Tuesday, June 19, 2018

In short: Chandler (1971)

Embittered and depressed private detective Chandler (Warren Oates) gets back into the game when an old acquaintance working for some kind of government agency asks him to shadow the moves of one Katherine Creighton (Leslie Caron) for reasons as vague as what Chandler is actually supposed to do.

The viewer knows this is all part of a plan to bring down a highly positioned member of a large criminal organization by another member of said organization. Katherine, you see, was the lover of the former man, but has grown tired of the violence and him (one supposes, the film’s pretty vague about this as well) and has used a vaguely defined opportunity subtly provided by the latter man to flee. The whole conspiracy is built on Katherine’s ex-lover following her to the West Coast where he is supposed to be easier to kill (for reasons the film never makes clear, of course). Chandler is, we are told, meant to be a decoy, but for whom, the film never bothers to make clear.

Be that as it may, Chandler does what everyone expects of him and tries to protect Katherine from the conspirators who are repeatedly trying to kidnap her because…honestly, you got me there. I also have no clue why the bad guys are using Chandler at all.

Which, as the vagueness and illogic of this plot synopsis hopefully already has suggested, brings us right to the core problem of Paul Magwood’s Chandler: it makes no lick of sense whatsoever, and not in the way of, say, a Raymond Chandler novel, as the too clever idea of naming the hero Chandler might suggest, where the plot is only a method to move the protagonist from one interesting encounter to the next, but in that of a film made by people who hire Warren Oates to play an old school private dick moving through the early 70s and are too dense to make good use of that.

The problem isn’t just that the plot makes no sense, the script as a whole is a complete mess. The dialogue consists of one third total non sequiturs, one third of the villains gloating in mock-educated manner (in scenes which are probably supposed to fit into a typical 70s conspiratorial mind set but are in actuality stupid, tedious and slowing the film down for no reason), and one third horrible clichés presented without charm and conviction. There are more ellipses in the dialogue than in a manga from the 90s.

I suppose the film is attempting to make some clever comment on the Chandler style private eye – a product of a different decade – colliding with the 70s and existentially suffering under it. Unfortunately, nobody involved in this production seems to have had any clue how to actually go about this, beyond casting the perfect actor for the main role, so what we actually get are ninety very tedious minutes of pointless movie. It’s not even interesting enough to call it pretentious.

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