Friday 6 November 2020

Movie Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

A private detective film noir, Farewell, My Lovely enhances an enticingly convoluted mystery with stinging attitude.

The setting is Los Angeles in 1941. Despondent private investigator Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is holed up in a hotel room and asks for a meeting with police detective Nulty (John Ireland) to go over recent events. Most of the rest of the film unfolds in flashback. 

Marlowe was hired by ex-convict Moose Malloy (Jack O'Halloran) to find his girlfriend Velma. Moose did not hear from Velma for six years while he served a sentence for an audacious heist. She used to be a lounge singer at the Florian Club, and Marlowe starts his search with trumpet player Tommy Ray and moves onto the widowed Jessie Florian (Sylvia Miles), but soon realizes he is being misled and Moose disappears.

Meanwhile a man called Marriott hires Marlowe as a bodyguard to help in the recovery of a stolen jade necklace. The assignment ends badly, but leads Marlowe to rich socialite Helen Grayle (Charlotte Rampling) and her sleazy friend Brunette (Anthony Zerbe), who offers Marlowe $2,000 to find Moose. Marlowe is soon roughed-up and face to face with whorehouse madam Frances Amthor (Kate Murtagh), his life in danger and having to sort out how all the threads are connected.

The second adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel and a worthy companion to the 1944 version with Dick Powell, Farewell, My Lovely captures the grim mood of a corruption-riddled Los Angeles. Director Dick Richards draws inspiration from a city teaming with cops on the take, criminals flaunting their wealth at high society parties and on-board glitzy yachts, while unfortunates like Tommy Ray and Jessie Florian are dumped onto the grimy sidelines of society.

Chandler's acidic prose is sardonically deployed to cut through the hidden agendas, and Robert Mitchum's laidback attitude perfectly embodies private investigator Philip Marlowe. An undercurrent of stress adds a welcome buzz to Mitchum's performance, as the film opens with Marlowe in undoubted trouble: too many people have died, and what started as an innocuous case has spiralled into a labyrinthian mystery.

This is a rare occasion where narration works well. Marlowe leads Nulty through the twists and turns of overlapping cases, and while Chandler's hallmark narrative complexities are preserved, Richards navigates around enough signposts to maintain plot coherence.

And Farewell, My Lovely benefits from plenty of heart. Greed and narcissism literally bash Marlowe on the head more than once, but he keeps his focus on what matters: a lovestruck giant of a man looking for his woman, a sad old widow pathetically surviving on fleeting memories, and a young baseball fan confined to a decrepit motel room because of cruel intolerance. As the body count mounts, caring for the afflicted is the only emotional refuge.

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