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Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

225px-SweetPosterWhen I was watching Gold Diggers of 1933 some time ago, I marveled that Dick Powell, playing an eager, enthusiastic, boyish tenor, could turn into the hard-bitten and wry private eye, Philip Marlowe of Murder, My Sweet. It was one of the more radical mid-career changes I’ve seen. But for me, Dick Powell is Philip Marlowe, even more so than Humphrey Bogart. He has that world-weary, wry way of speaking typical of Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s novels and whenever I read a Chandler novel, I can hear Dick Powell’s voice speaking Marlowe’s lines.

Murder, My Sweet was based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, Farewell, My Lovely, but the title was changed because it was thought it sounded too much like a musical. But Murder, My Sweet is one of those movies I seem to enjoy more each time I watch it and it has become one of my favorite noirs. It also has one of those plots that is so confusing that I seem to have new questions about it each time I watch it. And it’s streamlined in comparison to the book.

Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) wants private detective Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) to find his girlfriend, Velma, who he hasn’t heard from since he was sent to prison. It seems like an innocent enough job, but it seems to trigger all sorts of things and people suddenly want to hire Marlowe to look in to different things, to get out of things, to keep things hidden. The police are on his case, a jade necklace is stolen, a man is murdered. An elderly millionaire, Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander), and his young wife, Helen Grayle, (Claire Trevor), and a daughter from his first wife, Ann (Anne Shirley) are involved. There is also a shrink, Mr. Amthor (Otto Kruger), who is also interested in the stolen jade necklace. Marlowe’s hit on the head, choked, drugged, vamped, threatened, plead with, and hounded by cops. He has a rough film. His outstanding strength is not that he’s such a great detective, but that he’s persistent. People always assume he knows more than he does, but he thinks on his feet and manages to outfox everyone anyway.

a chauffuer, Dick Powell and Mike Mazurki

A chauffeur, Dick Powell and Mike Mazurki

Murder, My Sweet is called a film noir, but it’s more lighthearted than the usual noir, mostly because of the colorful script that comes from Chandler’s novel and the way that Powell delivers his lines and voice-over narration: “My bank account was trying to crawl under a duck” or his description of the Grayle’s mansion: “It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you’d need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn’t as big as Buckingham Palace.” He’s irreverent and so the viewer is never really allowed to take the film too seriously. Even when he’s been drugged and having bizarre dreams about falling, doors and syringes, he still keeps up a stream of sarcastic commentary, even though it’s clear he’s just trying to hang on to his sanity.

“‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘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.”

Philip Marlowe dominates the film, but though the other characters are less central they are still highly picturesque. It’s not the deepest showcase for femme fatales, though. Clare Trevor as Helen Grayle does very well as the dangerous blonde who likes chasing men (I imagine they meet you halfway” Marlowe replies). She’s central to the plot, the reason everything is happening, but she only has about three or four scenes in the film (though she makes the most of them) and it is pretty obvious from the beginning where her character is coming from.

Dick Powell, Claire Trevor

Dick Powell, Claire Trevor

Anne Shirley as Helen’s step-daughter, Ann, gets one of the more forgiving non-femme-fatale roles in a noir that I’ve ever seen. It’s partially because she actually has more scenes than Claire Trevor does. She’s worried about what Helen’s shenanigans will do to her father and is trying to keep Marlowe away from both her father and Helen. I thought she brought a freshness and spunk to the role.

In the book, Ann was actually a reporter and you would think that would be a more empowered role than daughter of a millionaire, but to be honest, I think she’s better in the movie. In the book she has a case of hero-worship and makes a few slightly embarrassing speeches about how wonderful he is while he shrugs it off like a bored courtesan who has half of Paris at her feet. In the movie, she’s much more suspicious of him and there are mercifully no embarrassing hero-worship speeches.

Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy is particularly memorable as the hulking lug who is not too bright, but just wants to find Velma (“Cute as lace-pants, she was”) and doesn’t usually mean to hurt anyone, but is just so strong (though a few times he does mean to hurt someone). He may be just a lug, but he’s still sincerely in love.

Dick Powell and Anne Shirley

Dick Powell and Anne Shirley

It’s not as bleak as many film noirs, though it does have that general atmosphere of corruption with a world-weary Marlowe who seems more, in the words of Ross Macdonald in regards to Chandler, like a “slumming angel” than an actual part of the corruption. But that should not obscure how much fun Murder, My Sweet is. It makes for a good transitional film for Dick Powell. Some of his later noirs, like Pitfall, are more uncompromisingly pessimistic. Another adaptation of a Chandler novel, The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart, is like that, too: a fun film noir.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Movies

 

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Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler

2050For a film noir, Murder, My Sweet is a very upbeat, entertaining film. Dick Powell’s Philip Marlowe is never serious, often making flippant or whimsical remarks about situations in a wry tone.

I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good – like an amputated leg.

Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe wasn’t this whimsical in The Big Sleep. Most people posit Bogart as the definitive Marlowe, but though I like The Big Sleep and Humphrey Bogart (actually, I like the original ’45 version rather than the generally viewed ’46 version), I found Powell’s Marlowe more distinctive. Bogart’s Marlowe is still Sam Spade, just with more principles.

Farewell, My Lovely (the title was changed to Murder, My Sweet for the movie) was written in 1940, the second Philip Marlowe novel by Raymond Chandler. When Chandler first wrote his Marlowe novels he did so by combining short stories into something that resembled a cohesive whole. Like The Big Sleep, the story is not all that clear; it feels like there are at least two or three plots that have been intertwined.

Philip Marlowe meets Moose Malloy, just out from prison, while returning from an investigation and accidentally becomes entangled in Malloy’s search for Velma Valento. But Malloy shoots a man – a black man, so people don’t seem to mind as much – and goes on the run and Marlowe is asked by the police to help them find him. Meanwhile, Marlowe also becomes entangled in another murder that seems to be tangential to Malloy. He is hired by Lindsay Marriott to protect him when he tries to buy back a stolen jade necklace from a gang. But Marriott is murdered and next Marlowe finds himself entangled in the affairs of the owner of the jade necklace, the lovely Mrs. Lewin Lockridge Grayle. Marlowe is also assisted somewhat in his investigations by a reporter, Anne Riordan, who has an awful crush on Marlowe.

Marlowe is apparently irresistible to women because in all his books women are constantly flirting, kissing, or trying to get into bed with him, which seems like wish fulfillment by the author. But Marlowe remains coolly above such things, practically a god. Anne even makes a slightly embarrassing speech at the end about how wonderful he is. No matter what happens, he just keeps going until he resolves the case. He’s a superman rising amidst the squalor and corruption of the city.

Dick Powell and Claire Trevor

Dick Powell and Claire Trevor from Murder, My Sweet

The entire time that I was reading the book, I could hear Dick Powell voice narrating the story – it is written in first person and bears Marlowe’s distinctively whimsical, cynical tone. His analogies are often unexpected and quite humorous. When he is chauffeured in a fancy car he remarks that,

Sitting there alone I felt like a high-class corpse laid out by an undertaker with a lot of good taste.

Exhausted one night, he drives recklessly home and “takes the red lights as they come.” It always makes me laugh. He’s also is quite adept at sensory description. When he writes that “I ran my hand up and down the door frame. It felt slimy. Just touching it made me want to take a bath,” I wanted to wipe my hand off on something. His surroundings are dirty, venal, and corrupt, but he refuses to get dragged down into it. Raymond Chandler liked to think of Marlowe as a kind of knight sallying forth to right wrongs – relatively speaking. He’s a cynical knight who can only do so much, but gets by through sheer tenacity. It’s not clear that he’s an especially brilliant detective. He seems to get beat up a lot. But you can tell that underneath, he still retains a streak of sentimentality and romanticism.

He takes time to rescue a pink bug and manages to feel compassion for a variety of people, some of whom are actually killers. And by the end – after he’s been beaten up, drugged, several murders are committed, encountered corrupt cops – he still puts a romantic spin on events and the characters practically rise to Shakespearean heights of love and sacrifice despite all the brutality, selfishness and murder. Even killers and crooks and depressed old men can love sincerely and deeply, even if the object of their love is a murderess. But Marlowe even finds poignancy in the murderess’ final act in life. Marlowe says to police detective Randall,

I”m not saying she was a saint or even a halfway nice girl. Not ever…But what she did and the way she did it, kept her from coming back here for trial. Think that over. And who would have that trial hurt most?…An old man who had loved not wisely, but too well.”

Randall said sharply: “That’s just sentimental.”

“Sure. It sounded like that when I said it. Probably all a mistake anyway. So long. Did my pink bug ever get back up here?”

Considering that she shot a cop in order to enact her great sacrifice, there is some irony in Marlowe’s sentimentality…but it’s still sentimental. He wants to think that these people occasionally have a noble impulse.

downloadChandler even manages to make fun of the more polished detective stories, like Philo Vance or The Thin Man. After he solves the case, Ann Riordan tells him humorously that he “ought to have given a dinner party,” in black suit and white tie and invite all the suspects to listen to him unmask the villain. Instead, we get a lovesick gangster, Marlowe in his pajamas and a femme fatale in her white fox evening cloak and emerald earrings, all in Marlowe’s cheap apartment.

The book is astonishingly racist, with derogatory epitaphs spread generously throughout the book regarding African Americans, Italians, Native Americans, that took me aback. Marlowe even meets an “Indian” who’s English is so bad that I kept expecting it to turn out that he wasn’t a real Indian at all, but someone pretending to be one and talking like people expected Indians to talk in the movies. Though the presence of so much racism does add to the sense of moral squalor throughout the book.

I enjoyed Farewell, My Lovely more than The Big Sleep; it was funnier and more poignant. I even enjoyed it more than The Maltese Falcon, but that partially is because the movie The Maltese Falcon is so close to the book that reading the book felt like reading a screenplay, though an enjoyable one. Murder, My Sweet is a streamlined version of the book and so reading the book remains fresh and original.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Fiction

 

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The Big Sleep – Movie and Book

220px-Bigsleep2[1]It is practically axiomatic that The Big Sleep does not make sense. When director Howard Hawks asked author Raymond Chandler who had killed the chauffeur, Chandler wired back that he had no idea. Somehow, that lack of clarity has only enhanced the mystique of the story…especially the movie.

The reasons for the confusion in the film are three-fold: the book never made that much sense anyway, the studio wanted a romance between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which came at the cost of clarity, and the Hays Code was in effect, which meant that there were many things that could be written about which could not be shown on screen.

I read the book, therefore, in the hope that it would elucidate certain aspects of the film, which it mostly did.

The Big Sleep (1939), by Raymond Chandler

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What Roger Eberts writes of the movie could also be written of the book, that it is “about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results.” Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired to look into the blackmailing of General Sternwood’s daughter, Carmen, but everyone – including his other daughter, Vivien – assume that he was hired to look into the disappearance of Vivien’s husband, Rusty Regan.

There are two parts to the book. The first half deals with the death of Carmen’s blackmailer, as well as other sundry murders and sordid affairs. The second half deals with Marlowe’s search for Regan, which involves a lot of the same characters who were involved in the death of the blackmailer, like the casino owner whose wife supposedly ran off with Rusty Regan and seems to have something on Vivien.

There were obviously quite a few aspects of the book that were not allowed in the movie. It’s not so much that the movie changed things (though it did change things), but that it let certain details drop out of the picture. The result was a general lack of understandable motivation for certain characters. Why did this one young man randomly show up and shoot this other man? Oh, the blackmailer was his lover, but he shoots the wrong man because the real murderer was the chauffeur who died (nobody knows how). And what does it mean to be running “a racket?” Oh, that’s a pornographic shop. That makes sense.

Another, significant, difference is that there is no romance in the book. A romance would be too hopeful for a hardboiled detective novel, where women are wild and licentious and men are cynical and cold.

th1V1FJYF7The Big Sleep (1946) Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – Directed by Howard Hawks – Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman

I’m not sure if Chandler was pleased with the movie adaptation of his book, but he did feel that the actress playing Carmen (Martha Vickers) completely outshone Lauren Bacall as Vivien in the early release of the film. He felt that when the script was rewritten to increase Bacall’s part and decrease Vicker’s, it further confused the plot.

Bogart and Bacall were currently an item. They had met and fallen in love in the very successful 1944 film To Have and Have Not. During the filming of The Big Sleep, Bogart was going through a divorce so he could marry Lauren Bacall. There had been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the chemistry between the two in the film and the studio wanted to capitalize on that.

They made one version of the movie and released it in 1945 to the troops overseas. However, Bacall’s agent was concerned that she was being overshadowed and since she had just starred in a dud film with Charles Boyer, her agent was concerned about her career and persuaded the studio to shoot some more scenes and cut out a few others. The result was a delightful combination detective/noir/romance – not a usual combination. Most noirs end in tears…or at the very least death, misery or despair for all.

The book ends on a sour note. Spoiler! Rusty Regan was killed by Carmen because he rebuffed her advances and Vivien was trying to hide the fact. End Spoiler! Marlowe notes how he has now become part of the general nastiness of the characters, but that at least he can spare the general any part in it. It’s not an upbeat ending. But the movie is far less nasty (nastiness still occurs, but is not so tainting).

img14[1]In fact, Marlowe, in the movie, is a genuine hero, unlike his Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941). Sam Spade has no particular morals or convictions (apart from not letting people get away with shooting his partner – even if he didn’t like the man, but it’s the principle that counts), but Bogart’s Philip Marlowe does, if not have morals, at least have a code, as he’s striving to do right, catch the criminals, spare his client and help the woman he loves out of the jam she’s in.

Note: for a witty and spot-on article about The Big Sleep film, The Man on The Flying Trapeze writes in the chivalric vein of the many ways that he loves the film. He calls the film a “screwball noir” and Marlowe “Sir Galahad in a 1938 Plymouth coupe who saves the honor of the Sternwood family while falling in love with one of the princesses.” This article is what inspired me to watch the movie, and also to read the book.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2014 in Books, Movies

 

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