RAYMOND CHANDLER – Farewell, My Lovely. Philip Marlowe #2, Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1940. Reprinted many times.

MURDER, MY SWEET. RKO, 1944.  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki and Miles Mander. Screenplay by John Paxton, from the novel Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.

   I like to get back to Raymond Chandler once a year or so, and late last year it was Farewell, My Lovely (1940) a fun read enlivened by Chandler’s polished prose and feel for violence. This is the one with Marlowe getting knocked around by Moose Malloy — a character who seems to have inspired the Incredible Hulk — then waking up in a sanitarium for more sadistic fun. Add some engagingly corrupt cops, stolen whoosis and the inevitable near-fatale femme and you get a book that set the standard for a whole generation of tough mysteries.

   I have to say there’s about twenty-five wasted pages — something about Marlowe trying to get on a gambling ship that takes an awfully long time to reach a plot point he could have covered by a phone call, but by and mainly, Lovely still seems fresh and surprisingly un-clichéd nearly seventy years on.

   This was filmed in 1942 as The Falcon Takes Over, with George Sanders’ debonair sleuth replacing Marlowe, and under its original title in 1975, with Chandler’s archetypal detective played by Robert Mitchum, himself something of an archetype by then. But the definitive version came out in 1944 under the title Murder, My Sweet.

   Murder, My Sweet ushered in film noir, and no wonder; it’s a dazzling visual thing, brightly scripted and intelligently played, the kind of movie that sets a style and inspires imitation. Director Edward Dmytryk fills the screen with monster-movie imagery — hard shadows, cobwebs, lurking things coming out of the night — and plays it off beautifully against a hard-edged, take-no-sh*t attitude. Dick Powell’s Marlowe sometimes seems petulant when he ought to look tough, but for a trend-setting film, there are remarkably few false notes played here.

   Speaking of notes though, the ending of Murder, My Sweet echoes another horror-influenced film released months earlier, The Pearl of Death (Universal, 1944) one of Roy William Neill’s superior “B” Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone. Both movies end with an unarmed detective cornered in a room with Miles Mander and a hulking brute enraged by… well, you get the idea.

   I only wonder what actor Miles Mander must have thought, finding himself playing out the same scene at different studios just months, or maybe weeks, apart.