Something Fresh For Detecting Ranks
The New Dick Powell Enters In Murder, My Sweet (1944)
The one to change tides for Dick Powell and sound early charge for film noir to come. Who's to judge what is noir? Detective stories like Murder, My Sweet could be argued as merely that, and not noir as it was later defined. Must a private sleuth plumb depths of down-and-out-ness to achieve noir standing? Powell really doesn't here, being upbeat and adjusted despite abuse he takes. So was Sam Spade, for that matter. One person's idea of noir tends to differ from others. It's a subjective category. What Hollywood saw at the time was indication that sleazy crime pics could draw mainstream patronage, this forecast by success of The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Maybe war news had toughened us all, and it was time to hoist mysteries out of tame and whodunit category. Whatever the reason, there'd be brass knuckles taking place of velvet gloves. Among best of freshened approach Murder, My Sweet is reborn thanks to HD streaming on VuDu, inky RKO sets never so flavorsome. Director Edward Dmytryk spoke in interviews of darkness standing in for sets they couldn't afford, his idea of a minus then perhaps, but very much a plus for us now that high-def can reveal richness of what Dmytryk shot.
Powell gets laughs playing with props, a trick he'd oft-employ, at one point lighting a match off the buttocks of a nude statue. Detecting was more fun before 70's nihilism and proto-noir (or is it crypto?) crept in. Philip Marlowe introduced new attitude into mysteries courtesy of language lifted from Raymond Chandler's source book. Part of what made Powell and Murder, My Sweet click was RKO's reliance on magic words they'd bought from
The "New" Dick Powell, then, came mostly in terms of visual change. That's why ads emphasized a disheveled Powell, shorthand to effect that he never looked like this before. Otherwise there was assurance of a favorite not stepping too wide of insouciant image as chief skylark for Warner Bros. musicals. Powell registers least in Murder, My Sweet when most intense, this where a learning curve is evident, plus fact he wasn't all the way around it. Truer transition from crooning wiseacre to noir dweller would come with next New Powell that was Cornered, where he's scarred, bitter, and buzz-cut, adding emphasis by beating villainy to death in an ice-cold finish they wouldn't have gambled had not Murder, My Sweet rung up such endorsement of Dick Powell as loner tough guy. Gallup-polling of the title Farewell, My Lovely had revealed misunderstanding that it would be a musical, especially with Dick Powell heading marquees, so eleventh-hour change was made, this after main titles had been shot and posters printed. Re-do of these cost RKO an extra $5,000, but
RKO had done a Falcon mystery "B" based on
|Chicago First-Run Puts Big Emphasis on Powell Image Change|