Sunday, January 25, 2009

Adventures of Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely, the 1975 film adaptation of Chandler's novel, has a 57 year old Robert Mitchum playing the role of 37 year old Philip Marlowe, private eye. Set in 1941, it seems that Mitchum--whose signature in noir as the shamus with class perpetually transacts in Marlowesque characters--is playing a role made and set for him a score of years earlier.

We see Mitchum trying to play his younger self. His movements were always clunky but in this movie they seem clunky and unoriginal--as if in trying to emulate his own awkwardness, he becomes less naturally awkward but doubly awkward because he keeps trying--an old man trying desperate to live the fire and days of a more stupid youth.

To add to the sum weirdness of the movie, there is a brief cameo by Sylvester Stallone, in which his character shoots and kills a violent, obese, dutch madame. Stallone too will later star in a film which will put him in a role designed to have him play a younger him: the recently released Rocky VI. Except that Rocky VI isn't set in 1976. It's just an older Rocky boxing again.

Philip Marlowe, in Mitchum's older, less agile hands, is haunted by the ephemerality of his name. There is no Marlowe in Mitchum's portrayal. It is Mitchum playing Mitchum, while the ghost of Marlowe moves between them. The ideational Marlowe, the tropological entity on the surface of the performance, is dead but evidently appearing in the convulsions of Robert Mitchum.

For some reason--whether the scenes, the portrayals, the premise; I don't know--the movie disturbed me. Marlowe, who becomes something like a ghost, is troublesomely haunting. Also--color movies set in times when color film didn't exist (but when black and white did) disturb me deeply.

For more Marlowe: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a CBS radio show running 1947-51. Ninety of the half-hour long, Old Time Radio episodes are available here for downloading:

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