#67 Murder, My Sweet

Watched: December 18 2016

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Starring: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 35min

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We continue our sordid Noir journey with our first encounter with Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s private detective who’s made numerous film and TV appearances. In Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet, we open with his interrogation for murder as he recounts the events leading up to his arrest.

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For once, it doesn’t start with a Dame, but with a strong simpleton of a man

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A man walks into his office and what a man! Legs up to here and strong as a bull. Moose Malloy (Mazurki) is his name and of course, he’s looking for a Dame. Velma. A redhead. She used to sing. Marlowe (Powell) takes on the case and they go out looking for her. Although finding a girl eight years later isn’t done in a night.

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A bar is never the wrong place to start looking for lost Dames

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It doesn’t take long for Marlowe to be approached by two more clients, one of whom gets himself killed and Marlowe knocked out within hours of hiring him. Luckily he paid in advance. He hires the detective to act as backup while trying to buy back a priceless jade necklace from some robbers, but the deal goes horribly wrong.

Then, finally, a Dame walks into his office.

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The glasses exclude her from being a real romantic interest. Luckily for Marlowe, they were just a disguise.

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Reporter Allison, real name Ann Grayle (Shirley), tries to get information about the jade and when he sees through her ruse, she admits that the necklace was worn by her stepmother when it was stolen. Marlowe goes to investigate and meets the stepmom (Trevor). And she’s a real Dame! Not much older than her stepdaughter, she puts the moves on Marlowe and plays the victim quite well.

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She plays the seductress even better

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From then on the plot thickens. Marlowe is knocked out, threatened with guns and fists, drugged and put in a very amusing dream sequence. He also kisses all the dames and hatches all the plots in order to satisfy those clients he can and bring justice to those he cannot. All the while, his amazing internal dialogue narrates his actions. The similes! The quips! The banter! We need to start talking more Noirish in our daily lives.

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He’s come a long way since Footlight Parade. Though somehow not so far since Dames

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Admittedly, taking the juvenile from all those Busby Berkeley musicals seriously as a hard boiled detective was a bit difficult at first, but he does actually pull it off. That being said, we’re very much looking forward to Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe in the upcoming The Big Sleep, which is an old favourite of ours. Murder, my Sweet was very good and entertaining though, and we’re very excited about all the Film Noir in this part of the list. Now we just need to practice our banter.

What we learned: stay away from Dames! Also, we need to read more Raymond Chandler.

Next time: Brief Encounter (1945)

#66 Double Indemnity

Watched: December 23 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 47min

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Oh, the dialogue! If you’re not interested in Film Noir, you should check this one out for the snappy dialogue alone. Old-timey flirting is the best flirting!

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray), swings by a client’s house to renew his car insurance, but meets a Dame instead. The Dame is Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), the client’s wife and winner of History’s Sexiest Name Award, and flirtatious banter ensues.

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“Suppose I can rid you of that anklet of yours?” “Suppose it digs into my ankle”

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Turns out the dame isn’t too fond of her husband after he lost his fortune, and she’s unusually interested in accident insurance for said husband. She invites Walter back when her husband is home, but changes the appointment to make sure the they’re alone. The two start plotting ways to get her husband the insurance without him knowing it and then making sure he has an accident to cash in on. A fatal one.

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So inconspicuous right now!

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Walter and Phyllis do the deed and make very sure it can’t be interpreted as anything but an accident as Walter works with insurance blood hound Barton Keyes (Robinson, of Little Caesar-fame) who is sure to investigate.

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Robinson’s come a long way since his mafia days.

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Now, Phyllis might be a femme fatale (her past certainly seems to suggest so), but Walter is not by any means an innocent man driven to murder by the woman he loves. He tells the story and so we only get his side of it, but it is very clear that he is the mastermind behind the murder. He plans everything to the last detail and Phyllis operates on his orders. This does not mean that she is innocent, but either Walter is the driving force behind the whole thing, or his male ego won’t let him admit that Phyllis was smarter than him and so he makes it look as though he planned the crime. None of those options reflects very well on him.

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She does have a tendency to hover in the background, but we’re sure that’s perfectly innocent

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Double Indemnity is exciting and suspenseful, but the main reason we love it is easily the dialogue and banter! The first encounter between the main characters is amazing. We need to practice our old-timey flirting.

What we learned: sometimes murder smells like honeysuckle.

Next time: Murder, my Sweet (1944)

#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)