Film vs. Film: Murder, My Sweet vs. Farewell, My Lovely

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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16 thoughts on “Film vs. Film: Murder, My Sweet vs. Farewell, My Lovely

  1. I enjoyed your film vs. film review. As for me, while Mitchum is far more my ideal Marlowe than Powell, he should have been cast a decade or two earlier. Even if I give Mitchum the point, the rest of the points I give to Murder My Sweet.

    I’m up for more versions of Marlowe anytime now. I do adore Toby Stephens BBC radio dramatizations, but a new movie done to honor the original (not updated, please!) would be fabulous. Who would you cast?

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  2. I have to agree Murder My Sweet wins this battle, even though I like both films. Marlowe’s always better in black and white (except for that wonderful HBO series with Powers Boothe!) And Mike Mazurki was born to play Moose!

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  3. I like both movies, and for me Powell is (unexpectedly) just about the best Marlowe, his sole rival being Mitchum in this particular movie. (For me, Bogart’s nowhere: great actor, great Spade, lousy Marlowe.) There’s an hour-long HBO movie in which Danny Glover plays a tremendous Marlowe; worth looking for if you’ve not come across it.

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  4. Respectfully disagree. You forgot to mention the other noir icon in Farewell My Lovely John Ireland

    Farewell My Lovely (1975) Directed by Dick Richard, with Noir Icons Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, and John Ireland as Det. Lt., Nulty, with a supporting cast that includes Charlotte Rampling as Helen Grayle, Sylvia Miles very impressive as alcoholic floozy Jessie Halstead Florian, Anthony Zerbe as sleazy Laird Brunette, another great performance by Harry Dean Stanton as crooked on the take Det. Billy Rolfe, Jack O’Halloran in his film debut with a good interpretation of Moose Malloy, Joe Spinell as Nick, and a very young Sylvester Stallone as whorehouse punk, Jonnie. Noir Novelist, Jim Thomson puts in an appearance as Judge Grayle.

    I really, really, enjoyed this (1975) version of “Farewell My Lovely”, and I’d have to say it equals “Murder My Sweet” not point for point but for different reasons, “Murder My Sweet” has an unforgettably well done first meet between Marlowe (Dick Powell) and Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) and while on Mike, for me he is still the Malloy to beat, he is the actor that has the cachet, the cinematic memory, he is what I most remember about that version of the Chandler Story, him and the Noir cinematography. I’ll have to watch it again, but I have a feeling that it will be tough to beat the outstanding cast of the 1975 film.

    That said “Farewell My Lovely” has four unforgettable sequences, Marlowe & Molloy go to Florian’s sequence, the two Marlowe and Jessie Florian sequences, the Marlowe meets Femme Fatale Helen Grayle (Charlotte Rampling) sequence (and Rampling BTY has some beautiful green eyes, you know I don’t even recall Claire Trevor’s performance in “Murder My Sweet”), and the Nulty gets religion in the police car sequence, then add in all the Marlowe/Nulty vignettes, this film is one not too miss. Sets and interiors suitably seedy and not hampered by the Hays Code and the script is Pre PC so there is no pulling punches in the various lines and situations, bravo.

    The cinematography of the interiors was excellent, everything depicted had aura of decay, one minor quibble, it could have probably alluded just a bit more to classic noir films than it did, there were a number of sequences shot against a backdrop of brightly lit windows (Marlowe’s office and Jessie Florian’s parlor come to mind) that had venetian blinds but the blinds were either closed or pulled up so we get none of the staple barred shadows, a shame, it would have been a nice bonus.

    What I remember most vividly from the novel is the character Jessie Florian and description of the dump she lives in, and Chandler is in top form here. And out of all that detail rendered, what sticks in my memory most is Chandler’s description of the fingerprint encrusted glasses Jessie comes back with to drink the booze out of. The film doesn’t quite go to that depth but it’s close, and it probably paints Jessie just a tab bit more comely and sympathetically than the novel does.

    Mitchum is Mitchum, like John Wayne when you reach iconic status its hard to separate character from personality, but you can overlook it here. Mitchum/Ireland scenes are a visual treat and direct link to Classic Noir.

    Soundtrack is great and for a Chandler adaptation this one placed in the correct time period is probably the best one in that respect. 9/10 mainly for Jack O’Halloran.

    Now Comparing the Novel to both films, For clarification and ease I’ll abbreviate the film titles FML = Farewell My Lovely, and MMS = Murder My Sweet

    Just finished reading Chandler’s “Farewell My Lovely” and with the recent viewings of both films fresh in my mind I have to admit that they both deviate from the novel quite a bit in different areas.

    Moose Malloy gets more memorable screen time in FML he becomes an almost sympathetic character in FML you end up caring for the dumb lug, less so in MMS. In the novel you barely get the character at all, which is reflected in MMS.

    The character Ann Riordan is eliminated entirely from FML. The most likely reason being Mitchum’s age, he’s portrayed as a Marlowe in his declining years.

    The whole scenario of how Marlowe finds Jessie Florian in FML is not in the book what is in the book is the hotel, and a clerk finds Florian with a City Directory.

    The whole flashback sequence with the temporarily blinded Marlowe is a fabrication in MMS. But the hint of the love affair with Riordan is in the novel.

    In novel there are two cops that Marlowe has to deal with Nulty, of LAPD and Randal of the Bay City Police in FML they are combined into just Nulty played by Ireland, in MYS the main cop is Randal.

    Amthor in the novel is a psychic, in FML he becomes a she and a notorious LA madam and Amthor’s and Dr, Sonderborg’s sequences in the novel are combined into the same house, in MMS I think he’s still a psychic but the way its played out in the novel is much more elaborately detailed and memorable than what is in the film. Interestingly there is a second big bruiser in the novel a henchman of Amthor called The Indian.

    In the novel there are two ships off shore one is a whorehouse ship, one is a gambling ship. In FML there is only one ship, in MMS no ship.

    In the novel the final denouement between Malloy and Velma takes place in Marlowe’s apartment, she puts five bullets in him and escapes. In MMS it takes place in a beach house and Malloy and Velma kill each other and Marlowe is temporarily blinded by a close gunshot. In FML it takes place in Brunette’s office on the gambling ship and Malloy and Velma both die too.

    In the novel Velma disappears again, becomes a brunette and is singing in a band again like what she used to do a Florian’s but she is finally spotted by a cop back east who approaches her in the dressing room and confronts her, she guns him down then kills herself.

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  5. I loved both versions. And though I agree the original film is better, I have one observation about it. In a variation of “suspending disbelief”, I couldn’t get Powell’s career as a song and dance man out of my head. He did a fine job, but suffered from being typecast before this role.
    And I agree that Mitchum was made for this part…a 38 year old Mitchum that is. But, like Rampling, Mitchum has “it”. Whatever “it” is that makes an actor perfect for a role. Even a bit long of tooth he’s a treat as Marlowe. I could watch both of them reciting nursery rhymes and probably enjoy it.
    Lastly, Noir is a B/W genre. Period.

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  6. Marlowe is the perfect Marlowe, and for an idea of how he’d have done with the role at the appropriate age, we have OUT OF THE PAST, in which he plays a Marlowe-esque shamus.

    I can’t believe the author of this piece, in assessing the cast of FML, left out John Ireland and especially Sylvia Miles, who received a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work as Jessie Florian. She was absolutely great in the role (I’ve bumped into her a few times over the years here in NYC, and have never failed to tell her as much).

    I think FML captures the spirit of Chandler a bit more effectively. The mood of that film is perfect (and the music is beyond perfect). I love both pictures, but if only because it introduced me to the work of Raymond Chandler (I was in high school and working part time in a multiplex when it came out), my vote goes to FML over MMS.

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