Murder My Sweet review by Tom Blain
If there is one thing I love looking for in the old video stock piles its a hidden nugget of old Hollywood. I stay away musicals and showtune; my heterosexuality depends on it. What really calls me is the classic hard boiled detective story. Whats even better is if the throw in a few hard shadowing along the way to look the city look a bit more menacing. Of course, I'm skating around the term Film Noir because it gets thrown around a lot (and will for more of this review) but deep down when I talk about wanting to find old Hollywood gems, thats what I'm looking for. While not necessarily a hidden movie, Murder, My Sweet isn't exactly the most famous or well-watched film from the 40s but for it style and story, it makes a very good noir prototype.
The film opens in an interrogation room. The poor sap being drilled is detective Phillp Marlowe (Dick Powell). The interrogation for murder quickly turns into Marlowes narrated flashback which unfolds the story of Murder My Sweet. One dark night, Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki), whose name describes his size and wit, comes to Marlowe asking that he find an ex-girlfriend named Velma that he hasnt seen since he got thrown in the joint. Marlowe takes it knowing there was trouble, but his bad feelings can be chased with enough greenbacks. Along the way he meets a rabble of characters that say they had either never heard of her, or that she is dead. Ole Moosey doesnt buy it and stubbornly presses Marlowe to look harder. The next day, he takes another fishy case to help Lindsay Marriot drive into the woods and for a payoff exchange. Marlowe gets knocked unconscious and Marriot dies in his car.
This only begins to tell the story of Murder My Sweet and more and more characters are introduced, they play on both sides of the law and request different things from the neutral detective. If you find yourself asking questions about what happened with character X you wont be alone. A quick search for Raymond Chandler and convoluted will reveal plenty of results. His stories often take on a web of dirtbags and dames, none of whom can be trusted. But there is always the sturdy detective/protagonist whose emotions and nerves are steady throughout the whole process. He lives in the filth. He sees it every night. Powells Phillip Marlowe acts as if he sees the same time of crazy work every day, and reacts to the craziest of situations with a business as usual attitude.
That name Phillip Marlowe should ring a bell to anyone who is familiar with cinema from the 40s, or classic detective novels. Humphrey Bogarts Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep is probably the best known incarnation, and then maybe Robert Mitchum in the 70s in Farewell My Darling. The later is the actual name of the book that Murder My Sweet is based off of but producers were afraid it sounded more like the type of song and dance type movie Powell was synonymous with.
After seeing both Big Sleep a number of times and now Murder My Sweet I have to say I am more impressed with the production and direction (Edward Dmytryk, whose last name falls into the and sometimes y bin) of the latter and the handling of the story. I think the big draw to Big Sleep is the history behind the Bogart/Bacall chemistry, but substance wise there is probably more for noir fans in Murder My Sweet. The movie starts out strong with a few great noir-ish shots; my favorite being the blinking light that reveals Mooses reflection in the window that Marlowe is gazing out of. The scene where Marlowe is drugged is, of course, dated but daring for its time in the same way the dream sequences in Spellbound were nostalgic of 1940s experimentation. Towards the end, the auteurship takes a back seat to the movement of the story and shifty, slap in the face Chandler dialogue. This film impressed me so much that it made me want to seek out more Dmytryk movies (The Sniper was solid, The Carpetbaggers much less impressive).
Murder My Sweet ends as you would expect the Private Dic-Noir film to end, although maybe a little sweeter. Crime solved. A few more bodies in the morgue. The detective goes home with a few more scars on his body but essentially the same dirty soul he entered with. Murder My Sweet is one of those 40s classics that usually gets pushed aside by similar movies (Maltese Falcon, Big Sleep) due to the lead being the less revered Dick Powell versus the generally loved Humphrey Bogart. I assure you, any Dick Powell fears should be addressed and discarded within the first 10 mins. He makes the perfect Marlowe (even Raymond Chandler preferred him to Bogie). Give Murder My Sweet a chance if you are a fan of the old detective flicks, its one of the better ones out there.
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