He was a genuine STAR as the boy crooner (above) and the hard boiled detective (below).
When the film was released of Powell portraying Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s famous detective, in an adaptation of Farewell My Lovely, it bombed. Then RKO realized audiences were showing up thinking Powell was going to sing in a lighthearted story.
They changed the title, reissued the film, and it was a huge success.
Still in all, Powell doesn’t hold a candle to Humphrey Bogart as the San Francisco gumshoe. Writes film noir maven Eddie Muller: Although Dick Powell did a fine job (playing Philip Marlowe) in ‘Murder, My Sweet,’ he couldn’t quite conceal his bouncy, hoofer’s energy beneath a rash of stubble and a rumpled suit.
Powell earned his hoofer’s bouncy energy honestly. His career started when he was hired during the 1920’s as a vocalist with the Charlie Davis Orchestra out of Indiana. The ensemble, very popular for a time, disbanded in 1929.
Powell’s early screen career is dotted — among much else happy fare — with such tuneful items as Gold Diggers of 1933, Flirtation Walk, Naughty But Nice and Happy Go Lucky. The rough stuff didn’t arrive until mid career.
By 1948, Powell found himself squaring off against Lizabeth Scott, the tough femme fatale who was his costar in 1948’s Pitfall. He plays a mild mannered insurance agent dismissed by Scott, who takes one look and declares, “you’re a little man with a brief case.”
The actor had better luck offscreen. Although his marriage to Joan Blondell ran from 1936 to 1944, his marriage to June Allyson, his third and final, ran from 1945 to his death — the circumstances of which is still fodder for morbid Hollywood speculation.
In the summer of 1954, RKO’s “The Conqueror,” a period epic with John Wayne and Susan Hayward, began filming under Powell’s direction. It was the second of the actor’s six stints behind the camera.
The location was Saint George, Utah, a town fanned by radiation from multiple above-ground atomic blasts in the adjacent Nevada desert during that period.
One of the largest of those blasts had spawned a wind dubbed ‘Dirty Harry,’ which had swept across the desert in 1953, dropping radiation everywhere. In addition…tons of contaminated earth had been shipped back to Hollywood for further shooting, thereby prolonging the actors’ exposure,” according to a 1980 biography of Hayward by Beverly Linet.
What is indisputable is that Wayne died of cancer. So did actor-director Powell (of lung cancer on Jan. 2, 1963, at age 58). As did Hayward and costar Agnes Moorehead, and several others connected to the filming of “The Conqueror.”