Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
United Kingdom/USA, 1978. Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment. Screenplay by Michael Winner, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. Cinematography by Robert Paynter. Produced by Jerry Bick, Elliott Kastner, Michael Winner. Music by Jerry Fielding. Production Design by Harry Pottle. Costume Design by Ron Beck. Film Editing by Frederick Wilson.
Michael Winner remakes Howard Hawks’ 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel, following the plot closely while enjoying the freedom to include a more explicit representation of the seedy world of sexual exploitation that its main character investigates. Casting Robert Mitchum in the lead role is the film’s only tip of the hat to the style of shadowy film noir cinema of the past, otherwise the imagery employs the bright scenery of England’s pastoral countryside in place of the dark streets of Los Angeles. It begins when Mitchum’s Philip Marlowe shows up on the doorstep of an old, wealthy American ex-patriot (James Stewart) who asks the private dick to find out who has been blackmailing him. Stewart’s daughters are a bit of a handful and are constantly getting into trouble, the latest adventure a gambling debt incurred by his younger offspring (played with unabashed loopiness by Candy Clark). The clues that Marlowe follows take him to a bookstore run by an acerbic Joan Collins (perfectly cast as the film’s true femme fatale) that might be a front for something dirtier, then leads him to the den of a smut photographer who has been taking snaps of Clark in the buff, plus there’s the constant mention of Stewart’s son-in-law, the man who was married to his elder daughter (Sarah Miles) and who seems to have vanished. His absence appears to be key to an ever-confusing mystery in which characters become desperate to maintain their secrecy as the bodies begin to pile up. Mitchum, looking sharp in his seventies suits and playing the character with less worn-out edge than he had in Farewell My Lovely, has a good time following the winding plot to its ultimate end (one which even Chandler even had trouble figuring out), though other than his presence, devotees to the genre and the original film will likely not be pleased (and as is indicated by the film’s reception at the time, they were not pleased at all). The choice to turn Miles’s character, initially played by Lauren Bacall as a confident, enigmatic vamp, into a kooky spoiled brat dampens her importance in the story and the lack of forced impressionism in the cinematography makes this feel more like a television adaptation of a classic than a big screen reboot. The supporting cast is filled out with a bunch of fun characters, though, including Edward Fox as a suspect, Oliver Reed as a dangerous nightclub proprietor and a wordless John Justin as the bookstore owner with underworld connections.