Sunday 6 May 2007

Marlowe (1969) Paul Bogart

Philip Marlowe is one of the most iconic of all screen detectives but this was a strange way to reincarnate him after many years away. He's not played by Humphrey Bogart this time, so the only Bogart involved is director Paul. It's actually James Garner, of all people, who is an intriguing choice because he's at once a believable detective and yet completely unlike Bogart, even when speaking lines that I hear with Bogie's voice. He's also inhabiting a very sixties world, starting off in a hotel full of hippies and peace symbols, which doesn't seem particularly noir, and how could Philip Marlowe ever not be noir?

He's trying to find Orrin Quest, at the behest of his tearful little sister, Orfamay, and indeed that's the title of the source novel by Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister. The plot got changed more than a little though, from the film world to the television world as presumably badmouthing your own industry was a step too far. Someone else is looking for Orrin as well, as just talking to Marlowe seems to be a death sentence for some people. There are leads, of course, and Marlowe runs them down with all the style and dedication you'd expect. He just gets to do it in three way split screen style, hardly anything Bogie ever got up to.

Bogie also never faced Bruce Lee, which Garner has to do here. Fortunately for him, he gets beaten up by other people and Bruce Lee's character, Winslow Wong, only beats up his office. When Winslow comes back to redress his error Marlowe calls him gay and causes his death by misadventure. They didn't know it at the time but that really doesn't help us buy into the story. James Garner vs Bruce Lee. Let me think about this a moment. Nah, that's not a very believable outcome.

There are other actors here who get more screen time than the immortal Bruce and who help to bring a little realism back to the situation. The strange thing is that even though the film doesn't have anything good to say about television, Bruce is about the only one who managed to outgrow his own TV work on The Green Hornet to even greater success in the world of film. James Garner is still best known for The Rockford Files or Maverick, depending on how old you are. Many know William Daniels from St Elsewhere or Boy Meets World but I know him best as the voice of KITT in Knight Rider, outacting David Hasselhoff even though he never appeared on screen. The police lieutenant is Carroll O'Connor who even I know as Archie Bunker even though I didn't watch All in the Family, I watched the original Till Death Us Do Part and the sequel In Sickness and in Health. There's even Jackie Coogan, who everyone remembers most as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family even if they've seen his outstanding performance opposite Chaplin in The Kid.

The leading lady is nominally Gayle Hunnicutt but it's really Rita Moreno. I don't know either at all but Moreno did 780 episodes of The Electric Company, with such luminaries as Morgan Freeman and Mel Brooks, so my wife knows her well. She's really the main reason to watch this, though Garner isn't bad. He just has too big a pair of boots to fill. O'Connor is excellent but underused. Bruce Lee's role is entirely one of interest to fans.

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