Philip Marlowe is an icon. Although he started in literary form, he quickly evolved into the definition of a hard-boiled motion picture, the film noir. When you think of a private investigator, he is who you think of. When Robert Altman set out to film The Long Goodbye, he brought the Philip Marlowe we all know and love to the screen, dark suit, tie and all. The setting Marlowe operated in, in The Long Goodbye, that’s what changed. Sure, Los Angeles was still sleazy and riddled with broken dreams and broken necks, but it was the 1970’s - almost a full decade since The Beatles first crossed the Atlantic. Philip Marlowe was still Philip Marlowe but the world had changed. The Long Goodbye made us think for the first time that maybe Marlowe didn’t even belong in his own time, that he was invariably out of place and that was his true charm and the true charm of any great PI story.
Creating a Private Investigator - Raymond Before Marlowe
When writing The Dirty Kind I wanted to tell the story of a private investigator before the ulcers. The PI we’re used to seeing has seen it all and looks forward to dinner, if even that. They don’t dream of finding Mrs. Right, they don’t save for a down payment on a plot of land to build a white picket fence around, and they definitely don’t aspire to pass their surname down to a younger generation. They live to die and that’s how we, the audience, like it. When I conceived of Raymond, the private investigator in The Dirty Kind, I created someone fresh in the industry. Not necessarily a novice, but someone who hadn’t yet risen above their entry-level paycheck. I gave him all of the goals that Philip Marlowe didn’t have, and his career was just a means to an end. During the course of the movie he’d gain experience, and in this genre of movie, experience changes you. The means would remain the same but there would be no end in sight.
Philip Marlowe Doesn’t Do Gluten-Free
Now that I had my PI I had to figure out how to use him. I always envisioned him wearing a suit and tie and knew that if that attire felt out of place for the Marlowe of The Long Goodbye, it’d certainly feel out of place for a postgrad in the 21st century. Also, Elliott Gould as Marlowe could pass as just too old to know what’s hip, someone who’s still stuck in their glory days, someone who at one time actually could have been cool. Raymond doesn’t have that excuse. If he’s not with it now, he never was, and that’s the point. It’s how Raymond Chandler crafted the PI, it’s the PI Robert Altman hinted at, and it’s the one I wanted to shove down your throat. The key was reminding the audience that we tend to relate with that character far more than with the kids at the cool party. To get the audience thinking that way I did just that. I had Ray attend a hip party thrown by a childhood friend. As they catch up, like we usually do at these events, and learn that their lives are nothing alike, as we usually do when we have those conversations, the audience starts to feel that Raymond’s suit and tie is far more normal than opening up a gluten-free bagel shop. Although there’s nothing wrong with gluten-free bagels, it’s just not something most of us can relate to and that’s how I transform a cliché into a believable character.
Robert Altman made a timeless movie with The Long Goodbye, so great in fact it feels wrong also calling The Dirty Kind a movie because then it would mean they’re both examples of the same artform. What I ultimately hope is that Altman’s movie helped me make my contribution to the genre a positive experience for the audience. I hope that I learned something and used that knowledge to make something new, or as new as the retelling of a myth should be.