I really enjoyed this film when it came out. In retrospect, it's a great "preview" of The Rockford Files that came a few years later.
Trivia Quiz: What line in this film was also used in an episode of The Rockford Files in a similar situation?
This is from Rock! Shock! Pop!.com
Released by: Warner Archive
Released on: 4/26/2011
Director: Paul Bogart
Cast: James Garner, Carroll O’Connor, Bruce Lee, Gayle Hunnicut, Rita Moreno
Based on the character created by the late, great Raymond Chandler (and in turn his book The Little Sister), Paul Bogart’s 1969 film Marlowe stars James Garner as the titular private investigator who, when we meet him, is working out of his dingy office in Los Angeles. He takes a case offered to him by a pretty blonde named Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell) who gives him a fifty-five dollar retainer to get him to head out to the coast to try and find her missing brother, Orrin (Roger Newman). When he gets there and finds Orrin’s room, he finds that Orrin is missing but that a man named Grant Hicks (Jackie Coogan) is in his room in his place. He asks Grant some questions, hands him his business card, and is on his way.
The next day Marlowe gets a call from Hicks he wants him to come by and visit – but when he arrives, Hicks is dead, an ice pick in the back of his head. One thing leads to another and Marlowe finds himself in possession of some incriminating photographs of an actress named Mavis Weld (Gayle Hunnicutt) who he offers to help. She’s not interested, though her mob boss boyfriend, Mr. Steelgrave (H.M. Wynant), apparently is and before you know it he’s sent a man named Winslow Wong (Bruce Lee) to try and buy him off or, failing that, at least wreck his office. Marlowe’s trying to figure out who the ice pick killer and how this all ties in with the Orfamay’s, all while avoiding various hitmen and nefarious types – and on top of that he’s got to deal with the cops (lead by Carroll O'Connor and Kenneth Tobey). The only one who seems to be on Marlowe’s side is Mavis’ friend, Delores (Rita Moreno), but can he trust her?
While Marlowe may not be the most original private eye character to ever hit the screen, in fact, most things about him are either clichés or stereotypes, but Garner plays him so well that you won’t mind, and in fact, the one liners and smart talk turn out to be half the fun of the movie. Plenty entertaining in the lead, he carries the film easily and shows both good screen presence and likeable charisma. Supporting efforts from an interesting cast of characters help flesh out the cast and with the likes of Rita Moreno, Carroll O’Connor and Bruce Lee in the cast it’s hard to ask for a better crew of actors to work alongside.
Story wise the film is concerned less with the hardboiled style of earlier Chandler adaptations and while not quite a comedy in the truest sense of the word, there are scenes that are definitely played for laughs – a perfect example being a remarkably politically incorrect bit where Garner’s Marlowe accuses Lee’s Winslow Wong of being ‘a bit gay’, at which point Wong does a flying jump kick towards him only to fly off the roof when Marlowe deftly moves out of the way.
A few good laughs, some strong performances, a fair bit of visual style and a great late sixties era sound track all add up to a fun movie. There are moments where it’s a bit tough to suspend our disbelief and it’s not a perfect picture in terms of plotting or pacing but it gets enough right that, hey, if nothing else, it’s just a really fun and entertaining way to kill an hour and a half.
The packaging on this Warner Archive release says that it’s remastered and the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does look pretty good on this DVD. Colors are nice and bright and bold and well defined but never bleed while black levels remain generally strong. Skin tones look good and detail is better than most will probably expect. As far as print damage goes, there are some specks here and there but overall the picture is clean and clear without any evidence of digital scrubbing to note – all in all, a pretty decent effort from Warner in the visuals department.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix on the disc is fine – dialogue is clean, clear and well balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion of note. The film’s fuzzed out late sixties soundtrack comes through nice and clear as well. No alternate language options or subtitles are offered.
In addition to the standard static menu and chapter selection, this disc includes the film’s original theatrical trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The Final Word:
It might be a bit clichéd and it might be a little bit predictable but Garner’s excellent lead performance and a fantastic supporting cast more than make up for those flaws and Marlowe turns out to be a whole lot of sleuthy fun. Warner Archives’ DVD-R release is not surprisingly light on extra features, but it looks good and sounds good and those with an interest in or pre-existing appreciation for this particular film should be fairly pleased with the results.