Action/Adventure Mystery/Noir

Farewell, My Lovely

A film critic once wrote of one of my recommendations, the 1998 retro-noir Twilight, that you might have to be over 35 to really enjoy it. That may also be true of this week’s film recommendation, a reverent revival of detective noir starring an old hand at the genre: 1975’s Farewell, My Lovely.

The plot is from a Raymond Chandler novel, so in some sense there is no point in explaining it because his books are more about language and character than storyline (indeed, it didn’t even bother him to realize that he himself didn’t know who committed one of the murders in The Big Sleep). But anyway, private eye Phillip Marlowe is hired by Moose Malloy, a mountain of a man with rice pudding for brains (ex-heavyweight boxer Jack O’Halloran, perfectly cast in his acting debut). Moose lost track of his girlfriend Velma after he went to prison, and now that he is out he wants Marlowe’s help in tracking her down. But every time Marlowe starts to get close to locating her, there is a violent backlash against him, Moose or both. Powerful forces clearly don’t want Velma found, but who are they and what is their motive?

The most famous and lionized adaptation of Chandler’s novel was made in 1944 under the name Murder, My Sweet, with Dick Powell as Marlowe. I have written about how I never quite bought Powell’s transformation from pre-war light comedy/song and dance man to noir tough guy (His contemporary John Payne was more successful). In contrast, the star of the 1975 version, Robert Mitchum, was born for this kind of stuff.

As a world-weary, cynical, Phillip Marlowe, Mitchum carries the 1975 adaptation end to end with aplomb. Many movie tough guys tried to play the invulnerable hero in their autumn years and looked a bit silly or even embarrassing. Mitchum, in his mid-50s, is playing a guy in his mid-50s and he’s just not that tough anymore. Indeed, in this movie, he takes way more physical punishment from the bad guys than he can dish out.

Sylvia Miles received a supporting actress Oscar nomination for solid work here as a boozy floozy, but it just as well might have gone to little known Kate Murtagh for her ferocious performance as a tough-as-nails madam. It’s also fun to see John Ireland, so often the bad guy in the heyday of noir (see for example my recommendation of Railroaded!), playing the “one honest cop” role here. Charlotte Rampling makes a sultry, Bacall-esque femme fatale whose hair is the color of gold in old paintings and who gives a man a smile that he can feel in his pocket (Added fun for noir fans: her screen entrance mirrors Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity). Also look fast for a young Sylvester Stallone in a small part.

Director Dick Richards really took a chance in making this old story in the 1970s with no condescension or trendy upgrades. The whole look of the film is a throwback, particularly the almost Sepia Tone color scheme created by the set and costume designers and cinematographer John Alonzo (who also shot Chinatown). If this had been shot in black and white, it could have been released to praise in the 1940s or 1950s. Some critics found that tiresome and affected, but for me this retelling of the classic story is as honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it’s going out of style.

Action/Adventure Mystery/Noir


Anthony Mann is justly revered by film buffs for his noir westerns with Jimmy Stewart, but he alo essayed more traditional urban noirs. One of the best is his 1947 low-budget triumph, Railroaded!.

The film opens with a high-voltage portrayal of a blown stickup, as some luckless bad guys fail to get away clean while robbing a gambling joint, despite having inside help. But the heart of the story comes after the opening fireworks, as the lead gunman (reliable bad guy John Ireland) and his boozy floozy (Jane Randolph, who excelled in these kinds of roles) frame an innocent man (a sympathetic Ed Kelly) for the crime. A police detective (a pre-Leave it to Beaver Hugh Beaumont) at first isn’t convinced that the guy in the frame is innocent, but is persuaded to investigate by the attractive, goodly sister of the accused (Sheila Ryan). Action, suspense and romance ensue.

This film was made on Poverty Row, which churned out low-budget B-movies until its business underpinnings were destroyed by the Paramount Supreme Court Case, which I have written about before. The budgets of Poverty Row studios were too small and the films were shot too quickly to consistently achieve quality, but these studios were also a playground for talented people who went on to better opportunities later, including Anthony Mann. The Poverty Row studios were also more comfortable pushing the envelope with the censors, an example in Railroaded! is that when the slatternly Randolph and the saintly Ryan meet in this movie, they get into an extended brawl! (Nice touch by the way: They were dressed in inverted colors for the fight, Ryan all in sinful black, Randolph in angelic white).

Railroaded!, in addition to being an exciting story on its own terms, shows how creative filmmakers can overcome low budgets. The noir lighting and plenty of closeups keep the viewers from contemplating the cheap props and sets. And Mann’s brisk pace (the film is not much more than an hour long) stops anyone from thinking too hard about some of the less plausible aspects of a script, which would have benefited from one more rewrite to iron out some plot contrivances.

By the way, Hugh Beaumont isn’t the only person in this tough, dark crime movie who went on to inordinately wholesome TV stardom. Ellen Corby, who later became Grandma Walton, appears uncredited as Mrs. Wills.

In summary, this is a remarkably solid and entertaining movie given that its budget was probably around two bits. I believe the poverty row studio movies are in the public domain at this point, so I am posting Railroaded! right here for you to enjoy.