It's been a long month for those of us at Can't Stop the Movies, but a fun one. Film noir is a genre that comes in many flavors, and can be as deep or stylish as it wants to be, giving both the viewer and the reviewer something fun to chew on.
And while we've run the gamut from sexy to sad to quite a lot of Hitchcock, I'm going to go ahead and venture ahead to say that none of the films we've covered this month exemplify the genre with such finesse as Edward Dmytryk's Murder, My Sweet.
Starring Dick Powell, who so far was known for his charm as the leading man in Busby Berkeley musical extravaganzas like The Gold Diggers of 1933, Murder, My Sweet represented a not just a step in a new direction for the actor, but a gigantic leap into the unknown.
The unknown plays a lot into the film proper, as it contains a mystery so twisted and impenetrable that it hardly matters. Powell is Phillip Marlowe, private detective and bottom feeder. He's about to spend a night out with a soft shoulder when a lumbering giant enters his office and lays a couple of big bills on his desk.
His name is Moose and he's just gotten out of prison; he's looking for an old flame. While Marlowe gets a picture, he soon finds himself embroiled in another plot when a man begging for his help in regaining a missing jade necklace ends up dead. With a murder on his conscious, Marlowe begins to journey through seedy bars and stolid mansions in his quest for figuring out who pulled the trigger and who wants him dead.
Marlowe survives the picture with little more than pluck, as he's batted around more times than a ragged baseball. The Marlowe character, created by hard boiled crime novel guru Raymond Chandler, gets his best workout here, as Powell gives him enough of a lowlife charm to put Bogart and other actors to shame.
Director Dmytryk paints the twisted foreground with an incredibly tight script that moves quick enough that its twisted nature is almost overshadowed. On top of that, Dmytryk, always the stylistic virtuoso, takes a lot of nods from the German expressionism that helped to define the noir genre and give this film a brilliant look. See how the shadows stretch across the ceiling like a twisted spiderweb, or the careful framing of Moose in every shot. Look at the sequences that have Marlowe fighting drug injections, filled with long dark hallways of door after door.
And the smoke! Constant smoking was a staple of films of the 1940s, but here, as it was in Double Indemnity, it's used as a framing device for the atmosphere. Neither movie would much exist without the curls of nicotine addled air that surrounds and envelops the respective protagonists.
The dialogue isn't bad either. "She's the kind of lady who'd take a drink, even if she had to knock you down to get the bottle," Marlowe muses about one dame. When a woman turns on him later, she chortles, "You know, this'll be the first time I've ever killed anyone I knew so little and liked so well."
Put together with a pair of great performances by Mike Mazurki as Moose and Anne Shirley as the woman who can't decide whether to kill Marlowe or kiss him, Murder, My Sweet doesn't take a wrong step. It's entertaining, dark, delightful, and one of the best film noirs ever made.