Highly regarded as one of the most faithful adaptations of a Raymond Chandler novel, Farewell, My Lovely is an oddity among the films that comprised the noir boom of the mid-’70s. Unlike, say, Chinatown (1974), which placed a contemporary cast in a period milieu to achieve a postmodern effect, Farewell, My Lovely stars an actor who appeared in several classics of the original late ’40s noir cycle: Robert Mitchum. And while Mitchum’s advanced age creates some storytelling hiccups, like the idea that his character is sexual catnip for a young beauty, his deep association with the genre and the hangdog quality that made him a good fit for vintage noir are used to great effect; Mitchum lumbers around Farewell, My Lovely like he’s the same poor bastard he played in Out of the Past (1947) after another 30 years of rough road.
In addition to its well-cast leading man, the picture boasts a smooth script by David Zelag Goodman. The screenplay retains Chandler’s pithiest observations (via Mitchum’s world-weary voiceover) and lets the story spiral off into all the right murky tangents without losing narrative coherence. Describing a Chandler plot in the abstract does nothing to capture the story’s appeal, but the broad strokes are that a muscle-bound crook named Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran) hires private dick Philip Marlowe (Mitchum) to track down his long-lost girlfriend. This draws Marlowe into a web of hoodlums, politicians, and whores, so before long Marlowe’s been beaten, shot at, shot up, and generally put through the wringer. Along the way, he commences a torrid romance with a powerful judge’s fag-hag trophy wife, Helen Grayle (Charlotte Rampling). The movie gets seedier as it progresses, with Marlowe serving as the audience’s tour guide through the underworld.
Director Dick Richards gets preoccupied with aping the visual style of classic noir flicks (lotsa neon and venetian blinds), so the more amateurish actors in the cast don’t get the attention they need, and Richards is pretty inept handling the sequence of Marlowe getting hopped up on dope. Nonetheless, the story is compelling—in Chandler’s universe, bad situations always get worse—and the supporting cast is colorful. John Ireland stands out as Marlowe’s policeman pal, the stalwart Detective Nulty, and Sylvia Miles received an Oscar nomination for her grotesque turn as a boozy ex-showgirl. Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Spinell, and Anthony Zerbe show up at regular intervals, and there’s even a brief appearance by a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. Farewell, My Lovely is uneven, but its virtues are plentiful.
Farewell, My Lovely: GROOVY