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In the wake of 'The Long Goodbye' and, especially, 'Chinatown', there was
profusion in the mid- to late-70s of recreated films noirs of the
Chandlerian bent, many featuring aging stars. 'Farewell My Lovely' is one
of the best - while it does not reek of the depravity of Dmytryk's 1944
version, starring Dick Powell, it is broader in scope, and truer to a kind
of lived-in realism, as opposed to hard-boiled iconography. It's nice to
see 1940s L.A. close to what it might have looked like, and not the vague
dreamworlds presented by classic noir. it would be a mistake to assume
this is a progressive, or revisionist movie - while it scores well in its
treatment of race, the fundamental misogyny of Chandler's source novel and
Dmytryk's film lingers. Indeed, it is less palatable, in that 40s
made its villainesses glamorous, charismatic and desirable; Charlotte
Rampling seems barely to exist on screen, a mere assemblage of corruption
and cold amorality.
The hard-boiled detective fictions of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were created in conscious opposition to the reactionary puzzles of the English Golden Age (eg Agatha Christie), which were exercises in asserting order and social control. Chandler tried to express a bleaker reality, one where arbitrary violence and corruption is not so easily contained, where smaller crimes may be solved, but society itself is rotten, diseased, irredeemable. Chandler pits his hero Philip Marlowe against this malaise, tough, solitary, misanthropic, frequently compared to medieval knights, as hopelessly out of his time as Don Quixote.
Chandler's novels are completely filtered through the prejudiced narration of Marlowe, so instead of realism we get a barely controlled expressionism, riddled with ideology. Marlowe is unable to trust anyone, and defines himself against everyone else, the Other, especially women and blacks. This is a subtext in the novel, but RIchards foregrounds it in the early scenes of this film. When Marlowe enters a black neighbourhood investigating Velma, he is very uncomfortable in an alien environment. Although, as a detective, he has the freedom to navigate the city, to access both poor black neighbourhoods and obscenely wealthy white mansions in a way neither one of these nor the other can, he is still constrained by ideology, the ideology of his times - he is not as apart from the corruption as he thinks. And so we frequently see him indoors, even imprisoned, by cops and criminals alike - like a conservative, everything is connected for Marlowe, except everything stinks.
This making mental states physical is important for a narrative seen through its hero's head. It puts us on our guard, distances us from Marlowe in a way Chandler never lets us, allows us to be more critical. Another device is the bizarre use of narrative voiceover. This seems conventional enough, Marlowe telling us the story, controlling, interpreting, often verbatim from the book. But his voiceover is broken - he starts addressing us, then, within that, he tells Nulty a story; so that the viewer is at two removes from a story that we only have it's teller's word for its veracity. In its modest way, the film DOES have revisionist aspirations.
Unlike Altman's film, 'Farewell' is purely enjoyable on the level of a murder-mystery thriller - the plot is satisfyingly, Chandlerianly (sic?) opaque; there are sufficient interesting supporting characters; the violence seems quaintly 1940s; the music is exciting. The film, therefore, would be pleasant, but harmless, except for one crucial element: Robert Mitchum, America's greatest actor. His aging Marlowe might be more appropriate to 'The Long Goodbye', but this is an astonishing portrait of middle- giving on to old-age, a study of a man struggling with cynicism, trying to maintain order (wisecracks; narration; frequent references to baseball, a game with rules) and humanity (the kid) in a world that only offers diabolic inversions of each.
Even more resonantly, the film is a film about film noir, about acting, about Robert Mitchum, soon to become famous in the period represented, soon the embodiment of the doomed noir hero. The Chandlerian dialogue that works wonderfully on the page can seem corny and stilted when spoken, but Mitchum pulls it off with melancholy beauty. He is the only screen Marlowe that seems like an actual human being who has lived - not even Bogie quite managed that.
This is an extremely underrated film. It has a deliciousness, shot in whiskey tones. Mitchum's voice-over, with all the wry Chandler-esque tired wisdom, strikes a great balance of period, humor and self-awareness. Charlotte Rampling lives up to the sad, irresistible breathtaking beauty that you try to imagine reading some of Chandler's books. There was another Mitchum-Marlowe (The Big Sleep), and he was certainly born to play this role, but it missed the taste. Not so with this one. It's positively redolent. Great mystery story and lots of fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS I don't think such effort would have been put into this film
had it not followed so closely upon the heels of the superlative
"Chinatown." It isn't as original or, generally speaking, as well done
as "Chinatown" but it's the most admirable adaptation of Chandler
that's come to the screen so far.
The opening musical theme sets the tone for the rest of the film -- a melancholy trombone over some lush and wistful strings. (In "Chinatown" it was a lonely trumpet, and the incidental music was more original, even though by Goldsmith.) The photography here is by the same artist, Alonzo, and equals that in "Chinatown," although the tone is darker. The interiors are shadowy and menacing. There are only one or two brief, sunny outdoor-California scenes, and none of the beauty of Echo Park at mid-day. The period detail is outstanding, right down to the cheap tumblers with those three or four colored rings that Jesse Florian guzzles bourbon from. And the time is evoked equally well by references to Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak in 1941 which, like any optimism Philip Marlowe might show during the story, finally ends. (DiMaggio picked up his hitting streak again for another incredible number, but that doesn't belong here.) And, yes, the Grail mansion is resplendent but this is a movie about the seedy parts of Los Angeles, as Mitchum's idiosyncratic voiceovers keep informing us. "It was the kind of place I was always afraid I'd wind up in -- alone and broke." Some of the other felicities are as funny as they were intended to be: "My bank account was trying to crawl under a duck's belly." "She threw me a look I could feel in my hip pocket."
The plot is hard to follow. All Chandler's plots are hard to follow. They're annoying. And he was sober while writing this one too. If you miss Mitchum's wrap-up explanation at the end, I guarantee you will never connect fai sui jade with Velma Galento. Hawks used to complain about his version of "The Big Sleep" that nobody could figure out who committed one of the murders, not even the director.
The performances, however, are uniformly fine, especially Mitchum's He was at that point in his career when his face -- his whole demeanor -- were beginning to sag. True he's big, and he's been through a lot and he can take it, but he's beginning to tire and go soft. It's reflected both in his voice and his appearance. He has the appropriate ambivalent relationship with the police. The chief, Nulty, is a political animal but sympathetic in his own way. His assistant, played by Harry Dean Stanton, is a corrupt cop and is seen pocketing a silver cigarette case at a crime scene. (Their exact equivalents can be seen in "Chinatown.") There is some nudity in this film. Of course it wasn't in the novel. But it's not out of place. A few brief glimpses in a cathouse and they have an almost hallucinatory quality corresponding to Mitchum's mental state at the time. Sylvia Miles is superb prancing around with a buzz on, trying to resurrect her wrecked voice and equally wrecked body. The other performances deserve compliments too. Charlotte Rampling has been criticized but I'm not sure why. She oozes a kind of sensual deviance. Jack Halloran, alas, isn't really that good. Except for his devotion to Velma he's clumsy, selfish, and not at all sympathetic. There are some editorial touches here that make this something more than another cheap imitation noir. Moose picks up a heckler in "the colored joint" and throws him onto a table with hardly any show of effort. Cut to a joint shot of Mitchum glancing over at the black bartender as they exchange looks conveying the general idea that this behemoth is nobody to jerk around. For those who think Mitchum somnambulates through his films, watch the scene in which Madam Anthor slaps his face and he pauses, then lets out a horrifying feral shout, lunges out of his chair and belts her.
It's a worthwhile film, maybe with somewhat more appeal for middle-aged or exhausted people. Mitchum's speech to Nulty towards the end is actually rather moving. "Thanks, Nulty, but that's not what I need right now. I need a lot of life insurance. I need another drink. I need a vacation, a house in the country. Everything I touch turns to s***. I've got a hat and a coat and a gun, and that's it." That kind of dialog stands out like a tarantula on a slice of angel-food cake.
You know something? In the entire film we never once see the inside of Mitchum's house or apartment. The guy seems to be homeless. No wonder he's tired.
This re-make of Raymond Chandler's work has the edge on the 1944 film.
Robert Mitchum's face fits the film perfectly. His ageing hard
boiled-looking features look like a relief map of the Rocky Mountains!
In this movie Mitchum was as good he has ever been. He got better as he
got older. What I also liked was the haunting but soulful musical
score, at the beginning and at the end.
In the closing scene an atmosphere of rising crisis that seems to hang in the air; created by the soulful musical score. Marlow with the case all wrapped up and himself at a loose end; in the amusement centre playing the machines, picks up a discarded newspaper with "Tokyo" in bold print as the front page headline. Was this the late hours of the 6th of December in Los Angeles? A sailor and his girl, and a soldier in the background makes it seem so. Both the sailor and the soldier, and the whole of America blissfully unaware, that a Japanese armada has shaped a easterly course
across the North Pacific. That scene coupled with the soulful musical score is like a forlorn-sounding and doom-laden overture to what is about to happen with surprising and devastating suddenness on the following but quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. It is not surprising that one of the songs is titled, "Sunday".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Farewell, My Lovely was for a long time the Holy Grail for me. I had heard about this film, heard how fantastic it is; as a tremendous fan of detective fiction and film noir, I was therefore dying to see it. Unfortunately, the DVD's been out of print for a couple years (since before I was aware of this movie's existence) and currently sells for outrageous prices on E-bay and Amazon. I'm surprised I'd not heard of Farewell until recently. I've seen Mitchum's turn as Marlowe in the Big Sleep (not as good as this film) and I adore him as an actor. I'm also quite fond of the Chandler novel upon which the movie is based (not quite as brilliant as The Big Sleep, but it tops pretty much every other novel Chandler wrote). All this should add up to me knowing this movie was out there. It did not. In any event, yesterday, I was roaming through the local video store - one of those big chains that has a lot of movies but no real winners - and I stumbled across a copy of Farewell (on DVD no less) whilst looking for another noir (After Dark, My Sweet is what I think it's called). I gladly slapped my $2 down for Farewell instead and ran home to watch it. It was well worth the money (but, because the transfer is awful and its in pan and scan format, not worth the $50 they want for a used copy on Amazon). Like Chinatown, released a year earlier, it has the look and feel of a late-40s detective film. The period detail is spot on and, had it not been for Charlotte Rampling, you would not seem insane for placing the movie's release date a decade or two earlier. Robert Mitchum, as Marlowe, amazes. As much as I love Hawks' the Big Sleep, Bogie never struck me as a Marlowe type. There's a hardness and angularity to his features that, for some reason, gives me pause. He simply doesn't strike me as Marlowe (he is, however, next to Mitchum in this movie the best filmed version of the man. Dick Powell is far too good looking and thin - Marlowe is a bulky man in my mind - and don't even get me started on Elliot Gould). Mitchum, with his oddly shaped head, jowls and labored, husky voice is perfect. The man is, as others have said, an icon and he brings all the Mitchum mythology with him to this role. It helps and makes the performance all the more surprising. What surprises is the softness that occasionally comes through his gruff, cynical exterior (tossing the ball with the kid, for example, or his treatment of Moose and Jessie). Here is a man who legitimately mourns the death of every character in this movie. This seems completely at odds with earlier portrayals of Marlowe (particularly Bogart's cold and eternally cynical performance), but it is a welcome change. The Marlowe of Farewell is, in fact, older and so why not softer as well? Mitchum's performance also flies in the face of the Mitchum-myth. Here, you will not find anything like the men he'd played in Cape Fear and Night of the Hunter. Through his movies and his real like escapades, Mitchum had made a name for himself as a b*****d. In Farewell, he is anything but, giving Marlowe a humanity and chivalric sense of duty present in the Chandler novels but generally absent from the filmed adaptations. The other performances are equally impressive. Rampling seems to channel Bacall from the Big Sleep in a limited but nevertheless effective performance, and Harry Dean Stanton, one of the greatest American actors, appears as a crooked cop. As I said, the period detail is incredible and the direction is unobtrusive. It's as solid a film noir as you're liable to find. If you have the opportunity, please watch it; you will not be disappointed.
L.A. of June 1941 as it was depicted in the Raymond Chandler's novel of
the same title is filled with the dark secrets of the past that better
stay uncovered. Philip Marlow, PE (Robert Mitcum) takes a job to find a
vanished girlfriend of the felon Moose Malloy, and he has no idea what
will follow. As Marlow searches for Velma Galento, he has to deal with
a beautiful but cold and calculating seductress (Charlotte Rampling -
young, sensual and dangerous), a jealous corrupt detective (Stanton),
an old alcoholic girlfriend (Sylvia Miles in one of her two Oscar
nominated performances, second - the shortest in the history of Oscars,
for "Midnight Cowboy"), and a buffed thug (Sylvester Stallone -- it was
fun to see him before he became a star of Rocky and Rambo).
This adaptation of Raymond Chandler novel features action, suspense, humor, mystery and Robert Mitchum in one of his best performances as a man struggling with cynicism, hatred, and betrayal.
The choice of Mitchum for the lead role really did work. The novel suggest a
tired Marlowe, who has had enough of being "detective to the stars". He
wants to get out of his seedy little life, and change things, but instead,
he gets wrapped up in another case. Mitchum's hang dog expression and tired
wise guy act sums up the depression of the fallen hero. This is not the
smooth talking Bogart, not the finely clipped and smooth Powell, but a
harder, more experienced Marlowe, a man more aware of his own downfall. As
he says to knulty, what he need is a nights sleep, what he needs is another
drink. After watching this truly excellent recreation of late forties LA,
I'm not sure that I couldn't agree with him.
Ah yes, and Charlotte Rampling and the sometime Thelma really was "cuter than lace pants"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
The year is 1941 and Joltin' Joe DiMaggio is on a hitting streak, and that is about the only thing in life that world-weary Philip Marlowe takes any pleasure in.
This is a workman-like adaptation of the novel by Raymond Chandler. Dimple-chinned Robert Mitchum at 58, an underrated actor with charisma and star appeal, is unfortunately a bit over the hill as Chandler's hard-nosed, realist gumshoe Philip Marlowe, especially when romancing the babes. Still he does a good job and seems almost made for the part.
The main babe that needs romancing here is Charlotte Rampling who plays Helen Grayle, a scheming, trampy, psychopathic, sexy thing on the make for anything she can get. She's the lovely who goes farewell--well, one of them.
Sylvia Miles got a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Mrs. Florian, one-time show girl turned lush. And Sylvester Stallone, looking almost as young as a choir boy, had a bit part as an anonymous thug. Jack O'Halloran played the very dense and obsessed Moose Malloy with a steady moronic malevolence. John Ireland is the good cop and Harry Dean Stanton the bad one. Kate Murtagh is the madam from hell who likes to throw her considerable weight around.
Comparing this to the original from 1944 entitled "Murder, My Sweet," staring Dick Powell and Claire Trevor, I have to say it is more realistic and edgier, and wonderfully atmospheric, but not as enjoyable, perhaps because Mitchum seems a little dead compared to Powell. But that is entirely the point, as Chandler's intent was to showcase a Philip Marlowe near the end of his tether, a man oppressed with the vileness of life and ready to toss it in.
In either case, the convoluted plot involving the missing "Velma," various Los Angeles dives, dead bodies aplenty, and lots of police and political corruption remains somewhat opaque but still manages to hold our interest.
See this for Robert Mitchum, one of Hollywood's greatest with over a hundred and thirty films to his credit, a man who personified nonchalance on the screen, a guy who felt equally at home in a "B" Western as in a dramatic feature, a man who mesmerized audiences with seeming indifference.
Robert Mitchum was born to play Philip Marlowe! The rest of the cast is excellent as well, with Charlotte Rampling particularly good and a cast with lots of familiar faces in supporting roles. A particularly good adaptation of Raymond Chandler with Sylvia Miles getting a Supporting Actress nomination by the Academy. Very good. Recommended.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
A Truly Gorgeous, Vivid, Stylish Color Noir...Don't Prejudge it on 1940s Noir Terms!
This is a gorgeous surprise, a retreat forward, a 1940s drama not done in painful nostalgic pastel hues and soft edges, but in bold bright 1975 color and pitch dark shadow. You have to say the obvious and get it over with: yes, this is a modern "film noir." But it isn't a mere homage, nor a remake, nor a cheap imitation. Director Dick Richards, who has no other well known film to his credit, pulls a gem out of nowhere on this one. Just be sure to watch it for what it is, a dramatic period crime film, not for what you think it ought to be, a slavish remake of a classic noir. And he has the help of the perfect cinematographer for the subject, John A. Alonzo, who did both Chinatown (the year before) and eight years later, Scarface, both post-noir landmark crime films.
Of course, this version of Farewell, My Lovely is, strictly speaking, a remake, which is to say, it's the third movie based on Raymond Chandler's 1940 novel of the same name. And inevitably we are going to compare to the other great version, Dmytryk's 1944 true, early film noir (called Murder, My Sweet). I say other great version, because both are really fine films, and different enough to avoid copycatting. Farewell, My Lovely is actually the more original of the two, an irony after 31 years of influences. And in some ways it's better, mainly because it has Robert Mitchum very much in top form. He makes those beautifully concise and witty one liners seem real and fitting, as if people really did once talk like that. I wish they still did.
There are countless bit parts that pump up the stylishness of the movie, most memorably Sylvia Miles playing a hard-drinking has-been. And she and Mitchum have great chemistry, not as lovers, but as people from opposite sides of life who have a similar perspective on things, and they chat and resonate like old friends. (Compare this to the rougher, less involving scene in Murder, My Sweet.) Velma herself is none other than Charlotte Rampling, probably a hair miscast because Rampling has some kind of severity that the noirish femme fatales don't, as a stereotype, share. And this movie deals with stereotypes.
Mitchum above all. It's fascinating to see a movie that is meant to be fitting into a form well known enough to be able to both refer to (in style and plot) and to deviate from (so we can feel it's original intent). And to have Mitchum, with his decades of great, strong, roles, anchor it all makes for a sweet, almost poignant experience. A similar feeling might be had in the remake of Cape Fear, but for my money, this is the more interesting movie, whatever the limitations of the plot, and the big thug. Go ahead, compare the Dmytryk version to this Richards one. If you haven't seen either one, watch the more recent one first to give it a full chance. You might go away surprised.
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