Marlowe (1969)
June 14, 2018 12:06 PM - Subscribe

A young woman from Kansas hires LA private detective Philip Marlowe to find her missing brother.

Variety: Stirling Silliphant’s adaptation of The Little Sister comes out on the confused side, with too much unexplained action. Garner as the private eye is hired by a girl from Kansas to find her missing brother, then finds himself involved in a maze in which he’s as mystified as the spectator.

Time Out: Quite surprising that Chandler's The Little Sister - if memory serves, the only Marlowe novel to deal at all with the Hollywood film colony - had never been filmed before. This snappy and stylish update is certainly watchable, even if it lacks the definitive status of The Big Sleep (first version) and The Long Goodbye. Garner's rumpled charm is engaging enough as he takes on a missing persons case and finds himself sinking into ever more murky waters, while Paul Bogart's solid direction and some fine supporting performances (particularly O'Connor) help to create an atmosphere of almost universal corruptability. Surprisingly, even the inclusion of some fashionable martial arts - courtesy of Bruce Lee - actually works rather well.

Roger Ebert: "Marlowe," the latest movie to be based on a Chandler book, is not very satisfactory. Even though director Paul Bogart shot on location, he has not quite captured the gritty quality of Chandler's LA. And James Garner, the latest Marlowe (after Robert Montgomery, Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart), is a little too inclined to play for light, wry, James Bond-style laughs.

Bogey was the best Marlowe of all, and that was just as well because "The Big Sleep" (1946) needed somebody to distract from the plot. My contention is that the movie version of "The Big Sleep" never does explain what everyone was up to. But we don't notice that because of Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In "Marlowe," however, the loose ends are more distracting.

I'd be willing to bet that's because the film was recklessly edited to make it shorter. Anyone familiar with the plot of Chandler's "The Little Sister" (on which "Marlowe" is based) can spot the holes.

The film opens with Marlowe going to the rooming house in search of the missing brother. But we're not given that all-important opening scene where the little sister visits Marlowe's office, tells him her story, and hires him, so we can't figure out what he's after until it's too late. From interior evidence in the movie, I'd guess the opening sequence was simply dropped.

That's too bad, because detective movies have got to function at the level of plot, somehow, unless they star Bogart and are written by William Faulkner and just brazen their way through. "Marlowe" isn't brazen enough. Somewhere about the time when the Japanese karate expert wrecks his office (in a very funny scene), we realize Marlowe has lost track of the plot, too.

So we watch suspiciously as Marlowe figures out Gayle Hunnicutt's secret identity, and connects the child psychiatrist with the stripper and identifies the syndicate ice-pick specialist. The editing rhythm of the movie has completely broken down. We don't care what happens next because we don't understand what happened before. "Marlowe" becomes enjoyable only on a basic level; it's fun to watch the action sequences. Especially when the karate expert goes over the edge.

posted by MoonOrb (1 comment total)
The classic Philip Marlowe novels are The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake and Farewell, My Lovely, and of the films that were made from these only The Big Sleep became a classic.* I like The Little Sister (OK, I like them all), but it's not very special, and I would say the same about the film. Garner doesn't embarrass himself, but he's playing Rockford, not Marlowe. See it, but don't expect too much.

* The Long Goodbye was also a great film, even better than the book, but I credit that to Altman, not Chandler.
posted by ubiquity at 11:44 AM on June 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

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