Murder, My Sweet (1944)

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As planned, I knocked off Saturday night by 11:00 to hunker down with TCM’s weekly Noir Alley feature, hosted by ‘The Czar Of Noir’ Eddie Muller, for RKO’s 1944 Murder, My Sweet. Not unlike Warner Brothers’ 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon, many consider Murder, My Sweet a kind of ‘proto-noir’, exhibiting all the style, queues and characteristics we associate with film noir, even though it was made before the post-WWII period some scholarly types prefer to pinpoint as the noir era.

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Directed by noir-maestro Edward Dmytryk, the film’s a pretty faithful adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, which had already been done without the Phillip Marlowe character as part of the Falcon film series in 1942’s The Flacon Takes Over. A few things are changed, some plot points downplayed or eliminated due to production code limitations, such as the key character’s obvious homosexuality (which remains hinted at none too subtly), and a narcotics operation. Early on when private eye Marlowe reluctantly starts his search for missing nightclub songbird Velma Valento, the bar is no longer a segregated African American club. Even Los Angeles’ infamous offshore gambling boat scene is discarded, not due to any censorship, but only because the studio didn’t want to offend the real-life gangsters in charge or the bigwigs who patronized them.

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The title change makes sense in hindsight. This film would re-launch actor Dick Powell’s career, and following an initial Minneapolis test screening under the novel’s Farewell, My Lovely title, it was decided that audiences would rightly expect a lightweight musical or romantic comedy with Powell’s name on the marquee. Powell (real name, born 1904) had been a very successful pretty boy singer/dancer throughout the 1930’s, but at age 40, it was time to reinvent his image. He’d actively campaigned for – and lost – the Fred MacMurray role in Double Indemnity. This was his big chance to start a whole new phase, and he acquitted himself well here, going on to star in a number of high-profile film noir classics and 1950’s crime melodramas, as well as taking over in the director’s chair.

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Murder, My Sweet was also intended to reinvigorate Claire Trevor’s stalled career. Trevor (born Claire Wemlinger in 1910) had recently been relegated to B-movies and westerns, and not always in the lead. But her performance here as the lusty trophy wife of a quirky but wealthy old codger pretty much steams up the screen. Even so, some say she was upstaged by former child star Anne Shirley (born Dawn Evelyeen Paria in 1918) as Trevor’s spoiled but feisty stepdaughter. Shirley sizzles in this film, which sadly was her last, choosing to retire at a young 26. But what a way to bow out.

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Dymtryk, later one of the infamous Hollywood Ten in the Red Scare era, is the brilliant director of films like Crossfire, The Caine Mutiny and Walk On The Wild Side. Here he deploys a bag of B-movie tricks to squeeze out every ounce of irony, sass and stunning visuals from the locations, sets and each actor’s performance. There are just so many memorable shots and sequences in this film, my own favorite coming early on when flashing neon sign lights make hulking thug Moose Malloy’s threatening reflection appear and disappear in the private eye Phillip Marlowe’s office window.

Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely was made again in 1975 with the real title, this time starring a world-weary Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe, along with Charlotte Rampling and Sylvia Miles, and even a young pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone in a small part as a lovesick brothel thug.

Mitchum By Sean Phillips

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Noir icon Robert Mitchum, by UK artist Sean Phillips. From the Sean Phillips artist blog ( at Sean Phillips website:



Primal Desire.

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primal desire vs. magazineprimal desire 3The rules are simple: Don’t always try to make sense of fashion photography and editorials. Just enjoy the visuals, and if you’re like me, you’ll let the pictures ignite story ideas. Model Daphne Groeneveld appears to be on the run, and it looks like her fella (model Felix Bujo) didn’t fare so well.  From a feature titled “Primal Desire”, shot by Hugh Lippe for the now defunct VS. Magazine in 2015.



I think Mark Ricketts’ Nowheresville originally was released as a four-part conventional comic series from Calibre Comics. If so, I’ve never seen it poking out of any comic shops’ back-issue bins, but then I don’t go rummaging through them much, always sensing they’re off-limits to all but the dedicated hard-core. Or at least, that’s the vibe I often get. But, it was released by Image as a 192-page digest-sized trade pb, and if you like noir-ish crime fiction, colorful word-smithing, edgy black & white art and most of all, the 1950’s beat scene, you’ll love Nowheresville.

When a low-life NYC smut photographer emerges from his darkroom, he discovers that the model he left helplessly trussed up and gagged in lingerie, stockings and heels on a makeshift set’s divan has just been murdered. Oh, it’s a set-up, no question, but the cops don’t seem particularly interested in finding out the truth, only deciding who they’ll pin this one on. Which leads us to the graphic novel’s hero, almost-too-cool-to-be-real Chic Mooney, good looking, poetic, oozing hipness but still a badass. Lured into the case, he’ll have to reckon with a crooked cop who’s got it in for him, a particularly vicious gangster, his junkie drummer pal and, perhaps worst of all, his own ex, now an utterly ruthless Hollywood star who isn’t only a femme fatale on screen.

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The art’s strictly solid black and white, all stark and jagged like some kind of 1950’s abstract expressionist art…if it was done with a bottle of India Ink and a stylus, that is. It’s stylized and terrific, but it’s the scripting that’ll get you, riffing on fifties slang that’s a real treat to read. The plot may meander here and there, but you don’t seem to care, because it remains a fun read even if you’re lost for a page or two.

I stumbled across this book by accident in a used book store’s graphic novel section. But I think it’s still available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s site. Or, maybe your local comics shop has it. I hope they do…check it out, man.

Blue City

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Ross MacDonald’s Blue City: Late in 2018 I re-read MacDonald’s The Way Some People Die, the third Lew Archer novel, and it ignited some kind of a MacDonald frenzy, and not just for McRibs (though I could go for one of those at the moment). Bit by bit I’ve been working my way through Ross MacDonald’s canon since. It seems that bookstore mystery sections don’t give the author (real name: Kenneth Millar) the respect he deserves, but then, there’s a very charming and well stocked bookstore a short hop from my day job that doesn’t have a single copy of anything by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane on its shelves either, so go figure.

So far, one of my favorites among the MacDonald novels wasn’t a Lew Archer book at all, but this 1947 stand-alone Blue City. The Black Lizard 2011 trade pb edition is shown above, and a handsome Joe Montgomery designed cover it is. This might remind you a little bit of Spillane’s non-Mike Hammer novel The Long Wait from just a few years later, filled with small town corruption, gin mills, roadhouses, bad girlz who mean well and extremely vicious hoods. I was surprised at just how far MacDonald was allowed to go with the material – violence was A-OK in mid-twentieth century crime fiction, but there was always a lot of tip-toeing around the sex. It’s pretty sizzlin’ in this 70+ year old novel.

If you only know this title from the atrocious 1986 Michael Manning film of the same name with 80’s brat-packers Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, forget that and read the book. It’s raw, gritty crime fiction at its very best.

The Ice Harvest

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Loved the book, though I read it after I saw the movie, and not all that long ago at that. Loved the movie too, a particular holiday time favorite of mine, which for some dark and twisted reason always feels especially Christmasy, despite the sleazy settings, crime and murders.

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Scott Phillips debut novel came out in 2000, and Harold Ramis’ film in 2005. The Ice Harvest takes place almost entirely on Christmas Eve 1979 in Wichita Kansas, where wearily cynical mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and crooked business associate Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) embezzle two million dollars from the mob and understandably need to hightail it out of town before their theft is discovered by local mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). But a nonstop ice storm and one complication after another have them corralled in town: Charlie’s drunk pal Pete (Oliver Platt) who’s now married to Charlie’s ex-wife, a side trip to locate incriminating photos of a troublemaking politician, a determined mob gunsel on their tail, repeated run-ins with the local cops and Charlie letting love (or lust, more likely) for local strip club manager Renata – played with beguiling charm by Connie Nielsen as one of neo-noir’s better femme fatales – almost be his undoing.

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Make no mistake. Virtually everyone in this film is rotten to the core. But you’ll be rooting for Charlie Arglist till the end, and the suburban Chicago locations that fill in for Wichita, Kansas make for strangely and authentically festive scenes. Being a noir-ish Noel of a film, though, those scenes are mostly sleazy strip clubs, cocktail lounges, gas stations and desolate roads. I missed this one this Christmas season, but I may not wait till December 2019 to give it another viewing. Crooked embezzler John Cusack, buddy Oliver Platt and even scheming Connie Nielsen are like my neo-noir elves.

Private Eyes

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Cade Martin’s “Private Eyes”, a photo suite shot for Genlux over one day and night in pre-scouted locations in Harlem. See more of Martin’s work at his website,

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Holiday Fare: A Farewell.

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I’m writing this on the 5th, so technically it’s still the holiday season and we’re good till the Feast of The Epiphany on January 6th, right? It’s supposed to be the twelve days of Christmas, or so the song says.

But I guess it’s time for fellows to hang up their Rudolph ties with the illuminated noses and to toss out their wilted mistletoe boutonnieres whether they got any laughs or kisses or not. The gals will stuff their snowflake pattern tights into the back of the sock drawer and drop the unworn spangly club dress off at the dry cleaners. The tree will get unplugged, even if the ornaments aren’t boxed up just yet. All the good Christmas gift Godiva’s have been eaten, so only the really weird ones are left in the fancy gold box, the half full bottles of syrupy sweet holiday wine should probably be spilled out. And, yes: It’s time to concede that it really is too late to mail the Christmas cards.

Once again, December sped by without enough time set aside to re-watch some cherished Christmas favorites, and I don’t mean the 24-7 merry-marathon of saccharine seasonal romances on The Hallmark Channel. Normally I squeeze in a couple nights for Shane Black’s brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even the first Lethal Weapon movie. Better yet, Harold Ramis’ 2005 The Ice Harvest (a particular favorite of mine) and actor/director Robert Montgomery’s 1947 Lady In The Lake.

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Montgomery’s directorial debut isn’t dripping in holly and mistletoe and, in fact, was originally intended to be set in mid-summer, using a script penned by the source novel’s author, Raymond Chandler himself. It was some two years later that MGM finally went into production, by then using a briefer (by nearly a third) script by Steve Fisher, which switched things to Christmastime. The holiday setting aside, the story bears little resemblance to Chandler’s novel. Still, there’s a generous bit of vintage 1940’s B&W Christmasy-ness evident throughout, including the film’s opening credits, flipping through a series of Christmas cards that conceal a gun.

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You know this flick, of course, because of actor/director Montgomery decision to mimic Chandler’s (and so many other hard-boiled crime novels) first person narrative approach by shooting nearly the entire film from private eye Philip Marlowe’s POV. We only see what he (Montgomery) sees. It feels a little gimmicky at first and takes some getting used to, but applause to Montgomery for some brave artistry. (Then again, please note that this was his last film with MGM after an 18 year relationship.)

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Audrey Totter is terrific but then she always was. As for Lloyd Nolan, I prefer him as a tough-talkin’ good guy – or at least a sort of good guy. Robert Montgomery may not be most readers’ vision of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, anymore than Dick Powell was, but both contemporaries acquitted themselves well, IMHO. The story? Well, it’s a little convoluted, but most adaptations of Chandler’s novels were, and lets face it, Chandler’s novels themselves were pretty convoluted. We don’t read them for neatly crafted whodunits. But the movie’s a lot of fun and suitable seasonal viewing for any classic noir and mystery fan, so I’ll earmark Lady In The Lake for the next Christmas and be more diligent about setting out the syrupy wine and edible gifted Godiva’s for a movie night in 2019.

Winter Reading Plans

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Five days into the new year, and I just finished Meghan Scott Molin’s The Frame-Up (more about that one later), am deep into The Annotated Big Sleep for at-home reading and just picked up Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop – A Claire DeWitt Novel to keep in the car for daytime-downtime reading. (I usually have more than one book going at a time, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.)

I normally have a folder handy on my desktop to screen-cap or download any interesting books I spot so I won’t forget to look for them, particularly since it may take a while to get around to it. Sometimes I feel foolish for letting so many books collect there, as if I could ever hope to read them all (not that it’d stop me from buying them). And at this time of year, when every blog and e-newsletter touts yet another ‘Best Of 2018’ or ‘Must-Read In 2019’ list, I feel doomed. When I skimmed J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet ( 1.3.19 post “Early Rivals For Our Reading Attention”, I was overwhelmed at first, then I didn’t feel quite so bad. It lists 325 US and UK new releases, and just for the first quarter of the year. If anyone can actually get through all those, they’re a speed-reader, unemployed…or nuts. And likely to be out about six grand.

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My own ‘watch-for’ list is much smaller right now. Forgive me for further cluttering feeds and inboxes with yet another book list. It’s a mixed bag of noir-ish fiction, mystery, hard-boiled crime, non-fiction, YA/comics-related titles and at least one genuinely goofy item: Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s. I mean, seriously…how can you not want to see what that’ll be about?

Raymond Chandler and The Annotated Big Sleep will keep me occupied for a few more nights. January is peculiarly balmy at the moment here, but it won’t be long before that changes, which means ideal at-home evening reading conditions. Indoors. Where it’s warm. And Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt will go down nicely with the dashboard heater blowing and a large coffee in the cup holder while waiting for an appointment or before work. Hopefully these other titles will show up at my local bookstore promptly.

2019 books 1

  • A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan, with illustrations by Drew Struzan
  • American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
  • Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix
  • Metropolis by Philip Kerr, the last Bernie Gunther novel before the author’s sad demise

2019 books 2

  • Murder, My Love by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (A Mike Hammer novel)
  • The Lost Girls Of Paris by Pam Jenoff
  • The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict
  • The Jean Harlow Bombshell by Mollie Cox Bryan

2019 book 3

  • Bad by Chloe Esposito
  • The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s edited by Holly West
  • Under The Moon – A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle

Reader Photos by Jessica Castro, Daria Shevtsova and Kate Williams

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