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Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe is no stranger to film and TV, having been portrayed numerous times by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Elliot Gould, Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell and even Danny Glover. But the one actor who most closely matches the description of the original Marlowe--over six feet, dark hair and eyes, "more than passably good looking"--is none other than James Garner who played him in, what else, Marlowe (1969). The film is an adaptation of Chandler's novel, The Little Sister (1949), updated to Sixties Los Angeles with a cast of familiar faces: Rita Moreno, Carroll O'Connor, Jackie Coogan, and in his first American film Bruce Lee. Another sign of the times is the theme song by Orpheus, a psychedelic pop band, that captures the changing musical tastes of the period.
As the film opens, Marlowe is employed by the improbably named Orfamay Quest (played by Sharon Farrell, later of The Young and the Restless). She's looking for her missing brother and therefore her problem becomes Marlowe's problem. Or actually more than one problem since after he questions two uncooperative witnesses they shortly afterwards turn up dead, making it obvious that this case isn't going to be very easy.
Marlowe was one of the rare theatrical films by noted TV director Paul Bogart, an Emmy winner for his work on All in the Family and The Golden Girls. Perhaps that background is what led him to use another TV veteran, James Garner, recognized for the series Maverick though he'd consistently made memorable film appearances. (The two were also war veterans, Bogart of World War Two, Garner of the Korean War.) Marlowe would prove to be something of a new direction for Garner. He'd always been strong in Westerns (Support Your Local Sheriff appeared the same year as Marlowe) and often portrayed military men since his first acting role in a stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. But in 1974, Garner would again become a private investigator on TV's The Rockford Files, a long-running and much loved show. (There was a series of TV movie sequels in the late 1990s, one of which even featured Marlowe co-star Rita Moreno.)
One of the most interesting things about Marlowe today is a chance to see a young Bruce Lee on the brink of world stardom. He'd made numerous films in Hong Kong since he was a child and was just making an impression on American audiences for his portrayal of Kato on TV's The Green Hornet. Because of that series, Lee had a sideline instructing Hollywood figures in martial arts, including Marlowe writer Stirling Silliphant (an Oscar winner for In the Heat of the Night, 1967). Lee apparently didn't use clothing from the studio costume department but bought his own on Rodeo Drive. His time on the set must have been fairly brief; Rita Moreno later said she never met Lee.
Producer: Sidney Beckerman, Gabriel Katzka
Director: Paul Bogart
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler (novel The Little Sister), Stirling Silliphant
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Costume Design: Florence Hackett (uncredited), Jean Louis (Gayle Hunnicutt's gowns and furs), James Taylor (uncredited)
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Original Music: Peter Matz
Cast: James Garner (Philip Marlowe), Gayle Hunnicutt (Mavis Wald), Carroll O'Connor (Lieutenant Christy French), Rita Moreno (Dolores Gonzales), Sharon Farrell (Orfamay Quest), William Daniels (Mr. Crowell), Jackie Coogan (Grant W. Hicks), Kenneth Tobey (Sgt. Fred Beifus), Bruce Lee (Winslow Wong), H. M. Wynant (Sonny Steelgrave).
C-96m. Closed captioning.
by Lang Thompson