3/3/09

Farewell, My Lovely

Year Released: 1975
Director: Dick Richards
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland

Have Faith in the Great DiMaggio

The great American hero, Joltin' Joe. Don't worry, said Hemingway's Old Man. Have faith in him. He never lets you down. He remains the same, down-to-earth and humble despite all his extraordinariness. He will always be. He will never retire. He will hit safely in every game from now until eternity.

The 56 Game Hitting Streak record-holder captured the hearts of the nation and, well, with that brand of humility and dependability, how could Depression-era America not fall in love with Joltin' Joe? In a time when everything was uncertain, all-American fathers could stumble to breakfast in undershirt and unbuttoned top, open up the newspaper and feel good that some things never changed. Dad's job hung by thread, but the faithful DiMaggio played another great game of baseball.

Meanwhile, the all-American son, Jimmy Part-in-his-hair, oblivious to his family's economic turmoil, spent his meager nickels on pulp fiction rags and indulged in the daydream of playing shamus in the dark alleys of America's Gotham Cities. Five years later, a war was breaking out in Europe and the now-teenage Jimmy was no longer oblivious to money troubles. Every morning, he and his dad looked at the newspaper together while his mother poured two glasses of orange juice. For 56 straight game-days, headlines spoke of a terrible war and Joe DiMaggio gave them good news.

The political scope of the world wasn't the only thing changing in 1941. While Jimmy played high school baseball and dreamed of being the next Joe DiMaggio, the father began reading books by Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain, popularized pulp fiction novels that were evolutionarily advanced enough for consumption by educated adults. Father and son met halfway with one author in particular, Raymond Chandler, and spoke interchangeably about the latest New York Yankees game and Philip Marlowe's latest case. It doesn't hurt that the iconic detective is a big fan of Joltin' Joe himself.

It's no surprise that Philip Marlowe became one of the most revisited roles in film history. He was the tough crime-fighter hero of pulp fiction, but he was also Don Quixote, bullied and insulted every step of the way while never losing sight of... well, that mysterious whatever-it-was that drove him to do the right thing every time. Philip Marlowe was the people's hero, America's James Bond, and - true to his Depression-era origins - he was humble and dependable in case after case after case. One by one, each of those cases were made into films with big-name actors such as Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Montgomery, and Hollywood-bound Raymond Chandler had a hitting streak of his own. In Jimmy's adolescing mind, Marlowe, like DiMaggio, would always be there, hitting safely unto eternity.

In 1975, my self-serving, exemplary Jimmy stopped bothering to part his hair. He lived in a different kind of America now, but he held fast to his childhood loves of the New York Yankees and Raymond Chandler novels. In recent years, he watched James Garner's and Elliot Gould's off-beat adaptations of Philip Marlowe, but it just wasn't the same. To him, Marlowe was as much a time and a place as he was a person. Then the DiMaggio-happy Farewell, My Lovely arrived in theaters, and while the leading actor was too old for the role, he too was a relic from a time and a place when Jimmy and his father shared the morning paper and baseball news.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.



Farewell, My Lovely

  It's Only Okay With Me.   6.5/10




Robert Mitchum played Jeff Markham/Bailey in the film noir classic Out of the Past. To this day, Mitchum's portrayal of the private detective is heralded as a paragon example of the genre. His performance as the ill-fated but ever strong and witty Markham is about as iconic as a private detective can get, except for one major detail: on the door to Jeff Markham's office, the brass letters do not spell out P-H-I-L-I-P M-A-R-L-O-W-E.

A part perfectly cast is a holy grail of Hollywood. Christopher Reeves as Superman. Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan. Brendan Gleeson as Winston Churchill. John Leguizamo as Luigi. While these are up for debate (Tom Clancy preferred Ben Affleck over Harrison Ford), few people in the 1940's debated the choice of Robert Mitchum for Philip Marlowe. He was perfect. It was destiny. People asked: when would that movie be made? They didn't know that they had to wait until 1975.

It's too bad that stars align only once in a lifetime and Robert Mitchum was thirty years too late. Even Joe DiMaggio retired.

In case you haven't seen it...

Adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel by the same name, Farewell, My Lovely is a remake of a 1944 film. Marlowe is bought for one case and forced into the other. Of course, they are related.

Loved

  • Often with a film remake, fans are angry with the changes. I won't say that I'd choose Farewell, My Lovely over Murder, My Sweet for any reason, but I enjoyed a lot of the little adjustments made between films. One example is Jules Amthor. In the book and original film, Jules Amthor was a quack psychic (read New Age anything) and a man. In Farewell, My Lovely, Jules Amthor was a woman, a large Madame for a brothel. The character switch had little affect on the story as a whole and helped the film develop an identity apart from its predecessor.


  • Despite my last Loved entry, I loved seeing Grayle's drawing room. If that isn't the exact same set used in Murder, My Sweet, it is a damn good replica. Robert Mitchum walking into that room felt like cinematic deja vu. I half expected Dick Powell to start playing hopscotch.


  • Farewell, My Lovely is film history's only period-piece Philip Marlowe movie and of the film's virtues, its commitment to time and place is king of the castle. The art production was detail oriented and the cinematography was so bogged down in muddy atmosphere that it felt like watching a series of sepia photos.

Loathed

  • It is difficult to watch Marlowe have a friend without thinking of The Long Goodbye, a Raymond Chandler novel revolving around the meaning of the word Friendship. Farewell, My Lovely captured Marlowe's oft-love-hate friendship with policemen, but the newspaper man? I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. For Philip to reach the point where he would have to wholly depend on someone else, he would have to be completely broken down. In Farewell, My Lovely, Mitchum acted like mooching off of his newspaper man friend was the most natural thing in the world and that is something I can't picture Chandler's hero doing.


  • Outside of the 1940's, a voice-over narration is almost always a bad move. I understand that the movie is a throwback flick and the narration is part of the billing, but if so, they could have tried to get a little more performance out of Mitchum's voice. It sounded like Harrison Ford's intentionally bad narration in the theatrical release of Blade Runner.


  • I rated this film as Only Okay because it was thirty years too late. Let me preface this by saying that no Marlowe casting can compare to Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978). I truly believe that and I still count Robert Mitchum as one of my favorite actors of all time (in the Top 5, for sure). However, I found little pleasure in watching him act at the age of 58; he pulled the energy out of scenes, he rarely made facial expressions and he didn't move his arms... (I know you don't care, Bob, but I beg you to forgive me anyway.)


  • Just one more point about Mitchum's age: him making out with Charlotte Rampling was gross.



The Arnold Strong Award
for supporting actor:
Sylvester Stallone as Jonnie

By then, he'd already co-written a screenplay. By then, he'd written what would become Rocky. The seeds were planted for his monumental career and in his face you could see none of it. As the horny goon Jonnie, like always, we only see Sly's dumbfounded, blank look. And yet, we have to believe that there is something behind it.

The Hawkeye Pierce Award
for contemporary commentary:
Florian's

In Murder, My Sweet, Florian's changed from a nightclub to a dive bar. In Farewell, My Lovely, Florian's became engulfed by the black neighborhoods in southern downtown. The latter would never happen in a film in the 1940's, but in reality, the sudden influx of African-Americans from the south to southcentral LA was a unique and powerful history of its own. I like the revisionism and similarities to Walter Mosley.

The Fanty & Mingo Award
for out-of-the-blue allusion:
Jim Thompson

Firstly, if you don't know who Jim Thompson is, educate yourself so that you may fully appreciate this. Two years before he literally killed himself slowly with alcohol at Musso and Frank Grill, Jim Thompson walks into Farewell, My Lovely in a bit part as Old Man Grayle. It's for moments like this that I must thank the movie gods.

If you liked this film...

Go see Devil in a Blue Dress, another period piece Los Angeles crime drama with a perfect cast.

After the seventies, unusual suspects such as Powers Boothe, Danny Glover (no joke! and emmy nominated!) and James Caan have played Mr. Marlowe and recently, rumors floated around that Clive Owen might champion the role back to mainstream film. In other words, a Chandler fan has a wide range of choices by which to choose favorites. It's no secret which Marlowe film is my favorite (note the studio's original choice for casting), but if I were to pick a second, it would have to be Dick Powell and Murder, My Sweet. If anything, I can appreciate Farewell, My Lovely as an homage to that classic film, a classic literary figure and a classic acting career. As a stand alone movie, I'd have to pass.

No comments:

Post a Comment