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Case Number 21329: Small Claims Court

Buy the DVD at Warner Archive


Warner Bros. // 1969 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // May 12th, 2011

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All Rise...

In need of a PI? Judge Russell Engebretson recommends Philip Marlowe, or in a pinch, Nick Danger.

The Charge

James Garner gumshoes through a soul-scarred Los Angeles.

The Case

Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell, The Stunt Man), a sweet young gal from Kansas, hires Los Angeles detective Philip Marlowe (James Garner, Maverick) to find her recently missing brother. Marlowe begins his investigation by questioning a motel manager about the possible whereabouts of Orfamay's sibling; minutes later he finds the manager dead with an ice pick planted in his neck. Marlowe surmises the killing may be related to a big-time gangster by the name of Sonny Steelgrave (H.W. Wynant, It Happened at the World's Fair), whose trademark style of murder involves ice picks, although he has no idea why a gangster would be involved in a missing person case. Figuring this is more complicated mayhem than he bargained for, Marlowe returns Orfamay's fifty dollar retainer and suggests she catch the next train home. Of course, Marlowe won't get off that easily. A series of unexpected events ensues.

james garner is marlowe

james garner is marlowe

In quick order, he is reimmersed in the case when he arrives at the scene of another ice pick murder and finds a set of compromising photographs of Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt, Dallas), a popular TV actress, who he discovers is Orfamay's sister. Shortly thereafter one of Steelgrave's toadies, Winslow Wong (Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon), offers Marlowe a five-hundred-dollar bribe to remove himself from the case. When he declines, Wong severely rearranges Marlowe's office with his karate prowess. From this point on things get really complicated, what with a deceitful girlfriend, an ethically challenged doctor, and a very irritable police lieutenant.

james garner and carroll o'connor in marlowe

Marlowe, directed by Paul Bogart, was based on Raymond Chandler's 1948 novel The Little Sister. I haven't read the book, so I can't say how closely the script hews to its source. What I'm sure of, however, is that moving the time forward by twenty years sucks all the noir right out of the film—no high-contrast, black-and-white images; no gritty forties urban landscapes; no Powell, Mitchum, or Bogart, and worst of all, no fedora. Also, James Garner is not cynical enough for Marlowe. In this film he plays a slightly darker version of Jim Rockford, in a more violent and grimy L.A. landscape. Still, he is…well, he's James Garner, with the self-effacing charm, dry humor, and aw-shucks rugged good looks that have served him so well throughout his long career. In addition to Garner, there's a bevy of first-rate actors: Rita Moreno, Carroll O'Connor, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Coogan. I mean, you can't go wrong with Kato, Archie Bunker, and Uncle Fester all in the same film. The movie doesn't sustain much tension until the final minutes, and the plot is ridiculously convoluted, but the breezy repartee and easygoing acting kept me interested and entertained through most of its running time.

james garner and bruce lee in marlowe

For what it's worth, "Remastered Edition" is prominently displayed at the top of the keep-case. No details are offered on the remastering, but the slightly grainy 35 mm film image is soft, particularly in distant and mid-distant shots. There might be some DNR applied, or this may be a later generation print. Despite the minor flaws, it's a nice presentation of an older film with only the occasional white speck or scratch popping up, and a bright, saturated color palette. The audio is borderline passable. I had to crank the volume up higher than usual to catch all the monophonic dialogue, which at times sounded as if the speakers were swaddled in cotton batting. Overall, it's a better-than-average transfer, especially for a Warner Archive DVD. Too bad there are no extras except for a trailer, but that's normal for these stripped-down, burn-on-demand Warner releases.

james garner and stripper in marlowe

Although this is a Warner Archive release, it's an MGM film. I've read that Warner Bros. (by way of Turner Entertainment) owns the rights to the MGM film library prior to 1986. Maybe we'll see more of these MGM titles that have never made it to DVD. Marlowe manages to kill an hour and a half pleasantly enough, thanks to the actors and some clever dialogue. It's solid enough to merit a rental, or even a purchase for fans of the many fine actors that grace the movie.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Classic
• Crime
• Drama
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb

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