Monday, July 4, 2022

Chandler: Not Raymond, but Warren Oates

Warren Oates as Chandler.
After a long career as a supporting actor, Warren Oates was ready to headline a major motion picture in 1971. He had garnered good notices in Sam Peckinpah's controversial Western The Wild Bunch (1969) and earned more acclaim as the lead in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), a low-budget film that became a critical darling. He was poised for a star-making role, but then he made Chandler (1971).

Mike Laughlin, who had produced Two-Lane Blacktop, signed on as producer. Leslie Caron was cast as the female lead. MGM planned to distribute it. In the biography Warren Oates: A Wild Life, Caron notes that her husband, whom she considered a good judge of film properties, was impressed with the script. Chandler must have sounded like a promising endeavor, but, alas, the final product is a convoluted mess.

Oates plays the title character, a washed-up private eye in contemporary L.A. who has gotten desperate enough to pawn his Smith and Wesson. When an old friend offers him a job trailing a woman, Chandler senses something is amiss. However, he needs the money...and perhaps a little self-respect.

Leslie Caron as Katherine.
The woman turns out to be Katherine Creighton (Leslie Caron), the mistress of an East Coast gangster, who wants to start a new life. Neither she nor Chandler realize they are serving as, respectively, the bait and the patsy in an elaborate plot to lure Katherine's ex-boyfriend to Monterey and then kill him.

I suspect the idea behind Chandler was to transplant a tough private eye and a mysterious lady--familiar characters in 1940s film noir--to modern times. The two leads, especially the world-weary Oates, are up to the task of playing a couple of lost souls who find each other. Unfortunately, they are saddled with a muddled plot and esoteric dialogue. (Katherine: "What are we going to do now?  Chandler: "Nothing. Something.") And since Chandler was made in the early 1970s, that means there's always a chance that the ending will be left up in the air (at least partially).

I will say that writer-director Paul Magwood makes maximum use of the on-location filming in Carmel and Pebble Beach. The ocean views almost had me calling a travel agent. However, in addition to the pretty backdrops, Magwood adds some realism to his film by shooting scenes in a real hotel, a pest extermination office building, and along the winding roads of Carmel.

Mitchell Ryan as one of the villains.
It would turn out to be Magwood's only directorial job. He would spend the rest of his career working as an assistant director on TV shows and an occasional movie, like the excellent Time After Time (1979).

A nice surprise in Chandler is what amounts to a cameo by Gloria Grahame as one of Oates' friends.  In the biography Gloria Grahame, Bad Girl of Film Noir, author Robert J. Lentz writes that Magwood and producer Laughlin took out a full page ad in The Hollywood Reporter to apologize for Chandler. They claimed that MGM executive James T. Aubrey had the film re-cut, added scenes, and changed the music score. That is likely true given the film's running time of under 90 minutes and its horribly inappropriate music.


  1. Yikes - I sure won't be hunting this one down (although I always like seeing Gloria Grahame). But I greatly enjoyed your write-up!

  2. Starting again:
    I note that you didn't mention Alex Dreier, who was the Designated Fat Man in this movie.
    As a '50s/'60s Chicago kid, I grew up watching Alex Dreier doing the 10 O'Clock News on Channel 5 (NBC) and later Channel 7 (ABC) for much of those two decades (the station jump was front-page news here).
    It was circa '66/'67 when Dreier moved to Los Angeles, at first to do news commentary, but also starting a sideline as a character actor in TV and movies.
    Personally, I'd always thought that Alex Dreier would have made an ideal Nero Wolfe on TV, but Rex Stout was still around back then, so no go.
    Dreier had a fairish run up to the '70s on TV and movies, working Sidney Greenstreet territory; I'm not sure of the exact reasons, but he scaled back, ultimately spending a lot of time back in Chicago doing spots for the Continental Bank, before retiring to Hawaii.
    I always enjoyed Alex Dreier; to this day I'm on the lookout for his guest shots (MeTV ran his Land Of The Giants appearance just this last weekend).
    Anyway, I just wanted to give him a little shout-out, So There Too ...