Murder, My Sweet (1944)
I've never been much of a fan of Dick Powell the singer, but I really like Dick Powell, the hard-boiled detective. And here he is as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet, the film version of Raymond Chandler's novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Powell was a risky choice for director Edward Dmytryk, who, like everyone else in the world, thought of Powell as a sweet, drippy singer in comic musicals. Studio executives didn't want to take any chances either, and butched up the title from Farewell, My Lovely, to Murder, My Sweet, lest the average moviegoer think they were in for another Goldiggers franchise when they would actually be getting Powell ogling Claire Trevor's shapely leg (without bursting into song) and running around a mental hospital socking people.
But this is, indeed, a murder mystery, so there's dames and thugs and gats and jewels and intrigue. It starts with Philip Marlowe being grilled by police detectives about some murders. The rest of the picture is Marlowe's testimonial flashback that begins in his noir-lit office where he is lamenting his financial situation, when the wonderful Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy, a Great Ape, shows up fresh out of prison to hire Marlowe to find his girlfriend, Velma, who hasn't written to him for some years. Moose has money, as well as great height and strength, so Marlowe goes with him to check out Velma's last place of employment. They hit a dead end, but Marlowe gets a lead from the boozy former owner of the clip joint where Velma used to work. So far it looks like Velma is dead, but Marlowe ain't so sure.
When he gets back to his office, he finds a nattily dressed man named Marriott (Douglas Walton), pawing over the papers on his desk. This guy wants to hire Marlowe to help him buy back some stolen jewels for a friend, but at the meeting place, the fancy man is killed and Marlowe is "sapped" unconscious. When he wakes, he finds that someone has taken the payoff money from his pockets, but left him his gun. Cops are called; Marlowe is grilled.
Meanwhile, a lovely young woman comes to his office posing as a reporter to get some dirt on the dead man and the jewels. She turns out to be Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), the daughter of a wealthy jade collector (Miles Mander), who is married to Helen (Claire Trevor), a woman a couple of decades younger than he. Turns out that Helen was stepping out with Marriott when the very expensive jewels she was wearing at the time were stolen from her. It also turns out that the dead man had been undergoing psychic (not psychiatric) treatment under spiritualist Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), a guy you know is up to no good.
How are these two cases related? I'll give you a hint: Moose Malloy does some thugging for Dr. Amthor on the side and is responsible for another clobbering Marlowe receives and the wild, drug-induced dream sequence Marlowe experiences while being held hostage and off the trail for several days.
I won't spoil the whole thing, but I will tell you that Marlowe is romanced by both Helen and Ann, is beaten by several people, and is present at a few more murders before the picture ends. Claire Trevor exhibits a coldness she usually never employs, as she usually plays the salt-of-the-earth fallen woman type; this time she just fell. Also, Dick Powell looks good with a few days' beard growth. It stabilizes that wobbly chin.
On a final note, if you want this mystery to retain some mystery, don't look it up in IMDb first, because there's a huge plot giveaway in the credit list.
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I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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