The Big Sleep (1946)
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These characters can afford to be tough because they're both outsiders. Each inhabits the same private, disillusioned world, where nothing really matters except an oddly medieval quest for Truth. They are knights, tilting at evil, wherever they find it. But unlike their medieval counterparts, they have no friends, no companions, no-one in whom they can trust. Even their lady-loves are suspect.
Oddly, both Spade and Marlowe also seem to have a death wish or at the very least a compulsion towards failure. They love to antagonize everyone, no matter who they are. Spade and Marlowe simply can't resist pandering to their own sense of superiority and self- importance.
At all costs, they must be smart. A typical exchange in "The Big Sleep" finds Marlowe rebuffing the olive-branch-offering from big- time gambling operator, Eddie Mars, as they both puzzle over a blood stain in a house owned by Geiger, a blackmailer:
MARS: "Got any ideas, soldier?" MARLOWE: "A couple. Somebody gunned Geiger, or somebody got gunned by Geiger who ran away, or Geiger had meat for dinner and likes to do his butchering on the parlor floor."
Nonetheless, despite all its hip cynicism, a softening process was started in "Big Sleep" on Bogart's screen persona. A softening that makes it difficult to credit that movie-goers have so quickly forgotten the dames-are-poison-so-slap-'em-around, tough nuts of the 1950s like Ladd, Ford, Lancaster and Mitchum. It's in "The Big Sleep" that Bogie meets his verbal match in Lauren Bacall:
BOGIE: "You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how you'd do over a stretch of ground."
BACALL: "A lot depends on who's in the saddle."
True. Very true.
I'll need to watch this a second time to pick up on the many bits that I missed. Many characters come and go as well as several small sub plots that feed into the main plot. The basic premise is that detective Marlowe is hired to help uncover and halt someone who is blackmailing a man's daughter. When that blackmailer turns up dead, the plot kicks in with a slew of double crossing and organized crime. Lots of neat scenes yet they are hard to follow. They best part of the film is the relationship between Marlowe and the older of the two daughters and how a romance forms amongst mistrust. Riddled with snappy and memorable dialog, it is great to watch the pair interact. My favorite line was when Marlowe is offered a drink from an attractive woman in a bookstore during a rain storm, "I'd rather get wet in here then wet out there." Overall, the dialog and romance carries the film with sadly lackluster cinematography.
Initially, private detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is summoned to the Sternwood mansion by General Sternwood who wants Marlowe to resolve his daughter Carmen's gambling debts. But soon Marlowe is caught in a web of murder, extortion, pornography, love triangles, organized crime, and missing persons. No wonder the plot is convoluted. It would have to be so to get past the production code! All along , everyone is telling Marlowe all events resolve around Regan, but Marlowe didn't care. Instead what everyone cares about is that the Bogie and Bacall characters can live on and develop that sizzling relationship in peace. Warner Bros capitalized on the PR aspect of the event of releasing this film and made it less dark and a lot more romantic than the source material and who-killed-who became a side show instead of the core of the film.
What with Marlowe flirting or more than flirting with a book store proprietor, an eager cabby, Vivian Sternwood and her thumb sucking sister (even little Jonesy winked at him once, didn't he?), I'm surprised the private eye had the chance to solve any crimes at all. Bogart's Marlowe was sort of a '40s forerunner to James Bond as a chick magnet. It was adolescent male fantasizing, Warners style. Not only that but this Marlowe was clever enough to indulge in racetrack double entendres with a glamorous, sophisticated looking babe like Lauren Bacall. No wonder viewers aren't terribly concerned if they can figure out the convoluted plot when they can have fun, sexy times with this particular noir crowd.
So stick with this for the clever dialogue, for the atmosphere, for the weird characters, and most of all the chemistry that is Bogart and Bacall. Everything else is just window dressing.
Raymond Chandler is one of the best novelists in the English language but when Baldwin and Letterman claim this plot is opaque and quote Chandler as saying he couldn't follow the plot of the movie adapted from his novel it's either Chandler being jealous of his competitor, novelist William Faulkner, one of the four screenwriters, or maybe Chandler was just in a bad mood when he was asked. This movie -- with not only Faulkner but also Leigh Brackett (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) as screenwriters -- has not only amazing dialogue but a detective/police procedural plot that is both intricate and mesmerizing. Anyone who can't follow this plot including Baldwin and Letterman should stick to analyzing Bugs Bunny.
As much as the smoking hot acting by the entire cast, and the moody cinematography, the writing makes this movie the classic it is.
General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) hires Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to stop a blackmailing attempt of his youngest daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). While tailing the blackmailer, Marlowe hears a gunshot and witnesses men rushing out to their car. Upon entering the home, Marlowe discovered Carmen drugged in a chair with the blackmailer dead at her feet. An empty camera left behind proved a photo to be taken probably with an attempt at further blackmail. Marlowe follows the trail of clues, in an attempt to regain the photo, leading him to a series of people involved in gambling. While investigating the case, Marlowe also meets General Sternwood's oldest daughter, Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) a divorcée who catches the eye of Detective Marlowe. Vivian takes to assisting Marlowe with the case, which is beneficial for the both of them as chemistry grows between them. Working together yet independently, the two spin a web which leaves the blackmailers no choice but to get caught in it.
I can't write about The Big Sleep without highlighting the dialogue. The pace of the witty dialogue was aided by Humphrey Bogart's incredible delivery. There's no one else in the history of cinema that I enjoy watching speak more than Humphrey Bogart. Bogart is the absolute king of line delivery. A point I probably don't need to make is how incredible the chemistry was between Bogart and Bacall. The pair was already married, after having met while co-starring in the film To Have and Have Not three years prior. Their relationship hadn't lost a step, and their love resonated beyond the screen making them enjoyable to watch on-screen together. One of my favorite scenes is tucked within The Big Sleep. Humphrey Bogart waiting out the rain in a quaint bookshop while tailing the blackmailer is pure art. That scene had everything, quick-witted Humphrey Bogart line delivery, his on- screen persona as a hard-nosed yet romantic lead, and the gorgeous black and white shadows of film noir. There is just no purer image in the world than a trenchcoat and fedora wearing rain-soaked Humphrey Bogart, I'm convinced. The Big Sleep is a film I can watch anytime, I don't need to be "in the mood" for it because it's as comfortable as a warm blanket. The black and white photography, the dialogue, a favorite on-screen duo, my favorite actor, and of course, the trench coats make The Big Sleep a joy to watch no matter how many times I've seen it.
Black and white. Early noir. Shoot-em-up. Bang-bang. Crooks. Gamblers. Murderers. No 1940s Old West cowboy film, here.
Bogey and Bacall. A very legendary couple. They were married in our state the year before the 1946 release. This was a major publicity event, with massive news coverage. All the local people here knew about it. 1945 was the year that World War Two ended. People were tired of war movies. Back to gangsta films with tons of men and a few fashionable women, lol. There are no Cagney or Edward G. Robinson here. Just a lot of two-bit mentally-challenged criminals, from what I can see.
So, the two lead thespians were married by the time this film debuted. Did they get married during the production? Was that why the Hays Office allowed certain sexual-innuendo dialogue such as the horse racing description? Bogey was past his prime in the age department; he was to pass away only 11 years later in real life. Bacall was a young, delicate thing of early 20s. Somehow, they still seem to match together despite a 25 year age difference. Go ahead and scratch, Mrs. Rutledge. Bogart was old enough to be Bacall's father. He gave her two children, in real life. Go figure.
Bacall sang a smokey song in front of a bunch of men. Was this her own voice, or was she dubbed? I haven't figured this out, yet. She was quite the center of attention, and held all of the men in her thrall. Bogey walked in on this extravaganza, and his character must have been very envious of Bacall's electrical magnetism from the masculine audience. They were all spellbound by this sultry songstress. This is what I would call an all-men and one woman crowd scene.
Carmen (Martha Vickers) was one little temptress. She was even a little prettier than Bacall, but Bacall was known for haughtiness, staring up/down from a sharply sculptured face, aloofness, wisecracks, etc. You never want to outshine the star, however. I understand that some of Vickers' scenes were cut before final production, in order to make Bacall shine even more.
Both sisters were up to their ears in trouble, meeting and knowing bad guys and assorted moronic criminals. The actresses seemed to pull off their parts well. The bookstore women also did a nice job, e.g. Dorothy Malone.
Elisha Cook, Jr. is always an effective character. I thought he was called Babyface in another film.
The general, Charles Waldron, is effective as an elderly, ill man. The actor was to pass away not long after the 1946 release. Was he ill in real life, during production?
Bacall's metallic short jacket (gold or silver lame'?) looked stunning. I wish that I could have seen this outfit in color, but then it wouldn't be film-noir-ish, right?
Tons of guns and no brains. Low-pay detective. Philip Marlowe (Bogart) had some great lines. Marlowe was so smart. The five hundred dollar check was giant bucks to such a poverty-stricken PI. You're not tall, Marlowe (the censors may have inserted another sexual innuendo here, but no such luck). If I were tall, baby, ooh-la-la (no such dialogue; I made that up). Snappy lines for Bogey; almost hilarious in places.
Title musings: Bogart didn't want to undergo The Big Sleep, the dirt nap, the place where all the bad guys go who don't want to go straight -- the lifers who "expire" behind prison walls. He was way too smart for that. He wanted to survive, to have Happy Ever After with Bacall. I even thought I saw stunt double acting during his getting beaten-up scene-chewing. The producers wouldn't want the real Bogie getting his pretty face mangled by some goofball theatrical thugs.
I am a writer and historian from the university. I am also an actress, singer, dancer, film critic and movie reviewer. I have had formal coursework in theatrical and cinematic censorship. I have studied film-making, especially that of the gangster film genre.
One reviewer thinks that the script is American. Although admittedly influenced by Hammett, it's more like a cross between P.G.Wodehouse and early Evelyn Waugh, and therefore thoroughly British, particularly since Chandler grew up in Britain.
The girls, except for Lauren Bacall, are great. I wouldn't miss Bacall, and her romance with Bogart didn't convince, either on or off-screen. But that's just my personal opinion.
One of the script-writers, Jules Furthman, also had a hand in another very funny film, called "The Outlaw". Both these films are classics, widely recognized as such but both are seriously misunderstood. Towards the end Bogart actually says: "I didn't know they made 'em like this any more." I think he's talking about Bacall.
There are several significant changes in plot when you compare this film with novel and I will mention two biggest features so watch out if you're reading this and don't know the book / movie and want to. Identity of killer is first major change - Carmen was a real killer in book but in this movie there's a character of Eddie Mars, the man who was a killer but managed to persuade others that Carmen was responsible of his wrongdoing. The second major change worth noting are scenes with naked Carmen. While book presents us with naked Carmen in Marlowe's bed (same for Geiger), censorship in 40s strictly forbid any kind of nudity and so we had to live without Martha Vickers flashy moments. I've got to add I am sorry about it because Martha was a true gem!
The film was entertaining in overall, main parts were convincing acting of both Humphrey and Bacall (who were also still freshly married) and plot itself. Every single woman cast in the film was really attractive and you just gotta love Hollywood of 40s!
Part of the reason for the film's muddled plot is the fact that it was completed in 1944, and was then shelved due to Warner Bros.'s rush to get their backlog of war themed films out the door before they became dated, per the pending end of World War II. Subsequently, Hawks' earlier film with Bogie & Bacall, To Have and Have Not (1944), was released, which contained such great interplay between its two stars (who would fall in love and marry in real life), that Jack Warner decided to put this film back in production a year after primary photography had been completed. The script was spiced up and several scenes were cut and/or altered to make it even better than the original, which was never released but can be seen (if infrequently) on TCM along with a documentary detailing the changes.
Given the novel indication of pornography and homosexuality are cleverly disguised, although I would not be surprised if the director Hawks was a little more explicit, or rather direct. I am very pleased with the fact that the film does not have some kind of moral note. It would just ruin everything. Tensions in abundance. All characters are armed. In addition to the old father is not a single character does not look helpless. Each character tends to his goal in the universal mysteries and permanent plots.
Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe is the element that makes this movie a lot better. His performance is amazing. The detective is determined, cold and dominant character in every sense.
Lauren Bacall as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge is a bit sluggish for femme fatale. Bacall simply captivates with its appearance and voice. In addition to Bogart must play better. In one of my perception she is not the dominant female figure. Chemistry is unquestionable but ....
If you ignore the confusing story, this is a great film the false glamour that touches dangerous underworld where government dependency, voyeurism and sexual immorality.
I just watched the earlier version of the movie, before Lauren Bacall's agent begged the producer to add and re-shoot scenes because he was afraid the critics would trash her for her performance as they had in her previous film - or at ignore her in favor of Martha Tilton's flashy performance as the kid sister - and he wanted to see a replay of the magic of her first movie with Bogart, To Have and Have Not.
The original version of the movie would, like the final version, have been a classic 40s detective movie with a great performance from Bogart and Howard Hawk's crackling direction. It also wouldn't have been said to make no sense.
Since The Big Sleep is the only Raymond Chandler book whose plot holds together in the slightest, I always thought the movie didn't make sense because they were flummoxed by how to make a movie about porn and drugs without mentioning either. But that wasn't really the issue. The 1945 version spends time explaining what's going on a couple of times, drawing connections between characters and crimes.
Much of this exposition is in one particular scene with the police, and it's gone from the final version. It's understandable that they cut it, as it's a major drag on the action, but its removal makes the film incoherent.
While you can argue against making a detective movie no one can follow, the pace was improved (another somewhat overlong scene of Bogart searching a house was also tightened) and the film added its most memorable scene, a suggestive conversation between Bogie and Bacall that is exactly what fans of To Have and Have Not (and Bacall's agent) wanted. The end result is faster paced and even wittier than the first version.
If you're only going to watch one version of this, you should certainly watch the 1946 version. But if you're a film buff, or just want to know what on earth was going on in that 1946 movie, check this one out.
The film's scenario is good, and the dialogue is great, however the screenplay fails to adequately express the plot. Marlowe will often tell other characters his conclusions without ever having it be explained how he deduced them, and many aspects of the story are left open. It is never explained who killed Owen Taylor (was it Joe or was it a suicide), or, more unforgivably, who killed Sean Regan, the action which is responsible for the entire plot of the film. Eddie Mars claims that Carmen killed Regan, but Marlowe then disproves this by asking him why neither Eddie nor Carmen recognized each other when meeting at Geiger's place the day after Geiger's murder. As well, how would Eddie have proved this to Vivian sufficiently that she would go through all of this trouble to protect Eddie?? It's also been posited that Eddie killed Regan, but if that were the case, why would Vivian believe that Carmen was the killer?? Either way, the keystone which support the entire plot is faulty, a big problem for any film, but combined with the dense plot and the lack of explanation for Marlowe's deduction, this makes for an very weak screenplay.
Making up for the weak screenplay is the direction itself, which keeps one engrossed in the latest situation which Marlowe finds himself in, as well as Humphrey Bogart himself, whose screen charisma is the film's greatest strength. Lauren Bacall isn't much of an actress at her best, and this early in her career this was even more true. Martha Vickers was much better as Carmen Sternwood, unfortunately her role was shrunk in order to give more screen time to Bacall. The supporting pieces do very nicely (especially Elisha Cooks Jr., one of my favourite character actors of the era), and the below the line work is excellent, particularly Max Steiner's score.
Despite the gaping wholes in the screenplay's construction, this film is Hollywood gold. Pure entertainment from the era that did it best. No matter how much I nitpick, it's still a great product of a great era in film history. I can't give it full marks because of those complaints, but definitely a must-watch film.
Nothing against Hawks here; there is great direction in every scene and the acting is beyond phenomenal. The screenwriters deserve appraisal as well since they have put together a very intricate story which happens to work, even if you can't decipher it on first viewing. Films that make the audience have to think and pay attention usually deserve merit; look at the television show The Wire, for instance. Every detail is there for a reason even if it is difficult to grasp on first viewing. However, with a television show it is easy to fill in gaps of what you may miss in the scenes or even the episodes to follow, but with a film that is just under two hours and as complex as The Big Sleep you NEED to rewatch it. Films with rewatchability is one thing, but films that require you to rewatch them are not necessarily fun experiences. Important maybe, but not fun.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are very convincing in their roles. They make the film bearable to watch. There is also some excitement in the film as there are little bits of action when you hear a gunshot or see somebody gunned down. With this film being somewhat action- oriented it makes up for the fact that you cannot follow the plot the first time (but only slightly).
Give this film a shot if it sounds like something you might revisit, but do not be surprised if you're scratching your head through the duration of the film.
Anyway, The Big Sleep is the quintessential American noir - An unreliable protagonist, a femme fatale, shady characters and nihilistic atmosphere, they are all here. Coupled with a piling on of important information, this was the Inception of its time. I love Bogart who essentially plays his character the same way as all his other iconic roles - sexist and insolent. The lines are amazing stuff:
Philip Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.
Vivian: What will your first step be? Philip Marlowe: The usual one. Vivian: I didn't know there was a usual one. Philip Marlowe: Well sure there is, it comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook and uh, your father offered me a drink. Vivian: You must've read another one on how to be a comedian.
Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe. Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he's walking out of your bedroom.
Vivian: So you do get up, I was beginning to think you worked in bed like Marcel Proust. Marlowe: Who's he? Vivian: You wouldn't know him, a French writer. Marlowe: Come into my boudoir.
Marlowe: You know what he'll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.
Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number. Philip Marlowe: Day and night? Taxi Driver: Uh, night's better. I work during the day.
This next one is my fave. If you can't catch the sexual innuendo you have no business watching movies.
Vivian: Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them workout a little first, see if they're front runners or come from behind, find out what their hole card is, what makes them run. Marlowe: Find out mine? Vivian: I think so. Marlowe: Go ahead. Vivian: I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free. Marlowe: You don't like to be rated yourself. Vivian: I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions? Marlowe: Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how, how far you can go. Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle.
Isn't that incredibly sassy? Such class in writing (which I hardly see in today's films) and every time Bogart and Bacall shared the screen together I thought the temperature in the room went up.
The movie also has a very interesting history. It was actually competed before 1946 but kept on shelf as the studios rushed out their WWII patriotic films. Then Bacall's star got tarnished by Confidential Agent (1945), her second film. Her agent looked at the completed The Big Sleep and suggested to Howard Hawks to make changes to protect his investment and the film. So a few years after the film was completed, and by this time Bacall has become Mrs Bogart, the whole team reshot key scenes and inserted some new dialogue (the "horses" scene was added at this time) and we got the familiar 1946 version that plays on the incendiary Bogart/Bacall chemistry which became a winner. The documentary in my DVD explains the changes in both versions and it is essential viewing. Lots of stuff have been written about original directors' cuts and purists always swear by them. In this particular instance the retooled version is hands down the supreme version.