Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Release Date: December 9th, 1944 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Edward Dmytryk Actors: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki
onspicuously renamed “Murder, My Sweet” from “Farewell, My Lovely,” so as to avoid confusion with what could be construed as a musical (for which Dick Powell was famous), this Raymond Chandler story actually sets all the rules for classic film noir. On the outside it’s a stock jewelry heist, but on the inside it’s an impossibly complex, twist-and-turn-filled murder mystery that keeps the audience guessing while delivering plenty of hardboiled attitude, quick-thinking dialogue, femme fatales, and characters shrouded in suspicion. Even though it was filmed in black and white, no such character in “Murder, My Sweet” could be described with those terms.
It starts with private eye Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) blindfolded and being interrogated by the police for several murders committed with his gun. As a staple of the genre, this lead character narrates his own tale with a devilishly sarcastic, vernacular voiceover that can only reveal events he’s personally witnessed – along with hunches and guesses about the many shady characters with whom he interacts. Backtracking, Marlowe explains how the towering Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurky) hired him to hunt down a dame he used to know by the name of Velma Valento. It had been 8 years since Moose last saw her, and Marlowe isn’t all that interested in missing persons with countless motives for a sudden departure. But the enormous brute was quite persuasive.
While digging around, Marlowe is quickly caught in the middle of a purloined jade necklace case. First, he’s paid by Lindsay Marriott to assist in buying back the stolen jewel, then winds up finding the young man dead, and is later tasked with offering the elusive item to several parties – including Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander), his young wife Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor), and his daughter Ann (Anne Shirley). Crooked doctor Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger) is also ignominiously involved, while the hulking Moose keeps popping up at inconvenient times. It’s enough to keep Marlowe struggling to piece together how so many devious people could be in concert. “I don’t think you even know which side you’re on,” Helen quips.
The dialogue is the most interesting and unique aspect of this tough-as-nails thriller: film noir talk is like a language all its own. Brimming with slick metaphors, sly similes, humorous slang, and nonstop sarcasm, Marlowe’s over-describing of the little things with witty detail is reason enough to see the film. Characters are described as having a “face like a bucket of mud” or “a face like a Sunday school picnic”; other odd phrasing includes “they were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers,” “I felt pretty good – like an amputated leg,” and Moose’s temper receiving the description “like lighting a stick of dynamite and telling it not to go off.” The imaginative exchanges compliment the sultry seductresses, blackmail, drug-induced mindtrips, and triple crosses, which comprise a day’s work for a private detective designed by Chandler. Marlowe is constantly in the presence of the wrong people and gets beaten, drugged, frisked, ambushed, pushed around, bribed, lied to, and led down the wrong path. But it’s a winding, perplexing plot of steady visual and verbal amusement.
– Mike Massie