The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

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Detective Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) is hired by a little old lady from Pasadena, Mrs. Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates), to find her missing Brasher Doubloon, a rare and valuable coin. She soon dismisses Marlowe, but his continued snooping gets him to the bottom of old man Murdock’s “accidental” death during the Rose parade years ago, and the reason his secretary Merle (Nancy Guild) was so deeply traumatized and still lives firmly under Mrs. Murdock’s thumb. The ladies are being blackmailed by a movie cameraman who photographed the incident, son Leslie Murdock has a gambling debt that gives both him and the mob motive for coin theft and murder, and the deeper Marlowe gets, the more bodies start piling up, including a coin dealer and another private eye.

Marlowe first comes to the Murdock home on a windy day, and it instantly establishes this movie’s moody, ominous atmosphere. Yes, it can be this gusty in Pasadena, but as Marlowe soon learns, there’s a particularly nasty cloud sitting over the Murdock mansion. Sweet, pretty Merle lives in a constant state of terror, is cruelly treated by her boss and prohibited from having callers, but she isn’t too timid to strategically apply feminine wiles and pull a gun on Marlowe when Mrs. Murdock commands it. Merle also has a phobia of physical contact, and Marlowe, smitten from the moment he lays eyes on her, eagerly volunteers to provide unlimited personalized therapy sessions until she’s cured.

Director John Brahm (Hangover Square, 1945, The Locket, 1946) makes this a lean, light and stylish adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The High Window. George Montgomery makes an entertaining Marlowe, a more pleasant take on the character that fits the soft-boiled feel of this movie. He does a fine job with this Marlowe’s curiosity, quick thinking, self-serving schemes, and smooth, quippy charm. He’s great with the funnier moments, like shaking Merle to get her to “relax,” tricking her into thinking she’s holding an unloaded gun, running rings around Police Lt. Breeze (Roy Roberts) and getting out of tight scrapes and gangsters’ cellars. brasher

It was also fun to see Conrad Janis, a familar face from Mork and Mindy, tons of other shows, and The Cable Guy (1996), looking and acting a lot like a young Leo DiCaprio, as the surly, spoiled and highly suspicious Leslie. The villains and other shady players (Marvin Miller, Alfred Linder, Fritz Kortner and Houseley Stevenson among them) come in memorably distinctive shapes and sizes, always a plus in a twisty mystery.

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20 thoughts on “The Brasher Doubloon (1947)”

  1. While I agree about the director’s talent, I’m afraid we differ on George Montgomery as Marlowe. To me (and some critics), he’s simply too young and chipper for a convincing Chandler PI. I do love The High Window, though, in book form and in a fantastic BBC Radio dramatization with Toby Stephens as Marlowe.

    1. I can see why that casting wouldn’t work for everyone, it’s a lighter take on the material overall. Toby Stephens is great, that must be a really good version.

          1. It’s overblown and silly, sometimes intense and too violent for my taste. A bit like Deadwood but without the Shakespearean awesomeness. But at least watch the first episode and decide for yourself.

  2. Although it took me awhile to get used to Montgomery’s Marlowe – I *guess* I got used to it! – I enjoyed a lot about the film. I *think* there’s an Eddie Muller commentary on the DVD. I’d love to hear his take on it.

    1. You’re right, there was a Muller commentary track recorded with Conrad Janis. I like this one just as a B-ish noir-ish light mystery, might not please all Marlowe fans but enjoyable on its own. Thanks

  3. I bought a European release of this movie in the summer but have yet to get round to watching it – my mountainous backlog continues to grow.
    It’s a film which doesn’t seem to be all that well regarded by Marlowe fans but, not being a stickler for perfect literary adaptations myself, I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt as both director and star are people whose work I like.

    1. Yes, I saw a wide range of opinions on imdb too, and I can see why people think it seems Marlowe in name only, but for me it worked as a lighter mystery and Montgomery brought some acidic charm to it. No matter how you end up feeling about him it’s definitely worth a look for Brahm’s nice work.

  4. Haven’t seen it in years but didn’t think Montgomery was good enough. Love your phrase, ‘soft boiled ‘ – but that’s not Marlowe.
    You didn’t say what you thought of Nancy Guild – I guess the studio was promoting her as another Bacall but it didn’t work.

    1. I can see why it doesn’t please all Marlowe fans, it’s a bit of a misfit compared to the other movies and actors, but I enjoyed it apart from that. As for Guild, I thought she did well playing the unsure vulnerable and shy victim. I liked her in Somewhere in the Night too, kind of a short career.

  5. I agree; Montgomery suits the tone of the film, which is that of a good, breezy private-eye story… admittedly not unadulterated Chandler. I find it interesting that Montgomery was supposedly the fourth actor named/considered for the lead in this, Dana Andrews, Victor Mature, and Fred MacMurray being the three before him. Andrews is so associated with film-noir, and so good at being world-weary, I’m surprised that he never did get a chance to play Marlowe. William Holden could have made a good Marlowe too.. didn’t he play him once on radio?

    1. That is interesting! All those actors would have brought something totally different. I think Andrews is my favourite possibility of these and would’ve done a nice job with it. It’s too bad we can’t use the casting time machine to make these movies.

    2. Good points! I also liked Bogart as Marlowe too, though The Big Sleep was a bit of a mess story-wise. I haven’t read the Chandler books but I pictured Marlowe to be a bit on the older side than Holden or Andrews.

      Tam

      1. Thanks! I’ve heard that The Big Sleep (1946) was drastically re-cut to avoid censorship and to expand Bacall’s role… don’t recall where I read that, so don’t quote me on it. But if it’s true, that couldn’t have helped story coherency.

        The Big Sleep is the only Chandler novel I currently own, but in it Marlowe is stated to be 33 years old. Andrews would have been in his late 30’s at this time, certainly not too young. Holden would have seemed too young in the 1940’s, but I was thinking 1950’s Marlowe for him.

  6. This is one I really liked a lot. The movie caught the feel of the warm Santa Ana Winds and the area in general. I once watched the Rose Parade from the mezzanine of the building with the “high window”! It seems like maybe it was a little too short (there are one or two stills which have scenes which aren’t in the movie) but it really worked for me as a lighter-styled Marlowe. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Yup, like I say I can totally see it considered misfit or wrong to Marlowe purists, but putting that aside it worked as you describe it. When you get a character this iconic, there may be room for all kinds of adaptations, after all Batman ranges from Adam West to the Dark Knight movies.

  7. As I read your post, it occurred to me that the Chandler character of Phillip Marlowe, like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, has been done many times over so tit’s nice to see another makeover. The only Marlowe ones I’ve seen are with Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep) and Robert Montgomery in Lady In The Lake. Both weren’t bad but it would be interesting to see this film with a lesser known actor than Bogart and Montgomery.

    Tam

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