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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Book Review: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

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The Long Goodbye is the 4th book I have read by Raymond Chandler and I have loved all four. This one was published in 1953 and is the longest and I got to admit, towards the end I wondered why Chandler didn’t just end the book at a few different points. I got to say I’m glad it continued on and the ending was worth it. Those that have seen the Altman film and read this book have argued through out the years which ending is better, the original book or the updated film? I got to say as a big fan of Chandler and the Marlowe character the book is my choice.

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I watched the film last year and here is my review of that film:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/06/19/review-the-long-goodbye/

The Long Goodbye of course revolves around the hardboiled private detective that all hardboiled private detectives to come would be influenced by, Philip Marlowe. In this book Marlowe is in his early 40’s but hasn’t changed much over the years. He is still a quick to respond smart mouth that can get him in trouble from time to time. He is still as tough as they come and mix that with his genius level of street smarts makes for an interesting character. Marlowe is still single and I think he prefers it that way. Marlowe is still in his world of Southern California mixing it up with street level crime and the rich that hire him.

The story starts out with Marlowe getting to know a new friend, Terry Lennox. Lennox likes his drinking and is married to a wealthy woman. Lennox has a mysterious past and the scars on his face to prove it.

Lennox calls Marlowe late one night asking for a ride to Mexico. He tells Marlowe not to ask any questions and Marlowe doesn’t want any answers anyway. When Marlowe gets back to L.A., he is thrown in jail after not giving any information about Lennox’s whereabouts. Lennox is wanted for the murder of his wife and the police are looking for him.

When Marlowe gets out of jail he is soon on to his next case, but he still has questions about Lennox and his guilt.

This book has a lot of twist and turns and Chandler’s writing is amazing as always. The reason I have not read this book before is because I was reading them in order. I read this one out of order and did not feel it mattered. I plan on going back and reading everything by Chandler in time. If you are a fan of noir and hardboiled fiction, it doesn’t get much better then this classic. A must read for everybody that reads books in my opinion, you will not be disappointed.

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I really wish a classic film noir adaption of this book was made in the 1950’s. Could you imagine Bogart reprising his role as Marlowe, with Sydney Greenstreet playing Lennox’s father-in-law. Maybe Robert Ryan as Rodger Wade and Lizabeth Scott as Eileen Wade? Oh the possibilities!

Michael Connelly Chooses ‘The Long Goodbye’ for WSJ Book Club

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The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is the Book of the Month for the Wall Street Journal Book Club. The selection was made by one of today’s greats, Michael Connelly. After reading this article, I have decided I have been putting off reading this noir classic long enough. Who wants to join me in reading this with the WSJ Book Club?

Here is a link to the article:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/michael-connelly-chooses-the-long-goodbye-for-wsj-book-club-1452097505

Also you can join the Book Club on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1378607315732948/

 

List: The 10 Best Movies Written by, Adapted from, or Inspired by Raymond Chandler

Taste of Cinema is at it again! This time with the 10 best films involving the great noir author Raymond Chandler. Agree or Disagree with the choices or the placing if you like, but read the full article for some great knowledge about the author and these movies you may not have known. Well worth your time to check it out if you are a fan of noir or Chandler. Here is the link to the full article:

http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/the-10-best-movies-written-by-adapted-from-or-inspired-by-raymond-chandler/

Review: The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye is a neo noir from Robert Altman made in 1973. This is based on Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece book of the same name. I have read 3 of Chandler’s books but have not read this one yet. When this was released in Los Angeles it was a big failure and Chandler fans were horrified by this adaptation. The marketing was changed to show it as more of a satire of Chandler’s work in New York and the film had a little more success. Though it had more success on the east coast it was still a big flop at the box office.  Robert Altman took a lot of chances with this film. He took a beloved book and moved its setting from 1950 Hollywood to 1972 Hollywood. He also took a new ending from the script by Leigh Brackett(who also wrote the script for The Big Sleep in 1946) and fought to keep it, instead of staying true to the original novel. He also hired Elliott Gould, who was black listed for being hard to work with and had not worked for 2 years at this point.

So this film had a lot going against it and it was not a big hit, so how come it is considered such a classic today among noir and neo-noir fans? Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe appeared in 4 film in 10 years with Marlowe in 1969, then this film and then two more films a few years later starring noir legend Robert Mitchum in a more true to the books adaptations. I have seen all three of those and they are all good, but this adaptation is the one that gets all the attention. I have to agree that it is well deserved. It is different and a much more enjoyable watching experience then the other three films.

Elliott Gould’s Marlowe is a quick tongued private detective, but does not use the wit as Chandler wrote it. He ad-libbed a lot of his dialog making it seem more fresh and less rehearsed then other adaptations. We also have Sterling Hayden playing a crazed writer. Hayden said this is one of his favorite films. Nina van Pallandt plays Hayden’s wife who hires Marlowe to find her husband. We also see Arnold Schwarzenegger in an early appearance in his career as a body-guard who says nothing, he also went uncredited for this film.

This film starts with Marlowe being called in the middle of the night by a good friend. He asks Marlowe to take him to Mexico right away. Marlowe does, and doesn’t ask many questions. Marlowe ends up getting taken into custody for questioning. His friend is accused of killing his wife. They hold him for 3 days and then he is suddenly released.  He soon finds his friend has committed suicide in Mexico and the case is closed. Soon Marlowe is assaulted by some baddies and they want their money back. Marlowe of course doesn’t know anything about any missing money.  He thinks his friend was murdered and did not commit suicide and starts looking into it. He is soon hired by a woman to find her husband.  This couple is neighbors to his now dead friend. Are both cases related? Will he find who killed his friend and his friend’s wife?  Will he find the missing money?

This is a twisted and hard to follow story that does not serve up easy clues and often doesn’t make sense, but what would you expect from a Chandler story? It is a fun watch and something you can re-watch over and over again. Is it the best Chandler adaptation? My favorite is still The Big Sleep with Bogart, but for a lot of people this is their favorite.  If you are a noir fan, and if you are, you are probably a Chandler fan too, you need to check out this film.

Favorite Tidbit: Thought this is moved from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Marlowe still drives a car built-in the late 40’s and his pay is $50 a day plus expenses, an amount more in line with pay from the 50’s then the 70’s.

Review: The Blue Dahlia

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So did anybody write better classic noir dialog than Raymond Chandler?  I don’t think so, his wise cracking P.I. Phillip Marlowe will always be one of the greatest fictional character of not only noir, but all of fiction.  Though we don’t have Marlowe in The Blue Dahlia, we are not missing on the crackling dialog.

Clean sheets every day they tell me.  How often do they change the fleas?

Seems I’ve lost my manners or would anyone here know the difference?

Joyce Harwood: Well, don’t you even say ‘Good night’?
Johnny Morrison: It’s good-bye, and it’s tough to say good-bye.
Joyce Harwood: Why is it? You’ve never seen me before tonight.
Johnny Morrison: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

You’ve got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.

‘Dad’ Newell: [examining Helen’s body] Been dead for hours.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Suicide?
‘Dad’ Newell: Could be.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Better be!
‘Dad’ Newell: Unh-unh! Too much gun!

I know I’ve got lots of faults, but being in love with you isn’t one of them, is it?

These are some of my favorite quotes from this film, and if it was just the dialog this would be a 4 out of 5 star film.  But Raymond Chandler doesn’t just write great dialog, he can put together a pretty good plot too.  This has three friends coming back from the war. Our hero is played by Alan Ladd, who goes to see his wife.  She is having a party and he soon finds out that she has a new beau.  The new boyfriend played by Howard Da Silva, owns the night club “The Blue Dahlia” for which the movie is named.  Soon our hero’s wife played wonderfully by Doris Dowling, she is just the right amount of evil that we can see why our hero wants free of her, but also the right amount of sadness that we feel sorry for her having to be by herself while her husband was at war.  She’s mad, but we understand why.  She is found dead and we don’t know if it’s suicide or murder.  The police start with the most likely suspects, which includes our hero.  Now he has to find the killer before he takes the fall for murder.  Along the way we have William Bendix playing Buzz.  Buzz is a great character who has some brain damage from the war, does he also have post-traumatic stress syndrome before we really knew what it was?    Then of course we have Veronica Lake who plays the night club owners wife.  I would call her the femme fatale of this film, but she doesn’t try to decisive anybody, or use anybody, or try to get away with anything, she’s actually a truly good person.

Raymond Chandler had to change his original ending and was not happy about this.  I will not tell you why or how it is changed here, because it is a spoiler and we don’t believe in that here, but after you watch it you can probably see what is changed and maybe even why given the time frame of when the film was made.

A couple of historic trivia bits for you.

1.  Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake appeared in a number of movies together and rumors started that they where having an affair.  Both always denied this, and it is not known if the rumors where true or not.

2. Elizabeth Short got her nickname The Black Dahlia from this film.  She embraced her new nickname and took to wearing a black dahlia flower in her hair.  She died less than a year after this.  She became the subject of the classic James Ellroy book and not-so classic film, “The Black Dahlia” and part of Los Angeles lore forever.

I really liked this film for its sharp dialog and surprising twists and turns.  A classic noir that all fans should see.

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Review of a Forgotten Classic: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

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James Ross was a writer from North Carolina, he wrote some short stories and wrote for newspapers in the south.  This book intrigued me when I heard about it.  James Ross wrote this country noir book before country noir was a thing.  Daniel Woodrell cites this as an influence in his work.  They Don’t Dance Much was published in 1940 and received praise from his contemporaries, people like  Raymond Chandler, William Gay, and Flannery O’Connor loved the book.  Reviewers of this book often compared him to Chandler and even Dashiell Hammett.  You would think we had a noir literary pioneer on our hands!  And we should have, but Ross didn’t like the comparisons and wished he was in the same company of William Faulkner instead.  Even with the great reviews in its time and praise from other great authors, the book never found a big audience and was in and out of print since. Ross was so disappointed in the sales that he stopped writing novels.  Ross was one and out, but what a one.  It is a shame that he didn’t write more, I really enjoyed this book and can’t imagine what he would have written after this.  This takes a poor man who has lost his farm and takes up a job at a roadhouse.  There is a lot of troubling things that happen here, gambling, adultery, drinking, theft and eventually murder.  The writing is very good and even holds up today.  This book is now being printed by the Mysterious Press so it should be fairly easy to find a copy.

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If you want to read a cool book that is getting another chance, check it out.  This book still isn’t very widely read.  It only has 140 ratings on goodreads right now, but is well liked by the ones that have read it.  I hope you give this book a chance and find it as good as I did.