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.
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.
Rumors that Andy Williams dubbed Lauren Bacall's singing voice are untrue. Both director Howard Hawks and Bacall confirm that she did her own singing.The same rumors persist regarding her singing voice in To Have and Have Not, and are equally untrue.
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.
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.
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.
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)."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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."
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.
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.
On the first day of shooting Bogart allegedly had five or six drinks at lunch, which infuriated director Howaard Hawks, who berated Bogart for his unprofessionalism. After that he was limited to one beer.
In conversation with Lauren Bacall's character Bogart's 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 Bogart even said on stage as a struggling juvenile actor was "Tennis anyone?"
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.
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.