Part 3 – final installment
Classic noir and mysteries make a great alternative to repetitious bad news
Mystery fans holed up at home and searching for a distraction from the ugly news today could do what I’m doing: bake chocolate chip cookies as a mood booster (see part 1) then dive into a contemporary or classic mystery novel (see part 2). But if you’re eager to watch something on the flat screen besides recitation of the daily toll, you don’t have to watch Tiger King (Donald Jr. watched the entire season in two sittings) or sit through all 24 seasons of The Bachelor.
Robert Mitchum, as Philip Marlowe, tackles gangsters, murderers, and frisky heiresses in the 1978 version of the The Big Sleep available without extra charge to Amazon Prime members. The movie is not Mitchum’s best, nor the best version of the Raymond Chandler novel, but it’s eminently more engaging and worthy of your time than the parade of reality shows and sitcoms the streaming services offer at the top of their program lists.
But if you scroll down farther, or do careful Internet searches, you’ll find Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck, and a host of other noir film stars awaiting your streaming request. I spent an enjoyable afternoon recently trying to make sense of The Big Sleep, having not seen this version in so long I’d even forgotten the nude scenes.
Lamentably, director Michael Winner made a few changes in the Chandler classic. First, it takes place in London, not Los Angeles, and Winner transplants a handful of American actors in addition to British standbys like John Mills and Edward Fox. Second, Marlowe is an ex-pat American who has lived in England since the war. Third, the film takes place in the present day, not Chandler’s 1940s.
Like the Bogart version or the novel, Marlowe is summoned by wealthy General Sternwood to investigate blackmail involving one of his two fast and loose daughters played by Candy Clark and Sarah Miles. The story makes several twists and turns as each daughter tries to seduce Marlowe in her own way, Clark in the nude, Miles slightly more reserved. Multiple plot detours, a disappearance, many bodies and subtopics including pornography and blackmail make for a convoluted plot.
But that’s the way Chandler wrote it. One of the characters who don’t make it to the end of the story is Sternwood’s chauffer. When Howard Hawks was directing the 1946 film version of the book, he too reportedly had trouble with all the loose ends, and he called Chandler asking who killed the chauffeur. Chandler is supposed to have told him that he didn’t know.
Apparently director Winner did. His film shows the chauffeur driving a fancy Sternwood car off the end of a pier. Mills, as Scotland Yard Inspector Carson, decides it was suicide almost before the body is removed from the sunken auto. A motive for the plunge might have been helpful.
The film has other issues. Richard Boone as one of the bad guys seems hopelessly out of place in the British countryside. A fine villain, Boone is more convincing in the old west when he’s menacing Paul Newman (Hombre, 1967) or John Wayne (The Shootist, 1976). Miles’ frizzy hair makes her look like Gilda Radner playing Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live, and Oliver Reed as gangster Eddie Mars just isn’t intimidating.
Roger Ebert reviewed the film at the time saying it felt embalmed because Marlowe didn’t belong in the 1970s, but what carries the film, as Ebert concluded, is Mitchum’s definitive screen presence. The film succeeds, but not nearly as much as Mitchum’s first go at playing Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely in 1975.
I’ve seen that film several times recently and it’s filled with so many memorable lines, so many good supporting performances and enough noir atmosphere to fill your family room with an eerie fog. Look for a young a Sylvester Stallone in the background when Marlowe takes on a pugnacious brothel madam in one of the film’s classic scenes.
So where do you find these master mystery movies? Certainly not on Netflix. The service that used to offer nearly every classic film you could name, regardless of genre, now focuses on its own video productions and relatively recent B movies. When you search for “classic film noir” on Netflix it offers Blade Runner and Dirty Harry.
Amazon Prime is different. While they often charge a little for the best noir flicks, they are available now. Here are a few of the classics on Amazon Prime and the cost of rental:
Double Indemnity, $3.99
Farewell, My Lovely, $3.99
Out of the Past, $2.99
The Maltese Falcon, $2.99
The Thin Man, $2.99
Key Largo, $3.99
The Third Man, $3.99
The Big Sleep (Bogart version), $2.99
It’s interesting to note that Amazon doesn’t charge extra for the Mitchum The Big Sleep, but Farewell, My Lovely is $3.99. Is that based on quality or customer demand?
YouTube has for years been a reliable source for free noir and classic mysteries. Today hundreds of noir films—not all gems—are available free and many of the best now carry a small fee. The Postman Always Rings Twice, for example, is just $1.99. See links below for listed films.
I hope my suggested diversions will please your taste buds, challenge your deductive powers, entertain and help you muddle through.
You Tube: hundreds of noir films, many B movies. Top classics can be rented for a few dollars.
List of 100 noir movies available for free on YouTube (check availability)