These two films are based on the classic noir novel by Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely published in 1940. Murder, My Sweet was released in 1944. The name was changed because Dick Powell was known more for his musical roles and Farewell, My Lovely sounded like another Powell musical. Powell wanted to have more hardboiled roles and signed with R.K.O. as long as he got to play Marlowe. Thirty one years later, film noir great, Robert Mitchum finally got his chance to play the iconic private eye. After a noir resurgence in the 1970’s and Marlowe having success in a modern retelling of The Long Goodbye, timing was good for another Marlowe adaption. Here is a round by round bout of two classics from two different eras.
Round 1: Screenplay
Since both of these films are based on one of the most iconic books in all of noir, as well as all of American literature, one has to be careful not to change this story too much for the screen. I have not read this book in a few years, but have read it more than once.
John Paxton adapted the book to the screen for Murder, My Sweet and stuck pretty close to the book. When you have Raymond Chandler writing dialog, why change it? This was Paxton’s first film noir screenplay and it was a good one. He went on to write many more classic film noir screenplays.
David Zelag Goodman started out in television and went on to write a few good neo noir and gritty films in the 1970’s. Goodman left the setting in the 1940’s, but added a bit more grit to the story. He also added a few , dropped a few and changed a few characters. He added a bit of historic background to plant the viewer back in the 1940’s. He also added some diversity to the story. The original film has an all white cast and not only did Goodman add some African Americans, Asians, and Gays but he also threw in a bi-racial couple with a child. He also threw in some noir tropes not found in the original film, like a whore house, dirty cops, and corrupt businessmen. He also made the McGuffin of the jade necklace, that drives the original movie, a none factor in his screenplay. Goodman also adds his own Chandler like dialogue and only uses Chandler’s dialogue sparingly.
Though I like Goodman’s added diversity, I felt he added a bunch of tropes just to add them. Chandler’s wit fits in the 1940’s time frame and I can see changing or updating the dialogue if it was to take place in a different decade, but if you are going to set it in the 1940’s, I would stick more to the original lines. I’m going with Chandler here and since Paxton stuck with the original material better, Murder, My Sweet wins this round.
Murder, My Sweet-1 Forever, My Lovely-0
Round 2: Direction and Cinematography
Edward Dmytryk directs Murder, My Sweet and uses a number of awesome techniques, from placing unseen glass panes to get the right effect and some of the best noir lighting ever. This is as good as it gets for looks in the classic film noir era. The scene where Marlowe is drugged and has a nightmare is a sequence you have to see.
Dick Richards does a good job taking us back 30 years. He may use a lot of memorabilia laying around to take the audience back in time. The cars and buildings look great and the lighting is well done. Richards even does a smaller nightmare scene, not as long, but still gives a nod to the original.
Though Richards makes Farewell, My Lovely look like a great throw back to the 1940’s, it’s hard to beat a black and white film actually filmed in the 1940’s for that authentic look. Dmytryk wins this round for Murder, My Sweet.
Murder, My Sweet-2 Farewell, My Lovely-0
Round 3: The Male Lead
Dick Powell went from big studio musical star to hardboiled film noir star in this film. Some, including the director, didn’t think Powell could play Marlowe, but he pulled it off. It was probably good that this film came out two years before The Big Sleep or his turn as Marlowe, no matter how good, would not have been a success. Powell isn’t Bogart, but he is pretty damn good in this film.
Robert Mitchum is dream casting as Marlowe, but was a 58 year old Mitchum too old to pull off Marlowe? I don’t think so, he plays Marlowe as well as you would ever expect. He plays Marlowe understated and tough without overly trying to be. Like the trailer for this movie says, “last of the tough guys.” Sure, I would love to have seen Mitchum play Marlowe in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, but an older Mitchum as Marlowe is better then not having one at all.
This is a tough round, but the round has to go to Mitchum.
Murder, My Sweet-2 Farewell, My Lovely-1
Round 4: Female Lead
Claire Trevor is one of the best femme fatales of all time. She was born to play the evil woman and she does it well here. She seems to be able to lie to a man and he knows it, but he doesn’t care.
Charlotte Rampling can say more with her eyes and a slight smile then most can do with a 10 minute monologue. In Murder, My Sweet you felt Marlowe was always one step ahead of Helen, but in Forever, My Lovely, Helen seems to be one step ahead of Marlowe all the way to the climax.
This was also a tough call, one of the best femme fatale actresses from the classic era or one of the best actresses in the world playing a femme fatale. This one is a draw.
Murder, My Sweet-3 Farewell, My Lovely-2
Round 5: Supporting Cast
Mike Mazurki as Moose is the role that made him a star. It also may have type cast him as the big, not so smart, thug. He is brilliant in this role and is a highlight of this film.
Anne Shirley plays Helen’s stepdaughter Ann in her last film. She was great in this role as Helen’s rival for Marlowe’s affection. The character Ann is not in Farewell, My Lovely.
Jack O’Halloran tries to step into very big shoes as Moose and does well in Farewell, My Lovely. Harry Dean Stanton and Burton Gilliam in smaller roles are highlights. Also one year before his big break in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone plays a thug in love with a hooker in a very small role.
Even though Farewell, My Lovely has a lot of great talent in small roles through out, the round has to go to Murder, My Sweet based on Mike Mazurki’s Moose alone.
Murder, My Sweet-4 Farewell, My Lovely-2
So there you have it, the original film wins again. Though the score was 4 to 2 this was a lot closer then it looked. Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe is one of the best, if not the best noir character of all time and I would rather see more remakes than less here. Go watch both of these films yourself and see what one you feel is the best.