1. Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler)
Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett are often paired together as the creators of the American hard-boiled private detective series. That’s both true and deserved. But they are sometimes unfairly lumped together as members of the American Left as well.
This is likely because Hammett was basically an unabashed Marxist and his marriage to Lillian Hellman formed a power couple of the Left that could be compared to Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda a couple generations later.
On the surface, both Hammett and Chandler dealt with corruption among the West Coast upper classes; but the differences are notable.
Take the Sternwood family in Chandler’s most famous work, The Big Sleep. General Sternwood is both an oil tycoon and retired Army brass, but the dying wheelchair bound man is the book’s most sympathetic character. His daughters are screwed up (one more than the other) but he is trying to protect them from exploitative mobsters and lower class types who want to use them for their wealth.
In any Hammett work, it would be much more likely that capitalist Sternwood would be the ultimate bad guy (nor would even the more troubled of the daughters be handled in as nuanced and humane a way as Chandler’s portrait).
Hollywood Reds tried to recruit Chandler based on a superficial knowledge of his work and were rebuffed.
Chandler once was famously prompted to compare the Catholic Church and the Communist Party. His response was that the Church “proselytizes constantly, but it does not shoot people in the back of the head because they are forty-eight hours behind the party line.”
What the commie recruiters missed in Chandler’s work was that it was an incorruptible iconoclastic American individual who stood up and foiled corruption
Chandler’s published letters also show a lack of outrage over the Hollywood Ten hearings. Though he considered them a bit of a show for the cameras and not terribly effective, he thought them as both constitutional and no invasion of privacy.
But ideology aside, Chandler is just a better writer than Hammett. His characters are deeper and less predictable, particularly the females—it’s hard to escape misogyny when reading Hammett– and Marlowe is a far more sympathetic character—despite his superbly biting sarcasm—than Hammett’s actually cynical Continental Op or Sam Spade.
There’s a reason why despite all the actors who played Philip Marlowe we remember Bogart in “The Big Sleep” as the ultimate Marlowe. Who better than the man who brought Rick from “Casablanca” to life to play the outwardly cynical, but ultimately incorruptible and idealistic American who does the right thing in the face of danger?