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BRASHER DOUBLOON, THE (director: John Brahm; screenwriters: Dorothy Hannah/adapted by Dorothy Bennett & Leonard Praskins/from the novel by Raymond Chandler “The High Window”; cinematographer: Lloyd Ahern; editor: Harry Reynolds; cast: George Montgomery (Philip Marlowe), Nancy Guild (Merle Davis), Conrad Janis (Leslie Murdock), Roy Roberts (Lt. Breeze), Fritz Kortner (Vannier), Florence Bates (Mrs. Murdock), Marvin Miller (Vince Blaire), Houseley Stevenson (Elisah Morningstar), Bob Adler (Sgt. Spangler), Jack Overman (Apartment Manager), Jack Stoney (Mike), Ray Spiker (Figaro), Alfred Linder (Eddie Prue), Jack Conrad (George Anson); Runtime: 72; 20th Century-Fox; 1947)
“It’s just smart enough of a film noir to be considered a classic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A film noir similar in theme and almost as enjoyable as The Big Sleep, as private investigator Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) leaves his Hollywood office for a case in Pasadena from a rich old widow who lives in a dark old house. It’s just smart enough of a film noir to be considered a classic.

The Brasher Doubloon is a rare gold coin that is worth $10,000. It has been stolen from the eccentric Mrs. Murdock’s (Florence Bates) safe, and only two others have the key–her son Leslie (Janis) and her trusted secretary for the past five years, the attractive blonde, Miss Merle Davis (Guild). Mrs. Murdock wants Marlowe to just recover the coin without any questions, and no police involved. Mrs. Murdock is a chilling personality. Mrs. Murdock’s son is a loud-mouth spoiled kid, who wants Marlowe removed from the case. But Marlowe is attracted to Merle and takes the case to pursue her, despite his dislike for the family. When Marlowe makes advances on Merle, she tells him she has a phobia about being touched but is willing to have Marlowe give her lessons on how to recover. Merle tells Marlowe it is very important for her that he take the case and keep it confidential.

Marlowe is no fool, so he figures the family is keeping some dark secrets. He soon learns that this case will include not only robbery, but blackmail and murder. Marlowe’s visited in his office by Eddie Prue, who represents the gangster owner of the Lucky Club, Vince Blaire. He offers Marlowe double his usual fee if he gets off the Murdock case. When Marlowe refuses, Eddie takes him at gunpoint to see Vince. But Marlowe is good at getting out of situations with someone pointing a gun at him, as we see throughout numerous examples of him disarming such rivals.

Marlowe’s investigation leads to an assayer/fence, Elisah Morningstar, who can only tell him an unnamed client has the coin and is willing to sell it. Marlowe overhears the phone conversation Elisah has with the client, George Anson. When Marlowe tracks Anson down, he finds him dead in his apartment. Marlowe then finds the locker ticket where the gold coin is, and uses the surly apartment manager to take him to Anson’ apartment as an alibi that he wasn’t there before. When the police arrive, the investigating detective, Sergeant Spangler, is suspicious of Marlowe and makes him empty his pockets. When free, Marlowe obtains the hidden gold coin and then goes to see the assayer. But he finds him dead with Merle’s gun next to him. Marlowe withholds the gun from the police. When Marlowe shows up at Murdock’s mansion, he’s told that he’s off the case because the coin has been returned. Marlowe tells them he has the coin and won’t return it until the murders are solved and the police are informed.

In Marlowe’s office a frightened man called Vannier (Kortner) pulls a gun on him, saying he must have the coin. Marlowe takes the gun away and finds out that he’s a freelance movie cameraman and that he’s blackmailing Mrs. Murdock for $500 every month because of what he has on film. It turns out he was filming the Rose Bowl Parade 5 years ago, that was when Mr. Murdock died falling out of the window.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

The case becomes even more bizarre, as Marlowe discovers Merle is mentally disturbed. Mrs. Murdock is purposely driving her insane and now completely controls her. Leslie, in the meantime, is involved with Vince due to his gambling debts. Mrs. Murdock and Leslie want the coin in order to trade it to the avid coin collector Vannier for his blackmail film. They figure they can all live well blackmailing his mother, while Mrs. Murdock has convinced Merle that she is guilty of throwing her husband out the window because he made sexual advances to her and then blacked out. Mrs. Murdock convinces Merle that is what the blackmailer has on film.

This brooding Gothic melodrama is brought to life by John Brahm’s expressionistic ambiance ably photographed by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern and by the sharp hard-boiled Raymond Chandler story the film is adapted from, “The High Window.” The film is not as complex as the novel, but it makes good use of its snappy dialogue and has vividly grotesque characterizations to go along with the dark mood it sets. Fritz Kortner stands out in his villainous role, which he plays like Peter Lorre would; while Florence Bates is charmingly acerbic in her creepy role as a bitter old hag.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”