The Big Sleep (1946)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #11

The Violence-Screen’s
All-Time Rocker-Shocker!

(Yes, that is a real tagline.)

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 114 minutes
BBFC: A (pre-release, 1945) | A (1946) | PG (1988)

Original Release: 31st August 1946 (USA)
UK Release: June 1946 (BBFC)
First Seen: DVD (maybe), c.2004 (possibly)

Stars
Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
Lauren Bacall (To Have and Have Not, North West Frontier)
Martha Vickers (The Falcon in Mexico, The Big Bluff)
Dorothy Malone (The Fast and the Furious (not that one), Basic Instinct (yes, that one))

Director
Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)

Screenwriters
Leigh Brackett (Rio Bravo, The Empire Strikes Back)
Jules Furthman (The Outlaw, Nightmare Alley)
William Faulkner (To Have and Have Not, Land of the Pharaohs)

Based on
The Big Sleep, a novel by Raymond Chandler.

The Story
Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to settle the gambling debts his daughter, Carmen, owes to a man named Geiger. Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, suspects Marlowe has actually been hired to find Sean Reagan, the General’s friend who has disappeared. Arriving at Geiger’s home, Marlowe hears a shot, and inside finds Geiger dead, Carmen drugged, and a hidden camera with the film gone. So begins a complex web of blackmail and murder. Very complex. Very, very complex.

Our Hero
The archetypal downtrodden PI, Philip Marlowe makes up what he lacks in good fortune with a fast mouth and sharp mind. Has bad manners though, which he grieves over on long winter evenings.

Our Villain
It’s a mystery, let’s not give it away. The film certainly does its best not to.

Best Supporting Character
Lauren Bacall as headstrong Vivian Sternwood, a character who benefitted from the behind-the-scenes situation at the time: Bogie and Bacall’s chemistry in To Have and Have Not led the studio to want more of the same, and her agent was only too keen after the poor reviews of Confidential Agent threatened to sink her career before it had really begun. New sparky dialogue scenes took the place of exposition ones in the final cut, essentially creating the film’s reputation for confusion.

Memorable Quote
“She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” — Philip Marlowe

Memorable Scene
Bogie and Bacall discuss horse racing.
— “I like to see them work out a little first… You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch, and then come home free.”
Just horse racing.
— “I don’t know how far you can go.” “A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.”
Just horse racing.

Making of
Another part in the Bacall situation described above was supposedly played by original author Raymond Chandler. He reportedly observed that Martha Vickers was so good as Carmen that she overshadowed Bacall, and consequently much of Vickers’ material was removed.

Previously on…
The Big Sleep is the fourth screen adaptation of a Philip Marlowe story, though only the second to star the detective: 1942’s Time to Kill adapted The High Window into the Michael Shayne series, and the same year Farewell My Lovely was filmed as The Falcon Takes Over. The same novel was adapted again in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet (though, famously, retained the novel’s title for its UK release), starring Dick Powell as Marlowe.

Next time…
Bogart never played Marlowe again, but multiple film, TV and radio adaptations of Chandler’s novels have followed, with the lead role being occupied by the likes of James Garner, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum, Powers Boothe, Danny Glover, James Caan, and Toby Stephens. A remake of The Big Sleep, relocated to ’70s London and directed by Michael “calm down dear” Winner, was Marlowe’s final big screen outing to date.

Awards
Not a sausage.

What the Critics Said
“one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“you don’t watch The Big Sleep just to find out who did what to whom, when and for what reason. This is truly one of those movies where the journey is far more important than the destination. As we follow Marlowe around a moody and threatening Los Angeles, we go on a tour of the seedy underbelly of the city. Even though the time is spent in the company of high rollers and the glamorous set, it’s all merely a glittering veneer for a world of pornography, drugs, deviance, betrayal and violence.” — Colin, Riding the High Country

Verdict

Famed for having a plot so complicated even author Raymond Chandler doesn’t know who committed at least one of its murders, I’ve always found The Big Sleep very followable if you pay attention… just don’t expect me to be able to explain it after its finished. The film’s popularity in spite of its impenetrability confirmed director Howard Hawks’ theory that audiences didn’t care if a plot made sense as long as they had a good time, and he’s kinda right — the joys here are Bogie and Bacall’s verbal sparring, the exposure of LA’s seedy underbelly (albeit in a Production Code-friendly way), and the film’s whole noir-ish atmosphere.

The Big Sleep is finally released on US Blu-ray on Tuesday 23rd February.

#12 will be… a Marvellous vampire.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Big Sleep (1946)

  1. Firstly, thanks for the link.
    It’s one of the most enjoyable PI movies around – should look nice on Blu-ray – and Bogart is good at delivering Chandler’s dialogue. Aside from the movie and source novel, it’s worth having a look at Killer in the Rain , a collection of early short fiction published posthumously and a good deal of which was used as the basis for The Big Sleep and other novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been looking forward to that Blu-ray — I haven’t watched the film for years, and ever since I went Blu have resisted purchasing the DVD. (Now I have to wait for a UK release or the price to fall to a reasonable level for importing, of course, but that’s life.)

      Thanks for the tip about the short stories, I’ll look into it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of those classics I haven’t seen yet (keeping my eye on that Blu-ray). I have a copy of The Maltese Falcon to watch first though. Trying to manage that ‘to-watch’ pile this year so avoiding adding to the pile when I can.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s