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

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Marlowe is portrayed as living by a certain code of sorts, one dictated more by proficiency at his job and completing his cases than by any set of morals; indeed, his behavior suggests that he is quite willing to take an end-justifies-the-means type of position, if he thinks much about justifying the means at all.  He has the self-awareness to admit that he's not always as sharp at his job as he might like be, which may well foreshadow later scenes where he doesn't rise to an awareness of a situation as quickly as he does here.  This type of detective fits neatly into the film noir tradition because not only does such a character provide an audience surrogate of sorts while not being reduced to a passive character, but their level of self-interest as focused around their profession is a perfect fit in film noir, so notable for its characters defined largely by their single-minded pursuit of their own interests.  Detectives of this type occupy a unique middle position, encompassing most fully the moral greyness that is prevalent in film noir, explored by films with criminals whose exploits were made to seem appealing and law enforcement officials who were made to seem un-admirable, neat twists on the way moviegoers and members of the public at large had been conditioned to think about such roles in society and film.  Much typical noir imagery is present here, with Marlowe first shown in an elevator that invokes the famous prison bars imagery, and later producing a key indicating that he's in charge, two signs that his currently comfortable position of control may well be upturned by film's end.  His level of control over the situation is indicated too by the blocking, positioning Powell above the seated Shirley as he reveals he's onto her, and later framing shots such that either Powell is looming in the foreground of the shot or appears elevated above Shirley when she is in the foreground.  The lighting casts the shadow of Marlowe's name and profession onto the wall of his private interior office, reinforcing the importance of and the extent to which he is defined by his occupation.

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I am a huge Bogart fan but I have to say that I liked Powell's Marlowe in this film more than Bogie's in The Big Sleep. And I love The Big Sleep which I had seen at least 3 times before ever seeing Murder, My Sweet for the first time a few years ago. I was actually very surprised I felt this way after seeing the movie, but there you are.

 

If you haven't seen Murder, My Sweet yet you are in for a real treat. Great film.

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Don't even try to play a player, "Miss Alice from the Post" . . . or is it Miss Grayle?

 

Philip Marlowe embodies Nino Frank's "new kind of detective" in film noir, insofar as he is portrayed as a morally ambiguous, unorthodox, and dialogue-driven protagonist with anti-heroic tendancies. He has no compunction about locking the pseudo-journalist in his office and roughing her up -- both physically and verbally. Unlike some of his hard boiled detective counterparts, Marlowe (at least in this scene) is onto the femme fatale from their first meeting. Neither her words nor her disguise (don't all journalists wear glasses?) carry any credibility to the savvy detective, who has laser focus when it comes to exposing her duplicity and motivation. Even though "business is getting . . . prettier" for Marlowe, he is immune to Ann Grayle's manipulations. With speed and accuracy, he forces her to show her hand.

 

Dymytrk's "new kind of detective" will not suffer femme fatales gladly. Seemingly without a blind spot, Marlowe will get the job done.

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It's not because she is a woman and a reporter that he behaves that way but it's because he knows she is lying. And who likes to be played by anyone? She actually traps herself by lying to him. He just locks the door so she can't leave before he finds out who she is and what she really wants.

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It seems that a lot of people are getting caught up in the plausibility or suitability of Dick Powell in the role of Marlowe.  I can understand why, after all, in the 1930s, Dick Powell played the part of the juvenile lead in myriad musicals like the "Goldiggers of 1933",  "Footlight Parade" and "Varsity Show." He then made the big leap to more hard-boiled characters in the 1940s forward.  Watch him in "Pitfall" or "Cry Danger" --he's not such a lovable, nice guy. Not at all. Ironically, Humphrey Bogart started his career as a juvenile lead, too, in Broadway plays like "Meet the Wife." In fact, Bogie was credited for being the first actor to utter the words, "Tennis Anyone?" He was actually quite the "prepster" on stage, on film and in real life. I suppose it's because he was not the noir superstar he would become that people never associate him with that kind of lighter, sunnier role.   Give Powell a chance--he'll grow on you. 

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Whenever the filmmakers cast a look on the hard-boiled novels and short stories (by great authors such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and so others), they also grasped the main aspect that detached them from the Sherlock Holmes-like stories. Getting sorted out a crime by applying a deductive reasoning wasn't anymore important. Now the new approach to solve the puzzles was by using the abductive reasoning. In other words, the guessing. That's why we started to see private eyes getting involved with the characters and their situations, making tough decisions and living on the edge. For instance, think of Hercules Poirot, Agatha Christie's detective, who'd rather prefer the comfort of a couch to analyse the facts that eventually will take him to a conclusion. Instead, see Philip Marlowe, who rather to be seated on a couch would take part in a fight, flirt with a beautiful woman who might be a suspect of a crime, accuse wittily and daringly someone of a murder and find out who committed the crime, after having been beaten, humiliated, harassed by the police and by the thugs. Of course, this situation thrust the detective stories towards a more sophisticated, more thrilling and darker genre.

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Marlowe is a new type of detective/protagonist: he's a businessman. Cynical, a bit rough, but a businessman--"a small businessman in a very messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale." His loyalties lie not with the police, and certainly not City Hall, but with the last person who paid for his services. He's good at what he does, to a degree--he wasn't able to keep Marriott from getting bludgeoned to death, but his ethics keeps him looking for the person who did. He's able to see through Ann Grayle's "disguise" pretty quickly, locking the door behind them to keep her in the room until he can get the information he needs from her. He's not above roughing a woman up a bit to dump her purse out on the desk to find out who she really is. And that bankbook of hers reveals not only her real name, but that she's got a pretty tidy sum in the bank--certainly not the savings of a reporter. 

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I'm a bit of a newbie when it comes to this stuff, but it was great seeing Dick Powell in a bit of a more...gritty role. (Up until a few seconds ago, I'd only known him through films like GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, etc.)

It seems like Marlowe is potentially one of the suspects, which gives him skin in the game. He seems much less a hard-boiled plot device and more like a driving force of the story. (I've always felt like THE MALTESE FALCON is a good example of a detective-story in which the detective is more a plot device to help the story move along...but no one would ever accuse that detective of changing as the story moves along.)

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The film noir type of detective, as Powell does a great job depicting, is always more gritty, down to earth, and makes no excuses for his social conduct. He has a job to do and doesn't mind using whatever devices necessary to do it. He also walks a fine line between utmost law and order, and the bad guys he investigates. This type of detective fits noir perfectly...you don't see this type of detective in movies from the 30's or very early 40's, where we saw the grumpy but lovable characters helping their amateur sleuth lady friends and the like. The noir detective is the one we always hope would take our case if we needed one. One not constrained by the rules of law like police detectives, but rather able to bend the law if need be and not be afraid to mix with the bad guys to find out what he needs to. He's the type of guy who doesn't appear to have fear, isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, and goes into potentially dangerous situations as easily as buying a newspaper.

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Frank says, "The essential question is no longer 'who-done-it?' but how does this protagonist act?" In Murder, My Sweet Marlowe is concerned with unravelling the mystery before him, of course, but his primary concern is to come out of the mess he is in alive and unjailed.  Rather than a traditional detective, touching the crime from the outside, only participating in the story to provide a solution, the noir protagonist is caught up in the action of the crime, mystery, or drama himself.  

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I haven't seen this film in full yet and I'm really excited to see it on Friday. What I see from this opening scene is that he is smart, he's hands-on and doesn't beat around the bush. He knows how to get information without it feeling like an interrogation. But with that, comes some shadiness. There is probably a reason he is this way and has secrets. I think the hands-on detective style is important to film noir because before people of the "protective" work force were always looked at as heroes, and now it shows that even people of power can have a dark side.

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Marlowe comes off as incredibly blunt and direct with a purpose behind it. He takes his independence as a private detective seriously as it appears that cooperation with law enforcement is the last resort for him in investigations. In film noir, we often see the detective be relentlessly cruel to every woman they come across in the narrative, most of the time for no apparent reason or because the woman are just sexual objects, but here Marlowe is only interested in the job presented to him. He isn't necessarily rude to the woman in this scene but he'll say what he has to say in order to get the information he needs. Finishing the job is what he is focused on.

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Dick Powell's Marlowe is cool and confident. He smartly determines that Miss Allison is really Ann Grayle. Perhaps Ann was a little too put together for a reporter from the Post and perhaps her nails were too perfectly manicured to type her own stories. she definitely looks more like an heiress than a reporter. The dialogue is sharp and purposeful. Marlowe locks Ann in the office to make sure he gets the information he wants and succeeds, moving the plot forward.

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Marlowe is so cool, even cold and just to the point.  He ain't takin' no guff, as they said back then, and isn't afraid to make people mad to do his job.  Obviously very intelligent, observant and quick witted.  That gritty noir style is well served with a detective like him.

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Former musical comedy actor, Dick Powell as private eye, Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dymytrk, 1944) is all business, no nonsense and straight to the point.  He says, "I'm just a small business man in a very messy business but I'd like to follow through on a sale"; a hardened businessman with ethics and integrity.  Also, Marlowe does not take everything at face value, he scrutinizes verbally as well as physically for the truth.  Hence, Marlowe's inquiry to Miss Allyson a.k.a. Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) if she types her own articles and finding her manicure intact without chipped nail polish causes Marlow to pin her hand and go through her purse to uncover her real name.

 

This kind of private detective fits in very well with the Film Noir context for they are the moral yet cynical compass to be relied on when everything else is unpredictable, shady and hidden.  This scene is an important contribution to the Film Noir Style for the examples of the cynical and hard boiled private detective Philip Marlowe and the mysterious and seductive femme fatale, Miss Allyson a.k.a. Ann Grayle.  Another example is The Maltese Falcon's private eye, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).

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The first thing I noticed is this early noir film does not have the dark lighting. I have to assume the play with lighting as part of noir came along as the style of film was explored by directors. Powell's Marlow is also quite "businessman" like, standing in stark contrast to (what else) Bogart's Sam Spade who we knew almost immediately had a questionable character. At least initially, Chandler isn't questionable - though he seems to play on that in order to get what he wants. (By the way, who the carries an eyelash curler in their purse?!) His character turns quickly to someone who does not play by the rules. He's interesting. He has depth. Detectives don't have much depth in the 1940s-1950s, typically (thinking of Sgt. Joe Friday and, "Just the facts, Ma'am"). I like this type of character. It makes me wonder, "Is he good or bad? Should I be on his side or not?" This is what film noir gave us in terms of movie making. It ignited our fantasies for the "bad boy" protagonist. (We all swoon knowing we could make him good. Of course, the catch is, do we actually want him to be good?)

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Powell is in command. He controls the conversation and the camera angles frame him in a way that gives him all the power. The scene is set and the story is staged within the first few minutes in a dramatic style. Ah, yes, Film Noir.

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Former musical comedy actor, Dick Powell as private eye, Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dymytrk, 1944) is all business, no nonsense and straight to the point.  He says, "I'm just a small business man in a very messy business but I'd like to follow through on a sale"; a hardened businessman with ethics and integrity.  Also, Marlowe does not take everything at face value, he scrutinizes verbally as well as physically for the truth.  Hence, Marlowe's inquiry to Miss Allyson a.k.a. Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) if she types her own articles and finding her manicure intact without chipped nail polish causes Marlow to pin her hand and go through her purse to uncover her real name.

 

This kind of private detective fits in very well with the Film Noir context for they are the moral yet cynical compass to be relied on when everything else is unpredictable, shady and hidden.  This scene is an important contribution to the Film Noir Style for the examples of the cynical and hard boiled private detective Philip Marlowe and the mysterious and seductive femme fatale, Miss Allyson a.k.a. Ann Grayle.  Another example is The Maltese Falcon's private eye, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).

Powell's background in musical comedy is demonstrated in the way he moves gracefully throughout the scene (check out the locking of the door) and in the way that the audience does not need 'light-hearted' music to cue us in on funny moments (like several scenes in THE MALTESE FALCON). For example, the way Powell absent-mindedly puts the pencil back in the elevator operator's pocket (as if this is a normal part of their relationship) made me smile... However, this laid-back appearance is a facade for Marlowe's cynicism/suspicion--he's not 'taken in by the dame' the way Bogart's Spade was...

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I kept thinking about Dick Powell in this movie today.  There's something about him that's always appealed to me, but seeing him act such a hard-edged character, rougher and less polished than his matinee-idol characters had been . . . I don't know, something about his performance here really catches the attention and keeps you interested.

 

Someone else mentioned that he movies like a dancer, and I think that sensibility has a lot to do with it, but I also feel like there's a carelessness to both his performance and the character that are highly appealing and refreshing to an audience who (at the time) would have known him for fluffy roles in musicals and romantic comedies.  That whole shift of his career from charming and easygoing to hard-edged and careless is also an interesting mirror of society at the time.  They were tired of only ever watching happy endings and polished, cotton-candy sweetness and the darkness and grittiness of film noir must have been an appealing break.

 

(Edit:  it was TommyGirl711 who noted that Powell's dance training affected the way he moves in this movie.)

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I am a huge Bogart fan but I have to say that I liked Powell's Marlowe in this film more than Bogie's in The Big Sleep. And I love The Big Sleep which I had seen at least 3 times before ever seeing Murder, My Sweet for the first time a few years ago. I was actually very surprised I felt this way after seeing the movie, but there you are.

 

If you haven't seen Murder, My Sweet yet you are in for a real treat. Great film.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I, too, am a big fan of Bogart - but Dick Powell's Marlowe really pulls the viewer into the action. Interestingly, this image of Dick Powell is the one I'm most familiar with, especially growing up. I knew him as a seasoned, accomplished actor and director;  I never realized that he was the young man in the lighthearted Busby Berkley musicals, until my mother pointed it out to me!  He had incredible range and his performance as Marlowe helped redefine the film noir detective indelibly and changed his career forever in an outstanding way.

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Marlowe throws his first warning to Ann Gayle when he said, "I'd just get you in a lot of trouble." Gayle persists in her questions, and Marlowe lets her walk into his office. His nonchalance in locking himself and Gayle inside his office demonstrates a cunning and calculating mind. His use of force to extract the truth from Gayle shows a detective who knows what motivates human nature. Marlowe thinks of himself as a businessman and implies this attitude towards the end of the scene with the following line: "I'd like to follow through on a sale." Good dramatic tension arises from a crisp dialogue that is filled with double entendres that in turn serves to confirm Marlowe's intelligence.

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I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I, too, am a big fan of Bogart - but Dick Powell's Marlowe really pulls the viewer into the action. Interestingly, this image of Dick Powell is the one I'm most familiar with, especially growing up. I knew him as a seasoned, accomplished actor and director;  I never realized that he was the young man in the lighthearted Busby Berkley musicals, until my mother pointed it out to me!  He had incredible range and his performance as Marlowe helped redefine the film noir detective indelibly and changed his career forever in an outstanding way.

I completely agree as well. I've read Chandler's books that this was based on and I really do think he captured the character the way I imagined it in the book. I think of Bogart as Sam Spade and Dick Powell as Marlowe. Plus the big sleep makes no sense. I get why...if you read the books a lot of the plot points just couldn't happen with the production code but that might be why it fell a little flat to Murder, My Sweet in my estimation. 

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I completely agree as well. I've read Chandler's books that this was based on and I really do think he captured the character the way I imagined it in the book. I think of Bogart as Sam Spade and Dick Powell as Marlowe. Plus the big sleep makes no sense. I get why...if you read the books a lot of the plot points just couldn't happen with the production code but that might be why it fell a little flat to Murder, My Sweet in my estimation. 

Check out Farewell My Lovely (1975) Robert Mitchum as Marlowe with classic noir actor John Ireland as costar. Post Code & Pre PC, it's probably the definitive version of the novel. Honorable mention to Marlowe (1969) James Garner nails Marlowe also but its updated to contemporary 1969 its based on Chandlers "The Little Sister".

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Great scene with Marlowe and Ann.  I've never seen Powell in anything before, but he was wonderful here.  Hardboiled, tough and cynical, but funny and charming too.

 

Bogart as Sam Spade was my favorite noir detective and The Maltese Falcon my favorite noir before this, but now both get pushed down to second place.

 

Great movie and really keeps you on your toes too with all the twists and turns.

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Ciao,

- Do you notice anything unusual about how this private detective is acting?
He's quite aggressive and makes phisical contact with the people (the elevator boy, the woman in his office)

- Describe some of the things Marlowe says or does that make him a new kind of private detective?
He lets the lady enter into his office and then locks the door with the key without being seen. Now he can study the woman. While he's asking her about typing he takes her hand and notices her manicure. Then he starts asking questions unmasking the lady, piece by piece.

- Why do you think this kind of private detective fits so well within the film noir context?
Marlowe is the archetypal of the "noir" detective: he's smart, a bit macho. The local authorities bear him. He can do a dirty job, getting phisically violent, even with the women.

- In what ways can this scene from Murder, My Sweet be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?
The scene has all the element of a private detective story in a noir context: the detective's office, the detective, a good looking woman in trouble.

Greetings, Rob

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