Murder My Sweet is based on Raymond Chandler’s book “Farewell My Lovely,” one of his books about the fictional detective Philip Marlowe.
(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)
Marlowe (played by Dick Powell) is contracted by an ex-con named Moose Malloy to find an old girlfriend named Velma. Malloy is a hulking brute who has just spent eight years in prison for some violent crime and several times in the movie he overreacts over some disappointment by strangling or roughing up one of the protagonists.
As Marlowe begins to get a lead on someone who knew Velma, he is sidetracked when he is hired by Lindsay Marriott to assist in an attempt to pay ransom money for the return of an expensive piece of jewelry. The two men head out to a lonely stretch of road to perform the exchange but when they split up both Marlowe and Marriott are attacked by an assailant using a lead sap. Marlowe eventually regains consciousness but when he returns to their car, he finds that Marriott has been bludgeoned to death.
The police, in the person of Lt. Randall, grill Marlowe on the details of the murder and after threatening him with indictment over his involvement finally let him go. They do ask whether Marriott mentioned a Jules Author in regards to the stolen jewelry but they refuse to give him any details about Amthor and warn him to not get involved in the case any further.
The next day a woman pretending to be a reporter questions Marlowe about the jewelry theft. She refers to it as a necklace. Marlowe figures out that she isn’t a reporter and finally gets her to admit that she is Ann Grayle, the daughter of the man who lost the necklace. Or rather she is the stepdaughter of the woman, Helen Grayle, who actually lost it. She hates her stepmother but is trying to recover the very expensive jade necklace that her father gave to Helen.
Ann and Marlowe drive to the Grayle estate. The house is a palace and we find out that Mr. Leuwen Grayle is a collector of fine jade and the necklace cost over $100,000. We then meet Helen who is a beautiful blonde who barely waits for her husband to leave the room before she comes onto Marlowe and hires him to recover the necklace. At that point Jules Amthor shows up at the Grayle residence and Marlowe finds out that he is a quack doctor who is mixed up with both Helen and the deceased Marriott. Later Ann tries to persuade Marlowe to give up the case because of the unscrupulous nature of her stepmother. But Marlowe refuses.
Amthor gets in touch with Moose Malloy and has him bring Marlowe to Amthor’s penthouse. He questions Marlowe about the whereabouts of the necklace but when Marlowe assures him, he hasn’t got the necklace Amthor convinces Malloy that Marlowe is hiding Velma from him so Malloy chokes Marlowe into unconsciousness and Amthor has Marlowe installed in the private sanitarium of a Dr. Sonderborg where narcotics and truth serum are used to try to pry the necklace’s location from Marlowe’s mind. After three days of this treatment Marlowe manages to escape his captors and when he meets up with Moose Malloy again, he convinces the dimwitted giant that Amthor was lying to him.
Fearing that the police and Amthor might have his apartment staked out Marlowe shows up at Ann Grayle’s home and tells her about Amthor’s actions. She decides to help Marlowe and after updating the police on Amthor’s involvement in the necklace theft Marlowe and Ann head to Marriott’s beach house to try and figure out what was actually going on among all the shady characters involved in the case.
And there they find Helen. She chases off Ann and then provides the real situation with the necklace. Amthor was blackmailing Helen over things in her past. The necklace was the price he was demanding. Marriott was working with Amthor. Helen admits that she murdered Marriott in order to get back the necklace. Now she wants to enlist Marlowe to murder Amthor and thus get herself clear of his blackmail. Marlowe appears to go along with her plan.
When he gets back to his office, he finds Moose there and discovers that Moose has killed Amthor by accident. Marlowe brings Moose back to the beach house and leaves him outside waiting to bring him in to see Helen whom he has figured out is Moose’s “Velma.” Helen is in the house and Marlowe brings her up to date on Amthor’s death. Now Ann and her father show up. Helen then reveals that she’s had the necklace all along and was only toying with Amthor. When she finds out that Marlowe is going to turn her over to the police for Marriott’s death, she pulls a gun on him and has her husband take Marlowe’s gun from him. But when she points the gun at Marlowe to kill him her husband shoots her with Marlowe’s gun and she dies.
The gun shot causes Moose to enter the house and seeing his “Velma dead he goes to attack Mr. Grayle. When Grayle raises his gun at Malloy, Marlowe tries to stop the gun play but he instead has his face near the gun muzzle as it goes off and his eyes are scorched by the muzzle flash. The scene shifts to Marlowe with his eyes bandaged telling his story to the police. Unbeknownst to him Malloy was killed by Mr. Grayle but not before he had a chance to turn the gun on Grayle. In the final scene we see Ann Grayle drive off with Marlowe in passionate embrace. Somehow love has triumphed over murder and greed!
As with all Raymond Chandler stories the plot is convoluted, confusing and loaded with bizarre characters. Moose Malloy is definitely a cartoon character. And several of the female characters seem unable to resist Marlowe’s debatable charms. There is a decidedly frantic aspect to the constant action. Maybe some people would find this off-putting and unreal. I think of it as the hallmark of the film noir style that this film exemplifies. Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe a few years later in “The Bid Sleep.” But I think Powell in Murder My Sweet is the quintessential Marlowe. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys film noir and anyone else who would like to try out the genre. Highly recommended.