But while Raymond Chandler’s novels that starred the detective never ceased to encapsulate him as one of the coolest anti-heroes to exist in the fictional world, the film adaptations have not always matched the impervious self-possession implemented by the writing strengths of the wicked Chandler. When looking at them with modern eyes, only The Big Sleep (1946) and Murder, My Sweet (1944), Humphrey Bogart and Dick Powell vehicles, have remained classics, the Robert Mitchum 1975 update, Farewell, My Lovely, another one if you’re being generous.
So while I’ve seen most of the Marlowe films and am quick to recognize that some are better than others, there hasn’t been one I haven’t liked. (Even 1947’s Lady in the Lake, which interestingly but otherwise maddeningly used first-person camerawork to distinguish itself from its counterparts.) Because anything including the private detective is something to treasure; to brush off witty one-liners and a delectable, labyrinthine whodunit, is next to impossible.
That being said, 1947’s The Brasher Doubloon is perhaps the most forgotten of the Marlowe films, as it isn’t a big-budget work, doesn’t contain any major stars, and isn’t directed or written by heavyweight talents akin to Howard Hawks or Chandler himself. Clocking at only 72 minutes and clearly the product of 20th Century Fox’s B-movie section of production, it is a movie destined to fail. And yet it is a brisk, stylish work, better than what would normally be expected for a film with no means to be great. And great it isn’t. But watchable it is, and we hardly consider complaining about its pulp-ready storyline, about its maybe too tidy plot twists and eventual conclusion.
This time around, our beloved Marlowe is investigating the mysterious disappearance of the titular coin, which belongs to the well-off, eccentric Mrs. Murdock (Florence Bates). Suspects include Merle Davis (Nancy Guild), Murdock’s secretary who gives the impression that she’s hiding something, her son, Leslie (Conrad Janis), whose aggressive demeanor suggests he wouldn’t be against betraying his family, and Vannier (Fritz Kortner), a cameraman who may or may not have footage that depicts who murdered Mrs. Murdock’s late husband.
A pro (or a con) that befalls The Brasher Doubloon quite nicely is, surprisingly, its brief running time. Whereas most Chandler adaptations run somewhere around two hours and therefore cause viewers to lose their place somewhere in the many double-crosses and exchanges, The Brasher Doubloon’s short clocking allows for us to keep up with its story, which is a diverting whodunit crackling with the character based shade Chandler so easily could concoct. Director John Brahm gives the film just enough stylistic quirkiness to make it a solid piece of filmmaking, and the cinematography, headed by Lloyd Ahern, is gothically displayed and frequently innovative. Montgomery makes for a passable Chandler, with Bates, Kortner, and Janis stealing scenes (and making up for Guild’s lack of screen presence). The Brasher Doubloon is the weakest of all the Philip Marlowe-central films, but like pizza or a piling of soft serve, nothing’s ever really bad. Some are better than others. But that doesn’t stop us from scarfing away. B
1 Hr., 12 Mins.
The Brasher Doubloon February 28, 2016
immediately like anything that has to do with Detective Philip Marlowe. I like the way he talks, thinks, and acts — he’s a wise guy in a world of crime and deceit who just so happens to know what the hell he’s doing. I like how danger doesn’t bother him (or, at least, doesn’t appear to), how he’s not opposed to swapping spit with a sexy female client, how he’s always one step ahead of his audience, how he can pace through the midnight streets and own them. He’s an indelible figure in the film noir genre, the quintessential private dick.