Marlowe (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Bogart
Produced bySidney Beckerman
Gabriel Katzka
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Story byNovel The Little Sister:
Raymond Chandler
StarringJames Garner
Gayle Hunnicutt
Carroll O'Connor
Rita Moreno
Bruce Lee
Music byPeter Matz
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • September 19, 1969 (1969-09-19) (Germany)
  • October 22, 1969 (1969-10-22) (U.S.)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States

Marlowe is a 1969 American American neo-noir film[1] starring James Garner as Raymond Chandler's private detective Philip Marlowe. Directed by Paul Bogart, the film was written by Stirling Silliphant based on Chandler's 1949 novel The Little Sister.

The supporting cast includes Bruce Lee, Gayle Hunnicutt, Rita Moreno, Sharon Farrell, Carroll O'Connor and Jackie Coogan.[2]

The film foreshadowed James Garner's second Los Angeles P.I. character Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Rita Moreno would also go on to co-star as a recurring character in the series.

Many of the wisecracking Marlowe lines incorporated by Silliphant for this movie were taken directly from Chandler's novel. Silliphant is best known for his Academy Award-winning screenplay for In the Heat of the Night (1967) and creating the television series Route 66 and Naked City.

This movie introduced martial arts legend Bruce Lee to many American film viewers.

The film's title song "Little Sister" (named after the novel from which the film is derived) is provided by the group Orpheus.


Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe is hired by a Kansas woman named Orfamay Quest, who desperately wants him to find her brother, Orrin. Marlowe follows Orrin's trail to a hotel, where he meets the desk clerk, Haven Clausen, and a guest named Grant W. Hicks, who both deny any knowledge of Orrin's whereabouts. After Marlowe has checked out Orrin's former hotel room, he finds Clausen murdered with an ice pick and a page torn out of the register book. Soon afterwards, Marlowe receives a call from Hicks, who nervously implores him to hold onto something for a day. When Marlowe arrives at his location, he finds Hicks with an ice pick buried in his neck. He is confronted by an armed, masked woman who knocks Marlowe out and flees. Marlowe searches the room and finds a claim ticket for photographic film, which he keeps and does not tell the police about. The police reveal that Hicks is a former mob runner. Later when Marlowe views the pictures he is confirmed in his belief that there is more to the case than a missing person.

Marlowe traces the clues about the masked woman to a movie star, Mavis Wald, and her friend, exotic dancer Dolores ("with an O") Gonzales. He tells Wald he suspects she is in serious trouble related to the murder of a blackmailer who had photographs showing her having a romantic rendezvous with mobster boss, Sonny Steelgrave, and offers her his help, which she rejects. When Marlowe leaves her apartment, Steelgrave, who Wald had contacted while she kept Marlowe waiting, has several of his henchmen beat up Marlowe, and then he sends Kung Fu expert Winslow Wong to buy or threaten Marlowe off the case. Police Lieutenant French also cautions the detective to stay out of the investigation. Marlowe refuses, and even provokes Steelgrave by socializing at the mobster's restaurant. Steelgrave instructs Wong to try one last time to bribe Marlowe off the case, or else kill him. Wong leads Marlowe to the roof of the restaurant, but Marlowe lures Wong to the edge and taunts him into attempting to jump-kick him, which Marlowe dodges, and Wong leaps over the edge to his death.

Marlowe visits Wald's advertisement agent, Crowell and, after much persuasion, gains his cooperation. With Crowell's backing, Marlowe gets Wald to reveal enough information that he is convinced neither she nor Steelgrave was responsible for either ice pick murder, however she refuses to tell him any more. Orfamay visits Marlowe at his home and tells him her brother is staying at the clinic of Dr. Vincent Lagardie, who Marlowe had previously learned about from watching the hotel clerk dial the doctor’s phone number and ask for "Doc". When Marlowe interviews Lagardie the doctor denies any knowledge of the missing brother. Marlowe confronts the doctor with his suspicions that he is a longtime associate of mobsters and currently involved in the blackmail scheme, but all the while that they are talking Marlowe has been smoking from a drugged cigarette Lagardie had offered him. When Marlowe falls unconscious, Lagardie flees.

Marlowe comes to during the night and, still groggy, searches the clinic. He hears gunshots and stumbles upon a mortally wounded Orrin, who attacks Marlowe with an ice pick but is too weak to do him serious harm. Marlowe finds a photograph that reveals that Wald, Orrin and Orfamay are siblings. This convinces Marlowe that Orrin was the blackmailer and murderer, though in league with another party. Marlowe, without having told the police about anything that happened at the clinic, tracks Orfamay to the train station where she is waiting for a train to take her back to Kansas, and tells her of Orrin's death. Orfamay blames Marlowe for the death, for having taken too long to go looking for Orrin at the doctor's clinic, and she alerts the police to what happened. Marlowe appeases Lieutenant French by promising to solve the case and to give the police the credit for having done so. He returns to his office and destroys the pictures and the negatives, and then gets a visit from Dolores, who tells him Wald wants to see him. After she comforts him they leave together, watched by Lagardie. Dolores drives Marlowe to Steelgrave's mansion, before she drops him off Marlowe asks, and she confirms, if she and Steelgrave had at one time been romantically involved. Marlowe finds Steelgrave dead and a disconsolate Wald beside him. She tells him she killed Steelgrave because he had her brother killed. In order to protect Wald's reputation, Marlowe sets things up to make it look as if Steelgrave committed suicide. However the police are not fooled, and Marlowe and Lieutenant French have a confrontation. When Marlowe returns to his home he finds Orfamay there searching it, but he tells her he has already destroyed the photographs and the negatives. Wald arrives too, and a heated confrontation between them reveals that Orfamay knew about Orrin's blackmailing scheme and wanted to stop him for his own safety – it is why she hired Marlowe to find him – but that she had subsequently told Steelgrave, in return for one thousand dollars, where to find Orrin. The sisters tussle, Marlowe breaks it up and carries Orfamay out. He tells her to go back to Kansas. In a tender discussion with Wald he confirms what he had previously suspected, that she had actually not killed Steelgrave. She admits she pretended to have done so to protect Orfamay, who she thought had killed him.

With Wald's secret safe, Marlowe meets up with Dolores at the club where she is working. Having pieced almost all the clues together, he confronts her, while she is dancing, with his suspicion that she was Orrin's partner in crime. She was in love with Steelgrave and wanted to force Wald and Steelgrave apart. Hicks and Clausen were murdered by Orrin because Hicks wanted to take over the scheme for his own profit, and the drug-addicted Clausen was too unstable. Marlowe guesses that Dr. Lagardie was once married to Dolores, years ago when he was a doctor to mobsters. Dolores admits to everything but she remains defiant, believing that Marlowe is too fond of Wald to tell the police what he knows, as it would ruin Wald's career. Marlowe phones the police and asks to speak to the homicide department. At that moment, just as Dolores's rousing burlesque performance is nearing its climax, she is shot dead by Lagardie, who then kills himself. Before the police arrive Marlowe leaves the club and drives away into the night.


Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a score of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 7 reviews.[3]

Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and said it was "not very satisfactory. Even though director Paul Bogart shot on location, he has not quite captured the gritty quality of Chandler's LA. And James Garner, the latest Marlowe (after Robert Montgomery, Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart), is a little too inclined to play for light, wry, James Bond-style laughs."[4] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote that "Stirling Silliphant's screenplay follows too many styles, and Paul Bogart's direction follows too few to make a more than casually entertaining movie."[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a muddled disappointment. The plot, or more exactly the three or four subplots, is bewildering."[6] Variety wrote, "Raymond chandler's private eye character, Philip Marlowe, is in need of better handling either producers Gabriel Katzka and Sidney Beckerman, scripter Stirling Silliphant or James Garner in title role, have provided, if he is to survive as a screen hero. 'Marlowe,' which MGM is releasing, is a plodding, unsure piece of so-called sleuthing in which Garner can never make up his mind whether to play it for comedy or hardboil. Silliphant's adaptation of author's 'The Little Sister' come[s] out on the confused side, with too much unexplained action."[7] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "fills that yawning gap between the blockbuster and the small-scale film of social consciousness in thoroughly satisfying fashion. Free from the giganticism of the first and the all-too-frequent pretensions of the second it is ideal escapist entertainment."[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a tolerable detective thriller provided you haven't read any of Raymond Chandler's novels or seen Howard Hawks' film version of 'The Big Sleep.' If you have, it will be natural to write off this film as a half-hearted, anachronistic attempt to revive the genre."[9] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Despite some crisp dialogue in Stirling Silliphant's screenplay, Chandler's novel The Little Sister suffers badly from glossy settings and modish direction ... And Marlowe himself seems a thoroughly synthetic creation—although Garner has a good line in 'cool', he has none of the heavy-lidded cynicism and crumpled charm with which Bogart made the part his own."[10]


  1. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  2. ^ Marlowe on IMDb.
  3. ^ "Marlowe". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 25, 1969). "Marlowe". Marlowe. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  5. ^ Greenspun, Roger (October 23, 1969). "Screen: In the Tradition of 'Marlowe'". The New York Times. 56.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 25, 1969). "Marlowe". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
  7. ^ "Film Reviews: Marlowe". Variety. October 8, 1969. 30.
  8. ^ Thomas, Kevin (November 6, 1969). Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 16.
  9. ^ Arnold, Gary (November 8, 1969). "Cloudy Private Eye Without Flair". The Washington Post. C6.
  10. ^ "Marlowe". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (430): 241. November 1969.

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