I like to consider Murder, My Sweet a film noir sampler. If you can handle this, we’ll let you wade into deeper waters, but even the gentlest of dispositions can take the shallow end of the pool (or cesspool, as the case may be) with unshaven crooner Dick Powell to provide wisecracking reassurance.
Powell makes a surprisingly decent Philip Marlowe—hey, Raymond Chandler liked him—especially thanks to a script bright enough to borrow substantially from source material with extended passages of voice-over narration.
Although Dmytryk’s entry into the private eye thriller cannon lacks the bitter moral ambiguity of The Maltese Falcon and the madcap perversity of The Big Sleep, it puts noir’s most significant tropes on display. The weary detective. The bad woman. The sinister doctor. The goofy Goliath. The flashing neon lights. The crazy mirror esthetic.
Most important, it weaves some heady (if slightly silly) surrealist moments and subjective freakout sequences into its narrative framework—a major contribution to the noir style. Even so, despite its undulating black pools of unconsciousness, Murder, My Sweet fails to evoke the consuming darkness of the greatest films noirs.