Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Murder, My Sweet (1944), directed by Edward Dmytryk.


I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom.

Just out of prison, a gigantic ex-con wants Philip Marlowe to find his missing girlfriend. The detective also gets mixed up in ransom, jewel theft and murder, drawing unwanted attention from both the police and a crime boss, and receiving his usual dose of beatings and druggings (although I think he was in even worse shape in The Little Sister).

This might be incomprehensible if you didn't know the first rule of this sort of detective fiction: what appears as two cases is actually only one. Here the missing girlfriend really doesn't want to be found. Our task is to figure out how the plot strands join up: who is weaving the web?

The film is somewhere near the center of the hardboiled detective genre. It's a loose adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, one of his best books. They add a new romance plot and a sweet ending, but the interpretation is a good one, with innovative graphics showing that black pool of unconsciousness and the hallucinated smoke Marlowe sees when doped up.

Dick Powell is surprisingly fine as Marlowe, a naturalistic performance of an ill-used, worn-out detective. I always like Claire Trevor, but femme fatale is a bit of a stretch for her. Anne Shirley had been a child actress with 68 film credits total; this was her last picture and she retired at age 26.

Mike Mazurki, last seen in: great as Moose Malloy, the big lug searching for his Velma. He plays it as written: a violent giant who sometimes seems not quite all there, but who uses a crafty intelligence to stay alive and find his girl. His one weak spot.

Chandler was so important to books and movies that he is easy to mashup and satirize, as in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) or The Big Lebowski, but the books are absolutely seductive, evocative renderings of 1940s LA. Marlowe is one of the best characters of 20th century literature: the righteous man in a corrupt world, the knight errant in a drab, dusty office. Chandler can write a vivid passage, but his prose is not quite as lurid as it is often lampooned.