RARA-AVIS: Chandler Night At The Movies

From: Brian Thornton ( tieresias@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 09 Sep 2002

I just finished watching Turner Classic Movies' tribute to Raymond Chandler's works. I have seen all of these films before, but just wanted to throw a few comments out about each of them:

Murder My Sweet (1944) This film adaptation of "Farewell My Lovely" was ably directed by Edward Dmytryk, and starred Dick Powell in a marked career change (he had previously been a song and dance man) as Philip Marlowe. Powell played Marlowe with a light touch, making his trademark sardonic comments more comic than sardonic. Mike Mazurky played Moose Malloy as if the part were written for him. The film was fairly faithful to the book, with exceptions like the fact that Florian's bar in the book has been sold to a black proprietor, and the patrons Malloy beats up early on are also black (they were all white in the film). The pacing is good, Claire Trevor is fabulous as Velma, but the cops and villains (particularly Otto Kruger, a sleep-walking hack if ever there was one, as Jules Amthor) were just plain dull.

The Lady In The Lake (1947) Robert Montgomery directed and starred in this adaptation of the book by the same name. He filmed it from Marlowe's point of view, and is seen only when the script calls for Marlowe to see his reflection. His direction is adequate, but as Marlowe we are left to rely on his voice only for his characterization, and his wisecracks just come across as snarky, without much of the Chandlerian wit behind them. Audrey Totter is owlish and silly as Adrienne Fromsett (sic). On the plus side, Lloyd Nolan (one hell of an actor) effectively steals the show as corrupt, bullying cop DeGarmot (double sic. I don't know why they changed the spelling/pronunciation of the other characters' names aside from Marlowe's, in such small ways, it was most annoying). Had "Murder My Sweet" had Nolan as Amthor, it would have been far better. As it is, the script of "The Lady In The Lake" is weak, in part because of a silly change that called for Marlowe to decide to become a writer, as the set-up for becoming involved in what is essentially a missing person case, and in part because it is so truncated by time limitations, and large portions of Marlowe's search for the missing wife of Derris Kingsby (who was Kingsley in the book, if memory serves correctly) are cut out. Lloyd Nolan makes this well worth watching, even if Robert Montgomery was only so-so as an off-screen voice.

The Big Sleep (1946) Based on the 1939 Chandler novel, with screenplay by William Faulkner (yes, THAT William Faulkner), Leigh Brackett (yes, THAT Leigh Brackett), and Jules Furthman. Directed by the immortal Howard Hawks, and with Humphrey Bogart giving a stellar turn as Marlowe. With this sort of creative star power at work, how could it have been a flop? What's more, the supporting cast (the wooden young Bacall, who never seemed to learn to act until after Bogie died and she married Jason Robards, excepted) is fabulous. Elisha Woods, Jr. ("Wilmer" in "The Maltese Falcon" and "Ice Pick" in "Magnum, P.I."), Regis Toomey as cop Bernie Ohls, Louis Jean Heydt as the oily Joe Brody, John Ridgely as the oh-so slick Eddie Mars, Martha Vickers as the coquettish, dangerous Carmen Sternwood, and a very young Dorothy Malone as the girl who runs the bookshop where Marlowe stakes out his quarry, they are all *terrific*. The best of the best of film adaptations of Chandler's work, in my opinion. Here's a bit of trivia for you all: the voice of the singer to whom Bacall lip-synched her "singing" in Eddie Mars' casino was that of then 16 year-old Andy Williams (yes, THAT Andy Williams, Mr. Moon River himself) making his screen singing debut.

Marlowe (1969) James Garner is terrific in this pre-"Rockford Files" screen adaptation of "The Little Sister" set in 1969. So is Rita Moreno (but she's good in everything) and likewise for Carroll O'Connor (who is also good in everything). Unfortunately, there's not much else that's anything other than adequate in this film (including Bruce Lee in a brief appearance). The two other exceptions to this rule of mediocrity are Sharon as Orfamay Quest and Paul Stevens as Dr. Vincent Lagardie. Gail Hunnicutt, for example, is gorgeous, but uninspiring as Mavis Wald, and hers is the pivotal role; without a believable Mavis Wald, the plot doesn't hold together well, and Hunnicutt just isn't up to the task.

Thoughts, fellow Avians?


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