Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Murder, My Sweet. A-

Murder, My Sweet, one of the greatest noirs, succeeds I think because of the humor of its hero, detective Marlowe, played by Dick Powell. Compare him to another hero often found in film noir, Dana Andrews (Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends). Andrews has the cynical aspect of his characters down, yet he plays them in such a dark, joyless manner that the character becomes too distant-even for a noir. Powell on the other hand has a wise-cracking sense of humor to go along with his blatant cynicism. He knows he's bitter, he wants to be bitter, and he uses his dry sense of humor convey just how gloomy his profession is. There's a sense of sympathy for him that's rare for a noir hero. He seems desperately to want out of police work, but he knows it's the only thing he can do, so he doesn't even try to escape. Powell's Marlowe is one of the great joys of Murder, My Sweet, and the other is the story itself, a complicated yarn from the great Raymond Chandler. Its ingredients reminded me of The Maltese Falcon in the way they combined deceptive characters and material possessions (though here instead of a falcon we've got a valuable jade necklace). The last great thing about this film is its use of locations. I love it when noirs abandon the city for the climactic scenes, which is exactly what happens here. Most of the film is in LA, but near the end most of the action moves to a cozy beach house along the edge of a cliff, where conflicts boil over with simmering energy. The main reason I applaud this shift in location is for the film's atmosphere. I don't think there's any great meaning behind it, but it makes the movie a more interesting one both aesthetically and viscerally. Murder, My Sweet is film noir cooked up perfectly. It's tough to resist. 

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