Wednesday, January 11, 2012

MARLOWE (1969)

Recently I finally quit putting off the event and watched the 1969 Raymond Chandler adaptation MARLOWE staring James Garner. I have always read that it is a bit of a disappointment and that sadly turned out to be true. Its a shame really since the source novel 'The Little Sister' is very interesting and rarely tackled by Hollywood. And to add salt to the wound Garner is physically just right to play the role of hard bitten private investigator Philip Marlowe. So, what went wrong? Good question.

The problem isn't really the script. From my memory of the book the film follows the twisted tale pretty faithfully even including the nastier and trickier parts in which one character briefly attempts to take credit for a murder. The tale unravels at a good pace and the characters are given just enough time onscreen to register well. Its not the actors because, along with the very reliable Garner, the cast list reads like a dream for a modern noir/mystery with Carol O'Connor and Kenneth Tobey as cops, Gail Hunnicut as a femme fatal, Rita Moreno as a world weary dancer and William Daniels as a reluctant Marlowe client. No, if I was to point to one overall problem its with the direction. It is consistently flat and uninvolving leading me to think that the approach was to remain at a distance as things played themselves out. This detached feel might also have been related to the director being unfamiliar with the very widescreen aspect ratio used as it seems often that he is avoiding close ups that would have served several scenes better than the long shots used. This is a flaw I see with a number of widescreen movies from the 1950s and 60s so when I notice that Paul Bogart's credits are mostly for directing television I suspect a fear of the wider image playing hell with the film.

One other problem is the inclusion of Bruce Lee in a small role as an enforcer for a big time gangster. He is in two scenes and while the first is fun just because its amusing to see Lee destroy Marlowe's office the second encounter on a restaurant rooftop is the film's low point. Its a stupid scene that should have never have even been filmed as it exists in the movie. This sequence was the moment I realized the film probably wasn't ever really going to kick into gear and work for me.

This really is a shame because on paper this should have been a really good movie. Something just got lost in the process as it often can in the world of filmmaking.

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