#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)

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#34 Dames

Watched: September 5 2016

Director: Busby Berkeley & Ray Enright

Starring: Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Ezra Ounce (Herbert) has got it going on. He’s rich, eccentric (but he can afford to be), and he has a purpose in life: to raise American morals and more specifically, get rid of Broadway shows. He decides to give his sister and brother-in-law $10 million on the condition that they live up to his standards of “clean living” and help him with his foundation.

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“We need to get rid of the filth that is cleaning ladies who actually enjoy their work!”

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Alas, Ounce’s niece Barbara (Keeler) and his more distant relative Jimmy (Powell) have already fallen to The Theatre (and for each other) and are busy putting on a production which Ounce decides to sabotage. However, star of the show Mabel (Blondell – who also steals the show in the film) has dirt on Barbara’s father Horace (Kibbee) and blackmails him into financing the show.

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Never has a man been more mortified at finding a half naked burlesque girl in his bed. His views do in no way represent the views of the studio or the producers.

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Eventually, the Ounce Foundation for the Elevation of American Morals attend the opening night of Jimmy’s musical and, unwittingly drunk on Dr. Silver’s Golden Elixir, enjoy every minute of it, causing them to change their views on both Jimmy and Broadway shows.

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Strange how scantily clad dames have that effect on sexually frustrated middle aged men

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In many ways, this seems like the most honest of the Berkeley musicals we’ve seen. “The Girl at the Ironing Board” is an unabashed male fantasy of the perfect woman whose happiest times are cleaning men’s clothes, and in the titular number “Dames” they’re not even trying to pretend that the selling point for all these films is anything other than the pretty dames. Still, we enjoyed it a lot although, in our opinion, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933 had slightly better musical numbers.

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But fewer beds on stage, so we’ll call this a win.

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What we learned: what do we go for? Beautiful dames!

Next time: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

#30 Gold Diggers of 1933

Watched: September 4 2016

Director:  Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 37min

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“We’re in the Money,” a big Broadway number, is in rehearsal when creditors come and repossess the props, costumes and pretty much everything but the girls themselves. This is the ironic opening of yet another fabulous Busby Berkeley musical.

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As well as another excuse to feature semi-naked ladies

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Yet again, the plot revolves around Broadway productions and in this one, the producer has everything he needs to put on a great show, except money. He visits the apartment of three showgirls (the titular “gold diggers”) to discuss the prospects with them and hears a composer playing the piano through an open window. The composer, Brad (Powell), is the sweetheart of one of the showgirls, Polly (Keeler), and he offers to put up $15 000 for the production on the condition that Polly gets a leading role. He himself is hired as a composer but refuses to be a stage performer.

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“This face would never do on stage!”

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Complications arise, and as Brad is forced to perform on opening night his real identity as a member of a prominent Boston family is revealed. As his older brother J. Lawrence Bradford (William) learns of his activities and his intentions to marry a showgirl, he interferes and threatens to cut him off from his inheritance if he does not leave her. However, when the brother goes to Polly’s apartment to buy her off, he meets fellow dancer Carol (Blondell) instead and mistakes her for Polly. After he thoroughly insults her and third flatmate Trixie (MacMahon), as well as their careers, they decide to take him and his lawyer for a ride.

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“Sisters before misters, bitches!”

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The two girls take the men out, tricking them into paying for all sorts of extravagant things along the way. Naturally, they do a Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Bradford falls for Carol despite her “low breeding” and unseemly profession.

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Them dancin’ legs will take you far, however cheap and vulgar your future husband finds you

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After the happy ending is resolved (with no less than three weddings, in proper Shakespearean fashion) the big musical numbers hit the stage. And my god, what numbers! “The Shadow Waltz” features glow-in-the-dark violins and some truly remarkable skirts and is amazing to watch.

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How convenient that all showgirls are also masterful violinists

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However, the true showstopper is the spectacular “Remember my Forgotten Man” which completely blew us away. If you have no interest in musicals and no intention of watching this film, then at least do yourself a favour and check out this number. You won’t be sorry.

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This picture does not even begin to do it justice

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Another new favourite which solidifies our newfound love of Busby Berkeley.

What we learned: always bring a can opener to a date.

Next time: King Kong (1933)