It was a cold drizzly night in Charleston. Still no geese in Goose Creek, which probably contributed to my overall bad mood.
(Still no mountain in Mount Pleasant either.)
I was bummed out. I’d been promising the Pumpkins uptown I was going to take in “Hyde Park on Hudson” and make it sing. But the movie hadn’t shown, leaving me standing there like I was parked on second base with no innings left to play. Nothing left to do but open a pack of Luckies, toss down some cheap bourbon and clean my roscoe. No wonder Dave Brubeck died.
Then the door opened and an answer came in. A 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel “Farewell, My Lovely”. Directed by Dick Richards and starring Big Bob Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, Jack O’Halloran, John Ireland and a lot of others. I decided there was nothing to lose by pumping it for information.
I wish I knew more about Dick Richards. Information is woefully sparse, and so’s his resume. “Farewell, My Lovely” was his third feature film after “The Culpepper Cattle Company” and “Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins”. After that he tends to sort of fade out (producing “Tootsie”, directing “Heat”, “Death Valley”, “Man, Woman and Child” and the interesting “March or Die”). Some filmmakers you can get a bit of a handle on after seeing a bit of their work. Richards isn’t one of those.
But I’ll say this: I wouldn’t mind having my name as the director of “Farewell, My Lovely”. Closely following the Chandler novel, the movie takes place in 1941 Los Angeles. Private investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by an ex-con Moose Malloy to locate Malloy’s old girlfriend (described as being “as cute as a pair of lace panties”). In the meantime all the hoods in town . . . not to mention the police (crooked or otherwise) and politicians (ditto ditto) are all wanting to talk to Moose (with the definition of conversation usually involving machine guns). Marlowe takes the case and soon gets deeply involved in the seamier side of the city . . . including Helen Grayle: wife of a prominent judge (and seamy never looked so good!).
This is classic old school film noir, and the only thing which soured it was that it was filmed in color instead of the black-and-white which, by rights, is how it should’ve been made. Fortunately the cinematographer was John Alonzo, who faced a similar problem with Polanski’s “Chinatown”. Alonzo came through again, lensing the movie with muted colors (and making use of a lot of night scenes) and “Farewell, My Lovely” joins “Chinatown” in that short list of color noir films that actually work (others being Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Hyams’ “Goodnight, My Love”). If nothing much is known about Richards, at least it can be said that he knows how to pick talent. Along with Alonzo on cinematography he had David Zelag Goodman writing the screenplay (Goodman would gain an Edgar nomination for his efforts).
Richards’ eye for talent would definitely extend to the cast. I usually get yelled at a lot for this, but I feel Robert Mitchum’s Phillip Marlowe is superior to Humphrey Bogart’s. Mitchum just seemed to be tailor made for the role, and I suspect his face had something to do with it. To me, Mitchum always carried this expression which enabled him to declare undying love to a woman while, at the same time, looking as if he was wondering how much alimony he’d end up paying. A face which has seen too much of reality (and which is perfect for a L.A. detective who regularly has to dive into a pile of manure just to locate a single rose). Richards opens the film with a shot of Marlowe staring out of a hotel window, and Mitchum is definitely carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. It’s a look and a pose which sets the tone for his character, and the lover of detective films just eats it up and is along for the ride.
Speaking of rides (and you’ve got to be this tall . . .), Helen Grayle is played by Charlotte Rampling who spends her time throughout the movie with her seduction setting turned to Full. Early in their first meeting Mitchum’s voice over goes “She gave me a look I could feel in my hip pocket”, which is about as fair a description of Rampling’s character as one could wish for (and I got news for Mitchum: Rampling was shooting wide, and hitting everything she was aiming at). Whether or not she was supposed to be a homage to Lizabeth Scott, Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck is a subject for scholarly debate. All I know is that watching her in this movie is an Awful Lot of Fun (and sometimes for the wrong reason). Whether consciously or otherwise, Rampling takes on the persona of the sort of woman mothers warn their sons about (and one which sons desperately look for). If she’s a cliche then she’s an extremely watchable one.
This film introduces us to Jack O’Halloran. Usually known for playing oversized menaces or doofuses (or both . . . e.g. “Superman”, “Dragnet”), O’Halloran isn’t exactly called upon in “Farewell, My Lovely” to portray someone capable of mental gymnastics. But, along with Mitchum and Rampling, he takes on his role as if Richards made a specific call to God for someone like him. Moose Malloy isn’t meant to be a criminal mastermind, or even a criminal mastermindless. He barely even cares about the robbery which landed him in prison to begin with. All he wants is “his Velma”, and he’ll step over or through anything (including Marlowe) to get to her. It’s a pretty effective portrayal of a tough simpleton too dumb to know when he’s being set up while, at the same time, operating under his own unique concepts of honor and decency. The sort of person for whom the phrase “big lug” was invented. Delivering his lines in a low paced voice, he’s more of a natural force than a human being, but he’s also capable of garnering the sympathy of someone like Marlowe (as well as the audience). Late in the film he and Marlowe head out to a floating casino, and Moose gives Marlowe a brief nod of grudging appreciation as the detective punches out some baddies. Considering the way O’Halloran played the character, he makes the nod seem like the Congressional Medal of Honor, and it’s a nice demonstration of subtlety in an actor not usually known for it.
If I was the sort of person who determined the quality of movies by the number of talented character actors to be found in it (and hey! I am!), then “Farewell, My Lovely” is a solid winner from the first. Sylvia Miles is wonderful as a dotty alcoholic former entertainer who helps put Marlowe on the right track in the case (or tries to). The role would gain Miles an Oscar nominatiuon. There’s also Anthony Zerbe as a smarmy casino owner (Zerbe being someone who can turn on the smarm with the snap of a finger), Harry Dean Stanton as a crooked police detective and John Ireland as a not-crooked police detective. Especially tasty is Kate Murtagh as Frances Amthor: a rather monstrous madam. Pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson (once again, Richards knows his stuff) has a brief role as Judge Grayle, and the viewer will also spot Sylvester Stallone a year before he made “Rocky” (not doing anything particularly spectacular here, but the boy’s patient).
Although no Jerry Goldsmith or John Barry, David Shire (“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”, “The Conversation”, etc.) manages to fill the film with a nicely textbook 1940s noir soundtrack. Richards certainly didn’t need much help to set the scene and tone of “Farewell, My Lovely” (kudos also to Dean Tavoularis, Angelo Graham, Barry Bedig and the rest of Richards’ production team), but it’s apparent that he didn’t want to take the risk of making a slip, and Shire’s music provides the proper punctuation.
A film so well-constructed as this generally makes me sit back and wonder why it isn’t better remembered than it is. It did well critically, and (as I mentioned) it managed to garner a few professional award nominations (for reasons which totally escape me, it lost out to “Three Days of the Condor” for the 1976 Edgar). It admittedly has gained a substantial following among people who appreciate a good hard-boiled detective story, but it remains to me a film which deserves far more in the way of solid appreciation.
Needless to say, I Enjoyed the Movie!