April 29th, 2013
Lots of actors have taken on Raymond Chandler’s quintessential private eye Philip Marlowe, including Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, and James Garner. But by far my favorite Marlowe is the one you’ve never seen on the screen.
That’s right, Gerald Mohr played the wise-cracking gumshoe in a 3-year-long radio series based on the novels, with script help from Chandler himself. I’m not sure why Mohr never played Marlowe on film, but he sure nailed the character on radio. He also did a stint as Archie on Nero Wolfe — he’s my favorite in that role too.
One of the great things about a character like Philip Marlowe is that he’s become so integrated into the culture he’s taken on a life of his own, separate from creator Raymond Chandler. Springing from the pages of a detective-story magazine in 1939, Marlowe went on to shoot and drink his way through a series of novels, films, and radio plays in the 1940s through 70s, not to mention a fair number of modern tributes in every imaginable medium, including a video game.
If I had to live my life as a fictional man in 1940s Los Angeles, I’d definitely want to be Marlowe.