One of the lesser appreciated aspects of a film noir is that most of them tell similar yet intriguing stories about seedy darker worlds and the equally seedy people that inhabit them. If you’ve seen one film noir, then you’re at least aware of how the narrative works and what separates it from other genres, especially thrillers. This is a type of filmmaking lives in darkness and sin, filled with dirty people trying to claw for light and hope.
But what makes “Murder, My Sweet” so special is that, while it feels familiar, the film takes a different route when it comes to visuals and editing that separate it from other noirs like “The Big Sleep” or “Out of the Past.” Much like “Double Indemnity” lives and dies by its witty dialogue, “Murder, My Sweet” hinges on its seedy underground cinematography, focusing heavily on eyes and obscuring the visuals, as well as the truth.
The film follows the famous private detective Phillip Marlowe (Dick Powell), a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind even if that gets him in trouble, after he has been captured by the police with bandages over his eyes. The cops have him here because they suspect he murdered two people, so he recalls the last few days to the police, telling us about his encounter with a mountain of a man named Moose (Mike Mazurki) who is looking for his missing wife, a wealthy man named Marriot (Douglas Walton) who hires Marlowe on as a bodyguard and winds up dead on the beach, leading Phillip to hunt down what was happening and to a necklace made of jade.
One small aspect that I particularly enjoyed about “Murder, My Sweet” was that it was easy to follow for a film noir. Normally, there are so many characters to keep track of in these movies, most of them either doing shady dealings off-screen or have been dead for a long time that this makes it hard to remember who’s who, especially when the double crossing and back stabbing begins. I had no trouble remembering the characters in this film, mostly because it was a small cast and each of them had a distinct look or attitude. Marlowe spends the majority of the film actively trying to solve the case instead of pontificating about some of the smaller details, so that helped as well.
What I will remember the most about “Murder, My Sweet” was the distinct cinematography. I cannot think of other film noirs that have a drug-induced nightmare sequence, or have crazy dissolves that show our narrator passing out like his world is being flooded with black goo. This film played more with perspective and eyes than any other noir and it compliments a dark and disturbing nature of the story.
Overall, “Murder, My Sweet” may not feel too different from other film noirs, but the look of it is unique and it gives the movie an undeniable charm. The dialogue is witty like “Double Indemnity” and the narration gives this city an extra layer of filth. Dick Powell’s performance as Phillip Marlowe gives the character levity and a bit more heart than you would expect. If you’re interested in a lesser known film noir that is just as great as any other, give this one a shot.
Final Grade: A-