WEIRDLAND: "Double Indemnity" Blu-Ray, Dick Powell: an ambiguous hero in "Murder, My Sweet"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Double Indemnity" Blu-Ray, Dick Powell: an ambiguous hero in "Murder, My Sweet"

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity" (1944) directed by Billy Wilder

The classic, quintessential film noir, which set the standard for all future noirs, Double Indemnity is to be released in the UK as part of Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema Series on Blu-ray (Standard and SteelBook editions) on 25 June 2012.

“That’s a honey of an anklet you’re wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson.”

Double Indemnity is the dazzling, quintessential film noir whose enormous popular success and seven Oscar nominations catapulted Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment) into the very top tier of Hollywood’s writer-directors. Adapted from a novella by James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice), co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye), Double Indemnity remains the hardest-boiled of delectations.

Exclusive new high-definition restoration, officially licensed from Universal Pictures
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired
1950 Lux Radio Theater adaptation starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck
The original theatrical trailer
Shadows of Suspense — a 2006 documentary featuring film historians, directors, and authors discussing the making of Double Indemnity
PLUS: A 36-page booklet featuring rare articles, images, and more! Source:

In the early forties, Dick Powell campaigned in vain for the part of a murderous insurance agent in Billy Wilder’s noir landmark, Double Indemnity. But Fred MacMurray snagged the role. Undeterred, Powell approached RKO chief Charles Koerner, pleading to be cast against type in another noir. Koerner actually wanted Powell for RKO musicals, so he said yes. Source:

Like Bogart, Powell fits so snugly into Marlowe's character that the audience is unaware that he is acting: his is the kind of style that conceals style. As Chandler's private eye, he is noir's perfect tough guy, yet the toughness is never insisted on, it is simply there as a natural part of the character. Powell as Marlowe has a rough time of it: he is hit over the head, duped by a devious woman trying to hide from her notorious past, drugged, locked up, suspected of murder by the police. Through it all, Powell remains a model of the Ernest Hemingway code of grace under pressure, his irony a shield against constant mischance.

"Murder, My Sweet" was among the most favorably received of all films noirs, and Powell decided to stay within the noir mode for the rest of the decade. From the hired professional detective of the Chandler film, he switched to playing a more impassioned investigator in "Cornered" (1945), where he is cast as an ex-soldier tracking down the gang responsible for killing his wife. Here, his search is not that of the disinterested sleuth but the personal quest of a man bent on vengeance; his performance is therefore more high-strung than in "Murder, My Sweet".

In Pitfall (1948), Powell becomes a noir victim, playing a straigh-laced insurance man (recalling Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity 1944) who makes a fatal choice to double-cross the company for which he has worked loyally. Like Bogart, then, Powell covers the noir keyboard from detached investigator to weak-minded bourgeois who slips into crime. His work is spare and subtly stylized, regardless of the kind of character he is playing, though like Bogart, Powell is at the top of his form as the ironic observer, maintaining a skeptical distance even from his own misfortunes as he trades cracks with his adversaries the police, and with the low-down, two-timing dames that he is wise to. -"Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen" by Foster Hirsch (2001)

Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming in "Cry Danger" (1951) directed by Robert Parrish

In the wake of Murder, My Sweet (1944), Dick Powell re-invented his screen persona as a world-weary, acid-tongued noir deadpan. He was more likely to deliver a devastating put-down than a gun-butt or upper-cut. In Cry Danger, Powell pushes this persona to its reasonable limits. As ex-convict Rocky Mulloy, he seems more like a displaced stand-up comedian than an underworld denizen.

Dick Powell’s Rocky Mulloy is among the biggest sour-pusses in film noir. He’s got a right to be sore. Five years in stir have taught him the fine art of tongue-lashing. He is, perhaps, too good at it. He drops verbal bombs left and right, not caring about their half-life—or their threat to his social standing. Powell digs into Rocky Mulloy. He plays him flat as pavement, and twice as hard. Source:

Anne Shirley and Dick Powell in "Murder, My Sweet" (1945) directed by Edward Dmytryk

"Forget Humphrey Bogart, forget Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell really is Raymond Chandler's gritty, sharp-tongued detective, Phillip Marlowe. This is perhaps surprising considering that he was better known up to this point for playing the juvenile lead in backstage musicals (so much so that Chandler's originally title 'Farewell, My Lovely' was dropped for fear of causing disappointment with audiences expecting a romantic comedy). But no, this is the real thing. One of the defining examples of film noir; dark, bleak and alienated with a cast of sordid characters headed by an ambiguous hero.

Dick Powell and Claire Trevor playing Philip Marlowe and Helen Grayle in "Murder, My Sweet"

Of all the adaptations of Chandler novels, this film comes as close as any to matching their stylish first person narrative and has the cinematic skill and bravado of direction to carry it off. Since the '40s countless mystery and neo-noir films have been made in Hollywood and around the world. Murder, My Sweet is what they all aspire to be. Source:

Murder, My Sweet complicates narrative to the point of extraneity, explicating it as the mere pretext for a poetic topography of mid-century L.A., as well as an elaboration of its quintessential resident - private eye Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell). Although Bogart may perfect Marlowe's iconic one-liners, Powell's background in musical comedy provides him with the requisite awareness, or assumption, of audience to ensure that his delivery is less solipsistic, more generous and, ultimately, closer to the wry self-deprecation of Chandler's original ("If I always knew what I meant, I'd be a genius"), if not its more embittered overtones. Source:

Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir by Gene D. Phillips (2000)

A comprehensive introduction to America’s foremost mystery writer.” -- Alain Silver, co-author of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles

With a Preface by Billy Wilder and a brief biography of Raymond Chandler, "Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir" offers Phillips's interpretation of the Chandler oeuvre in fiction, screenwriting, and film. Phillips analyzes, among many others, the three film versions of Farewell, My Lovely and the two film versions of The Big Sleep through extensive comparisons to Chandler's novels. Chandler despised Hollywood yet needed Tinseltown's lucre as a source of income, and Phillips is at his best as he describes how Chandler's screenplays, including Double Indemnity (directed by Billy Wilder) and Strangers on a Train (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), implicated him in torturous collaborations with the Hollywood elite. -Kirkus Reviews

"Murder, My Sweet" would be recognized as one of the first true noir films produced in Hollywood. Ray (Chandler) liked the picture. Dick Powell, he thought, came closest to his own conception of Marlowe - he was better even than Bogart, who would portrait him later. Although, Chandler thought Bogart was terrific, so much better than any other tough guy actor. Bogart had a sense of humor that fit with Marlowe. He had his sad good naturedness. -"The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved" (2007) by Judith Freeman

Chandler was a romantic, more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than the worldly Hammett, and through the character of Marlowe he became a haunting poet of place, this place, Los Angeles, whose split personality of light and dark mirrored Chandler's own. He caught the glaring sun, the glittering swimming pools, the cigar-stinking lobbies of seedy hotels, the improbable mansions, the dismal apartment buildings, the sound of tires on asphalt and gravel, the sparkling air of the city after rain and how the fog smells at the beach at night.

Frank MacShane published the standard Chandler biography more than 30 years ago, and until now, no other book has made us view this great American writer afresh. "The Long Embrace" does. "To take care of Cissy. That was his driving life force," Freeman writes. Chandler worked in the oil business for Cissy, and he turned himself into a crime writer for his wife, while feeling he never "wrote a book worthy of dedicating to her." Source:

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