Farewell, My Lovely (1975) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Robert Mitchum plFarewell-My-Lovely-poster-frenchays Raymond Chandler’s immortal private eye Philip Marlowe in this beguiling valentine to the classic 1940s detective yarn. Charlotte Rampling is the beautifully coiffed leading lady who is more than she seems, David Shire supplies the lustrous musical score while noir legend Jim Thompson and a young Sylvester Stallone provide acting cameos  …

The following review is offered for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at Todd Mason’s Sweet Freedom blog; and Katie’s Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for links, click here);

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food”

This was Chandler’s second novel and was originally published in 1940. While I remain a huge fan of his debut, The Big Sleep there is no denying that the plotting could be a bit choppy due to its origins in several short stories. This is still partly true here as the basis for Farewell is to be easily found in three short stories: ‘Try the Girl’ (1936) about a hood looking for an old girlfriend; ‘Mandarin’s Jade’ (1936) which includes stolen jewellery and a crooked psychic; and ‘The Man Who Liked Dogs’ (1937) that includes the climax on the yacht; three stories in this order provide the basic outline for the 1940 novel. But it is all pretty well integrated here (most hardboiled novels have an A and B plot structure anyway), so that along with Chandler’s fine prose and crackling dialogue we also get a pretty impressive narrative structure. Marlowe is hired by Moose Malloy to track down his old girlfriend Velma, who has disappeared during his many years in jail. Now the hulking great brute wants her back. While Marlowe tries to find her, he is also hired to ransom some stolen jade, which ultimately leads to a murder,the wealthy Grayle family and a drug ring involving a psychic by the name of Jules Amthor.

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket”

Robert Mitchum got to play Philip Marlowe twice during the nostalgia boom of the 1970s and the renewed interest in the private eye mythos. Intriguingly, his two remakes can be seen as representative of the two dominant approaches to the genre of that decade. While both acknowledging the past, Mitchum’s remake of The Big Sleep (which I previously reviewed here) belongs to those films like Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Robert Culp’s Hickey & Boggs (reviewed here) that sought to update the concept for the present day and comment on the present by presenting the past with a sardonic, cynical, and contemporary eye. Then there were those that were more nakedly nostalgic and set in period like such fine mysteries as Chinatown and Farewell, My Lovely, both of which bring a modern sensibility in terms of language and content but that also go to great length not to debunk the mythos of the Golden Age private eye but rather celebrate it with huge attention to period detail (not coincidentally, both films were lit by the great John A. Alonzo while Harry Dean Stanton gets to play the same unpleasant junior detective in both too).

Farewell-Rampling

The film begins near the end with Marlowe on the run, with a high body count behind him and looking for a friend on the police force to bail him out. Days earlier he was hired by Moose Malloy, a mountain of a man who after a jail sentence is looking for Velma, his old girlfriend who has now disappeared. Marlowe can’t turn down the offer from the homicidal man and tries to find out what happened to the ex chanteuse while also getting mixed up in a second case involving the theft of some valuable Jade, leading him to the powerful Grayle family – it takes him about two minutes to start smooching Mrs Grayle (Charlotte Rampling very much in Betty Bacall mode here).

“This past Spring was the first time I felt tired and realised I was growing old” – Marlowe’s opening voiceover from Farewell My Lovely (1975)

In adapting the book, director Dick Lester and screenwriter David Zelag Goodman made a number of necessary excisions and modifications, most notably turning high-class drug pedlar Jules Amthor into butch bordello madam ‘Frances Amthor’, played wonderfully (and genuinely scarily) by Kate Murtagh. This part of the film, which is also where Stallone appears, reminds us most forcefully that it was actually made in the 1970s, with several bloody shootings, fist fights and nudity. While fairly faithful, several cuts are made, most notably in the case of Ann Riordan, who gets completely removed – but the yacht climax is retained, though the ultimate fate of Velma is presented much more simply and straightforwardly (in the book her demise has echoes of Double Indemnity, which Chandler would later adapt for the screen oddly enough).

Farewell-Mitchum2

The BBC has made a couple of excellent versions of the book for radio, one starring Ed Bishop in the 1970s and then with Toby Stephens a couple of years ago (I profiled the series here) – but then the intimacy of radio will always find it easier to match a novel narrated in the first person.

DVD Availability: Easily available internationally on DVD, the best edition by far is the new region 2 DVD release from Park Circus, which may offer no extras but comes with a handsome widescreen transfer that puts all previous video releases to shame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htf7JgTmjdY

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Director: Dick Richards
Producer: Jerry Bick, Elliot Kastner, George Pappas, Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay: David Zelag Goodman
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
Art Direction: Dean Tavoularis
Music: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles, Jack O’Halloran, Anthony Zerbe, Jim Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Kate Murtagh

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge in the ‘mystery involving transportation’ category for its shipboard climax:

vintage-golden-card-marked-24

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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56 Responses to Farewell, My Lovely (1975) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Sergio – I have to admit to preferring this sort of approach to ‘nostalgia’ films: keeping true to the original story with attention to the period detail. I like that about this film, and I thought Mituchum did a solid job as Marlowe. Of course, Chandler’s dialogue helped greatly, but still…And on a side note, it’s interesting isn’t it that several authors have either expanded their short stories into novels, or woven a few of them together for novels. Thanks as ever for the fine post and for the ‘food for thought.’

    • Thanks so much Margot, much appreciated. I like this film a lot, even with all the alterations to the book, because it so clearly wants to keep to the spirit of Chandler’s work – and really, in a transposition, that is what you can mostly hope for in my view.

  2. Lexie says:

    This is one of my all time favorites, Mitchum is ideal, old, tired and jaded. He has been beat down by life and yet he some how gets back up.
    David Shire’s music sets the mood and never lets you go.
    I have always been a Robert Mitchum fan and in my opinion he was at the right age when he did this movie.
    For those who have never seen this movie “Farewell My Lovely” can be found on YouTube if you are interested.

    • Thanks Lexie – Mitchum was an amazing ‘natural’ actor who was much better than he let on. I wish it weren’t on YouTube (illegally) as I wonder if that will deter legitimate releases – a nive Blu-ray edition would be nice :)

      • Lexie says:

        I don’t know if the movie “Farewell My Lovely” is on YouTube illegally as it has been there for a very long time. One thing I noticed about the movie on YouTube is everything is in English except for the title with is in German or at least it looks German to me.
        Trying to find the movie on DVD is hard, I looked on Amazon and they have it as an instant download and the DVD’s I saw were for non US regions, they did have it on VHS but I do not have a VHS player.
        One must remember that Charlotte Rampling’s character is nothing more than a gold digging prostitute who will do anything to keep what she has acquired.
        I feel this is a better movie the “Murder My Sweet” though both of them are so good.
        It is sad that film noir has pretty much fallen out of favor replaced with CGI Turtles, Giant Robots and other kiddie stuff. Does one really believe that movie like “Gone with the Wind or “Casablanca” would be made today? I don’t.
        I did not like the version of “The Big Sleep” with Mitchum as they updated it by taking it out of the 1940’s where it belonged. To me “The Big Sleep” with Bogart is a classic even if it was very confusing.
        There are very few actors who could and maybe today can pull off the PI role, Bogart, Mitchum, maybe Nolte and a few other that I can’t think of right now.
        Just me rambling on and on and on.

        • Thanks Lexie – that upload is definitely illegal but I dare say that is how most people will find the movie today – the region 2 DVD is very good but is made for the European market (no idea if it will play on all players). I agree, the remake of Big Sleep, while very faithful to the novel, doesn’t really work. I like the Bogart movie a lot, but it’s not particularly faithful to Chandler either though works well on its own terms. I do think some very good movies are still being made in the traditional mode (Shawshank Redemption, Inception, LA Confidential) but there are fewer and fewer of them, no question – a lot of the best stuff is longform drama on TV

  3. Colin says:

    Good examination of what I feel is a great film. I know we’ve been down this road before regarding the best screen representations of Marlowe but Mitchum’s effort here ranks near the top for me – maybe there’s a weariness (attractive though that is) that wouldn’t have been present if he’d played the role, and I reckon he probably should have done so, twenty years earlier. Still and all, the movie catches the retro mood very well and the whole thing is most satisfactory.

    • Thanks Colin – I used to have this one on Super 8 if you remember that and used to rent it all the time (in Italy you could do that, rent a whole movie on Super 8!) and even bought the soundtrack on vynil (and eventually CD). I have never lost my affection for it over th decades and was really glad the decent Park Circus DVD came along – it’s a modest movie but pretty much gets it all right. As for Mitchum’s age – well, he carries it off, no question about it and even these scenes with Rampling work (considering Mitchum was younger than Jim Thompson, who plays her husband).

      • Colin says:

        Yes, Mitchum doesn’t jar as Marlowe at all – he’s a bit worn but it’s all quite credible. Thinking about it, he probably had that worn look most of his life.

        • Lexie says:

          I disagree with “Mitchum doesn’t jar as Marlowe” he is better as Marlowe than that “pretty boy” Dick Powell. Mitchum looks the part, he sounds the part, he is the part. I would say Bogart was better as Marlowe in “The Big Sleep” than Powell was in “Murder My Sweet”.
          Mitchum’s Marlowe is fantastic, he is world weary, he has been kicked around but still gets up, he has been around the under belly of society far to long, deep down he wants to walk away but can’t, he has no real friends just people he knows, he is a victim of his own circumstances.
          Mitchum’s Marlowe is all that and more………………..He “does jar as Marlowe” better than any of the other actors who have played Marlowe before him and after him.

          • Colin was I think responding to my view that the conception of Marlowe in the film is, of necessity, somewhat different than the one as presented in the original novel. Mitchum was nearly 60 when the film came out and is great in the role – but he is meant to be a good 20 years younger, therefore it’s can’t be the character as in the book and because I was comparing the two explicitly it seemed a necessry point – but I am pretty sure we all think he was great in it! However, I actually think that Powell was terrific as Marlowe in terms of playing him as written and conceived by Chandler – apaprently he had Cary Grant in mind, but Powell was the right age, the right build and I think is really good. But I am well aware that this may be a minority view …

        • He seemed pretty much ageless for about 30 years, I agree

          • Lexie says:

            Well gee thanks I’m 61 but never felt old untill now…………..LOL.
            To me one of the problems with Dick Powell is that he wasn’t grizzled enough like Tom Selleck in Magnum PI, he was to young looking. Powell just doesn’t have the weathered, world weary look like Mitchum did.
            I like “Murder My Sweet” and in many scenes “Farewell My Lovely” mirrors the scenes in “Murder My Sweet” but it is Dick Powell he is just just to pretty……………
            I wish someone would make another really good PI movie set in the 1940’s and if they did my first choice to star in it would be Nick Nolte he is one actor that could carry it off and he looks damn good in a suit and hat like he did in “Mulholland Falls” though the movie was a disappointment in my opinion.
            As far as television goes I can not afford cable so my choices are limited to over the air broadcasts.

          • Yeah but in the book he is supposed to be late 30s, clean shaven, presentable etc etc. But I agree, in the movie, Mitchum is perfect. Have you seen The Missing Person starring Michael Shannon? It’s a great modern private eye movie that evokes the 1940s style but is very much set in the present day. I am doing a post on it in about a week but here is the trailer:

  4. Jeff says:

    Mitchum was on fire during this time. He was also excellent in “The Yakuza” made a couple years earlier.

    • Thanks Jeff – I figured you would like The Yakuza! I prefer this one though to be honest (well, it’s a bit less cynical and depressing)

      • Jeff says:

        True. But Chandler was always more optimistic. “The Yakuza” was written by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne. The guys who brought us “Taxi Driver” and “Chinatown”. Classics, but definitely not feel-good movies. Oh some trivia for you. The blue suit that Mitchum wears in the movie was worn by Victor Mature in the 40’s when he was also a leading man. According to IMDB Mitchum hated the outfit, and complained constantly during production about having to wear “Victor Mature’s old farted-up suit.” Anyway thought you might find that amusing.

  5. Kelly says:

    Somehow I never knew that Jim Thompson was IN this. To be honest, though, when I saw it, I probably didn’t yet know who he was.

  6. Jeff Cordell says:

    More trivia.This was one of the first movies that Jerry Bruckheimer had producer credit on. Hard to believe he would bring us “Top Gun”, “The Rock”, “Bad Boys” and “CSI” in later years.

  7. I love Robert Mitchum – what a great actor he was, and I thought he was terrific as Marlowe. Now I want to watch this again.

  8. TracyK says:

    I would like to see this movie, and may wait until I read the book. Thanks for all this info.

  9. JIM DOHERTY says:

    Not as good as MURDER, MY SWEET, and Mitchum is not as good as Powell (first and best of all the movie Marlowes). Mitchum is great, but he’s too old. Nevertheless, one is struck by what an awesome Marlowe he’d’ve made fifteen, or even ten years earlier. Certainly he’d’ve been the Marlowe of Marlowes had he played him around the same time he was playing a less noble PI in OUT OF THE PAST.

    One of the things that’s interesting in comparing MMS & FML is that, both had to make excisions in the plot, but they each cut different elements so that, if you see both films, you essentally see a single adaptation of the whole book.

    • That’s really interesting Jim, I hadn’t really considered that – and the only thing they both lose is the finale, which is is told third hand and is certainly rather undramatic – thanks for that, really interesting to consider them that way. And I agree, Powell is my favourite Marlowe on screen.

      • Lexie says:

        Now I am going disagree with both of you about Powell being the best Marlowe in my opinion he is not I would rank him third behind (1) Mitchum (despite being as some put it to old) (2) Bogart (he was great in “The Big Sleep” which was and still is far and away the best version) (3) Powell (who I found hard to believe as Marlowe).
        Now I’m sure you will disagree with me but ask yourselves this…….when was the last time you won an agrument with a woman :} LOL

        • I never win arguments with women and that is because they are always right Lexie! This does occasionally stifle debate of course … :) In fairness to myself (sic), I was mostly making a case of the closest transposition of the literary character to the screen rather than best overall …

          • Lexie says:

            Glad to hear that you have come to realize that we women are always right even when we are wrong. I understand your point about Dick Powell and he was good in “Murder My Sweet” but I have never been a big fan of him. To me he does not fit the role of a PI.
            It would be like seeing Dustin Hoffman in the role of Conan the Barbarian it just would not work or when James Cagney was the first choice to play Robin Hood instead of Errol Flynn that would never have worked either.
            There are in my opinion certain roles that actors and actresses should not ever try to play and Dick Powell should have stayed away from the role of Marlowe. I understand why he took the role because he wanted to break away from the roles he felt he had become trapped in like Kurt Russell did after all those Disney movies but Marlowe is not high on my list of good choices.
            Guesss we will have to agree to disagree. You like Powell I like Mitchum and Bogart.

          • Well, I love Bogart and Mitchum in their respective movies too Lexie, not arguing with you there!

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    Being a huge Mitchum fan, this one really resonated with me.

  11. Was this one of Mitchum’s last films considering that it was released in 1975 and that he looks fairly old? I barely recall seeing any of his films and that includes his two remakes as Philip Marlowe, a fictional detective I’m not too familiar with. Thanks for the review, Sergio.

    • Not at all Prashant – he was hard at it for another 20 years and appeared in over 30 film and TV projects, including the 1992 remake of his own Cape Fear in which he was great.

  12. Colin says:

    Lots of interesting discussion since I last popped in.
    Sergio, I reckon the way the film accommodates Mitchum;s age is very effectively done and that, along with the actor’s own persona, helps the whole thing work.

    Regarding the other screen versions of Marlowe, I like Powell in the part too. He’s physically acceptable as far as I’m concerned and delivers the dialogue and voiceover with the right kind of insolence. I’m also grateful that it set him off on a different and much more interesting direction in his career too.

    • I agree – and much as I love the Busby Berkeley musicals and comedies that he made at Warners in the 30s, it is the hardboiled films he made in the 40s and early 50s that I remember him for

      • Colin says:

        And while I have no way of knowing if this is the case or not, it certainly seems that his directing career (which I’m a big fan of too) was influenced by that tougher shift.

        • Definitely – and I think he is better, much more mature in these kinds of films, much more impressive. And he really was a very capable director and of course a major producer – amazing really.

          • Lexie says:

            I agree about Powell’s movie directing he was very capable look at the movie “The Enemy Below” a fantastic movie that Dick Powell directed. One movie that I did not know Dick Powell directed was “The Conqueror” which was (in my opinion) a terrible movie mostly because of the horrible miscasting of John Wayne. It is also believed by some that the making of the movie killed Dick Powell, John Wayne and a number of others of the cast and crew who had been exposed to radiation.
            He was a very good actor but in the role of Marlowe I prefer Mitchum and Bogart.

          • The Conqueeror is, was, and always will be, as we say out here, pants! Powell certainly died very young and I agree, Ebemy Below is the best of his movies as director along with Split Second.

  13. Todd Mason says:

    Looking forward to your treatment of THE MISSING PERSON, which sits on my DVR with any number of other items waiting for me to sit and give it a serious view (a few minutes glancing told me it was worth a gamble, so I recorded a later replay).

    • Todd Mason says:

      Oh, and if there’s one word I’m not sure I’d apply to CHINATOWN, it’d be “nostalgic”…

      • Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? While there had been a few gangsters films set in period (and we would have to include Bonnie and Clyde here probably, the success of which certainly kickstarted the trend), at that point Chinatown was one of the first genuinely netro detective stories ser in classic Noir era shall we say where part of the selling point was the appeal to design in cars, fashions, furnishings etc. Certainly John Alonzo’s cinematography has an amber glow that reeks of the past, which of course contrasts brilliantly with Towne and Polanski’s handling which reeks of the present.

    • I was genuinely impressed and I hope to persuade you of this very shortly my friend.

  14. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have neither read the book nor seen any of the 3 film adaptations. If i have to choose, I would prefer to see The Falcon Takes Over where Philip Marlowe is replaced by a a more affable detective Gay Lawrence (aka The Falcon).

    • You’d be missing out Santosh – the Falcon is fun but Murder, My Sweet starring Dick Powell is a Noir classic by any definition – really worth a look chum!

      • Lexie says:

        There you go again pushing “Murder My Sweet” with that pretty boy Dick Powell……….LOL
        Santosh should watch both “Murder My Sweet” and “Farewell My Lovely” and let him decide. Both versions are good but Mitchum is the better Marlowe.
        Cavershamragu…………I understand your point in that Powell’s Marlowe is closer to Marlowe in the books but……………………………….Mitchum’s portrayal is better in my opinion.

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