The guy who invented the "Film Noir" detective Raymond Chandler is famous for being problably the only detective writer who actually knew ?

something about guns. His main character, Philip Marlow, carries a Colt 1991A1 in .38 Super.  What is the point of a .38 Super?  Why would you carry a heavy 39 ounce pistol that shoots a bullet slightly faster than a 9mm?  Why not a .45 that knocks someone on their butt?  


 Now watch: A bunch of people who never took physics, foreign language, the calculus, or chemistry in high school and who didn't go to a Tier One Univeristy like I did (UCLA) will now think that they are THE SMART ONE here and say " Well, that was just fiction." Yes, but keep in mind Raymond Chandler was about 40 IQ points above you, Bub. 

Update 2:

And please don't bring up Mickey Spillane. He was a Jehovah's Witness who couldn't even own a gun. 

Update 3:

Armored vechicles?  I had no idea.  You learn something new every day. I looked it up. You were right.  In fact, Air Marshall Dowding (of Battle of Britain fame) testified before Parliament as to why he was wasting money (this was before the war) on bullet proof glass for the RAF. His answer was "If gangsters in the United States can have armoured glass for their Cadillacs and Packards, I see no reason why my pilots should not."  You were right.  I was surprised. 

Update 4:

I didn't think of that. The general public would think a .38 SUPER was something really special.  I guess if you are a sharecropper on a farm in Arkansas and reading a book from the public library, and the last gun your family could afford was a shotgun 20 years ago, a ".38 Super," DOES sound pretty exotic and cool.

Update 5:

Dirty Harry had a SPECIAL gun.  Marlow had a SPECIAL gun. I get it. Character development. 

3 Answers

  • C T M
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Chandler lived through the Great Depression, the era of gangsters and the rise of the 38 Super. He was in his 40's when he began writing the Marlow novels in 1932. At the time, the 38 Super still had a reputation as a very powerful weapon capable of defeating the armored automobiles the gangsters drove. Some have even concluded that was the very reason for the development of the cartridge to begin with, to defeat criminals armored automobiles. 

    Anyhow, after doing the character development of Marlow for several years, the 38 Super just "became" his gun. Even though the 357 Magnum came out 2 years later in 1934 his character retained the 38 Super. Probably for the sake of continuity and the overall mystique appeal of Marlow. 

    Chandler was a struggling writer with bouts of depression and alcoholism, which most likely led to his vagabond lifestyle, often living in his car while travelling. Often making due with what he had. This most likely transferred to his detective who also made do with what he had. 

    Also, since Chandler was supposedly a gun guy, he also knew the 1911 in 38 Super held a total of 10 rounds if you topped off, and the revolvers in 357 held 6. Perhaps for the sake of capacity alone he gave Marlow a 38 Super instead of another gun.

  • BBean
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Simple answer is Philip Marlow is a "super" character so super characters carry super guns and drive super cars. .38 Super is higher pressure than the old black powder era .38 plus another superlative adjective of that time era... "automatic". When writing fiction novels vivid descriptive adjectives enhance the drama. So old time action novels had their 15 minutes of fame but are relatively zero thrillers compared to what the readers demand today. Back before TV only radios and novels were used to tease the mind`s eye. Some still consider the mental images more frightening than what TV can produce.

    Example: Orson Welles` "War of the Worlds" 1938 Halloween radio broadcast caused panic that is unparalleled (although in the midst of  tempests) by anything today. 

  • 1 month ago

    To answer, you might have to go deeper than just the character.  As an example, the writer of a book might have many more details in notes that the reader never actually gets to see. So ignoring who the writer is and who the character might be, look at the occupation. A detective.

    For me personally, I would probably rather have a .45. But these days most police don't have a .45 and even the military moved to 9mm. Ballistics and personal preferences aside, both the .45 and the 9mm are more or less effective for the purpose. The problem with them is they almost scream normal.

    Now, why would you want a big heavy steel frame? Because it is more pleasant and easier to shoot. I would honestly rather shoot a .44 magnum than some plastic frame pieces of junk. Yes they are light, but I'm still thinking that .44 magnum is more pleasant to shoot. The other problem is accuracy. It isn't that the gun itself isn't accurate, it is the light weight that makes it harder to hold steady. You may think I'm a bit biased against light frame guns and you are right.

    You might notice I haven't been real concerned about the 38 super. It is character development. The 38 super is a little more powerful. That steel frame is a heavy choice but still one that many make with a regular 1911. It gives the main character a somewhat unusual weapon choice. If you asked, how many would know what the original 38 super is? It makes the character a little more interesting because it is maybe an odd but still reasonable choice. Keep in mind that some police are carrying .40 cal side arms which is a similar direction like the 38 super. Just a bit more power without the worry of going through walls to many times.

    Rather than some of the characters you already mentioned, what about .44 magnum Dirty Harry? At the time of the movie I think it was still the most powerful. Part of the character development sort of explained that he needed a hand cannon. They more or less made good use of the fact it was very powerful. Would Dirty Harry be the same character with a 38 special? That is kind of a let down because at one time that was a standard issue for police. So maybe Scruffy Harry might not be as interesting of a character because he has a normal gun or maybe you would end up with Columbo.

    Don't give all the credit to the writer for maybe knowing what the gun is. It is all about the story. How many cop shows have there been where you never really find out what gun they had? Books would be a little more common because you don't get video. The writer has to paint a picture with words. So a writer has to describe things to create an image. Worst of all I think I turned into one of my English teachers. The quiz is tomorrow.

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