Movies You Might Have Missed: Murder, My Sweet

Title: Murder, My Sweet
Release Date: 1944
Rating: N/A
Length: 95 minutes
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Starring: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley
Language: English
Country: USA

I tend to be a sucker for movies about private eyes, mystery, etc. The whole classic noir thing. Murder, My Sweet is an adaptation of the classic Raymond Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely. The novel has a fair number of racial undertones (and overtones) that the movie largely removes. I don’t know or particularly care what Chandler’s personal opinions were about other races. His hero, at least, is a pretty liberal fellow. There are plenty of characters that are racist to one degree or another in his novel, but they all tend to be villainous as well in some measure and moreover, they are probably pretty representative of the range of opinion at the time the novel was written.

In broad strokes, private eye Philip Marlowe is shanghaied by an enormous ex-con into looking for the girl he lost touch with when he was sent to prison. Some other subplots obtrude, but it all ties together nicely in the end. Mike Mazurki does well as the big Moose Malloy, but the part really demands someone of Nathan Jones stature to fit the book’s description.

The movie is presented in flashback, bookended with scenes of Marlowe giving a statement to the cops. This arrangement allows Marlowe to provide voiceover narration where needed without it oversimplifying the movie. The denouement is rather changed from the original, and not for the better. I suspect a meddling producer, the Hays Code, or both.

Opinions vary, but I’m fond of Powell’s portrayal of Marlowe. He’s elsewhere in Chandler’s work called a “shop-soiled Galahad” and that really comes across here. He’s a man with a code and good intentions and a heart of gold. But he’s been kicked enough that he’s cynical about the world and the people in it. He’ll compromise to get the job done and bends so as not to break. Powell has the attitude, but Bogey had the face and tone. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone combine it all to really sell a good Marlowe.

Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley play to type as the femme fatale and innocent respectively. They’re not exceptional, but also not objectionable in their parts. As a whole it’s good, without ever being great. What it does do better than some others is faithfully give us what was written. Marlowe’s a detective, not a superman and Powell and the plot provide a very human lead. A must for fans of Chandler, detective stories, or noir films.

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