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: Cape Fear(1962)

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Cape Fear is a late film noir or early neo noir from 1962, brought to the screen by Gregory Peck. He brought the book The Executioners by pulp and noir great John D. MacDonald to the screen. He didn’t like the title, The Executioners, and from 1960’s marketing perspective, Peck thought films named after places did well at the box office. So he looked along the East Coast for a name and he came across Cape Fear. Peck’s company backed this film and it actually lost a lot of money on its release. The film was to violent and tackled subjects that movie goers didn’t want to see. Luckily when Martin Scorsese remade this film in 1991, Peck still owned the rights. He made a tidy sum on licencing of the film to Scorsese.

Honestly I put off watching this classic for years. After seeing the 1991 version I could not see how this one could compare. I mean, how could anybody be better then Robert De Niro and Scorsese?

I finally broke down and watched this classic and I’m glad I did! Directed by J. Lee Thompson I had low expectations. Thompson may not be Scorsese, but he did a damn good job.

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This story is a classic tale of a good man pushed to the brink by a bad man. Will the good man have to do illegal, evil things to rid himself of the bad man? Will good prevail over bad?

Gregory Peck plays lawyer, Sam Bowden. A upstanding man of the community with a beautiful wife and daughter. At first, I questioned the character being a lawyer. I thought he prosecuted or defended Max Cady, and that is why Cady hated him. He is actually an eye witness to a crime and his testimony put Cady in prison. So if Bowden is a witness, why does he have to be a lawyer? Well as the film progressed I understood why. Bowden takes the law very seriously, because that’s his job. If Bowden was in another profession, I think the story would have progressed differently.

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Cady is played by Robert Mitchum and is one of those performances everybody needs to see! Cady is an ex-con who just got out of prison for assaulting a young girl and was seen in the act by Bowden. If it wasn’t for Bowden, he would have got away with it, and not spent the last 8 years in prison. His life would not have been ruined and he is looking to get revenge. Cady uses his time in prison wisely, and studies law. He know just what he can say and do, according to the law and Bowden can’t do anything about it.

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The clash of good and evil starts with the law being the game. Look for Polly Bergen as Bowden’s wife and Martin Balsam as the Police Chief. My favorite small role in this film goes to Telly Savalas as the hardboiled P.I. Bowden hires. Savalas tried for the role of Cady but lost out to Mitchum and received this role instead.

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It has been years since I have seen the remake of this film, but after watching this I’m going to have to watch them back to back to see who played Cady better, De Niro or Mitchum. I remember De Niro being great in this, but Mitchum’s portrayal is legendary.  Some Sunday afternoon, I will need to watch these back to back and look at a film vs film on these two. Maybe I will read the book first and look at a book vs film vs film, now that would be interesting.

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This is a must see classic for all fans of film and especially those that are fans of noir. This is a very dark film from the early 1960’s and pushed into some new terrain for film in general.

Re-Watching the Classics: Angel Face

Angel Face is a classic film noir directed by Otto Preminger from RKO while Howard Hughes was the head of the studio. The story revolves around Robert Mitchum who is an ambulance driver and a young women with issues played by Jean Simmons.

This film starts with Mitchum as an Ambulance driver, on a call at a mansion. The lady of the house had a close call with a gas leak, but seems OK now. Mitchum goes down stairs and talks to Simmons, this is where the infamous slapping scene happens.

Hughes was not happy with Simmons and put her in this film at the end of her contract. He hired Preminger to make her life a living hell. Preminger made Mitchum slap Simmons over and over again to get the right take. Mitchum finally walked over to Preminger and slapped him full force asking if that is the way he wanted it. Simmons later in life still could not watch this film because of the hell she went through making it. The only thing she loved about this film was Mitchum.

In the film Simmons befriends Mitchum and gets him a job as the driver for her Father and Step-Mother. Soon her Step-Mother and Father dies in a horrible car accident. It looks like the car was sabotaged and our couple is the prime suspects.

Simmons plays one of the best femme fatale in noir history in this film and Mitchum is great as always. The ending is one of the bleakest of all time as well. The story is good and over all the film is above average. Well worth your time if you are a fan of film noir or one of the two stars.

Favorite Tidbit: Simmons cut her hair short, knowing Howard Hughes hated his leading ladies having short hair. She thought this would get her out of her contract with RKO. Instead Hughes made her wear a horrible wig through out this film.

Review: Macao

Macao started out being directed by Josef von Sternberg but was finished up by Nicholas Ray.  Howard Hughes had his hand in making this film so a great many people were fired and hired on the writing staff and of course the original director.  It’s a miracle this film came out as good as it did.

Our story starts out with a New York police officer being killed in Macao, by getting a knife to the back.  We then meet our femme fatale Jane Russell in a ship cabin with a man who starts to get a little aggressive with her.  Robert Mitchum comes in to save the day.  Russell moves on and soon meets a traveling salesmen played by William Bendix.  Soon the three hit it off as they are on their way to Macao.  Mitchum discovers he has lost his wallet, as it was stolen by Russell.  She takes the money and dumps the wallet.  Our threesome come into the Macao port and Mitchum must report to the local police because he has no passport or identification.  The police officer is working with casino owner played by Brad Dexter and they both think Mitchum is telling a story and is really another cop from New York.  The casino becomes the center in which our 4 characters revolve, with Russell getting a job there as a singer.  We also meet Gloria Grahame as our casino owners girlfriend.  Nobody is what they seem and the plot has some interesting twists all the way to the end.

This film has a lot of star power and an unique setting for a classic film noir.  This gives us a really cool look at 1950’s Macao and gives us an interesting story to follow.  This is a fun film noir and worth a viewing for noir fans.  If you love any of the stars, you will like this film. This isn’t the best noir with Mitchum, but I haven’t seen any bad noirs with Mitchum either.