The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

The Brasher Doubloon (1947) is a typically complex Philip Marlowe family crime film noir mystery directed by John Brahm, starring George Montgomery and Nancy Guild, based on the 1942 novel The High Window by Raymond Chandler.

Although not the best loved nor even the best known of the period adaptations of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, The Brasher Doubloon (1947) does remain highly faithful to type in that it squeezes in the many well known and oft tread tropes, types and topics familiar to readers of that series.

Following the success of the Chandler adaptation Murder My Sweet (1944) and Chandler's adaptation of Double Indemnity (1944), the author became in fashion in Hollywood: Warners filmed The Big Sleep, MGM did The Lady in the Lake (1946), and Paramount filmed a Chandler original, The Blue Dahlia (1946). 

Fox decided to film The High Window again, this time with more attention to following the book, and it was announced first in 1945 that Fred MacMurray would be playing Philip Marlowe — before it was announced later that John Payne would play the lead role — while in December of that same year there was a further casting change when it was announced that it would in fact be Victor Mature.

George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

In January 1946 Fox then announced announced that the film would star Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, who had been so successful in Laura (1944), and in May 1946 Fox said that George Montgomery would play the lead and that filming would begin in July.

Florence Bates in  in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Not only does the mystery turn complex — initially simple in the case of a stolen antique coin — but it turns complex in light of internal family issues, as is the set up in The Big Sleep. This family too has a dissolute member, as well as a young and flirtatious member — not one in the same here.

Further, the initial mystery — on the face of it straightforward — leads Marlowe into a wider set of circumstances, made more serious from the off by the introduction of a dead body. This is accompanied by the typical Marlowe office-visit from a mysterious and it turns out violent character, trying to force Marlowe in a different direction.

In this version of a Raymond Chandler Marlowe story, Marlowe is younger and more suave. This look and indeed this script suits the rather the debonair George Montgomery better than the more cynical versions portrayed by Bogart and Powell.

The windy opening scene of The Brasher Doubloon is also something of a surprise, almost as if the wind is overdone, as if it were an extra performer, somehow stealing the scene. But like the wind, the characters are all slightly overwrought and where needs-be they are grotesque, none more so than the off-base Fritz Kortner.

George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Kortner was a fascinating presence in American cinema, where he remained an exile with an urge to return.

Immer, pausenlos war ich von der Hoffnung erfüllt, dass ich doch eines Tages, wenn der Anlass meines Weggehens vorüber ist, zurückkehre nach Deutschland.

I constantly and always hoped that one day, when the reason for my leaving Germany was over, I could return.

Fritz Kortner, Interview SFB, 1957

With the coming to power of the Nazis, Kortner fled Germany in 1933 with is wife, actress Johanna Hofer, returning first to his native Vienna and, from there, on to Great Britain, and finally, in 1937, to the United States, where he found work as a character actor and theatre director.

Fritz Kortner in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

He returned to Germany in 1949, where he became noted for his innovative staging and direction of classics by William Shakespeare and Molière, such as a Richard III (1964) in which the king crawls over piles of corpses at the finale.

Kortner took seriously the task of continuing the German theatre after World War II, sometimes emphasising the controversial nature of the classics and dedicating theatre to moving its audience. He stated: “Stirring up the lethargic, and shaking loose the conventions and traditions that have established themselves so successfully in post-Hitler theatre is so wearing.” 

Death on Bunker Hill in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Nancy Guild who plays Merle Davis began her career as a contract actor at 20th Century-Fox and made her screen debut in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz-directed Somewhere in the Night (1946)

Guild paired with Orson Welles in Black Magic (1949) and later appeared in the Universal Studios film Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951). She began working on television and made more movies, including Francis Covers the Big Town (1953).

Jack Overman in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Where The Brasher Doubloon succeeds over some of the better known Philip Marlowe noirs is some real Los Angeles location photography, including Bunker Hill and an eerie Pasadena mansion with huge palm trees blowing in the wind, and a rambling old Craftsman house in the Hollywood Hills on a windy afternoon.

In The Brasher Doubloon it is Florence Bates as the matriarch of the Murdock family that steals the show. 

A stack of cops in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Although film noir in the United States during the 1940s and early 1950s is be traced to the social and psychological effects of the post-World War II era — identified by a sense of disillusionment and anxiety — there is something of the effects of World War I still prevalent in Raymond Chandler's work.

Certainly as Americans realised and processed the horrors of war and the threat of atomic annihilation, there was in the later 1940s and throughout the 1950s a massive crackdown on organised crime, as law enforcement sought to dismantle the massive syndicates that had emerged during Prohibition.

The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

This attitude of fear and uncertainty is just about always reflected in noir, reflected in the grain of the characters haunted by their pasts, or just struggling in a world that lacks a moral sense. Crime and violence are everywhere, very often as in The Brasher Doubloon, right within the family unit. At the same time, the theme of masculinity and femininity are often discussed with male characters struggling to assert themselves in a changing world, and female characters — such as Merle Davis in The Brasher Doubloon — using their sexuality as a means of survival.

The Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles features nicely in The Brasher Doubloon, and is always worth a gander. This was once an upscale neighbourhood and the building used in this film pretending to be the Florence Apartments was actually named the Gladden Apartments. Raymond Chandler, who was the author of The High Window on which this was based, also lived in the Gladden Apartments roughly 30 years before the film.

The Gladden Apartments, Bunker Hill in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

The Angels Flight was a small gauge rail system that took commuters to and from Bunker Hill. The Angels Flight rail can be seen in over 100 movies since at least 1914 and features in numerous Film Noirs, including Hollow Triumph (1948), M (1951), The Turning Point (1952), Cry of the Hunted (1953), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Criss Cross (1949), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Conrad Janis in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

In terms of public morality, The Brasher Doubloon (1947) conflicted with the Production Code, largely with the kiss between Marlowe and Merle in his apartment which is over ten seconds long — plus he also says that she wants to stay in his apartment, implying that the couple might sleep together — also prohibited.

Critics and theorists of literature have mentioned that Raymond Chandler is known to have identified his heroes with Arthurian knights, insofar as they are are committed to rescuing the oppressed and defeating the wicked. Although the idea seems valid across a broad range of Hollywood movies — probably the Western more than any other 1940s genre — directed confrontation with the expectation does not leave much more than that.

George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Chandler's Marlowe has been more successfully queered however, than he has been made an Arthurian knight. For example, the character often loses consciousness in the company of gay men. Chandler's complicated relationship with his wife after whose death he attempted suicide, is pertinent to his portrayal of women, and the repulsion he felt for his own wife often feeds into his own characters — Marlowe's description of and rejection of Violet's "wretched woman's withered body" being one of several strong examples.

Concerning Chandler's alcoholism, the trauma of World War I might be cited as a stimulus but this is also a disease with a genetic predisposition which brings to mind Chandler's father, who was also an alcoholic — suggesting an inherited tendency that may have been biological as well as sociological. 

Nancy Guild in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Apparently, Chandler spent his later years drinking heavily and making the most of the celebrity that Philip Marlowe had earned him. During this time he messed around with a story in which the detective faced his biggest challenge to date — marriage. 

Raymond Chandler managed about ten pages of the story, which was titled Poodle Springs aiming that Marlowe would "drink himself to death because he could not work any more". The story was abandoned, and as he told a pal that if Marlowe was married, "even to a very nice girl, is quite out of character. I see him always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never quite defeated".

Nancy Guild in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) 

Marriage of course, and the successful family unit, does go against the grain of noir, as the family in The Brasher Doubloon demonstrate. The patriarchs and in this case the matriarch are criminals, with embedded and destructive secrets, and the girls and boys have always gone badly off the rails — pornography, gambling, alcoholism, and murder.

Above all it is probably the the codes of noir masculinity that are damaged the most by suburban settling, with the noir life offering the opposite of settling down — men's solitary lives usually marked by detachment and violence.

The successive versions of the dysfunctional families across Chandler's novels and the film adaptations might alternatively be read as part of a search for community for both Marlowe and Chandler himself, however. 

It was no accident that hard-boiled fiction emerged when it did, after World War I and peaking in the New Deal era — the fiction of the New Deal era did aspire in this sense to a common culture and  Chandler's novels preoccupied with "a vision of male fellowship and idealized brotherhood as a model of community, something that shares values with the family — but at the same time does not.

Marvin Miller in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

If there was a crisis in masculinity in the 1920s after World War I, then this kind of competitive and isolated manliness, driven by heterosexuality and a desire to find violent opportunities in urban settings — as opposed to the battlefield — makes a kind of sense.

What Chandler did manage to establish — certainly viewed here in The Brasher Doubloon, was the idea of the wealthy and degenerate family, with the hard-boiled loner coming in to fix it. This complicates the detective's relationship to the idea of the family unit somewhat, and although the family remains broken at the end of the story, they are fixed insofar as they are psychologically right, and morally 'fixed'.

Raymond Chandler and the dysfunctional upper class in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

Insofar as this is true, Chandler seems to have recognised that the roots of his fiction did lie in the  roots in the sentimental fiction of the nineteenth century — and Marlowe in this light is certainly a sentimental action hero who in contrast to the hard-boiled loner is in fact at the forefront of protecting family and home.

Marlowe's-eye-view after a beating from some goons in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

Not that the family and home of The Brasher Doubloon and other Chandler stories merit such protection. They are dysfunctional and nasty. The murdering matriarch has manipulated and gaslighted the daughter into believing she has killed the mother's first husband while the son Leslie has betrayed them all by placing the family's priceless coin on the black market. Unlike for example the Sternwoods in The Big Sleep, this family does not even have a collective interest. 

Nancy Guild in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

Given that this concept, the nuclear family, was absolutely threatened by the hardships of the Depression and the social confusions of modernity the reactionary nostalgia does basically align with the conservative politics of the genre's right-leaning tendencies.

George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

In The Long Goodbye, published in 1953, the mobster Mendy Menendez observes Marlowe's isolated state, saying:

"No dough, no family, no prospects, no nothing" 

Later in that novel, Marlowe himself reflects on his lack of family:

I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, and to plenty of people in any business or no business at all these days, nobody will feel the bottom has dropped out of his or her life.
Romantic endings in detective noir — The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

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