About a half-hour in, James Garner (as private dick Philip Marlowe) & Carroll O’Connor (as a bothersome police Lieutenant) walk down a grand staircase to the lobby of Garner’s pleasingly ornate L.A. office building. The dialogue is nothing special: clues, snark & exposition; yet this little traveling shot perks everything up, even the viewer, because, suddenly, something in this damp murder mystery actually looks like a movie, not some gussied up tv show. We’re getting an inadvertent front row seat to the death throes of the old studio system, just before the ‘70s started to shake things up, exacerbated by clueless/aging studio execs panicked by change, hiring faceless tv talent at a price, tossing in 'daring' sex references & nods at ‘hippie’ culture, and then hoping for the best. Here, they bet on tv director Paul Bogart who, even with vet lenser William H. Daniels*, can’t get a handle on big screen composition or use Raymond Chandler’s L.A. locations to inform action & character. Garner makes for a tall, sardonic Marlowe, there’s some cute casting choices (Jackie Coogan, Bruce Lee), and Sterling Silliphant’s script hits some funny/nasty beats between the heavy-lifting gumshoe stuff. It’s not really bad, it’s just unnecessary.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *William Daniels meets William Daniels meets William Daniels as the famous lenser lights William Daniels the character actor and holds a shot on a tv monitor showing a Greta Garbo clip from his own GRAND HOTEL/’32.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Marlowe’s been famously played by hosts of actors (including Mitchum, Bogart, Dick Powell, even Robert Montgomery in mirror shots), yet while this blah modern day version was largely ignored, the next Marlow, Elliot Gould in Robert Altman’s flavorful THE LONG GOODBYE/’73, got under the skin of traditionalists. Welcome to the 'seventies.