|Index||5 reviews in total|
The late Raymond Chandler's unfinished manuscript POODLE SPRINGS,
masterfully completed as a novel by SPENCER creator Robert B. Parker, has
been given a first-class screen treatment by Director Bob Rafelson,
Screenwriter Tom Stoppard and Production Designer Mark Friedberg. Every
familiar signature trait of the Chandler-Marlowe Los Angeles is
recreated and served up with nearly reverential devotion. James Caan is a
letter-perfect Marlowe. The part fits him like his gray fedora, no small
feat considering he follows in the shoes of such legends as Humphrey
and Robert Mitchum. From matchbooks to automobiles to motels the period
atmosphere is extraordinary. When a character drinks a Tab cola, the
is a 1963 Tab bottle. When Marlowe pays a call on the rich and powerful,
decor is '63 chic. There is no mistaking it.
Phillip Marlowe is the paradigm 1940s private investigator, but setting this story in 1963, four years after Chandler's death in 1959, is not only correct, it is part of the material's distinguished treatment. Had Chandler lived a few more years, this might well be the Marlowe he wrote for us. Parker, Rafelson and Stoppard have honored the Chandler-Marlowe heritage as the golden fleece of the American film noir and hard-boiled genres. Which, of course, it is.
One question: Why did I just happen to catch this on cable TV a year after it was released? I'd never heard anything about it. Such excellent work deserves publicity. Lots of it.
The screen play Stoppard wrote from the credited Chandler/Parker novel is not bad, if far fetched, but not as good as the source. As a tough guy P.I. flic, this borders on fantasy, what with the additions and changes Stoppard made. Why the name changes, by the way? Linda Potter becomes Laura Parker, and Angel's character is reversed. Palm Springs, aka Poodle Springs winds up on the Nevada border. About the only thing not changed is the killer, and you'll have to see the film to find that out. Well, Caan makes a good Marlowe, looking satisfactorily battle worn, and the rest of the cast won't disappoint you. Direction is fair, but the editing is as lousy as usual for these days. Overall, this is an enjoyable private eye tale, if you can forget the novel, but that hare-brained conspiracy to move...; but hey, I'm about to give away too much!
"Poodle Springs" is quite an enjoyable cinematic rendering of an older
Philip Marlowe (James Caan). He's set up and thus becomes tangled in a
typically complex Chandleresque case. This could possibly doom his
quick Mexican marriage to a real dish, Dina Meyer, who also has dough,
her father (Joe Don baker) being a big land baron in more ways than
one. She wants her husband to cool the detective work and settle down
in Poodle Springs to a life of comfort and ease. He has other ideas.
It's sort of Chinatown-lite on a TV-movie scale. Caan is a convincing actor with more than his share of electricity, as in "Rollerball", "The Thief", "The Killer Elite" and "Hide in Plain Sight". In this later effort, he's not going to give up his ethics for anything. Determined he is to get to the bottom of things no matter what. Caan plays Marlowe as the script necessitates, a staunch and smart man, who knows who he is and knows his limitations. He won't be pushed around. He's unimpressed by the rich and famous. It's a straight-ahead performance, showing an old hand at the work, somewhat tired and cynical, having been around the track more than a few times. This is not as easy to carry off as Caan makes it seem.
This is the kind of story where some of the mystery is resolved well before the end, but that leaves further mysteries to be revealed. I like that. There's one sequence that involves an addict-hooker played by Nia Peeples. She's terrific. She's so realistic that only afterward did I remember she's an actress. David Keith does a turn and carries it off well. Dina Meyer can act, but I think her diction could be better. I don't think the sound track can be blamed in this case for mumbled words.
There's a fair amount of atmosphere, mainly through cars and clothes. They really didn't lay the locations on heavy. They didn't lay on Chandler's lines and phrases either. No laconic narration in this one. It's a straight-ahead kind of complex story. Not really a heavy neo-noir feeling either, even though there's plenty of hanky-panky going on. It's more that there are physical threats or the feeling that danger keeps lurking everywhere that pepper the story. That makes for a pretty good amount of engagement and tension. We know that Marlowe can handle himself, but the story is quite good in giving us some fresh ways he does that.
As the story matures, there are echoes of the Sternwood's family issues and of Chinatown. The familiarity doesn't spoil the fun. We can listen to more than one chorus of the blues or of Raymond Chandler, even in this distant and attenuated form in which someone else finished Chandler's uncompleted story (from 1959) and movie makers in a different era of the late 90s decided to place the story in 1963. The early frames show us an early date in November 1963. The final frames show November 22, 1963. There is an allusion to that deadly day linking to this fictional story.
He is a good actor though and definitely tries. Marlowe fans such as myself have to remember that Chandler never finished this novel because of failing health and Robert Parker, of SPENSER fame, tries to. Sadly he doesn't have Chandler's descriptive ability nor does he really grasp the character. Tom Stoppard, a very good playwright, should stick to that medium. Worth collecting for the history of Chandler/Marlowe.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm surprised that Tom Stoppard actually took a writer credit on this one; it's not something I'd want on my CV if I had a CV as distinguished as Stoppard's. The fact is, though, that Stoppard distinguished himself as a playwright with an intellectual bent verging on the arcane not a practitioner of hard-boiled detective stories. On the other hand Howard Hawks signed William Faulkner to co-write the screenplay of The Big Sleep so maybe the producers see it as something of a tradition. Whatever, this movie fails to work really well on any level. Chandler died with the novel half-finished; Robert B. Parker, a fine writer in a similar field to Chandler, was tapped to finish it and the result was Chandler-lite, just about the best we could have hoped for. For reasons best known to themselves the producers retain little but the title seeing fit to change the character's names for no apparent reason. James Caan is a competent actor but he doesn't really convince as private heat. If you really feel you should see everything that Chandler wrote about Marlowe give it a whirl, but don't say I didn't warn you.
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