time to kill
Time To Kill (1942)

© 2008 William Ahearn

While researching background on two of the films based on Chandler’s novels that ended up as scripts for detectives who weren’t Philip Marlowe, I came across various private eyes who had novels and movies and magazines and sometimes radio and TV shows that featured a shamus. All are long forgotten now except to die-hard fans or scholars of the form.

Such is Mike Shayne, the detective featured in scores of novels and hundreds of stories (not all written by the original author Brett Halliday but all carrying that byline), a dozen films – seven starring Lloyd Nolan and five starring Hugh Beaumont – a radio show that ran almost continuously from 1944 to 1953, a one-season TV show, and a magazine that stayed in print from 1956 until 1985. (Just a note to say that Raymond Chandler was offered a licensing agreement to use his name on such a magazine and declined. There was also a TV show titled “Marlowe” that ran on the ABC network in the US from October 1959 to March 1960 with Phil Carey as Philip Marlowe.)

What I’ll never understand about the movie business is that if you’ve bought the rights to Mike Shayne, why are you then giving money to Raymond Chandler for a Philip Marlowe story so Mike Shayne can be in it? This also holds true for The Falcon series and as Chandler became more famous, both novels would be made into features of their own (“The Brasher Doubloon,” and “Murder, My Sweet,” respectively).

What’s funny about “Time To Kill” – the Mike Shayne version – and “The Brasher Doubloon” version that features Philip Marlowe, is that the Mike Shayne version is closer to the plot of the book. Shayne is a glib, charming – but not stereotypical – Irish flirt who falls for the good-hearted nightclub singer and about-to-be ex-wife of the cad son of the brash dowager that hires Shayne to find the missing rare coin. (In the book, Marlowe clearly states that he “dislikes” the estranged wife.) In “The Brasher Doubloon,” Marlowe falls for the troubled but gentle secretary who has carried the weight of guilt for something she never did all these years. At least Shayne – like Marlowe in the novel – gets her sent back to her folks in some godforsaken western nowhere to recuperate.

Marlowe didn’t fall for anybody in either book. To him, it was just a job although in “The Brasher Doubloon” Marlowe shows more of himself than he does in “Murder, My Sweet” and the film attempts a shot at the atmosphere Chandler thought so important.

What Mike Shayne and Gay Lawrence have in common is luck and the good fortune to be surrounded by dim-witted or at least unimaginative policemen. This is the kind of writing that Chandler found to be dishonest and yet this would be the bread and butter of fiction, movie and TV private eyes for decades.

William Ahearn