This morning I woke up at 6 a.m., brew some tea, checked my email, and then went and watched the 1969 movie Marlowe, featuring James Garner in the title role. The movie is based on ray Chandler’s novel The Little Sister, and is a tight neat little neo-noir.
Just what I needed to start my day.
I grew up with The Rockford Files, still my go-to basic reference when hardboiled detective style is concerned – better people than myself have noted how hardboiled fiction is something one might need in their late teens, to try and make sense of what’s going down, and in this function, Jim Rockford on the TV served as a guide in my teens just as much as Philip Marlowe in books and movies.
The 1969 movie by Paul Bogart (no relation) basically conflates the two characters, and sometimes feels like a dress rehearsal (or a prequel) for The Rockford Files. I won’t complain about that.
In updating the Chandler novel – that was extremely critical of the Hollywood community – screenwriter Stirling Silliphant manages to fuse the seediness of the original set-up with a slick, hip ’60s vibe. The movie is good and it looks good, and if the plot might seem baffling and disjointed, the overall result is still quite good.
And then of course there’s the cast.
In bit parts we get both Jackie Coogan – yes, Uncle Fester Addams, here in the role of a grifter – and Bruce Lee, in the role of a heavy with more chops than sense, dying one of the most spectacular and yet underplayed deaths in the history of the movies.
Gayle Hunnicutt plays a troubled sitcom star, and is beautiful as ever, but she disappears – together with any other actress in the movie – compared to Rita Moreno, that is as good as ever, and so beautiful it hurts.
But then again, I always had a devastating crush on Rita Moreno. Go sue me.
Some might argue that starting the day with a cruelly cynical neo-noir from the late ’60s is a strange way to go, but watching this movie in the early morning, while the countryside outside was still asleep, actually put me in a good mood. That’s what Marlowe – or indeed Rockford – always did when I was a kid: they told me that what comes down might not always make sense, but sticking to your principles will see you through. Maybe bruised and crumpled, but alive.
There are worse teachers out there.