Think of hard-boiled detective stories and you’re thinking of writer Raymond Chandler and character Phillip Marlowe. There were other influences on the genre, notably Dashiell Hammett and his creation Sam Spade, but Spade, as his alliterated name suggests, was a cartoon; Mike Hammer even more so, but Hammett could at least write. That Ayn Rand and Frank Miller are big fans of Spade should tell you all you need to know about him as an artist and human being.
Marlowe, as Graham Percy plays him, is a schlub. This is distinct from a schmuck or schmiel. A schlub is a schmuck that you can’t help but like. Percy is brilliantly cast here: he’s all jowls and the bags under his eyes, a smile that recalls Sam Rockwell at his most eager to please, pants up far too high. In film, Marlowe has been portrayed by Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but if you were to extend his basic schlubishness in this adaptation you’d arrive at Paul Giamatti. His idea of dressing for a date is a beat-up black jacket instead of a beat-up brown jacket. While in the 1978 film version he bemoans having only “a hat, a coat and a gun,” here he has to be given the hat as an act of charity. He drinks. Boy does he ever drink. If you tried to keep up you’d wind up in the emergency room or morgue. And women love him. Every single woman in the play falls madly in love with him, usually within minutes of meeting him. They’re drunks, too, but it’s the schlub’s magnetism that has him punching far outside of his weight class, romantically speaking.
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