Released Feb 6, 1947: THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, and Conrad Janis. Directed by John Brahm (The Lodger, Guest in the House, Hangover Square). This is a lesser known entry in the group of noir films that feature Raymond Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe, and as such, is a low-budget step-brother to legendary Marlowe films like Murder, My Sweet (1944) with Dick Powell and The Big Sleep (1946) with Humphrey Bogart. This time out, western star George Montgomery takes his turn at playing the famous detective. Montgomery is hired by a wealthy, eccentric old woman (Florence Bates) to find the Brasher Doubloon, a rare and extremely valuable coin that was stolen from her private coin collection. She doesn’t give Montgomery much to go on, and appears to be withholding relevant information about her spoiled son (Conrad Janis) and beautiful private secretary (Nancy Guild). Using the few leads he has, Montgomery follows the trail of the missing coin to a variety of seedy locations and shady characters, most of whom are ready to do him harm to acquire the coveted coin. Although this is a low-budget B-grade film, it is saved by its compelling fast-paced plot and a parade of vividly drawn characters and distinctive locations. Some places, like Montgomery’s office and a coin dealer’s shop, are clearly staged on a meager budget, but others, like Bates’ lavish home, a seedy apartment building, and an underground nightclub, are dripping with atmosphere. Unfortunately, the casting of Montgomery as Marlowe is the weak link in this film. He’s not a bad actor, and is generally likable, but Montgomery’s portrayal of Marlowe lacks the hard-boiled edge of a noir protagonist. Montgomery’s Marlowe has more in common with Lloyd Nolan’s roguish portrayal of private eye Michael Shayne, in that series of films, than the cynical, pragmatic, noir gumshoes from the likes of Bogart, Powell, and Mitchum. The rest of the cast provide a tasty assortment of characters for Montgomery to play off of. Janis is fittingly arrogant and snotty as a spoiled rich kid and character actors Roy Roberts, Jack Conrad, Marvin Miller, and Fritz Kortner all provide uniquely distinct characterizations. Guild presents Montgomery with a beautiful and vulnerable damsel in distress to save, although the flirtations between Montgomery and Guild, spread thick with double-entendres that are often too clever for their own good, are another area where Montgomery seems out of his element. It’s almost as if he read some pick-up lines in a book and is trying them out for the first time. As a light, entertaining detective story, The Brasher Doubloon generally succeeds, thanks to a fast-moving and engaging story, but Montgomery’s performance keeps the film from truly venturing into the dark corridors of noir. We give The Brasher Doubloon 3 out of 5 fedoras.
George Montgomery played Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon, a 1947 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The High Window. The novel was previously adapted as a Michael Shayne vehicle in Time to Kill (1942), starring Lloyd Nolan as Shayne.