RARA-AVIS: Re: Bogie

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 26 Mar 2008


Re your comment below:

"It would be interesting to see how Bogart might have played FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. It's too bad no one in Hollywood saw Phillip Marlowe as a franchise opportunity. Its one of the frustrating aspects of this best of the original hard boiled detectives."

Couldn't disagree more. Aside from the fact that Chandler wound up making more money by selling them piecemeal to different studios than he could have selling all the books, and the character, to one studio, the way it turned out, we are now able to see several different interpretations of the characters, in several different studio styles, all of them stylish "A" productions.

If it had been a franchise, Marlowe would have just been one more character featured in a series of comparatively low-budget "B's," like Charlie Chan, Mike Shayne, Torchy Blaine, or Hildegard Withers, with entries ultimately deteriorating over time as Chandler material was used up and studio hacks turned out origina scripts to order, until finally the series hit Poverty Row (recall that Chan wound up at Monogram and Shayne at PRC).

As it is, we get to have an interesting debate over whether Powell or Bogart was the better Marlowe, whether RKO's signature noir effects trumps the muscular straightforwardness of Warner Brothers, etc.

Even the movies that don't work as well as MMS and TBS have their moments and are worth discussing.

Robert Montgomery, it's safe to say, is the favorite Marlowe of very few people, yet he deserves props for being one of the few actors who could carry off two such different characters as Lord Peter Wimsey as Phil Marlowe. And if, as a director, his "subjective camera gimmick is ultimately just that, a gimmick that draws attention to itself rather than enhancing the story, it's nevertheless a brave attempt, and it wouldn't have been possible if it was just one more assembly line production from the "B" division of MGM, like the ANDY HARDY movies. Moreover, the script (the only Marlowe film script Chandler ever worked on) is surprisingly good, and has some recognizable Chandler touches, the depiction of the pulp magazine business has the authentic scent of an inside look (whether this was Chandler's contribution of Steve Fisher's I don't really know) and there are some fine performances, like Lloyd Nolan's as the brutal Bay City cop, Degarmo, and Jane Meadows as the femme fatale.

Even THE BRASHER DOUBLOON is a better, more watchable film, with nice gritty touches, than it would have been as an entry in a "B" franchise, and the change of the central piece of evidence from a photo to a piece of newsreel film a more cinematic way of depicting the information, and, consequently, a recognition of the needs of the medium that an assembly-line "B" screenwriter probably wouldn't have had time for. I've never seen TIME TO KILL, the earlier version, which WAS and entry in a "B" movie series (Mike Shayne), but I'd be surprised if that imaginative change was incorporated in the earlier version, because, as one fairly famous former "B" movie actor once put it (after he'd left the film business and gone into politics), when it came to "B" movies, "They didn't want them good. They wanted them Thursday." And if George Montgomery seemed to young and boyish for the role, one is struck by how good a Marlowe he might have made had they waited five or ten years, sort of a reverse of how Mitchum's performance in the remake of MMS, 1975'S FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, makes you wish he'd played the part in his prime.

No, I say thank God we got the chance to see all these competing interpretations.


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