Sunday, December 07, 2014
CHANDLER (1971) - Paul Magwood
As the old saying goes, I could watch Warren Oates read the phone book and be happy (Muhlenberg County, Kentucky Edition preferably). In the case of this private dick misfire, Chandler, I'd seriously rather have watched him read the phone book for an hour and a half. Because the script he was given, oof, what a stinker.
The film starts out promisingly enough. World-weary Oates plays a fallen-on-hard-times investigator named "Chandler" working a thankless job for a factory security outfit. He quits out of frustration, possibly to have more time with the bottle, until an old friend shows up to offer him a chance at redemption, a job tailing a myserious French woman arriving at Union Station. The mood is intriguingly lethargic. By the time Oates goes to get his old revolver out of hock at the pawn shop, I was all settled in for a nice character piece, Cockfighter but in the world of the gumshoe. I was wrong. By then, we've already been witness to one of cinema's most grievous exposition scenes, two men in a room explaining how they need a patsy for a corporate-government regime changing plot that's of little interest as the story develops. Basically, Oates is their hired fall guy, the washed-up schlemiel who they know will go for the girl, thereby providing a decoy. Even in the ever convoluted world of noir and detective movies, it makes very little sense.
I feel for Oates. He's exactly the actor you want when you're in the market for a world-weary, off-the-rack and very relatable everyman rube. The script and direction in Chandler does him a disservice. Even the love interest he's paired with (Leslie Caron) is a bad fit. About the only funny line in the whole film--"Emancipated women can be a pain in my ass"--isn't directed at her but a minor side character. There's no chemistry, no spark. Though Oates name-checks the Grandfather of all Detectives at one point in a phonebooth ("Chandler...as in Raymond"), sadly, all similarities end there.