THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Phillip Marlowe is obviously one of literature's most revered characters, and actors as diverse as Powers Booth, James Caan, Elliot Gould, Robert Mitchum, and Humphrey Bogart have portrayed him on screen. In 1969, James Garner played him in Marlowe, a big screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler's "The Little Sister." The film has been remastered and is now on DVD courtesy of Warner Archive.
Sharon Farrell plays Orfamay Quest, a young woman who hires Marlowe to find her missing brother Orrin. The detective picks up the trail, but two of his leads subsequently end up with ice picks sticking out of their dead bodies. He keeps snuffing out clues, eventually stumbling upon a set of blackmail photos. The subjects of the racy pics are television star Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicut) and her gangster boyfriend. Mavis, it turns out, is the sister of Orfamay and her brother. Marlowe puts the not-so-coincidental pieces together and uncovers the shocking truth about what happened to Orrin Quest. Carroll O'Connor also stars as a police detective who butts heads with Marlowe.
Marlowe is an unusual film, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm not sure it works entirely as a mystery. At 96 minutes, a lot of stuff is crammed into a relatively short amount of time. Director Paul Bogart doesn't do a great job introducing characters or showing how one thing connects to the next, which makes following the plot a bit difficult at times. People wander in, and you aren't always sure who exactly they are. Other pictures have done a better job of translating Chandler's complex stories to the screen in a way that builds suspense.
Despite this, the film is fascinating for the performances. James Garner is a superb Phillip Marlowe, mixing old school detective machismo with a delightfully smart-ass twist of humor. This is certainly one of his finest, most magnetic performances. Carroll O'Connor is great too; he and Garner have some fantastically antagonistic scenes. It's interesting that both actors went on to find major television success in the 70's. Seeing them together a few years prior to that makes Marlowe special because you're now watching an acting dream team. Sweetening the deal even further is a cameo appearance from Bruce Lee as a man who really, really wants Marlowe to call off his investigation. Their encounter - which turns physical - is a highlight of the movie.
Marlowe has been nicely remastered. It looks terrific on this new DVD. And while the way the story is told didn't quite work for me, I loved seeing the fine actors doing strong work together. And really, if you're at all a fan of James Garner, Marlowe is worth a look because it showcases him at his best.
Marlowe is now on DVD only at WarnerArchive.com
Marlowe is rated PG for some violence and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.