This Raymond Chandler novel had already been filmed as The Falcon Takes Over with George Sanders in 1942 and Murder, My Sweet in 1944 with Dick Powell. But for me, Robert Mitchum is Phillip Marlowe. He just exudes a weariness with the world and the perfect grim mindset that works for film noir, much less neo-noir. And by returning to the role three years later in The Big Sleep, he became the only actor to play Marlowe twice.
Los Angeles, 1941. The police are corrupt. Life is cheap. And Phillip Marlowe is exhausted by it all. He doesn’t have much left. But then he goes through a string of cases, like being hired by Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran, Superman) to find his missing girlfriend Velma, whose trail only brings death. And then there’s Lindsay Marriott, a client killed over a jade necklace.
Those cases are connected and then there’s the very married and even more dangerous Helen Grayle (Charlotte Rampling), who Marlowe falls for. Plus, you get Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone and Harry Dean Stanton all showing up. And Judge Grayle is played by Jim Thompson, who wrote hardboiled fiction just as brutal as Chandler (The Grifters and The Getaway were made from his books).
In an interview with Roger Ebert, Mitchum minced no words about working with Rampling. “She was the chick who dug S&M in The Night Porter. 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. She kept exercising her mouth like she was trying to swallow her ear. ” played her on the right side because she had two great big blackheads on her left ear, and I was afraid they’d spring out and lodge on my lip. There were no tea breaks on THAT set.”
Mitchum was back on the very streets he’d been on as a teen making this movie. One night, as Mitchum gave money to the homeless, an old beat cop walked up to him, took one look and said, “So you’re back”.