Written Nov. 25, 1975
"Farewell, My Lovely" (Dick Richards, 1975) This summer I became acquainted with my first Raymond Chandler novel (I'm a late bloomer). It was an old copy, tattered and falling apart with an honest-to-god-"Genuine Pocket Book" pulp cover on it (barely), of "The Long Goodbye." A lovely thing to read--entertainingly, slickly written. The magic of the gutter just kind of spills out of it.
Now,Howard Hawks made a great Marlowe picture, with Humphrey Bogart, but Bogart naturally talks like Chandler writes(people don't talk like Bogart--his emphases come in the oddest places).* Robert Mitchum talks like ol' Bob Mitchum, and though he'll put in some "Bogartian" inflections of his gravelly voice, there's still a lot of wrong with him.
Dick Richards is not one of my favorite directors. His "Rafferty and the Gold-Dust Twins," though occasionally gratifying was highly episodic, strung together and rather poorly paced (maybe I just don't like "road pictures," but then why did I like "Harry and Tonto" and "Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore?"). His adaptation of "Farewell, My Lovely" doesn't fare to well, either. It's sleazy where it wants to be gritty, and slightly hysterical when it wants to be tough. It's warmed-over Chandler with nothing that can revitalize the plot plagiarized and bastardized by so many rotten tv detective shows.** "Chinatown" had an evil "plot" idea that I've seen before on these same detective shows, yet "Chinatown" burned with Polanski's perversity, so that you didn't care. "Farewell, My Lovely" is beautifully photographed (that title sequence with Los Angeles burned up in yellows and reds blurring on the street is just beautiful--can't tell a book, etc.) But it's just another movie that tried to cash in on another film's appeal and wasted its own potential. "No way has been invented yet to say good-bye to them."
"Farewell, My Lovely" was the second time Chandler's novel had been adapted as an official Philip Marlowe movie. The first was 1944's "Murder, My Sweet" starring singing, dancing Dick Powell (who also played Marlowe in a television adaptation of "The Long Goodbye") Other Marlowe's, besides the best-remembered Bogart, are the Montgomery's, Robert and George, James Garner and Elliott Gould. Philip Carey, Danny Glover and the very fine Powers Boothe played him on tv. Mitchum, 30, even 20 years earlier, would have been a great Marlowe, but in 1975, he was just a bit too old and paunchy to be playing Chandler's L.A. shamus. It's a great cast though, with Charlotte Rampling, Sylvia Miles, John Ireland, Harry Dean Stanton, Anthony Zerbe--even a pre-"Rocky" Sylverster Stallone. And they got the ambience right, with Marlowe's attention being diverted from the case by DiMaggio's hitting streak in 1941--the book was released in 1940, but why quibble? It was still pre-war. They did far better than Michael Winner's version of "The Big Sleep"--set in London in 1978.
And David Shire's trumpet-dominated score could notch comfortably behind any detective story.
* And one can say that people don't talk like Chandler writes!
** And had been used starting as early as 1942, evidently, in a George Sanders B-movie called "The Falcon Takes Over." Chandler's "The High Window" was adapted as "Time To Kill" for the Lloyd Nolan "Michael Shayne, Private Detective" movie series (and again in 1947 as "The Brasher Doubloon").