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Murder, My Sweet (Blu-ray Review)

19 Oct, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Available via Warner Archive
$21.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley.

Thanks to the Alain Silver commentary carried over from 2004’s standard DVD release — though embarrassingly, I now see the answer is on IMDb.com as well — I finally know why the second screen version of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely underwent a name change just before its release when the original title was well known and thus a potential marketing tool.

Turns out that because the movie’s lead was onetime Warner Bros. tenor Dick Powell — amid what would become the screen’s greatest image switcheroo until Frank Sinatra’s in From Here to Eternity — preview audiences thought “Lovely” designated another Powell musical. This is half-understandable (taking away the “slow-learners-class” factor) because even post-Warner, Powell had recently appeared in a couple of Technicolor Paramount musicals and, before that, third-billed to Abbott & Costello in In the Navy (that one nobody’s idea of a career move). And by chance, I’ve recently seen one of the Paramounts (Happy Go Lucky, where he’s often seen lying around with Eddie Bracken trying to get a tan) — from which you certainly wouldn’t guess that Powell would become one of the greatest postwar film noir performers in Cornered, Johnny O’Clock, Pitfall, To the Ends of the Earth, Cry Danger and so on.

According to Silver, Raymond Chandler didn’t like Powell’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe, but it’s my own favorite of the PM bunch for capturing the gentlemanly side of the famed detective — a guy who plays by the rules when he can, something even Elliott Gould’s Marlowe also did in his own stoned way via Robert Altman’s brilliant The Long Goodbye. In any event, this eventual critical/box office hit changed a lot of careers: Powell’s, Claire Trevor’s (who became so adept at playing floosies that she won an Oscar just four years later doing just that) and director Edward Dmytryk’s, who here solidified his new standing as an ‘A’-lister. (I suppose it also paved the way for Mike Mazurki to become enough of a star to become a future immortal presence in Donovan’s Reef, what with his Beau Geste outfit and all.) Put it all together with the expressive photography and hop-headed dream sequences, and this is just what you want an RKO noir to be, even if decades of variations have scratched its luster (but just a little). With a beautiful transfer — complete with misty cigarette smoke billowing up from a beach house couch — this Warner Archive release replicates a lot of the nostalgically mellow punch its Blu-ray release of Out of the Past did last year.

This wouldn’t be a Marlowe story if didn’t have plot threads that need to be pressed and ironed in the brain, starting with a missing person’s case (Mazurki’s behemoth “Moose Malloy” wants to locate his former squeeze) and then a stolen jewel scheme that escalates into all the usual goodies: murder, blackmail, black-outs, infidelity and (whenever Moose puts his arms around anyone) crushed vertebrae. I don’t know if Mazurki towered over Powell as much in real life or it’s simply the way Dmytryk had it photographed, but Moose turning the detective into a bear-hugged child’s toy is funnier than it ever would have been with Bogart or Gould at the other end of the violence (Lady in the Lake’s Robert Montgomery would have been funny, too, but that movie’s famously rigid and arguably even anal POV structure would have prevented us from ever being able to see it).

As noted, this was the second screen version of Chandler’s Lovely, following a less official B-unit warm-up by RKO in its “Falcon” series — specifically, 1942’s The Falcon Takes Over. This studio double-dip didn’t earn the author any extra money, which one of the more defensible reasons Chandler became a professional curmudgeon for much of his life, one whose animus toward Hollywood contributed to a horrible relationship with Alfred Hitchcock when Chandler was hired for script work on Strangers on a Train. The third screen version of Lovely (with Robert Mitchum) came out in 1975 under Chandler’s original title, and it’s a movie I’m anxious to re-see for the first time since its original release due to the upswing in its critical rep (which wasn’t bad even then). But beyond dispute is that it’s far superior to the widely reviled 1978 Mitchum boo-boo fashioned from Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which my date to it termed The Big Paunch.

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