Sunday, March 3, 2013

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for March on TCM

We've all been there. You wake up to a clear blue sky. You hardly have to run the brush through your hair and - voila! - it's perfect. You turn on the radio and they are playing your favourite song. All of the people you live with unexpectedly wake up on the right side of the bed. The folks at Tim Horton's get your order right the first time. Life is like a Silly Symphony. I'm not talking about a scary Silly Symphony like The Goddess of Spring where Persephone is dragged to Hell. No. I'm talking about stuff like Funny Little Bunnies where all is sweetness and light. And you can't take it! "Remarks want you to make them. They got their tongues hanging out waiting to be said."

You need the cure and the only cure is some hang time with your jaded pal Philip Marlowe. You could reach for the bookshelf. You could check out the radio series (1948-1950) produced by Gunsmoke creator Norman Macdonnell and starring the sexy voice of Gerald Mohr. A couple of TV series might be found. Powers Boothe briefly played Philip Marlowe, Private Eye in the 1980s and Philip Carey had a season as Philip Marlowe in 1959. Many interesting actors have played Marlowe on film over the years such as Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Robert Mitchum, Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery, and Elliot Gould. While each brings something to enjoy or admire to the role, the one I always turn to in times of stress is the screen's first, Dick Powell.

Raymond Chandler's fictional detective made his novel debut in 1939s The Big Sleep. The disenchanted detective who lived by his own code was developed through Chandler's short stories for Black Mask. The second Marlowe novel, 1940s Farewell, My Lovely was first adapted for the movies as 1942s The Falcon Takes Over. Naturally, George Sanders' Gay Falcon steps in for Philip Marlowe, but it's interesting to see him interacting with familiar characters. Ward Bond is Moose Molloy, Terhan Bey is Jules Amthor, Hans Conried is Lindsay Marriot and future Academy Award Winner Anne Revere (National Velvet) is Jessie Florian. We all know that Sanders has a way with a quip, but even in the thick of things his humour is that of the cool, unruffled observer. Our Philip Marlowe uses humour as a weapon of offense and defense.  He's always stepping in messes and it's his way of trying to keep that mess off his shoes.

Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe

After a decade on the screen as boy tenor and comic foil, Dick Powell came into his own as Marlowe in RKO's 1944 film-noir classic Murder, My Sweet based on Farewell, My Lovely directed by Edward Dmytryk. The change in title was due to studio executives thoughts that audiences would see Powell's name and think they were in for a musical. Apparently audiences who read books and who go to movies are two separate entities.

The move to the weary Marlowe was touted as quite a stretch for Powell by the publicity makers and the critics alike. However, fans of the Warner musicals and comedies where Powell made his name know that he always had a way with the sardonic attitude, he just needed a more blatant format to showcase that side. The success of Murder, My Sweet led to other well thought of crime titles such as Cry Danger, Cornered, Johnny O'Clock and Pitfall. He never lost his knack for sweetness and flat out comedy either as displayed in You Never Can Tell, Mrs. Mike and Susan Slept Here. I have great admiration for Dick Powell's later work as an influential television producer with his Four Star Productions.

Dick Powell, Mike Mazurki

We meet our hero, bruised and bandaged, under an interrogation lamp spilling all to the cops about his latest case. They want it from the beginning and it begins with Moose Molloy. Big Mike Mazurki is Moose, fresh out of the joint and looking for his gal, Velma. She was "cute as lace pants".  Marlowe heads out with the big lug to a joint that looks like trouble, but that didn't bother him. "Nothing bothered me.  The two twenties felt nice and snug against my appendix." They get nothing but trouble at the bar and split up.

Esther Howard

Marlowe keeps on the job and contacts Jessie Florian, the widow of the bar's former owner. "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." Caftan Woman fave Esther Howard is a treat as Jesse, such a far cry from the tidy Miz Zeffie of Sullivan's Travels. Jessie Florian's actions let Marlowe know that something is in the wind on this Velma case.

Marlowe's next client is a dandy by the name of Lindsay Marriot played by Douglas Walton. Toronto born Walton gave fine performances in many 1930s and 1940s films including The Lost Patrol and Bride of Frankenstein. It is one of the vagaries of the business that after early success too many of his roles are small or uncredited. It seems Marriot has a friend who has had some jewellery stolen and Marlowe is wanted to assist in buying back the lost bauble. Marlowe doesn't see much in it, but a job is a job. This job is murder.

Dick Powell, Claire Trevor 

Marriot's death brings a lot of things into the open and hides a lot more. Ann Grayle played by Anne Shirley comes into Marlowe's orbit. She's got "a face like a Sunday school picnic", and she's worried. Ann's father played by Miles Mander (The Little Princess) has a high maintenance younger wife and he is a collector of jade, some of which has gone missing.

Mrs. Grayle is played by Claire Trevor (Stagecoach) and she's the real deal when it comes to a femme fatale. The manipulative blonde likes to make things happen, but what is driving her? Is it the mysterious Jules Amthor played by Otto Kruger (High Noon). The cops seem to think so. The only thing we know for certain as Marlowe lays out the tale for us is that our hero is in for a world of hurt.

Dick Powell, Anne Shirley 

Journalist John Paxton adapted The Long Goodbye as one of his first assignments at RKO. Paxton specialized in crime features such as Crossfire, Cornered, Crack-Up, Rope of Sand and the black comedy How to Murder a Rich Uncle. He also adapted Nevile Shute's On the Beach for the big screen and Murder, My Sweet producer Adrian Scott's play The Great Man's Whiskers for television. Paxton and director Dmytryk were both nominated for the Oscar for Crossfire, and collaborated on Cornered and So Well Remembered. Harry Wild was the cinematographer on Murder, My Sweet and also photographed Cornered and Till the End of Time for Dmytryk.

"All film-noir are crime drama, but not all crime drama are film-noir."
- Caftan Woman

Edward Dmytryk told Elwy Yost on TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies that most of the lighting decisions for the crime dramas he made in the 1940s were due to budget restraints. Was the director being slightly disingenuous? I think that the creative choices behind any style should not be forced. There should be an organic reaction, a kick in the gut that says this is noir. It is like looking at a fashionably dressed person. They should look like they rolled out of bed looking the way they do. You shouldn't be wondering about how long it took them to arrive at the effect.  

So if you find yourself overwhelmed by sunshine and lollipops, TCM has your cure on Monday, March 11 at 11:00 am when they screen Murder, My Sweet. A perfect start to any week.


  1. Caftan Woman, since we've made no secret of our mutual love of Dick Powell's performance as Philip Marlowe, I've been eagerly awaiting the inevitable day when you'd do your own take on MURDER, MY SWEET, and just as I figured, you truly knocked this one outta the park! You really covered all the bases and then some, including the The Falcon version! BRAVA to you on a fabulous post, my friend!

  2. After such praise I'll be mighty hard to live with! Thanks a lot.

  3. I refer to the talented Mr. Powell as "my favourite Marlowe". It takes up more characters on twitter, but it's what I do.
    "Jules Amthor" was Otto Kruger's claim to fame for me until TCM had recent screenings of "Dracula's Daughter" and "Ever In My Heart" (4-hankies). How about a blog about Mr. Kruger? Yes, I think once a month you should write a requested blog suggested by your loyal readers. Or at least, me! Thank you in advance! xxx

  4. Way to put me on the spot, Miss McCrocodile. However, it's not a bad idea considering how lazy I can get at times.

    I just knew you were one of the Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe fans. We'll have to get together with Dorian and have a party.

  5. I tend to forget Powell was also a musical star before his turn as Marlowe, even though I love "Susan Slept Here." Thanks for the reminder, this will be on the DVR list!

  6. This was aces, lady. Especially this: "I think that the creative choices behind any style should not be forced. There should be an organic reaction, a kick in the gut that says this is noir. It is like looking at a fashionably dressed person. They should look like they rolled out of bed looking the way they do. You shouldn't be wondering about how long it took them to arrive at the effect."

    Love it, and any comparison of the human condition to "Silly Symphonies". You're the tops.

  7. A MURDER, MY SWEET party? C.W., Miss McCrocodile, you bring the bubbly and I'll bring the homemade brownies! Of course, my idea of bubbly is Coca-Cola, so BYOB may be required. That's me, the Queen of Debauchery! :-D

  8. Yes, yes! Dick Powell is the best Philip Marlowe and MURDER, MY SWEET is the best adaptation of a Raymond Chandler "Marlowe" novel (and I have read them all, including "Playback"). By the way, I pulled out my copy of THE FALCON TAKES OVER, with the intent of reviewing it in the near future. As always, a wonderful post!

  9. Hi, JG. There are certain songs from those old Warner's musical that I can't imagine anyone else warbling except for Dick Powell. However, I'm one happy detective fan that he grew tired of that schtick and found his true calling.

  10. JTL, you made my day. You'll simply have to join the Powell/Marlowe party that's in the works.

  11. Dorian, as long as it's not Diet Cola, you can count me in. Debauchery? Why, we'll be just like Stan and Ollie in "Blotto" when cold tea in a booze bottle sent them over the edge.

  12. Thanks so much, Rick.

    I look forward to your tackling "The Falcon Takes Over". Unusual choice for the series, but it worked.

  13. I think Powell's experience in romantic musicals, helped with his performance in this film as a conflicted character, with a side dish of humor. I can see why this film was said to be his favorite role.

  14. Dawn, you've made the movie even more of a treat with that tidbit about it being Powell's favourite role.

  15. Caftan Woman, you said: "Dorian, as long as it's not Diet Cola, you can count me in...we'll be just like Stan and Ollie in "Blotto" when cold tea in a booze bottle sent them over the edge."

    LOL! Never fear, C.W., we only serve the good stuff here: Coca-Cola, and RC Cola when we can find it! But we're open to new things within reason :-D

  16. "He never lost his knack for sweetness and flat out comedy either as displayed in You Never Can Tell, Mrs. Mike and Susan Slept Here."

    I loved this -- Powell really could do it all!

    Spent a few hours yesterday writing about Powell for a future project, so it was great fun to wake up and read someone else's appreciation of one of my fave actors! :) A great pick for the month.

    Best wishes,

  17. I should have known, Dorian. We're going first class all the way.

  18. Thanks, Laura. I'm really looking forward to your work on the wonderful Dick Powell.

  19. I love Dick Powell in these roles, whether it's Philip Marlowe or the radio gumshoe Richard Diamond.

    I will set my DVR for Monday! Thanks for the heads up!

  20. I agree. The "gumshoe" fit Powell like a glove.

  21. I think Dick Powell had one of the most interesting careers of any actor or actress in Hollywood. It's like a three-act play - musicals, noir and TV producer and film director - and he's great in all of them. I think there's a couple of books worth of material on Dick Powell.

    Great post, CW.

  22. Thanks, Kevin. When are you starting to work on that book?

  23. Just came here after reading Maddy's post. Love the intro. That is exactly why I like Noir so much. Sometimes all this happy cuteness is just too much.

    I too think Powell was the best Marlowe. Bogart was a much better fit for Sam Spade. Many people somehow seem to think Marlowe and Spade are interchangeable characters which is not true at all.

    He made the right decision to leave musicals behind. Powell fit perfectly into the Noir universe.

    1. It would be quite a loss for us if Powell's career didn't follow its logical trajectory.



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