Lessons in Manliness From Hardboiled Detective Philip Marlowe

Dashiell Hammett’s hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe is a tough-talking, rule-breaking protagonist who uses his street smarts to navigate through the dreary world of crime. His brand of masculinity doesn’t have time for niceties and he has no patience for weakness. He takes risks with little regard for consequences or remorse, though it helps that he can back up these grandiose claims with an intellectually superior mind capable of coming up with fantastic solutions on short notice. To read more about how this type of masculine persona works in other books (or movies), see below:

Philip Marlowe is a hardboiled detective who worked at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an ex-cop, private investigator and writer. His most famous novel is “The Big Sleep.”

A vintage man wearing suite and pointing with finger.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Will Whitson. 

“In a society when honesty is out of vogue, [he was] as honest as you can expect a guy to be.” —From “The Big Sleep”

You can conjure up the image of the hardboiled gumshoe even if you’ve never read one of Raymond Chandler’s novels about quintessential noir private detective Philip Marlowe (or seen him immortalized in film by Humphrey Bogart). Chandler wasn’t the first to produce the famous pulp detective fiction of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but he did establish the ideal of the tough private investigator — a guy as fast with a smart one-liner or a metaphor as he was with a pistol.

While several hardboiled mystery authors of the day concentrated on straight-forward tales that could be read in a single sitting, Chandler created Philip Marlowe to be something else. Marlowe demonstrated a form of manliness and current day chivalry via his inner monologues and interactions with his clients on the case that was already out of style at the time. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at Marlowe and see how his attitude to the difficult aspects of life may relate to you and me, even if we’re not out following down clues (and the dangerous dames that come with them).

Maintain Your N.U.T.s

“Down these cruel streets, a guy who isn’t himself nasty, who isn’t tarnished, who isn’t terrified, must travel.” He is everything; he is the hero.” —Murder Is a Simple Art

Do you own any N.U.Ts? Those unchangeable, non-negotiable parameters that govern your life and decisions? When confronted with temptation or cutting shortcuts, our N.U.Ts serve as a reminder of where we stand and what we stand for, much like a moral code. In a world of half-measures and shifting ideals, they keep us steadfast. 

While Marlowe never explicitly stated his N.U.T.s during one of his cases, he did have a set of rigid standards that he followed. Marlowe was an officer and an investigator for the Los Angeles District Attorney before becoming a private detective. He resigned from his position as a public servant after realizing that the office was not benefiting the public at all. While not all of the officers and lawyers he dealt with were corrupt, Marlowe bemoaned that they never seemed to get anything done, or that they would settle with completing a case in part rather than going the additional mile to find further evidence and solve it completely. When he couldn’t contribute in an organization that was created to benefit the public, he said his goodbyes and went out on his own.

How many times have you given up your ideals for the sake of a fast buck at work? Have you ever seen your employer, colleagues, or friends cut shortcuts or make choices that you knew were against their beliefs for the sake of business, preserving face, or even simply convenience?


Every day, our N.U.T.s are tested, and we may either let it go and continue down the slippery slope of moral compromise, or we can stand up and say something is wrong. Sure, it won’t make you the most popular person in the break room (even Marlowe took a few shots for standing up for what he believed in), but the alternative will steadily erode who you are.

Which one do you prefer?

Don’t get caught up in the glitz and glam and neglect the work at hand.

“And then there’s the stunning showpiece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers, marry a couple of millionaires for a million each, and end up with a pale rose villa in Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.” — The Long Farewell

In the heart of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Philip Marlowe resided in Los Angeles. It was a period when movie stars lived in opulent houses and drove flashy vehicles, and the whole city was enthralled by Tinseltown’s glitz. (Today, not much has changed.) Marlowe, on the other hand, didn’t appear to notice. He was well aware that he lived among Hollywood’s A-listers, but he never let it get in the way of his job. The case was everything to Marlowe, and even the richest and most beautiful members of Hollywood’s high society were regular people like him.

We no longer need to go to Hollywood to be immersed in the beautiful lifestyle. All we have to do is fiddle with our phones whenever we’re bored or want to avoid doing anything essential. Sure, you may gaze at the duck confit your buddy is photographing rather than eating, or at the exotic settings and attractive women that macho person is surrounded by, but where does it lead you? Three minutes have passed, and I have nothing to show for it.

While a trip to Hollywood or checking out what your adventurous pals are up to on Instagram isn’t all bad, it keeps us from completing actual, important work. If you switch off the app and keep working hard, you could one day find that people are looking at your social media postings.

Complete your homework

“I headed down to the Hollywood Public Library and conducted some cursory study in a dusty book called Famous First Editions.” I needed my lunch after half an hour of that.” —From “The Big Sleep”

Philip Marlowe wasn’t afraid to be rough when he needed to, and in a fight, he could beat up on any punk or criminal on the street. Marlowe, on the other hand, recognized that sometimes relying on his wits rather than his strength was the best way to gain the information he needed. The remark above comes from a scenario in which Marlowe suspected a rare book store of being a cover for something nefarious. Rather of barging in and demanding answers, he does research and inquires about first editions that he is aware do not exist. The clerk is completely unaware of the situation, and the astute investigator obtains all of the information he needs without disclosing his identity.


Marlowe also kept his intellect fresh by playing chess on a regular basis. He’d relax and mull through difficulties while playing this masculine game of strategy and skill. Philip Marlowe, like Sherlock Holmes with his violin, spent his free time doing something useful rather than squandering it.

There are many great individuals and leaders who have exemplified the benefits of lifelong learning and extending one’s intellect. You never know when your autodidactic schooling expertise may come in handy down the line.

Make the most of what you’ve got.

“I needed a drink, a lot of life insurance, a vacation, and a place to live in the country.” I just had a coat, a hat, and a rifle with me. I slipped them on and exited the room.” —Goodbye, My Lovely

We often “if” ourselves out of getting a work done or even beginning an essential activity in the first place, similar to “shoulding” all over ourselves. “If only I had two more hours to spare, I could get a workout in,” you know. “If I had more money, I could invest more time in side hustles instead of having to work this horrible job,” or “If I had more money, I could spend more time investing in side hustles instead of having to work this dreadful job.” We are always looking for the magical “if” that will prevent us from pursuing anything essential. Marlowe didn’t have the luxury of being able to “if” on his own.

In most of the cases he took on, someone was in danger, and he had to move quickly to ensure that the proper people were protected and that the wrongdoers received what they deserved. If Marlowe were to pause and say, “If I had backup, I could brace this person,” or “If I were stronger, I’d stop that guy from harassing women,” his tales would be worthless.

Instead of pondering what he didn’t have, Marlowe focused on what he did have right in front of him. The element of surprise was sometimes all he had on the evil guy. He didn’t even have that at times. Marlowe, on the other hand, was able to roll with the punches in every circumstance and maneuver his way out of even the most difficult of situations.

Of course, his ability to plan and improvise was aided by his chess experience and lifetime study.

Of course, his ability to plan and improvise was aided by his chess experience and lifetime study.

Will Whitson is a news producer and a regular reader of AoM. He lives outside of Washington, D.C., with his wife and kid.



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