MysteryPeople Double Feature: MARLOWE


– Post by Scott M. 

This Sunday, May 24th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Marlowe, the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sisterstarring James Garner as Marlowe, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Phillip Marlowe may be the private detective with the most portrayals in film after Sherlock Holmes. Bogart’s iconic image gave him a tough guy edge, Elliot Gould deconstructed him, and Mitchum portrayed him as an aging knight. When it comes to being the closest to Chandler’s creation, I argue for James Garner in the fittingly titled Marlowe.

The film is based on Chandler’s The Little Sister. It was his first novel in six years. Most of that time was spent as a screenwriter under contact for Paramount, a job he despised. For the quintessential LA writer, this was the first time to cover the film business, and he writes it with an axe to grind. With a plot hinging on a blackmailed starlet in one of his funniest books, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its time.

The film, the first Marlowe film to be set in a contemporary period much later than the book was written, is hit and miss. Since it was a studio film, the makers didn’t want to stick it to themselves, so they set their sights on television. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who worked in the first golden age of television, co-creating Route 66, looks at what the medium has turned into. By setting it in late Sixties TV, the stakes seem lower. Also the condensing of the novel, tends to focus on the plot, Chandler’s weaker point as a writer, than his mood and view of Los Angeles.

The film’s major saving grace is James Garner. His wisecracks are delivered effortlessl,y with no posturing, like some of his predecessors. He projects both the ease and gravity that define the character. The performance also shows us some insight into the future when he creates another iconic LA private eye, Jim Rockford.

Marlowe is one of those adaptations with an interesting relationship with its source material. Its style, period, and intent are all set in the history surrounding it. It is also a great look at the character, exploring, at least partially, the cipher of Philip Marlowe.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book (1-5)

I’ll give it a three. The story veers some, the tone is not completely there, but Garner completely captures Marlowe.

Adherence To Quality Of Book

This gets a two. While the film has its moments, it is not as near as funny as Chandler’s novel.

Recommended Films

Harper, The Long Goodbye, Tony Rome

Recommended Books

The Falling Star (Can be read separately or part of the mega-meta-novel The Twenty Year Death), by Ariel S Winter, The Fame Thief by Tim Hallinan, The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald

Fun Fact

The way Marlowe outwits a kung-fu thug played by Bruce Lee is repeated in a Rockford episode.


Copies of Chandler’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Marlowe on Sunday, May 24, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast. Come for the movie, stay for Scott’s defense of his favorite ever depiction of Marlowe. 

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