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

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Bogart and Mitchum are obvious choices as actors who could have done this film justice but heck they couldn't be in every single detective story. There's an actor from the 1930s who would've have been a good choice as Philip Marlowe. He looked similar to, and played the same gangster type roles as George Raft. I can't think of his name and tried various attempts to Google him. Maybe someone here knows who I mean. He was TCMs Star of the Month within the last year or two (I know that really boils it down). He'd've fit that edgy, morally ambiguous, sexy (all the things that Dick Powell is not), bill that any great noir protagonist should have.

 

Looking at all the male STOM from 2012 until 2015,  the only actor that might fit is Spencer Tracy, (SOTM Oct 2012).

 

The other STOM actors from that period, that did films in the 30s,  were Fred Astaire and Laurence Olivier.   I doubt those are the guys.

 

There is a thread at this site that list all the STOMs, but I don't recall where it is (I have my own listing).     

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I have found it rather interesting reading the comments about Dick Powell as Marlowe.  My brother and I are taking this course and we grew up on Dick Powell playing a Detective in his TV Series.  That is how we were introduced to him and his work.  It was not until more recent years, that I ever saw Dick Powell in one of his song and dance movies, and my initial reaction what "what a buffoon".  It just seemed so out of character from the role that I first saw him.

I agree.  I remember him from the TV show's where he had already reinvented himself, and so I buy him as Marlowe.  I have always enjoyed the Dick Powell of TV and the noir films.  I never cared for him as the song and dance man.  Much more of a style there or being stiff it seemed to me.

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It was helpful and fun to read the comments of others to help process the scene, so I don’t have a lot of fresh insight to add.  This “new kind of detective” does things his way, which may or may not be legal, he’s not necessarily a good guy or a friend of the police and sees his work as a business venture/opportunity.  He may not be a hero in the conventional sense because he has flaws, which we may or may not learn the reasons for.  Yet we're drawn to him, he's intriguing. The sharp, fast paced dialogue between Phillip Marlowe and the young woman was also notable as she’s instantly introduced as a worthy opponent in the exchange versus a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by the detective.  

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I really like Farewell, My Lovely, both the book and the 70s version with Robert Mitchum. I'm kind of so-so on Murder, My Sweet.

 

In the best versions of Marlowe, you get that perfect balance of light and dark. Marlowe, at his core, is kind of a softie in his own way. He develops affection for people, even those with flaws, and his sense of justice and doing what is right propels him to action. When he says "I didn't think it was any of my business," I think that you see a little of the way that Marlowe tries to keep himself out of those bad situations. Even though she has deceived him, you can tell that Marlowe isn't really that angry at her. He wants to know why she's there and who sent her.

 

I'm a big fan of the books, and one way that this version doesn't kind land right for me is that Marlowe feels a little too light. In the books (and in the 70s version), you really see how Marlowe takes on some of these cases with a big internal sigh. He often knows that things will not go smoothly, but at the same time he can't ignore injustice (more in a code of honor sense than in a legal sense). Marlowe was hired to do a job and he failed at it (even though it's really clear in the book that he was totally out numbered and deceived by the client himself), and that's eating away at him.

 

One thing that this version (and many versions) really do get right is that Marlowe doesn't read clues with the forensic eye of a classic detective. He reads people. He watches their faces when he asks questions and makes smart inferences about their motivations. His brand of detection centers very strongly on motivations, and he follows the emotions to the truth of things.

 

The last thing that this scene demonstrates is the way that complex female characters can exist in noir. I'm not always the biggest fan of the way that women are portrayed in noir, but I do like that women in noir can be deceptive or stubborn and you can still be on their side and see the way that they are good foils for the male detectives. The woman in Marlowe's office is there because she's after the truth--how can Marlowe fail to respect that on some level? I like even the small detail that she doesn't take a step back or even lean away when Marlowe comes around the desk and boxes her in against the locked door. She's powered by her personal sense of right, which very closely echoes Marlowe's own MO.

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

 

It is safe to say that this scene catches your attention. Phillip Marlowe wastes no time in finding out exactly who Ann Grayle is and her real purpose for seeing him. This falls into the film noir style because it is expected yet unexpected that a detective would act this way: locking the door, the line about, "do you do your own typing" as a distraction so he could empty out her purse. These actions make you question whether he has a history of being followed or questioned himself. And if so, why? Or how did he know she was a phony? Not one but many questions unfurl as the scene goes on.  This scene reaches out its hand to the audience to join it on its wild heist of a ride. This is definitely a must see!

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I had to laugh at the little dance move he did in Grayle's mansion. Also taking into consideration that this huge set would be totally fitting for a Busby Berkeley musical I think this was a very intentional reference to Powell's acting past. 

 

Murder-My-Sweet-04.jpg

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New kind of detective - not certain - but it strikes me that there's a tension between uncovering 'the truth' and 'making a living' that's new, gritty and un-romantic and also an element of investigations being personal because, as was noted, the detective is the protagonist, more than the vehicle for a story.

 

The fit of this particular type of detective to noir? Well, it's someone who is conflicted, flawed and driven seeking a truth, but knowing that that truth is in a darkness that 'ordinary folk' don't like to know of.

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Why does this type of detective fit so well into the film noir context? 

 

Tough, suspicious, cool-headed, fast talking and even faster acting - you know this detective has learned a lot of lessons the hard way.  He has secrets, and probably could be working on either side of the law, but something has kept him slightly on the side of "right".  He's smart, and knows how to make things happen, yet it seems like he's often the victim of fate.  But whatever situation is thrown at him, he takes it in stride, and usually turns it to his advantage. 

 

The character is full of complexities and contrasts, which are essential elements of noir.

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I'm a big fan of Raymond Chandler's style of writing. Even though he's a bit of a dick (apparently he was super homophobic, but likely gay himself), his characters are very compelling and almost Shakespearean in how tragically they overreact to everything and this scene was no different.

 

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

 

What makes Marlowe so different is, as Frank said, that he acts more like a protagonist than a background character. His interactions with Grayle show the kind of person he is: the kind that desires the truth more than anything and that kind that is full of that kind of scepticism that we've seen in other movies. Marlowe's critical eye makes us critical.

 

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

 

I think it's as I said about the scepticism. The mystery aspect lends itself to common themes like distrust and that makes it fit within the gritty, harsh reality that noir is so famous for. It's kind of a chicken vs. egg conundrum. Is it that detective films fit into noir or that noir is a by-product of so many detective films?

 

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

 

I think Grayle's alternate identity is a common trope in the noir world. We almost can't blame Marlowe for being cynical, defensive and abrupt in his dealings with her, despite the fact that she's pretty and just trying to get to the truth. If the scene played out any other way, we might suspect a romantic connection between the two of them already, but the way the scene goes down makes us put more thought into the mystery than anything else.

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What makes him a new kind of detective? 

 

His suaveness is put on, and the viewer knows it right away. Protagonists can be falsely charming, but they usually maintain it throughout the story. He makes the viewer think he's a ladies' man - the way his assistant introduces Grayle, the way the look on his face when he locks the door - but all that falls away when he dumps out her purse and calls her out. 

 

And she's just as false and complex as he is. She lies to get what she wants just as much as he does. When that segment is over, we don't know which one is the "good guy," if either at all. 

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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...

 

I agree with you. I found the casting of Dick Powell to be a flaw in an otherwise excellent movie. He just did not have the gravitas, street toughness, and world-weariness necessary for the role. Mark Stevens (see Dark Corner (1946)) would have made a much better Marlow. IMHO.

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I find in Film Noir constant contrasts, evident in the cinematography, and the dialogue. Here I saw the suave detective who is shrewd and manipulative in order to get what he wants. So he almost "dances" with the female character as they move from one room to the next with a pleasant look on his face. This done all the while he distrusts her and quickly and stealthily locks the door. This is what I think Frank meant about the new detective being on the fringe of the law.

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In this particular scene where Marlowe, played by Dick Powell, is approached by a mysterious woman, Anne Gayle, he wrestles with the ideology of deception. Marlowe becomes immediately apprehensive Gayle's intentions and she reveals that she is there under false pretenses, as well as an erroneous identity. As many other protagonists in film noir, they are preened to mistrust the world because all that they have been exposed to are individuals who are fraudulent, dishonest, and overall seedy. Women, in the form of a femme fetal, are often an aspect that often misguides the protagonist along their journey, as seen in this example. Still, such complications, like giving in to the temptation of a libeled lady, exhibits the fallibility of the protagonists in film noir.

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Perhaps I will be able to reply with this latest effort!  I enjoyed this clip.  Detective Marlow is different indeed as he is a free agent and there is no protocol that he is required to follow.  He can and does skate around the edge of the law.  Hence, his evasive manner with the woman in his office, his locking  of the door behind her and grabbing her wrists would never happen in a police interview.  It forces her to admit her deception and he learns (perhaps) her true identity.

 

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In a traditional police drama, the objective is simply justice.  While noir private detectives may also be in the pursuit of justice, they are also in the pursuit of something else.  As far as being on the "fringes of the law," Marlowe makes multiple references to calling or going to the police, but doesn't - at least not yet.  This is a new kind of detective who chooses when (and how) to involve the police and often uses the support of untrustworthy individuals in pursuit of what they're after.  And what are they after? My favorite piece of dialogue is, "I'm just a small businessman in a messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale."  Marlowe will be pursuing this case without any further financial incentives.  Noir detectives are driven by something in their investigations that separates them from traditional investigators.

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Marlowe is a new kind of private detective- he is rougher in his demeamor, unlike Nick Charles and other '30s detectives he has abandoned defferance to manners and conventional politeness in his determination to get right to the truth. Anne Shirley gives him reason to be suspicious and he locks her in the room and twists her arm - not subtle or gentlemanly.

 

This new kind of detective fits well in noir because noir is visually and thematically dark, gritty and realistic, its subject is the darkness of the human soul and murder which is often violent. It needs a detective who can hold his own in this world, unearthing the embarassing secrets people keep hidden.

 

This scene contributes to noir style with its now typical setting and characters. The lying woman, tough enough to take being locked in the room of an adversary who already hurt her. The tough hard edged detective cynical enough to see past her beauty and honourable enough to feel he was derilict in his duty and want to make it right.

I liked the elevator scene not just for its humour but it also shows Marlow to be a regular guy with a 3D character.

 

I was unsure about Powell playing Marlowe scince I only knew him from comedies/musicals but after seeing the clip thought it was worth a try. I found him believable and better than expected but too peppy. I was distracted by my longing for Bogart who was so brilliant in The Big Sleep - proving you can do comedy without being peppy. Maybe Powell will redeem himself in Cornered. I love these 2 posts so much I had to quote them~

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.

     ~~~Interesting bit of trivia, not only do they share Marlowe but Bogart bought his beloved yacht Santana from Powell.~~~

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This week I seem to be doing a lot of thinking of the role of the detective as a stand-in for the audience in films noir. Like the audience, he doesn't really know what is going on ("You may think you know what you're dealing with," Noah Cross tells Jake Gittes in 'Chinatown', "but believe me, you don't.") and is just doing his best to find out the story.

 

So like this class, the audience is investigating. It's why we like these hard-boiled detectives: they aren't naive, they aren't going to be fooled by anyone, and they are angered when someone lies to them. 

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The detective is not only collecting data to find out what happened and how. He is an active player of the movie's context: his actions will interfere to the plot, to one's decisions and happenings. When Dick Powell grabs Ms. Shirley purse to contradict her he is breaking the regular definition of a simple observer and collector. He is judging by advance all his client steps. For me this is a clear moment when the noir style is getting more complex, more developed. The scripts are getting better. And that kind of behavior have all to do with noir context once all characters aren't pure or act by a regular moral line. They all have questions, virtues and moral issues. The innocence was fading away from Hollywood.

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In traditional whodunnit mystery stories (Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen, say) the detective is mostly a passive gatherer of information, possibly with a few character quirks like Hercule Poirot's accent and waxed mustache. But in a movie like Murder, My Sweet, the detective is an active participant. It's not just that he's more aggressive (locking the door so his interlocutor can't get away, for example), but the way that the other characters approach him is a fundamental change in how detective stories work.

 

In an Agatha Christie story, the detective is very rarely acted upon. The characters talk to each other, but Poirot is the one who initiates everything. In a story like Murder, My Sweet, the detective has something other characters want. Film Noir detectives are always getting confronted and threatened (and knocked out, which they describe in colorful metaphors if they're from Chandler stories). 

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In his portrayal of Phillip Marlowe in "Murder My Sweet", Dick Powell gives us one of the quintessential models of the noir PI- unique, self-serving, a new kind of individual not heroic or altruistic. The characters in these noir stories generally have little regard for the law, therefore in order to gain their cooperation and to get information the detective must move among them as an equal, he speaks, acts and sometimes thinks with their unique logic. We see how Powell handles himself, aware that people are not necessarily forthcoming he exhibits an air of impatient charm which gives way to entitled toughness- he locks the door behind him as he enters the office to find Ann Shirley waiting to see him. He allows her to go on with her pretense of being a reporter as he charmingly takes her hand to scrutinize for callouses. He then gives her arm a bit of a twist so that he can empty the contents of her purse for a quick survey. This guy is no gentleman- and yet he finds out everything that he wants to know. He's smart and exhibits the kind of cool persona that one can only cultivate through experience with the darker side of humanity.

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I had to laugh at the little dance move he did in Grayle's mansion. Also taking into consideration that this huge set would be totally fitting for a Busby Berkeley musical I think this was a very intentional reference to Powell's acting past. 

 

Murder-My-Sweet-04.jpg

Look at Ann Grayle's pose -- a very femme fatale stance. I agree with the comment - Powell probably couldn't resist (after all, the squares look like hop scotch).

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In Murder My Sweet,Marlowe is a tough talking no-nonsense who can not be fooled. He’s always one step ahead of the other character. In most movie the police are detective aren’t always that smart.

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In Murder My Sweet,Marlowe is a tough talking no-nonsense who can not be fooled. He’s always one step ahead of the other character. In most movie the police are detective aren’t always that smart.

 

If Marlowe was really one step ahead he wouldn't have been drugged and held hostage.  

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What makes Marlowe 'a new kind of detective' is how he projects himself. He is a cool,street-wise,forceful, smart detective who doesn't mind getting his hands a little dirty when the opportunity arises (to coin a phrase), "to partake in a piece-of-the-pie,". In the opening shot we see his cool demeanor in how he places the pen back into the elevator boy's shirt pocket; exits the elevator in deep thought about something much more important to him than acknowledging the elevator boy's trivial remarks. As he enters through his office door, he is bombarded by a strange woman pretending to be a reporter, but he's on to her. However, he goes along as if he believes she's who she claims to be until he gets enough of the game playing and calls her hand. When she mentions concern for a loss/ stolen piece of "jade" jewelry her cover is blown---how did she know about it;maybe she knows more about this case then she claims?;they both question each other out of suspicion of each other. It is here that we find out that Marlowe's personal involvement places him at the center of all this mayhem and that everyone wants to find out what he knows. I think that Marlowe was hired by his client to get information about the jewel as well as for protection but he was never told exactly what it was that he was to get information about and why.However,he found out about the jewel along the way in his investigation. Being the smart, street-wise guy that he is, he was going to find it and keep it for himself. How could anyone suspect him of having it,he wasn't suppose to know what he was hired to find. Unfortunately, something went wrong,his client was killed and there he is, the main suspect: he has the means,motive and opportunity.Now he has to use his clues and hunches to find the real criminals so that he will not be blamed for a crime he did not commit. You might say,he is the kind of detective who will uplift the law;but will look in another direction if the situation benefits him.

 

Marlowe's style of detecting fits well within the film noir way of telling a story in how it depicts human nature at its weakest.That even the individuals we uphold with the highest esteem can fall short to temptation and want to look out for

themselves,and take what they may think they deserve.

 

This film is important to the film noir style because it allows us to see the other more darker side of the human soul.

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When I watched the whole movie the other day I didn't really notice this, but when it was pointed out in this short clip I certainly did -- 

 

Marlowe was representing a new type of detective in films by portraying a man who didn't treat women with "kid gloves", so to say. Hey didn't hold back any punches and he expected a straight answer. He treated her how she had treated him. I think we see this also in The Maltese Falcon. In that film the detective followed the money because it spoke more of the woman than her words did. In this case Marlowe knew the woman in front of him was lying and knew more than she was letting on, and he wasn't afraid to manhandle her a bit or manipulate her in order to get what it was he needed. 

 

Before this period in film I doubt we would have seen a man grab a woman's wrist and dump out her purse... it wasn't respectful, it simply wouldn't have been acceptable. But in this angst-filled WWII-era time period there was the beginning of a shift of not only acceptable standards for gender roles, but for their quick-paced change due to wartime needs. It left an opening in film for a new type of detective to join the party and fill up the screen. 

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