Raymond Chandler claimed that Martha Vickers gave such an intense performance as Carmen Sternwood that she completely overshadowed Lauren Bacall, and that much of Vickers' performance ended up on the cutting room floor as a result.
Due to Humphrey Bogart's affair with co-star Lauren Bacall, his marital problems escalated during filming, and his drinking often resulted in his being unable to work. Three months after the film was finished, Bacall and Bogart were married.
The scene where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall make suggestive talk about horses was added almost a year after filming was otherwise complete, in an attempt to inject the film with the kind of risqué innuendos that had made To Have and Have Not (1944), and Bacall, so popular a few years earlier.
The fussy persona that Marlowe adopts upon arriving in Geiger's bookstore has been a subject of argument for years; Lauren Bacall said that Humphrey Bogart came up with it while Howard Hawks claimed in interviews that it was his idea. What both of them failed to notice is that it was in the original book ("I had my horn-rimmed glasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it."); all Bogart did was elaborate on it.
Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner gave Howard Hawks $50,000 to purchase the rights for "The Big Sleep." Hawks bought the rights for $5,000 and pocketed the rest. According to film historian Jon Tuska the purchase price was actually $10,000.
William Faulkner came out to Hollywood to work on this film, but found that being around the set didn't agree with him, so he asked Howard Hawks if he could work "from home." Hawks agreed, assuming that Faulkner meant from his Hollywood apartment. Instead, Faulkner returned to his home in Oxford, Mississippi, leaving Hawks rather unhappy.
Humphrey Bogart's indecision over whether or not to leave his wife triggered a bout of nerves for Lauren Bacall, whose hands shook whenever she had to light a cigarette or pour a drink during the filming.
On the first day of shooting, Humphrey Bogart allegedly had five or six drinks at lunch, which infuriated Howard Hawks, who berated Bogart for his unprofessionalism. After that he was limited to one beer.
Many of the cars in the film have a "B" sticker in the lower-right corner of their windshields. This is a reflection of the wartime rationing of gasoline. Gas was rationed primarily to save rubber, because Japan had occupied Indochina, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (There was a shortage of gas on the East Coast until a pipeline from Texas was constructed to replace the transport of crude oil by sea.) The B sticker was the second lowest category, entitling the holder to only 8 gallons of gas a week. Marlowe seems to use more than one week's allotment during a 72-hour period, which may be intended to reflect a black market in ration books. However, since Marlowe still has a deputy badge, at least in a deleted scene which existed in the 1945 version, he would be entitled to an X sticker (unlimited gas) as a peace officer. Perhaps the B sticker on the windshield was camouflage, since an X sticker would make the car extremely noteworthy. Marlowe also refers to "three red points," and speaks of a dead body as "cold meat" which refers to the red tokens used to acquire a family's allotment of meat during WWII.
Howard Hawks did not approve of the Bogart-Bacall relationship. He had discovered Lauren Bacall, still had her under a personal contract, and felt rather paternal toward her. In addition to lecturing her about staying away from her co-star, Hawks and his wife tried to fix her up with other men, including Clark Gable.
Dorothy Malone was just starting out in movies when she played the bookstore clerk. She was so nervous making the scene they had to weight the glass of liquor she offers him to keep her hands from shaking.
In re-cutting the film, Howard Hawks removed the scene in which Marlowe explains the crimes. The film's success supported his growing conviction that audiences didn't care if a plot made sense as long as they had a good time.
Warner Bros. executives were so impressed with Lauren Bacall's work and the success of her previously released To Have and Have Not (1944) that they renegotiated her contract, raising her salary from $350 a week to $1,000.
In the year that passed between finishing the first version and shooting the new scenes, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart had gotten married. This had strained their relationship with Howard Hawks, who sold his personal contract for Bacall's services to Warner Bros. Hawks didn't even want to direct them in the new scenes unless they promised not to get "mushy all the time."
Sonia Darrin, who plays Agnes, is unbilled even though she has a key part. In 2016, in an interview for the New York Post, she explained that studio head, Jack L. Warner, had gotten into an argument with her agent. The agent and his clients were subsequently banned from the lot. Warner couldn't cut Sonia's scenes and retaliated by denying her an onscreen credit.
During shooting, Howard Hawks added the strong implication that Marlowe and the bookstore clerk are about to make love as the scene ends. There is no such indication in the novel, but Hawks was so struck with the 19-year-old Dorothy Malone's mature sexuality that he decided to make the scene steamier.
The film was completed on January 12, 1945 and was shown to American servicemen overseas, but was not released in the United States at that time. With the end of World War II, Warners pushed back the release of The Big Sleep (1946) in favor of its completed war-themed films, among these films was Confidential Agent (1945), which also starred Lauren Bacall. After her performance in that film was panned by the critics, agent Charles K. Feldman convinced Jack L. Warner that another failure would ruin Bacall's career. In a letter dated November 16, 1945, Feldman wrote Warner that "...if [Bacall] receives the same type of general reviews and criticisms on The Big Sleep, which she definitely will receive unless changes are made, you might lose one of your most important assets. Though the additional scenes will only cost in the neighborhood of probably $25,000 or $50,000, in my opinion this should be done even if the cost should run to $250,000." Feldman advised Warner to "give the girl at least three or four additional scenes with Bogart of the insolent and provocative nature that she had in To Have and Have Not (1944)."
This was the film that began the long relationship between Howard Hawks and writer Leigh Brackett until his death in 1977. (Initially he assumed she was a man.) Hawks hired her after reading a story that she wrote entitled "No Good for a Corpse". However, when she was hired, she only finished half of another story that she wrote titled "Lorelei of the Red Mist". Her friend Ray Bradbury finished the last half.
Humphrey Bogart read the script and objected to some lines he thought were too genteel for the character. He assumed they had been written by Leigh Brackett because she was a woman. When he went to request re-writes from her, she told him they were William Faulkner's lines. Then she proceeded to make the dialogue even more hard-boiled and tough. As a result, he nicknamed her "Butch."
Although Lauren Bacall shot another film, Confidential Agent (1945), after this one, Warners' decided to release it first, arguing that the later film was more topical and needed to come out during the final days of World War II. They also felt it showcased Bacall more effectively. The film turned out to be a disaster, however. At the urging of her agent, Charles Feldman, Hawks and the studio built up her part in The Big Sleep and re-shot a scene in which she wore an unflattering veil. The original version was only shown to U.S. soldiers stationed overseas.
While casting the film, Howard Hawks was impressed by a glamorous photo of model-turned-actress Martha Vickers. She had started acting in horror films at Universal, so he had Warner Bros. buy up her contract and then taught her how to exploit her sexuality to the maximum as the nymphomaniacal Carmen.
Final film of Charles Waldron (Gen. Sternwood). He died before the film premiered. However, he appeared in three other 1946 releases that, despite opening earlier in the year than "The Big Sleep," were shot after it. James Stewart recreated the role in the 1978 remake in one of his last roles. Coincidentally, Waldron had played Stewart's father in Navy Blue and Gold (1937).
Philip Epstein, co-author of Casablanca (1942), helped Howard Hawks write the new scenes. His goal was to create more sexual chemistry between the stars, playing on the insolence Lauren Bacall had shown in To Have and Have Not (1944). His work included the famous horseracing scene, filled with double entendre that sailed right by the industry censors enforcing the Production Code. In later years, Hawks would claim to have written it because the re-takes were forcing him to miss the races at Santa Anita.
Howard Hawks work on the film triggered a shift in his approach to filmmaking, leading to more leisurely, loosely plotted films in which character development and individual scenes take precedence over narrative coherence. He would later say, "I never figured out what was going on, but I thought that the basic thing had great scenes in it, and it was good entertainment. After that got by, I said, 'I'm never going to worry about being logical again'"
By the time the film's projected completion date arrived, Howard Hawks had shot less than half the script. Although Humphrey Bogart's marital problems had caused some delays, the main problem was Hawks's continual re-writing. While the studio closed for the Christmas holidays, Hawks and Jules Furthman shortened the script so they could finish the film more quickly and economically, cutting whole scenes to free up sets. He finally finished the film 34 days behind schedule. Because he had kept secondary sets as inexpensive as possible, however, he was only $15,000 over budget.
The film's box office success put Howard Hawks in a position to demand an unprecedented level of freedom for a Hollywood director, allowing him to incorporate his own production company and shop projects to the highest bidder. Other directors would follow suit.
When Marlowe is staking out Brody's apartment building prior to Mrs. Rutledge's arrival there are two inspection/ration stickers on the right wind shield of his car. Elsewhere in the film there are three.
William Faulkner never adjusted to life in Hollywood. While working on the script, he told Howard Hawks that the studio atmosphere was stifling him and asked if he could work at home. Hawks agreed. After a few days without hearing from the writer, Hawks called his hotel, only to learn that Faulkner had checked out and gone back to his native Mississippi. When Hawks called him there, Faulkner protested, "Well, you said I could go home and write, didn't you?"
In conversation with Carmen, Marlowe says the next time he'll come in with a tennis racket. This is an "in-joke" referring to the legend that the young Humphrey Bogart even said on stage as a struggling juvenile actor was "Tennis anyone?"
Leigh Brackett only had one meeting with co-writer William Faulkner. He told her they would each adapt alternate chapters of the original novel, then went off to work on his own. They finished their first draft in eight days, and Howard Hawks patched together their various scenes.
The Acme Book Shop Proprietress describes Arthur Geiger as having Charlie Chan-like mustache. Just like Marlow, Charlie Chan is a popular fictional detective, created by Earl Derr Biggers. Biggers loosely based Chan on Honolulu detective Chang Apana, and conceived benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Fu Manchu who were all the rage at the time, but who also represented the predominant way Asians were depicted on film. Chan is a detective for the Honolulu police, though many stories feature Chan traveling the world as he investigates mysteries and solves crimes. Countless movies and TV serials have been filmed based on Chan's adventures, especially during the first half of the 20th century. In recent decades, the character, although considered progressive at the time it was created, has been deemed as borderline offensive to Asians, so his popularity dwindled unlike that of some other (private) detectives from his era. However, at the time The Big Sleep was made, Chan would've been as popular as Sherlock Holmes.
"Paid In Full" released in 1987 by Eric B. and Rakim used the soundbite from the scene when Marlow and Mrs. Rutledge were in Marlows' office playing a gag on the phone with the police. The soundbite that the rap duo used was "Wait a minute, you better talk to my mother".
The bookstore across Arthur Geiger's book shop, that Marlowe visits and flirts with its proprietress, is called Acme Book Shop. Acme is also the name of the fictional Acme Corporation from Looney Tunes cartoons that provides the animated characters, especially Wile E. Coyote, with all kinds of real as well as impossible weapons, tools and devices. It's also a popular generic name for any fictional company.
Marcel Proust was a French novelist and critic known for "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time;" earlier translated as "Remembrance of Things Past"), published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
While working on the script, writers William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett couldn't figure out from the novel who murdered a particular character. So they phoned Raymond Chandler, who angrily told them the answer was right there in the book. They shrugged and returned to their work. Chandler soon phoned to say that he looked at the book himself and couldn't figure out who killed the character, so he left it up to them to decide. In the original cut, shown to the armed services, this question is resolved; in the film as released, it isn't.
Howard Hawks and the writers tried various endings for the story. In one, Carmen attempts to fake a suicide only to discover that her gun is loaded with real bullets rather than blanks. Next, they had Carmen confess to her crimes and walk into an ambush by gangsters. Finally, they wrote it so that Marlowe decided, on the basis of a coin toss, to allow her to leave the house and walk into the ambush. When the Production Code committee objected to the violence, Hawks asked how they would end the film, and they came up with the idea of Marlowe forcing the gangster chief out of the house, where the criminal was shot by his own gang. Hawks was so impressed he offered to hire them as writers.
In one major departure from the novel, Howard Hawks decided not to have Lauren Bacall turn out to be an accomplice to murder (and omitted the murder victim from the story as well). That allowed her to enjoy a final clinch with Humphrey Bogart while at the same time capitalising on the couple's success together in To Have and Have Not (1944) and their romantic relationship off-screen.
In Chandler' s book Carmen was a nymphomaniac who shot Sean Regan and dumped his body down an oil well. Geiger ran a porn business using his bookstore as a cover. Neither of these two topics were addressed due to Hollywood censors at the time.