Year 8, Day 22 - 1/22/16 - Movie #2,222
BEFORE: James Garner carries over from "Sunset", and I'm still in Los Angeles, where the entertainment industry meets the crime syndicate - the world of "Inherent Vice" as well as "Sunset", and a thousand other movies, like "Hollywoodland", "The Black Dahlia", etc. Garner passed away in July of 2014, and it took me a while to put a proper tribute together. He made quite a few films, from 1957's "Sayonara" up to 2004's romance "The Notebook", but my favorite is probably the classic World War II film "The Great Escape", in which he played the P.O.W. camp's resident scrounger. On TV he starred in two prominent series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files", as well as TV movies based on those iconic characters.
His appearance as Philip Marlowe in tonight's film falls somewhere between Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, not only chronologically but stylistically - what comes between an Old West cowboy and a modern-day P.I.? A private detective from the 1940's, of course.
THE PLOT: Philip Marlowe is contacted by sweet Midwesterner Orfamay
Quest to find her brother who had come to Los Angeles
several years earlier. After two leads turn up with ice picks stuck in them, he discovers blackmail photos concerning a TV star.
AFTER: This seems like another chronological anomaly - like having 1980's TV star Bruce Willis appear in a film where he played a 1920's movie star-turned detective. Or making a film in 2014 with Joaquin Phoenix as a 1960's stoner-turned detective in "Inherent Vice". Philip Marlowe appeared in novels by Raymond Chandler in the 1930's, then in films during the 1940's, played of course by Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep".
But Bogart wasn't the only actor to play Marlowe - Dick Powell and Robert Montgomery also played him in films during the 1940's, and then in the 1970's he was portrayed by both Robert Mitchum and Elliott Gould. (I'll get to Gould in "The Long Goodbye" next week - that film and tonight's film aired on TCM together a few months ago, but I had no way to link between them until recently.) Really, it's the same convenience that allows Batman, Spider-Man and Sherlock Holmes to still appear in current comics and movies even though they've been around for so long. You can either set a Sherlock Holmes story back in Victorian London, as they do with most adaptations, or keep the character fresh by placing him in a current surrounding, like they do on that CBS show "Elementary".
So Philip Marlowe got moved into the swinging 1960's - and just as any film should properly represent the era it was made in, here Marlowe's office adjoins a cosmetology school, and any time something breaks in his office, a very effeminate hair-styling teacher appears on the scene to act all queeny and exasperated. It seems quite comical now, but that was probably very progressive for a 1969 Hollywood film. And Marlowe has eyes for a Latina burlesque dancer - in a1940's film she probably would have been called a "fan dancer", and in a 1980's film, she'd be a stripper.
Another similarity to both "Sunset" and "Inherent Vice" is that Marlowe's investigation doesn't really proceed in a straight line, it weaves not just through the burlesque club (last night there was the "Kit Kat Club", a ladies club for ladies who like ladies) but also through a hippie flophouse hotel, a TV studio, a crime-boss's restaurant, and a shady doctor's clinic. Geez, the only thing missing here was a robed cult-leader, and they would have won "Los Angeles Crime Story" bingo.
The weirdest part was probably when martial artist Bruce Lee showed up in Marlowe's office, offering him $500 in cash to stop working on the case. (Take the money, dude!) Lee announced himself as "Winslow Wong", but I thought he said "Winslow Wald", since there was another prominent character named Mavis Wald, and maybe he was her husband. But the film never really explained who Winslow Wong was, where he came from and why he wanted Marlowe to stop looking for the aptly-named Orrin Quest. And then he shows up in the mobster's restaurant, which is for some reason located high up in an L.A. building, and when he pulls out his kung fu moves, Marlowe insults him by implying that since he's "agile", he might be gay. Then he dispatches Wong with a move straight out of the Road Runner's handbook, and there are zero questions about where that Bruce Lee-shaped stain on the sidewalk came from, apparently. Very strange.
We do eventually find out what happened to Orrin Quest, and I think we eventually do find out who killed those people with an ice-pick - but just like in "Sunset" and "Inherent Vice", the answer almost feels like an afterthought. Maybe it's because all of the character's motivations are guessed at by Marlowe, and they all go back to when some of the characters lived in another city, before moving out to L.A. and falling for actresses and gangsters. A clear violation of the "Show, don't tell" rule.
Also starring Gayle Hunnicutt, Carroll O'Connor (last seen in "Return to Me"), Rita Moreno (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Sharon Farrell (last seen in "The Stunt Man"), William Daniels (last seen in "Oh, God!"), Jackie Coogan (last seen in "The Kid"), H.M. Wynant, Bruce Lee, with a cameo from Greta Garbo (in footage from "Grand Hotel").
RATING: 4 out of 10 candid photos