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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Movie Review: Raw Deal

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Raw Deal is a film noir from 1948, directed by Anthony Mann who has directed a number of noir films before he moved on to Westerns.

Raw Deal has a very good plot, which incorporates many different plot devices into an hour and twenty minutes of dynamite. The main plot is a prison break but there is also a love triangle and a revenge theme thrown in for good measure.

Dennis O’Keefe is our protagonist who is in prison for taking a rap for crime boss Rick Coyle played by Raymond Burr. The film starts out with him talking in the visiting room with his legal caseworker played by Marsha Hunt. As she leaves, Claire Trevor playing our protagonist’s girlfriend is waiting to visit. We see the attraction and jealousy that will push this love triangle. A prison escape is planned with Coyle’s help, but Coyle knows his friend will never make it, at least that is his plan. When our protagonist escapes, he doesn’t have anywhere to hide out, so he goes to his caseworker’s house. Soon our love triangle goes on a road trip, trying to get away from the police and meet up with our crime boss who owes our hero $50,000. What woman will win our hero’s heart? Will he get away? Will he get his $50,000?

This is a very good little film worth watching for film noir fans. Though all three leads are well done, I have to say Raymond Burr is the stand out in this film for me. The scene where he throws a flaming liquid onto a female night club goer is one of the most vicious scenes I’ve seen in a while. Does this scene foretell his characters own fate?

1947 Blogathon! Review: Born to Kill

Born to Kill is a classic film noir from 1947 directed by Robert Wise based on the book Deadlier than the Male by James Gunn.

This was a staring vehicle for Lawrence Tierney who came to prominence in Dillinger a few years earlier. The public ate up Tierney as the bad boy, all the women loved and all the men wanted to be, he’s just a little more bad than most. This also stars Claire Trevor as our femme fatale.

Born to Kill has almost every film noir trope you can think of, a crime of passion, loose women, murder, star-crossed lovers, unreliable characters, a private eye, black mail, friends loyal enough to kill for, crazy circumstances involving our main characters, not many truly good people and more.

This film starts with Helen played by Trevor getting out of court with her divorce finally official. She has been in Reno 6 weeks to get this done and now it is her last night in town. She goes home where she meets two women drinking in her rooming house. Laury Palmer played by Isabel Jewell, who lives next door to the rooming house and Mrs. Kraft played by Esther Howard who owns the rooming house. Palmer mentions she is using one man to make another man jealous as the girl talk continues. They are drinking beer and ask Helen to join them to celebrate her divorce. She declines and goes to the casino for one last night on the town. Helen is at the craps table when she sees Sam, played by Tierney, throwing the dice. We see the instant attraction between the two. Palmer and one of her dates runs into Helen at the craps table and Sam does not look happy. Palmer and her boyfriend go back to her place and run into a furious Sam.

Sam is the boyfriend Palmer is trying to make jealous and boy did she do a good job! Sam murders the two and in his getaway lets Palmer’s dog out. Helen comes along and sees the dog and brings him back to the house to find the two dead bodies. She doesn’t say anything and gets on the train to go back to San Francisco. Sam goes back to his place where his friend, played by Elisha Cook Jr., tells Sam to get on the next train to San Francisco. Soon Sam and Helen get on the train at the same time and our story gets more complex and interesting in San Francisco. We soon meet Helen’s sister played by Audrey Long and a hard-boiled private detective played by Walter Slezak for good measure.

So as you can see from my brief introduction to this movie that a lot of the film relies on a crazy amount of coincidences. That aside this is a very dark film with Sam being a man who women cannot resist and Helen being a woman that will do anything to get what she wants. This film had to really push the limits of what could be in a film in 1947. This is Robert Wise’s first film noir and he went on to make many more great ones. Strange to think of a director who could make such dark films is probably better known for his musicals later in his career.

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This is a very high level film noir and should be checked out by everybody who loves classic film. You could write a book on this film, but I’m going to stop writing now and let you go out and experience this film for yourself.

 

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Review: Crack-Up

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Crack-Up is a film noir from 1946 staring Pat O’Brien!

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No, Not that one, this one:

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Crack-Up is based on a short story from Fredric Brown and is directed by Irving Reis.  Our leading lady is played by Claire Trevor.  Trevor appeared in many film noir threw out her career.  Character actor Wallace Ford plays our lead detective.

The story starts out with our hero breaking into a museum and looks to be drunk and out of control.  He is followed in by a police officer who wants to arrest him for public drunkenness and for trying to take a swing at him.  The board for the museum is having a meeting at this time and recognize our hero and ask if the police officer will let them take care of him.  He isn’t drunk he is sick.  Our hero comes to and tells our detective how the last thing he remembers is being on a train when it wrecked with another train.  The only problem is there was no train wreck!  This is where the mystery takes off.  Why does he think there was a train wreck? What happened to our hero? Was he drugged? This mystery is just the beginning, as we have murder, art, money, dames, conspiracies and a twisting plot that will leave you swinging in the wind.

Another great looking film noir, this one by camera man Robert De Grasse.  The story sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense and may have some holes in it that are hard to overlook.  I really thought this movie might have a mentally ill main character, given the name of the film and the way he acts at first.  I guess in 1947 the public wasn’t ready for mentally ill main characters. As the movie goes along we find a perfectly good reason for the way our hero is acting.  Then it is made light of with our last line, “Everybody is nuts around here, but me.”

This is not a widely watched film with a 6.6 rating on IMDb from only 657 voters.  I would say this is a far rating and is worth watching for the hard-core film noir fan, but not a film I would recommend for somebody that is looking for just a few good examples of the genre.