We’re on an unapologetic film noir binge here at CE, and we don’t care who knows it.
After our recent review of Double Indemnity–which established a lot of the basic format of noir while simultaneously ignoring the most important element, the hardboiled detective–we’re back in more familiar territory. In fact, we’re entering hallowed ground, for we are about to speak of Philip Marlowe‘s film debut.
Possibly the most notable element of this film is that Dick Powell, known for light-hearted roles as opposed to anything Marlowe-esque was cast in the lead role… and, seventy years later, therein lies a problem. The major issue is that the hard-boiled dick actor par excellence is Humphrey Bogart, and no amount of thespian versatility by lesser men could ever really equal that. Having anyone else play Marlowe seems somehow sacrilegious.
This is still a great film, mainly because the plot is so twisted that one ends up needing a corkscrew to figure it all out… that is until the end, where the spider at the center of the web is revealed, and the motivations become a bit clearer.
We won’t spoil it by giving away the final revelation, but will limit ourselves to noting that most of the comments about human sorididity that we made about Double Indemnity are still valid, but detract less from this film. It’s one of those cases where having the plot focus less closely on the relationships between people and having more actually go on shifts the focus away from the baser elements of behavior. This one feels more like a roller-coaster ride through the murky depths than the view through a microscope of that same muck… and gains by it immeasurably.
Watching the two films back to back is recommended for anyone who wishes to truly understand the extremes of noir, and how two aesthetically similar films in the same genre which touch on similar themes, and even use a similar flashback framing to tell the story, can feel completely different, and yet be unmistakably related.
And a final reflection is how dark films seemed to find favor during dark times, despite the best efforts of the Hays office. Noir is a product of the early and mid forties, which would seem to be anti-intuitive; one would think that a people weary of war would look for light-hearted filmography.
But that clearly wasn’t the case. Noir would never be done as well as it was then, much like comedy would never be as good as the screwball type of the thirties – Hollywood simply never recovered that particular magic.
We give this one four Schlemmons.