Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Farewell, My Lovely is a 1975 neo-noir directed by Dick Richards based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. This movie gave 57-year-old Robert Mitchum his first opportunity to play Philip Marlowe.

Marlowe is feeling old and tired. He’s just completed a case, finding a runaway teenage girl, and it didn’t make him feel good.

At the same time Marlowe has had another case go sour. Lindsay Marriott was supposed to pay $15,000 to some thieves in exchange for the return of a very valuable jade necklace which was stolen from a lady friend. Marriott is a little nervous. He just wants someone to hold his hand while he pays over the money. It’s a simple job but it ends with Marriott dead. Marlowe feels he owes it to Marriott to find his killer.

Now Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran) wants Marlowe to find Velma for him. Malloy, a huge guy, has just spent seven years in prison for a bank robbery. Velma is his girlfriend but he hasn’t heard from her for six years. Marlowe is sceptical of his chances but Moose insists and there’s no reasoning with him.

Finding Velma isn’t easy, but Marlowe doesn’t give up easily.

What puzzles Marlowe, and it puzzles him more and more, is why so many people are looking for Moose Malloy. Moose just isn’t very important. He’s just a big dumb ex-con who wants to find his girl. But it seems like a lot of people want to find Moose, and it also seems that a lot of people want Moose dead.

As far as the Marriott case is concerned, it leads Marlowe to Judge Grayle, and to Judge Grayle’s wife. She was the one who asked Marriott to get her necklace back. Judge Grayle is very old. His wife Helen (Charlotte Rampling) is very young and very beautiful. And judging by the passionate way she kisses Marlowe, probably not very faithful.

Marlowe keeps running into dead ends and people keep getting killed. All those corpses cause Marlowe problems with the cops, since Marlowe seems to be mixed up in whatever is causing all those murders.

The cops are crooked but Lieutenant Nulty (John Ireland) isn’t such a bad guy and he’s willing to cut Marlowe some slack. Detective Billy Rolfe (Harry Dean Stanton) on the other hand is both crooked and vicious.

People keep shooting at Marlowe and he keeps getting beaten up and he gets kidnapped, drugged and brutalised by sadistic madam Frances Amthor. Her whorehouse has some connection with the case. Velma was in showbusiness but she was a prostitute as well and she had been one of Amthor’s girls. Big-time gambling operator Laird Brunette (Anthony Zerbe) also wants Moose, which doesn’t make sense.

There’s one obvious link that Marlowe should spot, but doesn’t.

Mitchum’s performance as an ageing world-weary Marlowe is both impressive and interesting. Charlotte Rampling makes a superb femme fatale. Marlowe doesn’t know what Helen Grayle is up to but he’s getting involved with her which maybe isn’t too smart.

The supporting players are uniformly excellent. Watch out for Sylvester Stallone in a very small role as a hood.

This movie gets the look just right. Chinatown might be slightly the better movie but Farewell, My Lovely has the edge when it comes to the visuals. This is a neo-noir that has all the classic film noir atmosphere and feel you could possibly wish for. Incidentally John A. Alonzo did the cinematography for both Chinatown and Farewell, My Lovely.

Farewell, My Lovely boasts one of Chandler’s best plots. It’s intricate but it all comes together nicely and that’s true of this movie adaptation as well. But of course with Chandler atmosphere and character matter a lot more than plot.

What makes this a great movie is that neither screenwriter David Zelag Goodman nor director Dick Richards have any interest in deconstructing the genre or playing clever games with it or being ironic. The aim was clearly to make a movie with an authentic Chandlerian feel and an authentic 1940s film noir feel.

Shout! Factory have released both this movie and the 1978 The Big Sleep on a single Blu-Ray and both films look wonderful. Farewell, My Lovely looks simply stunning.

Farewell, My Lovely can stand comparison with any of the great film noir/private eye movies of the 40s without any difficulty. The violence is slightly more graphic and there’s some nudity but overall it’s a movie that successfully transports the viewer into the world of Raymond Chandler. It also features Mitchum giving one of his best-ever performances. This is a truly great neo-noir and it’s very highly recommended.


  1. Not all neo-noir pictures work, but this is an excellent effort. I like that Mitchum was older, that he didn't play the character of Marlowe till he had those extra years under his belt. I think he could have taken on the role when he was younger, but the fact he is older here adds another layer, a weariness that just fits somehow. His later effort with Michael Winner is a weaker, the change of location for one thing doesn't quite work, but it's not as bad as some might have you believe.

    1. Nobody did world-weariness better than Mitchum. This really is exactly what I imagine an ageing Marlowe would have been like.