Movie Review: “Chandler” (1971)

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It may be the most confusing movie ever made. By no means is that a good thing here. It skips right past intriguing and mystifying and right to, “What the hell is going on?” In a way, it reminded me of Scream and Scream Again; a movie where we think we know what’s happening in the beginning, and then as the scenes and endless subplots get introduced, we get lost and it all falls apart. Chandler has the look and feel of a good detective story. Starring one of my favorite character actors, the underrated Warren Oates, we are expecting a rough and tumble, edgy plot with a decent level of violence. It never comes.

I don’t know if I can adequately summarize this film, but I’ll try. Oates plays Chandler, a private investigator hired by someone in the “government” to keep an eye on a beautiful French woman, a witness being chased by gangsters. However, it’s not as simple as that. The “government” really isn’t trying to get her, but they are actually gunning for someone else who is going after her. She’s a witness to some agency and a mistress to someone else. So Chandler tries to protect this girl from the gangsters, the “government”, and some unseen force all at the same time when he is just being set up as a patsy by the “government” to take the fall for something that we don’t know about. Have I lost you yet? It’s as incoherent a plot as you will ever see illustrated on-screen. The reason why I keep putting “government” in quotations is because that word is thrown around what seems like every ten minutes. We don’t know what branch or agency of the government. Is it the whole thing or a rogue element? Or does the writer/director not even know himself?

There are conversations that pop up between the sinister forces that were supposedly added by studio head James Aubrey because he felt the story was too convoluted to be understood. Instead, these scenes act as even more of a deterrent. They make an already confusing film beyond the realm of human thought. I don’t think there is an amount of drugs on this planet large enough to make this understandable. The editing is also a disaster because Aubrey supposedly locked the director and editors out of the room to complete the final print. Gee, if he thought his corrections would help, I wonder what the hell the original cut looked like. Director Paul Magwood and producer Michael Laughlin ended up taking out newspaper ads apologizing for how bad the film was.

I feel so bad to give a Warren Oates movie such a low score, but I’m feeling 3.5 out of 10 stars. He’s the only aspect which makes this watchable, and barely at that. His acting is convincing, even if what he’s working with is trash. The rest of the cast is a mess, almost as bad as the story. The entire film we keep waiting for something to happen—there’s one set-up after another. It builds and builds and builds and then ends. There’s no action, no tension, and so very little violence for what a film like this of the time period requires. In reading the short plot on my DVR before watching, I was expecting some similarities to another Oates flick Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Boy was I wrong. This is nothing like that. A total dud, boring as all hell, and well-deserving of a place on the scrap heap of 1970’s cinema.

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