Bond and Marlowe: ‘I’ll have what he’s having’

Which well-known fictional character goes into the kitchen and cooks himself Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and toast, all to be washed down with coffee? If you thought James Bond, then you’d be wrong. This is a breakfast consumed by Raymond Chandler’s dogged and wise-cracking private eye, Philip Marlowe. But it could easily have been Bond’s breakfast too, bacon, coffee and scrambled eggs being Bond’s favourite combination. Only the cooking separates the two heroes. Bond doesn’t usually cook for himself, but instead relies on hotel chefs or his housekeeper, May.

Re-reading Chandler’s 1953 novel, The Long Good-bye, I was reminded how large a role food plays in the Philip Marlowe mysteries, almost rivalling the Bond books for food mentions and descriptions.

In the same book, while investigating the murder of a wealthy socialite, the apparent suicide of the only suspect, her husband, and babysitting an alcoholic author, Philip Marlowe consumes more Canadian bacon for breakfast, a chicken salad sandwich lunch, and evening meals of hamburger, mashed potato and onion rings, and prime ribs and, somewhat incongruously, Yorkshire pudding.

It’s clear from interviews with Ian Fleming that James Bond owes his origins in part to the tradition of hardboiled detective fiction, particularly that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Two thirds of The Spy who Loved Me is pure American pulp-fiction (in the best possible way), and generally the action, spare prose, and dry humour (yes, there is some) of the Bond books wouldn’t be out of place in a Chandler novel. To that list we can add food descriptions, which offer another point of similarity.

Being a relatively frequent visitor to the US – though not to California, where Marlowe plies his trade (at least not in books; Bond does travel to California in the 1985 film, A View to a Kill) – Bond would be familiar with Marlowe’s food choices. In Live and Let Die, Bond eats a charcoal-grilled hamburger and has a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee at his New York hotel, and orders a chicken sandwich during his rail journey to Florida. In Miami (Goldfinger), Bond enjoys roast prime ribs of beef. Admittedly, Bond doesn’t eat Yorkshire pudding in the US or elsewhere for that matter, but he does have a passing thought about toad-in-the-hole, which uses the same batter recipe.

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