Vids I Dig 131: Razörfist: Film Noirchives: ‘Murder, My Sweet’

 

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description: A wisecracking detective. A bombshell blonde femme fatale. Missing jewelry. A mysterious murder. It’s getting awfully noir in here.

Film Review: Cry Danger (1951)

Release Date: February 21st, 1951 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Parrish
Written by: William Bowers, Jerome Cady
Music by: Paul Dunlap, Emil Newman
Cast: Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman, William Conrad, Regis Toomey, Jean Porter

RKO Radio Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Occasionally I always drink too much.” – Delong

Dick Powell has a really rugged edge to him. He’s a good looking guy and charismatic but he has this grit. So when he is in a film-noir, I definitely want to see him perform, balls to the wall, ready to go.

Powell plays Rocky Mulloy, a man fresh out of prison who was sent there for a robbery and murder that he didn’t commit. A man named Delong got Rocky released by giving a fake alibi. Delong really wants a share of the $100,000 that Rocky wasn’t involved in stealing. Rocky sets out to find who framed him and to clear his name and the name of his still imprisoned friend Danny. Rocky and Delong move into a trailer park where Danny’s wife (and former lover of Rocky’s) has been living. Rocky is also told that he will be watched 24 hours a day by police, who are waiting for him to slip up. Soon he is caught up in a plot with a criminal bookie while being pulled into a new game of deception.

The film is very straightforward with some good twists and layers to the plot that aren’t too predictable and unlike other film-noir pictures that try to throw a lot of curveballs, this one doesn’t feel convoluted or overly complicated. It just goes by like a breeze and is effective.

Powell is great at playing a no nonsense hard ass and also able to convey his emotions in regards to being heartbroken and deceived. He just has this ability to give a simple stoic look that says more than words can.

The rest of the acting is pretty good but Powell really is a step out in front of everyone else. He takes over the scene, not because he is trying to steal the spotlight but because he just has that “it” thing that the rest of the cast doesn’t have.

The cinematography is simple and clean. There’s not a lot of visual razzle dazzle but there doesn’t need to be. Everything looks good and there are no flaws sticking out like sore thumbs.

Cry Danger isn’t the best film-noir or even the best one starring Powell. However, it is still a nice, engaging picture with a short running time that gets going fast and doesn’t stop until the final frame.

It’s not a fine cocktail but it’s a smooth yet strong shot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other noirs featuring Powell: Murder, My SweetCornered and The Tall Target (which is less noir and more action thriller).

Film Review: Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Also known as: Farewell, My Lovely (UK)
Release Date: December 9th, 1944
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“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

I watched this Philip Marlowe picture back-to-back with The Big Sleep in an effort to compare the two Marlowe pictures and the two Marlowes: Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart. Plus, both films had the distinction of being remade three decades later with Robert Mitchum playing Marlowe in both of those movies.

Murder, My Sweet is a really good motion picture. It isn’t quite as good as The Big Sleep, though. But this definitely fits in with the style and tone of an RKO noir movie. Some people prefer this to The Big Sleep but it’s hard to top Bogart for me, especially as a private detective. Although, Powell feels more like Philip Marlowe from a literary standpoint.

Claire Trevor is pretty good in this and I liked her chemistry with Powell, even if it pales in comparison to Bogart and Bacall. The acting was top notch and these two brought their best to the table and delivered. I really enjoyed Anne Shirley the most, however. She was cute and quirky and just a lot of fun on screen.

One really cool thing about this film were the visual effects every time Marlowe got knocked unconscious. A liquid black pool would come into the frame and wash away the scene. There was also a good amount of visual flair used in the hallucination sequences. I was surprised to see how trippy this movie was, especially for something from the 1940s. It predates yet reminds me of some of the trippy sequences from Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

I also love the dialogue in this film. It is a quintessential film-noir in that regard. Powell and Trevor just trade quick witty jabs back and forth, in what is a true display of that savvy and savory noir conversational style.

Otto Kruger also makes a good villainous character. In my opinion, he steals the scenes he’s in. He just has a presence and an air about him that is pretty uncanny. Mike Mazurki plays Moose Malloy, the film’s heavy and the muscle of Kruger’s Amthor. The physical exchange between Powell, Mazurki and Kruger is one of the best of the classic noir era.

Murder, My Sweet is a solid and fun picture. Noir films aren’t typically fun, most are dark and brooding, but this injects a lightheartedness into the style. It isn’t as heavy as other films like it and since I’ve been watching a lot of noir, as of late, this was a nice break from the moodier tone that’s typical of the style.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Split Second (1953)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1953
Directed by: Dick Powell, Fred Fleck (assistant)
Written by: Irving Wallace, Chester Erskine
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, Keith Andes

RKO Radio Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You ever been locked up? Some people can stand it and some people can’t. The ones who can’t would kill themselves and anybody else just to get out for five minutes.” – Sam Hurley

Split Second is a really unique film-noir. It taps into the post-World War II paranoia about the effects of nuclear bombs and radiation. While this sort of plot point was typically reserved for sci-fi films featuring kaiju or giant insects, RKO Radio Pictures took a shot at it in the context of a noir picture.

The film is directed by Dick Powell, a guy synonymous with noir, who starred in several, most notably: Murder, My SweetPitfall and Johnny O’Clock. It stars Stephen McNally, who was most known for westerns, which fit well for the desert setting of this film. Plus, he also dabbled in noir. He was a detective in Robert Siodmak’s highly regarded Criss Cross.

The premise for this film is simple. An escaped killer holds a doctor’s wife and other people hostage in an old Nevada ghost town. Unbeknownst to him, it is an atomic bomb testing site and the government is going to drop a bomb on them.

Unfortunately, for a film with a really interesting premise, it isn’t all that exciting. It’s kind of drab and drawn out, even at just 85 minutes. It’s just full of a lot of drama between the criminal and his hostages in a cabin in the ghost town. He argues, he slaps people around, he shoots them if he has to but none of it really holds any weight and isn’t something you haven’t seen a million times. It’s a fairly mundane hostage movie and not much more, really.

This is a film that needed to build suspense but it fails to do so. You don’t really like anyone, even the good guys, and you just kind of wish the government would move up the time of the bombing. They do at the very end, actually.

It’s not particularly well acted but it isn’t poorly acted, it’s just very bland and feels like it’s missing something. Maybe there should have been less hostages, this group just feels like a lot of people that, if they played their cards right, would be able to overcome their captor fairly easily.

I also had to shake my head when the people escaped the atomic bomb by hiding in a mine and then after it went off, walked out of the mine and declared it safe. I’m pretty sure people in the 1950s had already known that atomic bombs breed radiation and that radiation is really, really bad.

Rating: 6/10

 

Film Review: Pitfall (1948)

Release Date: August 24th, 1948
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Karl Kamb, Andre DeToth (uncredited), William Bowers (uncredited)
Based on: The Pitfall by Jay Dratler
Music by: Louis Forbes (uncredited)
Cast: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Raymond Burr, Jane Wyatt, Ann Doran

Regal Films, United Artists, 86 Minutes

Review:

“She probably doesn’t appeal to you but for me, she’s just what I told the doctor to order.” – J.B. MacDonald

I have always liked Dick Powell in film-noir and Lizabeth Scott had my heart from the first moment I saw her. She is one of my favorite leading ladies of all-time, especially from her era. This picture also has Raymond Burr, a guy I’ve always been a fan of since discovering Godzilla at a young age and because of my mum’s love of Perry Mason reruns. Ann Doran also shows up in this movie.

Frankly, there are a lot of good pieces here but the film mostly falls flat. It is film-noir in style but it’s more about infidelity. Strangely, being that this was a 1940s film and that the Hollywood rules were strict on morals, Dick Powell’s character gets off really easy. The truth behind this, is that the film was actually in violation of the Hays Code but Andre DeToth, the director, went before two senior board members and pointed out that they both had mistresses. Needless to say, the film was released as DeToth envisioned it.

Dick Powell is solid in the movie but doesn’t have the presence he had when he was the first actor to play the famous Philip Marlowe character in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet or when he was his typical “tough guy” characters. Lizabeth Scott was as beautiful as ever and had charm and charisma but her character, overall, didn’t have the gravitas of some of her other roles. Raymond Burr, at this point, was just the standard heavy but that was really his role until he became Perry Mason on television.

The problem with this film, is that it starts out strong, moves at a brisk pace but then loses itself somewhere in the middle. While it tackles a provocative subject, for the time, it handles the situation with kid gloves and doesn’t really explore the underlying darkness of the characters’ indiscretions. And as much as I like the cast, I just don’t care enough about their characters.

Pitfall is not a bad film and most people seem to like it more than I did. It’s just one of those movies that pulls you in and then releases you well before the story is over.

Rating: 6.25/10