A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

RAYMOND CHANDLER – Farewell My Lovely. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1940. Pocket Book #212, paperback, 1943. Reprinted many times.

   Many critics consider The Long Goodbye to be Chandler’s finest novel. This one disagrees. That distinction should probably go to Farewell, My Lovely – a more tightly plotted, less self-indulgent and overblown book, with characters, scenes, and prose of such artistry that it ranks as not only a cornerstone private-eye novel but a cornerstone work in the genre. Its near-flawless construction is all the more awesome when you consider that like The Big Sleep, it is a product of “canniballzation”: It makes extensive use of “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (Black Mask, March 1936); “Try the Girl” (Black Mask, January 1937); and “Mandarin’s Jade” (Dime Detective, November 1937).

   Marlowe’s client in this case is Moose Malloy, a giant ex-con with a one-track mind: All that matters to him is finding his former girlfriend, Velma, a redhead “cute as lace pants,” who disappeared after he was sent to prison. Marlowe is a reluctant detective, his first encounter with Malloy having ended in the wreckage of a bar, Florian’s, where Velma once worked and a black bouncer suffering a broken neck; but Malloy won’t take no for an answer.

   As Marlowe’s search for Velma develops, “the atmosphere becomes increasingly malevolent and charged with evil.” Among the characters he meets are a foppish blackmailer named Lindsay Marriott; a gin-drinking old lady with secrets and a fine new radio; a beautiful blonde with no morals and a rich husband who doesn’t give a damn; a Hollywood Indian named Second Planting who has “the shoulders of a blacksmith and the … legs of a chimpanzee”; a phony psychic, Jules Amthor: Dr. Sonderborg, who runs a private psychiatric clinic staffed with thugs; Laird Brunelle, the tough operator of a gambling ship called the Royal Crown; and L.A. and Bay City cops, some of whom are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

   The climax, in which Marlowe and Moose Malloy both come face-to-face with the elusive Velma, is a stunner. Like a number of other scenes — especially Marlowe’s drugged imprisonment in Sonderberg’s clinic, in a room “full of smoke [that] hung straight up in the air, in thin lines, straight up and down like a curtain of small clear beads”-it remains sharp in one’s memory long after reading.

    Farewell. My Lovely was filmed twice, once in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet, With Dick Powell as Marlowe, and once in 1975 under its original title, with Robert Mitchum in the starring role. The Powell version is the better of the two, even though Mitchum, aging and slightly seedy, better captures the essence of Marlowe. (Powell isn’t bad, though-a surprisingly gritty performance for an actor who began his career as a crooner in Busby Berkley musicals.) Mike Mazurki’s portrayal of Moose Malloy in Murder My Sweet is more memorable (and credible) than Jack O’Halloran’ s in Farewell. And the noir style of the earlier film better captures the flavor of Chandler’s work than the arty, full-color remake.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.