Blog Directory CineVerse: Far from a "Farewell" to noir

Far from a "Farewell" to noir

Monday, September 13, 2021

Despite what many believe, film noir didn’t fade away after the fifties. Its roots found fertile ground in the 1970s, with dark dramas like Klute, Dirty Harry, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Gumshoe, Chinatown, and Night Moves revitalizing the genre. Included in that wave of neo-noir throwbacks five decades ago is Farewell My Lovely, an interesting adaptation of a Raymond Chandler story featuring detective Philip Marlowe, this time with rugged but wrinkled Robert Mitchum playing our favorite private eye. CineVerse examined this picture last week and came away impressed by its fidelity to Chandler’s source material and to the spirit of classic noir (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here). A summary of our conversation follows.

What did you find surprising, memorable, unexpected, or refreshing about Farewell My Lovely?

  • Unlike other neo-noir films of this era, such as Klute, Serpico, The Long Goodbye, and Mean Streets—all of which were used a contemporary setting—this was an attempt to adapt a classic noir tale in a retro fashion by using voiceover narration, employing flashbacks and noir conventions, casting two actors who remind us of classic 1940s-1950s noir (Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling, who is meant to look like Lauren Bacall), and setting the story at a time when noir was first blossoming: 1941.
  • It’s also a relatively faithful adaptation of a Chandler story, unlike the earlier adaptation Murder My Sweet or 1973’s The Long Goodbye.
  • One of the great pleasures of watching this picture is hearing the crackling hardboiled dialogue delivered by Mitchum, who utters one great line after another, such as:
    • The house itself wasn't much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler building.
    • She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.
    • It was one of those transient motels, something between a fleabag and a dive.
    • I sparred with the night clerk for a couple of minutes, but it was like trying to open a sardine can after you broke off the metal lip. There was something about Abraham Lincoln's picture that loosened him up.
  • Mitchum is a major improvement as private detective Philip Marlowe versus Dick Powell in Murder My Sweet. Even though Mitchum is probably 20 years older than the character as written by Chandler, he perfectly embodies this role.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: ” He was born to play the weary, cynical, doggedly romantic Marlowe. His voice and his face and the way he lights his cigarette are all exactly right, and seem totally effortless. That's his trademark. In a good Mitchum performance, we are never aware he is acting. And it is only when we measure the distances between his characters that we can see what he is doing.”
  • This is a very cynical and adult take on a Marlowe screen story, one that reflects the pessimism and R-rated culture of the mid-1970s. The movie is brutally honest about 1940s racist attitudes among police officers and whites, there’s a brothel scene showing full-frontal nudity, and we hear an old-timey private eye use profanity.
  • Like other Chandler stories and Marlowe yarns, the plot of Farewell My Lovely can sometimes be hard to follow, and some character motivations are difficult to explain/understand (such as why Marlowe is kept prisoner and doped up at the brothel and why Sylvester Stallone’s tough guy goes so far as to kill Amthor). However, the best attributes of Chandler stories are their dialogue, mood, and colorful characters—not necessarily the plots.

Major themes

  • Duplicity and deceit: The femme fatale in this story goes by two names – Velma and Helen Grayle
  • Corruption and greed: Everyone in this murky milieu can be had for a price, even the police.
  • The impossibility of innocence: In the dark, seedy world of noir, all souls are tarnished and tempted, and everyone seems to be sinful. Arguably, the most virtuous character in this tale is Marlowe’s friend who runs the newsstand.
  • The hunter becomes the hunted. Marlowe is a private eye investigating mysteries and searching for people, but he is also sought by Moose, Brunette, Helen, Judge Baxter, and the police.

Similar works

  • The Falcon Takes Over, and Murder My Sweet: two earlier adaptations of this Raymond Chandler story
  • The Godfather, The Long Goodbye, and Chinatown: three immediate predecessors that were all neo-noirs and period films
  • The Big Sleep (1978), another remake of a classic Chandler story, also starring Robert Mitchum
  • The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a 1973 neo noir also starring Mitchum
  • Marlowe (1969)

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