Farewell My Lovely

After a weekend of film noir spoilers at the BFFS National Conference, I sat down to watch a dodgy VHS transfer of neo-noir classic Farewell My Lovely. Looking forward to Bobby Mitchum donning the Philip Marlowe hat, coat and gun, I was only intrigued further by the opening credits promising appearances by Harry Dean Stanton and a young Sylvester Stallone. As Roger Ebert puts it ‘no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.’ I firmly subscribe to this essential rule of cinema, even if the Stallone factor threatened to cancel it out.

Farewell my Lovely

Unfortunately the film looked and felt completely flat. Maybe it was the fact that the poor VHS transfer that made all faces resemble a Bassett’s Fruit Salad, or maybe it was the fact that Charlotte Rampling was so self-conscious about being styled exactly like Lauren Bacall that she look permanently amused by the smell of her own farts.

To me, it resembled an episode of a rainy Saturday afternoon Columbo more than a classic, cinematic thriller. The plot dragged along as low as Moose Malloy’s knuckles, whose only dialogue was the irritating refrain ‘Where’s my Velma?’ 15 minutes in, I was quite past caring about Velma’s whereabouts.

Maybe my disappointment stems from the fact that I expected that a neo-noir, free from the boundaries of the Hays Code, could really explore the seedy under-belly of the 40s, and although it did depict a world a bit darker than it could have shown 30 years ago, it all felt a bit contrived and forced. The cinematography failed to step up here too, lacking the depth to step into the noir world much further than the doorway.

Of course, Robert Mitchum can never put a foot wrong, even when adopting a Caribbean accent and singing about ugly women (see the incredible ‘Calypso is Like So’ 1957). He does make a pretty darn good Marlowe, but it feels very strange to see him doing the film-noir thing thirty years after his own heyday.

Altogether a bit of a disappointment, but one that’s sent me back to the shelf to dig out some real Bogie and Bacall action… perhaps followed by a tad of Cape Fear.

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2 Comments»

  Jay Clifton wrote @

An enjoyable review. I agree with you, Jacqueline, about this film, the film looks quite good in terms of lighting and such, but the direction is just terribly flat, there’s no pace, and though Mitchum is a famously understated actor, in this he just looks bored. You mentioned interesting supporting casting– there’s one thing I learned from reading the Jim Thompson biography is that Thompson had a cameo in this film as Charlotte Rampling’s cuckolded husband– I have this film on DVD and gave his brief scene a second look– it might be the best, at least the most real, acting in the film–Thompson conveys in a few seconds a very real-seeming mixture of pain and wounded dignity when he sees Rampling’s character with her arms around Marlowe. Anyway, though, compared to Michael Winner’s really dull England-set version of ‘The Big Sleep’ with Mitchum a year or two later, this is a masterpiece!

  Insenrybype wrote @

Stunning, I didn’t know about that up to now. Cheers.


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