First, get it out of your head that the character we see here has anything to do with the Philip Marlowe from the books by Raymond Chandler. That Marlowe was much darker, more cynical, and a bit of an ascetic. His idea of a good time was to sit in his shitty little office and re-play classic chess games. No, what James Garner plays here is a practice session for Jim Rockford, five years later.
This is not really a complaint. Garner is great in that part, and he’s great here. But the best way to approach this movie if you are a Chandler fan like I am is to ignore the fact that people call him Marlowe. The screenplay, by Sterling Silliphant, is pretty faithful to the plot of book, The Little Sister, the fifth Marlowe book, though almost all the settings have been changed. This is okay, too, since the real Marlowe is completely a noir creature of the 1940s Los Angeles, not swinging ‘60s L.A. It’s a good movie, worth your time. The fabulous Rita Moreno has a supporting part, as well as Carroll O’Connor and Jackie Coogan. And there is Bruce Lee in a really silly part that I don’t think Chandler wrote, back when Bruce hadn’t yet made his brief splash in silly chop-socky movies.
Marlowe’s office is in one of our favorite Los Angeles locations, the Bradbury Building on Broadway … or so they would have you think. In reality the Bradbury is a class location, and would never house the sort of flea-bitten little office Garner seems to enter. The Bradbury has been used in 65 movies and TV shows, according to the IMDb, including Bladerunner, Good Neighbor Sam, Chinatown, Lethal Weapon 4, and The Artist. When I see Technicolor movies from the ‘60s I’m struck by how phony they look. They needed tons of lights to film in those days, and it makes everything garish. Shots that are supposed to be in cars are horribly phony, with rear-projected stuff that doesn’t sync with anything. It doesn’t ruin a movie for me, far from it, but I’m always aware of it. There have been incredible technological leaps in cinema in my lifetime.