Summoned by the dying General Sternwood, Philip Marlowe is asked to deal with several problems that are troubling his family. Marlowe finds that each problem centers about the disappearance of Sternwood's favoured employee who has left with a mobster's wife. Each of the problems becomes a cover for something else as Marlowe probes. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Classic private eye tale with Bogart and Bacall in fine form
This classic of American cinema, actually made during the war and released in 1946, got a whole nation of young men affecting Bogey mannerisms, raising their eyebrows or showing their teeth while grimacing, and especially pulling on their earlobes while deep in thought, a smoking cigarette dangling between their lips. It was the genius of Howard Hawks, who directed, to do everything possible to make Humphrey Bogart a matinée idol, including having Lauren Bacall slump down in the car seat so as not to tower over him. With this movie a new kind of cinematic hero was created, the existential PI, a seemingly ordinary looking guy gifted with street smarts and easy courage, admired by men, and adored by women.
Hawks fashioned this, part of the Bogart legend, with a noire script penned by William Faulkner, et al., adapted from Raymond Chandler's first novel, that sparkled with spiffy lines, intriguing characters, danger and a not entirely serious attention to plot detail. Hawks surrounded Bogey with admiring dames, beginning with the sexy Martha Vickers who tries to jump into his lap while he's still standing (as Marlowe tells General Sternwood), and ending with the incomparable Lauren Bacall, looking beguiling, beautiful and mysteriously seductive. In fact, every female in the cast wants to get her hands on Bogey, including a quick and easy Dorothy Malone, bored in her specs while clerking at a book store. Hawks also employed some very fine character actors, most notably Elisa Cook Jr., and Bob Steele, the former as always, the little guy crook, (Harry Jones), and the latter, as often seen in westerns, the mindless heavy with a gun (Canino). Charles Waldron played the world-weary general and Charles D. Brown was the butler.
I was reminded somehow of the old Charlie Chan movies with the dark, mysterious, ornately-decorated interiors heavily carpeted and studded with ethnic statuettes, especially the house on Laverne Terrace that Bogey keeps coming back to, and the glass-paned doors and glass-separated cubicals of his office and others. The atmospheric L.A. created here has been much admired and imitated, cf., Chinatown (1974) and L.A. Confidential (1997), two very superior movies that continued the tradition.
In comparing this to the book, I have to say it's a little on the white-washed side, and not as clearly drawn--'confused' some have said. Of course liberties were taken with Chandler's novel to make it romantic. Chandler's novel emphasizes cynicism, and romance takes a back seat to manliness and loyalty to the client. An especially striking difference is in the character of General Sternwood's younger daughter, Carmen. She is vividly drawn in the book as something of monster, a degenerate sex kitten who would try and do just about anything. She is twice encountered butt naked by Marlowe, once in his bed. Being the sterling guy he is, he turns her away. (Right. I could do that.) Another difference is in all the sleazy details about the low-life underworld of Los Angeles that are omitted or glossed over in the film, including Geiger's homosexuality and his gay house guest, Carol Lundgren. (Of course there was a code in those days.) Bacall's character in the movie is actually a fusion of Vivian and Mona Mars from the book, made nice for movie fans. In the book, Marlowe kisses Vivian, but turns down her invitation for more intimate contact. In the movie, of course, there is no way Bogart is going to say 'no' to Bacall. In the book Marlowe seems to prefer whiskey to women.
Most of the sharp dialogue comes right from Chandler's novel, including Bogart's grinning line, 'Such a lot of guns around town, and so few brains.' Interesting is the little joke on Bogart in the opening scene. In the novel, Chandler's hero is greeted by the purring Carmen with the words, 'Tall, aren't you?' Well, the one thing Bogey ain't is tall, and so in the movie Carmen says, 'You're not very tall, are you?' Bogart comes back with, 'I try to be.' In the novel, Marlowe says, 'I didn't mean to be.'
By the way, the film features Bacall singing a forties tune and looking mighty good doing it.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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