Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Director Edward Dmytryk is something of a film noir hero.  Born in Canada in 1908, the son of Ukranian immigrants, he was raised in California and began working in the Hollywood studios as a teenager.  From 1935 to 1942 he directed a few B-pictures, but his breakthrough came in 1943 with the anti-Nazi propaganda piece, Hitler's Children.

The two noirs he made after this, Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Cornered (1945) secured his home in the noir canon, and this was followed by the excellent Crossfire (1947), possibly the first Hollywood picture to deal with the subject of racism.

As a left wing liberal however, Edward Dmytryk was one of the first to fall foul of film's furious foes at HUAC, and he became one of the Hollywood Ten for refusing to testify about his so-called un-American activities.

After being fired by RKO, then, Dmytryk moved to England where he made a few more films.  Give Us This Day (1949) is most peculiar as it is set in New York but shot in England, and even features such Brit stars as Sid James, posing as Americans; and he made The Sniper (1952), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and The End of the Affair (1954), this last one being particularly excellent.


It is arguable that RKO and in part Edward Dmytryk perfected the film noir style in films like Murder, My Sweet.  Not all of the studios were into noir as much as RKO were, who specialised in very low budget genre films, and by the 1940s were using lighter cameras, and more powerful lighting, which weren't favoured by all of the studios.

RKO, of course, produced Citizen Kane, in which many of these techniques were developed, and after 1942, when their B-movie unit was established with Val Lewton as its head, they made many films which combined genre product and unusual photography.

One reason for this B-unit was to challenge Universal's dominance of the horror market, but Lewton wanted to make films in which the horrors were psychological, and so paranoid noir was a perfect locus for this.  In Val Lewton's unit, in fact, the noir style became the norm, and so we have Out of the Past, Cat People (1942), The Leopard Man (1943), all uniformly dark, like Murder, My Sweet and sporting the expressionist aesthetic.

One need look no further indeed, that Moose Malloy, to see film noir summed up in a button; dark, expressionist and a harbinger of paranoia, as well as cleverly photographed.

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