Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review: "Murder My Sweet" is Flawed But Compelling (Rembering Dick Powell)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 79 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – Black & White
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Edward Dmytryk
WRITER:  John Paxton (from the novel Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler)
PRODUCER:  Adrian Scott
EDITOR:  Joseph Noriega


Starring:  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Donald Douglas, Ralf Harolde, and Esther Howard

The subject of this movie review is Murder, My Sweet, a 1944 film noir detective movie from director Edward Dmytryk.  This film stars Dick Powell (one of my favorite actors) as a private detective drawn into a complex web of mystery and deceit after being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend.

Murder, My Sweet is the film adaptation of the Raymond Chandler 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely, which was also the film’s original title.  For the U.S. release, the film’s name was changed to Murder, My Sweet so that people wouldn’t mistake it for a musical, as the film’s star, Dick Powell, was, up to that point, known as a singer.  The role revitalized Powell’s career, and he went on to play many tough guys.

The plot is convoluted and takes some effort to follow.  It begins when a big bruiser named Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) shows up at the office of private detective, Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell).  Malloy has been in prison for eight years; recently released, he wants Marlowe to find his girl Velma, with whom he hasn’t spoken in six years.  However, another person hunting for something or someone walks into Marlowe’s office – Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton), a foppish fellow who claims to be acting as a middleman to retrieve a rather expensive jade necklace from the thieves who took it and who are willing to make a deal.

After Marriott is killed, the police consider Marlowe to be the lead murder suspect, but Marlowe has his eyes on a dysfunctional family trio:  a beautiful young woman named Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), her wealthy father, Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander), and her stepmother, Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor).  Each one wants the jade necklace, for various reasons and is trying to manipulate Marlowe to get what he or she wants.  He, however, just isn’t having it, and he begins to connect his first case with his second.

Convoluted plot aside, some consider Murder, My Sweet to be the definitive film-noir movie in spite of its shaky script and throwaway and/or underdeveloped characters.  The characters don’t really stick and their connections to one another are flimsy and contrived, which drove me crazy because they had such potential.

The film is likely beloved because of its seductive vision of nighttime Los Angeles, here, shrouded in rich, lush shadows suggesting the quintessential film-noir setting for a hardboiled roughneck dick like Philip Marlowe.  There is hardly a daytime scene in this picture; it’s a dreamy nocturnal setting for night owls, and this is just the environment to make you forget a weak script and vastly undercooked characters.  Director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Harry Wild combine the former’s tendency towards flashy effects and the latter’s brilliant sense of noir into an atmosphere that is pure detective film from beginning to end.

The performances are mixed, although Claire Trevor as Helen Grayle creates a great femme fatale out of a very small part.  When she comes onto Marlowe, we know that she’d use her sexuality on him without hesitation in order to get her way, and this lady is just plain dangerous; you realize that from the moment you see her.  All that aside, the main attraction is Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe.  He interprets Marlowe as a no-nonsense kind of kind guy, but a glib fellow with a droll sense of humor.  He doesn’t pretend to play along with other’s bull, and he’s the proverbial straight shooter who calls bullshit when he sees it.  He’s not the strong, silent type because he talks a lot, but his verbalizing is merely the quick and tricky moves of a savvy fighter.  Powell adds life, a blazing presence, and practicality to the film-noir art of this movie.  Powell or artful noir – either one is more than enough reason to see this sadly flawed, but compelling film.

6 of 10

Monday, May 23, 2005

Updated:  Thursday, January 02, 2014

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