Mitchum as Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely
Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, sharp-tongued private investigator
Los Angeles, Summer 1941
Film: Farewell, My Lovely
Release Date: August 8, 1975
Director: Dick Richards
Men’s Wardrobe Credit: G. Tony Scarano
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Robert Mitchum had been credentialed in film noir for more than a generation (as explored in Saturday’s #Noirvember post) before the actor first took on the role of Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe. Based on an Edgar Allen Poe Award-winning screenplay by David Zulag Goodman, Dick Richards’ adaptation of Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely premiered just two days after Mitchum’s 58th birthday, making the actor almost double the age of the character he portrayed… but his grizzled presence is just right as he navigates his way through the sordid City of Angels on the eve of the second world war:
This past spring was the first that I’d felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A., maybe it was the rotten case I’d had, mostly chasing a few missing husbands… and then chasing their wives once I found them in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.
We find Mitchum’s Marlowe in media res “holed up in a dingy hotel, ducking the police,” staring under the brim of his ubiquitous hat through the neon and Philip Morris cigarette smoke. He’s in a spot of trouble thanks to his latest client, the fearless, hulking ex-con Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran, in his film debut) who had hired Marlowe to track down his estranged girlfriend Velma. As usual, the police have little patience for the stubborn gumshoe, aside from his tenuous friendship with the refreshingly honest Lieutenant Nulty (Jack Ireland).
The case had kept Marlowe busy, working his way through derelict neighborhoods and derelict nightclubs, though this was literally familiar territory to Mitchum, who had prowled the streets of Long Beach as a delinquent teenager. As told in Lee Server’s biography of the actor, it was at Sixth and Main while handing out cash to vagrants that Mitchum encountered an aging patrolman who recognized him from his youth and greeting him: “So, you’re back.”
If Farewell, My Lovely particularly excels in any department, it’s echoing the pulp tone of Chandler’s pulp novels and deliciously recreating the seamy underbelly of pre-WWII L.A. thanks to David Shire’s evocative score, Dean Tavoularis’ period-perfect production design, and John A. Alonzo’s shadowy cinematography, buoyed by Mitchum’s world-weary delivery as he dodges gunmen (played by familiar faces like Burton Gilliam, Joe Spinell, and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone) and navigates a network of blackmail, corruption, and prostitution with a surly, beer-swilling madam at its center.
Three years after Farewell, My Lovely opened to a mixed reception (but generally positive reviews for its leading man), Mitchum would return to the role in Michael Winner’s contemporary-set adaptation of The Big Sleep which found the action transported from 1930s Los Angeles to late ’70s England.
What’d He Wear?
I’m tired, Nulty. Everything I touch turns to shit! I’ve got a hat, a coat, and a gun… that’s it!
Okay, Marlowe, you said it yourself; let’s start at the top. No noir hero would be worth his salt without his fedora, and Marlowe tops his look with a light brown felt fedora detailed with the classic pinched crown, a self-bound brim, and a wide brown grosgrain band that shines during his neon-lit nights in the City of Angels.
“Buy yourself a new suit, Marlowe,” sneers the smooth racketeer Laid Brunette (Anthony Zerbe) after paying the private eye $2,000. Indeed, Brunette may have noticed that Marlowe wears the same suit throughout Farewell, My Lovely. Unlike modern movies that tend to provide multiples for costumes even in non-action scenes where the clothing isn’t in jeopardy, Robert Mitchum had only one suit at his disposal provided by the wardrobe department, a striped dark navy double-breasted suit tailored for Victor Mature during the 1940s which was reportedly dismissed by Mitchum as “Victor Mature’s old farted-up suit.”
While I can’t speak to its suggested flatuous properties, the wool suiting is patterned with faded rust stripes that alternate between wide and thin, spaced apart against the navy ground.
The double-breasted jacket has a full, 6×2-button wrap that would have been unseasonably warm for southern California, particularly with this heavier suiting worn in the middle of July. In addition to the two fastening buttons on the front, we even see Mitchum fasten the inner jigger button (or “anchor” button) during the rare moment inside the police station when he has his suit coat off. The then-fashionable sharp, wide peak lapels sweep across the chest, detailed with a buttonhole through each. The ventless jacket has a welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, and three vestigial buttons at the end of each cuff.
Victor Mature stood at 6’2″, so there would be little issue with his suit fitting the 6’1″ Robert Mitchum. As one would expect of a suit tailored during the era it was set, the double reverse-pleated trousers rise to the natural waist where Marlowe holds them up with a black edge-stitched leather belt that closes through a silver-toned single-prong buckle. The trousers also have side pockets and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
“This car sticks out like spats at an Iowa picnic,” Marlowe warns Lindsay Marriott (John O’Leary) as he takes control of his flamboyant client’s chrome-accented Cadillac convertible. For his part, Marlowe eschews flashy kicks like spats and wears that most traditional of men’s footwear, a pair of black leather cap-toe derby shoes that take considerable abuse as Marlowe wears them in walking the dirty streets of L.A. His socks are also dark, either black or a dark navy to continue the trouser leg line.
Marlowe begins Farewell, My Lovely wearing a pale cotton shirt in a muted shade of ice-blue, detailed with a soft point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs. He wears the shirt for multiple days until it gets torn to shreds when he’s “sat down twice, shot full of hop, and kept under it ’til you’re as crazy as two waltzing mice” at Frances Amthor’s brothel. After the shirt’s destruction, he has his loyal newsstand clerk pal Georgie (Jimmie Archer) bring him a fresh white shirt—as well as his .38.
Like the previous incarnation of Philip Marlowe portrayed by Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973), the unchanging nature of Mitchum’s outfit even extends to his tie. This brick red tie is patterned with an all-over flecked gold cross-hatch pattern.
Marlowe wears a white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt, introduced only a few years before the film’s setting by Samuel T. Cooper to accompany the Jockey briefs he had introduced in 1935.
Introduced as an “athletic shirt” (or “A-shirt”), this undershirt style leapt from popularity to infamy after a 1947 newspaper caption of tank top-clad wife-killer James Hartford Jr. led its pejorative “wife beater” nickname. Propelled by big-screen bad boys like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, and ultimately Bruce Willis in Die Hard, the A-shirt’s reputation was salvaged to the point of being associated with rebellious outlaws rather than domestic abusers.
Of course, noir hero Marlowe dresses the part for Farewell, My Lovely‘s final act, wrapping himself in the classic trench coat we first saw hanging in the corner of his office. The knee-length coat is made from a drab khaki cotton gabardine, detailed with all the elements added to the famous coat when it was adapted to its modern form for British Army officers during World War I such as shoulder straps (epaulettes), single-button flapped pockets, and D-rings along the belt.
“Its story begins in nineteenth-century England with two pioneers in fabric innovation: John Emery and Thomas Burberry,” writes Josh Sims in Icons of Men’s Style, outlining both Aquascutum’s and Burberry’s valid claims in the trench coat’s development and popularity, including innovations in its waterproofed fabric and marketing to culture icons from military officers to movie stars.
In Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum contributed to cementing the trench coat as a quintessential aspect of the noir hero’s image. Nearly thirty years later, the matured Mitchum shows he hasn’t lost his knack for the look, even wearing it the same way by twisting and tying the self-belt like a sash rather than fastening it through the brown leather-covered buckle.
The Farewell, My Lovely coat parallels many details of the Out of the Past coat, including the shape of the broad lapels, the five rows of two buttons each, the double hook-and-eye throat latch, and the storm flap that extends from the right shoulder onto the chest. Marlowe’s coat differs from Jeff Markham’s coat as it lacks the small buttons on the inside of the collar but has a full storm flap across the back as well as a single vent.
Marlowe wears a vintage gold wristwatch with a squared case and an off-white dial that appears to be worn on an expanding bracelet.
“You carry a gun?” asks blackmail victim Lindsay Marriott. “Sometimes, yeah,” Marlowe confirms, and we’re all tipped off that the story’s about to get plenty more dangerous for everyone… until Marriott responds: “Well, you won’t need it.”
In his narration, Marlowe reflects on his credo that “as soon as anyone said you didn’t need a gun, you better take one along that worked.” As Philip Marlowe clearly values reliability when it comes to firearms, he chooses wisely with the Colt Official Police he pulls from a desk drawer, checking the load of six .38 Special rounds in the cylinder before slipping it into the side pocket of his trench coat. He later draws and fires when accompanying Moose to a trap set at a motel.
After Marlowe is beaten, drugged, and locked up in a side room at Frances Amthor’s cathouse, he overpowers the grinning cowboy henchman (Burton Gilliam) and commandeers the man’s own Official Police, a flashier nickel-plated model with white ivory grips, carried when confronting the madam herself.
Finally, Marlowe disarms another hood named Nicky (Joe Spinell) of his blued Smith & Wesson “Military & Police” revolver when infiltrating Laird Brunette’s off-shore gambling ship, Lido. This venerable police revolver, also chambered in .38 Special, would be standardized as the Model 10 when Smith & Wesson began numbering its models in the 1950s.
What to Imbibe
Farewell, My Lovely begins with Marlowe holed up in the dingy Casa Marina hotel with the only friend he has left, one Mr. I.W. Harper.
Of course, Mr. Harper is not a man but a bourbon… nor was he ever actually a man, as it was an Isaac Wolfe “I.W.” Bernheim that steered the brand (and, yes, I’m sure there have been several men named I.W. Harper, but let’s not get pedantic.)
The German-born Bernheim and his brother Bernard had started selling liquor from a Paducah, Kentucky, shop in 1872. They eventually moved their operations to Louisville where they opened a distillery in the 1890s, choosing the name “I.W. Harper” for expanded marketability to the American public. By the time Prohibition was enacted in the United States several decades later, the Bernheim Brothers distillery was one of only ten that was allowed to continue producing bourbon for, uh, medicinal purposes.
Nearly a decade after Prohibition ended, I.W. Harper is depicted as the medicine of choice not just for Marlowe—who also keeps a bottle in his office—as well as the washed-up ex-showgirl Jessie Florian (Sylvia Miles). Before Marlowe calls on Mrs. Florian, he’s advised that “a pint of bourbon could turn out to be my best friend” so he brings her a pint of I.W. Harper as well.
Raymond Chandler tends to outline the favored liquor brands in his works, though I.W. Harper never makes an appearance in the Marlowe canon. If you’re looking for I.W. Harper’s literary cameos, you could find James Bond tippling with Marc-Ange Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or find a few characters in Walter Mosley’s hardboiled detective novel Devil in a Blue Dress enjoying it. In addition to being the favored spirit of former CIA chief James Jesus Angleton, I.W. Harper also receives a nod in The Way We Were when Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) declares it to the the best bourbon.
Though Marlowe proves to be an I.W. Harper loyalist even when not trying to woo information from Mrs. Florian’s loose lips, he pulls down a bottle of Seagram’s 7 at Florian’s nightclub while waiting for the police to arrive after Moose Malloy kills the bartender.
How to Get the Look
Just as he had nearly three decades earlier in Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum slipped into noir’s “shining armor” of a trench coat and fedora while facing off against the hoods and hustlers in pre-war southern California.
- Dark navy (with alternating rust stripes) wool suit:
- Double-breasted jacket with wide peak lapels, 6×2-button front, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black edge-stitched leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- White or ice-blue cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Brick red cross-hatch patterned tie
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Dark navy socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Yellow gold square-cased wristwatch with square off-white dial on expanding bracelet
- Light brown felt fedora with brown grosgrain ribbon and grosgrain edge binding
- Khaki cotton gabardine trench coat with shoulder straps/epaulettes, right-side storm flap, 10-button double-breasted front, belt with D-rings and brown leather-covered buckle, raglan sleeves with belted cuffs, rear storm flap, and back vent
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel.
She was giving me the kind of look I could feel in my hip pocket.
A-grade effort, Luckystrike. These great Mitchum roles deserve some scrutiny. I don’t believe Mitchum ever got the respect and acclaim that is just poured onto folk with a fraction of his talent. But I also believe he didn’t really care about all that. He just went on year after year giving superb performances and giving his many fans full value. The suit (ex-Victor Mature or not) looks like what a 1941 gumshoe would wear to add a little class to his tawdry line of work. Linen and/or silk would wear cooler, of course, but they’d be out of Marlowe’s price range. Anyway, those fabrics couldn’t handle all the brawls and mishaps a P.I. has to handle.