There's moments when the camera catches Dick Powell in a goofy doltish facial and the illusion is temporarily broken, just as well he has the right voice because his narration is the slick noir commentary you want a wise cracking detective to have and on that, along with the gritty presentation of neon lights, smoky moors and drug induced hallucinations is what carries this solid anti hero detective mystery thriller.
There's no avoiding it: Powell doesn't look the part. He's too baby-faced, too suited to cuddly comedy—he comes off less as a savvy hero navigating the mean streets than a schmuck being batted around. The rest is ace pulp surrealism, both in its explosive flourishes and whole irrational air. Which befits a story narrated by a blind man and kicked off by a lovesick giant of unlimited strength but no emotional control.
From the film's opening moments, I was enjoying Dick Powell's portrayal of Raymond Chandler's iconic literary detective Philip Marlowe almost as much as Edward Dmytryk's stylish noir visuals—but as the film went on and Powell grew more and more manic, I missed the cool detachment of the character on the page, a private dick for whom getting whacked over the head and stuffed in a trunk is considered routine.
This is a good example of what happens when a film noir takes itself too seriously and the whole thing starts to look like a parody of its own genre. Another unfortunate thing about this film is that Philip Marlowe is played by Dick Powell, who is nowhere near as charismatic as Bogart.
I don't think anything in the first wave of Raymond Chandler adaptations captures the acerbic novelist's acid wit half as well as does Dmytryk's MURDER, MY SWEET, which also benefits from radical compression, allowing for the antic intensification of the zany intricate plotting. Some people are not wholly sold on Dick Powell, a dancer in the realm of plot, for the simple reason that they are morons and have no class.
Dialogue as black as lightning, shot through smoke and mirrors. Powell's Marlowe belies a certain naivete that adds an intrigue of despair to the story - a Los Angeles (and America) that lost its innocence long ago. This is preternatural noir - a mass hallucination turned into cultural memory.
4 & a half stars. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, and the first of several films featuring his iconic Philip Marlowe character, here played by Dick Powell (later played by Bogart, Elliot Gould and Robert Mitchum). Worth noting is character actor Mike Mazurki, one of Hollywood's great thugs, a role he played over 150 times. Shrewdly directed by HUAC snitch Dmytryk, it does justice to the great Chandler's work.
Chandler's novels are the kind you don't read because of a plot that makes sense, but because of the atmosphere, the characters, and general pulpiness. Powell is thankfully better as Marlowe than as a family man in Pitfall, and there are some truly gorgeous visual moments. Overall the film captures private eyes as they should be, and it feels more like a dream than a straightforward film noir.