Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger
After being hired to find an ex-con's former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit.
Advertisement
Advertisement
  • Warner Home Video Company:
  • APPROVED Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 09 Dec 1944 Released:
  • 06 Jul 2004 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • John Paxton (screenplay), Raymond Chandler (novel) Writer:
  • Edward Dmytryk Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

The Screen's Best Marlowe10/10
"I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in; it had no bottom."- Phillip Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET.

There are plenty of bottomless pools in MURDER, MY SWEET, Edward Dmytryk's outstanding noir. Tapping into a direct line to the dark places of the human psyche, the film raises the curtain on one shadowy scene after another. It leads the viewer on a convoluted trip through a very gloomy and treacherous labyrinth where oily con men, pesky cops, scheming ladies, and at least one gargantuan lovesick Romeo put the down-at-heels private investigator through the wringer.

Moose Malloy's vanished girlfriend (and a tidy retainer) occupies Marlowe at first. Then, when an expensive jade necklace needs retrieving (with another fat fee offered), Marlowe bites again. But suddenly those too deep pools begin to appear.

John Paxton's screenplay has the cast of characters thinking out loud a lot, which helps occasionally. But just as in Raymond Chandler's other overly schematic crime story, THE BIG SLEEP, strict attention must be paid. Yet even if you become confused, you can still revel in Harry J. Wilde's sterling cinematography. (As mentioned in another review, Wilde, along with a slew of other people, including Orson Welles, shot additional scenes for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS for which he and the others received no credit. As Welles himself intones rather solemnly at that film's conclusion: "Stanley Cortez was the photographer").

The really big draw in MURDER is Dick Powell, not just delivering a career-changing performance (and being the first actor to play Marlowe) but also giving the best interpretation of Marlowe on film- and that includes Bogart's fine outing in Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP(1946), Robert Mitchum's two disappointing films, and Elliot Gould's daring 1973 performance in Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE. Powell projects the detective's weary cynicism and dogged determination without any hint of showy mannerism or overplayed toughness. His presence is completely natural and convincing, far from any Hollywood ham acting.

In addition, MURDER, MY SWEET presents the polished villainy of Otto Kruger, slithering around Powell with his characteristic reptilian menace; Anne Shirley as a spunky good girl who brightens the gloom somewhat; and, on the femme fatale side, the high voltage glare of Claire Trevor, laminated in heavy make-up like a pricey, megawatt doxy. Literally towering over everything is Mike Mazurki's Moose (far more effective than Jack O'Halloran's catatonic trance in Mitchum's FAREWELL, MY LOVELY). Mazurki's silent entrance into Marlowe's office at the beginning sets the uneasy mood where huge, powerful forces stir and then emerge from the darkness.
That couldn't be the same fellow10/10
When I was a lad back in the 1950s I saw one of those Warner Brothers Busby Berkeley items on television and my father remarked that was Dick Powell. I thought he was pulling my leg, that sappy tenor singing those love songs, Dick Powell? I was used to the Powell who hosted Four Star Playhouse and acted in them every so often.

My reaction was the reverse of what the movie going public must have thought back in 1944 when Murder My Sweet was released. Here was Dick Powell, no make up, a five o'clock shadow, and a voice down an octave and very cynical and jaded as Philip Marlowe.

Raymond Chandler's private detective has been hired by two people, Gargantuan Mike Mazurki to find his missing girl friend and lovely Claire Trevor to locate a stolen jade necklace. The coincidences keep piling up and it's obvious the two cases are related, but how. That you have to watch the movie for.

Powell was some revelation as Philip Marlowe. He considered himself very lucky to finally escape typecasting as so very few in Hollywood do. It would have been nice to have been in the Oscar sweepstakes, but in 1944 no one was going to beat Bing Crosby out that year for Going My Way. Another singer/actor who escaped from musicals and lengthened his career was John Payne. I can't think of any others.

Claire Trevor also broke some casting mold here. Usually she played good time girls, but with a heart of gold. From Stagecoach, Key Largo, Honky Tonk and Man Without a Star, those were usually her type role. Here she's unredeemably bad, but she has a whole lot of men jumping through hoops for her. I don't think she was ever this bad on the screen ever again.

The mores of 1944 dictated that the film not get to specific on certain items. There were references to gay males and lesbians quite explicit that later did appear in Robert Mitchum's version in the 1970s that were exorcised here. But the spirit of Chandler's novel comes through.

I'm not sure Dick Powell is the best Philip Marlowe ever on the big and small screen. But he certainly has his champions and I wouldn't want to take sides in that debate. He's just very very good.

So good in fact that in the 1950s lots of fans were remarking, was he really ever in musicals?
"I Don't Know Which Side Anybody's On!"5/10

Private dick Phil Marlowe is hired by a "paltry, foppish man" to accompany him on a midnight assignation. What follows is a glorious piece of Chandleriana, a ganglion of a plot involving a jade necklace, a jailbird who carries a torch for a showgirl, a "big-league blonde" with a rich old husband and an eye for private eyes, and more narrative twists and turns than a Restoration comedy on acid.

Will Moose be reunited with Velma? Who's the brunette in the gulch? What is Anthor's precise relationship with Marriott? How many more times can Marlowe get slugged from behind without having his skull disintegrate?

Golden tenor Dick Powell may not be the obvious choice to play Marlowe, but in fact he turns in THE definitive performance. Chandler once defined the ideal hero in one of his essays as a special man, but at the same time a man of the people. Not amazingly bright, subject to bouts of confusion and wrong-headed wilfulness, but for all that a tough, decent, dry-humoured guy who just happens to be as sexy as hell. Powell delivers.

Watch out for a remarkable dream sequence after Marlowe is forcibly injected with heroin (yes, heroin). Expressionist cinema was never as evocative as here!

All in all, the film is an example of a genre captured at its apex - "like lighting a stick of dynamite, and telling it not to go off"!
Film Noir 1015/10

This is the movie that hooked me on "Film Noir." I first saw this on the late show while suffering a killer flu. Even through local TV editing and enough medicine to tranquilize a circus tent, it had me sitting at attention from start to finish. It wasn't until several years later that I got to see it uncut on cable that I got the full effect. Having grown up with Bogart's hard-boiled private eye archetype, Dick Powell was a complete revelation to me. If you double-bill this with Bogart's "Big Sleep," you see at once that Powell truly IS Phillip Marlowe (even Raymond Chandler thought so), and Bogart is much better suited to portray Hammet's colder, meaner Sam Spade. Powell gives Marlowe a vulnerable cynicism as well as a touch of the "everyman," that Bogart wouldn't be able to pull off until later in his career. Powell's background in romantic musicals gives him access to a far deeper emotional range, needed to play the complex and conflicted Marlowe; his cynicism, his humour, his loyalty to his code...it's all there. Powell manages to give extra resonance to some of Chandler's throw-away similes! No wonder he claimed this as his favorite role!

The direction by Edward Dmytryk and cinematography by Harry Wild are perfect, giving the film a tight, economical yet alluring vintage "feel". Working on a tight budget, they manage to infuse it with all the seedy, chaotic topography that would serve as the touchstones for every film of this type from "Night of the Hunter" to "Blade Runner." While this isn't the first Noir film, it may well be the best.

The Definitive Chandler9/10

This 1944 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, had its title changed so that audiences wouldn't mistake it for a musical! One might think that this would mean that the movie was off to a bad start, especially since the chief reason for the title change was that the actor who was cast in the hard-boiled lead, Dick Powell, was best known as a singer. As things turned out, the film was a huge hit and Powell changed his screen image forever, from crooner to tough guy, and enjoyed an upturn in his career as a result. Producer Adrian Scott, director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton also saw their fortunes rise, but in their case the success was short-lived, as they all suffered during the Hollywood blacklist. As to the movie itself, it has become for many the definitive film noir. Produced on a tight budget on the RKO lot, it was made at the right place, the right time, at the right studio, and with the right people.

This is a movie for night owls, maybe the ultimate night owl movie, since there's scarcely any daylight in it, and when there is, the action moves sensibly indoors almost immediately, as if to avoid the glare of the sun. Night-time L.A. has never looked more seductive than here, with every bar, office, nightclub and bungalow seemingly shrouded in mystery, as if harboring secrets it's loath to reveal. Harry Wild's photography is brilliant, and while he and director Dmytryk often go for flashy, arty effects, they're always appropriate, and seem at all times the way detective Philip Marlow, who narrates the story, would want it to be told, as he's a rather glib fellow with an offbeat sense of humor. The dialogue, much of it lifted from Chandler's novel, is excellent and at times quite funny, though some of the author's best lines (such as his description of Moose Malloy as at at one point being "about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food") are absent.

The plot, concerning the attempt of the aforementioned, hulking giant, Moose Malloy, to find his old girl-friend, having just served a stretch in prison, is convoluted and hard to follow. But the tale matters less than the telling, and the way it's told is what makes the movie so effective. Chandler was not a great one for plots, as one reads his books primarily for the writing, not the stories, and Dmytryk and his associates wisely follow this aesthetic, emphasizing odd bits of business, visual and verbal, often taking the movie in strange directions, making what one normally thinks of secondary aspects of a film the main event. There's a confidence in this approach, every step of the way, as the men behind the cameras knew just what they were doing. My only serious complaint has to do with the way the character of quack psychologist Jules Amthor is written ("I'm a quack"), which ought to have been more subtle, especially with such a sterling actor as Otto Kruger playing the role.

Murder, My Sweet is not without its flaws, but it wholly succeeds where it counts: making nocturnal L.A. and its inhabitants both larger than life and dream-like. The confrontation at the beach-house near the end has a dream logic to it, with Malloy, whom we had almost forgotten about, turning up, rounding out the story with a kind of poetic justice, or rather injustice, that is devastatingly effective. Dick Powell is as far as I'm concerned the best Marlow of all, as he nicely turns his musical comedy slickness into a smart-alecky private eye. That Powell is always "on", in a way that, say, the more sincere Bogart or Ladd wouldn't be, works in the movie's favor, and while I wouldn't say that he sings his lines exactly he delivers them with a singer's precision and sense of timing. Claire Trevor's femme fatale is as good as anything Stanwyck ever did. I like the affected, upper class accent she uses, especially early on. Anne Shirley is okay as her stepdaughter. Mike Mazurki's Moose, who sets the story in motion, is a forbidding figure, turning up when one least expects him, his presence can be felt even when when he isn't there, as he spurs Marlow, and the film, on, like an ugly god.