Fri, 30 June 2006
Dick Powell was cast as Philip Marlowe in the 1945 film "Murder, My Sweet." Was it a stroke of genius to allow a song and dance man to reinvent himself in this role, or the desecration of a literary icon? Clute and Edwards are deeply divided on this issue, but find many topics on which they agree: whether the viewer considers Powell's performance a triumph or a tragedy, it is evident that the tension between the two strong female leads (Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley) is a fundamental driving force of the film; with numerous deft touches director Edward Dymytrk pulls the audience into Marlowe's point of view, and demonstrates the investigator's inner turmoil; Chandler is the fulcrum on which post-war film and literature teeter because Philip Marlowe is the perfect embodiment of the psychologically-scarred modern Everyman. This podcast is brought to you by Clute and Edwards of www.noircast.net. To leave a comment on this episode, or make a donation to the podcast, please visit "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir" at outofthepast.libsyn.com.
I appreciate your debate about whether Dick Powell was an appropriate choice for Philip Marlowe, but it’s really too bad that you both base so much of your critique of Powell on your faulty assumptions about what kind of a performer he was in his pre-noir films. You refer to him as a “song and dance man” at least twice, and even more times solely as a dancer. To say that Powell was “the man who could move so elegantly because he could dance with the best female dancers of his era” or that “the dancer is bursting at the seams to come out” is simply ridiculous. You talk about him as if he were Fred Astaire. Powell was a singer, a crooner to be more exact, much like Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee. True, Powell was in umpteen musicals in the 1930’s – the Busby Berkeley musicals famous for their elaborately choreographed dance numbers – but he was not a dancer. If you really watch Powell in any of the Berkeley musicals, you’ll notice that, although he’s featured in many of the big-scale musical numbers, all he does is sing. He’s typically posed with his partner, sitting or standing (even reclining!) while he sings to her, or as they sing together. He might at the most walk around or near his partner - maybe contributing a light step or two - while she dances around him. So it’s actually not such a stretch for Powell, who was not a dancer at all, to be physically clumsy and wooden in his movements as Marlowe. He was by then 40 years old and we can all see the middle-age thickness settling in, thanks to that undershirt scene…
I appreciate your response. I think you are correct to say we overemphasize Powell\\\'s dancing abilities. In the studio system, Powell was trying to break out of the mold of being seen as a crooner and a stage performer, and that is why he so wanted to have more dramatic roles such as his persona-reworking turn in Murder My Sweet. The point Shannon and I were debating--the little skip jump he performs in the hallway--was the launching off point for our over-emphasis on his dancing prowess. However, I still think the central debate Shannon and I were having is still valid, even if Powell was no Fred Astaire. To me, the moment represents the type of acting business that would have been natural to a seasoned stage performer like Powell. In its dancerly playfulness, I think it does reveal that--for the most part--Powell\\\'s take on Marlowe involved him reining in his natural stage performing tendencies, and I like this off-beat moment as a spot where Powell tosses into this hard-boiled film an homage to his earlier persona--and I think the skip jump would have been read that way in 1945. But that doesn\\\'t mean we didn\\\'t go over the top in our praise of soft-shoe abilities. Your point is well taken.
Hi, I can see why you were both split on the podcast. there is something at once so gimmicky about the movie yet its so authentically entrenched in noir - so it can\\\'t be written off completely. finally, i find the film a little too goofy. Dick Powell works well enough - with his repressed grace - but i think it\\\'s the strength of the screenplay that holds it together and nothing else. As you mentioned, i think the screenplay chips away at the novel, making cinematic sense out of it. If you\\\'re interested, check out my new site: http://remissionmagazine.blogspot.com - there\\\'s a few noir pieces on there, in the artcles section there\\\'s something on the detective. This isn;t an ad! just have a look if you feel like it. Looking forward to the next cast. P
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