to the book, and Mitchum doesn’t fit the role nearly as well.

Interesting to note that the first film was shot in America, with some location shooting around LA, and studio work done at Goldwyn. The Big Sleep was filmed in England.

So, I like Mitchum a little more than I did before, but he’s still behind Dick Powell, Powers Boothe, Humphrey Bogart, and even James Garner, for me. I know FB folks who very much like his performance, and I’m fine with that. There have been a lot of different Marlowes on screen and radio; to each their own enjoyment.


George Montgomery’s The Brasher Doubloon

Marlowe_BrasherPosterThe next night, I watched 1947’s The Brasher Doubloon, starring George (not Robert) Montgomery. Of course, it’s an adaptation of The High Window. I’m not sure I like either title. It was the fourth Marlowe movie in four years, following versions by Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, and Robert Montgomery. It’s easy to see how this one has gotten lost in the mix over the years, but I think it’s okay.

This may be damning with faint praise, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Unfortunately, it’s a bit bland. And compared to the versions by Bogart and Powell, it couldn’t get out of their shadow. Even Robert Montgomery’s film, with it’s first person point of camera view, garnered lots of (varying) discussion.

Montgomery has an interesting history. Growing up in Montana, he was a boxer in California, coached by former world heavyweight champion James Jeffries. An expert horse rider, he became a stunt man, then got a contract to act from Warner Brothers, where he was stuck in minor roles and leads in B-Westerns. The Brasher Doubloon was his big chance. So…he was back to Westerns the next year, and the rest of his career, while busy, was mostly forgettable. Montgomery doesn’t have enough gravitas in the role, but he does a decent job otherwise.

The romance stuff with Merle is just silly. There’s none of the psychological repression and issues found in the book, and other versions. She had a bad experience with her former boss. She’s just waiting for Montgomery to warm her up, which he does. And she’s all but begging him to keep thawing her in the film’s final scene. It weakens the movie.

It’s a 20th Century Fox film, and it’s got an unknown cast. Nancy Guild (Merle) looks a little like Lizabeth Scott, but without any of the femme fatale and the raw sex appeal. She had the female lead in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

The only other actor of note for me was Marvin Miller, who plays a heavy. He did the same in Bogart’s Dead Reckoning.

Marlowe uses a film projector, with an old style stand-up screen, in the finale, which feels a bit like one of Nero Wolfe’s famous ‘charades’ (to quote Inspector Cramer). And Marlowe and Merle end up as a happy couple Sigh…

I would probably watch this again somewhere down the road, so it’s not too bad. But it’s not something I plan on seeing again anytime soon.

Lloyd Nolan’s Time to Kill

This effort from 1942 is the second Philip Marlowe film. Except, it’s not. It’s based on The High Window, but Marlowe was changed to Brett Halliday’s Michael Shayne. So, I’m watching a Marlowe novel, starring a non-Marlowe detective. It doesn’t work.

Lloyd Nolan and Twentieth Century Fox cranked out seven Michael Shayne movies between 1940 and 1942. This was the last of Nolan’s turns in the role. Running only 59 minutes, the whole production speaks of low-budget, B movies. And Nolan is breezy, friendly, clumsy, and not Marlowe at all. Of course, he’s playing Shayne. But those tuning in to see The High Window, are going to be disappointed.

The cast is completely forgettable. And the very last scene is as un-Marlowe as it gets. I can’t imagine ever wanting to watch this again. Even if it came on the tv, I’d rather read a book. I give it a hard pass.

Jason O’Mara’s Marlowe

When I watched this 2007 pilot for a proposed television series, I planned on doing a post about it. But I didn’t want to watch it again to pull out more details, so I scrapped it. It’s set in modern-day Los Angeles, which is strike one. I don’t mind O’Mara, but I’ve seen him called ‘The Show Killer,’ which is not a good thing (it is funny!), so that’s strike two. I’ve seen worse PI shows. But that’s what this is. It doesn’t have much Chandler or Philip Marlowe about it, and that’s strike three. If you called the detective Allen Purcell, it would be the same show. So, as a Marlowe project, it’s more glitter than substance, and I can see why it didn’t get picked up. O’Mara went on next to Life on Mars, in which he played a different private eye.

Lux Radio TheaterDick Powell’s Murder My Sweet

While I think that Powers Boothe is the best Marlowe, Dick Powell’s Murder My Sweet is my favorite Marlowe on screen. He was a song and dance man who wanted to make a change. He had tried hard for Double Indemnity, but lost out to the also-unlikely Fred MacMurray. But in 1944, Paramount cast him completely against type as Philip Marlowe, and Murder My Sweet was a hit. He followed up with more hardboiled/noir movies, and he had a whole new career in Hollywood. He even picked up a couple private eye radio shows: Rogue’s Gallery, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective (one of my favorites).

For over twenty years, Lux Radio Theater recreated hit movies as one hour radio dramas. Sometimes the actual stars of the film repeated their roles (like Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott in Pitfall), while other times, other big name actors took on the part (like Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon). There was usually some interesting banter with the stars as well.

Because they ran slightly less than an hour, the stories were abbreviated, and narrators filled in gaps so the plots made sense. Once you accept that, they’re good radio plays. Powell did Murder My Sweet for Lux. Again, the truncated story changes the experience from the movie; but it’s a good listen. Powell clearly knows how to play Marlowe, and he does it fine.

Robert Montgomery starred in a version of The Lady in the Lake, though I haven’t heard that one yet.

Marlowe_StephensRadioEDITEDToby Stephens’ BBC Raymond Chandler series

Just a mention here, because I do plan on a full-blown post on this excellent BBC radio play series. I first saw Stephens in Vexed, an amusing buddy-cop show in England. I know he’s in the Lost in Space reboot, but I gave up on that early. In 2011, the BBC made radio plays of all seven Chandler novels, as well as Poodle Springs. Stephens turned in a terrific performance. I grabbed the whole thing with one Audible credit, and I’ve listened to it several times. It’s not that he’s perfect, but he’s consistently good. He doesn’t so anything wrong, and I enjoyed his performance. Good listening.

The New Adventures of Philip Marlowe

For years, I’ve been listening to this radio show, on and off, starring first Van Heflin, and then Gerald Mohr. They are both excellent and I much prefer this to the sillier The Adventures of Sam Spade. I’ll be doing a separate post on that in my next batch of radio show essays. It really is worth listening to.

I also watched a couple episodes of the Philip Carey television show from the fifties, but wasn’t impressed enough to write about it. So, there’s a non-comprehensive look at some Philip Marlowe productions.

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2020 Series (17)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled May on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Some Hardboiled streaming options
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled June on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bullets or Ballots (Humphrey Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Phililp Marlowe – Private Eye (Powers Boothe)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Cool and Lam
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: All Through the Night (Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled July on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: YTJD – The Emily Braddock Matter (John Lund)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Richard Diamond – The Betty Moran Case (Dick Powell)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bold Venture (Bogart & Bacall)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled August on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis – ‘Have one on the House’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand – with Steven H Silver: C.M. Kornbluth’s Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis – ‘Don’t You Cry for Me’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2019 Series (15)
Back Deck Pulp Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on Doc Savage
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Paul Bishop on Lance Spearman
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: A Man Called Spade
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hard Boiled Holmes
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon on Montreal Noir
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on The Bad Guys of Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on The Spider
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John D. MacDonald & Mickey SpillaneMarlowe_O'MaraPilotEDITED
A (Black Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bill Crider on The Brass Cupcake

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2018 Series (31)
With a (Black) Gat: George Harmon Coxe
With a (Black) Gat: Raoul Whitfield
With a (Black) Gat: Some Hard Boiled Anthologies
With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935
A (Black) Gat in the hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D.L. Champion’s Rex Sackler
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – October, 1933
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – Spring, 2017
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & The Hard Boiled Hero’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam From Hard Case Crime
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: MORE Cool & Lam!!!!
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part Two)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Maynard’s ‘The Yellow Peril’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew P Salmon’s ‘Frederick C. Davis’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Rory Gallagher’s ‘Continental Op’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #3
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #4
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #5
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw on Writing
A (Black) Gat in Hand: Back Deck Pulp #6
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Black Mask Dinner

Bob_Houston_HatCroppedBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. It returned in June, 2020.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV,  V, VI and XXI.

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I liked Jack O’Halloran as Ivan in March or Die with Terence Hill and Gene Hackman.

Thomas Parker

I am on record as a lover of the Mitchum Marlowe (Farewell My Lovely version – The 1978 Big Sleep was wretched, not that it was Mitchum’s fault). I think the differences of opinion arise from whether you’re looking at Marlowe as a self-contained movie creation or as “Chandler’s Marlowe.” Bogart is the best self-contained movie Marlowe by a large margin, I think, but I love Mitchum because he’s the closest to Chandler’s creation, especially the beaten-down Marlowe of the latter novels. You’re right about the liberties the Farewell My Lovely movie took with the book, but that doesn’t bother me much. Chandler was an indifferent plotter at best; I think the movie still conveys the feeling of Chandler very well.

Thomas Parker

I love the Gould Long Goodbye, but that’s probably because I think of as being not Marlowe or Chandler, but as its own offbeat thing.

Thomas Parker

I think so much depends on who you read first. I read Chandler – and his prime disciple, Ross Macdonald – long before I ever read Hammett, so Chandler remains the hardboiled dick model for me.

R.K. Robinson

Outside of the books, no one is Marlowe except Bogart. No one. Dick Powell came close.

Good on you rereading Jo Gar.

Aonghus Fallon

I’m with you about re ‘Farewell My Lovely’. Mitchum is just too old and sleepwalks his way through the film. Plus a critical part of the original book’s appeal was the location. Setting it in England is kind of missing the point. And don’t get my started on ‘The Long Goodbye’. Doesn’t Schwarzenegger play one of the tough guys?

It’s interesting how your memory can play tricks on you – I always thought Robert Ryan played Roger Wade, but (having just googled it) I now know it was Sterling Hayden. I felt genuinely sorry for Hayden, who was clearly used to being handed a script, learning his lines and being told where to walk. A lot of the scenes look like they were improvised. By extension, he looks totally out of his depth. At the same time, I’m kind of relieved it wasn’t Robert Ryan! I have a lot of respect for him as an actor and until around five minutes ago, reckoned ‘The Long Goodbye’ was a career low point. Well, maybe it was – for Sterling Hayden!

Thomas Parker

The Mitchum Farewell My Lovely is set in Los Angeles. It’s The Big Sleep that got moved to England.

Aonghus Fallon

Right you are, Bob! My bad. That visit to the bookshop should have jogged my memory.

Scharzenegger is one of the goons in ‘The Long Goodbye’, Bob – although I’m not surprised you don’t remember him. He doesn’t exactly stand out.


I only mentioned it because I thought it pretty serendiptous that two of Hollywood’s biggest actions heroes should appear as goons in two separate Chandler adaptations.

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