Private eye Philip Marlowe is hired to find the missing son-in-law of an ailing millionaire, and gets mixed up with his clients daughters, femme fatale Vivian and nymphet Carmen, not to mention a dirty book racket, organised crime, blackmail and several
Less effective as a Raymond Chandler adaptation than Murder, My Sweet, this skirts around the nymphomania, pornography and drug addiction that are central to the novel’s plot. Bogart’s hardboiled Marlowe extends his own wry, insolent image rather than tries to play Chandler’s character, while the sexual crackle of his scenes with Bacall obviously follows up their romantic teaming in Hawks’s To Have and Have Not and their real-life marriage. These sequences were reshot with sexier dialogue after a preview, when Hawks decided audiences would rather have fun than a story they could follow.
Nevertheless, it remains a classic, wholly lovable movie, deploying Chandler’s large and picturesque supporting cast to exceptional effect: Vickers’s rich tramp is one of the great movie sluts, trying to sit on Marlowe’s lap while he’s standing up; Charles Waldron sits pickled in alcohol in his oppressively hot greenhouse amid the orchids he loathes, reminsicing about his wild life; Elisha Cook Jr delivers a definitive loser weasel role, forced to drink poison by a blankly malevolent hood; and Dorothy Malone pops in as a provocative bookstore clerk who offers Marlowe clues about a rare edition of Ben-Hur and an afternoon’s solace.
Famously impossible to understand, this is less a jigsaw than a mystery tour, presenting great scenes in which Bogart faces down a series of strange characters. Decades before the self-referential, self-mocking tone became mandatory in would-be cool thrillers, Hawks delivers almost a parody of the private eye genre, using the mystery as a blatant excuse for visual and verbal pleasures.
Bogart as Marlowe is compelling in this classic thriller that is complex but triumph of atmospheric cool.