The Big Sleep

Novel, 1932
Movies featuring Philip Marlowe
The Falcon Takes Over (1942)

Director Irving Reis; writers Lynn Root, Frank Fenton; featuring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Also called Farewell, My Lovely; director Edward Dmytryk; writer John Paxton; featuring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley

The Big Sleep (1946)

Director Howard Hawks; writers William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; featuring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Lady in the Lake (1947)

Director Robert Montgomery; writer Steve Fisher; featuring Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan

Marlowe (1969)

Director Paul Bogart; writer Stirling Silliphant; featuring James Garner, Gayle Hunnicutt, Carroll O'Connor, Rita Moreno

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Director Irving Reis; writers Lynn Root, Frank Fenton; featuring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Director Dick Richards; writer David Zelag Goodman; featuring Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, Jack O'Halloran

The Big Sleep (1978)

Director Michael Winner; writer Winner; featuring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Joan Collins, James Stewart

Poodle Springs (1998)

Director Bob Rafelson; writer Tom Stoppard; featuring James Caan, Dina Meyer, David Keith

The Big Sleep


Murder, My Sweet scene

Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is interrogated in Farewell, My Lovely—er, Murder, My Sweet—in 1944.

The real Marlowe

Only two years after the Falcon fiasco (a fiasco for Marlowe fans, that is), what most consider the definitive Farewell, My Lovely came out, titled Murder, My Sweet in the United States.

Dick Powell as Marlowe

Dick Powell as grizzled Marlowe

Former song-and-dance man Dick Powell became the first to play Philip Marlowe under that name, and some say he was the best Marlowe—perhaps the best-ever movie PI. Not physically imposing but quietly effective, with just the right balance of do-gooding and world-weariness. Yet always wisecracking—with many lines lifted directly from Chandler, along with some dillies created for the film.

Also memorable is movie tough-guy Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy, whose role is upgraded somewhat, as well as uplifted. In this adaptation he actually hires Marlowe to find his Velma and doesn't kill anyone till well into the story, although the big guy disappears for the middle part of the movie.

The film starts with a blinded Marlowe undergoing police interrogation (under an intense light, which come to think of it doesn't make sense). Much of the movie to come is the tale he tells the cops in flashbacks.

Except for the necessarily drastic condensation of plot, the film is faithful to the book. In fact, it's quite impressive how many of the book's intriguing secondary characters are left in: the alcoholic old lady who knows too much, the medium who admits "I am a quack", the drug-dealing doctor—all of whom bring to life those great Chandleresque situations.

One major omission though is the racial content of the novel. Chandler has Malloy breaking up a black nightclub and killing the black proprietor, a crime the police don't spend much time on since it involves only victims described with the N-word. The movie changes the bar to a white establishment and gets no one killed in the ruckus.

However, the script and cinematography for Murder, My Sweet manage to reflect most of the novel's social criticism. If anything, the movie's darker than the book.

Marlowe is knocked out and trips out in Murder, My Sweet.

And as in all the best Chandler adaptations, the plot is dense to the point of incomprehensibility but illustrated with indelible scenes. You enjoy the ride without ever understanding how it gets from point to point. Or, put one more way, it makes more emotional than intellectual sense.

All in all, a great introduction to Marlowe—and to film noir in general.

— Eric