Starring: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Dick Powell stars as the classic hard-boiled detective Phillip Marlowe, adapted from Raymond Chandlers story Farewell My Lovely. This time, the detective gets in over his head when he’s approached by an ex-con who wants to find his old flame, but finds a platinum blonde femme fatale and a missing jade necklace that everyone seems to want to get their hands on.
Though perhaps not the most well known outing of Phillip Marlowe, this was the first time the character was put on film and also one of the first film noir genre, along with Double Indemnity, and was a huge influence on later films. Look for rain, femme fatales, double crosses, voiceover, shadows and light, dim witted thugs, trench coats, snappy dialogue and character descriptions, hallucinations and a priceless but perhaps not what it seems McGuffin… It’s all here.
Chandler so often has a pulpy feel to him, with little plot lines that don’t go anywhere or holes in the story. In the case of the book that this was based on, rumour has it that he took stories about Marlowe that he had written but that weren’t very good, and tore them apart, sewing them together like Frankenstein to create this novel. It’s not the first time the accusation of plot incoherency or even incomprehensibility has been leveled at one of his detective films, but they usually make their own kind of heightened sense, and I really like them. They feel like an escape to me, into another world, and one that very likely has little relation to reality, but the cynicism of Film Noir always feels right.
This iteration of Phillip Marlowe, with it’s slightly boyish, comic portrayal, has been lauded by some as being as close to the character in the book as any. Personally, I love Bogarts more hardened, cynical and less funny portrayal too. But Powell was playing against type here and does an excellent job. He started out as a singer with a beautiful voice in musicals, and here he is, chasing down dames and missing jade necklaces. Its very entertaining.
I really like the two women in this film as well. Claire Trevor as Helen, the platinum blonde who seems just a bit brassy, just a bit unlike a woman you’d trust as your wife, is so perfect, and Anne Shirley as her step daughter, seems so fresh and resourceful by comparison, even though she at first seems a bit suspicious. I really like the way these two are so different and so obviously not like each other at all, and yet both are pretty and smart. Survivors, in different ways.
As films go, this is a really classic example of film noir and a dramatic and interesting detective story. The performances all feel very well cast and satisfying, and the twists and turns of the plot are really dramatic and quite fun. I wasn’t sure where it was all going as I watched it, and I was happy to be taken along for a ride. I like Powell as Marlowe, and I liked the dramatic ending.
See It If: a classic hardboiled detective story, with plenty of double crosses and drama. It’s a real delight, cynical and stylised in tone, but so satisfying.