Monday, September 9, 2019


My attempts to free up space on my DVR continued over the weekend; this time one of the movies watched was Marlowe.

The movie starts off with a sequence of a man hiding in the bushes taking photographs of a man and a woman together. You get a fleeting glimpse of the photographer, and you might think you've just seen Philip Marlowe. But you'd be wrong. Marlowe is back in Los Angeles and is only going to have anything to do with all this later. Philip Marlowe (James Garner) is Raymond Chandler's private detective who appeared in other movies like The Big Sleep, and back in Los Angeles Marlowe is approached by Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell). She's looking for her brother Orrin, who moved out west from Kansas and hasn't been heard from by his family for quite some time.

Marlowe finds that he was supposed to have been at a hotel, but when he searches through the register and goes to the room Orrin is supposed to be in, only to find another man, Grant Hicks (Jackie Coogan). The manager hadn't been much help, and was trying to call some guy named "Doc". Marlowe pumps Coogan for information and gets none. When he goes to leave the hotel, he finds that the manager has been stabbed to death, with an icepick to the base of the brain! But it turns out that Hicks does have information, calling from a hotel closer to Los Angeles.

That information turns out to be a check receipt to pick up a bunch of photographs after they've been developed. But Marlowe gets attacked by a woman and when he comes to he finds that Hicks has also been killed with an icepick. Fortunately they're able to get the license plate of the woman's car, and Marlowe gets the photographs, which are of TV star Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt) and gangster Sonny Steelgrave (H.M. Wynant). Presumably Orrin is trying to blackmail somebody and that or another somebody is killing either to get the photos or to stop the blackmail some other way.

Also investigating the case are the police, in the form of detective Lt. French (Carroll O'Connor) and his second-in-command, Sgt. Beifus (Kenneth Tobey). Mavis doesn't want Marlowe involved, but the advertiser backing her TV show wants no controversy so gives Marlowe carte blanche to keep going. It all gets complicated, but Marlowe eventually does get the case to unravel.

Marlowe is a reasonably good movie, for two main reasons. One is James Garner, who fits the role well. This was several years before The Rockford Files, but Garner hits the right tone of sarcasm and cynicism for an updated version of the character. The other stars add nice support. I haven't mentioned Rita Moreno as Mavis' friend Dolores, or Bruce Lee in a cameo who gets to do his martial arts before coming to a stupid end.

The other reason to watch Marlowe is for the look at late 60s Los Angeles. Marlowe's office looked darn familiar, which is because it's in the Bradbury Building, a frequent location for shooting. Classic movie fans would probably most recognize it as the building where David Wayne hides in the 1951 version of M. But the seedy hotels of the era are well depicted, as is the set design.

Just don't try to pay too much attention to the mystery plot of Marlowe, which I found wasn't quite satisfactorily wrapped up. It's also too complex for its own good. But the movie as a whole works if you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch.

No comments: