Murder, My Sweet

Year 1944

Dick Powell as  Philip Marlowe
Claire Trevor as Mrs.Helen Grayle  
Anne Shirley   as Spc. Ann Grayle
Otto Kruger as Jules Amthor
Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy
Director - Edward Dmytryk
Screenwriter - John Paxton
Novelist - Raymond Chandler  

Murder, My Sweet is NOT a great movie. It's merely a good movie. But it contains all of the elements to be a nearly perfect film noir. It has the clever patter, the dangerous dame, the stalwart anti-hero, the bent peripheral characters, the moody atmosphere, and of course murder. If you want a crash course in noir, then Murder, My Sweet will give it to you.

Two men are resonsible for the genre. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were authors whose competition provided the American reader with some of the earliest gritty detective tales. Other authors, like Jim Thompson, have carried on the tradition, but these two sweated and honed their craft until it became a well defined niche. For my money, Chandler's prose is one of a kind and this puts him above Hammet.

The popular reading material soon found its way to the screen, with mixed degrees of success. This movie, Murder, My Sweet, is based upon Chandler's book by the same name and in the hands of director Edward Dmytryk the transition from printed word to silver screen works quite well.

The story, like all Chandler stories, seems simple enough. The giant Moose Malloy (Mazurki) hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Powell) to find his girlfriend. Destruction follows. Another man hires Marlowe to be a bodyguard. Death nips in for a quick one. Then things start getting twisted.

The movie is kind of like Bullitt in that a lot of little things happen that you may forget about later but are essential in fleshing-out the experience.

In this movie, the search for Moose's girl Velma has very little impact compared to other scenes but the search is not only important to the movie, the scenes are very well done. The ride to the monetary exchange for the jade necklace is also so brief as to be forgotten with respect to the scene in the halfway house, but it's as important and shocking in its own way.

And that's some thing that Chandler does well. He keeps things moving. Not just with varied scene selection but also with his dialog. This movie has a voice-over by Powell. It's necessary. Chandler's descriptions of things are not to be missed.

How big is a house? He starts off with, "Cozy, okay for the average family." and then finishes with, " wasn't as big as Buckingham Palace."

How cold hearted is the woman? Her husband died, " the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.."

While trying to escape after being drugged, "You're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let's see you do something really tough - like putting your pants on."

On the way time is warped while being drugged, "They don't make a watch that tells that kind of time."

He'll even tell you to your face. Don't like his attitude? "Yeah, I've had complaints about it, but it keeps getting worse."

A number of fine actors have played Marlowe. Robert Mitchum, Elliot Gould, James Garner, and Humphrey Bogart have had their turn in the role. Mitchum is, in my opinion, the best. But the script for his movie of the same name was weak. The director in Mitchum's film either didn't appreciate Chandler or lacked the skill to keep it all together. Elliot Gould isn't my idea of a detective at all. James Garner was too nice to be Marlowe and his movie, like Mitchum's was also a mess.

How about the greatest actor that ever lived playing Marlowe? Bogart did justice to role but he didn't quite nail it. Plus he wasn't imposing physically. Marlowe is six foot two and broad shouldered. Bogart wasn't either. It didn't hurt his credibility as a private detective with a smart mouth, but it did hurt his portrayal of THE Philip Marlowe.

Shockingly, despite his slight frame, Powell was an excellent Marlowe. He had the right facial expressions, nuances of sarcasm, and degree of indolence to be Marlowe. Plus he had the right director and screenwriter to keep the novel nearly intact.

So it's Mitchum as the #1 Marlowe, but his movie is only about average. And it's Powell as the #2 Marlowe and the movie is good.

The movie is only good if you like film noir. Marlowe should have been concussed to cottage cheese about halfway through the movie, so you need to suspend that part of human anatomy knowledge at the opening credits. Some of the scenes are too coincidental, like a cab waiting at the right place at the right time, but forget about that, too, and enjoy the film.

I'd also recommend reading the book, too. The best lines in the book are copied to the movie, but there are other lines that were missed that are still quite smile inducing.

There's some commentary by Alain Silver on the DVD. It's appropriate for the movie and is a combination of a history lesson and a camera technique seminar. It's not bad.

There's no profanity, blasphemy, or nudity. It's a great example of film noir. It has some chick flick potential because Marlowe is a white knight.

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