The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler, adapted by Bill Morrison

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BBC Radio 7, 18 October 2008

This production in the BBC Marlowe cycle with Ed Bishop in the lead was perhaps the most melancholy so far, as Marlowe realized just how absurd his existence actually was in 1930s and 40s Southern California, where everyone pretended to be someone else, and true feelings and/or emotions were to be avoided at all costs. As with most of the stories, the plot turned out to be the usual stew of spies, double-crossing rogues and an eponymous heroine (Liza Ross) who pretends to be the victim of a conspiracy but actually instigates it. What makes The Little Sister more interesting is that everyone views themselves as characters in a Hollywood melodrama: the police behave like heavies, the low-life characters spout familiar aggressive clichés, while the women chew gum and try to seduce unsuspecting men. In the world of early 40s California, where the movie studios dominated the skyline, reality and fiction cannot be separated any more.


As with other Marlowe adaptations, John Tydeman’s production suggested that in this type of world, there was no such thing as a solution to a crime. While justice was seen to be done (in the sense that the rogues were caught), the police themselves were so corrupt that no one had any confidence in them anymore. They could be bought, just like anyone else, for $1000. Perhaps the most stable character in the entire adaptation was Dolores (Toby Robins), the little sister’s older sibling, a co-called rising starlet in movies who realized that there was no distinction between the screen and real life. Everyone had to pretend to be someone else in order to survive. In the end we felt quite sorry for Marlowe as he reflected in an aside to the listeners that he was nothing more than a cheapie – a cheap-jack private dick with a misplaced sense of morality, searching for something important in his life, but never able to find it.