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Brasher Doubloon, The
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by Jay Seaver

"The Other Philip Marlowe Movie."
3 stars

There was a period in the mid-1940s when four different studios adapted four of Raymond Chandler's novels featuring private eye Philip Marlowe in as many years with as many actors, which from a modern perspective seems absolutely bizarre. Even more so, two were remakes of a sort, as the studios had purchased Chandler's novels when they were thought of as mere pulps to use their plots in B-movie series, making new versions when Chandler became more famous and respectable. That's the case with "The Brasher Doubloon"; Fox's second adaptation of "The High Window" isn't quite a half-hearted cash-in, but evn as an okay B-movie it's certainly the least interesting of the four Marlowe movies.

It opens with Marlowe (George Montgomery) being called to Pasadena; secretary Merle Davis (Nancy Guild) pulled his name from the phone book to recover a coin stolen from the collection of her employer Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates), although Florence's son Leslie (Conrad Janis) assures him that it's not necessary. He's already on the case, though, so he starts following what leads there are - and finds his first corpse on his second stop.

The plots were never the most important pieces of a Marlowe story, and this one in particular is a scavenger hunt that Marlowe never has to work terribly hard to figure out. It's got the usual pieces - the thing hidden in a locker, the apartments and offices conveniently left unlocked after their occupant has been murdered, Marlowe just pocketing any gun he finds and creating a real chain-of-custody mess for the district attorney to deal with later. Fortunately, one can still at least see some of what made Chandler's stories stand out (aside from the delightful language) - the hard shell over a soft and gallant night, the way the city grinds some people to a paste but doesn't make them stop hustling, the nastiness hidden behind privilege. That it doesn't always hold together is not a big deal, because concentrating on the details would mean losing sight of the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, the studio isn't throwing its A list at this movie the way Warner did with The Big Sleep, and while George Montgomery shouldn't necessarily be trying to imitate Bogart's Marlowe, he never seems to get the character on more than a surface level, making for a clean-cut detective whose corner-cutting and cynicism often comes across as bullying rather than a shield for how he cares too much. A little comes out in narration, but though Montgomery is capable enough, it doesn't do much to deepen his character. He's also got to do a fair amount of the heavy lifting for his co-star, describing how Merle is supposed to be timid or shy because Nancy Guild doesn't really get that across (except, ironically, in a scene where she's supposed to be trying to play the femme fatale). Neither of them really sink their teeth into their roles the way that the side characters do - Florence Bates gives Elizabeth Murdock a meanness that could easily give rise to the sneer with which Conrad Janis plays Leslie, while Houseley Stevenson and Jack Overman are memorably disreputable in small parts.

It's capably-enough made, at least, with relatively little fat in its 72-minute running time, keeping things moving at a nice pace that allows a viewer to marinate in Chandler's seedy Los Angeles without feeling like one is mired there. The simple, low-budget staging plays into that, even if it does sometimes look a bit generic. It's got a bit of studio polish, just not a lot of flair.

Of the four 1940s Marlowes, "The Brasher Doubloon" is justifiably the most obscure and will likely stay that way, as the 70-odd years of studio and library consolidation since has left it in a different place than the other three. It's just good enough that curious fans of the character won't be too disappointed, even if it's not terribly interesting on its own.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34066&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/04/21 05:00:20
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USA
  06-Feb-1947
  DVD: 11-Dec-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  John Brahm

Written by
  Dorothy Hannah
  Leonard Praskins

Cast
  George Montgomery
  Nancy Guild
  Conrad Janis
  Florence Bates



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