A clue about the right way to watch the made-for-TV detective flick Goodnight, My Love is contained in the title, which is basically a rephrasing of the moniker adorning Raymond Chandler’s classic Philip Marlowe novel Farewell, My Lovely (1940). This picture is a love letter to Chandler, nothing more and nothing less, so even though it’s highly entertaining, stylishly photographed, and verbally witty, it’s not to be mistaken for a truly original piece of work. That said, paying homage to the film-noir literature and movies of yesteryear was a veritable cottage industry in the ’70s, and Goodnight, My Love was ahead of the curve, arriving a year before Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) and two years before Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). This project wasn’t the first neo-noir, since projects including Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe (1971) came earlier, but it wasn’t riding in the back of the bandwagon, either.
In any event, Goodnight, My Love is significant beyond its connection to similar genre pictures, because it’s among the earliest directing credits for Peter Hyams, a unique populist with a distinctive pictorial style. (He’s among the few Hollywood directors to occasionally serve as his own cinematographer.) Although his stories often crumble toward the end, Hyams has a great flair for pithy dialogue and he’s fantastic at presenting sardonic tough guys, two skills that emerged fully formed here and that suit the noir milieu perfectly. Richard Boone, all craggy bulk and sleepy-eyed cynicism, plays Francis Hogan, a low-rent private dick in 1940s Los Angeles. His partner is Arthur Boyle (Michael Dunn), a little person with a big mouth, and they spend most of their time trying to scam free meals off creditors until a glamorous dame walks into the office. (Isn’t that always how these stories start?) She’s Susan Lakely (Barbara Bain), and her boyfriend has gone missing. Francis and Arthur take the case, eventually uncovering a convoluted conspiracy involving rotund gentleman criminal Julius Limeway (Victor Buono channeling Sidney Greenstreet).
Yet the narrative is secondary to the style here, as Hyams fills scenes with bitchy repartee that his excellent leading actors deliver in the ideal deadpan mode. Bain is arguably the weak link, a bit long in the tooth to play what amounts to an ingénue role, though that doesn’t matter a whole lot since Hyams is more interested in the amusing rhythms of boys squaring off against each other as friends, enemies, or some combination of both. Goodnight, My Love is also photographed with extraordinary artistry for a TV movie of its vintage, because Hyams mounts ambitious tracking shots and employs imaginative lighting schemes by illuminating actors with practicals scattered throughout his sets.
In every way except perhaps the most important one—conveying a resonant theme—Goodnight, My Love is an impressive first outing, and it’s also a wonderful showcase for onetime Oscar nominee Dunn. A fabulous actor who always escaped the limitations of novelty roles and seized opportunities like this one to play everyday people, he died less than a year after Goodnight, My Love was broadcast, although this was not his final onscreen performance.
Goodnight, My Love: FUNKY