In 1939, Philip Marlowe debuted in the Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep and the character quickly joined Sam Spade as one of the most iconic characters in the hard boiled school of detection.
While the first two Marlowe books to be adapted to film were actually starring the Falcon and Michael Shayne, Marlowe himself came to the big screen in Murder My Sweet starring Dick Powell, which was followed by The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart, the two most beloved filmed Marlowe stories. Marlowe would continue to appear in films, TV shows, and movies into the 1990s and be portrayed by actors such as Robert Montgomery, James Garner, Phil Carey, Robert Mitchum, Elliot Gould, Powers Booth, Danny Glover, and James Caan.
Perhaps the most accessible version of Marlowe was the radio program. NBC aired a Summer series in 1947 that stared Van Heflin and adapted Raymond Chandler short stories. The definitive radio version began a year later and starred Gerald Mohr who played Marlowe from 1948-50 and returned to the role for a 1951 Summer series. Mohr’s run on Marlowe was one of radio’s best regarded acting performances. The series was known for its iconic opening:
Get this, and get it straight: Crime is a sucker’s road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison or the grave. There’s no other end … but they never learn!
Mohr was voted radio’s most popular actor for his performance by Radio and Television magazine.
Philip Marlowe was also the inspiration for overseas adaptations. In the 1970s and 1988, Ed Bishop, an American born actor, portrayed Marlowe in a series of adaptations for the BBC. In 2011, the BBC issued a more gritty series of adaptations starring Toby Stephens
In addition, at least one novel Lady in the Lake was adapted in Australia, though little’s known about the adaptation.
While other characters have faded with time, Marlowe remains one of the great characters in world literature. His night in tarnished armor persona has been the inspiration for countless characters both in and out of detective fiction, and the surviving radio episodes paint a great picture of this memorable character:
Gerald Mohr (1914-68): Arguably, Mohr’s version of Marlowe is definitive both in terms of quality and quantity of performances. His opening line from Philip Marlowe, “Get this, and get it straight: Crime is a sucker’s road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison or the grave. There’s no other end … but they never learn!” was among the best openings to any radio show and Mohr’s delivery made it happen in a way that few other actors could manage.
In addition to that Mohr was a frequent cast member on The Whistler making an astonishing number of appearances. When we were doing the program Rogue’s Galleryon the podcast, I was astonished at how many times, Mohr played the murderer. Most weeks, Gerald Mohr character did it. In addition to this Mohr played a murderer on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe one week and then returned as perhaps the best Archie Goodwin on the series the next week. Of course, his radio career was not all mayhem and mystery. He also played a recurring character as a charming French teacher on Our Miss Brooks. When producers availed themselves of Mohr’s services, they would be guaranteed to use him and often-a mark of his true talent.
Lux Radio Theater Adaptations:
- Murder my Sweet (Original Air Date: June 11, 1945) with Dick Powell
- Lady in the Lake (Original Air Date: February 9, 1948) (with Robert Montgomery)
Van Heflin Episodes:
- Red Wind (Original Air Date: June 17, 1947)
- The King in Yellow (Original Air Date: July 8, 1947)
- Trouble is My Business (Original Air Date: August 5, 1947)
- The Red Wind (Original Air Date: September 26, 1948)
- Persian Slippers (Original Air Date: October 3, 1948)
- Panama Hit (Original Air Date: October 10, 1948)
- Where There’ s a Will Original Air Date: October 17, 1948)
- The Heart of Gold (Original Air Date: October 24, 1948)
- The Hard Way Out (Original Air Date: November 28, 1948)
- The Old Acquaintance (Original Air Date: December 26, 1948)
- The Restless Day (Original Air Date: January 8, 1949)
- The Black Halo (Original Air Date: January 15, 1949)
- The Orange Dog (Original Air Date: January 22, 1949)
- Easy Mark (Original Air Date: January 29, 1949)
- The Long Rope (Original Air Date:: February 5, 1949)
- The Lonesome Reunion (Original Air Date: February 12, 1949)
- Friend From Detroit (Original Air Date: March 5, 1949)
- The Grim Hunters (Original Air Date: March 12, 1949)
- Dancing Hands (Original Air Date: March 19, 1949)
- The Green Flame (Original AIr Date: March 26, 1949)
New episodes will be added every Wednesday.
Log information: Courtesy of the Digital Deli