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Relying on his wits, instinct, gun and whiskey private detective Philip Marlowe solves many of Los Angeles' worst crime cases during the 1930s. His style is sarcastic, his methods are unorthodox, his charm is adored by the ladies, his meddling is hated by the local cops, his wallet is often times empty and his skull is hardened by the many unexpected blows received in the dark. Despite his low social status, his constant drinking and the lowly company he keeps Philip Marlowe has very high moral standards and a very developed sense of justice. Often times he lends a helping hand to those in need who are at the bottom of society and also to tear-eyed attractive ladies in distress who can gift him a kiss and a drink. The crime mystery series are adapted from Raymond Chandler's short stories. Written by
I've meant to post a review of this ground-breaking series for some time. The untimely passing of Powers Boothe this week has goaded me into action...
To sum up: this series is not just the best adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, it's the *only* adaptation that really manages to to remain true to the letter and the spirit of the books. Amazing, but true.
Humphrey Bogart was charming as Marlowe, of course... but his Big Sleep (especially the best-known edit) is 99% Howard Hawks, and should have a 'may contain traces of Chandler' warning on the label. What's more, Bogey couldn't have been much less like the character described by Chandler. In fact, Chandler's own ideal Marlowe is said to have been Cary Grant, which gives you some idea of just how far off-track Bogart, the geriatric Mitchum, and others have been. (Let us not even speak of Dick Powell.) Robert Montgomery could have been good, but he loused it up with that stupid first-person camera business, which has never worked and never will. Astoundingly, the best Marlowe prior to Boothe was Elliott Gould, in Altman's modernized, revisionist yet nonetheless evocative Long Goodbye. (EDIT: forgot to mention James Garner, who was very good, though a bit more Rockford than Marlowe.)
But Powers Boothe was an even more appropriate choice. He had just the right age, just the right gravitas - the world-weary toughness of a Bogart or Mitchum, but also the class, the energy and the good looks described by Chandler. He also had the advantage of being less familiar. When you looked at Boothe you didn't see a movie star - you saw Marlowe, a hard-working gumshoe, and nobody else.
The Boothe series also marked a rare attempt to include the *most* significant character from Chandler's stories: the city of Los Angeles. (The best previous attempt was, again, Altman's Long Goodbye.) Hawks' Big Sleep is set-bound, and could be taking place in New York as easily as LA. Mitchum's Marlowe was set in England - a travesty! The Powers Boothe series at least attempted to capture some of the gaudy, steamy, crazy city that Chandler created in his writing. Ironically, the series was not filmed in Hollywooed, but in Toronto, which gives you some idea of what can be done with a bit of creative camera work and a few judiciously-chosen locations.
Another very cool thing about this series is that instead of adapting The Big Sleep - YET AGAIN - it adapts some of Chandler's excellent short stories. We get that flavorful dialog, those evocative descriptions, and the dark noir-ish plots - all of them fresh and barely familiar to even the most devoted Marlowe fans.
Obviously, it's hard to beat Bogey and Hawks for sheer entertainment value. Or Altman for quirky, innovative filmmaking. But when it comes to all-out fidelity to the cherished Chandler stories, Bowers Boothe in Philip Marlowe Private Eye has no rival.
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