"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_marloweMARLOWE is a 1969 adaptation of the Raymond Chandler story “The Little Sister” that is still not available on the DVD now available as a Warner Archive DVD. James Garner plays Philip Marlowe, as much of a wiseass as ever, but it’s a little weird because he’s a character so associated with the ’40s, and here he is in a Summer of Love era Los Angeles where the gangsters and movie stars mingle with hippies. Marlowe still wears a fedora sometimes, but he doesn’t act too retro. He fits in. And I mean he enjoys the ladies, so that’s compatible with the times. Free love and all that.

mp_marloweMarlowe takes a case from a young blond girl who’s trying to find her brother. While investigating Marlowe starts coming across some dead bodies with ice picks in them. And this was before BASIC INSTINCT, so it was not a movie reference. He figures a murder spree connected to his case might be worthwhile to investigate. What seemed like a pretty simple case at first eventually involves a gangster, blackmail photos of a famous movie star, a burlesque dancer who Marlowe enjoys the company of, a sleazy landlord who takes bribes, etc. You know, mystery shit. Marlowe gets threatened by gangsters and what not, but never loses his dry sense of humor.

At one point a Chinese guy walks into Marlowe’s office with a big smile on his face and kicks a hole through the wall so you can see the people in the next room. The kicker then turns very casual and tells Marlowe that his name is Winslow Wong, and that he works for the–

Wait a minute. Hold on a second here.


That’s right, Bruce Lee as Winslow Wong walks into Marlowe’s office and kills one wall and a coat rack. He then very politely tries to pay off Marlowe to drop the case. Marlowe refuses the money, so Bruce calmly agrees and then starts to destroy everything in the office Dragon style. He even jumps up and kicks out the ceiling light like in WAY OF THE DRAGON. Marlowe just sits at his desk and watches.


Bruce is only in one other scene, but it’s another classic. Marlowe is snooping around the gang boss’s restaurant hangout, so Wong lures him to an outdoor balcony and starts kicking at him. Bruce Lee being defeated by James Garner is pretty ridiculous, but at least they don’t pretend Garner knows gung fu. Marlowe keeps jumping around in a panic, managing to dodge the kicks more out of luck than skill. Then a well-placed homophobic comment sends Wong into a fatal Leap of Fury. What makes the scene great is the way Marlowe walks back inside and explains what happened to the gang boss with a single hand gesture. Okay, so I’ve semi-spoilered it, but trust me, you’ll still like it.

It’s weird to see Lee doing a supporting villain role in a normal Hollywood movie. Although it’s a smaller role it made me think of Jet Li in LETHAL WEAPON 4, how he was such a hero overseas but had to do roles like that to get work in Hollywood. But Lee hadn’t done THE BIG BOSS yet. This was the year after GREEN HORNET. He had also done an episode of IRONSIDE which I watched recently. He just plays a karate instructor who gets interviewed because his father died. So you see him sparring with students and then he does a little acting. So I guess when he got MARLOWE he was seen as a minor TV star in the U.S.

The two Bruce scenes are the best thing about the movie, but I liked the whole thing. I believe it’s what somebody who used the word “breezy” would call “breezy entertainment.” Unless they were the type that uses “breezy” but not “entertainment,” then I’m not sure what they would say. There are many other funny lines, memorable moments and clever stagings (like the way he uncovers the whole mystery standing off-stage talking to the burlesque dancer as she does a strip-tease). And I like when he gets fed up with his client crying so he pushes her out the door, gives her her purse and says “Kansas is due east.” That’s mighty hard boiled of him.

The script was by Stirling Silliphant (SHAFT IN AFRICA) who later wrote CIRCLE OF IRON for Bruce Lee, although Bruce didn’t end up in the movie. I don’t know the story by Raymond Chandler, but supposedly alot of the dialogue is taken directly from it.

Garner makes a great Marlowe. He was 40 at the time, a good age to have a bit of an old school/out of place vibe but still be handsome and charming so it makes sense when the women open up to him. I guess the movie didn’t really catch on though, because they never made any follow-ups (or Adventures of Young Winslow Wong prequels).


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35 Responses to “Marlowe”

  1. caruso_stalker217

    April 15th, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Reminds me of THE LONG GOODBYE with Elliott Gould when Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up as a henchman with a mustache and takes his clothes off. Pretty goddamn distracting.

  2. As a long-time fan of film noir, American crime fiction AND Bruce Lee, I have never felt any need to check this one out. And I’m afraid I’m not feeling any different based on this review, sorry Vern. I’ve never even heard of this film, and if I haven’t heard of it, there’s probably a good reason for it. Humphrey Bogart pretty much owned the “Marlowe” role to me.

    Also, in a slight aside here, I thought “The Big Boss” was a terrible Bruce Lee movie, certainly the worst of the ones I’ve seen. There was just so much that was wrong with it. For the first third of the movie, Bruce doesn’t even get to fight, because his mother has forbidden him to. (I wish I was kidding.) And when he finally gets to fight, the editing and camerawork is noticeably shoddy, to the point where it starts getting in the way of seeing what’s actually going on. Hello, Michael Bay! Not surprisingly, Bruce is not that great in the “pussy-whipped mama’s boy” role. He’s not playing a classic character like he does in “Enter the Dragon”, where he’s an asshole-but-incorruptible Shaolin Monk. I don’t even know how he got his knowledge of martial arts in “The Big Boss” – it’s never explained. He basically has nothing to do in this movie. The villain is all wrong – he’s essentially an anti-Union factory guy, he should be big and burly with a massive personality and some real physical menace, not this idiot! The fights are badly filmed, the characters are dull, most of the non-villain characters are incredibly and irritatingly stupid to the point where I couldn’t give a damn about any of them. There are a lot of fantastic Bruce Lee movies, but this one has just aged really badly.

    Although Pink Floyd did do the soundtrack I believe. Hey, it needed one redeeming feature.

  3. Paul – not many people are likely to run to the defence of Big Boss. It is widely regarded as Bruce Lee’s worst
    film and the one he had least creative input on. The film had a troubled production, including the replacement of the original director and Bruce Lee (who was originally intended as a co-star) being thrust to star-billing. As for his character not fighting – the actual reason is that his father died in a fight and his mother made him promise not to end up the same way.

    As for the soundtrack – IMBD states: “Despite being credited for the music score in every release of the film, Wang Fu-Ling actually only composed music for the original Mandarin version. Peter Thomas composed the score for the English dubbed versions while Joseph Koo composed new tracks and chose stock music (including music from Don Peake’s score for the original The Hills Have Eyes) for the Cantonese dubbed version in the early 80s. “

  4. Now that you reviewed a movie with James Garner, you could connect it with your series of Clint Eastwood reviews and finally review “Space Cowboys”, the one post-unforgiven-Clint movie that doesn’t want to be anything more than pure entertainment. (And maybe the one movie with the most uplifting sad ending ever.)

  5. You mention that Garner is forty. You’re right, that’s a good age. The archetypal hard-boiled private investigator is 39 – old enough to be aware of his mortality, young enough to still be vital and energetic.

    And he’s 39 forever. These guys never age. Consider Robert B. Parker’s Spenser – or, for that matter, Donald Westlake’s Parker – the world around them changes, but they don’t.

    According to Wikipedia, then, if you were casting Marlowe today, your short list would include Mark Wahlberg, Sean Astin, or Ewan McGregor.

  6. Paul – BIG BOSS has problems, but that story format is the least of them if you ask me.

  7. Jareth Cutestory

    April 15th, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Paul: When you read Chandler, especially the books that weren’t filmed, do you still see Bogart as Marlowe?

  8. I could never see Bogart as Marlowe because I saw him as Sam Spade first. They’re not even close to the same guy, but you’d never know that with Bogart playing both.

    I actually like Elliott Gould in the role.

  9. Majestyk,

    Bogart’s Marlowe is great, so long as you aren’t looking for an faithful depiction of the character as written in Chandler’s books. This is because Bogart was and will always be badass.

    But yeah, Gould’s performance, despite all the offbeat Altman-ness of LONG GOODBYE, is excellent, and more faithful.

    I would probably say that Robert Mitchum most accurately captured the essence of Marlowe, though.

  10. Jareth Cutestory

    April 15th, 2010 at 8:09 am

    I get a totally different Marlowe from the books, maybe because I read them before seeing any of the movies.

    But I have no complaints about the various actors who have put their spin on the character. There’s something so durable and quintessential about the character that it accommodates all the interpretations. Sort of like “My Funny Valentine.”

  11. I haven’t seen this, but as a devotee of Chandler, I’ll have to keep an eye open for it. Marlowe was perpetually described as being 38 or so, so the age fits, and the pictures in the review look good. Garner is a good enough actor to pull off the part, and THE LITTLE SISTER is often overlooked among Chandler’s other books.

    Not to offend anyone, but Altman’s THE LONG GOOD-BYE is an aborted whale fetus of a movie. I like Altman generally (MASH, THE PLAYER, plus others), but why he even bothered to take the title, characters and (bits o) the story just to muck them up like he did is beyond me.

  12. The Long Goodbye is excellent and one of Altman’s films that doesn’t make me reach for the manual wrist slitting device.

  13. Speaking of Bruce Lee, have they replaced his gravestone yet?

    Some ignorant prick stole it before my last trip to Seattle.

    Brandon’s was still there though.

  14. Am I the only person wondering what the 1 – 2 – 3 text says in the poster? (And does that scene occur in the movie?) I’m guessing the topics are booze, guns and girls, respectively, but my brain thinks the descriptions must be hilarious when juxtaposed with that great still shot (what exactly is she wearing?!?–a Star Trek costume improved by Gene Roddenberry??), Garner’s expression, and the tagline “Welcome to Marlowe Country”! (Which has to be a spoof of “Marlboro” cigarettes… doesn’t it? Were they using that slogan back then?)

    Also, the concept that a Marlowe story exists with a 60s setting and flavor, James Garner in the role, and Bruce Lee as guest wall-killing thug, just tickles me immensely. In a good way, I mean. {g} Great gem for us Vern!

    (I wonder if Lee’s character counted in trope terms as “the Dragon”…? http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheDragon

  15. Leroy Sans Skillet

    April 15th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Just want to say that “breezy” business cracked me up and is completely spot on. This movie is pleasant enough but no great shakes.

    Also have to say that The Long Goodbye is in my top 10 of all time and Gould will always be Marlowe to me. Another decent Marlowe? Powers Booth. That old HBO/BBC show he did is no classic but he definitely knew how to channel Chandler.

  16. Good call on Arnold showing up in The Long Goodbye. Within the tradition of future action stars showing up as minor henchmen, I’m not sure Arnold’s part was quite as badass as Bruce kicking his way through a wall, but he did strip down to his underwear, as far as I recall. Or maybe he was already just half naked? I have a vivid image of Arnold standing around awkwardly in bright yellow underpants but I can’t really remember the context…
    Now I’m trying to think of other henchmen/future action stars but the only one that comes to mind is Bronson in House of Wax.

  17. Stuntrock – when was that? I didn’t know somebody stole his grave marker. It’s always been there when I’ve visited. It’s not the same one you see in the old movies with his photo on it though, they updated it to a classier one that sort of visually represents his “be like water” philosophy.

    Sabreman –

    1. This is Philip Marlowe’s whiskey. It makes courage!
    2. This is Philip Marlowe’s gun. It makes noise!
    3. This is Philip Marlowe’s friend. It makes love!

    No joke, that’s what the poster says. Actually, the poster is more ’60s than the movie. And Garner looks way more grizzled in the poster too.

    Dale – I want to say Sammo Hung in THE MAN FROM HONG KONG. He gets chased at the beginning and I think he counts as a henchman because he works for George Lazenby, the villain.

    There’s also the category of the future action star playing henchman who the hero fights at the end. This would include Chuck Norris in WAY OF THE DRAGON and Jean-Claude Van Damme in NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER.

  18. wait, never mind, I think I was confusing it with Brandon’s grave. It is the one with the photo from the movies. I haven’t been there in a while.

  19. Does Sly’s performance in DEATH RACE 2000 count? Maybe not. Machine Gun Joe was no one’s henchman.

    Still, I bet his bit part (with Martin Scorsese, I believe) as a mafia goon in Paul Bartel’s followup CANNONBALL definitely fits the bill.

  20. Jareth Cutestory – No, Humphrey Bogart isn’t the “Marlowe” of the books, but he’s the “Marlowe” of the films. He took the role and made it his own to such an extent that when you think of Marlowe, something close to Bogey comes to mind. I always felt that Marlowe would be less dour and less downtrodden than Bogey portrayed him as, more a bundle of suppressed anger at the things he sees. (Think R J Macready from “The Thing” – I always felt that Kurt Russell had one of the best “everyman performances” ever in this movie because he portrays so much in his face with so little direction / dialogue.) Plus he’d wear a better suit. Marlowe has a lot of rich clients, after all.

    Of his novels, “The Lady in the Lake”, “Farewell my lovely”, “The Big Sleep” and “The Little Sister” are probably my favorites – the latter two in particular has the same “Alice in Wonderland”-like quality that you get with films like “The Usual Suspects”, where the everyman character walks through this increasingly bizarre world of dope doctors and terrified rich people with secrets in their closets. The joy of Chandler’s best is, first of all, the multitude of fantastic little character portraits that seem so close to life; and, secondly, the fact that in each of them Marlowe starts off taking a fairly simple job but things get more and more gloriously fucked up at every turn. The ratio of killers-to-non-killers might be higher in the average Chandler book than in any other aspect of fiction – in “The Big Sleep” for example, there are five people (including Marlowe himself) who kill somebody else for various reasons, and one person who kills himself. If the world were like a Chandler novel, the human race would probably be mostly extinct by now.

    I’m astonished that so many people agree with me on “The Big Boss”, since I’ve always heard of it referred to as a much better film. Compare it to “Fist of Fury” for example (which IS a much better film, and has pretty much the same plot other than using racial oppression instead of union-bashing as its focus) and, to my mind, there’s no contest between the two.

    Oh, and it’s said that Jackie Chan played one of the guards that Bruce Lee fights in “Enter the Dragon”. He’s supposed to be onscreen for maybe a second or two, and I’ve never managed to spot him yet, so this might be one of these “urban legend”-type deals. I don’t think Chan and Lee should ever have starred in a film together, so maybe it’s fitting: Lee has too much intensity, while Chan is a master of physical comedy. It just wouldn’t work.

  21. Oh, and Robert Patrick AKA the T1000 was an anonymous henchman in Die Hard 2. He doesn’t give Bruce too much trouble though.

  22. John Leguizamo’s a henchmen in that too. And I think Colm Meany is “British Pilot #2” or something like that. Renny Harlin was way ahead of the game on that one.

  23. Oh, and Machine-Gun Joe was a classic “heel” – he wasn’t the best at the game but the organizers kept him around because people like to have somebody to “boo”.

  24. There’s a Sho Kosugi movie called Black Eagle (post Bloodsport, pre-Cyborg) where JCVD was playing a henchman, but oddly, they put a whole subplot in the movie about his character falling in love with someone, then at the end of the movie, she has to watch him die as he drowns trying to escape from the boat the climax takes place on.

  25. Ugh, I remember “Black Eagle”. Think I commented a bit on Vern’s review of it here as well. Bad, bad movie. I remember Van Damme though.

  26. In some ways, it’s kind of a shame that Seagal arrived fully formed as a movie star in his very first film. He would have been a great henchman. I could see him as the quiet guy in all white or black standing next to Kevin Tighe for the whole movie, and then in the last ten minutes he starts throwing Jim Belushi or whomever through everything in sight.

  27. caruso_stalker217

    April 15th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    I wish that movie existed, Majestyk.

    Also, there would be at least one scene where Kevin Tighe wears a silk robe. I think it’s in his contract or something.

  28. You get a real good look at Jackie in EtD if you freeze when he comes up and gives Bruce a bear hug during the sequence when Bruce is kicking the shit out of all the guards(then he gets his neck snapped off camera). It’s is Jackie all the way.

    Now I cannot confirm the rumor that Jackie Chan is the guy that leaves the human sized wall hole in Big Boss.

    Mainly due to Phillip and the playwright people always put an “e” on my name. Oh well, it is what it is.

  29. caruso: And after Belushi starts getting his ass kicked he’ll say something hilarious like “Hey Lurch, can’t we talk about this?” But Seagal will have nothing to say because, like Terminator X, he speaks with his hands.

  30. Anyone see those TV movies where Marlowe was played by James Caan, Powers Boothe and Danny Glover? Not at the same time, I don’t think, but it was a long time ago.

    I always thought Dick Powell was an interesting – if slightly more vulnerable – Marlowe, and the Robert Montgomery one (LADY IN THE LAKE) where the whole film is a series of POV shots (“YOU are Marlowe!) was a pretty curious affair.

    Ralph KISS ME DEADLY Meeker would have been great. I liked James Garner in this one.

  31. “Now I cannot confirm the rumor that Jackie Chan is the guy that leaves the human sized wall hole in Big Boss.”
    He does do the stunt in Fists of Fury when Bruce Kicks the guy in the Komono across his small courtyard and through a screen door though.

  32. Chan had to do his trademark comedy/daredevil stunts because he initially (like everyone else in HK film industry at the time) a Bruce Lee clone…and well, he broke out to become king by being Jackie Chan.

    Which you all knew already. Sorry.

  33. Sylvester Stallone had a small role as a thug in the Farewell My Lovely adaptation with Robert Mitchum. Of course this means that through out his career Philip Marlowe has taken on Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce and come away unscathed. The Expendables ain’t got shit on Doghouse Reilly.

  34. I think I may need to see some Vern reviews of the Marlowe films where Danny Glover and the audience play the character. Hm.

    Future action stars as expendable thugs (or as ‘dragons’ in the sense of being top-fight henchmen): how about Bronson in the Anthony Quinn movie “Barabbas”? Not only does he play the Roman soldier who brings Quinn (as Barabbas) to Pilate, to stand with Christ, but he plays the member of Barabbas’ gang of (Jewish) highway robbers who took over after Barabbas was captured–the first person Barabbas has to fight. (After that, Dad and I kept watching to see if he’d show up again somewhere else in the film, though I don’t recall if he did. For those who don’t know, Quinn ends up fighting a gladiatorial match vs. frickin’ Jack Palance, though it isn’t a conventional match which Palance’s character shows earlier in the film that he’d have easily won.)

  35. Stainless steel coat racks are for LOOSERS!! lol u got PWNED!!!!!!1!

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