Review – A Particular Set of Skills in 1939 (“Marlowe”)

It seems the norm today that movies are being delayed and this one is no exception. Originally slated to premiere in December of 2022, this film noir pot-boiler stars Liam Neeson as a Raymond Chandler detective set in the 40’s. Hmm. . . I wonder if anyone is taken?

Like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, Dick Powell, Elliot Gould, and many others, Neeson plays private dick Philip Marlowe in the seedy crime-filled world of 1939 Los Angeles. Based on John Banville’s 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde, this convoluted and tiresome film has Marlowe taking up the case of one Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), a pretty, but spoiled socialite and heiress who, despite being married, wants Marlowe to find her missing lover, Nico Peterson (Francois Arnaud). Nico, it seems, is a rather shady character who works in the movie biz and deals in importing illegal goods from Tijuana. As Marlowe starts his investigation, with the help of his pal in the police dept (Ian Hart), he finds out Nico has been killed outside the prestigious and exclusive Cabana Country Club. Or was he? 

Pretty soon, everyone seems to be in on the action of trying to find the ‘dead’ Nico from Clare, her wealthy mother (Jessica Lange), Nico’s sister (Daniela Melchoir), the sleazy owner of the Cabana Club (Danny Huston), and a local crime boss (Alan Cummings). And somehow a woman named Serena is figuring into all of this. Marlowe does his usual detective schtick, with the occasional added help of police detective Bernie Ohls (Colm Meaney), and tracks down his clues one by one while everyone is trying to pay Marlowe off or beat the crap outta him. I must confess that, in my many decades of filmgoing, I very, very rarely walk out of a movie before the ending, but I did just that with this film. Allow me to explain why.

For a man who wrote the brilliant screenplay, The Departed, and a few others, William Monahan must’ve used one of those A. I. programs to write this script or given it Tommy Wiseau to complete, ’cause it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Let’s begin with the confusing, random, and idiotic dialogue that sounds like a game from TV’s Who’s Line Is It Anyway? Nobody speaks in half-sentences and with nothing to say! I think a room full of monkeys would have done better. Other scenes defy description with jarring edits that look like they were added in later to make a scene work better. Spoiler alert: they don’t! I think the Golden Raspberries have their winner for the 2023 Worst Screenplay Award!

Then Neil Jordan, who hasn’t directed a film since 2018’s Greta, tries to invoke a film-noir look and feel to this old-style detective movie and kinda-sorta achieves it in a few shots with some decent shots using light & shadow, however the rest of the movie sloughs along as a regular murder mystery with only an occasional nice moment. Liam does his best and would have been SO much better if he had a decent script to work from. As it is, Liam, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cummings are the only saving grace in this terrible film that will, no doubt, be streaming/on cable in two weeks time. Save your money and wait to see this movie (if you want) on cable. Y’know, now that I think of it, I betcha that’s why it was delayed all this time! It stinks! 

*Now showing only in the theaters     

Marlowe (1969)

Five years before he became one of TV’s favorite private eyes (Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files), James Garner portrayed the hard-boiled, no-nonsense Philip Marlowe in this 1969 version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Little Sister. And yes, that’s Bruce Lee guest starring as a villain!

Garner is Marlowe in this streamlined 90-minute tale of two-interlocking stories. First, he starts out looking into the disappearance of Orrin Quest (Roger Newman), the brother of spoiled & bratty Kansas girl, Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell). But soon, his investigation leads into the apparent ice pick murders of two guys. Are they random or are they connected? A woman seen at one of the murders turns out to be Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt), a famous actress who lives with her lively stripper girlfriend, Dolores Gonzáles (Rita Moreno). Marlowe discovers that Mavis is in trouble but she’s not saying why. Could it be tied into the secret photos that Marlowe found that obviously are meant in a blackmail scheme?

Then there’s local gangster Sonny Steelgrave (H. M. Wynat) who wants those photos and tells Marlowe to stay away from his investigation. How serious is he? He sends his personal bodyguard, Winslow Wong (Lee), to tell Marlowe to back off. . . and thrashes his office in the process! But Marlowe doesn’t know how to let things go when a mystery needs solving and, even though police chief, Lt. Christy French (Carol O’Connor), is breathing down his neck, Marlowe goes after Steelgrave and finds out that his Orrin case and the blackmail case are connected, but isn’t prepared to finally find out who was behind it all.    

Adapted by prolific writer Stirling Silliphant (The Poseidon Adventure, Charley, The Towering Inferno) this novel-to-screen plays out more like an extended TV series than a motion picture. Whereas the director, Paul Bogart (Kiss Me Kate, Carousel) strives to give this a ‘film noir’ look and feel, it comes across as flat and procedural. And this Marlowe never once gets into any kind of a fistfight (although he does get beaten up). The story, while jumping all over the place with confusing points, does have its moments. And topping it is Garner. You can see why he was given a TV show as a laid-back private eye in 1974, in fact, Rita Moreno was a frequent guest star! Another fun fact, Garner (along with other Hollywood celebs) trained under Bruce Lee in martial arts. And check out a pre-Archie Bunker Carol O’Connor, too! His scenes with Garner are the highlights of this meh film.   

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