farewell my lovely, robert mitchum

Watching the spectacular Mavericks Surfing Tournament south of San Francisco last Friday got me thinking of waves. Forty years ago, Roman Polanski’s ‘neo-noir’ Chinatown was released, earning writer Robert Towne an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and earning a place on top-ten lists of the Greatest Films of all time, if not winning that honor outright (as was the case with The Guardian’s 2010 poll).  Needless to say, it made big waves. One of these waves, which created a few of its own, was the 1975 film Farewell, My Lovely, available via FilmOn’s on demand service.

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The critical and popular success for Paramount Pictures in the case of Chinatown-inspired competitors, and Farewell was the first – and perhaps best – of these. Sir Lew Grade’s ITC Films decided to outdo Towne’s Raymond Chandler-esque script by adapting straight from Chandler himself (making this the second adaptation of his Farewell, My Lovely novel, the first was Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell in 1944).

They brought in Executive Producer Elliot Kastner, who had over-seen Robert Altman’s flawed The Long Goodbye, to back-up first time Producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer brought elements of his steamy and frenetic visual acumen (that would lead him to Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun) straight from the get-go, with a neon-dominated Downtown LA opening sequence that must have made an impression on a couple of Coen brothers when they were blocking out the opening of their 1991 Barton Fink (and many of the Chandler-isms in The Big Lebowski can be traced to this film).

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It seems remarkable how comfortable Robert Mitchum seems in the role of Philip Marlowe until you realize he virtually LIVED this story, these were his neighborhoods, his amusements, his homeboys, his nemeses. Jack O’Halloran (Superman) plays Moose Malloy, the former heavyweight contender  with Cosa Nostra connections being pumped for information by pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone). Charlotte Rampling, one of the sexiest women alive, is in top form, yet is given a run for her money by Sylvia Miles, who would subsequently be nominated for an Oscar. Godfather and Strike Force vet Joe Spinell and Blazing Saddles’ cowboy heavy Burton Gilliam make an excellent thug team.

Harry Dean Stanton manages to get off  the film’s best line despite a thankless role as cynically corrupt Detective Billy Rolfe, anti-matter to Mitchum’s quotidian yet sentimental Marlowe. Composer David Shire was fresh off classic scores for The Taking Of Pelham 1,2,3 and Coppola’s The Conversation.  

It’s a surprisingly wild ride, right up to the point that Marlowe and Malloy take the launch out to The Lido for that last, final wave…

Farewell My Lovely is available to view free via FilmOn:

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