This adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel 'Farewell, My Lovely', renamed for the U.S. market to prevent audiences mistaking it for a musical (for which Powell was already famous) has private eye Philip Marlowe "hired" (almost at the point of forcible servitude) by the menacing, thuggish Joe "Moose" Malloy, a crook just out of prison after a eight year stretch, who suffers from a serious case of tunnel vision, to wit, he is obsessed with finding his former girlfriend, Velma, whom he hasn't seen in years. The case is tougher than Marlowe expected as his initially promising inquiries lead to a complex web of deceit involving bribery, perjury and theft, and where no one's motivation is clear.Written by
Mark Thompson (updated by R.M. Sieger)
Private dick Phil Marlowe is hired by a "paltry, foppish man" to accompany him on a midnight assignation. What follows is a glorious piece of Chandleriana, a ganglion of a plot involving a jade necklace, a jailbird who carries a torch for a showgirl, a "big-league blonde" with a rich old husband and an eye for private eyes, and more narrative twists and turns than a Restoration comedy on acid.
Will Moose be reunited with Velma? Who's the brunette in the gulch? What is Anthor's precise relationship with Marriott? How many more times can Marlowe get slugged from behind without having his skull disintegrate?
Golden tenor Dick Powell may not be the obvious choice to play Marlowe, but in fact he turns in THE definitive performance. Chandler once defined the ideal hero in one of his essays as a special man, but at the same time a man of the people. Not amazingly bright, subject to bouts of confusion and wrong-headed wilfulness, but for all that a tough, decent, dry-humoured guy who just happens to be as sexy as hell. Powell delivers.
Watch out for a remarkable dream sequence after Marlowe is forcibly injected with heroin (yes, heroin). Expressionist cinema was never as evocative as here!
All in all, the film is an example of a genre captured at its apex - "like lighting a stick of dynamite, and telling it not to go off"!
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