Born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1928, he wisely truncated his screen name to James Garner. He shot to stardom in 1957 with the hit TV show - Maverick. The series ran until 1962, and then he began to transition more often to the big screen. Later in the 1970’s Garner hit another big home run with a new TV series, The Rockford Files which ran for 5 seasons. I was a big fan of The Rockford Files and re-watch it on DVD, but for some unintentional reason(s) I totally missed his very best motion pictures. I am working diligently on watching some overlooked movies starring Mr. Garner. So far it has been a delight. It was only recently I watched the three movies reviewed below – all three from the 1960’s. Better late than never!
Marlowe 1969 mystery crime drama
This is an interesting, well-done film variation on the 1949 crime, mystery novel, ‘The Little Sister' by Raymond Chandler. In the opening scene, Marlowe is on the trail of the elusive Orin Quest at the request (and $20) of his sister, Miss Orfamay Quest (aka the Little Sister). The Chandler-esque B&W 1940's dark noir atmosphere is updated to the flower-power, hippy dippy 1960’s; hence, drawing many negative reviews from the retro crowd. Following a tip from the Little Sister, Marlowe tracks Orin to The Infinite Pad, a dive hotel full of Hippie trash in Bay City (Venice Beach). The film does a good job of keeping certain Chandler elements in the forefront ... firstly the old school LA locations: Marlowe’s Spartan office in Hollywood, Bay City, the Bristol Apartments, oil pumping units and Union Station provide the memory links to classic film noir, while modern, luxury apartments, the Hotel Alvarado, 60’s cars, and Sunset Blvd strip joints transfer us to 1969 LA. Many of Chandler’s classic Private Eye themes are in the film: the dysfunctional family, blackmail, violent thugs, irritable cops, the shady doctor with narcotics up his sleeve, the compulsive liars, and the gorgeous damsel in distress. James Garner does a great job in the lead; his performance is really true to the original Marlowe stories, the hallmark being his exquisite radar system for detecting lies and half-truths. As the dead bodies pile up and the meetings with Orfamay (Shannon Farrell) become more bizarre, it becomes obvious that the petite blonde Orfamay is a more than a touch crazy and every inch a born liar. She shamelessly fibs her way into the femme fatale hall of fame – dangerous bitch category. And that’s a high compliment considering the company. Supporting characters are convincing and fun, especially Rita Moreno as the wicked Dolores Gonzales – she really nails the role. Bruce Lee flashes some savage karate kicks and Carrol O'Connor is a nice surprise as the two-fisted police detective. All in all, this is a rare movie in which I would not change a thing. Now on my private DVD shelf. Buy it while you still can.
The Americanization of Emily 1964 romance comedy war
Ignore the clunky title and the black & white format. The Mighty James Garner and Julie Andrews are perfectly cast in this offbeat WW2 love story with a classic, thoughtful, and funny screenplay. It is brilliant work. There has never been another movie quite like it. Both Garner and Julie Andrews were in their prime in the early 1960’s, and it is no surprise that they both consider this film to be their all-time best work. The movie practically disappeared for 40 years, and I was pleased to discover that it is now released on DVD. I watched the DVD this weekend and was happy to find the film still fresh and had aged very well. Watching this movie reminds one of why James Garner and Julie Andrews became big stars. They are both extremely likable and have great chemistry together in a rocky romance story. In one of the best scenes, Julie Andrews slaps the shit out of Garner after he gave her an affectionate pat on her shapely bottom. For once, the quick-witted, cocksure Commander Madison (Garner) is speechless. He has clearly met his match. Andrews, in a non-singing role, is both eloquent and luminescent. She falls for Madison, even though he is a self-confessed coward, not at all ashamed of his deep desire to “remain in the rear with the gear”. He already had a taste of combat, and was doing his very best not to repeat it, especially with the immensely dangerous D-Day invasion looming just around the corner. But to quote a famous bard:
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley [go oft awry]
An’ leave us nought but grief and pain.”
--- Robert Burns
Support Your Local Sheriff 1969 western comedy romance
This movie is a classic spoof set in a gold rush boom town in the Wild West. Every actor perfectly cast, every line hits the right note. This was a work of comedy genius with a stock cast of characters – the dim-witted outlaws (Danby clan), the befuddled town council, the fearless sheriff (James Garner) and his clownish deputy, and a very pretty girl. Great fun and a rare chance to see Joan Hackett; she is fabulous in this film.
RIP James Scott Bumgarner
April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014 (age 86)
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2021. All rights reserved.