Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Philip Marlowe at the Movies

Marlowe Goes to the Movies

J. Kingston Pierce
Thursday 26 March 2009

In commemoration of this being the 50th anniversary of the death of oil company exec-turned-crime novelist Raymond Chandler, I’ve put together a collection of trailers from the various 20th-century film adaptations of his private eye Philip Marlowe novels.

After some experience penning screenplays for Hollywood, Chandler came to despise the movie-making business; yet producers were willing to pay big bucks for Chandler’s stories, and he was no less willing to take their checks and cash them. Under those terms, most of the seven Marlowe books were brought to the silver screen, several of them more than once, though the results weren’t always sympathetic to their source material.

It seems impossible to find online videos from every one of those adaptations, but there are certainly enough to make clear that Hollywood loves Chandler--even if he didn’t always love it back.

Let’s begin with the opening from 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, which starred Dick Powell as Marlowe in the first big-screen version of Chandler’s 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely, to feature Marlowe as the detective. (There was an earlier adaptation of the book, 1942’s The Falcon Takes Over, but it substituted George Sanders’ “gentleman sleuth,” Gay Lawrence, in the lead role.)

Two years later, director Howard Hawks turned the first Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep (1939), into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as the iconic P.I. and Bogey’s new (fourth) wife, the almost-quarter-century-younger Lauren Bacall, playing the fetching femme fatale. Here’s the trailer:

And here is the opening sequence from Hawks’ The Big Sleep:

In 1947, actor-director Robert Montgomery stepped into Marlowe’s scuffed shoes in a cinematic version of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake (1943). This production is undoubtedly most memorable for the fact that it was shot strictly from the detective’s viewpoint--the audience saw things as if through Marlowe’s eyes. “A milestone in movie-making,” proclaimed the studio.
A different Montgomery--George Montgomery--assumed the role of Chandler’s knight errant in The Brasher Doubloon (1947), which was loosely based on the author’s 1942 novel, The High Window:

James Garner has always been one of my favorite movie Marlowes. He played the part in 1969’s simply titled Marlowe, which set the stage for his later starring role as a not altogether different gumshoe, Jim Rockford, in the popular TV series The Rockford Files. To quote Wikipedia: “Many of the wisecracking Marlowe lines written by [Stirling] Silliphant for this movie (quite a few of which were lifted directly from Chandler’s novel) could just as easily have come from the mouth of Garner’s television private eye Rockford, although Garner played Marlowe as a substantially more serious character.”

Go ahead and take a look at the Marlowe film trailer:

And here’s an edited sequence from that same picture. Note the accompanying song, which makes clear that Marlowe was based on Chandler’s 1949 novel, The Little Sister:

The most often criticized adaptation of Chandler’s work has to be director Robert Altman’s 1973 silver-screen version of The Long Goodbye (1953). Marlowe fans usually grouse about it because they don’t think that star Elliott Gould was a good choice to play the Los Angeles investigator, and because Altman changed the story’s ending. Personally, I prefer the way that Gould’s Goodbye concludes, but then I’m not averse to stirring up a bit of trouble now and then. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a small part in this film as a muscle-bound thug. Watch the trailer:

Robert Mitchum, who had played tough guys for so many years in Hollywood, was cast as Marlowe in the 1975 picture Farewell, My Lovely. It was based (like Murder, My Sweet) on Chandler’s 1940 novel, and was even set in the colorfully corrupt L.A. of that time period. Many critics applauded director Dick Richards’ casting of Mitchum as Marlowe, even though he was a couple of decades older than the character in the book. 

The then 60-year-old Mitchum returned to play Marlowe in Michael Winner’s 1978 adaptation of The Big Sleep. Only this time, the story wasn’t a period piece and it wasn’t even set in the City of Angels; for no obvious reason, the action was transferred to modern-day London. While Winner’s film could be a bit more explicit about pornography and homosexuality than the earlier, Bogart-Bacall version, the movie was weakened by its shift of setting and the fact that the scandal from which Marlowe was protecting his client would have seemed so much more devastating during World War II than it could have during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Unfortunately, I don’t find a trailer for this second Big Sleep anywhere on the Web, but here’s a clip.

It’s interesting that, of the seven original Philip Marlowe novels, only Playback (1958)--a book that was Raymond Chandler’s reworking of a rejected screenplay he’d penned during his Hollywood-writing period--never made it to movie theatres.


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