Friday, September 2, 2011

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

The Definitive Raymond Chandler Screen Adaptation

- Of all the many films that make up the film noir genre, Murder My Sweet (1944) is one of the greatest. Out of his normal film milieu (comedies and musicals before this film), Dick Powell stars as Philip Marlowe, a private detective whose services are hired out for what was initially an average case. However, this seemingly normal case quickly sinks deeper into complexity and spins out of control.

Dick Powell dominates his character and every inch of Murder My Sweet. The Marlowe character is interesting right away off the pages of John Paxton's script as an unconstrained yet human private eye. He is detached, dry  and sarcastic, getting under everyone's skin as well as getting in the way of their plans. However, despite the fact that he does not look for much more than hard cash and a "soft shoulder" in life, Marlowe is not so indifferent to what is going on that he will not do a thing to two because he actually feels it is the right thing to do. Philip Marlowe is a great character from the starting gun, but he is also richly enhanced by Dick Powell's performance. Through Powell, Marlowe is a smart and resilient private eye, but he's not a typical film noir tough-guy as Powell also brings a unique presence and acting credit to the role that is unrivaled by other performances within the genre. In Murder My Sweet, Marlowe is very cool and humorous thanks to Powell's laid-back swagger; but the viewer also feels the character's fear and anger through Powell's explosive turns. If it was not for the other high-quality aspects that go into Murder My Sweet, Powell would make the film all by himself.

Powell is great in Murder My Sweet but, to make matters even better, he is surrounded by other good actors who give good supporting performances throughout the film. There is not a bad performance in the entire film but there are some performers who are particularly memorable. Alluring and sharp, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley do an incredible job with their roles, giving Marlowe a double-dose of femme fatale mystique. Mike Mazurki is also great as the intimidating not-so-gentle giant Moose Malloy and it is hard to forget Esther Howard as the unsettling Ms. Florian.

John Paxton pens a treasure of a screenplay from Raymond Chandler's novel (Farewell My Lovely) and translates the intricate plot, character framework, and very witty dialogue wonderfully into the film. Murder My Sweet is also filmed astonishingly well with fantastic expression and fluidity. Director Edward Dmytryk forms every scene to perfection, giving Murder My Sweet exceptional energy, coming up with many innovative shots, and telling the story from a great perspective. Additionally, the film has very atmospheric cinematography with bold textures and cascading shadows that does just as much storytelling as anything else in the film. Murder My Sweet simply incorporates a wonderful set of high-quality direction, cinematography, screen writing, and performances to end up as a fantastic film noir for the ages.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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