Directed by Dick Richards
Starring Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling and John Ireland
A lonely horn plays solemnly as the camera pans up from the blurry reflection of a blinking neon sign, belonging to a seedy downtown shop, up to the second story window of the flophouse on top of it. Looking out of it is the haggard visage of Phillip Marlowe (Mitchum), burning cigarette in his mouth, his hat pushed back, tie undone and glass of whisky in his hand. We know that this is going to be an Archetypal Detective movie from the get go.
Made two years after Robert Altman’s bellbottomed satire on the Marlowe character The Long Goodbye, and just one year after Roman Polanski pushed the conventions of Detective fiction with Chinatown and painted something blacker than even the darkest of Film Noir. Instead of riding the wave of change, director Dick Richards swims against the current to conjure up an evocative facsimile of the Private Eye detective film which Chinatown rewrote the rules on.
We are taken back to movie Raymond Chandler world but not as we know it. Gone are the restrictions of the Hays code which impinged on those classic detective movies from being completely faithful of the earthy source material, leaving Richards to bring back all the cursing, bloody violence and nudity that were in Chandler’s actual story. Now this movie has a lot of problems, its ridiculously slow, even for the Seventies, and a lot of the acting, Robert Mitchum too, is very by-the-numbers. This is not even the best adaptation of this particular Chandler story – that prize has to go to Murder, My Sweet which what it lacks for swears, beatings and tits, it more than makes up for in visual style, dramatic intensity and fun, cynical snappy dialogue.
So why did I jump at the chance to review this DVD when I was offered it? Well, numero uno: I haven’t seen it and Robert Mitchum is in it. I’m a huge lover of Out of the Past – a Film Noir he starred in that many Crime Movie eggheads call the ‘ne plus ultra ['none is better'] of 1940′s Film Noir’, and many dreamed that he’d play the James Bond of Film Noir and 30 years later he got that chance. Secondly, the crime writer Jim Thompson has a small part in the movie. Thompson wrote many of the greatest work in mystery fiction and his work has been adapted into films such as The Getaway, The Grifters and most recently The Killer Inside Me. So I was intrigued to see if he’d be any good at acting but he was instead very lethargic and had zero presence.
Charlotte Rampling is very exciting as the creepy seductress, Helen Grayle. She has the whole ‘Femme Fatale’ thing locked down and the movie really came to life when she enters the story. It looks gorgeous too. The cinematography is light years behind Chinatown when it comes to compositional frames and movement but the colours coupled with the evocative production design that makes every frame look like an Edward Hopper painting.
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