Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Toronto Film Society presented Farewell, My Lovely (1975) on Monday, March 11, 2019 in a double bill with The Brasher Doubloon as part of the Season 71 Monday Evening Film Buff Series, Programme 6.

Distributed by: Avco Embassy Pictures.  Director: Dick Richards.  Producers: Jerry Bick, Jerry Bruckheimer, Elliott Kastner, George Pappas.  Screenplay: David Zelag Goodman, from the novel by Raymond Chandler.  Cinematography: John A. Alonzo.  Editors: Joel Cox, Walter Thompson. Music: David Shire.  Release Date: August 8, 1975.

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Philip Marlowe), Charlotte Rampling (Helen Grayle), John Ireland (Det. Lt. Nulty), Sylvia Miles (Jessie Halstead Florian), Anthony Zerbe (Laird Brunette), Harry Dean Stanton (Det. Billy Rolfe), Jack O’Halloran (Moose Malloy), Joe Spinell (Nick), Sylvester Stallone (Jonnie), Kate Murtagh (Frances Amthor), John O’Leary (Lindsay Marriott), Walter McGinnn (Tommy Ray).

Producer Elliott Kastner had dreamed of making a movie from one of Raymond Chandler’s private eye novels long before he ever started producing pictures.  Early on, the various screen rights had been unaffordable or slipped through his hands and went to other people.  The closest he got was the making of Harper in 1966 with Paul Newman.  By 1973, having many credits to his name, Kastner thought he could finally make his dream come true.  There was one major Chandler book that had never been filmed, “The Long Goodbye” and Kastner wanted to do it right.  He hired Leigh Brackett who had written the screenplay for Bogart’s The Big Sleep and wanted United Artists to hire Robert Mitchum as Marlowe.  The studio said yes to Brackett but no to Mitchum.  They wanted someone contemporary and popular, giving the role to Elliott Gould, while entrusting the direction to Robert Altman.  Kastner was not happy with the outcome, but he persevered and two years later was able to purchase the rights to Farewell, My Lovely.  And this time he got the man he wanted for the role of Marlowe.

Kastner also had a say in who would act as director and he and his team hired Dick Richards who was inspired to make Farewell, My Lovely as a period piece.  Kastner had never considered anything but a contemporary setting for the production, like every other Chandler adaptation, but he was brought round to see the value in this idea partially due to the fact that he knew that the story was in the plot, characters and wisecracking dialogue.  The other reason was because of the success of contemporary films such as The Godfather, Chinatown and Bertolucci’s The Conformist which recreated the decades of the 1930s and 1940s.  Right from the opening shot and line, Farewell, My Lovely was to be a myth-creating piece of work, a tribute to shadow-haunted melodramas of the past and to a man who was among the last surviving link to the lost golden age, a movie star who had indeed grown old and done it on camera before the audiences’ very eyes.

It was decided that the film would not be shot in a studio, but that all locations, interiors and exteriors, would be shot on vintage properties, found mostly in the old neighbourhoods in downtown Hollywood, Echo Park and the old Wilshire shopping district.  Production designer Dean Tavoularis would recreate the period with authentic materials, enough ‘40s-era furnishings, evocative advertisements, peeling, sun-faded wallpaper, neon signage, and enough assorted knickknacks to fill all of LA’s antique and thrift shops.

Cinematographer John Alonzo, who had filmed Chinatown, although in a completely different style, made a pact with director Richards that they would shoot everything as it would have been done in the 1940s—no zooms, no Steadicams, no helicopter shots, no “Raindrops Keep Fallin’” musical interludes.  The wardrobe included many well-worn items off the racks of the Western Costume Company.  Marlow’s dark, pin-striped suit was one of a kind, no backup if anything happened to it.  Originally made for Victor Mature at Fox, circa 1940, it still had Mature’s name sewn inside.  Richards loved it.  Mitchum hated it.  Regardless, it’s what he wore.

And as an interesting last note, Dick Powell’s turn at the role in 1944 was surprisingly smart but by some was considered one-dimensional—the actor nailed the pulp in Chandler’s creation but not the poetry.  What Chandler would have thought of Mitchum—the toughest and seediest of the Marlowes—playing his hero is not known, but the author’s personal choice for the part was—can you guess?—Cary Grant.

Sourced from Robert Mitchum “Baby, I Don’t Care” by Lee Server (2001)

Introduction by Caren Feldman

Plot: In 1943 Los Angeles, against a seamy backdrop of police corruption, cheap hotel rooms, illegal gambling, and jewel trafficking, private detective Philip Marlowe has been hired by a huge and surly ex-convict, Moose Malloy, to find his old girlfriend Velma, whom he hasn’t seen in several years. Marlowe is also investigating the murder of a client named Marriott, who was a victim of blackmail involving a stolen necklace made of jade. While investigating both cases, Marlowe develops an attraction to the married and seductive Helen Grayle.

Production: The novel had been adapted for the screen twice before: in 1942 as The Falcon Takes Over and in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet. This third version was financed by Sir Lew Grade, a major figure in British show business for over seventy years, who later produced an unsuccessful remake of The Big Sleep set in contemporary England, also starring Robert Mitchum. Mitchum’s entertaining account of the filming of the earlier version quotes Lew Grade as saying that he knew nothing about movies. “What I know is entertainment: Ferris wheels, pony rides.” Mitchum called Jack O’Halloran (Moose Malloy) “one great find on this picture…if we can ever find him again…. He looked perfect for the part. One time, he hit the producer. Jack was swinging this poor bastard around his head like an Indian war club. I tried to explain to him: ‘This guy can be talked to, Jack.’ He shakes his head. ‘Mitch,’ he says, ‘I was crying too hard.'” As for Charlotte Rampling, she “arrived with an odd entourage, two husbands or something. Or they were friends and she married one of them and he grew a mustache and butched up.” Others involved in the filming were a young Sylvester Stallone as a brothel employee, and Jim Thompson, the author of the popular crime novels The Getaway and The Grifters and co-writer of the script of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Mitchum’s initial impression of the young director Dick Richards was initially unfavourable, but he eventually conceded: “He’s got something. It’ll be a good picture.”

Critical Response (Roger Ebert): Los Angeles, 1941. A run-down street of seedy shop fronts and blinking neon signs. Music from somewhere features a lonely horn. The camera pans up to a second-storey window of a flophouse. In the window, his hat pushed back, his tie undone, Philip Marlowe lights another cigarette and waits for the cops to arrive. He is ready to tell his story. These opening shots are so evocative of Raymond Chandler’s immortal Marlowe, archetypal private eye, haunting the underbelly of Los Angeles, that if we’re Chandler fans we hold our breath. Is the ambience going to be maintained, or will this be another campy rip-off? Half an hour into the movie, we relax. Farewell, My Lovely never steps wrong. And neither does Robert Mitchum, in what becomes his definitive performance. Mitchum is one of the great screen presences, and at 57 he seems somehow to be just now coming of age: He was born to play the weary, cynical, doggedly romantic Marlowe. His voice and his face and the way he lights his cigarette are all exactly right and seem totally effortless. That’s his trademark. In a good Mitchum performance, we are never aware he is acting. And it is only when we measure the distances between his characters that we can see what he is doing. Farewell, My Lovely is a great entertainment and a celebration of Robert Mitchum’s absolute originality. It also announces the arrival of Richards as a promising, new American director. His Culpepper Cattle Company and the last half-hour of the otherwise uncertain Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins had an interesting way of seeing things, and now here is a totally assured piece of work. The day after I saw it, I found myself describing lines in scenes to friends, which is always the test in these cases, because most of the time private-eye stories have no meaning at all, unless it is in the way their heroes behave in the face of the most unsettling revelations about human nature. This time, Philip Marlowe behaves very well.

Dick Richards (born 1936): He had a successful New York career in advertising as a photographer and commercials director, before moving to Hollywood. There he became a film director and made two successful features: The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972) and Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975), as well as The Long Goodbye (1973). Subsequent films as producer or director include Tootsie (1982), but little else of interest seems to have followed these.

Robert Mitchum (1917-1997): Rightly described as “an underrated actor of enormous ability who sublimates his talents beneath an air of disinterest,” Mitchum was one of the finest of all American film actors. His achievements were perhaps unfairly overshadowed by his death one day before that of the better-known and more highly popular James Stewart, relegating Mitchum to a secondary role in the eyes of the media. Despite a deceptively laid-back and casual attitude to his work, he was totally professional, hardworking, and committed to his acting, and appeared in several of the best and most challenging films of the 1940s and 1950s, specializing in films noir, thrillers, and westerns, but in most other genres, as well. Mitchum was born in Connecticut to a mother who was the daughter of a Norwegian immigrant and sea captain, and a father who was a shipyard and railroad worker who died in an accident when his son was two years old. He had a rough and ready childhood, shuffled around between relatives, and was often in trouble with authorities. He was expelled from high school at the age of 14 and travelled the country during the Depression years on railroad cars as one of “the wild boys of the road,” taking whatever odd jobs he could find. At one point, he was arrested for vagrancy in Georgia and put on a chain gang, from which he claimed to have escaped, and after which he returned to his family.

In 1936, his sister Julie introduced him to a theatrical career and he worked as a stagehand and occasional bit player for some years. He married, had a child, and worked for a time for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, but, bored with a conventional existence, turned to the movies. Mitchum appeared in several Hopalong Cassidy B-movies in 1942 and 1943, among other films. After attracting attention for his role in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo in 1944, he signed a contract with RKO and made several westerns for the company. Next he appeared in The Story of G.I. Joe for United Artists, for which he received the only Oscar nomination of his career (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), after which he was drafted into the military until the end of the war. The late-1940s and the 1950s brought some of his finest work in films noir and westerns—sometimes, as with Blood on the Moon, a mixture of the two—where his unique blend of strength, slow-burning sexuality, and devil-may-care attitude helped to make him the personification of the noir hero. Undercurrent, The Locket, Pursued, and especially Out of the Past remain classics of the genre, thanks largely to his performance in them. An unwelcome interlude in this period brought him an arrest for possession of marijuana in 1948, followed by some time in jail and a prison farm. The conviction was later overturned, after it was exposed as a set-up, and it did not seriously affect his career. He continued his primary role as an anti-hero in the many films he made in the 1950s, several of which stand out: The Lusty Men; Angel Face; River of No Return; Track of the Cat; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison; and above all, Charles Laughton’s directorial masterpiece, Night of the Hunter, which gave him one of his finest roles as a crazed and murderous fake preacher. The 1960s and 1970s were more uneven, though again a few films remain memorable: The Sundowners (for which he received the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor); Home from the Hill; Cape Fear; The Longest Day; El Dorado; Ryan’s Daughter; The Friends of Eddie Coyle; The Last Tycoon; and two remakes of novels by Raymond Chandler, in which he played a near-perfect Philip Marlowe—the excellent Farewell, My Lovely and the terrible British remake of The Big Sleep. He also had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear. In addition, he worked extensively in television during his final two decades.

Charlotte Rampling (born 1946): Born in England, she spent most of her childhood in Gibraltar, France and Spain before returning to the U.K. in 1964. There, she began her career as a model before starting to appear as an extra in films and then moving to starring roles in both film and television, especially for Luchino Visconti in The Damned (1969) and then in a controversial role with Dirk Bogarde in The Night Porter (1974), directed by Liliana Cavani. Her subsequent career has varied between English language films such as Zardoz (1974) and The Verdict (1982) and several films for the French director François Ozon, as well as important work for television.

Sylvia Miles (born 1924): An American stage and television actress. She was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in both Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975).

Notes by Graham Petrie

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