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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Review: Night and the City

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The Night and the City is a film from one of film noir’s greatest directors, Jules Dassin. Dassin was a target of the Communist hunt in Hollywood and was sent to London to start filming this film to get him out of the country. This was his last Hollywood film for years after being put on the blacklist. He left for France where he made a few more classic films, before his return to Hollywood.

There is two versions of this film, one is a shorter American version and a longer British edit. I watched the shorter American cut, which seems to be Dassin’s preferred version because of it’s tighter edit and more clear dialog.

This film stars Richard Widmark and his signature laugh. He plays a street hustler in London, using anybody and everybody he meets for money or a way to get ahead. The film starts with Widmark’s Harry Fabian running at night through the city as somebody chases him. He runs to an apartment building, and seems to have lost all the stress he was just under. He enters the apartment and soon is riffling through a purse looking for money. Mary played by Gene Tierney is seen coming out of the shadows. Mary and Harry are a couple and Mary is tired of his hustling. She gets him the money Harry owes the man chasing him and Harry is free to start his next hustle.

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Harry gives us a tour through the underworld of London and we meet a number of con men, hustlers and shady business owners. Harry uses a number of these people to get ahead on his latest ploy. Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan play a dysfunctional wed couple that will cross each other for love and hate. Harry’s latest scheme involves starting his own pro wrestling promotion. Herbert Lom plays the current wrestling promoter in London and will do whatever he needs to eliminate the competition.

This is pretty unique in we get wrestling instead of boxing as our noir sport of choice. This seems to mirror how wrestling territories where back in this time, as well as showing the move from traditional wrestling to the entertainment wrestling we have today. Ex-pro wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko plays the old guard, wanting to keep the art of traditional pro wrestling alive. Unfortunately this was the only screen appearance by Zbyszko, who is great in this film. Zbyszko in real life echoed his on screen character.

Mike Mazurki was also a pro wrestler and plays The Strangler. The Strangler is the big draw in London and is part of the new guard of entertaining wrestlers Zbyszko’s character thinks is destroying the art of wrestling. Mazurki moved from wrestling to the movies and was one of the first actors to be type cast as the heavy or thug and had a film career that lasted over 50 years.

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The inevitable wrestling match in this film is amazing. The scene lasts over 4 minutes and is one of the best fight scenes in film noir. This is a very complex film with may reasons to view it. It has one of the most brutal and heart wrenching ending in classic film noir.

This film is based on the book by the same name written by Gerald Kersh. This book was originally published in 1938 and was kicked around for years in Hollywood. A lot of this had to do with timing, the book is very dark and shows crime in a very different way then audiences were used too. Thanks to a long run of film noir, Hollywood decided the public was ready. I have not read the book, but from my little research, it appears the movie varies from the source material for a number of reasons.

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This film was also remade in 1992 starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange.

I loved this film and think it is required viewing for any film noir fan, classic movie fan and I feel pro-wrestling fans or those that would like to learn more about pro-wrestling will enjoy this as well.

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Review: Nightmare Alley

Tyrone Power wanted this book made into a movie and he wanted to star in it. This is Nightmare Alley and though it was not a huge success on its release in 1947, it is one of Power’s best performances and has become one of his most memorable. This film is based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham and directed by Edmund Goulding. Power stars as our main character Stan Carlisle.

This film is not your normal noir, it doesn’t take place in the dark streets of some big city at first, it takes place in the country at a carnival. The film starts with Power walking through a side-show tent, and is fascinated by the geek. A geek at this time frame in the carnival is somebody that bites the heads off of chickens. He then goes into the next tent where he changes into his carnival suit and starts working with the mind reading mystic. Our mystic is actually a team played by Joan Blondell as Zeena and Ian Keith as Pete. Pete is an alcoholic and a shadow of the man he used to be. The team used to be a big draw with a system of using Pete in the crowd telling Zeena in a code how to “read the minds” of the audience. We soon meet some of the others in the carnival like Mike Mazurki as the strong man and Coleen Gray as the beautiful assistant, Molly.

Soon Pete has an accident involving Stan and some bad alcohol, and he passes in his sleep. Stan sees his chance and talks Zeena into teaching him the code. Molly helps Stan learn the code and soon Stan and Zeena are doing the old show and drawing big crowds. A romance starts between Molly and Stan and the rest of the carnival talent soon finds out. They force Stan to marry Molly and they both leave the carnival. Stan and Molly start using the code and become a big hit in the city. Stan soon meets a psychologist, played by Helen Walker, and hatches a new con to take advantage of the cities rich.

This story is a very good noir as well as a psychological thriller. The film is something to be seeing by all noir fans or classic movie lovers. I have not seen a lot of movies with Power in them, but he is quite good in this film. I also really liked Gray in this, she is the opposite of a femme fatale in this film for sure. Walker is the femme fatale in this picture, and though she doesn’t have a lot of screen time, she definitely leaves her mark on this film. I also found ex-pro wrestler Mike Mazurki’s presence as the strong man fascinating. Find this film and watch it if you have not seen it yet!

Favorite Tidbit: According to Eddie Muller when he introduced this film on TCM, grifters using the mystic con would use the phrase “Are you a friend of Stan Carlisle?” to identify each other.