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>
Complex plot, but well written and well scripted with tough dialogue and great characters
Philip Marlowe is a private detective who is hired by General Sternwood to investigate a case of blackmail involving his youngest daughters' gambling debts. The General has lost his right hand man, Shaun Regan, and needs a man able to do the job. Marlowe investigates the blackmailer, Geiger and tails him to a house. When he hears shots he rushes in to find Geiger dead and Carmen strung out of her head. With Geiger dead, Marlowe follows the trail to Joe Brody, who also gets rubbed out, and then to Eddie Mars, who's wife is rumoured to have run off with Regan. As he digs deeper Marlowe finds only corruption and deceit but also starts to fall for the General's eldest daughter, Vivian Rutledge.
Despite the fact that this film is overly complicated at times, it still stands out as a classic bit of noir, even if aspects other than the plot are what really makes it as good as it is. The plot starts simply but quickly becomes a much more complex beast that moves beyond the issue of blackmail and into murder and lies. For many viewers, this will be a challenge - so many characters come and go in a short period that it is hard to keep track of how they all relate to each other, and the fact that we're not always supposed to know the connections just makes it more difficult at times. However, if you manage to make it past the midpoint of the film without having totally lost track of people then it becomes clearer towards the end. It may sound silly, but this time I watched the film with a pen and paper to help me keep track of who's who - it really helped; but it is worth noting that, even with help, bits of the plot will make little sense at times.
The focus of the film is not the plot - the focus of the film I think is the relationship dynamic between Marlowe and Vivian. In this regard the film really works well. The relationship between is tough but trusting no matter what; at times it is a little hard to see the affection between the two being real or realistic but it is the dialogue between the two that makes it work despite this. The writing is fantastic, the scenes between them do fizzle but the dialogue across the whole film is perfect: it is tough, memorable and basically it is the way I'm sure we all wish we could talk at some point in our lives! The material is also quite daring for the period - murder and tough talk was not unusual but the issues of drugs and nymphomania are hardly common subjects for such a mainstream film at the time.
The performances are fantastic and perfectly fit the material. Although this is not my favourite Bogart performance (I love him in Maltese Falcon) he is still brilliant here, he is cool, tough and intelligent - at times his power over women threatens to be unrealistic but his presence makes it work. His character is not as complex as in Maltese Falcon but Bogart does harried and world-weary better than anyone else. Bacall is great even if I don't personally find her that attractive; she has a great chemistry with Bogart and delivers the goods. Vickers is also good but in a less subtle role. The support cast includes tough turns from Cook, Heydt and Ridgely all of whom convince as tough guys but not to the point where they threaten to eclipse the shining star of Bogart.
Overall this is a classic film despite the fact that the plot is too difficult at times and doesn't always hang together. The flaws here are covered by a tough script that delivers the goods in terms of both dialogue and characters. The plot is a complex web but the basic energy and relationship dynamics keep the film moving really well through scenes that continue to show their influence in films today. Not a perfect film but a great bit of noir that is likely to be loved by the vast majority of viewers
just keep that pen and paper to hand though!
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