From 1944, we have one of the great early noirs, Murder, My Sweet, with Dick Powell, crooner turned gumshoe Phillip Marlowe. The plot has so many twists, it’s hard to keep straight, and it all comes rushing together at the end in a confusing torrent of dialog. It’s all told in flashback by Marlowe, blindfolded in a police interrogation room. (Why the eye shade, we wonder?) The characters are wonderful: an incredible black widow femme fatale; her rich, weak husband; the pretty stepdaughter; the hulking not-too-bright Moose who keeps the bodies falling; and the well spoken, cynical flim-flam man, Anthor, to name a few.
What I enjoyed most was the dialog: Anthor the phony clairvoyant lecturing Marlowe about his “disturbing tendency to make sudden transitions of thought, a characteristic of your generation.” Marlowe repays the compliment by calling him “grandpa.” And the little visual touches, as when Marlowe lights his cigarette with a match struck on the butt of a statue of Cupid, or when, after cooling his heels in a palatial vestibule, he does a bit of hopscotch on the giant checkerboard floor pattern.
The movie reminded me a bit of Kiss Me Deadly, I guess because of the endless kissing, beating, and drugging of Marlowe. Powell wears a mean five o’clock shadow, but he seemed somehow not quite tough enough – too smooth, no edge to him, but Chandler supposedly thought him the best film Marlowe of all.
Here we have Helen/Velma introducing Marlowe to the inaccessible Anthor. Marlowe explains, “I was hired to be a bodyguard, I bungled the job, and now I’m investigating myself.”
Velma/Helen is pretty interested in Marlowe’s build, and doesn’t mind his taste in belts. She’d like him to go with her to get a drink, “but it’s the kind of place where you have to where a shirt.”
He gets dressed, but he’ll wish he hadn’t.
There are a lot of subjective camera shots, frames occluded by inky blackness, points of light in the blackness, smoke, real or imagined, as well as a lengthly surreal dream sequence involving a series of ever smaller doorways and a doctor with a syringe. This menacing, magical view of the world is introduced with a shot when Marlowe meets Moose, first only noticing his reflection in the window.