RARA-AVIS: Remembering Garner's Marlowe

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 12 Feb 2007

I've only watched James Garner's "Marlowe" once and it was in Vietnam in 1970, outdoors with a clicking projector shining on a screen, or perhaps some improvised backdrop, near our hooch. The guys in my outfit would spend time in the field with various units and then come back to this rear area until the next assignment. Not much was taken seriously around the hooch but movies came close. It was a major subject of discussion and the discussion began while the movie was shown. Guys provided a commentary track on the film or called out instructions or warnings to the actors. If the noise level got too high, there was a chorus of "Shut the F up!" that started the cycle over.

Needless to say, most of the audience were well into abhusing their preferred form of liquid or herbal substances.

"Marlowe" began and flowed in typical fashion for about 30 minutes and then it ceased to make much sense. Everyone in the audience was straining to follow the action. Some tried to rationalize the inconsistences out loud but that just prompted disputes. The stoners soon began their refrain of "...the guys who made this movie were stoned out of their minds. Look, that's the only possible explanation." This theory was floated during every third movie or so but this night it gained some new advocates.

The movie then ended in what seemed to everyone as the middle of the action. There was absolutely no resolution of anything. That's when I--relatively new to the unit--made a mistake. As everyone seemed to be trying to figure out the ending, I said "It's based on a novel by Raymond Chandler that I read a while back and..."

Quickly I was the center of attention. "You read the F'ing book. Tell us what happened!"

I immediately regretted opening my mouth because while I remembered stray details from the book THE LITTLE SISTER (such as the old guy whose wife wouldn't allow him any pipe tobacco), I couldn't for the life of me recall the ending. Still can't and I've reread the novel since then. Chandler didn't often come up with memorable endings.

Well I'd never been so yelled at and cursed in my life. Of course, I was so inebriated myself that I didn't get too exercised about it. One of the most common expressions of that time and that place was "It don't mean nothing."

A couple of days later I was having a beer with the old boy who usually ran the projector and he apologized. "I think I caused you some problems the other night."

I didn't know what he was talking about and said as much.

"The other night I mixed the reels up on that movie we were watching. I ran the last reel second. It really screwed it up. The ending was in the middle." He wasn't that concerned about it but he thought he'd mention it. And I never said anything about it later even though whenever there was something in a movie later on that was a little confusing people would say "Ask Moore. Maybe he's read the damn book."

I've resisted seeing the movie again. It would have to be a disappointment.

Richard Moore

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