Philip Marlowe is an iconic character. Mr. Marlowe is a figment of novelist Raymond Chandler’s imagination, but he is made alive by many different actors over the decades. The most famous iteration is hands down Bogart’s portrayal in the Big Sleep. Hard-boiled, ill-mannered, and a womanizer, Mr. Marlowe seemed to fit Bogart’s persona more than any other character in fiction. But Humphrey Bogart was not the only person to play this character. In fact he wasn’t even the first person to play him. That honor seems to have gone to Mr. Dick Powell. Really a song and dance man, Mr. Powell wanted the chance to prove that he could be a strong leading man in a serious drama. So in order to get him to do more musicals, RKO threw him into a B movie adaptation of Mr. Chandler’s famous detective novels. The director, Mr. Edward Dmytryk, was furious because he was convinced that Mr. Powell could never do dramatic work. He was both right and wrong.
Dick Powell is not very convincing as a hard-boiled detective, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is how he delivers his one liners and how he downs his drink. He does both exceedingly well. Such gems as “He died in 1940 in the middle of a beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.” or “She had a face like a Sunday school picnic.” had a way of rolling off of Mr. Powell’s tongue as if he was born to say such noirish things. However, as the film went on, I became worried when Mr. Powell did not convince me that he was ever in control of anything. Events just seemed to happen around him and he got stuck at the wrong time and the wrong place, he never seemed to detect anything. He was most definitely not good at his job. The supporting characters also didn’t help him out at all. The femme fatale was interesting to watch, but the love interest never once held my attention for more than the moment it took me to look at her dress or her hair and admire the costume design. If I am paying more attention to the costume design than to the person reciting her lines, then there is some trouble with the actor wearing the beautiful clothing. Also I was never convinced that Dr. Amthor was really anything of a threat to Mr. Marlowe or his femme fatale.
The cinematography is something really worth talking about. Several shots throughout this film reminded me how great film noirs really are. One shot in particular, which involved an Asian woman dancing in dramatic light, blew me away.
Murder, My Sweet is a film noir that shies away from the grittier more interesting parts of the genre. Content with swirling smoke in the dark, tight tailored suits, razor-sharp tongues and a macguffin, it is a film easily enjoyed and easily forgotten.