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Raymond Chandler, author of the 1939 novel The Big Sleep, claimed that his contemporary, Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon) had taken murder out of the vicar's rose garden and given it 'back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse'. (1) He was having a dig at what he considered the genteel tradition of English detective fiction, above all the province of female writers from the 1930s (Agatha Christie, Marjorie Allingham, etc). His idea was that crimes were committed by people not otherwise living respectable lives, but involved with all manner of shady practice in dubious settings, and often having about them the unmistakable stench of corruption.
His celebrated protagonist, private eye Philip Marlowe, is a figure of non-corrupt, world-weary probity, whose profession often takes him among the scum of society, while he remains untainted. He is not at all saintly--he's seen too much bad stuff for that--but he has managed to hang on to (while cynically pretending not to be fussed about it) a core of disenchanted integrity as he goes about dealing with assorted blackmailers, nymphomaniacs, murderers, porn-pedlars and run-of-the-mill thugs who routinely carry dangerous weapons.
For people of a certain age, Humphrey Bogart is now perhaps the perfect incarnation on screen of Marlowe, though some would favour the long-forgotten Dick Powell, who played the private eye in Farewell My Lovely (1944). Other Marlowes have been Robert Montgomery (The Lady in the Lake, 1946), George Montgomery (The High Window, 1947), James Garner (Marlowe, 1970), Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye, 1973) and Robert Mitchum (remakes of Farewell My Lovely, 1975, and The Big Sleep, 1978). There's a wide range of acting styles among these, but, though Bogart wasn't tall, as Chandler specified and as the film makes a point of disclaiming, he had to a T the sense of battered but oddly intact morality that was so important to not merely Chandler's Marlowe, but to Big Sleep director Howard Hawks' heroes in numerous films.
Hawks had won a reputation as a filmmaker who understood male camaraderie and explored it across a range of genres, including westerns (Red River, 1947), gangster movies (Scarface, 1932), war films (Air Force, 1943), and science fiction (The Thing from Another World, 1951, co-director). However, he was also adept at screwball …