Marlowe (1969)

marlowe poster 1969 movie james garner
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Early prototype of Jim Rockford, introduced Bruce Lee to American audience

Not faithful to the source material's tone

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Marlowe

Studio:  MGM

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  September 19, 1969 (Germany)/October 22, 1969 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG


Hey…it is Uncle Fester!

Philip Marlowe (James Garner) is a private detective with a knack for running into trouble.  When his investigation of a missing brother leads him to a series of murders and a movie star named Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt), Marlowe realizes that he’s stumbled onto something bigger than a missing person.  With a man named Winslow Wong (Bruce Lee) trying to shake him down, and a sister named Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell) who might not be who she says she is, Marlowe’s got to play it cool and work with Lt. Christy French (Carroll O’Connor) to get to the bottom of the case.

Directed by Paul Bogart, Marlowe is an adaptation of the 1949 novel The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler which was part of his famous Marlowe series that began in the short story Finger Man in 1934 and later the novel The Big Sleep in 1939.  The movie was the first film to introduce American audiences Bruce Lee and was widely considered inspiration for Garner’s later role as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files.


Is this some sort of method acting where you refuse to look at me?

Though I watched Marlowe for the Bruce Lee aspect of the film, I had a hard time not seeing Marlowe as simply The Rockford Files with a different name.  Garner’s easy and charm works in this film…despite an overly complicated plot.

I know with a mystery that you need twists and turns, and the movie does follow a lot of the novel.  It meanders a lot and ends with a bit of a sloppy conclusion.  The problem arises in that Marlowe is a rather classic character.  He was famously portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep in 1946, and like the Sam Spade character from The Maltese Falcon, Marlowe is more of a hardboiled detective.  Here, Marlowe is played more for laughs and lucks his way through events.  Though Garner does own the role, it isn’t true to the source.


I’m not peeping back here at all…just ignore me

In addition to Garner, there are a number of good supporting actors in the film.  Gayle Hunnicutt plays the starlette and is the bigger star but is somewhat overshadowed by Sharon Farrell who plays her sister.  Carroll O’Connor is the officer frustrated with Marlowe’s tactics and character actor Kenneth Tobey plays his right hand man.  Jackie Coogan (often known as Uncle Fester) was one of the murder victims, and William Daniels plays the studio head trying to protect Mavis Wald’s reputation.  Rita Morena gets a little risqué as a burlesque dancer who even does a pretty revealing strip tease for a PG film (but it was early PG).


Can we just both agree we’re cool cats and call it a day?

The movie is largely known as the movie that introduced Bruce Lee to American audiences.  Lee shows off very little of his skills, but in hindsight, the role is pretty indicative of Lee’s style and charm.  Despite being a heavy, he takes on the small role with fun and laughs.

Marlowe is by no means a great film, but it is a fun film for fans of Garner and Lee.  Garner had success in the past but went on to even more success after this film and Bruce Lee launched into a successful career first with The Green Hornet and then as a leading man.  Fan of the classic Marlowe character might be upset with this movie but hopefully go into it with an open mind.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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