Created by John Mankiewicz and Daniel Pyne
“Always look for the lie.”
— Boone tries out some cynicism
Where’s Marlowe?, a cinematic gene splice of Spinal Tap and The Maltese Falcon, begs the question, “Who’s zoomin’ who?”
Originally intended as a made-for-TV flick, this sly, clever 1998 mockumentary “failed upward from a discarded TV pilot to art movie favourite”, according to Dick Lochte, with additional footage added to fill it out as a theatrical release.
The premise is relatively simple, though. Two would-be hip young New York City filmmakers, Wilton Crawley (played by hip-hop performer Mos Def) and A.J. Edison (John Livingston), head west to make a documentary about the daily workings of Boone & Murphy Inquiries, an old-fashioned two-man detective agency, in Los Angeles. It’s run by a pair of old high school buddies: film buff and would-be tough guy JOE BOONE (played to the hilt by Miguel Ferrer), who just loves being a P.I., and his reckless partner, Kevin Murphy (John Slattery).
Much of the film is shot in handheld 16mm fashion, making it all the more believable. When clients walk through the door, they make nervous eye contact with the camera, and are quickly briefed on the documentary being made.
But Christ you know it ain’t easy. The detectives are painfully aware that they’re being filmed as they work their cases, and they come off like incompetent boobs. Nothing very dramatic even happens at first.
That changes, however, when Murphy, doing his best Miles Archer, manages to get himself killed, and the filmmakers find themselves drawn into the case, losing any hope of professional objectivity. Meanwhile, Boone, a closet idealist who’s bought the whole suit-and-tie “down these mean streets” P.I. mythos and is still looking for his “Black Dahlia case,” is sickened by his partner’s death, and wants to chuck it all, ditching the detective game forever. By now, however, the Wilton and A.J. are hooked. So Joe temporarily takes over the filmmaking.
A subtle and peculiar little flick, chockfull of running gags (dog poop, rubber guns, etc.), some unexpectedly touching moments and just enough snappy patter and commentary from the agency’s secretary Angela (who may be the only one in the film with a clue) to keep things rolling. There’s even an actual mystery here, one that winks at Raymond Chander’s The Long Goodbye. But ultimately the film is as much about film making as it is about detective work, and the mockumentary format lends an enjoyably quirky, offbeat feel to it all. And Miguel Ferrer just brings it all back home, delivering a surprisingly touching performance.
For die hard private eye fans and true believers, this is the ultimate winkfest. Oh, and Chandler’s most famous creation is never mentioned. Not once, as far as I can recall. Which means the title itself is a bit of a gag.
HEY! IS THAT…?
- John Hawkes plays a guy who rents out filmmaking equipment to Wilt and A.J. Years later, he played private eyes in two (count ’em, TWO) great indie flicks, Too Late (2016) and Small Town Crime (2017).
- “It’s called ‘show business,’ not “show art.'”
— Boone takes the time to explain it to the film crew.
- “You’re trying to get to the truth but the camera always gets in the way.”
— Boone explains it again.
- Murphy: “It’s been real.”
Crawley: “It’s a documentary!”
- Joe: “I’ll pay the rent.”
Angela: “Which month?”
- “Miguel Ferrer, playing a slick private eye with rent problems… smartly mixes a deadpan Jack Webb Dragnet-style and a nervous, wise-guy intensity in his role as gumshoe Joe Boone. The guy’s an inch away from being a lowlife, but he’s a class act when push comes to shove.”
— Peter Stack (November 12, 1999, San Francisco Chronicle)
- WHERE’S MARLOWE? | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Watch it now!
Screenplay by John Mankiewicz and Daniel Pyne
Directed by Daniel Pyne
Original music by Michael Convertino
Cinematography by Greg Gardiner
Produced by Clayton Townsend
Consulting producer: Tucker Gates
Executive producers: Aaron Lipstadt, John Mankiewicz, Daniel Pyne
Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality.
Starring Miguel Ferrer as JOE BOONE
Mos Def as Wilt Crawley
John Livingston as A.J. Edison
John Slattery as Murphy
Also starring Allison Dean, Bok Yun Chon, Kate Goehring, Barbara Howard, Clayton Rohner, Elizabeth Schofield, John Hawkes
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- March 25, 2022
For die hard private eye fans and true believers, this 1998 indie flick is the ultimate winkfest—the Spinal Tap of PI films.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.