The Brasher Doubloon (Fox Cinema Archives) Review
Based on Raymond Chandler's The High Window, the 20th Century Fox picture The Brasher Doubloon finds Philip Marlowe in familiar territory. He runs afoul of the cops, takes an interest in a beautiful and vulnerable young woman, and soon enough discovers that there's more to his wealthy client than what appears on the surface. In 72 minutes you get this but not much more, as The Brasher Doubloon can too often feel like an uninspired and watered down version of the memorable Marlowe vehicles made around the time of this film's release.
Fox gave director John Brahm its B-team, starting with the mustachioed George Montgomery in the role of the famed private detective. This Montgomery (as opposed to Robert Montgomery, who both starred in and directed the unconventional Chandler adaptation Lady in the Lake which was also released in 1947), struggles to embody any of the qualities and virtues which set the character apart. Perhaps it's not entirely fair to measure George Montgomery (just 30 at the time of filming) against the list of movie stars who've played Marlowe on film but, regardless, he easily slips to the bottom of the pile. Female lead Nancy Guild, as the fragile secretary Marlowe is keen on saving, does doe-eyed innocence well, even if she fails to truly stand out in any meaningful way. The supporting cast is highlighted by Florence Bates, playing the rich bitch matriarch and Marlowe's client, and Conrad Janis, a jazz musician and sometime actor who acquits himself well playing the bratty son with a serious gambling problem.
For those unfamiliar with Chandler's story - and there are several deviations between the novel and this adaptation - the set-up has Marlowe searching for a rare coin that actually proves to be rather Macguffin-like in its role of propelling forward other, more vital interests. In The Brasher Doubloon, which takes its name from the coin, the plot feels rushed and simplified. After a strong initial meeting at the client's residence, the film also suffers from unconfident pacing which shares none of the dreamy, atmospheric tension present in Brahm's best films like Hangover Square, The Lodger and The Locket. Only a handful of interesting camera angle choices, occasional noir lighting and the residue remaining from Chandler's story make the picture worthwhile.
Considering the relative rarity of The Brasher Doubloon, its ultimate lack of distinction comes across as something of a letdown. Fox had originally listed the title as forthcoming in its now-dormant Film Noir DVD line years ago. Rumors of rights issues emerged but, whatever the reason, the release never materialized and the picture has been similarly absent from television showings. This very quietly issued DVD-R edition carries with it far less expectations (and yet a higher price tag) than a spine number in the Fox Film Noir series probably would have.
It's almost too easy to start comparing George Montgomery's Marlowe and the film against the noir classics like The Big Sleep, Murder, My Sweet and even the sometimes maligned Lady in the Lake. At no time does The Brasher Doubloon ever seem like it has the necessary ambition or personnel to belong in that conversation. I've not seen Time to Kill, the earlier version Fox made of the story featuring Lloyd Nolan's Michael Shayne instead of Marlowe, but the B-level promise of that production seems more comparable to this film than what other studios were doing with Chandler at the time. So while it might be easy to feel thrilled at finally being able to see The Brasher Doubloon in an official release, the effect of actually watching the film may prove disappointing.
The format on which The Brasher Doubloon does finally emerge is a burned-on-demand DVD-R that's part of Fox's newish Cinema Archives line. On the plus side, the style of artwork used is a notch above the other MOD peddlers. Original poster art is utilized on the front while the spine is attractive and consistent and the back offers a small collection of images from the movie. I think Amazon might be the primary distributor of these titles, as "Manufactured by Amazon.com" is printed in very small writing above the barcode on the back of my copy.
Image quality gets off to a rocky start before settling in to be at least very watchable. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio is respected here. Opening titles look especially rough, with movement in the frame and lots of dirt and speckles. Some of these white speckles recur throughout the viewing and are joined by a couple of persistent scratches. What first seems to be a very questionable, VHS-level transfer does soon rebound to be at least adequate and actually consistent once it gets going. The single-layer aspect of the disc is not really an issue considering how short the film is. The transfer is progressive. Contrast and sharpness are both decent to acceptable without threatening to really be much more.
Audio is likely to be the main issue. Parts of the film, especially early on, sound as if a rain storm is going on while the actors speak. This is perhaps exacerbated at times by the actual use of sounds of heavy wind on the soundtrack. Nonetheless, the very heavy hiss is distracting but seems to lessen a tad as the movie progresses. There's thankfully never a struggle to hear or understand the dialogue above the fuzziness. That said, it does sound quite rough at times. No subtitles are offered.
Alas, no special features here either. This is despite that initial slotting of the film in the noir line by Fox, which always had commentary tracks accompanying the pictures. It's not just a guess that one of these was recorded for The Brasher Doubloon and yet nowhere to be found here: noir czar Eddie Muller's website even counts it among his credits.