Shell Shocked: Inducing unconsciousness
I guess I’ve been watching too many old films noir. No matter who plays Philip Marlowe, the famous Raymond Chandler fictional detective, the Marlowe character is clunked over the head at least six times in every movie and is rendered unconscious.
As Marlowe sinks into unconsciousness his voice over narration describes the experience.
“It was like floating into a tub of lard. The blackness that came was accompanied by the delicious feeling of a fatty substance licking the roots of my hair.”
Or “the lights went out with a bang. Didn’t these people pay the electric bill?”
Marlowe was invariably hit on the head with the butt of a pistol. He would then slink to the floor and the screen would fade into darkness. And then he was seen “coming to.” He’d either still be surrounded by the villains or the boss saying “Welcome back, Mr. Marlowe. We hope you had a good nap. Now tell us where the jewels are.”
Or he’d wake up in an alley far from where he was head butted. He’d have difficulty getting up, wobbling all the while and holding his head. He would then shake his head to clear the lard and try to figure out who he was and what he was doing there.
I always wondered how the villains were able to kick head without the fear that the recipient wouldn’t die on the spot. Their sole purpose was to disable Marlowe so that he’d be a good soldier when he came to.
Are bad guys trained how to knock someone out without killing them? Are they taught to aim the butt of the gun to the one particular spot on the head that allows the victim to simply see stars and not become one of them? If so, sign me up. There are several people I can think of who would benefit from seeing stars. It might make them more polite and respectful.
I could search the Internet for a course on the correct way to clobber someone without causing long-term health issues. The same can’t be said about professional football though.
I’d like to be a villain just for once and knock people out who disrespect me. I’ll practice the art of a knockout blow by using a feather initially rather than a gun butt.
Why is it that in real life similar head injuries cause a great deal of both short- and long-term damage? Football players get concussions and are put on the disabled list until their conditions clear up completely. Plus they’re more likely than not to have long-term damage.
But when a movie detective like Philip Marlowe gets hit on the head, he’s down for 10 minutes and then recovers completely as though nothing at all had happened. In one Philip Marlowe movie, Dick Powell, who plays him, gets knocked unconscious at least five times during the movie. And each time he sleeps it off, wakes up and rejoins the conversation.
Yes, it’s true; he awakens holding his head and wondering where the hell he is. But 10 minutes later he’s ready to play Double Jeopardy.
Philip Marlowe should protect himself more. He should abide by Raymond Chandler’s advice to those in immediate danger: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
And he should always be wary of the long-legged lovelies who populate Chandler novels and are one of the leading causes of head knocks.
“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”
Philip Marlow is a true American hero. No matter how many times he goes down for the count of 10 he always gets back on his feet to solve crimes and protect the innocent. But given the number of times he’s been knocked out, you might say that he has a swell head.
-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.