Thursday, January 17, 2013
The Brasher Doubloon (1947)
This 1947 film was based on the third of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, The High Window, with George Montgomery as Marlowe. Apparently Dana Andrews, Fred MacMurray and Victor Mature were all considered for the role. Whether Fox made the right decision in casting Montgomery is a matter we will consider further. With John Brahm as director the movie certainly had potential, and whether it lived up to that potential is another matter for further consideration.
The movie shows even more promise when we are introduced to Marlowe’s client, the formidable Mrs Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates). She ostentatiously refuses to offer Marlowe a drink and clearly expects a private detective to behave like one of the servants. Marlowe is not impressed and is about to turn the case down, but he is persuaded by Mrs Murdock’s secretary Merle Davis (Nancy Guild) to change his mind. The fact that Merle Davis is a very attractive young woman may have had something to do with Marlowe’s change of heart.
Of course the case turns out to involve much more than a stolen coin. There is also the blackmail angle, blackmail that centres on film footage of Mrs Murdock’s husband being pushed out of a high window (hence the title of the original novel). Marlowe will encounter a colourful cast of shady characters and heavies during the course of the investigation.
Nancy Guild was being pushed very hard by Fox at the time, perhaps too hard. She was thrust into leading roles that she didn’t really have the experience to carry off successfully. She always seems ill at ease, but since Merle Davis is obviously a disturbed and very anxious young woman Guild’s nervousness actually enhances her characterisation. A more experienced actress might have been tempted to try to turn the character into a stock femme fatale. And Guild certainly had the looks required by a film noir actress.
A Philip Marlowe movie obviously stands or falls on the performance of the actor playing Marlowe. Whether you enjoy George Montgomery’s performance or not depends on what you’re expecting. He makes an excellent private eye but he isn’t the right actor to play this particular private eye. He’s too young, too smooth, too confident and too optimistic. It’s an amusing performance and Montgomery certainly knows how to deliver hardboiled dialogue, but Marlowe needs to be a much more world-weary character. He needs to be a man who is much more beaten down by the sleaze and corruption of the world of the private detective. If you treat this movie as simply a private eye movie then Montgomery is extremely good but if it’s Marlowe you wanted you’re likely to be disappointed.
The 20th Century-Fox Cinema Archive DVD-R boasts a very handsome transfer.