Thursday, July 25, 2013


As the hot Mojave summer winds blow, detective Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) is called out to the mansion of rich widow Mrs. Murdock (Florence Bates) to investigate the disappearance of a rare coin, a Brasher doubloon—no need to know what that means, it's just a McGuffin. Marlowe winds up meeting an interesting group of people in the course of the case. Murdock's young secretary Merle Davis (Nancy Guild, pictured at right with Montgomery), wearing Night of Bliss perfume, is flirty with Marlowe, then tells him she has a phobia of being touched, partly due to the harassment that Mrs. Murdock's late husband subjected her to—Marlowe offers to help her with her problem and she seems agreeable. But soon he discovers she has a secret: she accidentally pushed Mr. Murdock to his death from a high window during the Rose Parade. There’s also Murdock's slick but slimy son Leslie (Conrad Janis); coin dealer Elisha Morningstar, whose call about the doubloon alerted Mrs. Murdock to her loss; scarred thug Eddie Prue who tries to ransack Marlowe's office; Prue's boss Vince Blair, a club owner; and the German newsreel photographer Vannier who has been making money on the side through blackmail.  People get beaten up and killed, a counterfeit copy of the coin turns up, and some of Vannier's newsreel footage winds up playing a part in the finale.

Based on a novel by Raymond Chandler, this is a veritable encyclopedia of film noir tricks and techniques. There's an unstable, possibly unreliable woman who tells lies when it suits her (like Mary Astor's character in MALTESE FALCON), a man who is invited into the gumshoe's office only to cause trouble (like Peter Lorre's character in FALCON), an attempted beating of the detective (like poor Alan Ladd went through in THE GLASS KEY), and a convoluted plot that may or may not make sense (as in THE BIG SLEEP, with Bogart as Marlowe). This is a B-production and it shows in the fast pace and short length (72 minutes), and in the casting of Montgomery as Marlowe. I like Montgomery but he's no Bogart—he makes a rather lightweight private dick, and there's very little sense of danger (to him or from him). Still, the movie works largely due to the supporting cast: Bates is always fun in the "dragon lady" role, and Janis makes the character of the son more interesting than he should be. Guild is unconvincing as the femme fatale/heroine—the studio wanted her to be another Lauren Bacall though she would seem better suited to light B-comedies. But overall this is worth seeing for fans of noir or detective movies of the era. [DVD]

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