Watch the 1969 film “Marlowe” and you’ll understand.
New to DVD through Warner Archive, the Raymond Chandler adaptation beats the pants off “The Rockford Files,” in my humble opinion. Garner is cucumber-cool as flawed private eye Philip Marlowe, who somehow manages to work his way out of work more often than into it.
In this shoulda-birthed-a-franchise mystery, Marlowe delves into a complex whodunit that begins with an ice pick to the spinal cord, takes a hard right turn into a blackmail plot, and ends in one vicious catfight. Along the way and all the while, he romances various beautiful women and cracks wise, often simultaneously. “Underneath your pasties,” he tells a curvy stripper, “there’s a size-40 heart.”
While I’ve never seen “Marlowe” before this release, I’ve seen one clip of it several times, in which martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, not playing himself, pays an unexpected visit to Marlowe’s office and offers a bribe the dick refuses to accept. So Lee kicks a hole in the wall, splits a hat rack, demolishes a bookcase and, most famously, shatters a lamp — the one on the ceiling. With a single vertical kick. The impressive moment shows up in nearly every bio piece on Lee.
What they don’t show you is Lee’s second scene, in which Marlowe beats him by questioning his sexuality. It’s poor taste, even for 1969.
Speaking of taste, Marlowe’s best line may be when he tastes wine at a dinner and remarks, “That’s impertinent — one might say baroque.” That’s one mere example of the cleverness of Stirling Silliphant’s ever-twisting script, but don’t worry: It’s grim and violent when it needs to be. —Rod Lott