Interesting choice of career change for Dick Powell; after establishing himself as the light-headed Lothario of 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals, the crooner side stepped that squeaky clean boy-next-door image entirely with Edward Dmytryk’s Murder My Sweet (1944). Powell assumes the reigns of Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe. Okay, he’s no Bogart, (whom film buffs will recall played Marlowe in The Big Sleep 1946), but Powell’s performance is a close second, buffeted by a deeply cynical, smart-mouthed delivery and a genuinely affecting scowl.
In Murder My Sweet, Marlowe is hired by ex-con Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) to hunt down an old flame. But the plot spins out of control when a murder leads to Marlowe’s engagement by a manipulative woman, Mrs. Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) to recover her missing jewels. Seems Mrs. Grayle keeps interesting company with the effeminate charmer, Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton).
But when Marlowe and Marriott decide to stake out a spooky forest and Marriott winds up dead and Marlowe with a bump on his head, the gumshoe schleps the familiar beat in search of more clues from one seedy alcove to the next, unaware that he’s being used as a pawn and a patsy.
It takes a violent drug-induced nightmare fraught with Freudian symbolism to set Marlowe’s world on end – but eventually he gets a clue, one that will lead him straight to the person he should have suspected all along.
Like The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet is more of a convolution of plot threads than a narrative of genuine substance. Disreputable characters aimlessly crop up - then just as quickly fade into the woodwork. These are par for the course of both Chandler’s work and the medium of film noir. But the style in Harry J. Wild's cinematography is so slick and compelling, the mood in John Paxton's screenplay so utterly gritty, that the overall respect we develop in trying to unravel the mystery far outweighs the film’s rather unsatisfactory conclusion.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is quite satisfactory. The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks and whites that are vibrant and sharp. There is a fair amount of film grain that occasionally renders the image grainy, but overall this is a smooth visual presentation. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. Noted noir expert, Alain Silver delivers a thorough audio commentary that will most surely enhance appreciation for this film.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)