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

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The private detective seems to me to be a little suspicious of the her.  I do not blame him for being suspicious, when you are in the line of work you really have to suspect everybody.  

 

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There is no receptionist to Marlowe's office. This shows that he works alone and doesn't share his information. He lets the young lady know that his is "a messy business" from the start. By locking the door upon entering, he shows that 1. He doesn't buy her "reporter" story and 2. He is going to call her out on it. He grabs the purse aggressively. He also tells her that he is "nothing but trouble". His tone of voice is also forceful, which leads me to believe he can be a bit harder on people than the cops.

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Daily Dose #6 – Murder, My Sweet (1944)

 

dir: Edward Dymytrk

writers: John Paxton (screenplay); Raymond Chandler (novel: Farewell, My Lovely)

cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley

log (abridged): Hired to find a former girlfriend, a detective is pulled into mystery and deceit.

 

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

            I chuckled at the methods used by Marlowe to elicit facts, truth, and motive from Miss Grayle: locking the door, distracting her from her purse to search for ID by asking a deflecting question and pouring out the purse contents – all surreptitiously, on the edge of being a ruffian.  Eventually, both of their motivations become more clear, but hers are still a little unconvincing because of her original ruse as Miss Allison.

            Both use deceit to further their motives.  I chuckled because both use deceit to hide their motives - both seemingly intent on realizing something criminal:  Hiding behind ruses to prevent discovery, what are both hiding and why?  Marlowe wants to avoid incrimination and wants facts for which he is willing to stoop.  Miss Allison/Miss Grayle wants information and someone to help her protect her interest in the “jade”.  She is also willing to stoop.  They make a great story telling pair, clashing in harmony.

 

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

            Black and white certainly helps place this movie in the film noir genre.  Marlowe’s apparently reckless personality is driven by a need to pay bills and a sleuth’s curiosity about things that just don’t add up – Marlowe can’t help but to find out why and satisfy the compelling issue of incrimination: who set him up and why.

            Marlowe’s outward personality is aggressive, gruff, or restrained.  They are used alternately in order to get at the facts.  This trait is common in the noir genre among characters except the more timid and less principle roles and characters more supporting than they are leading.

            Note; am often struck by the seemingly incessant use of the cigarette prop: after a while in these movies, my sense of suspension gets disrupted by, “Oh pulleaze, enough; stop with the smokes already.”  So, some aspects of prop usage can become an unpleasant façade, a fake, a distraction to the telling of Story which is the most important facet of movie making or story telling in any form.  Sometimes, some things genre and/or era based, are hard to ‘knock down’ in order to pay attention to the story… it is what it is …

 

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

            I see a carry-over of elaborate furnishings as noted, discussed, and presented in the last Daily Dose [Laura (1944)].  This tends to honor a part of the genre ‘code’ in order to maintain the genre’s identity.  And again, the gruff characters, dark and unclear circumstances, and locations either brightly lighted or dim and dark keep the story ensconced in film noir’s most identifying trait: the crime story.

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Murder, My Sweet

 

Marlowe seems like a different kind of private detective in the manner in which he questions the reporter (Ann Grayle).

 

Instead of a sit down interrogation, he gets the reporter to give him answers by using present-tense questions:

 

"How do you know. . ."  "Do you own a . . ."  "What do you do. . . "  "Who does it belong to?"  "Who besides me. . ."

 

 This is unlike the type of questions private detective ask in non- film noir interrogations.  

 

In those films we are use to the strong, direct past tense questions such as: "Where were you. . ."  "Why did you. . ." "At what time did you. . ." " Did you see...Did you hear. . . ." How long were you . . ."

 

The detective's style therefore adds an element to the film noir experience.

 Something I will be studying when viewing the upcoming films this Friday.

 

 

 

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Philip Marlowe and his predecessors (of which Raymond Chandler created several in Black Mask during the '30s, not to mention Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and those detectives of their literary contemporaries in the pulps) worked both sides of the law, solely interested in their own earning capacity and contemptuous of the abuse of authority by the various grubby, corrupt official policemen with whom they often dealt as they were of the lowlife crooks they encountered. The movies' conception of the private detective took a severe shift with Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON; they previously ran the extremes of either being criminals themselves or suave do-gooders, as in the first screen adaptation of MURDER, MY SWEET's source novel, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, as THE FALCON TAKES OVER (1942). THE MALTESE FALCON changed all that with a private eye hero etched in shades of grey, neither fully evil or completely virtuous. Thus, the presentation of Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET is in the Spade mode and would remain so throughout the heyday of noir. He's flippant, reads people well (seeing though Anne Grayle's subterfuge as a reporter) so he can see what he can get out of all of this and doesn't suffer fools (or amateurs) well, qualities that serve him in varying capacities since just about everyone in the movie lies to him at one point or another. MURDER, MY SWEET put the private eye division of noir a popular push and heavily influenced such soon-to-follow shamuses as Mark Stevens' Bradford Galt in Fox's THE DARK CORNER (1946) and even James Cardwell's Ned Stewart in THE SHANGHAI COBRA (1945), one of the more outstanding of the Charlie Chan series produced at Monogram.

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I too will use the Nick Charles reference to contrast the Private Detective transformation that appears in Noir. Nick Charles was a gentleman who knew and associated with criminals and people on the fringe but never jumped in to that world completely. He relied on intellect, charm, subterfuge and usually only as a last resort was physical or brash. He took cases for real victims and didn't need the money.

 

Marlow however was no gentleman, he was outwardly suspicious and brash. He had a sense of humor and an underlying charm that he relied on to get away with his basic hard boiled manner. It didn't always work but he was willing to push his luck anyway. He gave the impression and sometimes admitted to not being entirely on the level. He did need the money and was happy to accept cases that that he knew we less than strictly legal and would lie cheat and steal to come out ahead. He did still possess enough of a moral code to remain likable so the audience is happy to see him prevail.

 

I believe that is the seductiveness of the bad boy image of the Private Detective that Noir immortalized.

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Philip Marlowe tells Ann Gayle that Marriott paid him $100 to take care of him, and he didn't, which is the reason he gets involved in the fracas that becomes Murder, My Sweet. He's in a "messy business" but he likes to "follow through." Philip Marlowe is motivated by his personal and professional loyalties, as well as a personal code. While he may not be above some matters of questionable ethics (locking a lady in his office to extort information, lying, etc), , his actions are in service of doing right by his client(s). It is Philip Marlowe's strong sense of personal responsibility (which in turn informs his professional loyalties) and morality in a chaotic world in which motivations are ambiguous at best and hideous at worst that make him so appealing a character.

 

The wittiness doesn't hurt, though.

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The portrayal of Marlowe, as shown here by Dick Powell, highlights an important element of (hard-boiled) noir. Namely, that the PD has a 'code' that he lives by. It's not the chivalrous "stand-up-and-take-off-your-hat-when-a-lady-enters-the-room" kind of chivalrous code that audiences had previously been used to. That much is well-illustrated in Marlowe's rough handling of Anne Shirley - which I suspect might have been a little shocking to audiences back in the 40s. No, this is the unique world-weary 'code' of a man who needs one central thing to anchor his life. His professional standing. He's honor-bound to serve his client no matter where that takes him.  

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Marlowe is coming off as forceful and very aggressive in seeking out the details right out the gate. He is acting in an manner that feels unlawful as he comes off with arrogance that he can get away with it to find out the facts he the way seeks fit.  Marlowe has this unknown idea about him as we wonder about him. He is very not trusting of her form the start.  He uses key self awareness that informs him on Grayle, knowing perfectly well that she is not who she says she is right out the gate. It reminds us of the noir ideals of what one does figure out early they are not what they seem at all if you look closely at them. I believe that it is the bad boy image of the detective that noir seems to really bring out in style as in this opening scene. 

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Marlowe is not a coward, at least not outwardly so.  He also does not trust anyone.  He has a sixth sense about Anne from the start.  And really, a detective has to have such a well developed bull meter.  How else can such a character get to the bottom of things and come out on top at the end if he doesn't have all senses fine tuned?  He also is a bit of a thug, in that he was rough with Anne when he dumped out her purse on his desk and went openly fishing for facts.  I'm not sure if that is what PI's do today.  I think for the most part, a PI is more like a snake in the grass.  Very quiet and patient, while he/she waits for the bug under glass to make their move.  In film Noir, the gangsters are tough and so are their yes men.  The PI or detectives have to also be tough if not tougher to be able to do their jobs and solve the crimes.  You can't have an Icabod Crain doing any PI work.  It's not right.  This scene helps to establish the Marlowe type of character.  It gives the character more room to grow.  In this scene the audience can see Marlowe can be a bit of a thug in his own way, when he needs to.  Even with a lady, Marlowe does not let his guard down.  She really didn't get past him.  Bogart played Marlowe once.  I can't remember the name of the film, but he also played the character with a little roughness around the edges.  And it worked. 

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Marlowe is a new type of detective who is on the fringes of society. He has an office in a seedy building, but not too seedy, it has an elevator boy who is looking for the good looking dame or questionable dame that Marlowe must have as a client. You can see the garbage on the floor and no receptionist, yet, his name is on the door. He's a jaded type of detective because as he is showing her into his office, if you watch you can see him lock the door and pocket the key. You can see that he is checking her over, not as a romantic interest, but possible danger - he's suave, but the touch of roughness when he grabs her wrist. As others have mentioned about how he views a job - he will see it through, but he is making sure he meets all the players in the game and he wants to know their connections or try to figure it out. Thus, he has his own set of morals and values that we will see with Sam Spade in the Maltase Falcon and countless other movies - there is a moment that even the most jaded person has a code that he or she may be unwilling to cross. The scene also makes you want to know about the girl and the stepmother - has to be the way she talks about her and of course, is the girl good or bad - how used to lying is she - you need to see moe.

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I think Marlowe comes off as a no nonsense guy who doesn't beat around the bush. He's got no time to play games and he's all business. he also seems to be more aggressive in his mannerisms and tones.

 

He doesn't have a fancy office. It's the office of a man who is hardly there, someone who is one the street working crimes.

 

This kind of detective works so well because sometimes the time require more than regular PIs. Not messing around saves time and gets to the bottom of rings faster. Clearly Marlowe has no time to play games. he also has things worked out in his head several steps in advance making it difficult to not put one over on him.

 

By locking her in his office he shows too that he can be a man of extremes, one determined

to root out deception straightaway.

 

I think it is important to the Noir style in that Marlowe is a tough detective who won't be pushed around. The film doesn't use clean sets. there's a lot of clutter in his office and not a lot of bright light. The banter between characters is clever and intense. There's also some intricate details in the dialogue.

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I like Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe - such a change from the young-looking, fresh-scrubbed, tenor from "42nd Street" and all his other early films.  He transitioned well.  As a 'noir' detective, Powell carries him in good form - I first noticed that his voice is deeper than previous Powell characters, his Marlowe immediately distrusts, he's skeptical, wary, locking the door behind him. He checks her hands and asks if she does her own typing, catching her in a lie. He quickly rummages through her purse, finding out who she is and gets the truth out of her.  In contrast, Bogart's Sam Spade seems originally taken in by Mary Astor's Miss O'Shaughnessy in the Maltese Falcon.  Bogie is hard-boiled, but has a heart; Powell's Marlowe is an overcooked boiled egg, hard to the core.

 

This Marlowe is dark, like the film noir style, there's no absence of light, but you can almost feel it in the dialogue and in the Marlowe characterization.  I can't wait to watch the whole film.  I've seen it before, but with this course, I'm now viewing these films with hopefully, new eyes.

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When Marlowe enters his office, Ann identifies herself as a reporter.  The smirk on his face says right off the bat he doesn't believe her.  It doesn't take long until she brings up the jade that Marlowe becomes interested.  As he invites her into the inner office, again his look is that of the spider inviting the fly into his web.  He then slyly locks the door as she sits down.  Rather than sitting behind his desk like you would expect, he circles around and takes her hand.  Ann seems oblivious to all this as Marlowe takes her hand and realizes she's never spent a day working in an office.  He then proceeds to manhandle her as he empties her purse and finally gets to the bottom of things.  Once he knows where things stand, he finally takes a seat behind his desk and for the first time actually conducts an interview as you might expect from a normal detective.

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The way in which Marlowe carries himself sets him apart from the traditional detective as he acts with a harsh sense of grittiness. He treats Ann boldly and rough in a way that showcases his toughness, masculinity and highlights the fact that he won't hesitate to hurt anyone or deal with them in a rough manner. Generally the detective acts in more of a so-called "respectable" manner thereby being that he wouldn't treat Ann the way he did in this film plus this detective is involved in more shady dealings for personal which showcase an immorality among the protagonists who are supposed to be "noble heroes".  This model I believe is the archetypal film noir detective and works perfectly due to the darkness, mystery, lawlessness, etc. that is shown in films noir.

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When Marlowe enters his office, Ann identifies herself as a reporter.  The smirk on his face says right off the bat he doesn't believe her.  It doesn't take long until she brings up the jade that Marlowe becomes interested.  As he invites her into the inner office, again his look is that of the spider inviting the fly into his web.  He then slyly locks the door as she sits down.  Rather than sitting behind his desk like you would expect, he circles around and takes her hand.  Ann seems oblivious to all this as Marlowe takes her hand and realizes she's never spent a day working in an office.  He then proceeds to manhandle her as he empties her purse and finally gets to the bottom of things.  Once he knows where things stand, he finally takes a seat behind his desk and for the first time actually conducts an interview as you might expect from a normal detective.

Good point. I bet any working detective has many reporters among his or her sources. I bet a detective also has some (or at least a few) friends at City Hall (Ann tells Marlowe that she has connections at City Hall). I bet he's thinking to himself, "Yeah, then how come I don't recognize you?"

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Marlowe in the scene shared appears to use words and body language to establish his facility with that sixth sense a good noir detective uses and to invite us into that process. I can see his brain working, though, so it may just be good insight and an ability to size up a situation more quickly than most. Along with that, he seems intent I sharing his moral code for not just his visitor but also us. The need to do the right thing seems to go with the few FN examples I have seen, though I am new to all that.

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This scene between Marlowe and Anne Grayle is a great example of the French critic's statement about the new, different detective. He is, in a word, REAL. He's part of his world which is made up of criminals, corrupt officials, people who lie, cheat, seduce, and steal to get what they want, but punctuated with the occasional act of honor and friendship. Earlier fictional detectives may have pursued crime-solving as a hobby or an exercise in superior reasoning or were on a mission to restore order and they didn't necessarily have a personal stake in the outcome or get paid for it. Entertaining as those literary figures are, I think we can identify with the new hardboiled detective because we know how the world is. From what we've learned, French and American audiences of the 1940s were ready to identify with Marlowe and his kind too.

 

Marlowe's office is ordinary, his business is small. He knows all about "connections" and "friends at City Hall". He sees through Anne's reporter mask because he's no stranger to deception and doing what it takes. His verbal and physical attack on Anne is unpleasant to watch and inexcusable by today's standards but the necessity for it is apparent. Once he's exposed her false front he's ready to treat her as an equal.

 

The new detective is perfect for, in fact the ONLY kind of detective who could prevail in noir's hardbitten and morally tangled universe. 

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One big difference between Film Noir detectives like Philip Marlowe and the sleuths of the past is that "noir" detectives have their own Code of Honor. You hear it in this scene with Marlowe. And you've heard it from Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon.

("When a man's partner's killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him, he was your partner, and you're supposed to do something about it.")

Marlow explains why he still cares about the jade theft in Murder My Sweet by saying about his client - "He gave me a hundred bucks to take care of him and I didn't."

These detectives create their own ethical boundaries. It's the only constant in their shifting worlds full of shifty characters.

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

Marlowe interrupt the girls planned speech which throws her character off balance and gives him an edge. He locks the door without her noticing and then while distracting her by looking at her hands he finds out her true identity. He has held the upper hand throughout the scene without breaking a sweat.

 

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

He is the catalyst that drives the film, he is not the knight in shining armor but does live by a code of his own making. To quote another detective, Sam Spade, “Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be.”

 

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

Unlike the earlier Sam Spade (1941) detective, this detective, Marlowe, is not toying with romance to get the information he needs he is not above playing rough even with a Lady as opposed to a dame. His character will cross societal moral lines to achieve his goal. Noble yet with dirt on the edges

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Marlow doesn't have to follow rules as a police detective would, leaving himself open to beatings and possible legal problems. He is a Palladin, a Knight Errant with a taste for Bourbon. The book is so much more grittier, but the film follows it very closely.

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Based upon the scene alone, a few things come to mind:

 

  • The elevator operator's snarky comment is noticed, but he doesn't give him the satisfaction of a witty response or a slam - that guy is not worth his time.
  • IMMEDIATELY upon entering the office his guard is up. It's possible he noticed her fingernails prior to locking the door but I doubt it. He could always re-open it and blame the move on force of habit, so he goes with his gut.
  • As he's circling around her he's able to observe without giving it away (by lack of eye contact, if he were facing her). He's astute, and fast. This is a man who is used to "things not being what they seem".
  • She puts up a decent front but once he exposes her identity, it's he who is running the investigation. Yet he throws enough self-deprecation in there to remain human, so she is not feeling intimidated.
  • He also sits down (passive) and keeps his voice steady (passive) to help elicit facts that a harsh interrogation won't get. Yes, he grabbed her wrist, but only for a second to dump the purse. He didn't hurt her and the tone is calm the rest of the scene.
  • He interjects facts about himself - true or not - to make this seem like an exchange instead of a questioning.
  • Note how he dangled "I'm going to talk to your father..." and when she does not react, he follows up with "AND your father's wife". The first time he asked which one it was she lied and said it was her idea. He knew she was lying but rather than challenge her directly he went after it from a different angle.

So this new private eye is skeptical, but sharp; direct but professional. And economic - not a wasted exchange in that "conversation".

 

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Frank wrote that the noir detective doesn't work within a bureaucratic function, but rather operates on the fringe of the law. Marlowe definitely shows us this in this scene. He doesn't mind demonstrating a little aggression to get the information that he's looking for, from locking his office door to trap Grayle, to dumping out her purse, and even with his line, "I'd just get you in a lot of trouble." He's self aware and unapologetic. He'll do what it takes to get the job done, and you better know what you're getting into with him, because you might not be able to handle him. This type of detective works within the context of film noir because it adds to the grit and darkness already demonstrated within the genre/style as a result of unorthodox camera angles, lighting, etc. This type of detective promises to take the audience on a thrill ride, and the sights along the way may not be so pretty.

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