Mike Mazurki

Murder, My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk)

Murder, My Sweet takes a peculiar approach to the detective story. Lead Dick Powell graciously lets everyone overshadow him in scenes; he doesn’t exactly fumble his way through his investigation, but he does befuddle his way through it. He’s the audience’s point of entry into the mystery and he’s just as confused as anyone else. Or is he? The film runs just around ninety minutes, with a bookending device; director Dmytryk is all about precision with how the audience (and Powell) experience those ninety minutes.

The film opens with Powell being very jokey, which is nearly off-putting. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously enough, not being questioned by the police, not having man mountain Mike Mazurki threaten him. Powell’s not exactly passive in his scenes, but he’s certainly not active. Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton set Powell’s id loose, but more in a way to get the audience situated. Once you buy into the vague unreality of Mazurki’s giant, somewhat lovable moron, you can accept Mazurki as serious. The same goes for the male supporting cast, Otto Kruger and Miles Mander. The film eases the viewer into accepting them beyond face value. It’s awesome because one might think Dmytryk would be too busy with the many technical aspects of Murder.

Dmytryk lets the film wander (carefully, of course) through Harry J. Wild’s photography. Dmytryk even shows it off at times, with characters turning on and off the lights, playing with the idea of what the light hides and the darkness reveals. During the first act, when Powell’s more amiable than anything else, it’s a very strange, then wonderful disconnect. Especially once Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley show up.

Trevor is the femme fatale, Shirley is the good girl. Neither dominate the plot, but Paxton does a great job implying their presence and their importance when they aren’t around. Powell has great chemistry with both, which should be another place the film fails from the disconnect but instead succeeds–they’re different types of characters, Powell’s chemistry with each actor is different. Powell doesn’t get a character arc, not an internal one, but watching Murder, My Sweet is about figuring him out.

Great music from Roy Webb. Great editing from Joseph Noriega.

All of the acting is outstanding. Trevor, Shirley, Mazurki and Mander all get multiple amazing scenes. Kruger is good too, but he’s the closest to a Powell analogue in terms of style. They get to be playful, no one else does.

Paxton’s script is awesome and Dmytryk’s direction manages to be consistently surprising. He always finds a new way angle, whether it’s for a mood shot or just some dialogue. The film’s style is constantly building on itself. It’s fantastic.



Directed by Edward Dmytryk; screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by Joseph Noriega; music by Roy Webb; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe), Claire Trevor (Helen Grayle), Anne Shirley (Ann Grayle), Miles Mander (Leuwen Grayle), Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy), Otto Kruger (Jules Amthor), Donald Douglas (Police Lieutenant Randall), Paul Phillips (Detective Nulty), Ralf Harolde (Dr. Sonderborg), Douglas Walton (Lindsay Marriott) and Esther Howard (Jessie Florian).

Nightmare Alley (1947, Edmund Goulding)

Nightmare Alley is–or should be–a cautionary tale about the dangers of foreshadowing and being really cute about it. The end of the movie is forecast in the opening scene, then again in the third or fourth scene–hammered in for those who weren’t paying enough attention the first time. The second time key phrases are dropped to make the scene stick in memory, so it all comes up again towards the middle of the film–the inevitable conclusion. I was going to say the worst was how long it took for the film to get to that conclusion (and it takes forever), but the bad pacing isn’t the worst. The worst is what happens at the end, the surprise. The whole movie, which had been cheapening itself for the entire third act, goes all the way with the ending.

Had the film continued as well as it started, it’d be more unfortunate, but the late second act and severe third act sink make the failure a lot more palatable. The beginning–and the rest of the film really–is beautifully directed. Goulding works wonders with group shots, two shots, everything. His composition is an incredibly impressive feast for the eyes. Even the script, on the dialogue level, isn’t bad. The plot just gets more and more ludicrous. After a certain point, it begins to strain credibility as familiar characters disappear and it just gets to be scenes with Tyrone Power and Helen Walker. When it brings Coleen Gray back (she’s fantastic as Power’s suffering and supportive wife), it’s only to get the disastrous conclusion going.

Power–in what could have been his best performance, if only the character hadn’t fallen apart along with the plot–is great, as is Joan Blondell. Ian Keith is also excellent. The beginning mostly just gives the actors dialogue, plot, and room to act really well. Combined with Goudling’s direction, it makes Nightmare Alley seem as though its potential is limitless, but then the plot starts closing off possibilities, boxing in the characters and restricting the actors. Maybe it is a severe mishap after all–especially since it’s probably Gray’s biggest role and she’s so good until the script fails her.



Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Jules Furthman, based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham; director of photography, Lee Garmes; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by George Jessel; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tyrone Power (Stan Carlisle), Joan Blondell (Zeena Krumbein), Coleen Gray (Molly Carlisle), Helen Walker (Lilith Ritter), Taylor Holmes (Ezra Grindle), Mike Mazurki (Bruno) and Ian Keith (Pete Krumbein).

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