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Murder My Sweet (1944)


Murder My Sweet
Dick Powell and Claire Trevor

'Murder My Sweet' (released as 'Farewell, My Lovely' in the UK) is a film noir, made in 1944, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley. The film is based on the classic 1940 novel "Farewell, My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler and was the first film to feature the cynical private detective Philip Marlowe. It is one of the first in the genre of films noir and marks a significant milestone in the development of Hollywood filmmaking, becoming for many the very best, the definitive noir.

The film was first screened on December 18, 1944 in Minnesota and New England with the title 'Farewell, My Lovely'. Audiences initially stayed away, and surveys indicated that viewers were misled by the title into expecting a typical Dick Powell musical, so the film's name was changed. It opened in New York City on March 8, 1945 as 'Murder, My Sweet'. With the new title, box-office receipts picked up considerably and the film became a huge hit.

The film made a profit of $597,000. It forever changed the screen image of Dick Powell from light-hearted song and dance man to tough guy, and he enjoyed a considerable upturn in his career as a result.

Although lavishly praised, the movie received no Academy Award nominations. 'Double Indemnity' in the same year, received seven nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, but won nothing. The big Oscar winner for 1944r was the light-hearted dramatic comedy 'Going My Way'.

Film Noir

The movie was shot on a tight budget, mainly on the RKO lot with external shooting done in the Hollywood Hills. RKO had a skilled production team and went on to become the studio experts in postwar films noir. Dmytrik and cameraman Harry Wild established many of the visual motifs which would become standard in films noir: the use of interior monologues by a cynical, wisecracking private eye, deep shadows cut by key light, strange camera angles, at least one femme fatale, a dreamy hypnotic pace accelerating gradually to inevitable tragedy. a convoluted time frame, and numerous flashbacks to frame the narrative.

We watch as Marlowe descends into a world of sleaze, deceit, blackmail, theft and murder. In short, all the ideal ingredients for classic Film noir

The film was made, by the right studio, with the right people and at the right time. It is a classic. It is worth watching.

Plot

Phillip Marlowe, played by Dick Powell, is a gruff private eye who is hired by ex-convict Moose Malloy, played to the hilt by ex wrestler, Mike Mazurki, to protect a client attempting to retrieve a stolen necklace. When the client is killed, the body is discovered by Ann Drayle, played by Anne Shirley. She eventually tells Marlowe that her stepmother, Helen Grayle, played by Claire Trevor, was the owner of the jewels. When Marlowe reports the murder, the police ask him if he knows a Jules Amthor, and warn him not to interfere in the case. Of course he does interfere and things get impressively more complex, heading straight down into a pleasing slough of unpleasantness.

Cast

Although about to be overshadowed by Humphrey Bogart a few years later, Dick Powell portrays a Philip Marlowe who is very funny and always able to deliver a light-hearted line or a witty riposte. It is a brilliant performance, despite the actor not looking the part. He projects the detective's weariness of life and refusal to give up without any overplayed mannerisms. His presence is completely natural and convincing, far from any Hollywood overacting.

Powell is accompanied by excellent supporting characters, including two femmes fatales Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley. In the role "Moose" Malloy, Mike Mazurki intimidates while managing to remain human. Otto Kruger, plays Jules Amthor, a delightfully evil villain. Scripted by John Paxton, the film is somewhat watered down compared to the Chandler novel, he nevertheless manages to bring out the very substance without too many sacrifices.

Production

'Murder, My Sweet' occupied 44 days of shooting between May 8 and July 1, 1944.

Shooting on the first day was so hectic that Claire Trevor was being sewn into her dress while the first scene was being set up.

During filming, Dick Powell would entertain the other actors with imitations of himself performing earlier in his film career.

At one point, the studio had considered Ann Dvorak for one of the female leads.

Despite his fame, Powell had to make a screen test, and was offered a multi-picture contract with the studio as a result. After seeing the success of the film, due in no small part to the quality of Powell's performance, Koerner, in future cast him instead as other tough guy characters and in action films.

Shooting the film as an extended flashback, thus keeping the book's first-person narration, was the brainwave of producer Adrian Scott.

Edward Dmytryk was anxious to make Mike Mazurki appear as threatening as possible, so he had the sets built with slanted ceilings which made Mazurki appear to grow as he walked closer to the camera.

It was hard to get Mike Mazurki to tower over Dick Powell, because Powell at 6'2", was only 2 inches shorter than Mazurki--a former pro wrestler. When appropriate, Powell had to stand in a trench or Mazurki on a box to accentuate the height difference.

Main Cast

Dick Powell ... Philip Marlowe
Claire Trevor ... Helen Grayle/Velma Valento
Anne Shirley ... Ann Grayle
Otto Kruger ... Jules Amthor
Mike Mazurki ... Moose Malloy
Miles Mander ... Mr. Grayle
Douglas Walton ... Lindsay Marriott
Don Douglas ... Police Lt. Randall
Ralf Harolde ... Dr. Sonderborg
Esther Howard ... Mrs. Jessie Florian
John Indrisano ... chauffeur (Amthor's henchman)
Dewey Robinson ... New Boss at 'Florian's' (uncredited)

Credits

Director ... Edward Dmytryk
Producer ... Adrian Scott
Screenplay ... John Paxton
From the novel by ... Raymond Chandler
Music ... Roy Webb
Cinematography ... Harry J. Wild
Distribution Co ... RKO Pictures
Release date ... December 9, 1944
Running time ... 95 minutes

Academy Awards

No Nominations: