Poodle Springs (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Poodle Springs" was the last Philip Marlowe story Raymond Chandler ever wrote. In fact, it came so late in Chandler's life that he only finished part of it before dying in 1959. It was not completed until thirty years later, when Chandler's estate hired Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser, to finish the novel. Chandler had written four chapters and a plot outline; Parker fleshed out the rest.

The story occurs late in the character's life as well. The Marlowe we are most familiar with is a lonely P.I., somewhere between 30 and 45 years old, usually pictured walking by himself through the seediest parts of L.A. in the 1930s and 1940s, wearing a cheap suit, cherishing nothing but his own integrity, and dangling a cigarette perpetually from his lips. That was the Marlowe of "The Big Sleep" and "Farewell, My Lovely." Compared to that familiar icon, the Marlowe of "Poodle Springs" is barely recognizable. The story takes place in 1963, and Marlowe appears to be nearly 60. He's married to a rich young woman, and is living in a ritzy house in Palm Springs (aka Poodle Springs).

Marlowe (James Caan) doesn't want to spend his life feeling useless and sponging off his wife, so he gets himself a local office and hangs out his P.I. shingle. His case load begins with missing purses but, as you can probably guess if you love this genre, he will eventually be involved with the Nevada mob, the California land swindlers, blackmailers, junkies, rich men with insane daughters (a favorite Chandler motif), pimps, gigolos, hookers, junkies, and a trail of dead bodies. As is typical in the noir genre, the plot is so labyrinthine that I'm not even sure I can describe it, but the key fact is that the trail leads eventually to a high level conspiracy - involving Marlowe's own father-in-law and President John F Kennedy himself!

Needless to say, the ever honorable Marlowe wants no part of high-powered swindles in which powerful men agree to suspend the rules of law and wash each other's backs. By the time the dust has cleared and the murder case has been closed, our intrepid P.I. has slipped back into his gum-encrusted shoes, squeezed back into his cheap suit, snapped the brim of his dusty fedora, and made his way back to the lowlifes and crooked cops in L.A., where he can at least understand the rules.

Poodle Springs is a little heavy on plot and a little light on the noir atmosphere which genre fans love, but I guess that can be explained by our hero's move to the air-conditioned upper class suburbs of the 1960s. I was interested and fascinated for a while by the "fish out of water" elements of the story. It's fun at first to see a married, suburban Marlowe doing the "yes, dear" thing with his wife, wearing a tacky floral print shirt, and picking up his cigarette butts from the squeaky-clean sidewalks of a rich community. That novelty gets old fast, however, and I was soon reacting to the whole situation the same way Marlowe himself did. I was sick of the bright sunlight, the pastel colors, the elegant swimming pools, the clean sidewalks, and the wide open spaces. It just didn't feel like a real noir. I missed the grungy city streets, the long nighttime shadows, and the familiar wail of melancholy saxophone music.

As always, HBO did a first class job with the project. They hired Oscar-nominated Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) to direct the film, and they hired the brilliant Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Brazil) to adapt the Chandler/Parker novel into a teleplay. I'm really not convinced that those two guys were the right men for the job, but one cannot fault HBO for bad faith. They definitely pulled in some high powered talent to work on the project.

Production values aside, this is a Movie House classic in at least one respect. It features two things we prize: celebrity nudity (from Dina Meyer who looks beautiful and pampered) and Joe Don Baker. What more does a movie really need?



  • This film is not available in a Region 1 DVD

  • Here is the Region 2 info from Amazon UK

  • The link to the left goes to info about the book


  • Dina Meyer shows her booty for only about three seconds as she walks from Marlowe's bed to the bathroom. Although brief, the exposure is clear and is lighted properly. Dina looks good.

  • There is also a topless picture which figures into the plot, but it does not appear to be either the character it is supposed to be or the actress playing that character.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C. It is an interesting new take on Marlowe, as he would be twenty five years past his prime. Unfortunately, the conspiracy story is altogether preposterous, and I really missed the usual noir atmosphere. I liked it, but it needed not more cowbell, but more saxophone.

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