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Daily Dose of Darkness #6: Business is Getting Better (Scene from Murder, My Sweet)

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Phillip Marlowe is rough, gritty, brusque, raw, and impolite - with a shadow of darkness about him. In other words, this "new kind of detective" is a perfect fit for the film noir landscape. Earlier protagonists in crime drama, a la Joe Friday in Dragnet, were tough - but played everything "by the book." (Mostly.) The new film noir detective might just forget about the book from time to time, and bend the rules when convenient. This introduces an element of practicality into the mix that makes the detective more human. (My favorite example of practicality in detectives? Jim Rockford.)

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Marlowe is a hard boiled, no nonsense detective in contrast to a traditional cerebral detective such as Sherlock Holmes.  Marlowe has rougher edges.  The camera focuses more on the dialog between the two characters and the development of the protagonist then the case itself.  He's grittier and physical in the way he handles women,with a zero tolerance for monkey business.  This scene pulls the viewer into the conversation with its film noir setting.

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One of the members shared a quote from Eddie Muller below – something to the effect that all Film Noir has a degree of misogyny. All due respect to Eddie but I’m not yet prepared to agree. I don’t think that these guys hate women. I just think that they have a case of severe emotional embitterment with the human race at large. After all, do any of these guys have male friends? They’re pretty much loners. Maybe somewhere under all that toughness, they would give anything for emotional refuge or respite courtesy of another human being – woman or man. That’s what I’m hoping anyway!    

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I have never seen “Murder, My Sweet;” but I am willing to bet on one thing I know from the very first minute of this scene.  Somewhere down the line more than the girl’s glasses are coming off…. ;) 

 

The sexuality between Dick Powell and Anne Shirley is palpable.  Thinking back on it, I have always felt there was a disappointing lack of chemistry between Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in the “Maltese Falcon.”  Maybe it’s just me, but I think that also factors into my less than whole-hearted appreciation of “Falcon.” 

 

I’ll be watching “Murder, My Sweet” to see what happens Friday at 10:30 a.m. :) 

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A hardboiled detective is one who doesn't take kindly to wisecracks, as seen in the interaction with the elevator operator. He wants to get to work, has no desire to shoot the breeze.

 

Anne Shirley's character looks all sweet and innocent with her glasses, but Marlowe probably knows what innocence looks like, and it's not there. You know she's not a reporter when he looks at her fingernails (I am a freelance journalist, shorter fingernails are often a must when pounding the keyboards). You don't expect him to practically wrestle her to get the goods. That is one sign he is not your typical detective. 

 

I also didn't expect him to dump the contents of her purse on his desk (and noticed one of the things she put back was a giant eyelash curler! I don't carry one in my purse, who does that??)

 

The fact that he carefully locked the door so she couldn't get out until she spilled the beans was also a sign of changes in the detective story. She could have busted the window in order to get out but instead reluctantly surrenders to Marlowe's ways.

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In this brief clip from Murder, My Sweet, Marlowe is clearly not the one-dimensional functionary who serves mainly to move the plot along as in earlier incarnations of the private detective. This new detective has an inner life, and its not pretty. His demeanor manifests it; he is brusque, cynical, and intimidating, both physically and psychologically. Here is a persona both alarming and alluring: The anti-hero is born.  

 

By positioning the detective as the prime protagonist, the film makers/writers have effected a major shift in power, relegating evil doers to the margins. Yet their influence is keenly felt. Marlowe and other Noir detectives have internalized that dark world--whether by exposure or personal experience--and as they and the audience know, only a fine line separates them all. Bring on Steve McQueen. 

 

 

 

  

 

   

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'Murder My Sweet' is not my favorite film noir, yet this scene is a fascinating one.

 

Marlowe clearly belongs to a new kind of detective: the place is works in is not even clean, he looks at Ms Allison/ Ms Grayle up and down, he's rude, he locks her inside his office, he stills her hands then empties her purse... He's not a gentleman. Sometimes you can wonder about what he's interested in: solving the case or knowing more about the other protagonists and knowing who's been lying to him.

 

Marlowe is the archetype of the hard-boiled detective who's often the main character film noir. He fits well with the jaded atmosphere of film noir, where appearances can be deceptive: sniffing out lies seems to be his mission in life. That being said... he's not nearly as tragic a character as Jeff in Out of the Past or Walter Neff in Double Indemnity. You never really worry about Marlowe in this movie, you can feel he will make it.

 

The scene is an important contribution to film noir because it shows the audience what a private detective's office looks like (supposedly), how he works, what are his tricks to sniff out lies.

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When I was a kid, I only knew Dick Powell from his films noir and his TV series in which he presented dramas.  I wouldn't believe i when my father told me he was originally a singer.  When I saw his Busby Berkeley films, I was amazed that it was the same person! He is great as the hardboiled detective (although he is a little too well-dressed).  Here he shows complete cynicism-- he doesn't believe anything the young woman says.  You get the impression that he treats everyone the same.  He is also one step ahead of her, which he shows by locking he door.  He is no gentleman, either-- he speaks to her and treats her roughly.  But he's also intelligent and has a code of honor.  "I'm just a small businessman in a messy business but I like to follow through on a sale."

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The fact that he raises his voice to her and empties her purse onto the desk just to find out her name tells me that he is a "new kind of detective" that will get his man no matter what the cost.  I think this kind of private detective fits the style of film noir to a tee. This film has all the markings of a good example of a films noir contribution.

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I've read all of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammet, more than once.  I've seen every possible version of Farwell My Lovely that's been aired.  THIS is my favorite.  It bumped Out of the Past into second place.  A lot of it is Dick Powell's transformation into Marlowe from those singing roles. He went from boy to man.  But back to Hammet (who wrote most of his fiction in the Twenties - Thirties) and Chandler (who was  more contemporary) and the questions posed.  Everyone has pretty much nailed the "why" of this detective fitting into the noir context.  His actions in the scene are chronicled.  He locks her in. He plays with her verbally - teasing.  But what I like and notice about Powell's Marlowe is the humor - cynical and sarcastic, to be sure, but humor.  Even the voice over narration (which is wonderful) has the humor.  Its an ingrained element of his Marlowe personality.  I love that.  I'm having trouble with the "style" aspect of this scene and I'll tell you why -  I've seen it before.  When Warren Williams played Perry Mason (and I think maybe one other attorney-crime solver type) in the Thirties-Forties, he, too, was sarcastic, humorous, and always chasing every skirt that walked anywhere near him. Perhaps the answer lays (lies?) in the use of this type of scene, even thought it's been done before, it's in a noir movie.   Although Bogie and Bacall did it too in The Big Sleep, in  his office, playing around on the phone.

 

As for why this type of detective fits so well, it's because he has a non-threatening manner (despite being mean, tough and all that) and we, the audience, don't mind looking over his shoulder as we watch him solve the murder(s) because he is making it fun.  He's not taking himself seriously, as Bogart did in Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not or The Big Sleep.  After all, the personality and manner of the detective, if he is to be the protagonist, will be what sets the tone and mood of the story. 

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I first saw Farewell My Lovely while working at a movie theater. I didn't get to see Murder My Sweet until sometime later. Both had pretty good dream/drug sequences but I like the earlier version better.

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In the work I do at various courts in New York, I have come in contact with or worked with PI's. None have ever seemed to have any events in their careers that match Marlowe or Spade. And maybe that's why the PI of film noir is so intriguing. They live in a world of deceptions, double-crosses, alibis, crime, and excitement. The writers of film noir - when a PI is the protagonist - use and confuse the viewer and the viewer enjoys the confusion. The real world offers us excitement and adventure, but the PI of film noir takes us one step further. And Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade and whoever the PI is becomes our guide to deceptions, double-crosses, alibis, crime, and excitement. And we love it!

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Marlowe has real life issues... keeping his detective business going. His office seems a little shabby, at least the location. He needs more cash flow. Philip is very suspicious at the very beginning. He locks the door without her knowing it. He wants to make sure she doesn't walk out without him getting the complete story whatever it is. He wants to know how this "new customer" is connected to someone he was to protect.

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-- Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective?

 

Lie, threaten, kidnap and reveal that he’s vain….and venal. “Oh, well, it was another case.  I was just hoping…”  “Now, we’re not going to get any place at all answering questions with more questions.”   “I’m interested in the jade, now that I know about it, because I’d like to know who, besides me, might have killed Marriot.”  “I’m just a small business man in a very messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale.”

 

-- Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context? 

 

These detectives are not idealists nor high-minded but simply business-men lookin’ to make a buck.  I love the elevator scene.  The elevator boy’s comment is dripping with sexual innuendo. The way Marlowe obliviously puts the pencil in the elevator boy’s pocket is so revealing: he uses other people without even being aware of it. The longer shot of him walking from that beautiful old cage-elevator is pure noir: a dingy office building, bright lateral light producing strong moving shadows on the wall and an office door with gold-leaf lettering.  So many noir films have variations of these same elements.

 

-- In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

It reveals a detective who’s willing to use every trick available to outfox an apparently naïve dame who’s in over her head.  Or is she?  Noir films are notorious for double-crossing.

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Marlowe is the kind of detective, emphasis on "private," who is just a step away from a criminal himself. He is immediately suspicious of her and shows no qualms locking her in his office and dumping her purse. He fires questions at her and breaks her cover quickly. Marlowe is directly involved in the plot, not just an observer. There's a good chance he's going to become very involved with the young lady, in fact.

 

 

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Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context?

 

I think Powell's portrayal of Marlowe is I believe a prime example of the film noir protagonist. This is an important distinction because the noir detective is part of the narrative and integral character and not some sort of Deus Ex Machina, like Holmes or Poirot. Marlowe is hard boiled and world weary, but also very clever. He's not just a 'peeper' or gumshoe trailing wayward husbands or wives. He makes valid deductions such as the "Do you do your own typing?" exchange between Marlowe and Ann Grayle. He sees her fingernails are long and manicured, so she can't possibly be a reporter. He also reminds me of Bogart's Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon". They both are professionals with a code and a sense of honor. An example of this is Marlowe saying, “I’m just a small business man in a very messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale.”

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Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective?


 

Although this is not the first scene in the film, the private detective (PD) is constantly wary. Even though he is getting into the elevator in his own office building, chatting with a building employee, Marlowe's face is reflecting his constant reactions to what the elevator boy is saying. Someone is in his office, she is a dish, and Marlowe's thoughts play across his face. Who is  she, what does she want, is she related to some matter he has pending or has dealt with in the past? The audience has the distinct impression that the way the office visitor looks will be noticed by the PD, but business comes first.

 

When the PD encounters Anne Shirley in her fake eyeglasses, he reverts to a typical male. She is a cutiepie, a reporter who is out of her league in trying to get information out of him until he begins to notice, quickly, that some things about her don't add up. The way the PD is eyeing her the audience starts to think about what Marlowe is calculating about her. Is she dressed too well, is she too glib and conversant about his case? No, it turns out her hands are too soft and well cared for to be pounding a typewriter all day. Marlowe makes us think that he is going to give Shirley a hard time as soon as he locks her in his office with him. When he grabs Shirley to examine her hands and rummages through her handbag to discover her identity, the audience knows that the PD always means business and doesn't mind being ungentlemanly when pursuing his case. If he can treat pretty little Anne Shirley this way, he is probably hard-boiled and ruthless. Marlowe is always the most important person in the room.

 

Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context? 

 

In noir the protagonists and antagonists are likely to be bitter and alienated from polite society. A PD such as Dick Powell's Marlowe is bitter from his life experience dealing with the demi monde as a PD, and as such is prone to manhandle sweet young ladies who are really harmless. Marlowe is not going to conform to the expectations of polite society. This makes him unpredictable and exciting. Noir can therefore keep us on edge until the resolution of the film.

 

In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Considering what the PD has been through in terms of having his client, whom he was hired to protect, killed out from under his direct protection was a shocking first development. I haven't seen the film in a while, but if he has also encountered Moose and Velma, that also would be a startling puzzle for the PD. To have all of this happen before he jauntily strolls into his office the next morning shows how cold-blooded Marlowe can be. In the scene, he becomes passionate about one thing only, his reputation. He is troubled that his client died on his watch. He failed and is angry about his failure and what it can do to his business. Murder My Sweet cements the noir construct of the self-centered protagonist.

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As usual, not all is as it seems. Dick Powell looks like an everyday kind of guy. But he's not. Right away he sized up the situation and acted on it. He's no chump!You have to be better than that, lady, to pull one over on our guy. This new detective has to use his smarts and intuition to stay a step ahead. The facts of a case aren't the driving force in an investigation. It is the hunch, the sixth sense, that is going to solve the case and keep you alive. The code of ethics are different. Loyality to a client is key. Marlowe took $100 to protect the guy and now he's dead. He wants to find out who did it, just as Sam wanted to find out who killed his partner, Archer, in the Maltese Falcon. The killer is going down who ever he or she may be. Looking forward to viewing the rest of the film.

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I grew up reading Chandler and formed a distinct idea of Marlowe in my mind...and Dick Powell ain't it...come to that matter, nor Bogart (though better: as Sam Spade I have no problem), and don't get me started on Elliott Gould!! Notwithstanding that, I did enjoy the film; it's been a few years since I saw it last so I'm up for watching it again. Anyway, some thoughts:

 

-- Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective?

 

PI's of Marlowe's ilk are less cerebral and more physical than was previously the case. They're not averse to bending (or breaking) the rules to get results...their line between legality and illegality is a fluid and fine thing. Also, they (and Marlowe in particular) do have a habit of throwing things into the mix to see what happens, good or bad!

 

-- Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context? 

 

Because of that lack of clear cut good and bad, there are many choices for the PI of a noir film, many opportunities to transgress (witness Arnet in Born to kill, who'd do the right thing certainly...unless paid not to), it's a darker world than before and the opportunities to make money (and get the dame) in that world brings a whole new level of temptation to a world-weary PI. Oddly though, despite his roughing up of the fake journalist in this clip, Marlowe is actually unusual in that he is one of the few truly good people to be found in the genre (style, movement!).

 

-- In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

That willingness to break rules, the wise-cracking, cynical nature of the PI, the way the participants lie continually to get what they want and the morally gray lives that they all seem to share: all important contributors in my opinion. 

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A freelance wouldn't be in competition with Pinkerton's for the most part.  You get hints of it in the openings of different movies, that for the most part their bread and butter was divorce.  We forget that divorces were hard to get, why Reno was the "Biggest Little City in the World".  Even if both parties wanted the divorce you had to prove infidelity...went to your lawyer, he had a private dective on the roll, an escort would be taken out a few times, a time line developed, then everything arranged for a photoshoot, which didn't have to prove much.  A shady business because of the law. 

 

Pinkertons were more business orientated, and did all they could to bust unions, or capture famous outlaws by any means.

From an earlier post (today, June 9, 2015, 11:54 a.m.) by Noirnado:

Marlowe describing himself from the novel The Long Goodbye. (highley recommend you add it to your summer reading list.)

“I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life.”

The Pinkertons and the private detective business in general would make a great research subject. You raise some good points about the Pinkertons. I don't know much more about this subject, but I'm still not convinced that there was never any friction between Pinkerton operatives and other detectives, or between law enforcement and private detectives.

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Like the others have pointed out, Powell’s Marlowe is a tough, no-nonsense, misanthropist.  Although previous detectives, like Sherlock Holmes, were often cynical, they usually didn’t get so physical when getting the truth out of someone.  Marlowe has a strong moral compass, but he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty or bend the rules to solve his case.  This willingness to engage in some moral ambiguity works perfectly for a private detective.  You couldn’t do something like this with the police in the 1940s; police were supposed to be upstanding guardians.  The hard-boiled detective works perfectly with the dark, twisted storylines in films noir.  Also, I have to admit, in these few minutes of Murder, My Sweet, I find myself connecting with Powell’s Marlowe much more than I do with Bogart’s Spade.  Part of that might come from a “Wow, he really can act” reaction because I’m mostly familiar with Powell from the Busby Berkeley musicals, but I feel like Powell’s Marlowe, even with all his cynicism, has an everyman quality that is very appealing  (He reminds me a bit of Ian Carmichael in the Lord Peter Wimsey series from the 1970s).  With Bogart’s Sam Spade, I always felt like he was in control and never in a lot of danger because hey, it’s Bogie.  He’ll be fine.  Powell’s Marlowe has almost a vulnerable quality that makes him relatable.

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This style of movie is remarkably different than the gangster movies and "police procedurals" that came before it. Crime movies of the 20's and 30's either focused on the step by step methods of cops solving a crime. Alternatively, if the wanted more action, they focused on the gangsters in movies like “Angels With Dirty Faces”  and “The Public Enemy.”  


But in "Murder, My Sweet" we have a protagonist that gets to step outside the bounds of police hierarchy.  He's not above rummaging through a woman's purse or locking her in a room. But like the gangsters before him, Philip Marlowe has his own moral code. "I'm just a small businessman in a very messy business. But I like to follow through on a sale." He could have just kept the 100 bucks and moved on. But due to his moral obligation, maybe mixed with his need to understand, he is going to be pulled into this case -- and this adventure.


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I have a thing with hands, so I tend to look at them more closely than I do other body parts, such as the face. Hands can act, too, you know. Just look at Bergman's films (like The Magician and Persona, for example), and you'll see that hands can be just as effective at conveying something as a face can. What I loved here then, of course, was when Marlowe crumpled up Ann's hand so that he can search through her purse. Not only does Ann's crumpled hand mean that her plan has been thwarted, but it illustrates just how much of a force this baby-faced private investigator is, especially since he's searching her purse with only one hand; he just dumps everything out, solely occupied with trying to uncover Ann's persona.

 

Marlowe definitely stems from those hard-boiled detectives that were popping up in pulp fiction and gritty crime dramas in cinemas. He's certainly on the fringe, here, as he kind of lies on the edge between being polite and malicious. He has nice words but there's an underlying gruffness, which is surprising because I still can't get past Powell's baby face. His life seems unkempt and he's very forward with his intentions, even if he doesn't necessarily show it (like locking the door before he barely got a word in with Ann). This is a new class of detectives/private investigators. There is a front that's put up because they have to be on edge in order to spot anything out of the ordinary and to protect themselves. Finally, we get a protagonist instead of an antagonist. He's still a gritty protagonist, though, and he gets what he wants: Ann's purse, information on the case, even the bellhop's pen. Corrupt might be too strong of a word, but I think we're heading in that direction with Marlowe; I've never seen the film, though, so I don't really know if we are, but it seems that we are.

 

Mise en scene only demonstrates Marlowe's slightly unkempt nature. The camera doesn't shy away from showing this in his office. Funny enough, everything seems pretty sparse until we get into Marlowe's office. Our living or working quarters often show us who we're dealing with, and you can tell that there are many things going on in Marlowe's mind. He obviously doesn't mind messes either, as demonstrated by dumping out Ann's purse. The camera movement and editing goes back and forth between stationary and movement, sometimes quick sometimes slow and fluid. The 180 degree rule is applied properly, so we haven't gotten to the point yet when the world is crumbling around us or there's a drastic shift in coherence (like in the bathroom scene in Kubrick's The Shining).

 

That short tie, though. I'm not a fan.

 

Side note: Robert Mitchum starred as Marlowe in the 1975 film version of Farewell, My Lovely as well as in the 1978 film version of The Big Sleep. Mitchum, of course, stars in Out of the Past (1947), perhaps the most famous and "best" film noir. Surely we'll be discussing Out of the Past at a later date.

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Although Dick Powell isn't my idea of PI Marlowe, he does okay... smirky about being able to lock the woman in his office, irreverent enough to grab her wrists and dump out her purse because he's suspicious.  So here's the tough guy just on the edge of good and bad.  Private PI business is tricky that way.  Women can't sweet talk him and they shouldn't try.

I'm not good at analysis in this regard because my willing suspension of disbelief is pretty accepting of the genre.  But I repeat myself.

 

 

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-- Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective?  He implies that he does jobs that aren't completely "clean", perhaps bordering on illegal, but that he has his own internal moral code. This "seedy character with morals" is a change from the clear-cut "good guy" / "bad guys" situation in earlier detective films.

 

-- Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context? Film Noir is "darker" than other crime movies, and the lines between good and evil are not straight, clear-cut lines, but smoky, blurry, guidelines that are sometimes stepped over. Ambiguous situations call for a morally flexible (externally at least) detective.

 

-- In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?  I think it introduces the idea of the private detective as a sort of shady, and as I said early, morally ambiguous, character.

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