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


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Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet doesn't exactly set the standard that Sam Spade did three years prior in The Maltese Falcon, but I think he sharpens the pulp sensibility of that earlier detective in very much the same way that Raymond Chandler did to the crime fiction world of Dashiell Hammett. Bogart's Spade had no trouble smacking Joel Cairo and Wilmer around whenever he had the chance, so that penchant for necessary violence isn't new, nor is the playful tension that Dick Powell's performance brings to the table.

 

The changes that I was able to pick up on were much more subtle than that, like the lack of aggression and the smirk that Spade constantly seemed to be holding back. Marlowe couldn't be more stone faced despite the several funny lines he drops in the midst of his interrogation, and his easy demeanor suggest a guy who'd rather grab a drink and put his feet up on the table than have to deal with phony reporters. It's a small thing, but I think that more relaxed demeanor shifted the detective tide slightly after its' release  - I mean even Bogart's Marlowe portrayal two years later in The Big Sleep is along this more subdued route.

 

On a general note here, apparently Dick Powell played Marlowe once more in an hour long TV version of The Long Goodbye in 1954, but it's now lost to time. Such a shame too, given his great performance here.

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In the scene we see the quintessential Private Dick's office. The mise en scene will be come cliche with noir and Detective films to this day. We also get to enjoy some good hard boiled slang, delivered with panache by Powell, whose gives Marlow some comic undertones which I really enjoy.

Murder My Sweet is one of my all time favorite noir films. It rates pretty high in many of the elements we've discussed. However, the ending is just a bit to happy for me.

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The Philip Marlowe we see in Murder, My Sweet is not your traditional detective.  Just from this short scene, the viewer can see that he is highly suspicious of everybody; he was wiling to simply brush off the “reporter,” but as soon as she mentions the jade (and seems to know more about the situation than he does) he is intrigued and on his guard.

 

It is also clear that Marlowe has is own moral code, but does not operate by anyone else’s rules.  He is continuing his investigation independent of the police because he has failed his client, not because he is on someone’s payroll. The situation he was drawn into was of a dubious morality, but he was willing to get involved in a payoff to a thief for the money.  However, after failing to keep his client safe (or, alive, for that matter), he feels the need to find out who killed him, even though he has nothing to gain from further involving himself.

 

He is also different from many previous detectives in that he is willing to be rough, even with a woman.  First, he locks her in so that she can’t run away when he confronts her.  Second, he grabs Anne’s wrist to get her purse in a way that clearly leaves her wrist sore, not treating her delicately as a more “civilized” detective might. 

 

Essentially, Marlowe is a detective better suited for the world of film noir, where no one is what he or she seems.  He doesn’t give anyone a free pass, whether they appear to be a threat or not.

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Any character who isn't a one-dimensional stereotype is always more interesting. Both of the characters in this clip from "Murder, My Sweet" defy expectations, making viewers wonder how their interaction will play out over the course of the movie. If this clip is any indication, we can expect more deceit, more tension, more intrigue. 

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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.

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When watching this office scene, I kept thinking of Steve Martin's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid which I am going to watch again this weekend.  The office sets there (when not cut directly from the classic films) and in The Cheap Detective are direct references and homages to the trope of the detective office as we see it here.  

I think location/setting is a vital part of creating mood both on stage and in film.

 

Far as the question about why is this kind of detective right for film noir? I really liked the concept of noir having the protagonist who knows what he/she is doing to be wrong, but doing it any way. The detective who is a little 'questionable' about morals and motives (Hm perhaps pragmatic is the better word choice) is going to be able to acclimate to the realities of the immediate situation. While noir may be in black and white, the interesting characters inhabit the foggy grey mid-point - and where they end up makes for the compelling tale.

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For whatever reason whenever I watch Dick Powell as a detective I always feel he’s amused and maybe a little annoyed by what he has to do as a detective.  He gives me the impression that the whole affair is somehow existentially ridiculous or absurd.  What he can do, however, is stick to the case.  He’s a very resourceful loner, intelligent, street-wise and capable of extracting what he needs from the different characters in the film.

 

In today’s clip, Dick Powell’s Marlowe is on to Anne Shirley’s Ann Grayle in a heartbeat. As soon as he lets her in his office he locks the door.  Throughout their conversation he toys with her by first holding her hand, then restraining her while he checks her bank account for her real identity.  She arrives playing an angle to get information from Powell, but he turns her whole plan on its ear and by the end of the scene he’s learned important information about Grayle, her father, and her stepmother.  In no time at all, he’s put her in a spot where it seems she’s working for him.  It’s part seduction, part coercion, which translates into the detective becoming romantically involved with the client, which is a recurring theme in film noir.  This scene loosely parallels the office scene in, “The Maltese Falcon” where Peter Lorre tries to search Humphrey Bogart’s office.

 

One important point in the Curator’s Note is the role of detective novel writers in the creation of the film noir genre and I don’t think this can be stressed enough.  Yes, we associate film noir with movies, but really, all the writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, as well as James M. Cain and many other pulp fiction writers working for dime novel publications like Black Mask, established the themes, plots, locations and characters found in 1940’s Hollywood film noir movies.

 

Thanks - Mark

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I have to admit I had to watch this twice to see him lock the door, so he is a couple of steps  ahead of "supposed" reporter. He is rough with her to figure out her real name but he has a heart when he states that " he paid for my services" and obviously is disappointed that he hasn't kept him safe. I find Bogart and Mitchum @ the top of the Phillip Marlowe Detectives portrayals. I agree with the previous post that the Thin Man series are much lighter than any of the Film Noir detectives. Lots of good posts tonight.

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What's new is old and what's old is new!  I couldn't help but compare how the new kind of detective, Marlowe was in dealing with the conniving ways of Ann Grayle by unmasking her cover and confronting her for "the facts".  Not that much unlike the way the earlier detective Sam Spade confronted Brigid O'Shaughnessy by name dropping Joel Cairo and the Black Bird just to watch her reaction to his being in "the know" and getting the story straight. The world of Noir is so dark and twisted that all of its inhabitants struggle to recognize truth when they see it...even then? 

 

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The first thing to stand out for me in this opening clip is the way the elevator operator comments on the improvement in clientele for the detective.  This gives our detective a heads up that there is someone interesting waiting to see him.  He initially seems ready to dismiss this 'reporter' until she mentions the jade.  This interests him enough to bring her into the office to find out just what she knows.  He is aware that she couldn't have just come across this information as she says so he takes the precaution of locking the door and taking the key in order to keep her at a disadvantage.  Having seen this film many times as well as many versions of the story it is difficult to focus just on the opening.  However, in analyzing the scene it seems the detective is not just the person trying to solve the mystery.  He is an active participant in driving the story which is what makes this a good example of film noir. 

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I love how the opening of the bank account book to reveal her true name is done through the eyes of the detective, drawing us in to his thought process of finding clues

Regarding the bank book, I'm sure we are supposed to notice the $5,000 balance, which is a clue that the young woman is probably wealthy, has a wealthy patron, or at least that she's financially "pretty well fixed," as a noir character might say.

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I love this scene because it is a classic example of the kind of detective that is Film Noir.  He is a constant contrast of sweet and salt with his face and his touch. I love the fact that the first thing he did was lock the door. He knew exactly how to get to the truth and it wasn't long before she completely gave in because he really doesn't give her much time to think it out.

This kind of detective is tough and gritty from the way he acts to the kinds of language he uses. It is one of the clearest ways to know you are watching Film Noir.

Absolutely beautiful!

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The first thing to stand out for me in this opening clip is the way the elevator operator comments on the improvement in clientele for the detective.  This gives our detective a heads up that there is someone interesting waiting to see him.  He initially seems ready to dismiss this 'reporter' until she mentions the jade.  This interests him enough to bring her into the office to find out just what she knows.  He is aware that she couldn't have just come across this information as she says so he takes the precaution of locking the door and taking the key in order to keep her at a disadvantage.  Having seen this film many times as well as many versions of the story it is difficult to focus just on the opening.  However, in analyzing the scene it seems the detective is not just the person trying to solve the mystery.  He is an active participant in driving the story which is what makes this a good example of film noir. 

Good point about the elevator operator. But he's not just pointing to "someone interesting," he's specifically conveying to Marlowe that an attractive woman is waiting in his office to see him. Powell's initial reaction to the operator is par for the hardboiled detective that Marlowe is, in both the original Chandler novels and the many films that represent him. One of Marlowe's qualities--and it's generally true of all the hardboiled detectives--is that he's cynical about nearly everything, including and perhaps especially regarding women. He's seen it all and had his share of heartaches, personally and professionally. So when the elevator operator makes a typically "male" remark, Marlowe just sneers or chuckles, as if to say, "Yeah, yeah, another pretty woman in my office. What else is new? In my experience, pretty women as clients usually come with lots of heartache or trouble or whatever."

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"Can you picture Sherlock Holmes ever acting like Philip Marlowe (or vice versa)?"

 

- Tom Shawcross

 

Actually I can. Based on this scene alone, I'm not certain there is much difference between Marlowe and Holmes. Oh, we're in mid 20th century America, with the resulting dialect and slang, as opposed to late 19th century England (a bit more wise-cracking, too).

 

But Holmes was also in business, and willing to bend the law for the good of a client. Marlowe's deduction about the typing was very Holmesian (I do like the fact that he seems pleased that he's made this deduction).

 

In point of fact, the character of the detective has always been one who worked above the law and outside society (to varying extents).

 

So what is different here? Well, Marlowe has already failed his client (who has been killed while Marlowe was supposed to protect him) and is now trying to make up for his failure, as well as clear himself of a potential murder charge. I don't believe that quite ever happened to Holmes (but consider his changing feelings toward his client and the culprit in "A Scandal in Bohemia").

 

The thought among some in the story that Marlowe could be guilty also puts Marlowe just across the line toward the dark criminal side, leading people like Miss Grayle to think they can exploit that side of him. He needs to prove to himself that while he may not be an angel, he will be true to his own code (sound familiar, Mr. Spade?).

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Film noir was born out of the pulp magazines like Black Mask, Dime Mystery, Thrilling Mystery, et. al. Marlowe was born in those same pages, and it is only fitting that the character lead the way to the big screen.

 

Marlowe was very different from his predecessors, Nick Carter, Hercule Poirot, or even Sherlock Holmes. He is sarcastic, self-deprecating, and suspicious of everyone's intentions. Also he's not afraid to insult a possible client when he has suspicions that he is being played. We see just how skeptical he is of "Miss Allison" when he smoothly locks the door behind him after allowing her into his office.

 

The witty repartee in this scene is classic film noir. It wasn't the first movie to use this kind of banter, but this type of dialogue is synonymous with the genre

 

 

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I had to come here and read the comments to understand how Marlowe is "new kind of private detective." I couldn't figure it out myself. I was raised on "The Rockford Files," so Marlowe is exactly what I expect a detective to be! But now I see that this style of character came into being in the 1940s and was significantly different from what came before. Jim Rockford clearly has his origins in these stories, with James Garner having played Marlowe before becoming Rockford. (I see that his 1969 "Marlowe" is in the mix for the Summer of Darkness.) Now that I compare Marlowe to police detectives and Sherlock Holmes, I get how this is a different kind of character, operating in a gray area under his own jaded moral code, with a wisecrack or two to hide behind. I've loved this kind of character for as long as I can remember.

 

(As a side note from a vintage fashion lover, I want Ann Grayle's entire outfit!)

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"Can you picture Sherlock Holmes ever acting like Philip Marlowe (or vice versa)?"

 

- Tom Shawcross

 

Actually I can. Based on this scene alone, I'm not certain there is much difference between Marlowe and Holmes. Oh, we're in mid 20th century America, with the resulting dialect and slang, as opposed to late 19th century England (a bit more wise-cracking, too).

 

But Holmes was also in business, and willing to bend the law for the good of a client. Marlowe's deduction about the typing was very Holmesian (I do like the fact that he seems pleased that he's made this deduction).

 

In point of fact, the character of the detective has always been one who worked above the law and outside society (to varying extents).

 

So what is different here? Well, Marlowe has already failed his client (who has been killed while Marlowe was supposed to protect him) and is now trying to make up for his failure, as well as clear himself of a potential murder charge. I don't believe that quite ever happened to Holmes (but consider his changing feelings toward his client and the culprit in "A Scandal in Bohemia").

 

The thought among some in the story that Marlowe could be guilty also puts Marlowe just across the line toward the dark criminal side, leading people like Miss Grayle to think they can exploit that side of him. He needs to prove to himself that while he may not be an angel, he will be true to his own code (sound familiar, Mr. Spade?).

I have no idea what happened to the characters in this short clip, I sense cynicism in Marlowe and Grayle with her own agenda so it's kind of noir. I have to watch the whole film.

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Detectives before Film Noir seem to only sit behind their chairs and ask the same boring questions. Here Marlowe gets engaged not only mentally but physically. He has a charm but a sharp wit which is more in line with how we think of "fringe" detectives. He does not seem the least bit afraid or unerved by Miss Grayle so by the end of the scene he has the upper hand, not her. I think this scene is important to noir overall because it has the femme fatale in a sense, the female who has something to hide. It also has the detective who seems like he is not afraid to "break a few eggs".

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For whatever reason whenever I watch Dick Powell as a detective I always feel he’s amused and maybe a little annoyed by what he has to do as a detective.  He gives me the impression that the whole affair is somehow existentially ridiculous or absurd.  What he can do, however, is stick to the case.  He’s a very resourceful loner, intelligent, street-wise and capable of extracting what he needs from the different characters in the film.

 

 

 

This was new for me, my introduction to the hard-boiled Dick Powell; I've seen him in several dramatic roles, but not like this. And I agree - I think his character shows a bit of amusement at what's going on around him (definitely in this clip - he anticipated that she was not what she claimed and seemed to enjoy letting her go on with her story before calling her on it.)  I'm really, really looking forward to seeing this one!

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For whatever reason whenever I watch Dick Powell as a detective I always feel he’s amused and maybe a little annoyed by what he has to do as a detective.  He gives me the impression that the whole affair is somehow existentially ridiculous or absurd.  What he can do, however, is stick to the case.  He’s a very resourceful loner, intelligent, street-wise and capable of extracting what he needs from the different characters in the film.

 

In today’s clip, Dick Powell’s Marlowe is on to Anne Shirley’s Ann Grayle in a heartbeat. As soon as he lets her in his office he locks the door.  Throughout their conversation he toys with her by first holding her hand, then restraining her while he checks her bank account for her real identity.  She arrives playing an angle to get information from Powell, but he turns her whole plan on its ear and by the end of the scene he’s learned important information about Grayle, her father, and her stepmother.  In no time at all, he’s put her in a spot where it seems she’s working for him.  It’s part seduction, part coercion, which translates into the detective becoming romantically involved with the client, which is a recurring theme in film noir.  This scene loosely parallels the office scene in, “The Maltese Falcon” where Peter Lorre tries to search Humphrey Bogart’s office.

 

One important point in the Curator’s Note is the role of detective novel writers in the creation of the film noir genre and I don’t think this can be stressed enough.  Yes, we associate film noir with movies, but really, all the writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, as well as James M. Cain and many other pulp fiction writers working for dime novel publications like Black Mask, established the themes, plots, locations and characters found in 1940’s Hollywood film noir movies.

 

Thanks - Mark

Thanks for emphasizing the role of the hardboiled detective novel in what came to be known as films noir. I discovered and read Raymond Chandler novels long before I'd ever even heard of film noir. And, with all due respect to Hammett, whom Chandler followed and acknowledged his debt to, Raymond Chandler took the hard-boiled detective novel to a new level. Although he conforms to many of the pulp-fiction trademarks, such as gritty street realism, urban settings with characters from all walks of life, moral ambiguity among individuals and society, and the darker side of American life, his works have a more literary quality and his characters--especially Marlowe--have grater depth and complexity. In addition, Chandler was more directly involved in screenwriting than other hardboiled detective or crime writers. He co-wrote, with Billy Wilder, the screenplay for Double Indemnity. He also wrote The Blue Dahlia and collaborated on Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Good stuff.

 

I love how the opening of the bank account book to reveal her true name is done through the eyes of the detective, drawing us in to his thought process of finding clues

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This was new for me, my introduction to the hard-boiled Dick Powell; I've seen him in several dramatic roles, but not like this. And I agree - I think his character shows a bit of amusement at what's going on around him (definitely in this clip - he anticipated that she was not what she claimed and seemed to enjoy letting her go on with her story before calling her on it.)  I'm really, really looking forward to seeing this one!

I think part of what we see in Powell as Marlowe--and it's the first time Marlowe was represented on film--is Powell's own sort of reinvention of himself as an actor. All through the thirties he's a crooner in numerous musicals, and he generally plays a sweet, boyishly handsome character. But he got tired of that and wanted to expand the range of characters he played, and he especially wanted to play characters with more complexity, ambiguity, etc., instead of the light-hearted ones he'd played earlier. By the time he made Murder, My Sweet, he was in his mid-30s and wanted to play characters more appropriate for his age. How better to shatter the stereotype of Powell the Baby-faced Crooner than to play Chandler's famous detective Philip Marlowe?

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I think what interests me most about Phillip Marlowe (Dick Powell) in this clip is that he doesn't hesitate to treat Miss Grayle like a suspect and not a lady.  He knows before he even walks into the office that she's not a reporter, and as soon as he knows what she wants and sees what information she has that he doesn't his whole persona changes and he goes from passive, almost tired man to aggressively locking the door, spilling her purse, holding her in place while he searches her purse, questioning her.  He doesn't treat her like a lady because he doesn't think she deserves that respect.  She's a suspect for him, and nothing else.

 

Marlowe is showing that he's going to do what it takes to solve the mystery, not pander to rich girls who want to play detective, or follow directions from someone else like the police do (whether that be from their superior officers or from corrupt officials).  I think this type of detective character is particularly suited to film noir because they live in the gray areas between "good" and "evil."  They tend toward dark, but they remain heroic.  Marlowe is very anti-hero in this scene--his end (solving the case) justify the means (being rough with a woman).

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