Philip Marlowe, Private Eye (TV Series 1983–1986) Poster

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This is Marlowe
skoyles21 October 2005
Philip Carey, James Garner, Bogart and probably more have essayed the role of Raymond Chandler's iconic private investigator but only two have worn the role like a double breasted suit with a .38 in the armpit: Gerald Mohr on radio and Powers Booth in this HBO masterpiece. Cleaving close to the Chandler stories and with exquisite period touches in set design, automobiles and even 1930s fixtures,lamps and streetlights, furniture and wallpaper this is a treat. Perfect? No. Compulsive nitpickers might find the occasional small flaw but seldom has any series been so carefully set in time. So fine writing and great sets but most of all Powers Booth. Oozing "Weltschmertz" Booth never steps across the line to parody or overacting. Like Mohr on radio, Powers Booth is Philip Marlowe. There may never be a better.
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Absolutely the best Philip Marlowe incarnation ever
Marta5 August 2000
Powers Boothe is the quintessential Philip Marlowe; no one can ever best his performance in this series. He is cool, hip, a great wisecracker, and obsessed about the truth while seeming not to care. The next-best aspect of the series was the complete re-creation of the 1930's; sets were perfect, cars were big and bulky, clothes were gorgeous, and art deco abounded. Marlowe's bathroom even had those pastel nile green tiles that were everywhere in the 30's and 40's.

The 1986 series listed here was not the first, though, and not the best. HBO did 5 episodes in 1983 that have never been run since and were all mostly filmed, I believe, in England; these featured the luminous Kathryn Leigh Scott as Annie Rearden. She doesn't show up much in the second set, and that in itself makes the newer series a pale copy of the original.

These original episodes are the ones that should have been released first as they are far superior, and I look forward to them being issued. "The King in Yellow" was a masterpiece about a murdered big-band trumpeteer whom everyone hated so suspects were plentiful; "Smart Aleck Kill" mimicked Wallace Reid's drug-induced death in grand Hollywood style; "The Pencil" found Marlowe vying with a mafia boss to get a stool pigeon out of town alive; "Nevada Gas" featured a corrupt attorney who is targeted by his wife's boyfriend (played with nasty panache by "Hawk the Slayer's" John Terry); "Finger Man" has a femme fatale who takes up with a friend of Marlowe's, who then tries to frame Marlowe for a robbery.

This is a quality production, but can't truly be called a series. Only these 11 episodes were filmed, to my knowledge. I taped them all on their original run, and they weren't treated as an ongoing thing, which was a distinct oversight on HBO's part. Powers Boothe is magnetic as well as truly wonderful in this role, and they could have had a real winner on their hands if they had continued with the team used on the original 5 episodes, and without such a long break between the two sets.
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The 1983 Episodes Were By Far the Best
ANDREWEHUNT11 April 2005
Long before Sex in the City or Six Feet Under, HBO proved itself to be at the cutting edge of television when it released several episodes of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, with Powers Boothe as the best Marlowe in film history (even better, in my view, than Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum). He's so authentic, so dead-on perfect, that I can't read Chandler's Marlowe stories without thinking about him. The episodes that aired in 1983 were, in my view, far superior to the series in 1986. The writing was better, the story lines were tighter, and they had a gritty, noirish atmosphere that made you think of Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, the 1986 episodes did not have the same Chandleresque seedy Los Angeles feel. For years, I watched and re-watched the original episodes on videotape, but--alas--I've long since lost those taped episodes and I haven't been able to find copies of them ever since. Let's hope HBO re-releases them on DVD. This was television at its absolute finest.

post-script: After writing this review, I discovered that the episodes are indeed available on DVD. What a great day I'm having!
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The Original Tough Guy Private Eye Returns
SylvesterFox00715 August 2005
Raymond Chandler practically invented the detective noir genre with his Philip Marlowe novels and stories. The trench coat. The fedora. The monotone first-person narration and the cynical outlook on life. They all started with Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

So it's only appropriate that several actors have brought Phillip Marlowe to life over the years, most notably James Garner and Humphrey Bogart.

It's hard not to keep Humphrey Bogart's portrayal in mind when watching a Philip Marlowe mystery, and most actors understandably pale by comparison. That said, Powers Boothe still does a worthy job. You must put all of the sleazy roles he's ever played out of your head. He perfectly portrays Philip Marlowe as a cynical private investigator with a tough exterior but a heart of gold.

Samuel Matlovsky's musical score is the icing on the cake. The background music, and especially the haunting theme tune, definitely enhance the 1930's gumshoe atmosphere.

I've only seen a few episode from the '86 series. These episodes of "Phillip Marlowe: Private Eye" are filled with clever twist and turns, exciting gun fights, and plenty of tough-talking wise guys. If nothing else, they will inspire you to seek out the writings of Raymond Chandler.
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Powers Boothe excellent as Marlowe
chall-514 May 2006
As other reviewers have noted, the HBO Marlowe series consists of two different sequences. Shows 1-5 have great music, and a fine supporting cast as well as some novel plots. "The King is Yellow" is perhaps the best. Boothe is an excellent Marlowe and the period cars and sets are top notch.

The second sequence, shows 6-11 lack the music and some of the production values present in the earlier episodes. Too bad. But the scripts and Boothe are still good.

All 11 shows are now out as a 3-DVD boxed set for $20-$30 bucks from Gold Hill Entertainment. Video quality on the first 5 is not up to snuff, but this set is still worth having just to see Powers Boothe as Marlowe.
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John Dalmas, PI, in fact
blacknorth15 April 2010
This rather curious series is a hybrid in more ways than one.

A US-UK co-production, with the UK input coming from LWT, as far as I remember, it looks like a period Dempsey & Makepiece. It seems to have been shot on video stock which has degraded over the years or been damaged in storage. But, thankfully, that doesn't affect the viewing experience very much.

Chandler's stories feature a number of different Private Detectives, of whom Marlowe is the most famous. But many of the original stories, from which these episodes are adapted, actually featured John Dalmas as the shamus, rather than Marlowe. As a reader of Chandler I was always mystified as to why Marlowe eclipsed Dalmas - the latter character seemed witter, surer, with more tragedy about him and less of the throwaway line. What we have in this series is many of the Dalmas stories given over to Marlowe. And, to be frank, it doesn't feel right - Marlowe doesn't have the intellectual equipment of Dalmas, and I think the scriptwriters recognised this and took some severe liberties with the plotting when making their adaptations. One compromise leads to another...

Having said all that, the series is very enjoyable as it stands. Powers Boothe is good as Marlowe, more of the laconic thick-ear than the closet fist. The supporting actors are all fine and there are some very effective action set-pieces scattered throughout.

Recommended. I feel sorry for Dalmas, though I know he'd shrug it off.
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Powers Boothe is great, shows are OK...
halben-18 May 2005
I just recently purchased the DVD edition of these shows, and they are really interesting. The audio quality on the DVD is horrible for the early episodes (1983), but those have the nicer opening credits and generally very good storytelling.

So far I've only seen one of the later episodes, "Pick-up on Noon Street", but it was pretty nice. The audio quality is immensely better than on the earlier episodes, but the acting was a little more hammy over all. Robin Givens was good, and Boothe was great as usual. The actions sequences were pretty poorly filmed, though, in my opinion.

Overall, HBO had their hands on something special here. Power Boothe is (as others have said here) the best Marlowe ever on screen. I love Bogey, and Mitchum is great in Farewell My Lovely, but Boothe feels like he IS the Marlowe, and his delivery of the dialog and voice-overs is superb.

I really wish that HBO or someone else would do another remake of The Long Goodbye with Powers Boothe as an older Marlowe. That'd be the best of Chandler played by the best Marlowe.
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rockyb615 October 2006
I remember watching the first season of this when it came out and absolutely adored it. Powers Boothe's portrayal was just right. It was around the same time that Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes first aired, so we were spoilt for quality detective drama. If I recall correctly, it was part financed by London Weekend Television (part of the ITV network at the time) and shown on ITV in prime time. I recall them announcing that, even though the show was popular, they would not be making any more after the initial five due to it being so expensive. Nearly every item in the show was a genuine period piece, with very little being reproduced. This, and the fact that it was shot in the UK, made it extremely costly. The second series was never shown properly in the UK. Odd episodes would turn up in the early hours of the morning and, although the production values were not as good, the shows were still enjoyable. Hopefully someone will produce a restored version of the shows on DVD (previous comments claim that the quality is not too good). I also think it's time for Marlowe to appear again. James Caan's version in "Poodle Springs" didn't quite work as I thought he was a little too old for the role. Ideally, Marlowe should be in his late thirties/early forties: young enough to take (or throw) a punch, but old enough to have "been around the block" a few times. Ten years ago, Harrison Ford would have been ideal, but now I'm not sure. Any ideas .... ?
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Powers Boothe was the Best one.
ncrattlersnake29 July 2000
He has the Raymond Chandler down perfectly and brings him to life in a more interesting and exciting way. I hope he does a few more. A more real life type of hero for all times. A real thinker and a tuff guy to boot.
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Here's to Powers Boothe - The Only True Marlowe
fung018 May 2017
I've meant to post a review of this ground-breaking series for some time. The untimely passing of Powers Boothe this week has goaded me into action...

To sum up: this series is not just the best adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, it's the *only* adaptation that really manages to to remain true to the letter and the spirit of the books. Amazing, but true.

Humphrey Bogart was charming as Marlowe, of course... but his Big Sleep (especially the best-known edit) is 99% Howard Hawks, and should have a 'may contain traces of Chandler' warning on the label. What's more, Bogey couldn't have been much less like the character described by Chandler. In fact, Chandler's own ideal Marlowe is said to have been Cary Grant, which gives you some idea of just how far off-track Bogart, the geriatric Mitchum, and others have been. (Let us not even speak of Dick Powell.) Robert Montgomery could have been good, but he loused it up with that stupid first-person camera business, which has never worked and never will. Astoundingly, the best Marlowe prior to Boothe was Elliott Gould, in Altman's modernized, revisionist yet nonetheless evocative Long Goodbye. (EDIT: forgot to mention James Garner, who was very good, though a bit more Rockford than Marlowe.)

But Powers Boothe was an even more appropriate choice. He had just the right age, just the right gravitas - the world-weary toughness of a Bogart or Mitchum, but also the class, the energy and the good looks described by Chandler. He also had the advantage of being less familiar. When you looked at Boothe you didn't see a movie star - you saw Marlowe, a hard-working gumshoe, and nobody else.

The Boothe series also marked a rare attempt to include the *most* significant character from Chandler's stories: the city of Los Angeles. (The best previous attempt was, again, Altman's Long Goodbye.) Hawks' Big Sleep is set-bound, and could be taking place in New York as easily as LA. Mitchum's Marlowe was set in England - a travesty! The Powers Boothe series at least attempted to capture some of the gaudy, steamy, crazy city that Chandler created in his writing. Ironically, the series was not filmed in Hollywooed, but in Toronto, which gives you some idea of what can be done with a bit of creative camera work and a few judiciously-chosen locations.

Another very cool thing about this series is that instead of adapting The Big Sleep - YET AGAIN - it adapts some of Chandler's excellent short stories. We get that flavorful dialog, those evocative descriptions, and the dark noir-ish plots - all of them fresh and barely familiar to even the most devoted Marlowe fans.

Obviously, it's hard to beat Bogey and Hawks for sheer entertainment value. Or Altman for quirky, innovative filmmaking. But when it comes to all-out fidelity to the cherished Chandler stories, Powers Boothe in Philip Marlowe Private Eye has no rival.
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childhood memories
xcetecx12 March 2005
This was a great show. I know there have been lots of versions of "Phillip Marlowe" on film and television, from Humphrey Bogart to Robert Mitchum and perhaps beyond, but this is was my first exposure to this character, and I remember it fondly.

I was just thinking about how I miss cop/P.I. films and TV shows of the Film Noir/"fedoras and raincoats" genre, and this old HBO program- even if only for 11 episodes- suddenly became a vivid memory that came to mind. This was also my first introduction to this whole genre, which I got to explore further and in greater depth in films of the WWII and postwar period- and later works that have paid tribute to this genre and all the actors, directors, and characters such as "Phillip Marlowe" that were a part of it.

This was a great character, and I really enjoyed this show- and hope to see "Phillip Marlowe" make an appearance in the future on the big or small screen...
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Not very close to Chandler's originals, only fairly well acted and produced.
fisherforrest11 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Really dedicated fans of Raymond Chandler may be disappointed that the writers for this series didn't see fit to stick to Chandler's stories without serious deviations. All eleven episodes either added characters, deleted characters, changed the stories to varying extents, or all of the above. Since I suspected this might be the case, having seen what was done to Edgar Allan Poe in a similar series on DVD recently, I made a point of re-reading each of the stories before viewing the movies. Only four of the episodes came moderately close to following the original story line: "Nevada Gas" (although this was not originally a Marlowe story), "Finger Man", "The King in Yellow" (also not a Marlowe story), and "Pickup on Noon Street" (not Marlowe either). Most of the stories used were not originally about Marlowe, but at least were about Johnny Dalmas, a Marlowe prototype.

I suppose my view of the series is jaundiced by my long term enthusiasm for Raymond Chandler, having read the "canon" through at least half a dozen times since first meeting Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL MY LOVELY in 1943. Imagine my resentment when these writers presumed to "improve" on the master. As for the quality of what was produced as compared to what might have been produced if Chandler has been followed, it isn't "bad"; just not good enough. Powers Boothe clearly tries hard to be Marlowe, but he really doesn't fit my physical conception of the "good man who walks the mean streets". I pictured Marlowe as rather tall, well built, not fat but with sufficient bulk to over-awe the sleazy characters he went up against. Robert Mitchum filled the bill in THE BIG SLEEP. Burt Lancaster would have also if he had ever essayed the role. Kathryn Leigh Scott ("Annie Riordan") and Billy Kearns ("Lt. Violets M'Gee", as Chandler spelled the name) impressed me most favourably. You won't be bored watching this series, but if you are a really fanatic Chandler addict, you will be chagrined.
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The Marlowe.
Petebarker12310 December 2014
I saw this series first run and Not since but every time I see Powers Boothe this is what I remember. I may or may not have seen Bogart's portrayals at the time, I know I have since, but this is the more memorable Marlowe. Boothe was a relative unknown at the time. He'd played Jim Jones and then came this, hence it was a great time for him to step into a well known role and own it! Advertising at the time made a deal out of it being HBO's "first" something. First drama or first shot on film or something. I've forgotten what but the show was very worthy of the hype. I'm going now to search for a copy of the DVD. I think it's time to revisit this little gem!
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Looking for noir but can't find it.
jimddddd18 May 2010
I wanted to enjoy HBO's mid-eighties attempt to revive Phillip Marlowe, but the series never quite worked for me. The producer's self-conscious attempt to recreate a time and place and style of film-making remained just that: self-conscious. What may have also thrown me off was that the first episode I watched, "The King in Yellow," begins with a disc jockey playing a twelve-inch vinyl LP, a format that Columbia Records introduced in 1948 for long-form music, such as classical and Broadway; pop music and the kind of jazz the DJ was playing came out that year on ten-inch LPs and didn't graduate to twelve-inch till around 1950-51. So naturally I'm thinking the story takes place in the early fifties, until the cars and a few other things make it obvious that the time is really a dozen years earlier. Why didn't somebody realize the guy should have been playing a 78-rpm record? You can find them at any Salvation Army shop. The whole point of recreating a period piece is that you have to get the period right and not make obvious, boneheaded mistakes. I was also struck by how poorly the filmmakers generally used Los Angeles, a city with many evocative old neighborhoods and wonderful buildings that haven't changed much in the last seventy years. One "King in Yellow" scene, shot at the tower apartments near the Hollywood Bowl where Eliot Gould's Phillip Marlow lived in Robert Altman's 1973 "The Long Goodbye," showed that somebody had the right idea, but maybe the low budget kept most of the action confined to sound stages, which are rarely convincing. Oh, and some of the actors were amateurish and the dialog was often weak. Since a real noir hound could have had great fun with this show, HBO's Marlowe seems more like a missed opportunity than anything else.
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Details details details
guerre18597 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
These remarks are limited and scope and concern the episode 'Finger- Man.' Powers Boothe is a quite likable actor, and the show is enjoyable, especially considering that in the waning years of the Reagan days American audiences were regaled with such gems as A-Team and Airwolf, so I wish to cast these criticisms with a bit of perspective. That being said, it's hard for me to watch this show because it gets a LOT of period details wrong. Hammett was writing his stories about the 1920s or even earlier, but Chandler set his in the 1930s and 1940s, but this series seems to confound the fashions of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Cars, furniture, clothing, hairstyles of these three periods are juxtaposed in one episode. One example among many: the fat rich ringleader in the episode is using a brass candlestick telephone; a guy with that much money, living ostentatiously in the mid to late nineteen- thirties would NEVER have used such a phone--they were totally passe by that time, it would be akin to using a 2 pound Motorola brickphone today instead of a couple of ounce millimeter thin smartphone. But clearly this kind of set-design is geared to average audiences who are clueless and will just swallow it and think 'gee! what a weird telephone!' Men's hair (too long in back) and ladies' styles also off, as are the mens' hats--and also how the hats are worn; you can just tell these modern actors probably NEVER wear hats, so when they wear them, they are telegraphing (at least to me); HELLO, I am an ACTOR WEARING a HAT see, THIS is the 1930s, I HAVE A HAT.' The interior of Marlowe's flat is also anachronistic; looks as if he has wall to wall carpet, which I've hardly ever seen during that period. Just a myriad of little details wrong, which, collectively, are a thorn in the eye. The gunfight was also almost laughably bad, both in how it was played and what happened. For example, a fellow doesn't get shot in the shoulder by a Colt .45 and not get knocked down, or react in some way. It's unfortunate that this series seems like it had almost all the makings of something pretty darn good--but ended up distinctly so-so; was it meant to be tongue-in-cheek, cartoonish? A dream-like evocation of the past, a little bit like the Singing Detective perhaps? Or did they have too little time, too little money, (or too much coke, after all, it was the eighties) and they figured, 'hey, this is America, HBO, and why take the trouble to cast pearls before swine?' Now, I did personally enjoy seeing the street scenes filmed on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, in the early 1980s, and if one looks carefully, one can see Carodin's dilapidated clothing store and the Deli on the corner of Fair Oaks, a now long-defunct era of Old Town Pasadena before it was plasticized, which, like Raymond Chandler's LA, is now gone forever.
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gbabylonm8 June 2019

(Mitchum's was damn good too) watch for Liam
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Down these mean streets every Marlowe fan should go
grainstorms16 May 2018
This self-assured and sinister version of the Marlowe canon was as good as it gets. Keeping closer to the original Raymond Chandler stories than most earlier attempts, it's both entertaining and evocative, romantic and raucous., complex and at times even comic. Powers Boothe is a hulking tough guy as Philip nonsense at all. And that's how it should be. His rendition of the beautiful and brutal Raymond Chandler prose may not be as smoky and sardonic as, say, that of the sleepily self-confident Robert Mitchum, but it's authentic and natural. This is probably how a real -- and honest -- private eye in the LA of the period must have been -- rock-solid, shrewd, and quick with his fists; skirting around and always aware of the corruption and bent morals of that particular time and place, but never part of it....a sworn Knight of the Round Table. Beautifully rendered, the episodes in this 1983 series have a distinctive, well-polished look to them -- Marlowe moves mostly among the moneyed set (who else could afford his exorbitant $25 a day fee?) and can play suave very nicely...if need be. Needless to say, the women all would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window...
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