For years I’ve considered Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet) and Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep) the best incarnations of the hard-bitten Detective Marlowe ever to live on the silver screen. But now that I’ve studied Mitchum’s portrayal in this 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, I’m not as surlily confident. Powell and Bogart, handsome and relatively young at their times of embodiment, made Marlowe’s romanticized misanthropy something of a charming quirk, not an overwhelming character trait. But Mitchum, 57 upon release and an unequaled film noir legend of the 1940s and ‘50s, captures the quintessential “seen-it-all” demeanor the previously mentioned masterpieces were missing — unlike his more celebrated counterparts, an authentic grit is very much a part of his persona.
So it’s a pleasant surprise that Farewell, My Lovely neither feels like an homage to the film noir genre nor an update. It has the moods and mannerisms found in the best of examples, perhaps because of Dick Richards’s beautifully detail oriented direction, because Mitchum himself was a thriving figure of the genre, or because Charlotte Rampling really does look and act an awful lot like Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor. But the movie doesn’t just hit all the right notes of film noir tropes: it also enlivens them, like a Chopin classic being played by an energized Valentina Lisitsa. It walks and breathes, contrasting greatly to most neo-noir in that it doesn’t seem all too dependent on following in the footsteps of the classics adored before it.
It is the second adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely, the first being 1944’s wonderful Murder, My Sweet, the name changed in an attempt to morph Dick Powell’s song-and-dance career into something serious. But comparison is unnatural, as Murder is a hard-boiled, of-the-time entry, while Farewell is self-aware, stylistically savvy, and unafraid of censorship. To say which is better would be an atrocity — both are masterworks in their own right — but similar is their spirit, by which exploring the underbellies of Los Angeles’s seedy crime world is exciting, mazy, and intoxicating, bewildering in the truest sense of the word.
Farewell, My Lovely follows Marlowe as he is tasked with two complex cases, one of passion and one of fear. The first is assigned by Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran), a dumb lug determined to find an old flame, prostitute Velma, after being released from prison. The other job is kicked off by Lindsay Marriott (John O’Leary), a blackmail victim in need of protection. As in all good and decent film noir, of course the cases are related, and of course are much more intricate than a first appearance might suggest. But Marlowe approaches both with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart, curiosity accidental.
In most adaptations of Raymond Chandler written, Marlowe centric novels, things are better when we aren’t so sure of the inner workings of the plot — atmosphere is given a chance to shine, conversations flowing like honey without ever necessarily moving the story forward. Most important in Farewell, My Lovely is its hazy, soporific aura, and we’re pulled into its world of smoke and mirrors like a hypnotist’s victim.
Characters move in and out, setting the tones and colors of individual scenes; most memorable is Rampling, as femme fatale Helen Grayle, who is one of the few actresses able to persuade us that she could have made it as a movie star in any decade of her choosing, a timeless figure of acting ability matching in allure. And Richards knows how to handle this sort of material, and these sorts of actors — we can tell that he grew up on film noir, a treasurer of its mythical conceits and not one to dramatically hinder what made the genre so special in the first place. His control over his audience is striking.
But Farewell, My Lovely is sensational as a whole, vivid and a possessor of all the most enjoyable characteristics of the category. Most conclude that 1974’s Chinatown, unseen by me, is the superior homage of the 1970s. But I can hardly picture another genre film as wayward, as piping hot to the touch, as this. A-
Harry Dean Stanton
1 Hr., 31 Mins.
Farewell, My Lovely February 5, 2016
obert Mitchum’s Philip Marlowe is tired. His face is lined, his eyes bagged, his attitude contemptuous. He’s seen it all: a gun, a fist, is not so much a threat as it is an irritation — a dweller of the Los Angeles night for his entire adult life, nothing scares him anymore. Henchmen, hookers, death? A bore. The only thing that gives him a real kind of joy, oddly, is the watching of Joe DiMaggio’s career flourish. At least criminals and masqueraded snakes aren’t sneaking around that particular region of the world.