It feels like cheating to write up a Baby Review for my last official noir of the year, but I’m not sure I have much to talk about here. (Also, I may be cheating.)
Despite the lack of depth I have to bring to the table, though, I really enjoyed Murder, My Sweet.
Because this is going to be such a short review — and because this movie was made seventy years ago — I’m going to go ahead and throw in SPOILERS. You have been duly warned.
Moose (Mike Mazurki), a big lug and recent ex-con, hires Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) to track down the supposed love of his life. Meanwhile, another dude named Marriott hires Marlowe to act as a bodyguard for one night. When Marriott is murdered on Marlowe’s watch, the private eye has to figure out who killed his client and how it’s all connected.
1. I knew next to nothing about this movie when I rented it on Amazon, other than the fact that it was another Philip Marlowe story, starring somebody that was not Humphrey Bogart. I wondered if that would bother me or not — as a general rule, I enjoy Bogart — but I liked Dick Powell just fine.
His line deliveries worked well for me. (Although, I mean, it’s Raymond Chandler. You’d have to be pretty bad to screw them up, right?)
I guess Dick Powell’s casting was controversial at the time because he was primarily known for musicals. Not being an expert on musicals from the 1930’s and 40’s — or, really, from any decade — I did not have to fight against any such preconceptions. I thought he did a decent job. And, according to IMDb trivia, Raymond Chandler himself endorsed Powell’s performance. I suspect Powell liked throwing that in critics’ faces. Or at least, I would have, if I’d been him.
2. I also mostly enjoyed our femme fatale, Helen (Claire Trevor).
Helen was pretty great from the moment she started talking. While I can’t help but wish that her manipulation of Powell never went to the ‘I need you, I love you, I’m helpless without you’ place — cause, yawn — I thought she was a pretty fantastic character, and I thoroughly enjoyed maybe 98% of their scenes together. I liked Helen a great deal more than I liked Powell’s genuine love interest, Ann (Anne Shirley).
Ann’s okay, I guess — I like that she eavesdrops on people and tries to investigate Marlowe on her own, even if you knew instantly that she wasn’t really a reporter because she’s a pretty girl and thus the love interest, but the love interest obviously can’t wear big glasses like that, so the glasses must be fake and therefore the cover identity must also be fake, and sometimes I hate that I can uncover clues with bullshit reasoning like this.
Ann, unfortunately, does have a slight tendency to be shrieky and annoying. Her whole speech to Marlowe and Helen made me roll my eyes, and I laughed out loud when Helen got her to flee from the house (presumably in tears) with just a few words. Also, there’s really no reason to buy into Ann’s and Marlowe’s romance (like, at all), so the ending, while cute, is also kind of dumb. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that I want to see more noir stories where I don’t find the main romance to be utterly ridiculous.
3. I liked the scenes where Marlowe is basically out of his mind from being pumped full of . . . digitalis? (Is it properly digitoxin when it’s no longer a plant? If so, sorry. I’m just referring to it as digitalis for now.) When the doctor said that he’d given Marlowe digitalis, I was like, Wait . . . isn’t that a heart medicine? I knew it could kill someone who didn’t have any cardiac problems, but I was surprised that it could apparently induce psychosis, or at least, serious mental confusion. But Wikipedia says that digitalis toxicity can create “wild hallucinations,” along with apparently every other symptom you can possibly think of, so I guess the moral here is to stay the fuck away from it.
Anyway, I liked these scenes, particularly because they didn’t resolve in under two minutes. Marlowe wakes up in some kind of institution, entirely out of it, and it takes him a little time to get out of the room. Then it takes him even longer to get out of the institution, and he’s still feeling the effects when he eventually makes it to Ann’s place (with an assist by the not-so-gentle giant, Moose, and also a frightened cab driver). Characters often shake off injuries or illnesses so easily in films and television that I like to take note when stories allow them to be injured or confused longer than other narratives might have.
Also, the smoke effect (presumably the fog Marlowe is trying to think through) is interesting. Not exactly effective, perhaps, because it looks less like smoke than it does crinkled paper, but it’s hard to hate on special effects from the 1940’s, and anyway, it’s a neat idea. I like how Marlowe keeps trying to touch it. I also like how he has to keep talking himself into literally walking it off. And I love how proud of himself he looks when he thinks he’s all better.
Spoilers: he’s not all better.
4. Finally, I didn’t call that Helen faked the whole heist as an opportunity to kill Marlowe for investigating her past, although I feel like I should have. (I completely forgot about the mysterious phone call.) I did guess pretty early on that Helen was actually Velma, though.
(Marlowe is blindfolded in an interrogation room)
Lt. Randall: “How do you feel?”
Marlow: “Like a duck in a shooting gallery.”
Marlowe: “I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good — like an amputated leg.”
Marlowe: ” ‘Okay, Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you doing something really tough, like putting your pants on.”
Helen: “I thought detectives were heavy drinkers.”
Marlowe: “Well, some of them are. Some of them just encourage other people to drink.”
Marlowe: “It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you’d need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn’t as big as Buckingham Palace.”
Ann: “I don’t think you even know which side you’re on.”
Marlowe: “I don’t know which side anybody’s on. I don’t even know who’s playing today.”
Helen: “I find men very attractive.”
Marlowe: “I imagine they meet you halfway.”
Helen: “You shouldn’t kiss a girl when you’re wearing a gun . . . leaves a bruise.”
Marlowe: “I get dragged in and get money shoved at me. I get pushed out and get money shoved at me. Everybody pushes me in, everybody pushes me out. Nobody wants me to DO anything.”
Marlowe: “What were you saying?”
Doctor: “I made no remark.”
Marlowe: “Remarks want you to make them. They got their tongues hanging out, waiting to be said.”
(about the gun in his jacket)
Marlowe: “That’s just part of my clothes. I hardly ever shoot anybody with it.”
Marriott: “How would you like a swift punch on the nose?”
Marlowe: “I tremble at the thought of such violence.”
A fun little mystery. One or two reservations, yes, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this. It is entirely quotable.
Dick Powell, but Claire Trevor was up there, too. (And if she didn’t have to do that whole ‘overdramatic, I love you, I need you, let me fall into your arms’ bit, she might have won.)
Hm. I’m not sure. Maybe be a little more discerning about what kind of cases you take on? Then again, what kind of self-respecting private detective ever does the smart thing, right?