johnlink ranks MARLOWE (1969)

Snuck in a movie late last night which had been sitting on my DVR for awhile. MARLOWE is a movie about the private detective from the mind of Raymond Chandler, most famously played in film by Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 film THE BIG SLEEP. I’m a sucker for these kind of movies, so I’m always happy to give one a go when the opportunity arises.


I watched MARLOWE (1969) on 7.20.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

MARLOWE, from the outset, tries to position itself as the American James Bond. We start with a variety of shots washed in a single bright color fragmented like a broken camera lens. Someone (Roger Newman) is hiding in the bushes taking pictures of the romantic interaction between a gangster named Steelgrave (H.M. Wynant) and Hollywood starlet Mavis (Gayle Hunnicutt). It is the late 60s take on sexy cinema, with bikini and lots of skin and nothing approaching sensuality.

Soon after these opening credits end we get introduced to Private Detective Philip Marlowe (James Garner) and his most recent client – the incredibly named -Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell). Marlowe, as created by author Raymond Chandler and translated by screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, is a dick with a humor. He takes his job as seriously as he needs to, though never seriously enough to feel like he is in much real danger.

A bunch of other characters are introduced, including Mavis’ best friend Dolores (Rita Moreno), a traditional detective (Carroll O’Connor), and one of Steelgrave’s henchmen: Winslow Wong (Brice Lee). It is these three characters who grand the movie the most, even if they are all peripheral to the central conflict of a disappearing brother and blackmail. Moreno’s Dolores is a sexy stripper who’s routine at the climax of the film must have been a major selling point. But it is her banter with Marlowe which most resembles the original Chandler intent and the classic noir feel. O’ Connor’s detective is mostly by the book, but the actor’s talent elevates this to a more memorable place. Bruce Lee has only a couple of scenes – this is the only film in which he played a villain – but they are both true spectacles. Absurd, sure. But spectacles none the less.


This movie is missing some of that pulpy noir feel though. As seen through the late 60s lens, MARLOWE is awash in color and lacking in mood. Garner is likable enough, and we never believe he is anything other than a really good guy who is just teasing the ladies. There is no sense of dread in him, no tone of darkness. That isn’t bad per se, but it is absolutely a reflection of the free-love era from which this comes. While AUSTIN POWERS spoofed the James Bond films of that time period, that parody looked much more like MARLOWE than it does any of the Connery films.

The first half of MARLOWE is strong. The characters are introduced in a whirl and the hits come fast and furiously. The second half has trouble keeping up this frantic pace, as if the first half tied so many knots that the second half needs to carefully tread lest it all turn into an undecipherable mess. MARLOWE is not a great film, but it is a pretty good one. It is a likable one. And it is a fascinating look at the era from which it was born.



The music in this is something I loathed at first, but then truly grew to appreciate. You talk about a movie which influenced AUSTIN POWERS – the soundtrack to MARLOWE must have been present in the editing room of that film.


FINAL SCORE: 6.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on July 21, 2015.

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