Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Noir Watch: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Watched:  08/09/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Dick Richards

I've read the Raymond Chandler novel upon which Farewell, My Lovely (1975) is based a couple of times, and seen the Dick Powell-starring 1944 film adaptation Murder, My Sweet (1944) a handful of times.  I do appreciate the 1970's neo-noir movement and the adaptations or interpretations I've seen, but there's always such a layer of 1960's or 1970's-ness all over the films, you feel like they can't get out of their own way making sure you know "we have updated this for modern times".

This movie, however, is a period piece, adhering as close to the source material as possible, with a definite romanticism for the genre, the book and the movies which it inspired.  While some updating occurs, the politics of the 1970's are only thinly layered on, and the story does take place just prior to WWII (the novel was released in 1940), but with the not insubstantial casting choice of a 58 year old Robert Mitchum.  And, look, you'll never catch me saying a negative thing about Mitchum, but this may be about 15 years too old for the character, no matter who that actor is.  The script changes the novel enough to take Mitchum's age into account here and there, and I absolutely get why the filmmakers were thrilled to get him.  Mitchum would have been ideal casting for a production from '50-'57.  

Aside from that, the movie remains mostly faithful to the novel.  I'll accept most of the changes they made, even if I'm not sure why.  I don't get, for example, why they changed the spiritualist character from a male to a madam running a brothel.   I can sort of get why they took the mostly wretched Mrs. Florian and made her someone to pity more than someone to root against (and mostly with unverbal cues.  Seeing her turned down by Marlowe is almost a little bit of heartbreak).  And, of course, the insertion of the band-leader and his family as recurring characters.  

Beyond Mitchum, the cast is a curious lot.  No one is miscast, but instead has a lot of notable entries.  This includes a "introducing Jack O'Halloran" bit as our friend Non plays Moose Malloy - and darn well.  There's a baby-faced Sylvester Stallone with maybe one line, playing a hood.  Charlotte Rampling is Ms. Grayle, who does a darn good job of living up to the description of the character in the novel (the prose of which is considered classic Chandler).   Also look for Joe Spinell as a hood, a young Harry Dean Stanton as a dickish cop, and a gray John Ireland as Nulty, a recurring straight-arrow cop from the novels.  

And in a nod that speaks to the devotion to the genre, author Jim Thompson plays Judge Grayle.  

In general, I enjoyed the movie.  I'd watch it again to get over gawking at all the parts they'd put on screen and see if I can watch it just as a movie itself.  While the film does a good job of recreating a pre-war LA as I've seen it in films from the era, there's something off in the pacing, both of the story unravelling and Mitchum delivering his Marlowe-isms.  Most of the time it hits, though.

Choosing sun-bleached LA over the shadows of noir actually works pretty well, but it can make the movie feel a bit like a TV movie from time to time, despite what's obviously a decent budget for the period (just the cars alone).  And the fact it's 1975 and they actually made everyone get the right haircut - even some people on screen for just a moment or two.

I'm too close to this one to judge it properly, but it doesn't quite have Chandler's feel to it in my eye.  But, honestly, however I'm hearing Chandler's Marlowe in my head hasn't ever quite wound up on screen.  It's very hard to get the spirit right without a mess of voiceover, which this movie indulges in, and it still doesn't quite land - but this is a pretty good shot at it. 

Between Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Elliot Gould, James Garner and others taking on the character.. I dunno.  I'd still like to see HBOmax decide to do a series of these novels in order with a single actor playing Marlowe who is just that much closer to the guy in my head.  And it might have been Mitchum in his Macao era.  

But if you like this one, you may very much dig the Dick Powell/ Claire Trevor take on the same story.

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