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

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As others have noted, Powell's Marlowe has become such an archetype of the hard-boiled detective that it isn't easy to consider ways he might have seemed "new" in 1944. Comparisons? I associate Ellery Queen with Perry Mason, and the TV version Raymond Burr was scrupulous at staying within the law, but did not hesitate to manipulate its finer points and loopholes for his own advantage. A Perry Mason is smart and like Sherlock Holmes, analyzes clues as you would other "forensic evidence" to solve the whodunit. 

 

Powell's Marlowe is more physical (yes, that old song-and-dance man) and cooperates with the law, but sets up residence on the other side of that boundary. (In fact, from what I could tell from the clip, Marlowe has already himself been accused of the crime and is the number one suspect?) Whereas Perry Mason's clients are always innocent, the hard-boiled detective's never are, or at least they're always guilty of something duplicitious and self-servicing, so Marlowe is always suspicious and expects the double- or triple-cross. I like Powell's Marlowe. It's inevitable to carry over actor's stereotypes from their previous work, so I react quite positively, since Dick Powell is more clean-cut, conventionally handsome, and gentlemanly than Bogart ever was. It makes his un-gentlemanly moves of locking the door and dumping out the purse all the more surprising and effective. Overall, quite "unusual". It must have had a dramatic effect on audiences back then.

 

(apologies for getting to this assignment so late in the week)

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The Thin Man’s Nick Charles epitomized the detective.  Edward Dmytryk's Philip Marlowe is the new, quintessential American gumshoe. 

Marlowe is immediately suspicious of Ann Grayle.  He locks her in his office, invades her space, intimates that she does not do her own typing, physically controls her while fishing in her purse for her true identity.  The five thousand in her bank book certainly does not go unnoticed.  Marlowe is not contemptuous of women, but of any liar, cheat, or thief; regardless of gender. 

WWII pretty much debunked the American dream, whether the experiences happened in Europe, the Pacific, or on the home front.  The pulp fiction characters brought to the screen reflect this gritty, cynical, hard-edged approach to reality. 

Philip Marlowe, though appearing morally equivocal, has his own code of ethics that brooks no compromise.

This particular scene further promotes the characteristics of this new noir anti-hero.

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

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

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

 

Marlowe seems to really study fast almost never taking his eyes off the girl waiting in his office.  He also doesn't seem to waste any time.  Seems to be a smart man of action.

 

You want someone fast acting and smart to follow and help to answer your own questions.

 

 

The smart detective on the case.  You want to see him solve his case.  

This film seems to be again less dark at the start.  So i assume the mystery will build.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I feel like it is the rhythm of his entire scene. I'm used to seeing the detectives moving at a cool and collected pace but Marlowe is quick witted, quick moving, and doesn't take his time (at least in this scene). It shifts the whole image I have of your typical crime detective characterization. Also, mise-en-scene of this scene is a complicated set-up but appears seamless. I'm wondering just how deliberate the production design details were.

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I think that this private detective does whatever needs to be done to get the job.  No one person is above the law and he will not rest until justice done.  If he has to cut corners or play rough, it is no problem at all.

 

This kind of detective is the seminal one in most film noirs. Basically, most films used this type as the blueprint private detective.  Humphrey Bogart was exceptionally good at this type.

 

I think that the strongest feeling is the reliance on intimidation.  He does not go easy on the woman at all.  This was a major departure for most films.

 

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This scene recalls some of the scenes in The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade was pretty rough with the women in the film (Effie, Ida, and Brigid). These new detectives seem instinctively hostile towards women, as if they are afraid of their own susceptibility to feminine charms and need to defend themselves from their own desires. This roughness with women, I think, pertains more  to Hammett's fiction than to Chandler's. But it helps to toughen up Dick Powell here. He seems a little on  the polished and gentle side to pull off the role of a hardboiled gumshoe. 

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Marlowe is impulsive, fast and opposed to the more controlled detectives we have seen until now. He knows that women are not always the damsel in distress so treats everyone as a suspect, getting straight to the point by grabbing Grayle, opening her bag, demanding the truth and interrogating her. Ask questions now, go with gut instinct and do not waste time because you may be too late.    

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Film noir is the genre that says "it's not what your say, it's how you say". That's why this private detective, the protagonist (not the machine) fits with film noir. The private detective doesn't look at what's done, but looks at how something is done. Likewise, we (the audience) focus not on what the movie is saying ("who done it?"), but how the movie is saying it ("how does the protagonist act?"). In Murder, My Sweet, Philip Marlowe is the one who catches are attention, not the mysterious figure behind the crime. He plays along until making his own game, smiling innocent one second and smirking the next, always playing a move neither the characters nor audience expect; and we can't get enough of him.

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Marlowe's demeanor is, as my mother from that era would say, "very familiar." He doesn't give any personal space. He puts his pen in the elevator operator's pocket. He touches the woman's arm as he speaks. He is unprofessional, loose, arrogant, physically dominant. He locks her in the room, grabs her hand and examines it and then holds her as he empties her purse on the table. Ironically, and in typical film noir style, the "safe" is shown right behind them as this takes place. She is anything but safe with him. He is slick, charming but cynical and hard. The trusts no one in a world where trust can get you killed. He is worldly man who makes his living anticipating danger and taking care of himself and his own interests. He does not trust her from the first moment and sees through her ruse. 

She is upper class, her clothes and hat the height of fashion. A reporter probably could not afford that get up. The glasses fool no one. They are not something a woman of that style would wear. He is clever, aggressive and you are drawn to him. He fires questions, but plays along when it suits him. He keeps her off-guard as he sizes her up, pretending to ask unimportant questions when he already has a hunch that she knows the answer. He asks her about Velma, then backs off of it when she tries to storm off, saying, "Oh that was a different case anyway." He is like a fisherman pulling in his fish, but giving it space in order to wear it down.

 

This is indicative of the new detective of film noir. Like Bogey in the Maltese Falcon, Marlowe is cagy, dangerous, cynical, but very sexy and appealing, with a devil may care attitude. Fearlessness and being able to handle oneself were the new traits that the new society found appealing. People of the post WWII period needed to feel a sense of control after all the horrors they had lived through. They needed heroes that were able to think fast on their feet and take care of themselves and the others around them. They didn't have to be virtuous, just prepared and able, and it also helped to be good looking and/or stylish.

 

This particular clip, other than the subject matter, did not make me feel as strong a sense of the film noir as the others. It did not have the strong symbolism or lighting that some of the others had, but of course, it is only a small clip from the bigger movie that I have not watched yet. It does not have the strong manipulation of the set, lighting, camera angles, and thus, I was not as entranced as I have been by the other clips. I did not get the same emotional attachment to this clip as I did from the others. However, I did catch the safe in the background. Maybe things are just more subtle in this movie than in the others.

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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. 

I wish I could see this when Marlowe's character was a new type of detective/protagonist. The clip immediately felt familiar to me even though I haven't seen the film before. This seems like the archetype for the "throw the rulebook out the window" flawed but lovable protagonist we see in most modern day detective movies and procedurals.

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I am a bonafide "Chandlerphile"! That is to say, I love anything pertaining to Raymond Chandler's work, especially his Phillip Marlowe character!

 

I always liked the resourceful way Marlowe (in novels or movies) always manages to get into hotwater with both The Law and The Criminal Element in his cases. And, just as deftly, manages to get himself OUT of that same trouble. As a private eye, he isn't bound by the same rules as the police, and yet he is still out to do the right thing, serve justice and get the "bad guys". He sort of plays both sides of the fence so-to-speak and is equally loathed by cops and gangsters. As a character, Marlowe isn't generally quick to preempt violence on women, so I thought the way he grabbed Ann Grayle's wrist while he rifled through her purse in this scene was a bit uncharacteristic of him.

 

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet basically main-streamed the "hard-boiled, pulp private eye" genre for US audiences. It only stands to reason that Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character be adapted to film and that such adaptations would fall into the genre of FIlm Noir we know today: Dark subject matter, a flawed protagonist and gritty resolutions to the stories seem to be standard film noir fare.

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I wish I could see this when Marlowe's character was a new type of detective/protagonist. The clip immediately felt familiar to me even though I haven't seen the film before. This seems like the archetype for the "throw the rulebook out the window" flawed but lovable protagonist we see in most modern day detective movies and procedurals.

 

The detective before this era was a Pinkerton man right?  Strictly the resource for the ultra wealthy.  Private guns for private money.  The kind of gun for hire that would be used to break up the unions and guard money of the railroad tycoons. 

I don't think there was a representative of law and order and social good outside of the police in the movies prior to these.  They were ultimately the authority and where the story ended, with their judgement on the situation be the final act. 

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One of the things I think most separates a film noir detective from a regular cop (and I think it's very much on display here) is quick thinking and a willingness to jump to conclusions without evidence. He is suspicious of her almost immediately, so he is not afraid to jump to the conclusion that she's lying; ergo, he locks her in his office and forces the truth out of her. A regular cop likely would not behave the same way. Cops have been trained to find the evidence; a film noir detective will look for the motives and the lies and then find the evidence along the way.

 

I don't think he was jumping to conclusions without evidence.  He was going to ignore her and walked away, but when she mentioned the jade he knew she had information to give.  That was the reason he invited her in and locked the door.  Then when he checks her hand he knew she was lying.  What has he got to lose?  An angry woman calling him names if he's wrong?  All the social niceites are out the window in film noir.  That's part of what makes it film noir I think.  He doesn't have to obey social rules on the treatment of women by men.  A female reporter going alone to a man's office without a chaperone?  This is still the 40's after all.  There is a lot to be suspicious about here.

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I think it is obvious from the start that Marlowe is a keen detective. He makes sure that he gets a chance to talk to and observe the woman in his office. Instead of just believing every little thing she says because she seems honest/timid, he pays close attention to her behavior and appearance. Marlowe calls her out on the real reason she came in to see him. The noir aspect, I feel, is Marlowe's willingness to be tough and get to the truth regardless of how he has to do it.

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When Mr. Marlowe met Miss Grayle in his office.He acted  paranoid ,closing the door behind him and then through her things when he emptied her purse and found out her real name .A different way of approaching.  

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This may not make me too popular, but I personally never liked the way Dick Powell played Marlowe. His characterization is lighthearted, smug, almost smarmy. Watch Bogart play him - he sneers, Powell merely smirks. There isn't an undercurrent of ruthlessness to him, like there is in Chandler's books.

I daresay it's like Roger Moore's James Bond compared to Sean Connery's (or more recently, Daniel Craig's).

My two cents...

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This may not make me too popular, but I personally never liked the way Dick Powell played Marlowe. His characterization is lighthearted, smug, almost smarmy. Watch Bogart play him - he sneers, Powell merely smirks. There isn't an undercurrent of ruthlessness to him, like there is in Chandler's books.

I daresay it's like Roger Moore's James Bond compared to Sean Connery's (or more recently, Daniel Craig's).

My two cents...

To add my two cents, I also prefer Bogart.  Not that Powell is that bad, but he almost seems like he's mugging for the camera at times.  Bogart is more tense, wearier, more like the jaded PI that I imagine Marlowe to be.

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In his shorthand non-dialogue with the elevator man, the beginning of the clip shows Marlowe as a regular working class guy, albeit one with an occupation that's borderline shady. 

 

Once Miss Grayle arrives at his rundown office with her swiss cheese story, Marlowe's calls on his shrewd, hard-won perceptive abilities to smell her dishonesty, and his canniness to use her condscending presumption of his stupidity to turn the table on her flimsy lies.  Marlowe also lightly manhandles the young woman to get the information he needs.  All this less than by-the-book investigation technique is done with, if not a sardonic smirk, at least a world weary acceptance that no one is exactly what they seem.

 

This reinforces the rooting interest the audience has in the Marlowe character.  His reason for pursuing the case; the murder of a client he could not protect, makes the viewer want to see more of this interesting man who seems to adapt to the world without lying down. 

 

And what of Ann Grayle; what has brought her to this low rent detective's dark, underlit office?  Why the subterfuge and the disguise? 

 

The form of the piece, the spare, dingy mise-en-scene, the swift pace of the dialogue, and the just as swift vivid character revelations, counter revelations and mood swings place this scene as a classic example of film noir.  Nino Frank's theory that films noir had evolved from earlier detective stories in which the detective is a mechanism without a personality, to "criminal adventures" in which the detective is the protaganist and raison d'etre of the film, is brought to full flower in this clip.  The crime is just the starter for the engine.  All we know is that there has been a murder, and someone has stolen priceless jade pieces.

 

The cynical, capable, quick-witted, grumpy Mr. Marlowe is the engine, firing on all cylinders.

 

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The private detective seems to fit well into the seedy world of film noir because he doesn't play by the rules.  He's rough, coarse, and willing to break some laws himself in order to find out the answers to the question he is asking.  He needs money, is somewhat at arms length, yet still manages to get sucked into the story, as the viewer does.  You feel what the private detective is feeling, and as he discovers clues, so do we, the viewers.  

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In Frank’s quotation this week, he elaborates on last week’s statement. First, he claimed that the detective of the film noir was more a protagonist, rather than a cutout for the audience that was simply there to see the clues and deliver the villain. Furthermore, Frank discusses the use of the amoral police detective and private detective: he has “nothing to do with bureaucratic function, but, by definition, [it] puts them on the fringes of the law.” These are not the shining knights of regular crime dramas, good cop versus irredeemable gangster or a G-Men of FBI propaganda. A private detective in particular works outside of the law, but has a “badge” and gun as well.

 

Note: This is more interesting by the use of Dick Powell, a bubblegum crooner of 1930s musicals, especially those with wife Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler. By the 40s, he’s reinvented himself as the famous film detective Philip Marlowe (whom Bogart would play two years later in the famous noir The Big Sleep).

 

There is a stark contrast provided in the clip that presents the difference between the environment and “behavior” of cops and private detectives. Marlowe works out of a dirty, littered apartment building with a cheeky elevator operator who makes less than veiled remarks riddled with sexual innuendo. He has the sort of the feel of Miles Archer from The Maltese Falcon, sleazy and almost predatory. He locks Miss Grayle in his office, grabs her hand, and twists her arm – not exactly upstanding. Also, he has information pertinent to the cops about a murder and a less than legal business transaction over some valuable jade object (that he was hired to oversee) and chooses not go to the authorities, since it goes against his self-interest.

The private detective fits perfectly into noir: rough and experienced like a cop but only beholden to his own personal code which coincides with the amoral (and cynical) aspects of the noir universe. He is an average joe with no sense of moral superiority who runs a “small business” not unlike many of the general public. And he is filled with sharpness (but not outright booksmart intelligence) and distrust, using common skills, strength of will, and self-interest to navigate this dark, sinister world.

 

Note #2: I would like the comment on Powell’s performance. I have to yet to see the full film, so I will only voice my initial opinion (it may change). He is trying so so hard. Bogart makes the noir private detective look effortless as he conveys ruggedness and vulnerability. Powell seems to find it difficult to keep up.

 

In the larger context of noir, I can’t say Murder, My Sweet is mind-blowing but it is an early noir, and a well-regarded Chandler adaptation. Before film noir was even identified, this film stood at the foreground with its specific style, first-person storytelling, colorful supporting characters, amoral atmosphere, and shadowy soul.

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Powell's Marlowe is certainly on the fringe of police law. For Marlowe, the police are not even an ally--more of a tool to be used, dare I say exploited. His sense of decency/morality is questionable and is not at all concerned about being a "nice guy." Marlowe's agenda does not align with the police, and he only involves them if he can make use of them. His motive is not to protect and serve, but to solve the case.

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

 

I have a tough time with this question having grown up with noir. Don't all private detectives act like Philip Marlowe?

 

What strikes me about this opening scene is the immediate use of humor by the elevator operator that lets the viewers know there is a good-looking woman on the other side of that glass-paneled door. What is strange is the juxtaposition of the dirty hallway and Marlowe's impeccable suit.

 

Does the fake reporter, Ann Grayle, ever feel intimidated or trapped or in any real physical danger? Uh, no. She stands there and argues, pouts, and whines--the classic female moves of the era.

 

Is Marlowe amoral/immoral? Probably, but he's not as yet very convincing. He is willing to work around (or with) the cops to find out who murdered Marriott because he knows they will suspect him. Marriott gave Marlowe "100 bucks to take care of him. I'm a small businessman in a messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale." Even though Marriott is a man he just met, this little snippet of dialogue reminds me of Marlowe's code as expressed in The Maltese Falcon:

 

When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him

 

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I may be one of the few who appreciate Dick Powell's portrayal of Marlowe. I love the humor and the smirk because that is what true cynics do. It is how they cope with the darkness in life. The first scene reveals humor, detective work, paranoia, and a ruthless side. While he has a penchant for the ladies, he is skeptical first and allured later. His commentary with regard to the police tells the audience that he is a lone wolf, a Lone Ranger of a man who follows his own code of ethics. While he is on the side of "right" he understands the police to be as corrupt, at times, as the criminals he pursues. No superhero hero, just a man who refuses to be ruled by abstractions. Bogart's Marlowe is much darker and more jaded than this.

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I think the clip seems to establish that even if Marlowe is hardboiled, as a detective he's in business, that it's a profession. He seems smart and observant. Standing behind the chair he seems to take in Ann's purse, her hands - what he sees confirms what he suspects, that she isn't what she claims to be. He seemed smart enough to anticipate that once he'd let on that he knew she wasn't a reporter that she'd probably head for the door. By the end of the scene he'd managed to find out the truth.

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Dick Powell is my favorite film noir actor, followed closely by Robert Mitchem. Powell's Marlow is a bit more polished than other P.I.'s; his sense of humor can easily throw someone off because he seems so affable. But he's observant and crafty; smoothly locking the door behind him tells us he's suspicious and is one jump ahead of her.

 

His willingness to work with the police is another surprise; somewhat of a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" view. He knows the police will use him, but he's also going to use them to achieve results.

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