The Big Let-Down: CHANDLER (MGM 1971)

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“Some (producers) are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur”- Raymond Chandler, “Writers in Hollywood”, first published in Esquire Magazine, Nov. 1945

I had high hopes for CHANDLER, I really did. An homage to the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler (born July 23, 1888) with Warren Oates as the titular detective sounded like it’d be right up my dark alley. But as much as I wanted to like this movie, I was let down by its slow pace, convoluted script, and butchering by studio execs. Much of the film was cut, scenes were replaced, and the result is an evocative mood piece that ultimately doesn’t satisfy the noir lover in me.

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I don’t have a problem with Warren Oates as Chandler, with his Bogie-esque look and low-key performance. Oates looks like he belongs in the 1940’s, “a relic of World War Two”, though the movie is set in 1971. His Chandler has no first name, only referring to one in a phone conversation (“C-H-A-N-D-L-E-R, as in Raymond”). He’s a man out of time, hired by old pal Bernie Oakman to trail beautiful Leslie Caron as the mysterious Katherine Creighton. I don’t have a problem with Caron either, tackling a dramatic role with style and ease, and showing off her dancer’s legs to good advantage.

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The supporting cast is fine, with Seventies character actors like Alex Drier, Mitchell Ryan, Gordon Pinset, and Marianne McAndrew doing their best with the material. Film noir icons Gloria Grahame and Charles McGraw shine in brief cameos, as do veterans Richard Loo, Scatman Crothers, and Robert Mitchum’s brother John (as a bartender). Alan Stensvold’s photography brings the California coastline to vivid life, and the jazzy score by George Romanis helps set the tone in the first half, before it descends into TV-movie music. So there’s no problem there.

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The problem stems from what could have been. CHANDLER had all the makings of a great neo-noir, but brutal cuts by MGM boss James Aubrey turned this into a total mess. It was taken completely out of director Paul Magwood’s hands, and he and producer Michael S. Laughlin took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter apologizing for the released product. This was Magwood’s first and last film as director; he did have a career as an AD, notably on TV’s THE NEW MIKE HAMMER. Producer Laughlin (who was married to Caron at the time) went on to write and direct the sci-fi cult classic STRANGE INVADERS.

So while I was disappointed by CHANDLER as a whole, there were parts of it I liked (Oates, Caron, the California scenery). I can’t give it a recommendation, but if you’re interested in some classic Raymond Chandler films, you can watch MURDER MY SWEET , THE BIG SLEEP, or FAREWELL MY LOVELY, and let this failed effort fade into deserved obscurity.

 

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