The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler, adapted by Bill Morrison

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BBC 7, 23 August 2008

The actor Ed Bishop (who died in 1995) was one of the least-known actors to play Philip Marlowe. An American expatriate who came to Britain on a Fulbright scholarship and eventually settled there, he played the role in four radio adaptations in the 1970s, all adapted by Bill Morrison and directed by John Tydeman. The Lady in the Lake, first broadcast in 1977, showed the actor at his vocal peak, investing Marlowe with the kind of world-weary cynicism that seemed characteristic of a private dick doomed to spend his life touring the underworld of late 1930s and early 1940s California. We really sympathized with his plight as he tried (and failed) to make sense of a complicated tale of murder, blackmail and double (or even treble) crossing.


The Lady in the Lake is set in the noir world of Bay City, a self-enclosed suburb close to Hollywood, that prides itself on its so-called community values, and resents outsiders like Marlowe lifting the lid on the stew of corruption lurking underneath. He takes no notice of such objections; having been commissioned to do a job, he carries it out to the best of his abilities. However, as Tydeman’s production progressed, we understood that his task was a futile one; however much he upheld the cause of justice, there was always someone around to frustrate him. If nothing else, Tydeman showed that the noir world was an amoral place in which concepts of justice and fair play no longer existed: everyone was out to feather their own nests, even the so-called ‘upright’ police officer Da Gama (Harry Towb). Marlowe’s first person narration resembled a confessional, as the detective tried and failed to make sense of what he was trying to do.


As with many of Chandler’s novels, The Lady in the Lake has an extremely convoluted plot, demanding listeners’ close attention if they try to make sense of it. This revival suggested that this was deliberate, as both Chandler (and his alter ego Marlowe) realize that concepts such as plot resolution, logic and coherence really do not matter in this world. One murder might be solved, but this has absolutely no effect on the corruption in society. The only reason Marlowe keeps going is his romanticism; a na´ve belief that he might make a difference to society. The production ended with him observing optimistically that while “there was a war going on all over the world,” but nonetheless he would try to continue doing the best that he could in his job. Perhaps that what renders him such an endearing personality.