East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Philip Marlowe, Private Eye


These last two nights I took some time to watch a few episodes – that you can find on Youtube – of Philip Marlowe Private Eye, a mid-80s TV series by HBO starring the late Powers Boothe in the titular role.
Back when this aired in my country for the first time I watched maybe two episodes and let it go: it was late at night, it was dubbed awfully, and Boothe was nothing like Bogart or Mitchum.

But later, when I caught it in original, I was much more positively impressed.
Boothe’s deadpan voiceover fits nicely the Chandler style, and Boothe is a good Marlowe all things considered, nicely physical and at the same time both classy but cheap.

There is a strange thing going on in the series, and it is this weird 1930s-through-the-1980s-eye going.
The historical reconstruction is fine, the jazz soundtrack excellent, costumes and sets are just great, but on the other hand there is a strange patina of 1980s aesthetics overlaid on the images.
Maybe it’s the colors, or the lights especially in night scenes.
And the title sequence, too, that looks like a throwback to the fifties, but with 1980s camerawork.

It’s proto-noir (Chandler does not qualify as noir proper according to the original Cahiers du Cinema definition) as filtered through neo-noir: the first season of the show was aired in 1983, one year before Miamy Vice, Michael Mann’s seminal neo-noir TV series.

The one-hour episodes are nice adaptations of the Chandler canon, and a few of the episodes have British film industry veteran Bryan Forbes at the helm, while other were directed by famed James Bond editor Peter R. Hunt.
The quality is there, and it shows.

A nice walk down memory lane, to remember a fine actor.
The copies available on Youtube are poor quality and often come with an audio hiss that dates them more than anything else. But they are still worth a look.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Philip Marlowe, Private Eye

  1. The 1940s radio version is the best, and it’s free online:


    Scroll down to “Adventures of Philip Marlowe.” Old radio shows are great because you can listen while you do something else, you’re not tied to a screen.


  2. I’ve been a lifelong Chandler’s fan and I can tell you that although I never saw the TV series I think Powers Boothe comes as close as one can get to the real Philip Marlowe. Careful eyes, self-confident look, a bit cynical, sure, but someone you can trust 100%. This is the closest to what I’ve always imagined him to look like as I read (rather, listened in my head) to his monologues, thoughts and remarks. Thanks a lot for posting these images.


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