Friday, January 11, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

George Montgomery as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe? You bet! Montgomery plays the famous private eye in a relatively litte-known film, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, recently released on DVD-R by the Fox Cinema Archives.

I'd really wanted to see this film last year at the Aero in Santa Monica, with supporting actor Conrad Janis in attendance, but wasn't able to swing it, so I'm glad I at least had the opportunity to see it at home. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, finding it something of a hidden gem.

Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) is summoned to the Pasadena mansion of a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates), and asked to find a rare coin stolen from her safe. Mrs. Murdock is rude and feisty, but Marlowe is intrigued by her beautiful but anxious young secretary, Merle Davis (Nancy Guild). This being a Philip Marlowe mystery, one can be sure the mystery only gets more complicated -- and dangerous.

I like George Montgomery to start with, and I really enjoyed him as Marlowe. No, he's not Bogart or Powell, but I had a good time watching Montgomery, finding him quite personable in the role, and I would have liked to see him do more films in this vein.

This was Nancy Guild's second film, following SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). While I liked her in the earlier film, I also found something a bit awkward about her performance. I thought her acting in THE BRASHER DOUBLOON was right on target; anything slightly "off" works in favor of her troubled character. Guild is also quite lovely and in that regard adds to the film's many visual pleasures.

Fans of MORK AND MINDY will enjoy seeing Mindy's dad, actor Conrad Janis, back when he was a teenager! He plays Mrs. Murdock's surly son. Roy Roberts, Fritz Kortner, Marvin Miller, and Robert Adler are also in the cast.

Reed Hadley has a wordless role as a man accompanying Nancy Guild's character into the climactic "movie screening"; it's ironic he doesn't speak since Hadley is so well known as the narrator of Fox docu-noir titles. Based on some lobby cards seen online, at least two scenes were cut from the movie, including one with Hadley, so it appears he originally had a speaking role. Indeed, IMDb indicates he's playing a doctor, which wasn't apparent from the final edit.

This was the second day in a row I happened to watch a film noir partially set in Pasadena and featuring the Rose Parade, the other movie being LARCENY (1948). In fact, the Rose Parade is a key plot element in THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, which partly concerns itself with the past death of someone who fell from an office window while watching the parade! I found that angle particularly interesting since I once watched the parade from the mezzanine windows of an office on the parade route myself. (That was in 1978, to be exact -- former President Ford was the Grand Marshal.) Update: My dad just watched my DVD and tells me we watched the Rose Parade from the mezzanine of the very same building where the murder occurs; the "murder window" is on the 8th floor. He knows the building very well. Some very cool personal trivia!

The black and white cinematography by Lloyd Ahern is one of the movie's finest attributes. He does amazing things not only with shadows, but with sunlight -- the sun-dappled hallways and rooms, with the shadows of trees rustling in the Santa Ana Winds, are simply wonderful. The photography is reason enough to see the film, in and of itself.

This 72-minute movie was directed with excellent pacing and style by John Brahm, director of better-known noirish titles such as THE LODGER (1944), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), and THE LOCKET (1946).

The Dorothy Hannah screenplay was based on Raymond Chandler's novel THE HIGH WINDOW. I was interested to learn that the story was previously filmed as a Michael Shayne mystery starring Lloyd Nolan, TIME TO KILL (1942). Unfortunately it's the only Michael Shayne movie I haven't tracked down yet! Unlike most of the Shayne movies, it hasn't been released on DVD; for the sake of completeness, JUST OFF BROADWAY is another Shayne film which needs a DVD release. (Update: Here is my review of TIME TO KILL.)

I had been concerned about what the quality of the Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R would be like, having read some negative comments about the print quality online, but I honestly didn't find it nearly as bad as I'd been led to believe. A review by the Digital Fix is more in line with my reaction: Yes, it needs restoration, and most noticeably there is a long "thread" down the middle of the screen in a couple of scenes. Yes, I would have far preferred that a beautiful new copy had been released in the late, lamented Fox Film Noir series, complete with the commentary track which Eddie Muller's website says he recorded. (Not having that track put out is a real loss for noir fans and noir history.) But given the reality of the MOD world we're living in and the rarity of this title, I found the print quality quite acceptable.

The best-case scenario would be if the Fox Cinema Archives line meets with the same success as the Warner Archive, then perhaps we can eventually look forward to an upgraded release of the film in the future, just as the Archive did with a couple of its early releases such as I LOVE MELVIN (1953); the Archive also rescued a commentary track recorded years ago for WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951). Given the popularity of film noir, one would think the market would certainly be there for a remastered print of a Chandler mystery, including an Eddie Muller commentary.

Hopefully Fox is noting consumer feedback on issues such as this, as well as regarding their unfortunate releases of widescreen films in pan and scan, and in time will respond accordingly.

In the meantime, noir fans should definitely check out the highly entertaining THE BRASHER DOUBLOON.


Blogger Mark McGlone said...

I haven't seen it in a long time. My memory of it was that Montgomery wasn't very good, but Florence Bates was. I also remember it had a very nice, rather sinister, noirish atmosphere. I'd love to see it again. Maybe Montgomery was better than I remember. I wish TCM would show it.

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