Murder, My Sweet, Edward Dmytryk

Gumshoe Expressionism in ‘Murder, My Sweet’

A sexy, shadowy exchange between a tall blonde and a hard-core classic film collector sum up the merit of Murder, My Sweet.

I was spending a hot day with a cold gin when she walked into my office and raised the temperature. The way her long blonde locks swung in front of her face, I thought she’d set her hair ablaze when she lit her cigarette, but she knew how to light a match.

“I’ve got a case, Shamus,” she said between smoke rings.

“Me too,” I said, pouring another slug. “Want to compare symptoms?”

“Say, you’re sharp enough to slice a grapefruit, but let’s talk shop, shall we? It’s murder, my sweet.”

“You mean Farewell, My Lovely,” I corrected.

“Now you’re cooking with gas.”

That dialogue is inspired by the original Raymond Chandler novel of 1940, Farewell, My Lovely, one of his Philip Marlowe stories. It was made into a movie by that name with Robert Mitchum in 1975, but it was filmed in 1945 as Murder, My Sweet, one of the first definitive noirs. It’s whadaya call archetypal, dare I add iconic?

Dick Powell’s tough, sarcastic turn as Marlowe flew in the face of his rep for smiley-face musicals, while Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley play the dames he’s mixed up with in John Paxton’s twisty screenplay. It starts when Marlowe’s hired by a huge thug, played by Mike Mazurki, to find a missing showgirl, and then he gets another case about a jade necklace with some rich mucky-mucks, and half the story is figuring out how the cases might be related.

“You’re singing to the choir, sister,” said I, gesturing to my wall of DVDs. “I should add that it was previewed under Chandler’s title and released in England as same, which is why I corrected you pedantically. Also, the first film version was really The Falcon Takes Over in 1942, but we won’t go there.

By my two cents, the Powell picture is the most visually expressive and experimental of those ’40s gumshoe classics. Edward Dmytryk’s direction and Harry J. Wild’s photography use all kinds of weird angles, overhead shots, high-contrast shadows, and disorienting transitional processes to spread confusion and convey the fact that Marlowe’s brains are scrambled from spending half the time knocked unconscious and the other half doped up on narcotics, courtesy of a shady bird played by Otto Kruger.” I get expansive when I’ve had a few.

“So do you want Murder, My Sweet on Blu-ray or not?” she asked, opening her purse and flashing me the goods. “I’m trying to earn enough shekels to send my ailing granny to Majorca. This HD master looks clean as a whistle and sharp as a tack, to coin two phrases. Plus there’s commentary by critic Alain Silver that won’t set the world on fire, but it’s jake.”

“Baby,” I said, “where have you been all my life?”

RATING 9 / 10