Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in Murder, My Sweet (1944)


(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: from the story Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler/John Paxton; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: Joseph Noriega; music: Roy Webb; cast: Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe), Claire Trevor (Helen Grayle), 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 (Jessie Florian), Paul Phillips( Detective Nulty); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Adrian Scott; RKO Pictures; 1944)

“Offers a delirious blend of violence, drug-induced hallucinations, and sexuality.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Raymond Chandler’s gritty novel Farewell, My Lovely about hidden evil, betrayal, and deception previously served as material for George Sanders in The Falcon Takes Over (1942). Edward Dmytryk’s fine, uncompromising adaption of this key film noir thriller is served well by John Paxton’s taut script, Harry J. Wild’s excellent noir photography, and Dick Powell’s convincing conversion from movie crooner to hard-boiled noir protagonist. It was remade in 1975 as Farewell My Lovely starring Robert Mitchum in Powell’s private eye Philip Marlowe part.

“Murder” offers a delirious blend of violence, drug-induced hallucinations, and sexuality to be juxtaposed against the splashy set-piece visuals.

The film is narrated in the police station by Marlowe, who has been temporarily blinded by a gunshot wound. He reflects on past events that led to the tragic conclusion of multiple murders. The flashback begins with the love-stricken violent giant Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) just released from prison after eight years, hiring Marlowe to find his missing girl friend Velma. Marlowe comes up empty when he questions the former owner of the bar where Velma worked as a dancer, the lush Jessie Florian. Marlowe’s soon hired by the suspicious effeminate Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton) to be his bodyguard in the exchange of money for a valuable stolen necklace. Lindsay’s been hired by Mrs. Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) to recover the stolen necklace her older wealthy hubby (Miles Mander) gave her as a present. While going out to the isolated canyon region to complete the deal, Marlowe gets out of the car and is clubbed and robbed of the $8,000 payment and later finds Lindsay clubbed to death nearby. He colorfully describes to the police his reaction: “I caught the blackjack right behind my ear–a black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in…it had no bottom.”

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), the pretty red-haired step-daughter of Helen’s, someone she thinks is wrong for her loving father, comes to Marlowe’s office to see if he didn’t pinch the $125,000 necklace. Marlowe talks her into bringing him back to the mansion to meet her parents, where he’s hired by Helen to locate the necklace. The convoluted plot thickens as Marlowe neglects his search for Velma and runs into Lindsay’s shady associate Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), who is also after the necklace. Marlowe is strangled by Moose, who has been misled by Jules into thinking that Marlowe was holding back info on Velma. Marlowe ends up as a prisoner in a sanitarium run by Dr. Sonderborg, who drugs him to get information about the necklace. After much confusion, the dazed Marlowe escapes from his captors and figures out that Velma is Helen Grayle. This leads to him setting up a confrontational meeting at Grayle’s beach house with all the concerned parties and that brings about a violent finale as all the hatreds and deceptions come to the surface.

It’s a dark, moody, highly stylized film about corruption and venality that takes place in a threatening nightmarish landscape inhabited by grotesque shadowy figures, who are described by the vulnerable Marlowe with sardonic quips such as his description of Florian: “She was a gal who would take a drink if she had to knock you over to get it.” These dream-like characters live in a world of their own, bearing little resemblance to the real wartime world, existing as a variety of hardened noir characters who will become in the future the archetypes for many of these film noirs.


REVIEWED ON 3/23/2005 GRADE: B +