Philip Marlowe's character is foremost within the genre of hardboiled crime fiction that originated in the 1920s, most notably in Black Mask magazine, in which Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op and Sam Spade first appeared.
Underneath the wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye, Marlowe is quietly contemplative and philosophical. He enjoys chess and poetry. While he is not afraid to risk physical harm, he does not dish out violence merely to settle scores. Morally upright, he is not bamboozled by the genre's usual femmes fatale, like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. As Chandler wrote about his detective ideal in general, "I think he might seduce a duchess, and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin."
Chandler's treatment of the detective novel exhibits a continuing effort to develop the art form. His first full length book, The Big Sleep, was published when Chandler was 51; his last, Playback, when he was 70. All eight novels were produced in the last two decades of his life.
Marlowe is slightly over six feet (about 185 centimetres) tall and weighs about 190 pounds (86 kilograms). His office is number 615 on the 6th floor of the Cahuenga Building, which is located on Hollywood Boulevard near Ivar. North Ivar Avenue is between North Cahuenga Boulevard to the west and Vine Street to the east. The office telephone number is GLenview 7537. Marlowe's office is modest and he doesn't have a secretary (unlike his contemporary, Sam Spade). He generally refuses to take divorce cases.
He drinks whiskey or brandy frequently and in relatively large quantities. For example, in The High Window, he gets out a bottle of Four Roses, and pours glasses of the blended American whiskey for himself, for Det. Lt. Breeze and for Spangler. At other times he is drinking Old Forester, a Kentucky bourbon: "I hung up and fed myself a slug of Old Forester to brace my nerves for the interview. As I was inhaling it I heard her steps tripping along the corridor." (The Little Sister)
Marlowe is adept at using liquor to loosen the tongues of people from whom he needs to extract information. An example is in The High Window, when Marlowe finally persuades the detective-lieutenant, whose "solid old face was lined and grey with fatigue", to take a drink and thereby loosen up and give out. "Breeze looked at me very steadily. Then he sighed. Then he picked the glass up and tasted it and sighed again and shook his head sideways with a half smile; the way a man does when you give him a drink and he needs it very badly and it is just right and the first swallow is like a peek into a cleaner, sunnier, brighter world." See also Marlowe's interrogation of Jessie Florian in Farewell My Lovely.
He makes good coffee, eschewing the use of filters (see Farewell My Lovely). He takes his coffee with cream in the mornings, but has it black at other times.
At the time of writing he was probably carrying a 9x19mm Parabellum Luger P08 pistol, but switched to a .32 ACP Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless, then to a .38 Special Smith & Wesson M&P . Phillip Marlowe also carried a Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol chambered in .38 Super in the book The High Window.
See also Raymond Chandler, Novels and Other Writings (Library of America, 1995, ISBN 1-883011-08-6) for other letters.
Marlowe has appeared in short stories and novels by writers other than Chandler, such as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988). The central character in the original TV version of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective is crime novelist Philip E. Marlow (portrayed by Michael Gambon). The female sleuths of the anthology Tart Noir (Berkeley, 2002) are described as "half Philip Marlowe, half femme fatale".
Marlowe is referenced in the lyrics to Burton Cummings' 1979 song "Dream of a Child, and Mark Knopfler's homage to him in the song "Private Investigations" by the Dire Straits.
In the Count Duckula episode Private Beak, Duckula adopts the pseudonym of Philip Mallard, as a spoof of Marlowe.
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