Movie Night With Urbaniak: Murder, My Sweet

  and I have this game that we’ve been playing for about 15 years now. It all began in a duplex apartment on 13th Street in NYC. I came up to him at a get-together and said: “Tom Cruise is the Clark Gable of our time.” Urbaniak thought for a moment, the gears visibly processing behind his eyes, and then said “Yeah. Okay.” And then we spent the next half-hour or so trying to link up the stars from the past and the stars of the present. Certain types keep repeating themselves in history, turning up in the same kinds of roles, displaying the same kinds of talents, pursuing their art in the same manners.

Murder, My Sweet is a 1944 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. Why is it called Murder, My Sweet instead of Farewell, My Lovely? Well, because RKO Pictures was worried that, with a title like Farewell, My Lovely people might think it was a musical. Why on earth did they think a silly thing like that? Because they made the bone-head mistake of casting fading musical-star Dick Powell as Phillip Marlowe.

This would have been a smashing, head-turning coup if Powell had suddenly transformed himself from affable, aw-shucks boy-next-door into a complex, weary, haunted detective. It would have made Dick Powell the John Travolta of his day, suddenly going from over-the-hill lightweight to crime-movie superstar.

But Powell has nothing going on inside his head. As Urbaniak notes, he’s incapable of simply doing something, he must physically “announce” that he’s about to do something, then advertise that he’s doing it, then congratulate himself for doing it. He doesn’t get angry, he “looks angry.” He doesn’t get rough with a dame, he performs the action of “getting rough with a dame.” He is such a dead-end in terms of inhabiting the character that we ended up spending much of the movie trying to imagine the circumstances under which he got the part. One scenario we came up with was that the director, the capable and efficient Edward Dmytryk, signed on thinking perhaps that Marlowe was being played by William Powell. “Hmm, yes, Bill Powell, that could work, yes,” mused Urbaniak in his best imitation of Dmytryk.

It’s a shame because the script is really good, bristling with all the twists and turns and vivid imagery we expect from the melancholy poetry of Chandler, the direction is crisp and clean, and most of the rest of the casting is wonderful, including Claire Trevor (the Virginia Madsen of her day), Otto Kruger (who would have made a great Bond Villain in another time) and Mike Mazurki (the Big Lug of his time). All these people play their scene effortlessly and with great wit and panache (required tools for Chandler).

Butfor us, a lot of the movie was spent trying to think of who the Dick Powell of today is. It’s a harder task than you might imagine — there isn’t room in today’s movie culture for affable, lightweight leading men. Urbaniak suggested Anson Williams at one point as a possibility, and I countered with Judge Reinhold, but that’s about as close as we could come. Stumped, I moved on to trying to figure out who, today, would be worse casting than Dick Powell in the role of Marlowe. Rick Moranis got a vote, as did Ray Romano and Tim Allen.

PS: One nice thing about watching a Raymond Chandler adaptation on DVD is that you can pause it whenever you want and try to figure out who the hell everyone is and what they’re talking about and who’s fooling whom and what who knows why.

RECOMMENDED: watching a whole bunch of Chandler adaptations and then watching The Big Lebowski. Many of the characters, sets and plot-points of Murder, My Sweet turn up in skewered, inside-out or upside-down versions in Lebowski and watching them in close proximity will help illustrate just how funny and inventive the latter movie is.

NOIR MOVIE NEWS: Urbaniak and I watched Chinatown a few nights ago, and the next night I happened to go see the new In the Valley of Elah. The movie is good but I couldn’t help notice that, somewhere in Act III, detective Charlize Theron gets her nose injured and spends about twenty minutes of the movie with a band-aid across it. The nod to Chinatown seemed too obvious to be a coincidence, but I had to wonder, was the band-aid put in as a joke by writer-director Paul Haggis, or did Charlize Theron insist on getting her face damaged in order to help sell her as a tough detective?


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Comments

23 Responses to “Movie Night With Urbaniak: Murder, My Sweet”
  1. rxgreene says:

    Other Lightweights:
    Steve Gutenberg
    Ashton Kutcher
    Paul Walker (borderline – sometimes he pulls it off)

  2. craigjclark says:

    I doubt it’s available on DVD, but a remake of this film was done in 1975 — and this time it was called Farewell, My Lovely — starring Robert Mitchum. It went over well enough that it was followed three years later by a remake of The Big Sleep, which was probably a miscalculation. Mitchum replacing Powell is a no-brainer, but subbing for Bogie is another matter entirely.

  3. Anonymous says:

    affable lightweights

    They’re different types, but I could see these guys totally miscast as Marlowe:
    Brendan Fraser
    Greg Kinnear
    –Ed.

    • Todd says:

      Re: affable lightweights

      Urbaniak had suggested Michael J. Fox, but Kinnear is a good example — someone who is great at light comedy but keeps trying to do heavy drama.

  4. teamwak says:

    Speaking of Bandaids on noses

    Didnt the character Floyd, Robert Shaws bodyguard in The Sting have one on through the whole movie? I think so but I’m damned if I can find a picture online.

    PS. Im trying to watch a load of old classics that I should have watched by now (being a child of the videogame generation), and I finally watched The African Queen yesterday. Bloody hell, it was good! And Katheryn Hepburn may by the best female actor ever! What a flick! 🙂

    • Todd says:

      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

      I had the exact same reaction to The African Queen when I saw it, oh, probably 35 years ago. Up to that point I’d been watching movies like The Towering Inferno and The Seven-Ups and thinking I was pretty cool.

      • teamwak says:

        Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

        I watched Cassablanca a while ago as well. The entire script was made up of quoteable lines. Fantastic stuff!

        It occured to me that theres a reason that they’re considered classics.

        Next up is Bringing Up Baby, to continue my Hepburn love affair! 🙂

        • Todd says:

          Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

          After that, watch The Philadelphia Story.

          • teamwak says:

            Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

            Thats the High Society one, isnt it?

            Will do 🙂

            • craigjclark says:

              Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

              Well, High Society is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story.

              • teamwak says:

                Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                Cool. I thought it was that one. Its Cary Grant as well, isnt it? I knew would know them, Craig 🙂 You blog is dedicated to old classic movies.

                Well, did you eva?

                • craigjclark says:

                  Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                  Yep. Hepburn, Grant and Jimmy Stewart (in his only Oscar-winning role).

                  For further viewing, I also recommend the films Hepburn made with Spencer Tracy, especially Woman of the Year, Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike (which is most notable for the scene in which Hepburn beats up a young Charles Bronson).

                  • teamwak says:

                    Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                    Thanks for that.

                    I know Adams Rib, but I dont know the others. I will check them out. I also want to watch Guess Whos Coming To Dinner as well. I’m a big Spencer Tracy fan. The guy could do gangsters and tap-dancing! Now thats range lol 😉

                    • Todd says:

                      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                      I would steer clear of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. It’s a smug, self-righteous “problem drama” of the mid 60s and has not aged well.

                    • teamwak says:

                      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                      Interesting, thanks.

                      I also wanted to watch Dinner as I think I should watch more of Sidney Poiters films too. How does Blackboard Jungle hold up? Is it a relic of its time too?

                    • Todd says:

                      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                      I would suggest Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night and Raisin in the Sun. The problem with Poitier is that his career-defining star vehicles always have this big sign hung around their necks that say “IMPORTANT MESSAGE.” He became such an important SYMBOL at his peak that it kind of overshadowed his talent as an actor. When he shows up in movies like Sneakers the electricity rises not because he’s so great, necessarily, but because he carries so much baggage with him as a symbol, and it makes you giddy just to see him having fun with it.

                      My favorite party-stumper trivia question:

                      Q: What is the highest-grossing film directed by an African-American?
                      A: Stir Crazy, 1980, directed by Sidney Poitier.

                    • teamwak says:

                      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                      Excellent stuff!

                      Sneakers is certainly a guily pleasure. Ben Kingsley and Sidney Poitier in the same movie!

                      The Heat of the Night is a great movie. I watched it as a kid, and it left quite the impresion on me.

                    • craigjclark says:

                      Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                      That’s the main reason why I’ve avoided it. Stanley Kramer’s films have never sit well with me, even It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

                  • faroffstar says:

                    Re: Speaking of Bandaids on noses

                    Philidelphia Story is an amazing movie. I would check out also The Lion in Winter. Fantastic Hepburn movie, I believe she won an Oscar for the role.

                    “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!”

  5. greyaenigma says:

    Can someone please show me the life of the mind?

    RECOMMENDED: watching a whole bunch of Chandler adaptations and then watching The Big Lebowski. Many of the characters, sets and plot-points of Murder, My Sweet turn up in skewered, inside-out or upside-down versions in Lebowski and watching them in close proximity will help illustrate just how funny and inventive the latter movie is.

    Clearly, I need to do this. When I finally got Big Lebowski on DVD, it was more inspired by “well, I’ve gotten all their other stuff…” OK, and it has Aimee Man.

  6. mr_noy says:

    Wait, does that make The Misfits Gable’s Born on the 4th of July or his Magnolia?