Movie Critique – Murder, My Sweet

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: With great performances, powerful dialogues, intriguing plot, stunning play of shadows and light, the film made justice to the novel from which it was adapted, giving the world another hard-boiled cynical private eye not only entertaining and engaging, but also giving us the hard side of life.

Murder, My Sweet is a 1944 American film noir starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley. The film is based on Raymond Chandler's 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely, it was directed by Edward Dmytryk. It was released in United Kingdom with the title of the original novel. First film to feature Chandler's hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe.

Philip Marlowe (portrayed by Dick Powell) is hired by an ex-con, Moose Malloy (portrayed by Mike Mazurki), to locate Velma Valento (portrayed by Claire Trevor), his former girlfriend. The case then quickly turns deadly leading Marlowe into a world of murder, deceit, blackmail and mystery.

Philip Marlowe first appeared in The Big Sleep novel published in 1939 by Raymond Chandler. Although he didn’t appear on film until 5 years later in this film, he did make fame on paper and radio by then. Several of Chandler's earlier short stories that were published in Black Mask and Dime Detective magazines, later were re-written into full-fledged novels by Chandler with changing the protagonist name to Philip Marlowe.

Several of the novels and short stories by Chandler have been adapted to screen, radio and TV over the years. After the death of Chandler, including the last unfinished Marlowe novel, The Pencil, several authors had picked up the thread and created a lot of Marlowe novels over the years.

Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Gerald Mohr and Elliot Gould are some of the actors who had portrayed the role of Marlowe over the years on either screen, TV or radio. It still surprises me how much Marlowe gained fame when he was sort of an antihero most of the time in the novels.

This film helped Dick Powell break away from typecasting. He had been casted as a young or juvenile crooner in light musicals for a long time from which he was trying to get out of. He had tired hard to get the role of the fraud insurance claim adjuster Walter Neff in the 1944 psychological thriller Double Indemnity. But it went to Edward G. Robinson instead. 

However, much to the skepticism of the producer Adrian Scott and director Dmytryk, RKO's then studio boss, Charles Koerner pushed for Powell to be Marlowe, gaining him success and a road to becoming a popular film noir star in the 1940s. 

Despite being one of the best adaptations of Chandler's novels and helping Powell get more hard-boiled and tough roles since then, his portrayal of Marlowe is still considered second best to Bogart's Marlowe in The Big Sleep which was released two years later.

Claire Trevor who was doing Westerns with a fourth or fifth billing, this movie showcased her as a femme fatale, thanks to Koerner. Her second career started successfully as a femme fatale or anti- roles that eventually got her an academy award for best supporting actress four years later. 

As for Anne Shirley, who is the other female lead playing the role of Ann Grayle, this was her last movie. She married producer Adrian Scott, who would become her second husband, after this film and left the industry to settle in as a wife. Pity she didn't continue as a star. She did a good job in this film.

Not only for the cast, but this has been a very significant success for Dmytryk as a director who had been mostly doing B-films until then. Again Koerner plays a key role in paving the way to a successful long-lasting career for Dmytryk.

John Paxton wrote the screenplay of the film with help from Chandler where needed. Some of the plot pieces from the novel were either modified or removed for the screen adaptation due to Production Code objections and rules. Roy Webb composed the score for the film most of which was reused from his compositions for the 1940 film Stranger on the Third Floor. 

The entire film is presented in flashback. The title for American release was changed to Murder, My Sweet as audience were thinking Farewell, My Lovely was a Dick Powell musical. 

With great performances, powerful dialogues, intriguing plot, stunning play of shadows and light, the film made justice to the novel from which it was adapted, giving the world another hard-boiled cynical private eye not only entertaining and engaging, but also giving us the hard side of life.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. This film version was dramatized to a 60-minute radio play in 1945 by Lux Radio Theater with Dick Powell and Claire Trevor reprising their roles. 

b. In 1948 Hollywood Startime created a radio version of the same with Dick Powell and Mike Mazurki reprising their roles but Mary Astor played his leading lady.

c. In 1975 the film was remade with the title Farewell, My Lovely, starring Robert Mitchum as Marlowe.

d. Otto Kruger portrayed the role of Jules Amthor, a psychic healer in the film. Recently I was watching TV episodes of Suspense, American TV anthology series that aired on CBS from 1949 to 1954. One of the episodes, Help Wanted, (Season 1, Episode 14) has Otto Kruger playing the primary role of Chester Crabtree. I had also seen him in the role of various judges in the TV series Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale.

e. In the beginning of the film when Marlowe is walking the streets, he passes a theater showing two RKO films - 1938 Gangster's Boy and 1938 The Mad Miss Manton.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Lindsay Marriott's (portrayed by Douglas Walton) Driver License says that his date of birth was 5/5/1912 and that the license was issued on 7/10/1942, at which point he would be 30 years. Not 32 years as stated on the license.

b. When Marlowe is being interrogated, the room number is 404. But when is escorted out by Detective Nutly, the room number changes to 402.


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