Robert Mitchum plays 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).
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).
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.
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: