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In the middle of the night, private eye Philip Marlowe drives his friend Terry Lennox to the Mexican border. When Marlowe returns home police are waiting for him and learns that Terry's wife Sylvia has been killed. He's arrested as an accessory but released after a few days and is told the case is closed since Terry Lennox has seemingly committed suicide in Mexico. Marlowe is visited by mobster Marty Augustine who wants to know what happened to the $350,000 Lennox was supposed to deliver for him. Meanwhile, Marlowe is hired by Eileen Wade to find her husband Roger who has a habit of disappearing when he wants to dry out but she can't find him in any any of his usual haunts. He finds him at Dr. Veringer's clinic and brings him. It soon becomes obvious to Marlowe that Terry's death, the Wades and Augustine are all somehow interconnected. Figuring out just what those connections are however will be anything but easy. Written by
Marlowe's initial line following Dr. Verringer's demand of $4400 from Roger Wade (in the hospital) appears to be dubbed. Marlowe lights a cigarette and does not move his mouth as the line is heard. See more »
Roger Wade aka Billy Joe Smith:
[on Dr. Verringer to party guests as Verrigner stands before him]
You know, this son of a bitch - let me tell you one thing about this bastard. He is the epitome of what's wrong - with this world - he really is actually, 'cause he pretends to cure people. Can you cure people?
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Not one for those looking for a gripping detective story, but still interesting
Phillip Marlowe is out getting food for his cat at 3am when friend Terry Lennox pops over and asks for a lift to Mexico. Marlowe obliges but returns to his home to find the police waiting for him with stories of Terry murdering his wife and Marlowe being an accessory. Three days later he is released from a holding cell whereupon he learns the news of his friend's suicide and all charges are dropped. Determined to get to the bottom of this open and shut case, Marlowe finds himself involved in the stormy marriage of Roger and Eileen Wade and the criminal activities of Marty Augustine.
Hailed as a classic, this film is actually a bit of hard work crossed with cool style in a plot that gets somewhere but seems to take a long time and a million back roads to get there. It won't be to everyone's tastes as a result because, even though I quite liked it, I must confess that the narrative is hard to follow and hard to particularly care much about. The wit of it is watching Marlowe updated a device that will annoy as many as it pleases. In Gould's laidback and shabby detective we have the opposite of the tough and snappy detectives of the genre, but it sits well within the modern setting of the modern generation (as was) with its hedonism and fads. This is interesting but not the same as a good detective story, which sadly this isn't. If you're not won over by the overall approach then it is unlikely that you will find a lot more to fill the time.
Altman's direction is focused on the style and, although he is fairly respectful to the material in regards what happens, he doesn't go out of his way to make it engaging. Gould fits the role well and enjoys his character. I would have liked more of the complexity underneath to come through to contrast with this surface. He is the film but he is well supported by a hammy show from Sterling and solid turns from Rydell, Pallandt, Gibson and Bouton.
Overall then a difficult film to really like. It has enough of its own style to be interesting but not enough of a hook in the narrative to please a mass audience. Altman's hands are all over the film and I understand why some viewers don't like it for that reason. Not one for those looking for a gripping detective story, but still interesting.
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