Day 4: FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (Dick Richards, USA, 1975)
It is blatantly obvious that this Raymond Chandler adaptation, a throwback to classic film noir but lensed through the honeyed golden hues of nostalgia, was a rather crass attempt to cash in on the success of Chinatown, and while it’s not at all the genre game-changer that Polanski’s film was, it’s nonetheless very, very good. Robert Mitchum, at this time a grizzled but still-handsome 57 years old, brings an appropriate world-weariness to the iconic character of Philip Marlowe, but for some reason the film insistently sidesteps ever deeply exploring the dynamics of having an older man in the role. As is usually the case when it comes to Chandler the plot is fundamentally incoherent, practically an endless chain of disposable red herrings; the compensating pleasures are instead how the character of Marlowe gives access to the wide variety of SoCal spaces, encountering fascinating characters around every corner. On this count Farewell, My Lovely is a great success, filling every scene with vivid character performances: wizened John Ireland, smartass Harry Dean Stanton, a fresh-faced, pre-fame Sylvester Stallone, a poignant turn by Sylvia Miles that earned her an Oscar nomination, and most particularly Kate Murtagh, whose butch Los Angeles madame ruthlessly lording over a harem of beautiful young women seems straight out of the Hope Emerson playbook. Young Charlotte Rampling plays the requisite femme fatale and the severity of 1940’s glamour suits her angular beauty like a glove; her withering stare is enough to rival any great noir siren but unfortunately there’s not enough to her role to make a deep impression. I’ve long heard the follow-up adaptation of The Big Sleep is an unmitigated disaster, but this stands as a worthy late entry to the canon of classic detective films.
[Watch Farewell, My Lovely on Fandor here.]