The Long Goodbye
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“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 way, but they never learn.” With these curt words, Gerald Mohr opened the phenomenally successful radio program, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.
Based loosely on a character created by Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe had two lives on radio. The first was a series in 1947 that starred the film actor Van Heflin. The second series had the perfectly cast Gerald Mohr as the lead.
“From the pen of Raymond Chandler, outstanding author of mystery, comes his most famous character and crime’s most deadly enemy. Listen as we present The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.” The series was produced and directed in its second life by the then young Norman MacDonnell who always would make sure of a tight script and a cast of competent actors. At the same time he was working on this show, he was also in charge of the highly regarded Escape series. Many of the actors from these series would find themselves in a few years working with Norman on his Gunsmoke shows. (Which was also a sustaining show during its first two seasons)
Gerald Mohr was perfect as the tough PI working in and around LA and Hollywood for $50.00 a day. He worked alone but would let us tag along with him on all his cases. He would also keep up a running description of the things that were happening to him while he tooled around town trying to break the case. With no side kicks (Margo Lanes, Harringtons or Mike Axfords) to get in the way, we get to take their place. At the end of the show we light up a cigarette with him as he tells us where the bad guys made their mistakes and how he closed the case.
Marlowe’s character is typical of a genre of hardboiled crime fiction that originated with Dashiell Hammett and Black Mask magazine in the 1920s where the private eye is a pessimistic and cynical observer of a corrupt society. Yet the enduring appeal of Marlowe and other “hard-boiled dicks” like Hammett’s Sam Spade lies in their tarnished idealism.
Underneath the wisecracking, hard-drinking, tough private eye, Marlowe is quietly contemplative, chess-playing, and philosophical. 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 femme fatales, like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. As Chandler wrote about his detective ideal in general, “He might seduce a countess; he would not despoil a virgin.”
Marlowe has been played on the screen by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Elliot Gould, Danny Glover, and James Caan. On radio, in The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, the character was portrayed by Van Heflin on NBC (June 17-September 9, 1947) and by Gerald Mohr on CBS (September 26, 1948-September 15, 1951).
Marlowe has proved such a complex and attractive character that he has appeared in short stories and novels by writers other than Chandler, such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988).