Murder, My Sweet: Superior Film Noir
Aug 15, 2007
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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Murder, My Sweet (1944)
"I caught the blackjack right behind my ear; a black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom." Philip Marlowe
This is one of the movies that has often been recommended to me as a definitive film noir; I had just never been able to see it. I finally caught up with it as a part of the Warner Bros Film Noir Collection and I must say that everything I was told is true, Murder, My Sweet pays off big-time in oodles of film noir goodness.
A conglomerate of three short stories by detective novelist Raymond Chandler, the screenplay was adapted from the works by John Paxton. I've read the short stories and must say that Paxton retained the savory Chandler dialogue and a plot as convoluted as The Big Sleep, another Chandler story generally recognized to have the twistiest plot to date.
Murder, My Sweet is a straight perhaps that is not the right word? - kinky? - anyway - detective story, which, except for the other Chandler or Dashiell Hammett detective stories are not that often seen in the film noir universe.
Chandler's prize creation is private eye Philip Marlowe, a wise-cracking, garrulous fellow who also has a fairly strong undercurrent of decency running through him. Humphrey Bogart has gotten more press for playing Marlowe in The Big Sleep, but after seeing Dick Powell play the character, I think Humphrey has been topped. I am not carrying in a lot of baggage remembering Dick Powell's early Busby Berkley hoofing films which may be why the old audiences did not give him his due, as the detective is not according to his usual type. I thought Powell's performance was grand, and the way he said Chandler's dialogue was so right - even better than Bogart's job. Of the hundreds of quotable lines that pepper the script, here is a representative gem
"She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle." - this a part of the voice-over that was describing part of his investigation. Dick Powell's line delivery retains that lyrical quality I so often noted as a fundamental component of Chandler's writing style, and absent from Bogie's Phil Marlowe line readings.
The story is a missing person, a stolen piece of jewelry, and murder after murder. Like the other Chandler vehicles, the story is not so much the focus but the rich cast of characters and savory dialogue. Marlowe is never far from a wise-crack and he meets up with several memorable characters, notably a giant thug with a miniscule intellect; an older man with a brassy, beautiful wife; a grown daughter who detests the step mother who reciprocates the feelings; an effeminate man who ends up a chalk outline; a couple of dim bulb police detectives who follow in Marlowes wake to get clues, and others of that ilk from the vast store of imagination Chandler brought to his works.
Edward Dmytryk directed, and did a fine job of showing the subjective views of Marlowe as he went about his investigation, was knocked out, drugged, hallucinated, and muddled his way through the nighttime environs of Lost Angeles. The camera and lighting was in the fine RKO tradition, established by Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and put down on celluloid by Harry J. Wild. There are some pretty well done special effects shown during the drug sequences.
Besides Dick Powell's more than decent take on Phil Marlowe, we have a solid backing cast including film noir icon Claire Trevor (Born to Kill, Raw Deal) giving Barbara Stanwyck some r-a-r-e competition for queen b-i-t-c-h of noir; Esther Howard; Otto Kruger; Mike Mazurki; and Anne Shirley filling out the major roles.
The DVD is from Warner Bros and the 95 minute black and white movie is well preserved with only a few flaws. There is a full length commentary by Alain Silver that gives some lore about the cast and indicates Murder, My Sweet's place in film history.
Absolutely necessary viewing for film noir fans or film scholars.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
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