Private-eye Philip Marlowe is hired to keep an eye on General Sternwood's youngest daughter, Carmen, who has fallen into bad company and is likely to do some damage to herself and her family before long. He soon finds himself falling in love with her older sister, Vivien, who initially takes a deep dislike to Mr Marlowe. However, the plot thickens when murder follows murder...
Humphrey Bogart ... Philip Marlowe
Lauren Bacall ... Vivian Sternwood Rutledge
John Ridgely ... Eddie Mars
Martha Vickers ... Carmen Sternwood
Dorothy Malone ... Acme Bookstore proprietress
Peggy Knudsen ... Mona Mars
Regis Toomey ... Chief Insp. Bernie Ohls (District Attorney's Office)
Charles Waldron ... Gen. Sternwood
Charles D. Brown ... Norris (Sternwood's butler)
Bob Steele ... Lash Canino
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Harry Jones
Director: Howard Hawks
Codecs: DivX 5 / MP3
This classic film noir has very few of techniques generally associated with noir. It contains no skewed camera angles; and though it is darkly lit, it is not overcome with murky, obscuring shadows. The hero is not down-and-out, poor, or desperate. There is no retrospective narration, or flashbacks. Yet, the Big Sleep is widely considered to be one of the very best of this genre. It is a cynical, perverse, murderous world filled with loads of confusing action and unknown motives. It is, in fact, one of the great films of one of the screens greatest actors (for my personal top 10 actors list, click here), and most talented directors.
It was directed by Howard Hawks fresh off of the successful pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall in To Have and Have Not. The two star here again and it is easy to see why they made another two films together. Based on a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, many people complain that this film is incomprehensible. Somewhat famously it is reported that Bogart and Hawks, after arguing over who killed one of the characters, called up Chandler to get the correct answer. Chandler didn't have the slightest idea, for the novel is rather vague on this point. It's true that both the novel and film leave many plot points as to who did what to whom more than unclear, but there is so much style in both that it's hard to make a convincing argument against them.
A good deal of the confusion within the film comes from the production codes in effect at the time it was produced. Chandler's novel deals with murder, homosexuality, heterosexuality, and pornography. At the time, these things were deemed unfit to show on a movie screen and so Hawks had to hint at them using various subtle methods. For instance, when Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is found by detective Phillip Marlow (Bogart) in the novel she is completely nude and sitting posed for a hidden camera. Since pornography is explicitly against code, in the movie she is dressed in a silky, Japanese gown. There is still a hidden camera, and its missing film becomes a catalyst for much of the action in the film. We must infer from the exotic nature of the gown that there was more than just pictures of a woman in a gown going on. There are many similar instances in the film like this. For an audience member who has not read the book, they must pay close attention to the subtext, or the film will seem baffling.
Personally, I am very much a fan of the book, and all of Chandler's work. While I appreciate that some of the finer plot points are a bit vague in this film, I also understand that the film succeeds not in the details of the story, but in a sinister sense of style. The film oozes with a dark, disquieting atmosphere. Nearly everyone Marlowe meets is hiding something, and is of less than upstanding moral character. Hawks does a great job of keeping nearly every scene in the dark or in the rain, or both. There are so many characters coming in and out of the shadows and with their own shady character that it is difficult to keep up.
Bogart, of course, does a marvelous job as Marlowe. He seems to understand a lot more information than the audience is ever given. Chandler wrote Marlowe as a detective who sticks by his own set up morals, remaining somewhat of a noble creature trying to stay afloat amongst the muck and sewers of the city. Lauren Bacall does a very good job portraying Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, in a role that is much different than the one in the book. Like many films from this era, they create a romance that wasn't really in the source material. I don't mind though, because Bogart and Bacall really sizzle.
What can I say that hasn't been said before? This is really classic noir at its best. It's got Bogart and Bacall. It was directed by Howard Hawks, written by William Faulkner from a novel by Raymond Chandler. What more could a lover of classic cinema want?
I'm not sure how I missed this film when I went through all the 1940s classic, but somewhere along the line it slipped through. Several years on, and I finally came across it again. And it is good. To be honest, you simply couldn't go wrong with a film directed by Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday, Rio Bravo) and starring Bogart and Bacall.
One thing that surprised me about "The Big Sleep" is the fact that I found it just as sexy, thrilling, and nearly as violent as a modern thriller! Few films nearly 60 years old can claim that.
This is one film absolutely essential for any true student of film.
* 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.
* 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.
* Mars' henchman are named Sidney and Pete, a tribute to Bogie's frequent costars Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
* Eager to repeat the success of To Have and Have Not (1944), 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.
* 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)."
* Nina Foch tested for the role of "Carmen."
* 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.
* 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.
* References are made by both sisters about Marlowe's height at the beginning of the film. Back then it was film convention for the male lead to be taller than the female and Humphrey Bogart was shorter than both leading actresses, a problem corrected on screen through giving Bogart platform shoes as well as trick photography.
* 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.
* 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.
* This movie was Dorothy Malone's first movie. She was so nervous that when she is handling the paper cup, her hand was shaking, so weights had to be put at the bottom of the cups.
SPOILER: Howard Hawks reused the way Eddie Mars meets his demise (shot by his own men after opening a door) with that of the character Milt in Hawks' later western El Dorado (1966).