The film foreshadowed James Garner's second Los Angeles P.I. character Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. Many of the wisecracking Marlowe lines written by Silliphant for this movie (quite a few of which were lifted directly from Chandler's novel) could just as easily have come from the mouth of Garner's television private eye Rockford, although Garner played Marlowe as a substantially more serious character.
The movie also introduced martial arts legend Bruce Lee to many American film viewers.
Marlowe's path crosses that of a blackmailed movie star, Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt) and her friend, exotic dancer Delores (Rita Moreno). A mobster sends karate expert Winslow Wong (Bruce Lee) to warn Marlowe off the case, while Lt. French (Carroll O'Connor) also cautions the detective to stay out of the police's way.
The bodies pile up by the time Marlowe cracks the case.
Critic Roger Ebert panned the film in his review, writing, "But [Chandler's] books depend mostly on the texture and style of life in Los Angeles, and on the cynical intelligence of Philip Marlowe. That's probably why Marlowe, the latest movie to be based on a Chandler book, is not very satisfactory. Even though director Paul Bogart shot on location, he has not quite captured the gritty quality of Chandler's LA. And James Garner, the latest Marlowe (after Robert Montgomery, Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart), is a little too inclined to play for light, wry, James Bond-style laughs...detective movies have got to function at the level of plot, somehow, unless they star Bogart and are written by William Faulkner and just brazen their way through. Marlowe isn't brazen enough. Somewhere about the time when the Chinese martial arts expert wrecks his office (in a very funny scene), we realize Marlowe has lost track of the plot, too.