Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Dick Powell's Transitional Movie

"She was a charming middle–aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud."

Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell)

I have no memory of Dick Powell before he first portrayed film noir detective Philip Marlowe on the big screen in "Murder, My Sweet," which premiered 70 years ago today.

That I have no memory of it should be no surprise, really. My parents were teenagers and wouldn't meet for several years yet when "Murder, My Sweet" hit the nation's movie screens.

But what I really mean to say is that I don't recall ever seeing Powell in any of his song–and–dance flicks. That, apparently, was what he did until making the movie that made its debut 70 years ago today.

That was a pretty big development. Before "Murder, My Sweet," as I say, Powell was known as a song–and–dance and romantic lead, but he didn't have to do anything that strenuous in "Murder, My Sweet"— just deliver ironic and, at times, sarcastic lines. Powell, who took the role in large part because he felt he was too old to play romantic leads, went on to play Philip Marlowe in additional movies and on the radio.

He successfully reinvented himself as a dramatic actor at the age of 40. That reinventing yourself stuff isn't easy to do. Well, I guess the reinventing yourself part isn't too difficult. It's the successfully part that seems to throw so many folks.

Of the story, there really isn't much to say. Powell was hired to find the former girlfriend of an ex–con who lost track of her while he was in prison for eight years. Other things happened, too, but I'll leave that for you to discover on your own. Just make sure you don't confuse the story lines.

If it seems familiar to more modern audiences, it is worth mentioning that it was remade in 1975 under the original title of author Raymond Chandler's novel upon which it was based — "Farewell, My Lovely," which was primarily noteworthy for being an early screen appearance of Sylvester Stallone.

But, for the most part, "Murder, My Sweet" endures as the origin of many of the film noir cliches with which you are familiar.

For many folks, it's the answer to a trivia question. You'll see what I mean when you watch this movie. I remember watching movies like that with some of my college buddies. We would laugh at certain points, suddenly realizing where something we had joked about all our lives actually originated.

For me, whenever I watch "Murder, My Sweet," I expect to see Steve Martin in a cameo from "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid."

No kidding.

I was once watching this movie with some friends of mine (actually more like friends of the family, several years older). Suddenly, I was reminded of a scene from "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," and I burst out laughing. My friends stared at me as if I were crazy. I couldn't let them in on the joke.

Maybe eventually they got it.