Raymond Chandler: God and The Lost Screenplay

Playback Script

During 1948-49 Raymond Chandler completed a Philip Marlowe screenplay titled Playback for Universal Pictures, but for financial and other reasons the movie was never produced. After starting a novelisation in 1953, he put the draft aside until 1957 when at the age of 70 in a final Scotch-fueled effort he completed the novel. It was Chandler’s last completed work of fiction. Chandler suffered from depression in his final years and attempted suicide in 1955. He died in March 1959 from natural causes.

In Playback the book, Chandler makes his only cameo appearance in a Marlowe story, as an old hotel lobby-sitter who gives PI Marlowe some information.  In the persona of  Henry Clarendon IV, who like Chandler in his later years used a walking cane and wore white gloves to hide a skin ailment, he says to Marlowe:

“ …you may not question a man’s religious beliefs however idiotic they may be. Of course I have no right to assume that I shall go to heaven. Sounds rather dull, as a matter of fact. On the other hand how can I imagine a hell in which a baby that died before baptism occupies the same degraded position as a hired killer or a Nazi death-camp commandant or a member of the Politburo? How strange it is that man’s finest aspirations, dirty little animal that he is, his finest actions also, his great and unselfish heroism, his constant daily courage in a harsh world—how strange that these things should be so much finer than his fate on this earth. That has to be somehow made reasonable. Don’t tell me that honor is merely a chemical reaction or that a man who deliberately gives his life for another is merely following a behavior pattern. Is God happy with the poisoned cat dying alone in convulsions behind the billboard? Is God happy that life is cruel and that only the fittest survive? The fittest for what? Oh no, far from it. If God were omnipotent and omniscient in any literal sense, he wouldn’t have bothered to make the universe at all. There is no success where there is no possibility of failure, no art without the resistance of the medium. Is it blasphemy to suggest that God has his bad days when nothing goes right, and that God’s days are very, very long?”


1.    The script for Playback is available here
2.    Gene D. Phillips, Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir (University Press of Kentucky, 2003) pp. 217-221

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