Dmytryk and writer John Paxton do a fair job of keeping the first-person narration intact (the set-up is that Marlowe is being grilled by the usual suspicious police and he's giving his side of how things went down), and keeping a steady pace that's surprisingly fast. And although they didn't use Chandler's exact phraseology, they do a nicely watered down, tightened-up version of it for cinema audiences for whom thinking too much of the cleverness of a metaphor as it passes by their cerebellum might slow down a film's momentum. Call it "Chandler Lite." Although a lot of it is quite good, if less surly. One of my favorites is when someone says they don't like Marlowe's manners: "Yeah, I've gotten complaints, but they keep getting worse."
|Powell can't get too far from his roots—he does a fancy two-step|
in the "mausoleum" of a foyer.
And Dmytryck has the noir feeling down, being as he was one of the architects of the style. Begin your movie in transition so the audience has a lot of questions it has to answer, go heavy on the atmosphere and always exit the scene with a sardonic quip. You already know you're in the hands of a master with the sequence that introduces "Moose" Malloy (Mike Mazurki) who just suddenly appears as a menacing reflection in the window that only appears in the reflection of a nearby flashing neon light. It's as disconcerting...well, as disconcerting "as a tarantula on an angel food cake", thank you very much! Dmytryck also has fun dancing around the brim of the Hayes Code in the two knock-out sequences of Marlowe being knocked out—always a hallmark of Marlowe stories and fans of inky pools of blackness, Long Goodbyes and Big Sleeps (or "Big Lebowski's," if you'd rather, later).
Indispensible in the mix is a high concentration of sass which is provided by that queen of the form, Claire Trevor, whose performance as an evil step-monster is almost too much of a good thing. Murder, My Sweet would have been a rich enough story without her. Her presence and its tilting of the sexual equation slams this one deep onto the classic shelf. Powell would play Marlowe again on television, but this initial outing made him definitive...until Bogart came along.
But, for the record...Chandler always said that Powell was his favorite version of Marlowe.
* The Big Sleep with Bogart as Marlowe was made the same year, but not released until two years later.
** They finally got around to using the title in the 1975 Dick Richards remake that starred Robert Mitchum, who would have been too pretty for Marlowe in his youth, but had aged into a wrinkled world-weariness that worked. When he was approached by producer Elliott Kastner and financier Sir Lew Grade to play the part—after their first choice, Richard Burton (??!!), had turned it down—Mitchum says that he said: "Why don't you just re-release Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell and we can all go to the beach?"