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original title: Philip Marlowe, Private Eye
tags: He's the reason crime doesn't pay.
keywords: fingerman, frameup, 1930s, detective, coroner, corpse, millionaire, shakedown, primesuspect, patsy, nightclub, districtattorney, morphine, heroin, bodyguard, coverup, lawyer, killer, gaschamber, fedor
I suppose my view of the series is jaundiced by my long term enthusiasm for Raymond Chandler, having read the "canon" through at least half a dozen times since first meeting Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL MY LOVELY in 1943. Imagine my resentment when these writers presumed to "improve" on the master. As for the quality of what was produced as compared to what might have been produced if Chandler has been followed, it isn't "bad"; just not good enough. Powers Boothe clearly tries hard to be Marlowe, but he really doesn't fit my physical conception of the "good man who walks the mean streets". I pictured Marlowe as rather tall, well built, not fat but with sufficient bulk to over-awe the sleazy characters he went up against. Robert Mitchum filled the bill in THE BIG SLEEP. Burt Lancaster would have also if he had ever essayed the role. Kathryn Leigh Scott ("Annie Riordan") and Billy Kearns ("Lt. Violets M'Gee", as Chandler spelled the name) impressed me most favourably. You won't be bored watching this series, but if you are a really fanatic Chandler addict, you will be chagrined. I've meant to post a review of this ground-breaking series for some time. The untimely passing of Powers Boothe this week has goaded me into action...
To sum up: this series is not just the best adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, it's the *only* adaptation that really manages to to remain true to the letter and the spirit of the books. Amazing, but true.
Humphrey Bogart was charming as Marlowe, of course... but his Big Sleep (especially the best-known edit) is 99% Howard Hawks, and should have a 'may contain traces of Chandler' warning on the label. What's more, Bogey couldn't have been much less like the character described by Chandler. In fact, Chandler's own ideal Marlowe is said to have been Cary Grant, which gives you some idea of just how far off-track Bogart, the geriatric Mitchum, and others have been. (Let us not even speak of Dick Powell.) Robert Montgomery could have been good, but he loused it up with that stupid first-person camera business, which has never worked and never will. Astoundingly, the best Marlowe prior to Boothe was Elliott Gould, in Altman's modernized, revisionist yet nonetheless evocative Long Goodbye. (EDIT: forgot to mention James Garner, who was very good, though a bit more Rockford than Marlowe.)
But Powers Boothe was an even more appropriate choice. He had just the right age, just the right gravitas - the world-weary toughness of a Bogart or Mitchum, but also the class, the energy and the good looks described by Chandler. He also had the advantage of being less familiar. When you looked at Boothe you didn't see a movie star - you saw Marlowe, a hard-working gumshoe, and nobody else.
The Boothe series also marked a rare attempt to include the *most* significant character from Chandler's stories: the city of Los Angeles. (The best previous attempt was, again, Altman's Long Goodbye.) Hawks' Big Sleep is set-bound, and could be taking place in New York as easily as LA. Mitchum's Marlowe was set in England - a travesty! The Powers Boothe series at least attempted to capture some of the gaudy, steamy, crazy city that Chandler created in his writing. Ironically, the series was not filmed in Hollywooed, but in Toronto, which gives you some idea of what can be done with a bit of creative camera work and a few judiciously-chosen locations.
Another very cool thing about this series is that instead of adapting The Big Sleep - YET AGAIN - it adapts some of Chandler's excellent short stories. We get that flavorful dialog, those evocative descriptions, and the dark noir-ish plots - all of them fresh and barely familiar to even the most devoted Marlowe fans.
Obviously, it's hard to beat Bogey and Hawks for sheer entertainment value. Or Altman for quirky, innovative filmmaking. But when it comes to all-out fidelity to the cherished Chandler stories, Powers Boothe in Philip Marlowe Private Eye has no rival.
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