have played Marlowe, as he was the screen incarnation of Sam Spade - a character Marlowe owes some debt to - in The Maltese Falcon (1941). However, Bogart was not the first to portray Marlowe on screen. That honour went to Dick Powell in 1945's Farewell, My Lovely (a.k.a. Murder, My Sweet), and he was perhaps closer to Chandler's creation. (For the far from lofty Bogart, the Carmen/Marlowe exchange had to become: "You're not very tall." / "I try to be.", and Bogey became 'thirty-eight' rather than Marlowe's 'thirty-three') The problem of Marlowe's appearance and perspective is innovatively approached in the 1946 film of The Lady in the Lake which is shot using Marlowe as the subjective camera, and the audience sees his face only once in a mirror. Just as in the novels, this allows the reader to imprint himself partially onto the character, to imagine himself in the role - which is one of the enduringly appealling elements of the character.
To return to who Marlowe is in the book of The Big Sleep, Carmen is also under the impression that he is "cute", and Marlowe certainly has no problem attracting the affection of Vivian and Mona. And we know, through his charade in the bookstore, how much he weighs: "If you can weigh a hundred and ninety pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best." It is almost as if Marlowe is reassuring us of his masculinity, telling us that he is definitely only acting the role of a camp bibliophile. In Farewell My Lovely (1940) he goes one step further in defining and reassuring his robustness: " 'Okey, Marlowe,' I said between my teeth. 'You're a tough guy. Six feet of iron man. One hundred and ninety pounds stripped and with your face washed. Hard muscles and no glass jaw. You can take it.' "
But Marlowe's exact physical appearance is perhaps incidental to aspects of his underlying character. It is clear that he drinks too much - "I woke with a motorman's glove in my mouth...", stays up late, and isn't very good at getting up in the morning: "Well, you do get up," says Vivian, visiting his office. "I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed..."
The information he imparts to General Sternwood at the beginning of the book is simply this: "There's very little to tell. I'm thirty-three years old, went to college once, and can still speak English if there's any demand for it. There isn't much in my trade. I worked for Mr Wilde, the District Attorney, as an investigator once... I was fired. For insubordination. I test very high on insubordination." This last comment proves very much to be true - Marlowe takes orders from nobody in the pursuit of his goals: not Eddie Mars, not the police, not even at times General Sternwood.
Whether or not Marlowe completed college isn't clear, but one gets the impression that sometimes he plays dumber than he really is:
" 'I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed, like Marcel Proust,'
But, like any man, perhaps Marlowe - reluctantly - reveals his true self through his relationship and attitude towards women. "I am unmarried because I don't like policemen's wives," he says to the General, an obscure and an ambiguous turn of phrase. Marlowe isn't really a policeman, but perhaps he sees married policemen as men who are sacrificing their manhood and giving up full control over their lives to live with women. By extension, policemen are in the same area of work as Marlowe, but he works for himself not for the authority of the police department. (Remember, he was sacked by the D.A. for insubordination.)
But, to return to the matter of Marlowe and his women, whilst he kisses both Vivian and Mona, he attempts to maintain a crucial aloofness from emotional attachments that can only, it seems, bring trouble. In the 1946 film, Bogey admits - albeit with his casual, tough-guy air - that he is in love with Vivian. In the book, Marlowe would never do anything as reckless as allowing himself to fall in love. The closest he gets seems to be his lingering thoughts of 'Silver-Wig' Mona Mars, and he "never saw her again." However, when he sees Geiger's body has been moved, he does comment, "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts." We have to ask how he knows this, and he certainly treats women with a distance that suggests he had his fingers burned before. Of course, we can only guess, as unlike many of the other characters, Marlowe has very little of a 'backstory'. This is in part down to the first-person narration, which though it
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