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Warner Home Video presents
Murder, My Sweet (1944)

"She was a charming, middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle."
- Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: August 05, 2004

Stars: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Don Douglas
Other Stars: Mike Mazurki, Miles Mander
Director: Edward Dmytryk

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, use of narcotics)
Run Time: 01h:35m:17s
Release Date: July 06, 2004
UPC: 053939675429
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+B+B C

DVD Review

When you think of Philip Marlowe, author Raymond Chandler's hardboiled, wisecracking private eye, such grizzled Hollywood tough guys as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum spring to mind. But one of the finest characterizations of Marlowe (and reportedly Chandler's favorite) comes from a most unlikely source: Dick Powell. Yes, that Dick Powell, the baby-faced (some might say "wimpy") crooner who spent the bulk of the 1930s romancing Ruby Keeler in kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley extravaganzas like 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. But by 1945, Powell's bland image craved an overhaul, and he fought hard for the juicy lead in Murder, My Sweet, a gritty adaptation of Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. The gamble paid off—audiences embraced the new Powell, providing a much-needed adrenaline shot to his faltering career, and opening the door for similar roles in Cornered and Pitfall. Perhaps most importantly, nobody ever called Powell a crooner again.

Almost everyone, however, recognizes Murder, My Sweet as quintessential film noir. Director Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire, The Caine Mutiny) masterfully employs all the genre staples—deep shadows, swirling cigarette smoke, harsh lighting, and a constant aura of unease—while adding his own creative, visually stunning touches, such as the recurring "black pool" that opens up and engulfs Marlowe whenever thugs render him unconscious. In addition, when the detective is injected with a cocktail of coma-inducing narcotics, Dmytryk takes us inside Marlowe's brain, using an expressionistic style to depict the disjointed and unsettling images the drugs inspire. Powell's detached narration throughout these scenes enhances the mood, while keeping the avant-garde touches within the story's framework.

And what a complicated story it is. Nobody could weave complex yarns with as much skill and panache as Chandler, and Murder, My Sweet requires unwavering attention to follow the threads and sew them together. A towering oaf named Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) sets the plot in motion when he strong-arms Marlowe into searching for his long lost girlfriend Velma. Along the way, Marlowe gets sidetracked by another case involving a stolen jade necklace and an insidious blackmailer (Otto Kruger) who threatens an icy blonde (Claire Trevor), her frail husband (Miles Mander), and her suspicious, resentful stepdaughter (Anne Shirley). A web of deceit, violence, and double-crosses soon entangles Marlowe, who must call upon all his deductive skills to unravel it.

The screenplay by John Paxton preserves much of Chandler's snappy dialogue, which deftly lightens the murky story and tempers its considerable fisticuffs. The crackling exchanges exemplify the best of noir, and sharpen the film's rough, cynical edge. Although Powell and Trevor deliver their lines with relish, they never allow the language to upstage their characters. Powell sinks his teeth into Marlowe and remains utterly believable throughout. Those familiar with his work in musicals will be doubly impressed, as he carves himself a diametric persona within the film's first five minutes, effectively obliterating his song-and-dance alter ego.

Trevor, also a victim of typecasting, could have walked through her role in a trance, but instead files a riveting portrayal of a conniving vixen. Into the mix of hoity-toity airs, sultry sexuality, and lethal venom, Trevor spikes her performance with a dash of humor that makes her femme fatale deliciously appealing. Shirley (in her last film role before a far-too-premature retirement) also shows some gumption as the feisty ingénue willing to do almost anything to protect her father and expose her evil stepmother.

Murder, My Sweet may be tough to follow at times, but all the puzzle pieces interlock eventually. Repeat viewings may be required to connect all the dots, but this classic film noir is so slick and entertaining, you'll want to watch it over and over anyway.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio, Warner's fine transfer makes Murder, My Sweet look as crisp as its dialogue. Close-ups are especially sharp and detailed, and although minor speckling frequently intrudes, the defects rarely distract. In film noir, of course, it's all about the black levels, and although the movie's gray scale remains nicely varied throughout, the blacks aren't quite as rich and inky as I would have hoped. The action transpires almost entirely at night, so good shadow detail and contrast are essential, and the transfer delivers in both regards. The print looks pretty grainy at first, but soon settles down and provides a smooth, enveloping viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track has been well scrubbed, and remains largely free of annoying age-related imperfections. As a result, you'll never miss a word of the priceless dialogue. Roy Webb's ominous music score enjoys good presence and depth, and gunfire and scuffles possess plenty of pop.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by author Alain Silver
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from a taut, if dilapidated, trailer, the only extra is an audio commentary by author and film noir specialist Alain Silver. Silver speaks in a sleepy, deadpan manner, almost as if he's trying to replicate Powell's narration. The result is a dry, highly technical commentary that rarely engages the listener. Although Silver sprinkles in plenty of interesting background about Raymond Chandler, discusses the evolution of the film noir genre, and possesses considerable knowledge about the actors who played bit parts in Murder, My Sweet, he analyzes the noir technique—lighting, shadows, shot composition, and depth of field—to excess. Anecdotes are few, and often left undeveloped; Silver recounts how Chandler flatly rejected a carte blanche offer from Paramount to write, produce, and direct his own features, but never tells us why, nor does he elaborate on the reasons for Anne Shirley's premature retirement from the screen. Even diehard fans of Murder, My Sweet might have trouble slogging through this uneven, monotonic track.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Take it from Raymond Chandler himself: nobody plays Philip Marlowe like Dick Powell, and Murder, My Sweet just might be the best realization of the legendary author's dark, nefarious world. The always wonderful Claire Trevor offers irresistible support, and Warner's vibrant transfer compliments director Edward Dmytryk's seductive visuals. Simply said, this is one black pool you'll want to dive into again and again. Highly recommended.

 


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