Grizzled American private detective in England investigates a complicated case of blackmail turned murder involving a rich but honest elderly general, his two loose socialite daughters, a pornographer and a gangster.
Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is asked by the elderly General Sternwood (James Stewart) to investigate an attempt at blackmail on one of his daughters. He soon finds that the attempt is half-hearted at best, and seems to be more connected with the disappearance of the other daughter's husband, Rusty Regan (David Savile). Rusty's wife seems unconcerned with his disappearance, further complicating the mystery. Only General Sternwood seems concerned as mobsters and hired killers continue to appear in the path of the investigation.Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
When Marlowe takes the gun from Camilla after she unloads it on him with multiple blank rounds, he grabs the barrel with his bare hands. That should have proved to be very painful as the barrel would be extremely hot. See more »
[of Mrs. Regan]
She'd make a jazzy weekend, but she'd be a bit wearing for a steady diet.
See more »
Raymond Chandler's plots can drive you crazy. The most admirable thing about Chandler's stories is his language ("hard boiled") and the way he uses it to evoke a Los Angeles of the 30s and 40s that is so infected with corruption that, like a ripe pustule, we expect it to pop momentarily.
And that's what makes it so difficult to transfer his works to the screen. You almost have to have a voice-over from Philip Marlowe otherwise you not only get lost in the various plot twists but you miss the adamantly low-brow tropes -- "her hair was the color of gold in old paintings," or, "she threw me a glance I could feel in my hip pocket." "Chinatown," set in 1937 LA, was released to great critical and public acclaim in 1974. The very next year, Robert Mitchum tackled Philip Marlowe in "Farewell, My Lovely" and he was great, and so was the production, even if it was not the masterpiece that "Chinatown" was. Nobody will ever make a masterpiece out of a Chandler story because, after all, a masterpiece usually starts out with a coherent plot.
So the trick is to capture on screen what Chandler's prose evokes on the written page. Style is everything. "Farewell My Lovely" had it. "The Big Sleep," alas, doesn't. The director hasn't really done much to help things. In the 1946 version of "The Big Sleep," Howard Hawks at least had some fun with the characters. (Bogart and the horn-rimmed glasses in the book shop.) Hawks also allowed some humor in the dialog. ("She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.") Philip Marlowe with his resolutely seedy presence belongs in the marginal zone of Los Angeles, not in the uptrodden neighborhoods of London. He belongs in a trench coat, wearing an older fedora, not in the powder blue suits of Saville Row. ("I own a hat and a coat and a gun," he tells Nulty in "Farewell My Lovely," "and everything I touch turns to s***.") In this film we have to put up with a confident and compassionate Marlowe, striding through the fancy decor instead of slouching, never touching a drop of alcohol. And Mitchum doesn't add much to the story besides his usual heft. As James Agee once said of him, his casual languor suggests Bing Crosby supersaturated on barbiturates.
That reminds me. I couldn't help wondering, while I watched this, how much booze had gone into the production. I forget whether Chandler had quit drinking by the time he wrote this, but Mitchum himself was hardly an amateur. Olivier had kicked Cyril Cusack out of the Old Vic for showing up drunk for a performance of "Doctor's Dilemma" and reciting lines from another of Shaw's plays. Richard Boone was evidently immobilized during his last few years and Oliver Reed died of drink.
Still, look at the actors in this thing. In support are Edward Fox, Harry Andrews, James Donald, Colin Blakely, James Stewart, and Richard Todd. And all of them are up to the task, true professionals, with not a hollow note struck. I'm tempted to call the cast "peerless" but I don't know if it's permitted if there's a theatrical knight among them. Richard Boone is outstanding as Canino -- a villainous wreck, hobbling about on a broken foot, cackling over his own sliminess, howling with unrestrained glee as he watches a harmless little man whom he has just poisoned crash through a glass door and die.
Also notable are the locations and the art direction. It may not be sleazy Los Angeles in 1941 but London and its interiors look just fine. London has never looked less grimy. There is no rain or fog, the streets are clean, narrow and lined with classy book shops, and people tend to drive new and expensive cars.
Well, the movie is done with dash and style, no doubt about that. But it's the wrong style. Marlowe belongs in the 1940s. In the 1940s pornography and dope could get you serious jail time -- just ask Mitchum.
I didn't much care for it the first time I saw this. The second time was easier going because I'd lowered the bar of my expectation.
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