Dick Powell and femme fatale Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet”
Claire Trevor was one of Hollywood’s finest character actresses. And you won’t find many who were more under rated.
Trevor began her acting career onstage in 1929 and starred on Broadway in 1932. Like so many other stage performers, she went Hollywood in the early 1930’s.
Trevor’s most memorable 1930’s role was the prostitute “Dallas” in John Ford’s great western, Stagecoach (1939). Although this film is remembered for John Wayne’s breakthrough performance, it was Trevor who anchored the story with her realistic, heartfelt portrayal of a fallen woman who desperately wanted to remake her life.
Wayne went on to bigger and better things, but Trevor soon found that the role of “Dallas” proved to be something of a career liability, as producers and directors cast her over and over again as the “bad girl with a heart of gold” in B westerns. In addition, Trevor was often typecast as the “gun moll” and “crook” in B level crime stories. Ironically, Trevor’s superior acting skills probably contributed to her being placed in these second-tier films. Trevor was well-known by directors as a dependable, versatile performer who added class and depth to any project, regardless of its quality. If there was any question as to how to solve a casting problem, the answer would often be: “Get Trevor!”
In 1948, Trevor won an Oscar for her unforgettable portrayal of Gaye Dawn, the washed-up singer in John Huston’s Key Largo.
On the way to her Oscar, Trevor scored a choice role in director Edward Dmytryk’s classic 1944 film noir, Murder, My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely). The film is probably most memorable for actor Dick Powell’s great performance as hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe. However, Trevor is also quite good playing the second wife of an elderly wealthy man.
The first time that we see Trevor is a memorable one. As Powell enters the rich man’s study, we note that the aging tycoon is standing in front of an easy chair, blocking the person sitting there….but not entirely. Peeking from behind is a shapely leg sheathed in silk. The man moves, revealing Trevor leaning back into the cushions. She turns her head towards the camera, and we see a lovely but weary face that silently conveys all the troubles of the world. The music stops. Powell stares. And we know that he’s in for a mess of trouble.
If you’ve never seen Murder, My Sweet, please do so. It’s as fresh and gritty as the day it was released. The dialog still crackles. The chiaroscuro photography is great. And…for God’s sake, it’s Raymond Chandler!
Murder, My Sweet is a staple of Turner Classic Movies. However, you can also purchase a Blu-ray copy on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:
You can download a digital copy by clicking onto the following link:
Finally, I would like to recommend a very good bio of Ms. Trevor by Carolyn McGivern. Among other things, the book explains how an actress as good as Trevor never made it into the top echelon of stardom. You can purchase it through Kindle by clicking onto the following link:
Pluses: Great adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell My Lovely ; excellent performances by all; classic example of the film noir genre, especially re: cinematography.
Minus: Can’t think of any. If you are a student of film and have not seen this movie, please…..see……it!
Cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Ralf Harolde
Director: Edward Dmytryk.
Black and White
Length: 1 hour 35 minutes
McGivern, Carolyn. Claire Trevor: Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noir. Reel Publishing (2013). Kindle edition.
“Claire Trevor.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 March 2017. Web. 10 March 2017.