Albert Finney’s death in early 2019 and memories of his 1971 Liverpudlian detective picture Gumshoe prompted me to take a look at other odd movie PIs. From Elliott Gould’s man out of time Marlowe in jaded 1970s LA (Altman’s The Long Goodbye, 1973) to the distinctly unnecessary 1978 Bob Mitchum remake of The Big Sleep.
Which brings us to Peter (Capricorn One/Sudden Death) Hyams’ little seen 1975 movie Peeper. In the movie (originally to be called Fat Chance) Michael Caine stars as Cockney private investigator Leslie Tucker in 1940s Hollywood, tangling with disengaged femme fatale Natalie Wood. Despite the cast, Chinatown-style soundtrack and handsome production values the movie apparently sat on the shelf for a year.
Not that surprising, as Caine comes across as a dimmer version of Harry ‘Ipcress’ Palmer in a film that’s less exciting than a typical episode of UK series Boon (the late Michael Elphick as another unlikely private dick who finds himself exiled to Birmingham). Other odd PIs? left field screen snoopers such as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Inherent Vice), Dirk Gently, the vampire Angel, super-powered sleuth Jessica Jones, Randall & Hopkirk (deceased) and Brick‘s Brendan Frye.
Although not an oddball choice as Marlowe, (it was the second time he essayed the role*) Robert Mitchum came a cropper in Michael Winner’s lousy modern day remake of The Big Sleep (1978). Whether through sloth or a misguided idea that a different setting would rejuvenate the material, Winner’s decision to relocate the movie from Los Angeles to the environs of London’s Hampstead Garden suburb was bizarre. Mitchum understandably sleepwalked through the film, which Winner decided to stuff with star cameos from the likes of James Stewart, Oliver Reed, Richard Todd, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, Richard Boone, John Mills, Sarah Miles and Harry Andrews.
James Garner also tried his hand at playing Marlowe in the 1969 movie of the same title, which was set in groovy 60s LA. Notable only for the scene where Bruce Lee (lumbered with the character name of Winston Wong) trashes his office, Garner was much more comfortable as Jim Rockford.
*after 1975’s superior Farewell My Lovely