Farewell, My Lovely (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Bob Mitchum had a unique screen personality. To every
role, war hero or criminal, he brought a presence that said, "I
won't talk a lot, but I'll listen to you if you aren't too
irritating. It's just that talkin' takes a lot of energy. I'll even
let you give me a little shit, because gettin' riled up is a waste
of energy, but pushin' me too far would be a mistake." He was
the embodiment of a certain type of quiet strength. Oh, yeah,
Gregory Peck had some of the same sort of persona, but in a God-fearin',
sexless way. Bob Mitchum took that Peck thing and added several more
layers: sexual charisma, danger, world-weariness, cynicism, even a
hint of sleaze. Mitchum even went to jail on a marijuana rap back in
the days when people thought the ganja was about a hair's breadth
from heroin. I suppose Peck could probably have played the menacing
Max Cady effectively, but I doubt he'd have wanted too. And Mitchum
probably could have played Atticus Finch, but would they have wanted
Mitchum, the quintessential American type, got two tries at playing the honest detective known as Marlowe, a quintessential American character created by Raymond Chandler. In both cases, the films were remakes of wartime classics. Farwell, My Lovely was a remake of 1944's Murder, My Sweet, which starred Dick Powell as Marlowe. The Big Sleep was a remake of an eponymous 1946 film (originally filmed in 1944) which starred Bogie himself. Bogie WAS Philip Marlowe, possessing Marlowe's same sense of integrity so stubbornly ingrained that it led him into inconvenient directions, sometimes even into decisions contrary to his own self-interest. More than one underage starlet reported having been picked up by Bogie at a Hollywood party and driven home - to her parents! That is exactly what Marlowe himself would have done.
I like Bogie in the role better than Mitchum, but I like Mitchum better than anyone else I've ever seen in it, and I like his interpretation of the obligatory voice-over narration better than anyone's. His voice carried just the right combination of resignation, idealism, and cynicism. Farewell, My Lovely is the better of Mitchum's two Marlowes, and in fact is quite a good movie. Chandler's novels are very difficult to whittle down to screenplays because they are so complicated, and because all the characters are disingenuous except Marlowe himself. It's difficult to follow a plot based on dialogue when every single character is lying or hiding something. The other Marlowe films have worked because of atmosphere, wit and style, not because of careful or understandable plotting. Farewell, My Lovely is different. The plot is still complicated as hell, but it's reasonably easy to follow. After watching the movie, I pulled out my copy of the book and skimmed through it to see how the screenwriter approached the project, and I finished that exercise very impressed. The film's story is like the novel's story, but details have been omitted and even changed entirely. At times the complete focal point of the story has been shifted, and it all works - possibly even better than the novel, although one always misses all the intricate details that can be explored in a book. My hat is off to screenwriter David Zelag Goodman.
I had never heard the name of David Zelag Goodman before writing this article, and was fascinated to see that he wrote some respected screenplays in the early 1970s, did so prolifically, and then just kind of disappeared. IMDb offers no clues to this mystery.
Goodman not only did a good job at adapting the plot, but he also layered in some clever parallels between Marlowe's cases and the events happening in the world at the time. For example, things go well for Marlowe at the beginning of the film. He solves two missing persons in two days and also manages to pick up an incredibly hot rich chick, so he mentally compares himself to DiMaggio, who was at the time just a few games shy of the all-time hit record. As DiMaggio passes the record and keeps adding to his record, a cocky Marlowe wonders if DiMaggio will just keep hitting in every game forever (implying that he may do the same, although Marlowe is too modest to say so directly). Of course, DiMaggio is finally stymied by a couple of mediocre pitchers, because all streaks must end. Marlowe's own streak meets a similar fate, disappointing him and breaking his heart, but ultimately enriching us by providing fodder for the usual poetic and melancholy voice-over musings.
The film delivers a comprehensible plot, some touching moments, and some great Marlowe narration from Mitchum. In addition, there are all the atmospheric elements you need in 1941 Los Angeles: neon signs flashing on and off, sassy dames, drunken floozies, big galoots, wise guys, ugly mugs, washed-up fighters, crooked cops, crookeder politicos, lots of street slang, and Harry Dean Stanton. In my book, that pretty much makes Farewell, My Lovely a must-see if you like film noir of the hard-boiled detective variety.
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